Will the Rising Tide of Nuttiness Come My Way?

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Back when school was real life, my phone rang.

“I need you to send Manuel Perez to the front office.”

“Wrong room. I don’t have a Manuel Perez.”

“This is your precalc class?”

“Yes.”

“Manuel Perez.”

“No. I have a Sophie Perez.”

Pause.

“That’s Manuel.”

My turn to pause. I looked at the phone. Looked at Sophie, in the front group of desks, working diligently: an extremely cute, mildly butch, openly lesbian girl I’ve taught in four separate classes. As reference only, without disdain, much more this than this or this.

“Oh. I didn’t know Sophie was calling herself Manuel these days.”

The voice grew, if possible, even sterner at the multiple gender transgressions in my last sentence. “Perhaps Manuel didn’t feel comfortable sharing his identity with you.”

I paused long enough to be rude, thinking bad thoughts. “I’ll send her.”

Hung up. Turned.

Algebra 2 and geometry students hold their breath when the phone rings. If I send a student to the front office, there’s always someone willing to scream “BUSTED!” Precalc students, less likely to be in trouble, tend to ignore the phone. But this call had gone on long enough to gather some casual interest up front.

“Sophie?”

“Yeah?”

“Something you aren’t telling me?

“Huh? Oh, I went to senior cut day.”

“No. Mrs. Silveria in front says you’re Manuel.”

“Oh. Yeah, sometimes.  Some places.”

“Am I supposed to be calling you Manuel?”

“No, I’m fine.”

“Do you want me to call you Manuel?”

“No, man, I’ve had you since sophomore year. Call me Sophie.”

“Okay, but the thought control police are yelling at me and you need to keep me up on current events. Anyway, they want some dude called Manuel in the front office.”

Sophie jaunted out.

I looked at Consuela, one of Sophie’s closest friends, also a four time student. “She’s been Manuel for a while–well, he’s been Manuel. You know.”

“It’s hard to say this…correctly, but has anyone told her she’s going to score way more chicks as a girl than as a guy?”

The class broke up laughing. Understand, most of these kids knew that Sophie was also calling herself Manuel. Little bastards never thought to tell me.

“I mean. She’s short! Adorable! She’s had girlfriends all through school! Is she planning on dating straight chicks? They like tall guys, normally. It just seems, I don’t know, a counterproductive mating strategy.”

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I very wisely began my blog and twitter account in anonymous mode. Recently, Phillippe Lemoine chastised all pseudonymous personalities for not living our real identities online, arguing that “if you want to change people’s minds, you really should consider writing under your real name”, and that there’s no real excuse for the cowardice of a pseudonym. Unsurprisingly, I had some thoughts about that, which you can read in our conversation at the link.

The anecdote above, I related in a  conversation Toad and I had about how the bell will toll for all of us one day, signalling the death of our intellectual independence as we pledge fealty to whatever gods our corporate and governmental overlords deem the victor, or the most fearsome source of lawsuits.

To integrate the two conversations:  I’m not terribly concerned about the lunatics demanding fealty.  I am not normally a sunny person, so my belief that schools would not have fallen whole hog into the crap festival of posturing going on should have some value. Had school been open during this insanity, we teachers would not have been forced into kneeling, feet washing, or even posting some meaningless sign in our classrooms. Is my belief. Our school and district haven’t sent out more than two carefully worded emails, one each from principal and superintendent, bewailing the riots and promising some sort of discussion at a future date.

I am quite afraid of being outed as Ed and then fired and cancelled and probably stripped of a pension. Hell, maybe not even outed as Ed–the wrong person could learn I voted for Trump, and it’s game over. The idea that I should post under my own name is….insulting in its grotesque stupidity. Who the hell do you people think you are, I say as respectfully as possible, to Philippe to Jonah Goldberg to Tim Carney to Charles Murray to all the other people who think the eggnuts trolling them on twitter are the same as eight years of blogging and tweeting under the same identity.  Razib Khan might have a job at a university, but he lost out on a part-time gig at the Times, and that was three or four years ago. But to Philippe, hey, Razib still has a job so it’s all good. Jason Richwine is still employed, David Shor still has a job after his company threw him to the wolves. So this is all evidence that people like me shouldn’t worry.

Nuts to that. (Is “Bugger that for a lark” the same thing or does it carry a different semantic overtone? I remember DEATH saying that in Reaper Man and it’s always stuck with me.)

So leave aside the horror of being outed and cancelled. I’m talking here about having my Ed Realist identity secure and still getting fired. Assume I’d win a lawsuit in the event I was fired for voting for Trump. What erroneous comment could result in my undoing without appeal?

Back in the 90s and oughts, it was all about the holy trinity: race, gender, and gay rights. At the time, race was my big offender–not because I’m a racist, because I’m not, but because I was opposed to affirmative action and ascribed to the Voldemort View. My sins regarding gender are many and varied, but since I’ve never had the power or the inclination to harass women and support early term abortion rights, I’ve always been solid. Cleanest of all, pristine in fact, was my general support for gay rights, although I would have withheld marriage bennies from them because they’re too expensive. But then, I’d ban straight marriages from them, too–women can earn their own money, dammit. (See what I mean about the gender stuff?).

Today, it’s a different story. Certainly I sin on IQ, but I would never mention these beliefs in school. I’m actually more in favor of affirmative action (with a basement) than I was back then, simply because a decade of familiarity with Asian test prep tends to alter your thinking. I’m more likely to offend people with my comments on Asians than on blacks–but then, most Asians agree with me about my thoughts on Asians, so they’d be unlikely to agitate much.

My views on gender rights and gay rights haven’t changed. Alas, the entire issue of gender rights and gay rights have altered beyond all recognition. For example, even though I loathe radical feminists, I’m completely sympathetic with TERFs. And while I was totally on the right side of god with gay rights, I can’t tell if transgender insanity counts as gay rights or gender rights.

Whatever the ultimate category is, as the story above shows, it’s transgender issues that are most likely to get me fired. I’d like to think I could distinguish between someone who was experimenting and cool with it and a student who was genuinely fraught and go running to the authorities screaming. But bottom line, wrong comment to wrong student, and I’m toast.

Which is odd, from my perspective, and evidence again of how completely things have changed. My opposition to gay marriage was largely theoretical. I didn’t really think, as conservatives did, that knocking down gay marriage would result in insane demands for people to choose whatever the hell behavior they want under any gender they want to label it. They were right, and the awareness that such a bizarre concern could come true has utterly changed my thinking.

I have a friend who agrees with me, but whenever he discusses it, even if we’re the only two in the room, he lowers his voice because he’s afraid someone will hear.

I was worried about this before the Supreme Court went insane and declared that transgenders are a protected category.  It’s even more insulting and degrading if Gorsuch and Roberts came to this conclusion because they are planning on striking down affirmative action for African Americans. It’s so typical, really, that they’d privilege the mentally ill over the descendants of slavery, typical that they’d screw over the average citizen who has normal views on gender and sex just so they could be sure that more whites and Asians get into Harvard. (Typical, too, that the Supreme Court wouldn’t give a shit about how this affects public schools. Left or right, the Court hates public schools.)

You can see, can’t you, the irony. If it’s any consolation, if you’d asked affirmative action opponent me back in the 90s if I’d trade affirmative action for giving Bruce Jenner the right to use the women’s bathroom, I’d have said hell, no, let blacks and Hispanics get in with lower test scores. If my opinions have altered slightly with time, my priorities stay constant.

 


Figuring Out Podcasts

The path to podcasts, for me, began when I wanted something to occupy my brain while gardening. My brother had a big portable old school radio, and I’d listen to NPR. Back before Trump, on the weekends, NPR would be fairly apolitical, or at least no worse than a typical neighbor in my area.

But then Trump happened, and NPR just got unbearable. Before that point, I’d occasionally listen to bloggingheads interviews while working after school, and it occurred to me that I could just hook up my laptop to some old speakers. That worked so well I ran out of bloggingheads interviews before summer gardening ended.

Before the pandemic, I would sit in Starbucks or other coffee shops and write, but Twitter and other reading attractions were distracting. I suddenly realized that my phone came with a headset and that the headset worked on my laptop. So I plugged them into my laptop and listened to songs on youtube. Usually albums, so I didn’t have to change. No, I don’t have spotify or pandora or even pay youtube. Just whatever I could find: old albums (writing to the Carpenters Greatest Hits is very productive. Don’t @ me),  classical music, anything that would distract me just enough to focus on writing rather than flipping around websites. Somewhere in the last few years I started transferring pictures from phone to laptop via Bluetooth and realized that my rental cars on roadtrips also had Bluetooth which might be useful during the many hours when I was out of radio station range and Sirius had nothing to offer. Believe it or not, I used my laptop in my car to listen to podcasts I’d downloaded for about a year then suddenly, Rich Lowry’s regular reminder “it’s easier for you and better for us” to listen to the podcasts from a service finally sunk in as relevant information.  For the past….six months? year? not sure, I’ve been using Stitcher with inexpensive wireless earphones in rental cars, on walks. My own car was destroyed by a massive bus (sob) and when I get around to buying another it will support my podcast habit. I’m still pretty cheap. Not a big electronics person. And speak to me not of Apple.

