National Review Article Purporting Widespread Support for Choice Conveniently Overlooks Some Key Facts

November 18, 2018 Leave a comment

My “For You” feed on Google News offered me an opportunity to read the conservative perspective on school choice in the form of a National Review article by John Schilling titled “Policymakers Should Listen to Voters on School Choice“. In the article Mr. Schilling, who replaced Betsy DeVos as the President of the American Federation for Children, cites several polls done by various choice advocacy groups that indicate widespread support for choice.

The article, however, conveniently overlooks the results of Arizona’s Proposition 305, which sought to repeal a recently enacted law designed to expand vouchers in that state, a proposition that school choice advocates went to court to block, a proposition that was not underwritten by teachers’ unions but rather advanced by 111,000 parents, and a proposition that passed resoundingly with 65% of the voters seeking to cap the voucher program at its current level.

The article also overlooked the high profile defeat of Marshall Tuck in his run for State Superintendent in California and the defeat of “choice champion” Scott Walker in Wisconsin, campaigns that explicitly framed choice as one of the key elements.

Most importantly, the National Review article also opened with a misleading sentence:

Despite a lot of headwinds and massive spending by the teachers’ unions and other opponents of education reform, school-choice supporters did very well in the 2018 midterm elections.

Let’s look at the facts in the Arizona vote, as reported in Ballotpedia:

There was one committee, Yes for Ed AZ, registered in support of a “yes” vote (uphold the law) on Proposition 305. The committee had raised $53,801 and spent $51,875. The top contributor was Every Child Can Learn, Inc., which provided $25,000.[19]

There was one committee, Save Our Schools Arizona, registered in support of a “no” vote (repeal the law) on Proposition 305. The committee had raised $594,032 and spent $535,192. The top contributor to the campaign was Save Our Schools Arizona – 501(c)(4), which contributed $255,774.[19]

We could also look at the California election where Marshall Tuck’s supporters outspent him 2-to-1 and Wisconsin where Scott Walker raised six times as much as his opponent.

There is one cold hard fact that is irrefutable, however…. and it’s this:

American Federation for Children and our affiliates participated in 377 state races to support pro–school choice candidates in 12 states, winning 77 percent of them. Heading into the 2019 legislative sessions, there are now pro–school choice governors and state legislatures in most states in the country.

I don’t have the time to examine the spending in these various races touted by the National Review, but I am very doubtful that the “…massive spending by the teachers’ unions and other opponents of education reform” matched the $5,300,000 “invested” in the 377 races by the American Federation for Children in the primary, runoff, and general elections across 377 races in 12 states, especially given the massive outspending that occurred in the elections cited above.

As long as money can be freely spent by purportedly disinterested individuals, those who spend the most will likely win the most… and democracy loses to plutocracy.

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Reformers’ Worries About Standardized Tests Too Little and Too Late

November 17, 2018 Leave a comment

Two days ago Chalkbeat’s Matt Barnum posted an article describing the epiphany of many reformers regarding standardized tests titled “In a shift, more education reformers say they’re worried about schools’ focus on testing“.

The epiphany is summarized in the opening paragraphs:

“If there is one office in every state I would want to get rid of, it’s the accountability office,” said Andre Perry, a fellow at the Brookings Institution who previously led a charter school in New Orleans. “I would replace that office with some kind of statewide coordination around personalized learning.” No one on the panel with him disagreed.

I think too much time, attention, and resources have been devoted to accountability systems that don’t produce outcomes for students that historically struggled,” Lewis Ferebee, the head of Indianapolis Public Schools, said later.

“The way we’re doing [assessment] now — that is so time-, age-, grade-based — is really constraining for those innovators that are developing models that will support all kids,” said Susan Patrick of iNACOL, an organization that promotes technology-based personalized learning in schools.

To no educators surprise, once No Child Left Behind mandated the use of standardized tests to determine whether a school was succeeding or failing and then tied those test results to the compensation of teachers and made the continued operation of the schools contingent on performing well on the tests, MOST of the teachers time, attention and resources were devoted to passing those tests. And to no educators’ surprise the students who struggled the most to pass those tests were children who came from homes where education was not as important as, say, figuring out where the family would sleep or where their next meal would come from.

And once standardized tests became the basis for judging schools, it became evident to reformers and politicians who were claiming these tests would “prepare students to enter the workforce” that it was necessary to ensure that the tests in every state were based on the same set of skills… which opened the door to the Common Core.

