Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Revising Reform for Trumplandia

If reformsters are good at anything, it's revising the narrative to match current conditions. They are masters of the retcon (a comics term referring to retroactively altering character continuity, like when Frank Miller introduced Elektra into Daredevil continuity and we suddenly learned that a character we had never heard about before had actually been-- oh, shut up. You're a nerd!).

Anyway, reformsters periodically go back and retroactively rewrite the story. What's that you say? No way-- Common Core was always intended to be flexible and adaptable for each school system. What's that you say? No, we never said that every school district must adopt the Common Core Standards! Teachers? We totally love them and never ever blamed all of education's ills on them. No, we never promised that charters would do more with fewer dollars. And of course we have always contended that charter schools are public private public private public private public private look, we'll get back to you on this one. Sometimes reformsters have been rewriting harder than a Soviet Russia historian and actual history has disappeared faster than Chuck Cunningham.

No Happy Days forthis guy-- gone and completely forgotten

The Rise of Trump has brought the erasers out in force.

Reformsters have a problem, exemplified by this set of tweets regarding Jeanne Allen, head and mouth of the very reformy Center for Education Reform:

Trump is ready to give reformsters most of what they want, yet to get it, they have to figure out how to embrace-not-embrace Trump himself.

Today brought a new attempt at this dance that both reveals the tack that reformsters are going to try as well as showing why they want to try it.

At Real Clear Education, Shavar Jeffries (Democrats [sic] for Education Reform) and Peter Cunningham (Education Post), both super charter school fans,  attempt to solidify the left-tilted reformster argument, based partly on a real distinction and partly on fake history of what has happened so far.

The distinction they'd like to make is between charter fans who want accountability and those who don't. Many charter supporters, they point out, have called repeatedly for strong accountability. This is a True Thing-- it wasn't that long ago that several charter organizations were themselves calling out the bogus money-sucking scam that is cyber-charter schooling. I have talked to several charter promoters who believe that charters must be held accountable because 1) nobody benefits from fly-by-night charter scams and 2) they risk making the rest of the charter industry look scary and bad and in need of tight government control.

Unfortunately, Secretary of Ed-in-Waiting Betsy DeVos doesn't believe in any of that accountability, and has spent decades spending great gouts of money to block any such accountability. The results are on display in states like Michigan and Florida, where all manner of charter shysters are allowed to run rampant with no regard for damage, waste and fraud. DeVos believes the market will sort these folks out, despite the glaring evidence that the market will do no such thing.

So Jeffries and Cunningham contend there is some dissension in the charter-loving ranks, and on this issue, I believe they are correct. However, they also have a story to tell about how we got here, and that part reads like a fantasy tale from an alternate universe.

School choice has a proud progressive history. 

Um, no. It really doesn't. Jeffries and Cunningham rattle off some names like Rahm Emmanuel and Andrew Cuomo, who barely qualify as Democrats at all, and Presidents like Clinton and Obama, who developed and perfected the technique of consolidating Democratic power by abandoning Democratic principles. The writers also try to invoke Albert Shanker, the Great-Godfather of charters, but they skip over the part where a few years into the experiment, Shanker turned his back on charters after seeing them become money-making businesses instead of engines of educational innovation.

Public school choice has an even more robust conservative history, based on conservative principles of free markets and competition.

That sounds a little more like it. But the writers bring this up in order to invoke the "bipartisan alliance" that has been behind the choice movement. Maybe. I would describe the alliance as one between people who say they want charters because they believe in the free market and people who say they want charters because it will bring social justice. What I've never been entirely certain is just how many people in the latter group are just running a con. It's fitting that the head of DFER is co-writing this piece, since DFER's origin was about finding a way to move the Democratic Party into line with reform.

Some of us have been pointing out the very non-progressive elements of the school choice movement for years, but today Shavars and Cunningham discovered some of them, too. The charter overwhelming preference for non-union teachers and the general assault on unions. The members of the choice community who are mostly interested in defunding education entirely. The duo retcon their way to this assertion:

The grand bargain at the heart of the school choice movement is accountability for autonomy. In exchange for performance goals linking a charter school’s survival to academic results and other student outcomes, they are freed up from bureaucracy and red tape that limits innovation and flexibility.

Nope. That has been the sales pitch, but in many areas, it has most definitely not been the grand bargain, the mediocre bargain, or even the blue light special. Where free market fans have led the charge (e.g. Ohio, Jeb Bush's Florida, DeVos's Michigan), charters have pressed for autonomy only. Charters have gone to court to fight hard to avoid being accountable to anyone.

Nor can these guys pretend to be surprised by any of this. For instance, when it comes to slamming the unions, nobody has done it more relentlessly than DFER. Shavars and Cunningham warn that "when the choice movement devolves into an anti-union movement, it loses support on the left," but DFER has been right on the front lines of that devolution.

So why are they suddenly so fretful about all this, anyway? The clue is in this article's warning that these behaviors will "lose support on the left," or as Cunningham tweeted it

It's not the concern about principle, or allying with an odious and destructive administration, or even being revealed as hypocrites. A whole parade of reformsters have lined up, like Jeanne Allen, to announce that while they used to be horrified by Trump, maybe his administration will actually be swell. Hey, if Mitt Romney can be turned with a cheap meal, why wouldn't choice advocates be willing to change sides at the prospect of getting everything they ever wanted?

No, that's not the issue.

The issue is that the reformster movement managed to convince a whole bunch of progressives and Democrats to join in, play along, come get in the tent, and generally support the movement. They could sell it by talking about civil rights and making life better for poor brown and black children and most of all by pointing at a popular Democratic President who was the most elevated face of the reform movement. And now those actual progressives are experiencing a moment just like that one in the tower where Dorothy sees Aunty Em in the crystal ball, but then suddenly it's the Wicked Witch, and reformy folks are worried that Trump's scary face with chase away a bunch of erstwhile progressive reform supporters.

Look, for a couple of decades now, the choice charter movement has not been supported by a bipartisan alliance of Democrats and Republicans. It has been a neo-liberal privatization program, pushed by an "alliance" of neo-liberals who called themselves Republicans and neo-liberals who called themselves Democrats. It has been easy for neo-lib-GOP folks to sell the wonders of free market competitive privatizing to at least the business wing of the GOP. It has taken a bit more saleswork for the neo-lib-dems to sell privatization to their crowd, and now they have lost the allure and leverage and power of leading the ruling party. The neo-lib point people have never had trouble shifting gears and changing tunes, but the people who fell in line because they sincerely bought what neo-lib-dems were selling-- those people will be harder to keep in the big tent.

Neo-lib-dem leaders are going to have to come up with a new sales pitch, a way that progressives can oppose Herr Trumps DC dumpster fire and Billionaire Betsy's call to let public education burn while still pushing hard for charters and choice. It's going to take something more clever than an issue of "accountability," but be patient. This is just the first draft; I'm sure they'll come up with the next revision, a new argument, at which point, it will become the argument that they swear they've always been making.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Slowing Down

For the past several years, I have sometimes felt like Indiana Jones just a few feet in front of the damn giant boulder.

This is not entirely the result of various education reforms. We've been through some changes locally, including but limited to some schedule changing that has resulted in slightly shorter periods, and some changes in staffing that have led to slightly larger classes.