Anyway, I’ll share my favorites and occasionals, and if anyone notices a pattern and has other suggestions, let me know.

Top Two:

Mickey Kaus and Bob Wright: These two invented bloggingheads, but then Mickey dropped out because his decision-making process unerringly directs him to choices guaranteeing the least visibility. I was delighted when the two decided to do a regular weekly show to discuss the pandemic. Guys, please don’t give it up. You can tell Mickey is worried that he’s made a choice that might be successful, as he constantly protests a commitment to anything long term. These guys are great. I love the lack of focus, the interruptions, the dispassionate assessment, and their obvious affection for each other.

The Glenn Show: Glenn Loury is a genius, a marvellous interviewer, and a guy who, like Mickey and Bob, should have a much higher visibility in today’s discourse. I’ve written about two episodes before. Eclectic, fearless, and ruthlessly analytical. Always worth listening to, particularly the “black guys at bloggingheads” series with John McWhorter. Other favorites are Amy Wax and Robert Cherry.

After these two clear favorites, it’s categories:

 Weekly or daily roundups

Ricochet Podcast: Rob Long, Peter Robinson, James Lileks. This was one of the first podcasts I began listening to in the garden. It’s very funny, very wry, and a nice mix of geography, political opinions, and personality. Peter Robinson sounds like ChooChoo on Top Cat and boy, does that make me sound old. They’re all interesting, but while Peter Robinson is by trade an interviewer, Rob Long, who began life as a comedy writer, is a pretty thoughtful analyst. Lileks is an op-ed guy.  They alternate between interviews and conversations; I generally prefer the conversations. I wrote about a particular podcast.

NRO’s The Editors: Rich Lowry and Charlie Cooke, with Jim Geraghty and Michael Brendan Dougherty alternating. I actually liked this podcast better when Luke Thompson was a regular, but I’m figuring he was terminated for boldly predicting that Joe Biden was a corpse knocking against the side of the boat.  Never showy or terribly memorable, it still always keeps me interested. I also confess a fondness for Rich Lowry, who would gun Sonny down on the causeway in a minute, because it’s just business. Dude’s a shark.

Commentary: John Podhoretz, Noah Rothman, Abe Greenwald, Christine Rosen. In their recent 500th episode, John Podhoretz mentioned that the Commentary editors moved to a daily podcast when the pandemic began, and that their listening audience tripled. Bingo. I had listened to them occasionally before, but when I walked a couple miles each day to get coffee, Commentary kept me from running out of podcasts.

It’s a very New York City sounding group. Hmm. I would like to be clear I’m not using “New York City” as a proxy for “Jewish”.  I mean that even though one lives in New Jersey and another in DC, the conversation has an extremely New York City sensibility. Like, when they are discussing the riots, they all talk about their neighbors and how they banded together, and I’m like who knows their neighbors?   They all seem to live in apartments. And so on. Maybe people do that in Chicago, too.

Reason Round Table: The libertarian politics are rarely front and center, while deep skepticism for political and media figures is. I like everything except the entertainment recommendations in the last 10 minutes.

GLOP: Jonah Goldberg, Rob Long, John Podhoretz. I used to like this a lot better than I do now. But at its best, it’s a fantastic pop culture show, and Rob Long’s insights into the entertainment industry are excellent (like why Burt Reynolds couldn’t get hired).  They’ve gone down to a show every two weeks; that and Jonah’s occasional Trump rants have dropped it down a notch. Still, I listen faithfully.

London Calling: James Delingpole, Toby Young. I don’t listen to this all the time because the issues just go right by me. But these two are hilarious. They used to do a podcast on Game of Thrones and their ignorance was a treatBack in February, Toby Young did a story about an 8 hour trip to the emergency room and a Chinese-loooking man who said he had corona virus, the memory of which still makes me chortle. I need to remember to listen to them more.

Mad Dogs and Englishmen: Kevin Williamson and Charles Cooke. I can’t stand Williamson. He’s arrogant, hates America, and has very little interesting to say. But for some reason the podcast passes the time adequately, possibly because neither of them live in New York or Washington DC.

Dropped: Left, Right, Center when Bruenig left. The new leftist is horrible. I Tell You What, with Dana Perino and Chris Stirewalt dropped off my list, more for Chris Stirewalt, also way left and really annoying.  I like Bret Baier’s show, but it’s too short.

Never considered: The Bulwark, Beg to Differ, any of a large variety of really smug Never Trump shows.

Interview shows. In general, I choose interview shows for the subject, not the interviewer. But these folks all choose interesting subjects. Note–the best interview show I’ve already mentioned, in the #2 overall slot above.

The Remnant: I gripe about Jonah Goldberg but it’s worth remembering I’ve been listening or reading him for 20 years. He’s a guy who really valued his relationship with his audience, and the Trump rise shattered that relationship, and the audience. He’s never really recovered psychologically from that blow, and he blames Trump and his followers. Fortunately, he had a lot more going on, so all that happens is periodically he breaks into a rant about Trump or his followers or what they say to him and it’s really boring. The rest of the time, he’s still Jonah and keeps interviews moving and fascinating. He tends only to choose people he agrees with, and knows real well, so it sounds like old home week.

The Reason Interview with Nick Gillespie: For some reason his stuff doesn’t show up in my feed, and I have to remember to go find him. Very good interviewer, keeps conversations interesting and funny.

Conversations with Bill Kristol: Another Never Trumper I despise who nonetheless puts together a decent interview show, provided you can keep him away from Trump. (In other words, the Mike Murphy spots are unbearable.) Also, his website of all the interviews is unintentionally hilarious: Hi! Are you a white guy expert over 60? Boy, is this the place for you! The Christopher Caldwell talks are excellent, and the interview with John Podhoretz on the movie industry is one I listen to about once a year.

The Dispatch:  Steve Hayes interviews only. Understand, the Dispatch podcast roundtable with Hayes, Sarah Isgur, Jonah Goldberg, and David French is not on my list at all. It’s basically ok until Jonah starts going down the Trump rabbit hole, and horrible whenever French opens his mouth. Disclosure: I loathe French.  And I hate his voice.

However. Steve Hayes does a very nice interview, and Sarah Isgur isn’t bad. So whenever it’s an interview with just them, it’s worth a listen.  The interview with two young conservative Dispatch staffers was so good I almost subscribed, but then David French was an asshole on Twitter, and the impulse evaporated.

Analyst Shows:

I used to like political analysis more than I do now, as most of them have gone way left. Amy Walter is intolerable. Five thirty eight is far too woke for me anymore, although I still have it on my feed.

I still give Josh Kraushaar a listen, depending on his guests. The Sean Trende discussion was fantastic–and speaking of guys who should have podcasts, Sean?  Henry Olsen, one of the few Trump friendly analysts, does a good interview even though his voice grates on me. I also like his ad analysis.

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Here’s something ironic: Almost every show I listen to has a moment or three, sometimes each week, in which someone takes a dump all over teachers. And if you point that out to them, they say exactly the same thing: We don’t dump on teachers! We dump on teachers’ unions! Please. In the Thomas Sowell interview, Rob Long called schools “sclerotic”.  John Podhoretz routinely says “in those horrible awful teacher union public schools”. Kevin Williamson routinely writes broadsidesagainst the profession. mentioning teachers four times and cops once. They all want to “fire bad teachers”.  Newsflash: if you say teachers unions are responsible for America’s low scores, you’re attacking teachers, not unions. And America doesn’t have low scores, which you’d all know if you knew better.

Whenever I point this out, people think I’m bitching or whining and I’m not. It’s just that my god, conservatives and Republicans and libertarians, get up to speed.  The 90s called and they want their education policy back. Republicans who aren’t directly involved in public school policy have absolutely no idea what’s been happening, and have no idea how to successful promote an education policy that hasn’t already failed miserably.

Just one example: Thomas Sowell wrote a book celebrating Success Academy and charter schools that was just flatly a bunch of bullshit, and was interviewedon Ricochet. Lileks, Long, and Robinson were all gaga with praise and astonishment. None of them mentioned Robert Pondiscio’s book–probably because they have no idea it exists. Not a single conservative in education policy would ever be so idiotic as to brag about Success Academy. They know how SA achieves the numbers. They know it’s all a lie. The only thing they debate about is whether or not the lie can be rationalized or not. But none of this came up. Complexity, something they enjoy in other topics, vanishes entirely when conservatives start talking education.

Notice, too, that there are no education podcasts on my feed. Reformers are too irritating, progressives are too progressives. I do occasionally listen to Nat Malkus, who is at least an honest broker. Conservatives listed above would do well to listen to him, particularly The Shifting Politics of Charter Schooling and Success Academy Charter Schools with Robert Pondiscio.