By the time the Obama administration had every state engaged in a Race to the Top, standardized tests were entrenched in the DNA of every school system in the nation and their importance was magnified.

So, nearly two decades later, the “reformers” who wanted a cheap, simple, and fast way to measure “school effectiveness” and “student success” have come to the conclusion that standardized tests, while cheap, simple, and fast, do NOT measure the effectiveness of schools or do an adequate job of measuring individual student learning.

But the tests cannot be abandoned as quickly as they were imposed… because there is not a quick, cheap and easy metric to take their place when it comes to measuring schools or individual student performance… and if it is impossible to do so how can a school be given a low grade and recommended for takeover by a private for profit charter chain? And how can a parent make an informed choice about the school they want to attend.

Mr. Barnum’s article concludes with this offer from a group that has long opposed standardized testing:

“I’m happy to hear that these groups are in fact grappling with and realizing some of the same problems we are,” said Andre Green, the executive director of FairTest, a group that pushes for a smaller role for testing. “Come talk to us.”

I doubt that FiarTest’s phone is ringing off the hook… and that’s too bad because they might have some insights based on what makes sense to teachers and administrators.

Those Opposing Personalization Based on Data Collection Fail to See Technology’s Insidious Trade-off

November 17, 2018 Leave a comment

Earlier this week I read a post by Diane Ravitch about a group of Brooklyn HS students who are protesting “Mark Zuckerberg’s Summit platform” used to personalize education in their school. Their protest was based on the following: some students played games on their computers; cheating was easy; teachers’ over-used computers; there were all kinds of technical difficulties, and the platform “… is collecting a huge amount of personal data from thousands of students without their knowledge or consent or that of their parents.”

Here’s a few reality check based on my experience in high school in the early 1960s:

  • My friends and I used graph paper we secured from the math classroom to play five-in-a-row tic-tac-toe throughout classes, engaging in tournaments we developed in homeroom
  • Some of my friends (not me, I swear!), devised ways to cheat on quizzes and tests… but almost everyone I knew (including me) used “flexible grading” for the “individualized” SRA reading programs that one progressed through by passing self-graded tests that were periodically audited by teachers.
  • Some teachers, especially social studies teachers, overused films to “teach” us about the wars that constituted their course of study

The equipment glitches that plague “Zuckerberg’s Summit platform” didn’t exist, but there were some days where we had more than one substitute teacher which meant we could play tic-tac-toe openly.

What we DIDN’T have was the privacy issue… but then we didn’t have the conveniences that come with the technology that students, parents, and teachers rely on today. And here’s the irony about those who complain about invasions of privacy: while they complain about “Zuckerberg’s Summit Platform” they are probably walking around with their cell phones inter pockets, purses or backpacks and, in doing so, providing all kinds of data. And if they are making any on-line purchases with any company, or streaming any videos or music of any kind, or using any social media of any kind, students and parents are providing a treasure trove of information to potential sellers.

This just in privacy advocates: We have evidently unwittingly made a trade-off: we get all the goodies technology offers us in exchange for information that can be used to market stuff to us.

My thought: We need to develop a new curriculum that teaches children how to ignore the propaganda that is the basis for advertising and the noxious politics in our country…. Maybe the tech billionaires can develop it, we personalize it, and develop a standardized test to see how well the children are learning it. Or maybe teachers can do that without the standardized testing part.

‘It Keeps Getting Uglier’: As True Costs of HQ2 Scam Emerge, Public Housing and School Offices Getting the Boot to Make Room for Amazon

November 17, 2018 Leave a comment

As the article says:

“…it’s possible many believed Amazon’s sweetheart headquarters deal with the Empire State couldn’t get any worse.”

But it did! The new HQ will displace 1,000 public education offices which will need to be relocate to a site that will undoubtedly have higher rents and… get this… a public housing project for 1500 residents will be scrapped! As Daniel Altschuler, Make the Road Action, said, this is

“Nothing short of scandalous: trading affordable housing for giveaways to the world’s richest man.”