But of course like many other schools, we are being trickled down upon by the dripping ooze of school reform. We have lots of additional paper-- well, computer work that is meant to show how we're aligning our instruction to the standards (spoiler alert-- mostly by completing computerized paperwork). We spend time worrying about the numbers and part of my week is now set aside for sitting and fretting over various slabs of data. And when you add up all the days I lose to testing, or pre-testing, or practice testing, it all adds up to days and weeks of school during which I don't get to actually teach.

Meanwhile, the mountain of material that I feel I should be getting through looks more and more like, well, like two mountains, piled on top of each other and sitting on top of a third mountain that has been smushed into the ground so far that I'll have to dig it all out before I can deal with it. And so there is a voice yammering away in my ear, strained and urgent, reminding me that I only have X days left and if I don't hammer through this stuff today, and quickly, I'll never get to the other material which I really need to get to because these students are less than two years away from going out into a world that will demand every possible skill set from them and oh my good lord in heaven how am I ever going to get anything done if they want to talk about stuff and holy crap the boulder is right on my heels-----

It has become almost routine for me. Maybe it happens when I'm home unwinding with family and vacation, or maybe it happens when I suddenly see what I'm doing and realize I am losing the thread. But either way, I catch myself, I stop, I slow down. I breathe.

Today I used an exercise that I absolutely do not recommend for anyone. I started my forty minute classes with twenty minutes of material.

My solution is not the obvious one; I'm not allowed (by me) to fill up a class period with "study hall." The taxpayers pay me perfectly good money to work with students. So I have to find those other twenty minutes in the moment, in my students' concerns, in whatever jumps up and demands attention. I do stack the deck in my favor-- I don't try this on a day where, for instance, the lesson is about participial phrases. Today I wanted to talk to my students about what skills they think they'll need for adulting that they think the school hasn't, or may never, provide. And because I don't have enough "teaching" to fill the period, I have to shut up and let discussion flow. Maybe I listen. Maybe I prime the pump. Maybe I'll tell a personal story (my pedagogical justification being that modeling vulnerability in a safe place is important, as is their seeing that I'm a human). I can't plan this, not for every single second. I have to slow down and listen and watch and be there.

I confess that I used to work like this more often, and I'm not proud of doing it less. If I'm not careful, instead of a safe place where everyone can be heard and relationships are built, my classroom can become a racquetball court with one of those tennis ball cannons sitting in a corner firing off a ball every ten seconds. But we change in our practice-- when I began teaching, I had to put all my effort into creating energy, pushing it out, pumping it out, being, as my co-op said, punchy-quick. I was a quieter, more guarded person then. Now, in a classroom, I have to be sure to breathe, to lay back, to listen.

It's important to remember that while we are there to do the work, our conception of the work has to include the students as actors, as co-conspirators, as participants with agency. One of the most corrosive aspects of the modern reform movement is the conception of education as something that is done to students, who are supposed to sit there passively while we perform our magic tricks and pull numbers out of them like so many standardized rabbits out of identical hats. We can not, must not reach the point where we are so focused on getting away from that giant boulder that we trample right over the students in front of us.

The students are more important than the numbers. They are more important than the test results, more important than the lesson plans, more important even than the personal goals we set to "cover" exactly This Much material by the end of our days with them. The students are not there to serve us; we are there to serve them. Sometimes you just have to take a moment to get the thread back. Slow down.The boulder is just a fake, a movie prop, and you are tougher than it is.

Christmas Curmudgushopping

If you want a little something for the fan of education blogging in your life (because don't we all know dozens of such people), I'm going to make a quick pitch here for Curmudgucation gear. It almost physically pains me to say "Hey, buy my stuff," but 1) helpful people keep telling me to build my brand and 2) I've got twins on the way.

Here's a book! Featuring almost 100 hand-picked blog posts from the first year or so of the blog, covering most of the usual topics. Great for someone who wants to read bloggy stuff in short burst while holding an actual book in their hands.

I am also a fan of Cafe Press. I like being able to give friends and family custom decorated stuff, and I've always found the quality to be pretty good.

Here's a nifty large mug

I actually use this duffle for the gym and short trips. Sturdy

It's a tote bag. For toting.

Snappy t-shirt. Okay, some day I'll get fancier with the design.

I can guarantee that any of these products will put you in an elite group of people who are mostly related to me.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Online Teaching Credentials

Want to be a teacher, but just don't have the time or money to do all that, you know, college degree getting stuff? Well, you're in luck. Meet Teach-Now!

It's the Teach-Now Educatore difference (no, I didn't mistype "educator")! "Become certified to teach in virtually every subject, at virtually every level, in virtually every state" though it's more than that, because the company is international in its reach-- they have created "several strategic global partnerships that expanded our presence to Europe, Asia, Africa and Latin America." It is the "most direct and cost effective pathway to teaching in the digital age."

Nice to know this product is still available today

You can keep doing what you're doing, squeezing this streamlines approach into your spare hours. You'll use the same "project-based learning technologies and project-based curriculum you will us" when you have your own classroom. You will get feedback through online streaming and working in a virtual classroom. Just nine months and about $6,000 and you can end up with a shiny new Masters Degree in education. The program does focus on people who are already grown up and out in the world; one entry requirement is to have a bachelor's degree.

This nifty business idea comes from education entrepreneur and former nun Emily Feistritzer, who in this laid-back PBS interview talks about her first job-- selling statues of the Virgin Mary that glowed in the dark. I swear that I am not making any of this up. Feistritzer became a nun at nineteen, left the convent at age thirty-one, landed a PhD in education, and began several decades worth of education-flavored business.

She became founder/CEO of the National Center for Education Information in 1979. Next she became founder/CEO of the National Center for Alternative Certification in 2003. Finally, she launched Teach-Now in 2011. According to the PBS interview, she launched that when she "plopped down a half-million dollars of her own money," and it now has fifteen full-time employees, revenues of around $4 million and a profit margin of around 20%. So the business of quicky internet teacher certification is apparently pretty healthy.

Back in 1985 she was behind a piece of federally-funded research that asked teachers about their sexual habits and their attitudes toward abortion. NCEI occasionally publishes surveys of teacher info, which, not surprisingly, look particularly at training pathways. And Feistritzer also took the nuns to court in 2002, accusing them of sexual abuse (that did not make it into the PBS piece). One gets the impression, reading through her history and watching her speak, that she is a tough and determined person.

Based in DC, Dr. Feistritzer apparently talks to lawmakers now and then and gets to put her two cents in with policy makers. She's a 2016 Brava Award winner for SmartCEO. Oh, and she's an actual member of the Education Writers Association, which is more than certain bloggers can claim.

The PBS-- well, it's hard not to think of it as an infomercial-- focuses on one African-American male student of the program, and highlights how neo-teachers rocketing through this program must do student teaching, which is monitored by video and on-line supervision. It talks about many of the things that are good about getting this young man into the classroom; it does not consider the question of why this program is the best way to get him there.

Teach-Now is, essentially, the teacher prep version of Competency-Based Education, the sort of remote decentralized we-don't-need-no-steenking-school-building version of education that some folks really want to have come down the pike. As with many similar oh-just-make-a-video-and-we'll-watch-that programs, I cannot for the life of me understand how a single camera POV can possibly give a supervisor enough information about what's going on in that classroom.