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So I just thought I’d toss this together, in my “write more” phase, and ask for recommendations. Specifically:

  • a good left of center podcast that won’t annoy me. I just heard Jesse Singal had one, so will check that out.
  • another culture podcast that discusses movies, ideally not just new ones.
  • a good comedy podcast. I tried Conan’s, couldn’t get into it. I like Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee, if that helps.
  • Other good shows in the categories above.

Also, is it possible to review shows in Stitcher? I am a very popular reviewer, Yelp assures me.

 


Dropping Admissions Tests: CalTech

Note: This is an expansion of my tweet storm.

It’s one thing when Janet Napolitano grabs the first opportunity to dump the SAT. The UC system has been desperately trying to rid itself of the restrictions imposed by California’s 1997 affirmative action ban for two decades: declaring a ban on the SAT unless the College Board redesigned it and made everyone else pay, focusing more on the subject tests, then banning them, requiring the essay then banning it. So naturally a pandemic that prevented large gatherings would be seized upon to get rid of it entirely.

(By the way, I put the odds of the UC developing its own test at exactly zero. Any legitimate test would have the same racial imbalances as the existing tests–without the ability to blame the failings on the College Board. They can’t use the state test, known as the SBAC, because it, too, has the same achievement gaps as the SAT. Moreover, if they used the state test, out of state applicants would have to take another test, probably the SAT/ACT. A test they could take multiple times, while California applicants can only take the SBAC once–a disparity that won’t survive a lawsuit. A UC-only test would increase the burden for all California students who wanted to apply elsewhere, and any out of state students applying to UC–how likely is that? No, they’re hoping they can maintain standards without the test, or they will reinstate it in a couple years regretfully, giving a bullshit reason. End digression.)

But then I learned that back in January, California Institute of Technology ended its Subject test requirement and a few days ago went SAT/ACT test blind.

Really?

Caltech has long been celebrated by affirmative action opponents for its refusal to bow down to diversity admissions policies–evidenced by the growth of its admitted Asian undergraduates.

But that is, in part, because Caltech isn’t harassed by lawsuits or hauled up by the media as an example of the evils of using meritocracy. The university has always been deemed too small for diversity shills to bother with.

So whatever reason Caltech had for dumping tests, I don’t think it came about because of public pressure. The most recent announcement didn’t make even a ripple: no media gloating, no aforementioned diversity shills gloating about the change.  I follow this sort of news closely and only heard about it by accident a couple days ago.

Not knowing anything about Caltech’s internal politics, I began with the two most obvious candidates: a change in leadership or a decline in rankings. Leadership has been unchanged since 2013, and Rosenbaum was no apologist for his school’s admissions policy.

Change in rankings, on the other hand, was plausible. I remember it being ranked #1 in 1999, when a change in the USNWR team made the rankings less concerned about reflecting public opinion. Now it’s at 12. But does Caltech seem like a school that would care? This analysis argues that perhaps the change was made to attract more international students. Maybe. Again, I don’t know all the internal politics.

But what the hell, I didn’t become Ed Realist to hem and haw about significant college admissions decisions. Let’s go straight to the demographics, which offer a real surprise or, as I said on Twitter “holy shit.  Loak at Asian, white, and Hispanic changes over the past two years.”

These two graphs show the same data, just in different forms. The first shows the percentages of Asians, whites, Hispanics, blacks, and International students.

Note: I don’t do regressions or….p values or whatever the hell they’re called. (kind of kidding, I usually can dredge up what they’re called and what they do.). This is just a very simple graphic representation of first year admissions data, skippibng Native Americans and 2 races.

caltechcols1

The second shows the same data but in linear form and raw numbers instead of percentages. I thought both of them were useful, pick the one you like best.

caltechlines1

I only included the bottom two lines, black and international, because otherwise people would wonder why I’d left them off. The big news is in the top three.

I found 1996 data in a Caltech newspaper article; it matches 2000 data pretty well.

My first thought, before collecting the data,  was that Caltech was using the pandemic to maybe get fewer Asians. But it turns out they’ve cracked that nut in many ways. Asians, whites, and Hispanics are at close to parity. (38, 22 and 29 percent).

The graph below uses 2002 as a benchmark, showing increase and decrease Using tests, supposedly with pure meritocracy, they’ve cut white admissions in half from 2002, and returned Asians back to their 2002 numbers. Before now, I’d have bet that reducing Asian percentages was a near impossibility. But Caltech has done more than that.

caltechbase

I have no point other than wow, take a look at this. A top ranked university chopped its Asian admissions in half without really increasing the international student population. Is that normal?  Since the school managed this without ending the SAT or Subject test requirement, why end them now? What explains this? I’ve rummaged around looking for CalTech specific explanations, but haven’t found anything. I’m wondering now if I’ve missed a trend in college admissions demographics.

Of course, go back up a chart or two and look at the yellow. African Americans are practically  non-existent at CalTech. I suspect the most common explanation provided is correct: blacks who have the chops to go to CalTech are offered massive sums to go to higher-ranked schools.

Still, looking at the flat line for African Americans, it’s hard not to wonder, for the umpteenth time why Black Lives Matter isn’t pulling down the Statue of Liberty for its pro-immigration propaganda.


Life During Lockdown

I am living my best life.

I sleep in until 8:00. In the early days of the shutdown, my beloved Starbucks abandoned me. Only two little independent coffee shops were open through March and early April. One is just around the corner and serves cornbeef hash made from scratch. The other is a mile away with a fairly generic menu. So every morning I go on a two mile jaunt for coffee to avoid the thirty pounds I’d gain eating that cornbeef hash every day.  The walk gives me plenty of time to chat with the dozens of others out on the sidewalk, something I rarely have the opportunity to do when commuting every day. The rest of the morning in and around coffee is Twitter, the news, water the garden, maybe make a trip to the hardware or grocery store. Nothing intense, just little tasks. At 10:30 I start my first “office hours” session, working on zoom calls until 2, occasionally scheduling a later session for working students.

I don’t offer “classes” per se. I just assign work, tell students to show up a couple times a week in Zoom sessions, and let them choose when.  Timeshifting isn’t usually an opportunity granted teachers, much less the ability to work from home.  While I love the flexibility of office hours, remote classes narrow the entire act of teaching down to one mode. Explanation has always been my strong suit, but there’s so much more to teaching.  I miss the variety. I miss my job.

Ninety percent of my students were regular participants for the first month, eighty percfent the next, but those numbers will fall. Like most district and union shutdown grading agreements, ours is a spectacularly stupid policy. 1) Grades are credit/no credit only. 2) Students who were passing on the day the schools shut down are guaranteed a credit grade. In short, students with a D or higher in mid-march don’t have to do a thing and the district is legally committed to give them a passing grade.  It’s amazing we have any students at all.  On the other hand, the participation and learning I see my students achieving leaves my original expectations in the dust. The bureaucrats are doing a great deal wrong. My students are doing a great deal right.

After my last zoom call finishes up, once Starbucks finally reopened, I take another  mile and a half trek for an iced espresso. Sometimes the late afternoon is spent in my garden, which is the entire backyard: tomatoes, corn, beans, squash, watermelon, cucumbers, peppers, lettuce, basil. Weeds are a problem this year; I’m mulching with my stepdad in a couple days.

I am running an “after school” club activity that I dreamed up to give interested students  some experience planning and managing a donation project. This takes a couple hours of every day, either creating products or buying supplies. Add to that the  few hours a week spent driving around to student homes, delivering materials to assemble various products that we’re donating.  Mondays or Wednesdays I usually head into school just to see the place, talk to my tech guy about various issues, collect any supplies I need.

My favorite restaurant has as much respect for pandemic laws as I do, and allows regulars to dine in. I stop in at least once a week, often bringing a friend or colleague, or maybe my brother.  A few other restaurants are open on the same basis: the barbecue joint up the street, the pho shop I frequent, and the Vietnamese sandwich shop. The liquor store beer bar I love is still open, but Bart left the state to teach while living with his girlfriend, so I don’t go as often as I used to.

Almost every day, I walk to one of three stores for dinner groceries. On Friday and Saturdays, my nephew hangs out with us;  we cook a big dinner and have movie night. I try to keep up on grading while watching TV.

My maid service comes every two weeks. Every six weeks, Lyle the stylist, as he insists on being called, comes by and does hair–mine, my brother’s, anyone else who hears he’s coming. I’m starting up acupuncture pretty soon. As is probably clear,  I follow only those pandemic laws that would put a business or employer in jeopardy if they were caught allowing the behavior. I’m fairly scrupulous at school and extremely cautious in any student interactions. Most of the time, I blissfully abstain from virtuous pandemic theatrics.

My life is great. Like, Tony Tiger grrrrreat. The luxury of time, meaningful occupations both professional and vocational.

Another piece of good fortune: no one in my family is financially at risk. Parents are retired. My sister and her husband are wealthy enough to be semi-retired, although my sister still sells diet products for another five figures a month. My grocery manager brother is busy and respected in the community, regularly working with city managers, nursing home staff, and so on. My other brother spent a couple weeks unemployed but is back at work. My son is in sales, but  the shutdown hit when he was at the top of a cycle and he took unemployment too. He’s enjoyed family time at home with his wife and two kids, feeling very lucky for the opportunity, and just went back to work.  If all that good fortune isn’t cause enough for celebration, my renters are employed.