Source: ‘It Keeps Getting Uglier’: As True Costs of HQ2 Scam Emerge, Public Housing and School Offices Getting the Boot to Make Room for Amazon

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Mercedes Schneider: Letter Grades for Schools Are a Measure of the Families’ Income Level

November 15, 2018 Leave a comment

This just in! Family income predicts success in school! And here’s another shocking development: this is a feature and not a bug! If affluent parents are not subjected to the adverse consequences of the test-and-punish “reforms” they will often accept the inconvenience of having their child’s instruction interrupted by the standardized tests used to determine “success”. 

via Mercedes Schneider: Letter Grades for Schools Are a Measure of the Families’ Income Level

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ANOTHER Post About Amazon… and the Bottom Line is Amazon Benefits at the Expense of Children

November 14, 2018 Leave a comment

Chalkbeat writers Christina Veiga, Alex Zimmerman, and Reema Amin wrote a post describing “Four Ways Amazon’s Arrival Could Affect NYC Schools“…. and some are clearly negative, and none of them is unequivocally positive and in sum they do not offset the revenues that will be diverted as a result of the decision to provide enticements for Amazon to locate there. What are the four consequences?:

  • Overcrowded schools as new workers move into Queens, which already has too many students enrolled
  • Concerns about a possible increase in homelessness as housing prices increase, a phenomenon that occurred in Seattle where Amazon is now headquartered.
  • Changes in demographics as a result of the influx of new families, especially in the area of ESOL which has expanded in Seattle.
  • The unlikelihood of the philanthropic donations expected from Amazon, based on the city’s experiences with other partnerships,

Which of these problems might have been solved had $1,500,000,000 been earmarked for schools instead of Amazon?


Thomas Friedman’s Rosy Analysis Overlooks One Reality: We Are Becoming China; They are NOT Becoming us!

November 14, 2018 Leave a comment

Thomas Friedman, an incurable neoliberal optimist, wrote a column yesterday extolling the capacity of the United States to compete with China, asserting that our system of governance will ultimately prevail over China.

I disagree because I fear the US is becoming more like China instead of the other way around. Instead of encouraging China to adopt OUR values we are adopting theirs… especially the “Darwinian system of capitalism” where billionaires can buy support from the government to increase their profits. (see previous posts on Amazon for recent examples of cities squandering resources to entice a business to locate in their community while short-changing public services). And has Mr. Trump championed the WTO or any “globalist” organization that fails to bow down to America? And I seriously doubt that Mr. Trump or the GOP leadership understands the importance of our navy in the Pacific. Have you ever heard him mention it or read a tweet about it? China IS a plutocratic state… we’re becoming one. But I was incredulous to read these three paragraphs describing why our country is capable of competing against China:

America’s formula for success, which dates from our founding, also had multiple components: We always educated our children to take advantage of the prevailing technology of the day.

When it was the cotton gin that meant universal primary education; when it was the factory, it meant universal secondary education; once it was the computer, some form of universal postsecondary education was required; and now that it is becoming big data and artificial intelligence, it’s going to be lifelong learning.

We also always aspired to have the best infrastructure (roads, ports, airports and telecom), the most government-funded basic research to push out the frontiers of science so our companies could innovate further and faster, the best rules and regulations to incentivize risk-taking and prevent recklessness, and the most open immigration system to attract both high-energy low-skilled workers and high-I.Q. risk-takers.

Finally, we always stood for universal values of freedom and human rights, always paid extra to stabilize the global system from which we were the biggest beneficiary, and therefore always had enduring allies — not just intimidated neighbors and customers like China does.

He later expresses his worry that “...if we get away from the formula that actually made us great, we’re not going to enjoy sustainable, inclusive growth” and concludes his column with this message for the President:

America became great with a formula that every great American president refreshed and reinvested in. And you’re not doing that. You’re actually undermining and neglecting some of its key elements — immigration, allies, rules and regulations. 

Here’s my message to Mr. Friedman. Contrary to his rosy passage about the governments support for public education, we have fallen behind in the past two decades thanks to our focus on standardized testing.  If we want to MAGA, we need to  educate ALL our children to take advantage of the prevailing technology of the day… and we are NOT doing that now and we HAVEN’T BEEN doing it for decades.

And in case Mr. Friedman didn’t notice, the plutocratic class hasn’t suffered from underfunded public schools,  …they’ve survived by residing in the nicest communities and neighborhoods or going to private schools and now THEY think THEY are the fittest. It’s past the time for us to offer the same chances the plutocrats had to ALL children in our country. IF we do so, we can ultimately demonstrate to China that democracy is superior to plutocracy.