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The GOP’s Plan for Education: Whatever Trump Says

September 25, 2020 Comments off

On the issue of education, this year’s presidential election is being dominated by Trump’s blustery blast of empty destructive noise.

Neither party’s public education platform is anything to get too excited about. The Democrats basically want to go back to the glory days of Race to the Top, Arne Duncan, and opportunities for profiteers to take over public schools. While I wish that the Democrats would pledge to abandon the ESSA requirement that all states administer annual standardized tests, with Biden in charge and so many other issues to address I’m guessing that the last thing he’ll want to do is pick a fight over an issue that has bi-partisan support— and, alas, the use of tests to “measure schools” is such an issue.

But as bland as the Democrats education platform is, it is FAR superior to what the Trump administration is proposing: which is more choice and less critical thinking about history. Peter Greene’s article sums up the GOP’s thinking about education and, well, everything else: Whatever Trump says is exactly what they agree with. Greene summarizes Trump’s choice plan with this sentence:

Trump’s school choice agenda is about cutting funding for public education and increasing tax dollar support for private schools—schools that will have no obligation to educate any and all students that show up on their doorsteps.

The POTUS’ desire to Make History Great Again consists of eliminating all trade books and replacing them with a single text that lionizes the White Male American Heroes who developed the Constitution and devised an economic system that works within that document to siphon money to the most privileged and rapacious CEOs. These paragraphs offer an insight into how the POTUS plans to become our leading authority on history:

Trump also called teaching about systemic racism “a form of child abuse” and announced the formation of a committee, called the 1776 Commission, that would pose an alternative to the “repression of traditional faith, culture, and values” he feels are running rife in the nation’s public schools.

Even more salaciously, Trump has since pressured Walmart, Oracle, and ByteDance, the China-based company that owns TikTok, to devote $5 billion of the video-sharing app’s sale to his “patriotic education” initiative.

“Do me a favor, could you put $5 billion into a fund for education,” Trump told the crowd at a rally in North Carolina, recounting a conversation he allegedly had with the companies’ executives. “So we can educate people as to the real history of our country. The real history, not the fake history.”

I hope that “real history” will continue to be a contentious narrative that offers a wide range of perspectives. The notion that there is only one right answer in the recounting of our nation’s history is preposterous… and the notion that Walmart, Oracle and Byte Dance can help determine that irrefutable “real history” is chilling.

Greene concluding paragraphs are even more chilling, though:

Trump’s vision of education as privatized and dutifully teaching students a conservatively edited version of U.S. history is not a desirable goal for our future.

Clearly, the only way Trump will be remembered as an education President is if he writes the history books himself. And, really, what’s to stop him?

The only thing to stop him is a clear and victory in November… and even some of the GOP might follow Trump if he decides to contest the election.

Source: The GOP’s Plan for Education: Whatever Trump Says

Categories: Uncategorized

Pandemic Puts Great School Ratings System at Risk

September 24, 2020 Comments off

Matt Barnum’s recent Chalkbeat article, “GreatSchools overhauls its ratings in bid to reduce link with race and poverty”,  touts the changes to the Great Schools rating system for schools. But the title of this blog post is the real news… and is far more accurate.

The article offers a history of GreatSchools development and illustrates how its use by Zillow and other real estate sites has exacerbated the racial divide in schools because there is a correlation between affluence, race and the GreatSchools rating. As a Chalkbeat writer I am confident that Mr. Barnum knows why: it’s because there is a correlation between affluence, race and standardized test scores and standardized test scores are the heart of GreatSchools ratings. Indeed, their “overhaul” doesn’t change that link substantially: it builds on it by using “growth” metrics based on standardized test scores as the basis for he ratings!

The article glosses over this flaw, but does note near the end that GreatSchools will be in trouble if standardized tests are not administered in 2020-21 after being suspended in 2019-2020. In his concluding paragraphs, Barnum describes the problem thus:

As it makes these changes, GreatSchools is also facing an unprecedented challenge. State tests, which provide the data for GreatSchools’ ratings, were canceled last school year. The Trump administration has said it will likely require these tests this year, but some school officials are hoping that will change if Joe Biden is elected president.

Even if tests resume, one year of data will be missing. That puts GreatSchools in a tough spot, as its ratings may seem outdated and it will be difficult to calculate new growth scores. Two years of missing data would make things even more complicated.

“We are considering a lot of different options,” said (GreatSchools CEO Jon) Deane.

One thing the new rating system won’t change: Boiling a school down to a numerical rating is inherently fraught.