So my life, which I already found deeply satisfying, has improved in almost every way by being forced to work from home–the only exception being the work itself.

But my easy living barely compensates for the fury. I am aghast at the utter waste and devastation caused by this needless national shutdown. I’m furious at the media which openly advocates for policies rather than trying to inform the public.   Disgusted at governors who caved to the media.  Incoherently, snarlingly hostile to people who see nothing wrong in placing their (or others) peace of mind above the well-being of children and young adults.  I try not to rant about it and in real life, anyway, I succeed. Most of the time.

At least the people in my community share my disdain, whether they say so or not. Surveys say my neighbors support the shutdown laws. Observations say otherwise. The parking lots are full.  Stores are crowded. Lines are long. Apart from rush hour, traffic is pretty heavy. Mask wearing is barely what’s required by law. No one’s huddling in their houses. It’s a deep deep blue region. People will starve before they give Trump the satisfaction of a protest. But random, frequent conversations reveal I’m not alone in my annoyance and anger.

It’s Twitter and the media, the outside world, that flummoxes me with the constant reminder of the mindsets that got us into this mess.  The other day, mild-mannered Damon Linker said, without apparent shame, that schools should be closed as long as need be to ensure that children don’t infect vulnerable adults in their family. When I asked how long he was planning on locking kids down, preventing them from living every day life, he asked angrily who would console his children if they infected him and his wife both of whom are in high-risk categories. Now, I don’t want Damon Linker’s kids to feel guilty, but wouldn’t it be much less catastrophic if he just kept them home? But no, he feels that since many others have the same vulnerability, schools should stay closed. That’s a whole level of entitlement I don’t get. I do not take the thousands of deaths lightly. Neither do the many other people who find this lockdown unnecessary.

I remind myself frequently of my tremendous luck and fruitful, happy life in lockdown, to keep my mood as balanced as possible.

The disconnect between my comfortable circumstances and my anger at the decisions that forced this life upon me can be disconcerting. Were I younger, I’d probably spend all my time fuming and none just enjoying the freedom. But I was self-employed for twenty years, and not a day goes by that I don’t feel a shiver of the economic devastation the pandemic would have brought down on me had it hit  had the pandemic hit during one of my earlier careers.  So I enjoy the sun, the walking, the neighbors, the coffee, the garden, the time spent with students. I try not to obsess about events–now, see, don’t get the wrong idea. I obsess all the time, but mostly about my own life. The world I leave for others to worry about, usually.

Anyway. While reviewing this piece about my terrific lockdown life, I suddenly asked myself if I could do anything to feel even more productive and happy.  And the answer came back instantly:

I could write more.

 

 


Tradeoffs in the Era of Covid-19

Lawmakers Want to Reopen America, But It May Not Be So Easy–Charles Fain Lehman
No One Is In Charge of Reopening the Country–Michael Brendan Dougherty
Curve-flattening a result of behavioral change, not central planning–Jonah  Goldberg
The important question isn’t when the government is going to lift restrictions–Megan McArdle
Experience Counts When It Comes to Preparing a Population for a Viral Threat-Jim Geraghty

(There are many other such pieces on the center and center/right; I just picked a few at random.)

If you follow me on Twitter, you know that I am deeply skeptical of the totality of the nation’s shutdown. End arena attendance of professional sports, sure. Close Disneyland, yah. Halve occupancy rates of popular bars, require people to spread out when waiting in line, by all means. I’m very much in favor of closing airports, which effectively quarantines a lot of the country geographically. Require schools, gas stations and restaurants to devote considerably more labor to bleaching and cleaning restrooms several times a day, and close public access restrooms in most other retail outlets.

I’m not a “floomer”, although I really despise the smug way that people use that term. I worry a little bit about getting the bad form of the virus, but not as much, say, as I dread takeoffs when flying. My concerns revolve more about my mom and stepdad, less about my dad because he’s in a safe state.

But I firmly believe we should not have closed the schools. We should not have shut down most retail outlets, nor should we have forced restaurants to take out only. Give me back Starbucks!

The casual inequities of the shutdown really piss me off. It’s absurdly unfair that Walmart and Target, by virtue of four or five aisles of groceries, are allowed to sell pillows, picture frames, clothes, and electronics, while Best Buy, Staples, Kohls, and Macys are forced to close for months. It’s ridiculous that Home Depot and Ace can sell plants and seeds, but nurseries have to do online orders and curbside pickups.   I’m just grateful I don’t live in the state where “that woman” doesn’t let you buy mosquito repellant and seeds even from Walmart.

My attitude towards the virus is undoubtedly shaped in part by the same mindset that leads to my confusion that there are people in this world who don’t just get flu shots, but actually schedule them in advance. I worry about plane crashes and electrocution, occasionally fear the idea of getting cancer. But on a personal level, I simply don’t find a brand new virus that probably won’t kill you but might worth the level of reaction we’ve had forced on us by the governors, whipped on by a frantic media who clearly worries a hell of a lot more about germs than I do.

I am also personally outraged by the casual disregard those pushing the shutdown have for the nation at large. Shutting down the economy creates winners and losers, while the media and politicians pretended that business as usual = loser and shutdown = winning.

But such an outlook is manifestly incorrect, and before long people began (very hamhandedly) pointing out that we are bankrupting our future, hurting the children of our society, to save the elderly and the “vulnerable” (as if children aren’t vulnerable). But we aren’t, as all the same people will acknowledge, saving the elderly and the vulnerable, because without a vaccine or a cure the virus is out there and will wreak the same havoc on the elderly and vulnerable if it reaches them in six months instead of today. Thus all we achieved by shutting down, we were told constantly, is “flattening the curve”, saving our hospitals and our ventilators so they could be spread out to serve more covid-19 victims.  Except ventilators turned out to worsen symptoms, or close to it, so doctors aren’t using them as muchand we never had a shortage anyway. Meanwhile, hospitals are laying off staffbecause no covid19 patients, but no elective surgery, so no money.

I am grimly amused by the massive media layoffs which is not fair of me, especially since the layoffs aren’t really hurting the worst culprits. But here is my meanest thought: the media shutdown would have acknowledged considerably more complexity involved in shutting down the economy if the millions of opinion columnists, star reporters, and anchors  screaming for shutdown had realized how completely their industry would be clobbered when they got their wish.

The reaction to Covid-19 has split various communities of like folks. The GOP has certainly been split between those who were aggravated we didn’t shut down in late February to those who think it’s time to get back out there and eat, drink, and drive to work.  There are Dems who are noticing it’s not quite that awful, notably Kevin Drum, although most of them are all blaming Trump for, whatever. The skeptic community has been riven, and I’ve blocked more people on Twitter for their tedious lectures in the past month than in 8 years. I’ve been pretty far out there on the “this is all overkill” path and have received a number of private DMs from people saying they agree with me but are worried they’ll be professionally hurt by saying so.

But put aside what we should have done. We should reopen now. Not entirely. Not without restrictions. But we should reopen schools, stores, restaurants, and coffeeshops. We should reopen parks at all levels of government, let beaches have people, and let gas stations provide restrooms, again with restrictions. We should provide hotel rooms not just to the homeless, but to elderly and vulnerable populations that don’t live alone and might not survive their family returning to normal.

And when there are calls to reopen society, there are responses like those linked above, which fall into two categories.

First: whether or not governments reopen the economy, the public will have the final say. And the public isn’t ready to go back to work, school, and restaurants. Polls support this view. If you believe those polls are representative of actual behavior should the government reopen–well, all I can say is, you underestimate Americans’ capacity to tell pollsters what they want to hear. I think easily 30-40% of any given community will go running right out to shop, eat, drink, and beach/hike within a day of the order. And after a few days, another 40% will be right behind them. I’d guess 20 or maybe 30% of the population will claim they will “socially distance” for a while longer, but when you question them closely it turns out they go to stores early and restaurants late, after the crowds. Business will be down at first, sure. Millions are out of work. But most Americans will get out there. The only thing that’s keeping them from this now is the government fiat.

Suppose, however, that I am wrong and only a few people leave their homes, so restaurants and stores will still go bankrupt. Well, so what? Isn’t that what we’re spending trillions of dollars to help? Isn’t there a case for government support helping those businesses who get out there to help our economy recover, start rebuilding our tax base? Let the people who want to go out and shop, eat, drink, and recreate get started on it–again, with restrictions.

And if the reply is yes, but those people are going to transmit the coronavirus if they go out and about? Well, then, you’ve just shifted the debate again, haven’t you? If you don’t want to reopen the economy, then just say so.

Second: there are those who create these laundry lists of requirements that have to happen to end the shutdown. First, we need more tests. Then we need to use technology to track down infected contacts so we can stick them in hotel rooms. Then we need infrastructure to enforce and track all this and then we need to close everything down again in case we have a recurrence.