But hey. Modern, times, you know. I have a couple of friends who went on the internet and had themselves certified as ministers, so they can perform weddings and lead grace and all that cool stuff. Why not internet teachers, too-- both certified on the net and prepared to teach via the net. The program has reportedly produced about 1,200 of these internet teachers.

What nobody, including the happy-time PBS folks, says is whether the program is any good, whether it produces good teachers, or teachers that get jobs and stay in the profession for any amount of time. The only special qualities that are discussed ever are how it's quick, cheap, and convenient, and at that point my back is already up, because if quick, cheap and convenient are your metrics for an attractive experience, you probably aren't going to be happy in teaching in the first place, a profession that consumes time, costs you both the money you never earn and the money that you spend on the work, and which is an endless cavalcade of inconvenience (has any student ever asked for help when it was convenient). And I remain unconvinced that someone watching you being live-streamed through a smart phone is in any position to give you useful feedback on your classroom.

So while it's swell that one more person is getting rich from marketing another education-flavored product, I am doubtful that it's doing the profession any good.

FL: Testing Students Into Oblivion

Friday the Tampa Bay Times reported on a great new program being pursued by Pinellas County schools to raise school ratings. The program could best be described as "Just stop having school and devote your time to test prep instead."

The article focuses on differences that are emerging between biweekly test results for 3-6 grade students and K-2 students. In doing so the article completely breezes past the fact that these schools are giving biweekly tests to K-2 students.

There is so much educational malpractice jammed into this whole stupid package.

The biweekly testing is being done in Pinellas "transformation zone" schools, aka "schools with lousy ratings" aka "poor schools." Pinellas County (that's St. Petersburg etc) schools have seen a transformation common in Florida, with shrinking enrollment and huge piles of money being funneled into mismanaged charter scams. But the story in Pinellas County is even worse than that, because the Pinellas County school board purposefully manufactured these failing schools. Let's pause for a history lesson.

You can read the full story here, or my shorter version here. But let me lay out the short ugly version. But if you remember the story of "failure factories" in Florida from a year or so ago-- well, that's where we are.

So the district created transformation zones in which they promised to focus on these poor schools and get them what they should have had (and used to have) all along. Last spring Pinellas County was looking for "transformational leaders" to run their elementary and middle schools. So what do transformational schools get?

They get Antonio Burt, a roving ronin of school transformation with experience within Tennessee's "innovation zone." What else do they get?

They get testing every other week for their littles. Every other week. What possible justification is there for biweekly testing? Well, according to the Tampa Bay Times:

The tests, which are new this year and are only being given in those schools, are being used to help teachers identify how well they have taught the state standards and to catch students' weak areas earlier in the year. 

Oh, bullshit. This is training. This is the rankest kind of test prep. This is making the students well-rehearsed little test-taking machines. It is throwing up your hands and admitting that the Big Standardized Tests are not legitimate measures of anything except test-taking prowess, and while I applaud the recognition of reality, this is terrible education malpractice.

First, a generation of students is being taught that you go to school to take a test, and that's all education is. This is the worst kind of lie, a selfish inexcusable lie told to our most vulnerable children.

Second, just what has been cut out of the curriculum to make room for all this testing? If each administration of the test only ate only one day, that would still be eighteen days of school given over to testing, which is a almost four weeks, a month. A month of actual instruction lost to these students.

Third, these are the students who are going to be least helped by an education that is all about doing well on a Big Standardized Test. The deck is already stacked against them, and being well-versed in the taking of standardized tests is not going to help them.

This kind of baloney is most damaging to the small children, but it's bad news for all the students in Pinellas County.

Other misguided "transformational" ideas are hinted at in the article.

Antonio Burt, who is leading the Pinellas transformation effort, said teachers are not waiting to expose students to advanced concepts. For example, a standard usually scheduled to be taught in February — one that could count as much as 40 percent on the Florida Standards Assessment — now is introduced to students in August, giving them more time to practice.

SMH. First of all, this is the very definition of test-centered curriculum, which is an absolutely indefensible practice. Second of all, how does this even work-- students, I know we haven't laid the groundwork for any of this, and it involves concepts you haven't been taught yet, but we're just going to skip to chapter twenty-three on the text-book. I mean, I guess this is genius-- we can just "introduce" the quadratic formula to Kindergartners because if we introduce it sooner, they'll do better on the test, right?

Transformational schools are all about the test. Here's one super-swell motivational piece--

At Sandy Lane Elementary, principal Tzeporaw Sahadeo adds some encouragement for the children. She created the 80 Percent Club to recognize students who scored at least an 80 percent on their biweekly tests. 

Those students get to cut the lunch line for the week and are given 80 "shark shillings" — enough for a bag of coveted Takis spicy chips from the school store. Incentives also are given for children who barely miss the mark and earn 70 percent.

Yes, the school ties when you get to eat to your test score. That's not just a bizarre example of an extrinsic motivator, which we've long known is not a healthy sort of motivation to saddle a kid with. It also means that every day at lunch, students are lined up publicly in the cafeteria according to test results. If you thought a data wall was bad, how do you feel about a data lunch line?

The hook for this article is the mystery of decreasing test scores. The littles do well on the tests, but older kids do not, particularly on the literacy test. What could explain it? The article considers two explanations. One is that the standards get harder and more complex. And Burt suggests that there are "pockets of teachers" who "need reinforcement on what the standards are." I would suggest some other theories. One is that the standards are bunk. Another is that standardized literacy tests don't really test literacy. Yet another would be that the older students get, the less inclined they are to jump compliantly through hoops that they see as useless and pointless and part of an educational system that is not offering to give anything to them, but instead only wants to get them to produce scores for the school's benefit.

Test-centered education is ultimately always backwards. The school is not there to serve the students by providing them with an education. Instead, the students are there to serve the school by generating the numbers the school wants to get.

It is possible to have some understanding for Pinellas school leaders, who are staring down the barrel of Florida's immensely stupid, damaging, and unhelpful test-based school grade system. Throughout Florida, many schools face that one basic choice-- do they actually work at providing students with a real education, or do they make their school test centered in an effort to avoid punishment for low scores? In a state that is determined to break down its public schools, the better to drive parents and students into the arms of the charter industry, that's not a small or easy dilemma for public schools to face.

But Pinellas County has chosen poorly (and the Tampa bay Times has, on this occasion, reported lazily by not asking for evidence that any of these practices actually work). Test-centered education isn't good for anybody except the businesses selling test materials. Pinellas County has lost its way, but it's the students who are getting abandoned in the wilderness.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

ICYMI: Post Turkey Edition (11/27)

I briefly toyed with the idea of collecting all the articles that explain how awful Betsy DeVos will be as Secretary of Education, but it just made my computer sad, so I just picked a couple and selected some other pieces to help us all remember that there are other things to pay attention to.

Higher Education in Pennsylvania 101

William Boggs in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette explains what some legislators don't seem to understand about higher educationm

A Story That No One Will Print

Maybe this is moot now, but still worth a read. John Merrow reprints the story about She Who Will Not Be Named that nobody wanted to run. A reminder of just how awful she was.

The Data Delusion

Okay, this actually takes us back to 2013. But it's a good read about the ways in which education "data" leads us to believe things that just aren't so.