“What makes a school great isn’t just in the test scores; it’s in the intangibles or unmeasurable things that you feel when you’re in the building, but you can’t necessarily quantify,” (Shane) Knight, the (Knapp Elementary school) principal (in Denver CO), said. “To their credit, they’re trying to use the information they have to help parents make informed choices, and I value that.”

Mr. Knight is right to offer support to the school, but the practical reality is that data doesn’t really matter when one is selecting a school or a house. It’s “the intangibles or unmeasurable things” the ultimately determine what kind of house someone purchases and “the intangibles or unmeasurable things” that draw someone to a particular school. The best way to get a handle on those things is to walk through the house, walk through the neighborhood, or walk the school and get a sense of whether it’s a fit for you. Mr. Barnum’s assessment that “Boiling a school down to a numerical rating is inherently fraught” is correct… but he has, I am sure, done well for himself trying to do just that. And, I am hopeful his “overhaul” is in peril because of the pandemic… and that the rating games that rely on standardized test scores will soon come to an inglorious end.

Arizona Platform: Scam or New Model for Public Schools?

September 23, 2020 Comments off

I get a weekly newsletter called Cashing in on Kids, a spin off of In the Public Interest, that provides a digest of news stories about for-profit schools. The stories all have a negative spin on the way profiteers are scamming taxpayers. But in some cases, like Erin Clark’s recent post from Report Door, the profiteers are advancing ideas that public schools should consider.

Ms. Clark’s article opens with a description of a platform devised by Prenda that is getting widespread use in Arizona:

To its backers, Prenda microschools represents a “return to the one-room schoolhouse” of the past, empowering parents to educate their children in intimate settings away from the cruel public-school bureaucracy.

But looked at another way, the for-profit company is reaching for something more contemporary, to be the Uber of education.

Anyone can start a Prenda microschool of five to 10 students. And no certification or degree is required to be a “guide” — Prenda’s term for the adult who leads the class — only a passion for helping kids.

Guides use their living rooms as a schoolhouse, much like Uber drivers work in their own vehicles.

Prenda — which is largely based in Arizona but is “rapidly spreading all over the world,” according to its website — has seen a surge in interest during the coronavirus pandemic and doesn’t shy away from the Uber comparison.

Having read about the Uber and Air BnB model in Anand Giradharadas’ book Winners Take All, it was clear that Prenda was taking that model and applying it to the learning pods that are emerging as a “solution” to the remote learning problems faced by many parents. In doing so, as Ms. Clark observes, “Prenda is exploiting gaps in regulation and oversight in the hopes of growing so fast and large that it alters the industry it seeks to disrupt.” And in states like Arizona where the deregulation frenzy has taken hold in an effort to promote lower cost charter schools, Prenda is siphoning taxpayers’ funds to it’s bottom line the same way that Air BnB and Uber are siphoning funds for the “services” they provide to renters and ride seekers.

Technology investors who underwrite businesses like Uber and AirBnB see themselves as champions of freedom, “…fighting for the people against the corrupt power structure“. And free market libertarians see highly regulated “government run” public schools as part of the corrupt power structure and see their new ideas as liberating parents from their monopolistic hold.

But… in some cases the ideas advanced by these technology-based entrepreneurs ARE liberating and have the potential to change the existing structure for the better…. and Prenda’s platform might be a case in point. The idea of using technology to help parents form pods, provide each others’ children with an ungraded “one-room school house” structure is not that different from the Mountain Oaks model I witnessed nearly two decades ago in Calaveras County CA. The idea of matching tutors with students is not that different from the model Ivan Illich advocated nearly 50 years ago in Deschooling Society. The problem with Prenda, as I see it, is not the model itself. Indeed, the model could easily be adapted by public schools to assure that all children are taught by a qualified (if not “certified”) teacher and, I believe, result in a method of instruction that would be far superior to the traditional factory model in place today. The problem is that the profits the platform generates’ like the profits Uber generates, leave the community.

The solution? If community non-profits could develop and support the learning platforms like those developed by Prenda the taxpayers funds would remain in the community and any “profits” would be plowed back into the non-profit entity that manages the platform. That entity would not necessarily be a school district. It could be a regional cooperative group like a BOCES, a consortium managed by a college, or a regional planning commission that employs technologists capable of providing the necessary backroom support for individual school districts. These kinds of platform cooperatives could be a way forward for schools, a means of keeping taxpayers’ funds in the regional if not local economy, and a means of providing a better education for all students.