Wrong. We don’t need surveillance. We don’t need tests. We don’t need to build out an infrastructure. All of these things are nice. But we can do our best with what we have and move on, continuing to build capabability. Surveillance and tests are what the laundry list writers want, and they’re just continuing to confuse their preferences with what America needs. Generally, these are the writers who say things like: the American people had no idea how much covid19 was going to change their lives. There’s no returning to normal soon.

Well, no. Covid19 didn’t change Americans’ lives. Forced shutdowns did. And the Americans who don’t think these all-encompassing shutdowns were necessary don’t blame covid19. They blame governors. The media. By and large, these people appreciate Trump’s resistance to total shutdown and his enthusiasm for moving back to something approaching normal, whether or not it’s his call.

I don’t want old folks to die. I appreciate the need to protect the elderly and the vulnerable from a new virus that’s cutting a swathe through our population. But make no mistake: we are privileging the security of the vulnerable by purchasing the well-being of the youngest generations not just in terms of immediately lost education but also in the huge budget cuts that schools and other institutions will face because of the forced bankruptcy we’ve just imposed on much of America.  The public discourse is not acknowledging the tradeoffs involved in minimizing covid-19 deaths over the wellbeing of those who face minimal risk. People who argue for balance are ignored or mocked.

Change is coming. I hope it’s soon.

 

 


Bush/Obama Ed Reform: Why Didn’t They See Common Core Fail Coming?

Rick Hess’s article, How the Common Core Went Wrong, unerringly dissects the failures of the proponents’ strategy, no small feat for contemporaneous writing. Granted, he goes off the rails when he offers the states a three step way-out: take back control from the feds, form a small coalition of states willing to implement tough standards consistently and test on them, and make sure they implement the “rigorous” Common Core, not the “frivolous” one. Uh, sure.  (I am reminded of Ender’s siblings Valentine and Peter, who never agreed about what the world ought to be, but rarely disagreed about what the world actually was.)

Here Hess is on the world as it actually is.

The crucial compromise [of NCLB] was that states could set their own standards and tests. In fact, NCLB specifically prohibited national testing or a federally controlled curriculum.

What followed was not difficult to anticipate. The possibility of sanctions gave more than a few state leaders reason to adopt easy tests and lower the scores required for proficiency. A “race to the bottom” was soon underway, prompting an effort to combat the gamesmanship.

In December 2008, Achieve, Inc., the Council of Chief State School Officers, and the National Governors Association issued “Benchmarking for Success,” a report that urged states to develop and adopt common standards; called for federal incentives to promote that effort; and advocated aligning textbooks, curricula, and tests to those standards. If all states played by the same rules, there would be no race to the bottom. (emphasis mine)

Here he is on the world as it ought to be.

A push for a meaningful common measure of educational quality should start with a small number of deeply committed states that choose the rigors of true commonality.

So let’s unpack that.

First, No Child Left Behind set criteria of 100% proficiency with stiff penalties for states that didn’t make progress. In response, states made their tests easier to increase proficiency rates and reduce the noticeable proficiency gap between races, demographics, language status, etc.

Is this true? Yes. Without question, states were lowering cut scores.

So why did they need waivers?

Remember all those media stories recording reformer complaints about low cut scores? Not one reporter asked, “if cut scores were so ridiculously low, why were waivers required? Shouldn’t all the students have been passing?”

Again: The states made the tests easier. They made the tests a lot easier.

And there was still an achievement gap. Not a single state achieved 100% proficiency. 

The Obama administration was able to force states to adopt Common Core because the states needed waivers because various student demographic groups weren’t passing their extremely easy tests.

The governor’s association that dreamed up the need for Common Core didn’t think “Hmm, the states lowered the standards to the point that 10% correct was proficient and still there were kids who didn’t get proficient so maybe we should take a beat and evaluate if perhaps our expectations of all American kids are a tad unrealistic.”

No, what they thought was, “We need to force the states to use a much more difficult common test.”

Now return to the point of my last article, which is that the states are experts at taking federal money without any intention of fulfilling the requirements attached to the largesse (which is only fair, mind you, given the idiotic demands the feds make without anything approaching full funding).

The last law was ignored in everything but spirit and nonetheless drove all the states into non-compliance. The Obama administration used the states’ desperate desire to get a penalty waive to force them to sign up for common standards and collaborate to create really difficult and expensive tests–that they didn’t have to use.

So the states didn’t use them.

The only way you could make states “play by the same rules”, as Hess puts it, is to force them to. He envisioned a voluntary cooperative because, as I said, Hess is better at describing reality than anticipating it. There’s no way states would sign up for tests that would increase their achievement gap. They couldn’t even end the achievement gap by making the tests simple. Why would they sign up for something harder?

Insanity. Also amazingly stupid. And of course, expensive.

At which point you realize that only really unique aspect of Common Core was the redistribution of $345 million  from the federal government to Pearson and other testing companies. Everything else was business as usual: feds hand out money with requirements, the states take the money and ignore the requirements.

Common Core standards survived, sure. But only because the tests didn’t.

Now the standards are just….wallpaper.

Hey, under a thousand.


Bush/Obama Ed Reform: Alex or Gloria?Common Core Assessments

In my last post* I  said that the tests excited reformers “almost more” than the standards. That’s because the truth would have derailed the article. The truth?  The tests were more important to reformers than the standards.

And the tests failed beyond the reformers’ wildest, most dystopian nightmares.

To focus on the standards is to miss the point entirely. As Mike Petrilli and Checker Finn of the Thomas Fordham Institute said, famously, “…..standards often end up like wallpaper. They sit there on a state website, available for download, but mostly they’re ignored.

Recall once more  that No Child Left Behind’s failure, which the education reformers themselves baked into the law, created the very failure they were planning to resolve with Common Core tests. States eager to avoid the penalities of not meeting this impossible standard just lowered the cut scores to allow more students to score as proficient.

So as far as reformers were concerned, NCLB failed because the states refused to maintain high standards.

From that perspective, a primary argument for common standards was to provide an excuse for new, common, assessments. Standards themselves were incidental.  That’s why no one pushing Common Core was bothered by a McKinsey hack was in charge of writing the standards. That’s why all the pedantic objections to specific Core strands were waved off. The people who foisted Common Core on America thought of standards as…..wallpaper.  What they cared about was the tests. They wanted to use the tests to hold states and schools and teachers accountable.

Ed reformers’ reliance on the assessments might be considered the Alex Forrest component of Common Core.

“They weren’t going to be ignored, Dan.”

It was all right there out in the open. From the beginning, all the people pushing Common Core standards mentioned assessments in the same breath.

President Obama:
…I’m calling on our nation’s governors and state education chiefs to develop standards and assessments that don’t simply measure whether students can fill in a bubble on a test, but whether they possess 21st century skills like problem-solving and critical thinking and entrepreneurship and creativity.

Checker Finn: Implementation, Implementation, Assessment, Assessment

But standards are not self-actualizing. Indeed, they can be purely symbolic, even illusory. Unless thoroughly implemented and properly assessed, they have scant traction in schools, classrooms, and the lives—and futures—of students.

In a well-known 2014 Intelligence Squared debate on “embracing the Common Core” , usual allies Michael Petrilli  and Rick Hess of AEI took opposite sides. But both confirm the primary purpose of all this change.

Petrilli: “Rick is right that…a number of states have decided to pull back from common core testing….My argument is that those states have not fully embraced the common core. You cannot embrace higher standards if you don’t also embrace better assessments. They go together…..We should embrace the idea of moving to next generation assessments..that are worlds better than the tests that we’ve been living with for the past few decades.”

Rick Hess: “The Common Core does not solve the problem it was designed to solve…the concern that state were playing games with their test scores in order to make their schools look better than they were. Common Core was supposed to help address this… (emphasis mine)

Note: Hess and partner Carol Burris lost the debate by audience vote.  They both come out very well in retrospect. Petrilli and his partner were wrong on everything.

Given this obvious expectation, the Common Core proponents were, quite simply, idiots.

Alex Forrest thought she’d won Dan when he succumbed to her charms–at the bar, in the restaurant, in the kitchen sink, in the elevator. How could he say no?

The new tests were going to be so great. No one could say no.

“I don’t think having dinner with anybody’s a crime.”

Playing Michael Douglas’s Dan, the cheating husband, are the progressive educators on the left–the union, ed schools, academia.

These folks examined the standards purely on their educational merits and gave into temptation. Remember, liberal policy wonks want integrated math. They support delay in algorithms while emphasizing “conceptual understanding”. They liked the lack of content and, while they’re rarely honest on this point, progressive educators prefer the emphasis on writing over reading. Reading between the lines, Common Core’s instructional shifts” (the “dog whistles”, as Tom Loveless called them) suggested that the Common Core would allow them cover to demand schools use these methods. I doubt they would have had much success, but that’s another issue.

By supporting Common Core, they could point to nationwide standards mandating all their progressive shibboleths while also getting brownie points for  accommodating with the then-popular ed reform movement. Play nice, and get cover to official  progressive instructional methods. It seemed win-win. And the wife–public school parents, for the most part–would never know because no one cares about standards.