Polls Convinced Me That Hillary Clinton Wouldn't Lose: As An Education Researcher The Result Was a Wake-Up Call

The mishandling of election data leads this education data guru to reconsider the meaning of educational data

End School Privatization

Jamaal Bowman with a short, clear call for the end of school privatization

Michigan House's Detroit School Bills Are Pure Garbage

Stephen Henderson has some passionate and reality-based reactions to the Michigan legislature's latest move to screw over the schools of Detroit. Remember-- if you want to see the future of education under DeVos, just look at Michigan.

What We Can Learn About Betsy DeVos from Her Husband's Charter School

MarkWeber (Jersey Jazzman) takes a look at Mr. DevOs's little side project.

Bad News Betsy

Emily Talmadge with another angle of the bad news about DeVos's selection

Heavens to Betsy 

Finally, Russ Walsh includes a variety of links and recommendations so that if you do want to read even more, you can. But you could also do something about this terrible idea.

How Bad Is DeVos? So Bad...

The nomination of Betsy DeVos to the post of Secretary of Education is such a bad choice that we don't even have to talk about actual policy ideas to understand how unsuited she is for the position. Consider--

John King was a terrible choice for Secretary of Education. But John King has worked in a classroom with students and run a school, even if the classroom and school were charters. John King has held a statewide post in government as head of education in New York State. He doesn't appear to have been very good at any of these jobs-- but he has at least been exposed to what happens on all three levels so that he has at least a vague working knowledge of what goes on in those areas. He even attended public school as a child.

Betsy DeVos has none of those qualifications. She has never been a public school students and never worked as a teacher, administrator or state level education bureaucrat. Betsy DeVos is less qualified than John King.

Arne Duncan was a terrible choice for Secretary of Education. But Arne Duncan had been responsible for a major urban school system, so he had at least some vague notion of what happens in a public school system. He had political connections not because he had money to throw around, but because he was a good and loyal friend to people with bigger political profiles. Hell, he was a good basketball player, meaning he was at least exposed to the concept of teamwork and the idea of working hard to achieve a goal.

Betsy DeVos has never run an organization as sprawling and varied as an urban school district, and has no experience with any such educational system. Betsy DeVos is less qualified than Arne Duncan.

Eva Moskowitz was a terrible choice for Secretary of Education. But Eva Moskowitz built a school-flavored business from the ground up, so she has at least some vague notion of the many moving parts involved in making a school work. And while Moskowitz is by no means wealth-impaired, she has showed political savvy and an ability to make friends in high places to get her own way.

Betsy DeVos has no experience in the inner workings of a school or a business, and certainly not an organization that wants to be both. And she only knows one way to build political connections-- writing checks. Betsy DeVos is less qualified than Eva Moskowitz.

She Who Will Not Be Named (ex-DC chancellor) was an unspeakably awful choice for Secretary of Education. But like Duncan, she has been in charge of a major urban school district. She has stood in a classroom and tried to teach. And She is experienced at getting other people to invest in her vision and displayed a real gift for generating positive PR, even when she doesn't deserve any of it.

Betsy DeVos has never run a school district. She has never taught. And she has never had to convince anyone to back her idea, because she can bankroll it all herself. Nor has she ever displayed any talent for being the public PR-friendly face of anything.

All four of the above terrible, terrible choices for Secretary of Education worked their way up from a poor or middle class background, learning how to sell themselves, start an enterprise, make friends, gather influence, and just generally make their way in the world. Professionally, they have had to learn how to work other people to get what they want.

Betsy DeVos was born rich, married rich, and has never had to build influence or make a case for her own views by any method other than exercising her bank account (a bank account that she never did a lick of work to fill up in the first place). A Secretary of Education has to build influence, make a case, sell an idea, and do the political work to push across policies. DeVos has never had to do any of these things; and a Secretary of Education cannot build political clout or support by flexing her personal wealth. DeVos has ideas about education, but she has never done any of the legwork or built understanding about how to implement her ideas beyond writing a check or hiring some people to astroturf support for ideas. She has simply bought allies and bankrolled compliance; there is no reason to believe that she knows how to win agreement and cooperation from people who are not financially beholden to her. If DeVos had not been born rich, if she had not married rich, we would not be having this conversation, and she would not be a person of influence in education. DeVos is one of those masks that money puts on when it wants to walk around and do stuff; without the money, she's an empty sack with no more importance or influence than a regular citizen, or a teacher.

The four candidates listed above are all terrible, terrible choices for the post, and yet all of them have qualifications that DeVos lacks. In fact, before we even start to discuss just how terrible and destructive her ideas about public education are, we should be talking about her complete lack of qualifications to run a federal department. She is not familiar with how schools work. She is not familiar with how large metropolitan or state systems for education work. She is not familiar with how to work with people who are not on her personal payroll.

Bottom line-- even if you think that Betsy DeVos is bang-on correct in her education ideas* there is no reason at all to believe that she has any of the tools necessary to succeed as head of the US Department of Education.

Betsy DeVos is supremely unqualified, the most terrible of the terrible choices for Secretary of Education.

*in which case you are seriously deluded, but let's skip past that for the moment

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Spotting Fakes and the Death of Reading

I've looked once before at the Stanford study which found that students-- middle school, high school and college-- can't tell the difference between real news and advertisements, fake news, or just general detritus on line. The researchers themselves called the results shocking; that may be only because they haven't previously spent enough time around middle school, high school and college students. But "alarming" would be a perfectly good word to use. And I would argue that these results point the finger directly at over a decades' worth of bad standards-loving, test-driven, reading and writing educational malpractice.

Now at last we can read the overview of their study here, but be warned: Evaluating Information: The Cornerstone Of Civic Online Reasoning is not going to make you feel better about Our Nation's Youth or any of the education reforms of the modern reformster era.

What They Did

The study aimed five tasks at each of the three groups, and the paper I've linked to gives a detailed explanation of one task out of each group of five.

Middle schoolers were asked to evaluate trustworthiness on twitter, consider the reliability of s sponsored post, distinguish between a news article and an opinion column, and determine whether or not letters from a comments section would be good to use in a research paper. They were also shown a Slate home page and asked to find the ads.

Most could find the traditional banner ads, but most did NOT count the "sponsored content" item that appears on the home page, reasoning that it didn't say "for sale." Students also identified some actual articles as ads. So, not so good.

High schoolers were asked to identify the merits of arguments presented in a Facebook argument, as well as spotting the little blue checkmark. I'll allow some slack here, because my students inform me that Facebook is for grandmothers, so they might not be familiar. But they were also given a task with a photo sharing site. They were shown a close up photo of some flowers shared by a user with the authoritative handle "pleasegoogleShakerAamerpleasegoogleDavidKelly" that claimed to be a picture of flowers mutated by nuclear radiation exposure.

While some students did question the legitness off the source, even some who questioned it showed a bit of a reasoning gap-- my favorite dissenter is the student who ruled out the photo, not because there was no evidence that it came from where it claimed to come from, but because it could have been photoshopped. SMH! And many other high school students were fully convinced that they were seeing sad signs of nuclear poisoning.

College students were asked to rate website reliability in several tasks, including one in which they were asked to compare the websites of the a completely legit group and a completely fringe one (check my previous post for that sad story-- spoiler alert: they failed). They were also asked to evaluate a tweeted link to poll results, and got twisted up over the difference between the tweeter's identity and the actual source being linked to. Many of the students simply dismissed the results based on who was tweeting it without actually checking to see if the linked material looked legit.