Hey, it’s just dinner.

But just as Dan never thought Alex was a beserker who wouldn’t leave him alone, the progressive left never once realized that Obama, their president hero, was explicitly planning on using these new assessments to evaluate schools and teachers.

You can tell the point at which they figured out it because  union leadership and other key players on the left went ballistic. And so you see Carol Burris, at the time a nationally-known Virginia high school principal, and Randi Weingarten, head of the AFT teacher’s union, originally support the standards and then speak out in opposition.   Both Burris and Weingarten mention that they didn’t realize the standards would be linked so firmly to accountability tests. They also realized that the standards which on paper supported progressive goals would in fact create tremendously difficult tests that would not only make life difficult for public schools

” If you ever come near my family again, I’ll kill you.”

Once this horror dawned on them the unions and other left of center advocates not repudiated the standards, they also alerted Dan’s wife, Beth, played in our little saga by affluent parents. Some of those parents take elementary and middle school far more seriously than, really, they should. Some of those parents have high school kids sitting ten to twelve hours for 4 or 5 Advanced Placement tests in May and are ready for any excuse to accede to the kids’ demands for a few days off while the schools give tests they find meaningless. And so the “opt out” movement, driven primarily by parents, encouraged occasionally by teacher unions, centered in states with stronger links between test scores and teacher evaluations. Students also took the opportunity to jump in and opt out.

Parents don’t care about standards. Before Common Core, they didn’t care much about state tests, either. Granted, many parents didn’t like them much, especially if they had sensitive children prone to bursting into tears at the least sign of stress. But without a hook, opting out just seemed…weird. Everyone else’s kids were taking the tests.

Then the tests went and killed their bunny.

The Power Player

The flamboozle about opting out and “instructional shifts” acted as a shiny bright object for the media, and certainly explains the public distaste for Common Core and its assessments. But the progressive left and public school parents aren’t responsible for the total meltdown of the Common Core tests, in my opinion.

The temporary agreement of the unions? The parenting optouts? Irrelevant, really. Nice theater. The power players here were the states.

What mattered, in the end, wasn’t that the tests made parents unhappy.

What mattered is that the tests were ridiculously expensive.

But….but wait, you ask. Isn’t that what Obama administration forked out hundreds of millions of dollars for?

No. NAY. Nyet. Nein. Aw HELL naw, Karen.

The Race to the Top money was just to develop the tests. All that money went to consultants and right about now is when you realize why progressives froth at the mouth over Pearson.

How the Money was Spent, courtesy of hard work by Edweek. Orange is SBAC only, blue is PARCC only, and green for greedy got both.

SBACPARCCVendors

So the Common Core consortia funds went to a bunch of testing and curriculum companies. Said testing and curriculum companies developed the tests for Smarter Balanced and PARCC.

But the tests had to pay for the administration and scoring.

As early as 2012, the great Gewertz (Catherine, of Edweek, the only publication that consistently did bang-up reporting on Common Core), asked how much Common Core would cost, comparing Fordham’s cheerleading lowball estimate with the Pioneer Institute’s warning about the implementation costs. Other Common Core advocates acknowledged the cost, but argued it was worth it.

Proponents  argued that the $25 or so per student was ” not far from the nationwide average of what states currently pay”, but there were a lot of states below that national average and California’s lower than average costs tilted the average down.

But that per seat prices was just for administration and scoring. That cost didn’t include the tremendous infrastructure investment required to create a testing platform. The tests were all computer based, so many states and districts had to spend millions beyond the millions required for the tests, the implementation, and the scoring.

In other words, the states were going to have to shell out a lot of money to be told their students were total losers as far as David Coleman was concerned.

The  Common Core advocates always knew that, so far as love and affection goes, they were the mistress, the girlfriend, the bit on the side. They were always going to lose out to the wife and kids. But that didn’t matter, because those tests meant they weren’t going to be ignored.

It’s just they had the wrong mistress in mind.

The wrong woman

You know who else thought she was Alex Forrest? Gloria Trillo.

She thought she’d seduced a married guy who’d feel so guilty and scared by his infidelity that she could brazen her way into a relationship with him, whether or not he left his wife.

But she’d gotten herself involved with a mob boss, and didn’t know what that meant.

I don’t want to stretch the analogy too far, but it’s important to understand that despite this battle being fought in the media by think tanks and unions and progressive educators, these people were entirely out of the loop on delivery. The states  signed up for Common Core. The states joined testing consortiums,. The states had to deliver the tests, score the tests, live by the results of the tests.

The states aren’t Alex’s slighty guilty Dan. The states are fifty Tony Sopranos. They got mistresses, they got whores, they got the bimbos they screw occasionally at the Ba Da Bing club, they got the infrequent smoking hot number they spot at a party and screw in an elevator for a quick thrill but in the end, they go home to the Madonna, the woman too good to f*** the way they want. Guilt? Fuggedabout it. They’ve been playing this game for 50 years.

SBAC and PARCC were the testing equivalent of strippers. Strippers who want the occasional mob boss attention don’t make waves. They don’t create headaches. They don’t for sure go visit the wife and upset her.

Because if you do, well, Patsy comes by for a test drive and makes it really, really clear that Gloria understands just how thoroughly she can be ignored.

“And here’s the point to remember: my face is the last one you’ll see. Not Tony’s.”

Tony is going to ignore you, Gloria. Go back to selling cars, or end up splattered all over those fine leather seats. That’s the choice. You’ll never get near the wife. You’ll never spend a second more of time in Dan’s brain, even as annoyance, because alas, Dan wasn’t Dan. Dan was Tony.

And the end, well. Not very cinematic. As of late 2017,

parcsbacgeogparccsbactestdecline

Collapse. As bad as that looks, it’s worse just two years later. SBAC is down to 12 and PARCC–well, PARCC isn’t used in full by any state, best I can tell. (Spotted_Toad, who has been watching the PARCC demise up close, agrees.) PARCC’s gone. SBAC has traction in the West Coast. But no common cut scores, no universal benchmarks, not even the figleaf of a win for the people who went to so much trouble to foist Common Core upon a serene and oblivious public.

This was a long way around but I hope it communicates the primary issue: whatever you hear about the standards quality, the unhappy parents, the worried teachers–it was all mostly irrelevant. Politically useful, sure. But the reason that Common Core advocates consider the effort a failure is not because the standards weren’t popular, nor are they particularly worried that states rooted them out. They wanted the tests. They didn’t get the tests.  They thought they were dealing with Dan, that the opposition was the union. In fact, they were cut out of the game by mob bosses.

I have more, but let’s see how this goes.

*****************************************************************************
*(Seven or so weeks. Sorry. No one thing, but a great deal of the delay was because I couldn’t figure out how to explain the fall of the Common Core assessments in a way that covered everything. I mean, you could talk about opt out or bad polls or the 2016 election, but none of it really captured the root cause for the failure. How could I get that point across? Then I could deal with the details.

Suddenly, and I can’t remember why, I thought of probably absurd analogy that runs through this piece. Hope it helps.)


Bush/Obama Ed Reform: Core Meltdown Came

I categorized the glory years by president, but the way down it has to be by subject. Common Core’s catastrophic fall requires much explaining.

When we left off, the Obama admininstration had enacted a significant chunk of the accountability education reformers’ agenda (remember, the three legs of  modern reform are accountability, choice, and curriculum). By holding out dollars to cash-starved states, Obama and Arne “convinced” a lot of states to first adopt one national common academic standard (purely voluntary! not federal!) and then to use the brand new tests they promised to buy in order to evaluate teachers. Ironically, they were able to basically coerce states into taking these actions because of the policy failure that was No Child Left Behind, designed to evaluate schools based on test scores. Unsurprisingly, they were undaunted.

So what happened? Why is 2012 the turnaround year?

2012: Braking

In 2012, the Republicans started to  split on the Common Core. This was a completely unanticipated development. Republican politicians, at least, unhesitatingly support education reform, the better to document the achievement gap, blame teachers for the achievement gap, fire the teachers and, ideally, end tenure.

But  Obama ran for re-election claiming credit for “demanding” standards and tests, which was nails on a chalkboard to Tea Party folks after the narrow Obamacare victory.  When he won in 2012, the ACA became a near-certainty, leading many red state legislatures began looking for ways to stop what they saw as Obama extending control. Education, the last redoubt of state control, became an obvious choice  given Obama’s regular rhetoric about demanding behavior and compliance from the states–to say nothing of revoking waivers when states didn’t comply with their demands….sometimes.

Political Maneuvering

It wasn’t just Republicans by any means. Common Core got beat down on all sides. And not all the efforts to repeal Common Core succeeded in the early days. But the breadth and depth of the pushback was helped along all those eager GOP legislators eager to call hearings and write new laws to do what they could to limit the encroachment of (as they saw it) Obama’s influence on their education.

Financially, they were aided by organizations that are usually strongly in support of education reform: Koch Brothers, Heritage Foundation, and so on.  Republican politicians got the message; notable flipflops were Chris Christie and  Bobby Jindal. Ultimately, Jeb Bush and John Kasich were the only holdouts.

Importantly, the political efforts  were aided by the first group of Common Core naysayers, the ones who’d opposed it from the start: the academics.

ELA Opposition

Sandra Stotsky, who wrote the famous Massachussetts standards, was furious that the state had abandoned them and came out against Common Core in 2010, offering testimony for any state legislature that asked her. Emory professor Mark Bauerlein joined her in opposition, as did a large number of 6-12 grade English teachers. The ELA debate was, as Tom Loveless characterized it, “inside baseball” , involving the degree to which the standards devalued literature in favor of informational texts, giving equal weight to both.

Common Core ELA writers (some might say compilers) David Coleman and Susan Pimental protested that their standards were intended for the “broad spectrum” of subjects–not just ELA but also math, science, and history. And that, readers, explains why ELA opposition was limited to the second half of the educational age group. Elementary school teachers cover all subjects and, when faced with additional informational text requirements could decide to reallocate time in the other three subjects. stealing from history, math, and science to teach reading and ELA.

But in middle school and beyond, teachers cover just one subject. Speaking as a credential holder of three of the four academic topics, I can assure you that math, history, and science teachers have spent not one second outside of mandatory PD mulling their informational text responsibilities to the ELA Common Core. They weren’t worried about ELA standards. They weren’t going to have their performance assessed by the ELA test. Responsibility for test scores would lie entirely on the English teachers. And Coleman and Pimental were telling those English teachers “oh, don’t worry, those topics are for other teachers to cover” and the English teachers looking back at them in horror thinking “oh, my lord, these standards were built by jackasses who know fuck-all about reality.”

Another common complaint was likewise accurate but got less attention: the Common Core ELA standards seemed much more focused on writing than reading, and much more focused on writing as critical reasoning than as personal narrative.

Math Opposition–High School

Opposition to Common Core math at the high school level is a bit complicated–in my view, considerably more insider baseball than the ELA ones.

Unlike the academic opponents on the ELA side, James Milgram and Ze’ev Wurman  didn’t get nearly the traction for complaining that the math Core was too easy and didn’t go far enough.  Every math teacher I talked to who had actually looked at the standards thought this argument was insane. As I wrote in the article that gave this one its name, the standards drastically increased the cognitive demands for elementary school math in order to move half of geometry concepts and most of algebra 1 into 7th and 8th grade math, thus transforming algebra 1 into a a course that most schools would call algebra 2. Milgram, Wurman, and others ignored all this and focused on the fact that Common Core standards put algebra in ninth grade, meaning no students could take calculus in high school, putting them at a disadvantage in college admissions.

Tom Loveless suggested that Common Core might be dogwhistling de-tracking, just as the standards also  opened a window for Integrated Math  and “conceptual understanding“. He argued that the Common Core math standards were an implicit invitation to schools to implement NCTM standards, root cause of the math wars of the 90s.

These debates didn’t find much purchase in the mainstream media.  High school math teachers understandably considered fewer unprepared kids in advanced math a feature, not a bug. Shifting to integrated math, of course, is a different matter. As I’ll go over in the next post, Loveless is correct–the standards were inducement to states and districts to implement math reforms that were otherwise politically impossible.

But for the most part, as I’ve tweeted possibly a zillion times (with Tom Loveless’s agreement, no less!) high school was almost completely unaffected by Common Core requirements, math or otherwise.

Math Opposition–Elementary School

Unlike the high school opposition, the complaints about elementary school math were bottom up. Parents were really annoyed. I think this 2012 Barry Garelick article was the first one I read to explicitly mention  problems parents were seeing while helping their kids with homework, but eventually those complaints exploded into media stories.

Why the explosion? The math was a lot harder. To restate, Common Core math standards were designed to shove a lot of math concepts and abstractions earlier into a student’s development. As a tradeoff, they delayed a lot of operational math until later grades. So younger students were learning a great deal about place value and grouping numbers and the conceptual underpinnings of subtraction and addition (i.e., number sense), but the algorithms were delayed–long division is pushed to sixth grade, simple “stacked addition” didn’t have to be mastered, and so on. So not only were kids not acquiring what the public considered basic skills, but they were spending time and energy mastering longer algorithms and processes without really grasping the “conceptual underpinnings” that were the purpose of the longer processes. The parents didn’t grasp them either.

Testing Opt Out

Adding to all the drama, one of the earliest states to use the new tests was New York, home to New York City, home to any number of hyper-competetive drama queens, and that’s just the parents.  This Times story covers the anguish after the ELA portion of the test, before the almost certainly greater trauma of the math, and notes that  “Even outside of New York City, there was an unusual amount of protest.”

In fact, though, NYC parents were relatively slow to the testing opt-out movement, which already had some small traction in New York and New Jersey, but was never a real political force until the Common Core tests. In 2013, 320 students opted out–a tiny number, but still a surprise to the DoE. At the same time, a number of NYC’s selective “choice” schools (as if there is such a thing) announced that they would not use Common Core tests for admission criteria. But in some New York suburbs , particularly Suffolk County and areas of Long Island, opting out had already reached 5% or higher in 2013, and by 2015, many areas had exceeded 50%. Opting out spread to other states, notably Colorado and Florida.

I don’t have any real insight into any reasons for opting out other than the reported ones: the parents thought both the writing and math tests were ridiculously difficult for their kids. Famously, a pilot ELA common core test had a reading passage about a talking pineapple that approached magical realism–and questions that made no sense at all.

High school students, particularly in wealthy and/or high achieving districts, often gave the tests a pass and not just in New York City. They were studying for AP tests and the SAT/ACT,  and had no interest in helping their communities maintain real estate values.

David Coleman was wrong. So was Arne.

Coleman was wrong about many things as he meandered a series of jobs from McKinsey Consultant to startup founder of software company that *presented* test results–that is, just data display–to “emerging evangelical of standards” buddy of Gene Wilhoit to the guy who Bill Gates gave tons of money to in order to “found” Student Achievement Partners so that he and Jason Zimba could singlehandledly write up Common Core standards to the president of the College Board who led a horrible redesign of the SAT that has led more and more people to demand for its elimination from college admissions.  Coleman’s gift is to convince people through ready adoption of buzzwords and an unhealthy dose of overconfidence that he can master any task he turns his hand to.

But the subheading refers to  his famous comment in response to concerns that the writing standards focused on argument rather than personal narrative:  “no one gives a shit how you feel.”

Turns out, a lot of people had feelings about Common Core, and a whole bunch of other people gave a shit.

Arne Duncan just as famously sneered about how fascinating it was that “white suburban moms who — all of a sudden — their child isn’t as brilliant as they thought they were, and their school isn’t quite as good as they thought they were.”  Arne didn’t understand that it wasn’t “fascinating” that white suburban moms didn’t like his innovations, it was fatal.

Denouement

So the political turnaround on Common Core, the constant attempts by most GOP state legislators to repeal adoption, had a ready supply of respectable academics to give testimony, lots of angry parents, a huge chunk of whom were liberal Democrats, and a working class base that was becoming extremely angry at the Republican national establishment going along with Obama.

By 2014, almost every state was fighting some kind of political or grass roots action–meaning, when Louis CK, beloved (at the time) of the smart set, blasted Common Core for making his daughters hate math, there was a huge audience that knew exactly what he was talking about. A year later, John Oliver provided another benchmark of Not Cool by spending  entire Last Week Tonight mocking not just the tests, but President Obama.

Not all the efforts to ban Common Core were successful by 2014, but look through this list and see if you can find any state other than California, New Mexico, North Dakota, Rhode Island, and Vermont that hadn’t either made concessions (delayed testing at least a year, delay teacher evals based on tests), fought back constant attempts to repeal, or left the testing consortium to placate angry opponents.

Originally, 46 states and DC approved Common Core. Since 2017, just 17 have the same standards with no changes. Another nine states still have the standards, but made minor changes. Twelve states have made far more substantial changes. And eight have withdrawn entirely.

Whatever else they are, the standards are no longer common.

But so what? If most states are mostly using the standards, why the big deal? Why did you, Ed, devote an entire post to the “core meltdown”?

Good question.

Start with this fact: standards are irrelevant. Tom Loveless pointed this out as early as 2012:

Standards have been a central activity of education reform for the past three decades. I have studied education reform and its implementation since I left the classroom in 1988. I don’t know of a single state that adopted standards, patted itself on the back, and considered the job done. Not one. States have tried numerous ways to better their schools through standards. And yet, good and bad standards and all of those in between, along with all of the implementation tools currently known to policymakers, have produced outcomes that indicate one thing: Standards do not matter very much….On the basis of past experience with standards, the most reasonable prediction is that the common core will have little to no effect on student achievement.

(Tom Loveless is right. A lot.)

Using history as a guide, Common Core at best wasn’t going to make any difference.  But instead, Arne Duncan, Obama, and ed reformers promised that Common Core was the secret to 21st century success. No, not just the secret–the key. The essential element. They bribed states to adopt the standards.