These results led the researchers to use descriptors like "dismaying," "bleak" and "[a] threat to democracy."

Why none of this is a surprise 

Okay, we can attribute some of this to the test subjects themselves. We're talking about 10-21 year olds, a group that has never at any point in history been famous for their level-headed critical-thinking-based powers of judgment. This is why middle school teachers spend 10% of their day putting out fires about who supposedly said which mean thing about whom.

But that's not the only reason to be not-surprised by what is essentially a yawning gap in reading skills-- for well over a decade we have explicitly been told not to teach students to read or write well. Check out this excerpt:

American president Franklin Delenor Roosevelt advocated for civil unity despite the communist threat of success by quoting, "the only thing we need to fear is itself," which disdained competition as an alternative to cooperation for success.

That's from an essay cobbled together under the direction of Les Perelman, former director of the MIT Writing Across the Curriculum program, and an outspoken critic of computer-scored student writing. The above highlight is an excerpt from an essay that scored a 5. I've written a great deal about the abomination that is computer-scoring of essays, but the bottom line is that computers don't understand what they're reading-- they can only break down the parts and mechanics of the writing. And even when computers aren't used, we've trained test-scorers to assess writing just the same way.

This Common Core writing is the flip side of Common Core reading, which deliberately ignores content and context and pretends that reading is simply an act of decoding symbols, separate from any actual meaning. David Coleman has demonstrated at great length how much he doesn't understand the act of reading, and that lack of understanding permeates the Core and the Big Standardized Tests that come from it.

The kinds of questions needed to read critically, particularly as a consumer of internet news-- who wrote this, when, what are their connections, what's the background of this topic, what are the sides involved and how does this writer connect to them, where are the vested interests, what motives can we deduce before even reading-- these sorts of questions are expressly forbidden in the Common Core world of "pay attention only to what's within the four corners of the text." We often teach (and always test) with small excerpts of larger works, with no context or explanation and with the assumption that content is unimportant.

In the Age of Common Core, our ideal reader is one who can decode whatever we put in front of her, but who doesn't actually know a damn thing.

In practice that is both impossible and undesirable, but it's the north star by which reading instruction has been steered for over a decade, and Common Core ELA has gotten us too damn close to that ideal for comfort. Coleman and his acolytes have done their best to kill reading as a meaningful relationship between  readers and material, steeped in, informed by and building on knowledge of content and context. Their ideal is best captured by a small child taking that dame DIBELS test, trying to decode meaningless collections of sounds because that, boy, that is really reading in their world.

Spotting Fakery

If we never venture beyond the four corners of the page, we have no means of judging true from fake. On paper, to a DIBELized reader who brings no knowledge of history to the task, Adolf Hitler and Martin Luther King, Jr., both look legit on the page. Because the very best frauds strive for perfect consistency and fluency within the four corners of their fakery, Common Core trained readers are absolutely not ready to spot them.

To spot a fake, you have to know the real thing, to understand it and grasp what makes it the real thing. Then you have to compare the two, understanding the context and content and separating the meaningful from the bogus fakery. This, like every other aspect of critical thinking, is not covered on the Big Standardized Test and never will be. Yes, CCSS and BS Tests ask students to compare aspects of two non-fiction sources, but until the task on one of these comparisons involves outside research and the answer turns out to be "Selection A is a bunch of bullshit," students will not be prepared for fraud patrol.

I'm not saying that Common Core is responsible all by itself for the Stanford results. I am saying those results are a predictable consequence of our content and context-free reading mis-instruction over the past too-many-years. Unless you are a Nigerian prince trying to unload millions of dollars, that is bad news for us all.

Friday, November 25, 2016

Opposing DeVos

The edubloggochatosphere have pretty much blown itself up over the designation of Betsy DeVos to the position of Secretary of Education. Oppositions runs across the spectrum, from progressives who are upset by a super-privatizer taking over responsibility for public education to conservatives who thought they were promised an outsidey, drained-swamp, Common Core smasher and instead are looking at an old-swamp, Bush-buddy, Common Core apologist (for what it's worth, I don't see DeVos making any real attempt to defend the Core).

So, how do you like me now?

So what can you do?

First, you can remember that this appointment is not a done deal and is, in fact, subject to the approval of Congress, that other branch of government that is not run by the President.

Second, you can take some easy options. For instance, here's a link to the Network for Public Education, which has once again provided a simple and handy form for contacting your Congressional representative and saying, "Please don't!" The form will provide you with a perfectly swell text, but if you want to add complaints of your own, consider any of the following:

* DeVos is the very model of an establishment big-money Republican-- exactly the sort of people that Trump claimed would NOT be running this administration.

* DeVos has spent her entire adult life tearing down public education. Putting her in charge of public education makes no more sense than putting a draft dodger in charge of the Department of Defense.

* DeVos's ideas about education have been tried, extensively, in Michigan, particularly in Detroit, and they have been disastrous, helping to create one of the worst education messes in the nation with failing and churning charters and grossly undersupported public schools.

* DeVos favors little or not oversight of charter schools, providing the taxpayers with no accountability for how their tax dollars are spent.

* DeVos has no experience working in education or in government. She has literally nothing in her background that would suggest that she could succeed in this job.

If you're a teacher, you can throw in this one

* I know that this administration is unlikely to choose a secretary that I will whole-heartedly approve, but DeVos is beyond the pale. Her history makes her likely to not just mismanage public education, but to burn it down.

Third, if you'd like to work a little harder at this-- call. There are several resources that will help you find your Congressmen, including this one and this one and this one. (Just to be clear, it's your Senator that will decide the appointment, but it's fair game to let your Representative know so that he can tell your Senator about all the fuss he's hearing). A phone call to the office (short, sweet, to the point, and not ranting like a crazy person) will make more of an impression than an email.

Make no mistake-- Donald Trump is not going to nominate someone for the office that we will all (or even mostly) find a great choice. Face it-- nobody has made a good choice for the office in pretty much ever, and Trump is clearly not the man to break that streak. But there is misguidedly ineffective, and there is aggressively destructive. You will have to make your own call on this-- for me, Betsy DeVos is a far-worse-than-average choice for the office, and I am willing to kick a little to let my elected representatives know it. I have no reason to think we can win on this, but I know two things-- you miss 100% of the shots you don't take, and the loser in the argument always wins the right to say "I told you so" later when they turn out to have been correct all along.

Trump: The Ultimate Privatization

People are still trying to unpack what kind of Presidency we have coming up. It suddenly seems so obvious to me that I can't believe I didn't get it before.

I've already made my case that Trump is a kind of naked neo-liberal, as witness by his preference for privatization.

Let's get Betsy DeVos in the Ed Department because her whole adult life has been about turning public education into a private business. Let's propose a public works program, only it will really be a privatizing public works program, in which private corporations can make a bundle by taking over infrastructure like highways. Let's propose health and pension programs that are really about letting private investment companies play with the money that people depend on for their lives. Let's go ahead and privatize everything. Once you see the wind blowing that way, it suddenly becomes obvious what Trump is up to with the office.

Trump is privatizing the Presidency.

I mean, why not? We have gotten used to the idea that previously public services like infrastructure and water and education and the food supply and health care and fire and police departments-- we're totally used to seeing those things handled by private contractors or businesses, primarily for the benefit of those business operators on terms that those private operators negotiate.

So why not the Presidency?

He doesn't want to live in the White House. He doesn't want to take the salary that taxpayers offer for the office. What do those say other than, "I'm a private contractor, a businessman with my own interests. I don't actually work for you guys." [Update: As alert readers pointed out, Trump will actually make money by leasing floors of Trump Tower to the federal security force, in effect privatizing the Presidential residence.]

He will continue to look after his own business interests and profiting in his private enterprises  as a benefit of filling in as a contractor to handle this "President," and he will occasionally do some things that the contracting agency (US Government) would prefer to have done.

But just as charters step in and operate schools, just as equity managers step in and operate retirement programs, just as contractors will step in and operate infrastructure projects, just as for-profit corporations step in and operate prisons, just as all these private operators step in and run these public enterprises while still staying separate and above them (the operators don't own them, because that would involve all sorts of liabilities and responsibilities), so will Trump step in and operate the office of the President while staying separate from it.

This is why so many people remain unexcited by Trump's various behaviors-- we're getting totally used to the idea that there is no such thing as public interests. Just private interests who take on the contract to profit from providing some version of what the public used to expect.

Some people have referred to the election as a hostile takeover, but that's not it at all. We are not going to be living in Trumplandia, but in the United States of America, currently being managed by Trump, Inc.


FL: Another Charter Fiasco

Folks will be looking at Michigan (particularly Detroit) for the immediate future, as it's the state where Education Secretary-in-Waiting Betsy DeVos has purchased the power to implement many of her beloved education reforms, in particular, the unfettered proliferation of charter schools accompanied by little or no oversight. But it's not the only place where DeVos has helped spread the charter love-- as a friend of Jeb Bush and his Foundation for Excellence in Education, she also had a hand in turning Florida into the mighty education trash fire that it is today.

Let's look at just one example of what you get when you let any shmoe open a charter school and nobody ever tells him, "Hey, you can't do that!"

Let's travel to the Eagle Arts Academy in sunny Palm Beach.
Male model Gregory James Blount

To talk about Eagle Arts Academy, we have to talk about Gregory James Blount, because Eagle Arts Academy is his show, top to bottom. Greg (that is apparently what he goes by-- I may have corresponded with some folks on the scene) became an Eagle Scout in 1987, which is apparently the source of the charter school's name. Blount graduated from the University of South Carolina-Columbia in 1991 with a Bachelor of Applied Media Science, Film Production / Fashion Photography.

He then moved to New York City to begin a modeling career, signed to the "then-famous" (actually, it looks like they were the ten-years-earlier-famous) agency ZOLI. After a few years of that he went to work for the Peter Glenn Publishing company, and then bought company. He later branched out into becoming an independent producer and a motivational speaker-- that was right after he declared personal bankruptcy in 2010.

Clearly the next move was to open a charter school.

Though his LinkedIN account lists his founder/executive director credit for Eagle Arts as starting in April of 2011 (the same month he launched his motivational speaker career), the school didn't open until the fall of 2014. And Blount immediately ran into all sorts of trouble.

Andrew Marra of the Palm Beach Post has been covering this story like a boss, and the story is loaded with special Only In Florida flavor. Blount had managed to pull off two of the more common methods of using a charter school to line your own pockets. First, set up an organization to "support" the school and milk that for money (in this case, EMPPAC, which claims, as one of its success stories, Joel Osteen's niece). Second, if you're a multi-preneur, let all of your various business accounts marinate in the same big bowl. 

Charter school whiz Greg Blount

Blount hired his own company to produce an arts curriculum, even though Blount had no educational experience or training. He also required students to buy uniforms from his company, which charged  far more than the going price (the Eagle Arts Academy parent page still has a conversation about ordering difficulties from this summer). And he hired a third of his own companies for other consulting work.

And as Jim Pegg, county charter schools monitor for the Palm Beach County School District, told Marra, "Do we like it? No. Is it legal? Yes."

But wait-- there's more. To get the school and curriculum up and running, Blount brought on Liz Knowles, an actual education professional and former administrator of the private Pine Crest School in Fort Lauderdale. Knowles was to do the grunt work, but a recurring theme in stories about Blount is that he's not really a team player. Knowles told Marra that the last straw was discovering that Blount had set up a company named after the curriculum they were developing (Artademics). Artademics was paid, but the curriculum didn't appear for months (and there's reason to doubt that it was any good when it appeared).

It also turned out that Blount was repaid by the school for a loan that he never gave them -- maybe twice. 

Blount's side firm also provided tutoring before and after school for a price-- though faculty were expected to work the extra hours for free. That went into Blount's big Bowl O' Money as well. Blount's defense when talking to Marra was that sure, he made some mistakes, but he also worked super-hard and he should get something out of all that.

And all of these shenanigans are accompanied by a regular dance in which Blount comes on and off the school's board so that he's always on the right side of the law. Blount would resign from the board, take a payment from the board, and then be reappointed to the board after the payment had been made so that technically he was never a board member profiting from the school.

This fall Blount finally repaid that mystery loan-- not, mind you, because he had done anything wrong, but so the school could get its focus back on doing its work.

That has proven to be difficult. Eagle Arts Academy has now burned through three principals in as many months. Last year's principal resigned during the first weeks of the year over a reported conflict with Blount. An assistant principal was the promoted, and Blount fired that one within two months. A third principal was hired who actually inspired some faith in the staff, but as he promised to look into some "issues," he was suddenly "out sick" for a week. At the end of that week he was gone as well (back to his first love-- I am not making this up-- being a funeral home director). Greg named himself interim principal.

And that's just the top job. Assistant Principals come and go as well (including a field promotion for a third grade teacher with no administrative experience). Reportedly no gifted teacher, and a new special ed teacher brought in to single-handedly teach all special ed in a school of over-600 students. A phys ed teacher fired in front of the students, one of a reported eight teachers who have either been fired or who have walked away so far this year. Classrooms with no supplies or materials. Subs who get hired full time reportedly keep getting sub pay until they raise a stink, and the pay scale in general appears to be "whatever Greg feels like paying you." And through all of this, hiring and firing and dictating pedagogical techniques (yes, this former model allegedly does that, too) and covering for missing staff and letting everyone know just how hard he was working and sacrificing, is Blount.

Eagle Arts is supposed to be a performing arts school. Blount proudly notes that his is the only school with a license to use Walt Disney's likeness, which they do repeatedly. And perhaps that is a hint at another part of the school's sales pitch. Here is a parent review from Great Schools:

OMG was I fooled. The first year, no rating, which was expected and acceptable. Their second year, a D SCHOOL!!! Not one third grader scored a 5 on the math FSA - not one. This is unacceptable. I didn't put my kids there with the hopes of them becoming Disney stars (which obviously a lot of parents believe will happen to their kids). I put them there for the arts, and there are no "arts". No ballet. No music classes. Every year, they say that 300 new students have signed up and will be attending - I say horse sh**. If you're willing to devote 20 mandatory hours of volunteer time for each child you have there, and you're willing to spend $25 a piece for the required school uniform shirt and you believe your kid will be discovered by some Disney wannabe, go for it. My kids are OUT!!! ACADEMICS MATTER AND THIS SCHOOL HAS FAILED MISERABLY.

And then there's this:

Terrible school never fulfill their promises, it's going through financial hardship, it's being audit by the IG, they have two lawsuits against them for over $500, 000, teachers did not have the support, the founder's only interest is money, not the children. Administration was terrible no communication with the parents this year they were rated D

The Eagle Academy facebook page now carries a Thanksgiving greeting from Blount, in which he thanks "the children who come here each day and see their beautiful faces." I think something got lost in delivery there. He notes that "over the next few weeks we'll be adding additional support to our team" which will include a curriculum specialist and an ESE coordinator. In other news, gradelink, the parent portal system, is "nearly operational."

This is all more than just the story of one more disastrous Florida charter operation. Because one has to ask-- how does the free market tolerate such baloney? Why would anyone send their children to Greg Blount, and double why would anyone go work for him? The answer is that Florida has discovered the secret of building market demand for charter schools-- just keep making your public schools worse and worse. One Eagle Arts teacher finds the charter intolerable, but initially took a job there to get out of what they called the worst elementary school in the country. Low pay, lack of support, crazy rules, no resources, bad management-- if you starve and cripple public schools, guys like Greg Blount start to look like saviors and not narcissistic scam artists without even the rudimentary skills or knowledge needed to operate a school.

This is why Jeb Bush and Betsy DeVos are so simpatico-- they embrace the same model of crippling public education and then allowing anyone with a pulse to open a charter, free to rake in the money without fear of law or regulation that will slow them down. This is how you break public education so that you can get all the money to fall out.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Thanksgiving: Playing for Change

Happy Thanksgiving!

I said a lot of what I have to say about the holiday last year. Short version: as a national holiday, it is problematic, but as a day to take stock and pause to be personally thankful, it's essential. I am one fortunate son of a bitch, and what I have been given (especially because I don't really deserve any of it) means I have an obligation to give and to share.

This year, we could all use a little pick me up, so here's Playing for Change.

You probably remember that one video you saw at some point, but you may not realize that Playing for Change, an initiative to create beautiful and uplifting music with musicians that literally span the globe, has kept right on chugging along to over 100 videos. I'm going to share some of my own favorites with you, but I recommend browsing the entire library.

In a world where such beautiful and joyful moments of art can be created, I have to believe that hope can stay alive. And yes-- if you dig, you'll find that the foundation behind this has accepted Walton money and has provided support for school music programs, both public and charter, in many countries. Enjoy the music anyway.

DeVos, the Acton Institute. and Child Labor

Now that Betsy DeVos is set to be our next Secretary of Education, we have a few weeks to unpack some of her intriguing associations.

We already know the basics-- DeVos is a rich patron of the GOP establishment, DeVos wants vouchers very badly, and DeVos wants tax dollars to flow freely to white Christian schools. If you want to now what DeVos policies look like in practice, simply look at Detroit, where she has largely gotten her way.

DeVos money is used to support many organizations, some of which are already well-known, but some of which, like the Acton Institute, are not so familiar. But a look at the Acton Institute gives us a good look inside the DeVos mindset.

The Acton Institute was founded in 1990 in Grand Rapis by Fr. Robert A. Sirico and Kris Alan Mauren and was named after Lord Acton (the "absolute power corrupts absolutely"). Their website says their mission is "to promote a free and virtuous society characterized by individual liberty and sustained by religious principles."

Acton is a member of the State Policy Network, the Heritage Foundation's loose collection of right-wing and libertarian thinky tanks,  but unlike some of their strictly political brethren, Acton is all about the religious aspects. While they don't quite rise to the level of "greed is good," they do rise to the level of "capitalism is God's most blessed way of sorting out the world." (My words, not theirs) The Institute puts out several print publications, including Religion & Liberty and the Journal of Markets & Morality.

They also run a blog, and that provides a variety of astonishing pieces. Here are just a few recent titles: "Give Thanks for the Miracle of the Marketplace," "Does Acts 2-5 Teach Socialism" (answer: absolutely not), and "Defending Capitalism Is Like Recycling." They also like links to the Foundation for Economic Education like "Thanksgiving Was a Triumph of Capitalism over Collectivism."

It's a spin-off of a FEE article that gave Acton this next winner: "Bring back Child Labor: Work Is a Gift Our Kids Can Handle." It's spun from an article by Jeffrey Tucker, who is an associate of the Acton Institute, Director of Digital development at FEE, and an adjunct at the Makinac Center for Public Policy, another DeVos-backed group that has been instrumental in pushing DeVos policies in Michigan.

 Acton writer Joseph Sunde is sad that modern life, with all its "abundant prosperity" has removed work from the lives of children. Noting the recent Washington Post publication of photos from America's rougher, more child labory past:

The photos surely point to times of extreme lack, of stress and pain. But as Jeffrey Tucker rightly detects, they also represent the faces of those who are actively building enterprises and cities, using their gifts to serve their communities, and setting the foundation of a flourishing nation, in turn.

He then goes on to quote Tucker:

They are working in the adult world, surrounded by cool bustling things and new technology. They are on the streets, in the factories, in the mines, with adults and with peers, learning and doing. They are being valued for what they do, which is to say being valued as people. They are earning money.

Whatever else you want to say about this, it’s an exciting life. You can talk about the dangers of coal mining or selling newspapers on the street. But let’s not pretend that danger is something that every young teen wants to avoid. If you doubt it, head over the stadium for the middle school football game in your local community, or have a look at the wrestling or gymnastic team’s antics at the gym.

Yes, coal mining and middle school football-- pretty much the same thing, especially if your program involves playing games that last ten hours a day, seven days a week. Yes, Carnegie, Rockefeller and other Giants of Industry used to stand in front of their workers and declare, "I really value you as people," and then finish with "So why would you want me to pay you more money?" Yes, we all remember those stories where Rockefeller and Trump and DeVos sent their children off at a young age to work in the mines because they wanted their children to be ennobled.

This is, simply speaking, nuts. This is one step short of saying, "Slaves were actually quite happy in their lives, with a noble purpose to fulfill."

Sunde goes on to say that in modern times, the ennobling world of unskilled labor doesn't require twelve hour workdays and unsafe conditions. And Tucker fills in the rest:

If kids were allowed to work and compulsory school attendance was abolished, the jobs of choice would be at Chick-Fil-A and WalMart. And they would be fantastic jobs too, instilling in young people a work ethic, which is the inner drive to succeed, and an awareness of attitudes that make enterprise work for all. 

Right. Rich folks are making their kids work for minimum at WalMart all the time, so they'll be better people with strong work ethics.

Look, I am a big fan of work. My dream world is not one where everyone sits around on their ass and the money just rolls in by magic. I will even confess to a bias, a tendency to think less of people like Trump or DeVos who have never actually done any real work, but have gotten rich by playing games with other people's money and the fruits of other people's labor.

But this is some Grade A Bettercrat bullshit. The line of reasoning for DeVos and her friends is simple-- some people in this world really are better than others, and those people should be in charge, should be making decisions without being hemmed in by government and certainly not by uppity Lessers who form unions and otherwise thwart the proper order of things. Capitalism is God's way of showing us who the Betters are (they're the ones with the money) and so any government mandates that force us to spend our money on Those People-- well, that's not just bad politics or bad economics, but it's immoral. The state has no business thwarting God's will. Not that the Betters will turn their backs on the Lessers-- not at all. It is a Better's job to help Lessers find their rightful place, so that they can be happy in the work that God has made them for, which is to serve the interests and needs of their Betters. Our modern society is contentious and unhappy because government, often in the hands of evil bolsheviks and their ilk, has upended God's natural order of things, making everyone unhappy. If we could just get the Lesser children back in the mines and their parents working quietly for whatever their Betters think they should get, everything would be okay again. (That's why we call it Right To Work-- we are re-establishing Lessers' right to work the way nature intended them to.) And if we can't get them back in the mines as children, at least we can put them in schools where they learn hard work and discipline and compliance and, God help them, grit, because that's what the children of Those People will need (and who knows-- every once in a while, we may find one who is made of Better Stuff and deserves to be elevated by Betters' largesse). The only Civil Right people need is the right to happily know their proper place. America would once again be great.

This is what we have headed for DC. Lord knows, it's not a brand new philosophy, and it has been informing plenty of ed reform up till now. But now it's likely to become a steamroller that pushes aside well-meaning reformsters (yes, I think there are such things) and crushes the notion of a one-tiered education serving all American students-- as if they were not divided into Betters and Lessers.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Betsy DeVos-- Secretary of Education

According to the Washington Post, according to an associate of DeVos, Betsy DeVos will be Victor Von Trump's choice as Secretary of Education.

It's important to remember that we've known we were never going to get a half-decent Secretary of Education, and that it was always only a question of what form the shafting of American public education would take.

I'm going to hold your hand right over there so it doesn't try any grabbing

So what do we know about DeVos?

* She is an absolutely conventional choice. Once again, if Trump supporters thought that he was going to tap someone outside the box to really shake up the establishment, they will be disappointed. DeVos has long been a supporter of Jeb Bush and his work and is a solid insider among the deep-money GOP crowd. She's a member of the board of Jeb's Foundation for Educational Excellence. She would, in fact, have had a good shot at the position if Jeb! had been elected (Jeb just called her an "outstanding pick" on facebook.)

* She is a big believer in Betterocracy, the form of government in which the people who are just better than everyone else take charge. You can usually spot your betters because they have more money than you do.

* She is a leader of the American Federation for Children, a dark money group that works school privatization. AFC is also a trustee-level member of ALEC, which means when you see ALEC pushing privatization, you will find the DeVos fingerprints on their work.

* The DeVos family tree includes, as you will read countless times, Betsy's father-in-law who made a mint from direct-marketing giant Amway, and brother Eric Prince, who was behind the infamous private security company Blackwater. The DeVos family is a Koch-level supporter of conservative advocacy groups and thinky tanks, including the American Enterprise Institute, Focus on the Family, FreedomWorks Foundation, and the Heritage Foundation.

* DeVos was a big backer of Scott Walker, helping to finance his recall fight.

* DeVos has been disastrously powerful in Michigan, where their money helped push the emergency manager law that has allowed the state to suspend democracy for select cities and schools. She helped created the Great Lakes Education Project, which has fought hard for charters and against unions (and most recently suggested that Detroit schools just be shut down). The DeVos disdain for unions (it is so unseemly when the help get uppity) put them in the successful fight to make Michigan a right-to-work (for whatever we tell you to work for) state. The DeVos money is spread liberally throughout the Michigan legislature.

* While it may seem that DeVos is a charterization fan, what she would really like is vouchers, with the prospect of shuffling public tax dollars to private religious schools, new for-profit charters, and pretty much anything except public schools.

* While some choice charter fans call for a robust marketplace balanced with careful oversight to stomp on bad actors, DeVos prefers to let the wisdom of the markets rule and for little or no state or federal oversight be the rule. This has interesting implications for ESSA; the new law includes calls for federal oversight, but if the fed's attitude is, "Yeah, whatever, do what you want," the options available to states will become really large and, in some cases, really scary.

* In keeping with her Station in Life, DeVos has never held down an actual job. She graduated around 1980 with a business and poli sci degree, and a little less than a decade later she and her husband set up an investment management group for her to run. In the meantime, she became active as a political operative and party leader in Michigan.

* It will be no surprise that DeVos has never worked in education, and her children never attended (as near as I can discover) public school. 

* If you can stomach it, here is Dick DeVos explaining how public education can be starved, broken, and replaced with a money-making business.

DeVos's feelings about Common Core are not clear, really. She's a friend of Jeb, but she also runs with the hard right "kill it with" fire Common Core haters. No question that more stories will come tumbling out-- as they do, pay attention to folks in Michigan who have been getting beaten up by this family for decades.

But she would rather privatize public education than help it, she would like to make teachers unions a thing of the past, and she has a deep sense of her own rightness. Chalkbeat also offers the observation that DeVos is used to buying her way into policy victories, and as Secretary she wouldn't be able to just write a check to get everyone to do her will. Or maybe she could. We don't really know if that's not okay in Trumplandia or not.

Well, we knew it wouldn't be pretty. Now we can start to get a sense of just what kind of ugly it's going to be.

Pearson Hurt By Common Core

Yesterday's Wall Street Journal reports that Pearson bet big on Common Core and came up snake eyes or triple lemons or whatever gambling metaphor for losing your prefer.

The Journal article (it's behind a paywall but if you squint real hard, you can read it through the "don't you want to subscribe" haze) says that two factors led to losses for the edu-biz giant-- one self-inflicted, and one market-driven.

The self-inflicted injury was Pearson's inability to "develop and deliver new digital courses on time." A big part of Pearson's plan was to produce and sell digital Common Core curriculum, but after investing more than $125 million, they are three years behind schedule and have not yet "produced returns." The project has been run by a "academic" with no tech experience who is trying to design an entire curriculum to be run through tablets. It is not going well. Says the Journal, "Her vision sometimes clashed with technological realities." Because, of course, the educational quality and content has to be made to fit the tech, not the other way around. Pearson says it's confident that soon the product will be ready, on market, and making tons of money. Oh, and they've taken the word "Common" out of the name-- it will now be the "Pearson System of Courses."

The market-driven injury was, of course, the huge backlash against the Common Core and the Big Standardized Tests that were supposed to come along with the standards. Pearson bet big on the testing and watched themselves get chased out of many states as parents, teachers, students, and sentient beings with more than a rudimentary brain stem saw the tests and saw that they were not good.

As one of the biggest and most visible profiteering corporations associated with Common Core reforms, Pearson has taken a lot of the heat for the botched Standards-and-Test movement. Back in January, Ian Whittaker, an analyst with Liberian Capital Ltd. said, "The simple fact is that Pearson's brand is politically toxic in the United States." Pearson, which has busily inserted itself into just about every part of the education sector, disagreed. But meanwhile, Pearson's PARCC test has been booted from over half the original PARCC states, so the $2 billion that Pearson had planned to make from PARCC over eight years isn't going to happen.

But as Pearson is wont to believe, numbers don't lie. And the numbers says that Pearson share prices have declined 32% over three years, with a spectacular revenue drop  of 7% in the first half of 2016.

No word from the Journal about how Pearson's long-term plan to digitize everything and eat all the data in the world is coming. But on many other fronts, Pearson is having a rough couple of years. It couldn't happen to a nicer multi-national corporation.