They spent billions to get rebellion, bad press, ridicule and standards that exist in name only. They achieved bipartisan hatred and did much to drive the repudiation of an entire movement.

You know what they didn’t get? Well, stay tuned.

(Note: I finished most of this a month ago, but had to figure out a cutoff. More coming, I hope. Had a tough last week. Borrowed the comic.)


Bush/Obama Ed Reform: Zenith

(This is part 2 of my brief (hahahah) history of the rise and fall of modern education reform. This part is longer because much more happened. Unlike the events in part 1, I experienced the Obama reforms as a teacher, having graduated from ed school the year of his inauguration. I began blogging the year he was re-elected.)

Bipartisan Achievements

Barack Obama won the presidency in 2008 while simultaneously blasting NCLB and praising charters and merit pay for teachers. In practice, he and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan kept giving reformers everything they wanted–although in fairness, reformers got increasingly nervous about their gifts as his presidency matured.

Ironically, given the general sympathy that the Obama administration had for education reform, a new version of the ESEA was impossible throughout most of the Obama presidency. This proves to be an extremely significant limitation.  Arne Duncan and Obama, rather than force states to live with the unpopular mandates, invited the states to submit waivers asking to be exempt from the penalties. This gave the Obama administration considerable power to force states to adopt policies the federal government wanted. Conservatives were unnerved by what most would considera a violation of Section 438 of the General Education Provisions Act banning any federal control over state educational choices.

Bribing the States, round I: Race to the Top, Waivers

First up was Race to the Top, enacted as part of the economic stimulus plan of 2009, in which over $3 billion was set aside for rewards to competitive bids. Compared to the moon shot by Arne Duncan, the competition demanded compliance with most key aspects of education reform. Of the 500 points awarded,  313 of them (63%) were for teacher effectiveness (138 points), adopting “common core” standards (70 points), supporting the growth of “high quality” charters (55 points) and intervention into low-performing schools (50 points).  Schools that didn’t promise to  fulfill ed reformers’ wildest dreams didn’t stand much of a chance. From the link above: “Between 2001 and 2008, states on average enacted about 10 percent of reform policies. Between 2009 and 2014, however, they had enacted 68 percent. And during this later period, adoption rates increased every single year.”

Around 2010, it became possible to observe two developments that were in fact completely forseeable to everyone back in 2001, when NCLB was signed.

First, NCLB allowed states to define proficiency and then penalized schools that didn’t meet that definition.  That might not have been a problem except for the second development:  no matter how easy the tests got, 100% proficiency never happened. And the gaps were the usual ones.

But now  2014 was squarely in sight and closer and schools well outside the usual urban dystopias were getting hammered into program improvement.

Since a new ESEA was still politically impossible, the Obama administration began offering “waivers” from the consequences of extended failure to meet NCLB,   in exchange for setting their own higher, more honest standards for student success:

  • State must adopt college and career ready standards
  • Schools must be held accountable
  • Teacher and principal evaluation systems

Some education reformers (the conservatives) were concerned about the quid pro quo nature of the waiver requirements.   Other education reformers (the neoliberals) pishtoshed those concerns, saying (much as they said later about immigration) that Congressional gridlock made the waivers and demands logical and reasonable. A typical debate, in which  Andrew Rothernam, neoliberal reformer from the Clinton administration, rationalized the Obama waivers  “This dysfunction matters because when NCLB was passed in 2001, no one involved imagined the law would run for at least a decade without a congressional overhaul.” (translated, good god, no one took that nonsense about 100% proficiency, we expected to modify it before then!)

Obama announced the waivers in February, 2012, and by July of that year 26 states had waivers, with another 9 awaiting approval. A year later, all but seven states had waivers. Jerry Brown and the California team flatly refused to intervene in “failing schools” or evaluate teachers by test results and never got a waiver (although a few districts applied separately and got one).

While we refer to the testing consortiums (consortia?) as the Common Core tests, I was surprised to learn that the original competition for the grants was part of Race to the Top. Arne Duncan announced the winners, PARCC, which had 26 states signing on, and SBAC, which had 33 (some states joined both), in 2010.

The tests, almost more than the standards, excited education reformers. No more would individual states be able to dumb down their tests to reach NCLB standards. All the states would be held to the same standard.

But it wasn’t federal mandates, of course. No, no. This was all voluntary!

Bribing the States, round II: Common Core

The Common Core initiative was originally the brainchild of Janet Napolitano when she heading up the National Governor’s conference, documented in 2007’s Benchmarking for Success: Ensuring US Students Receive a World-Class Education (note: it’s kind of amazing how hard this document is to find. All the links to it reference the NGA doc, but that’s been deleted. I think this is the only existing online copy). She convened a group, and they came up with a set of five action items, three of which you can see reiterated above in the Obama waiver, because they were basically copied.

But it would never have gone anywhere had not Gene Wilhoit (head of school superintendant organization) and David Coleman, described in the link ahead as “emerging evangelical of standards” but actually little more than an ex-McKinsey guy with an assessment display (display. not design) startup  went to see Bill Gates, whose enthusiasm should have been a big neon light of warning, given his track record. Gates funded the development of standards. Coleman used the money to start “found” Student Achievement Partners and hire Jason Zimba, an ex-business partner who now worked for Coleman’s mothert(or, was a professorat Bennington College, where Coleman’s mom was president). Zimba, Phil Daro, and William McCallum wrote the math standards. Coleman and Susan Pimental wrote the ELA standards. The original Benchmarking report stated that the standards would be based on the American Diploma Project, but for reasons I don’t understand and might be interesting for someone else to explore, Coleman and crew rewrote a lot of it.

As the history shows, education reformer groups–those involved with accountability and choice–weren’t directly involved in the birth of Common Core, although it’s also clear from the verbiage in the Benchmarking report that education reform initiatives like teacher value-added measurement, charters, and school takeovers were very much in political parlance at that time, and very much bipartisan.

But education reformer groups loved the Common Core because they saw it as a way to bail them out of the two serious failures of NCLB described above. As Rick Hess observed in a five-year retrospective of Common Core, “The problem with that is if you had hard tests or hard standards you made your schools look bad. So there was a real, kind of perverse incentive baked into NCLB [to make the tests easier]“.  Hilariously, Michael Petrilli, who was in the Bush administration and was a key bureaucrat in the passage, has often said he disagreed that the 100% proficiency goal but “his boss” forced it on him. So now that NCLB was in a bind, the ed reformers were all for Common Core bailing them out.

The waiver process is often blamed for the rapid adoption, but in fact every state but Alaska, Texas, Nebraska, and Virginia had adopted Common Core standards by  2012, and all of those but Wyoming had done so long before Obama announced the waivers. Apart from the conservatives “in principle” objections, the original hullaballoo over heavy-handed federal interference was teachers’ outrage at a president–a Democrat, no less–using money to bribe states into evaluating teachers by their students’ test scores.

Regardless, states eagerly adopted the Common Core standards and in 2012, all seemed right in the world of education reform.

Governance

Technically, all of the above was the Obama Administration’s bribes to the states to change their governance.  These are just some specific cases or other items of interest.

Tennessee won the Race to the Top, getting $500 million to enact First to the Top. Initiated by Governor Phil Bredesen, a Democrat, carried through by Bill Haslam, Republican. Tennessee’s application promised two things of note, First, it would use its existing, longstanding teacher evaluation system (TVAAS) and use it as a formal evaluation tool, responsible for 35% of teacher evaluations. Then, in order to invervene in “failing” schools,  it set up a state-run district, the Achievement School District, creating a  as opposed to a state taking over a district. The lowest performing schools were simply placed in that district. The stated goal of the ASD was to take schools from the bottom 5% and “vault” them to the top 25%.  In 2011, Haslam appointed Kevin Huffman, ex-TFA teacher and executive, as well as Michelle Rhee’s ex-husband,  as Commissioner of Education.  The first ASD superintendent was Chris Barbic, former TFA teacher and founder of Yes Prep, another charter system in Houston.

Mark Zuckerberg went on Oprah in 2010 and, with great fanfare, donated $100 million to Newark, New Jersey schools.  Chris Christie appointed Cami Anderson, alumni of TFA management,  as superintendent of the district in May 2011. A year later, Anderson signed a contract with the Newark Teachers Union giving bonus pay for higher test scores or teaching math and science (although teachers could choose to be paid traditionally). The pot was sweetened with a lot of back pay which, to put it mildly, was not what Zuckerberg wanted the money to be spent on.

Michelle Rhee got a lot of attention, bragging of giving DC schools a “clean sweep”, dumping all the “bad” teachers and administrators who didn’t get test scores up. Eva Moskowitz was dumping students who didn’t get test scores up. Joel Klein left his NYC post in 2011; Bloomberg’s pick of Cathy Black, a woman with no teaching or administrative experience, was extremely unpopular. Bloomberg gave up on Black after four months and appointed Dennis Walcott, who was accepted at face value as an improvement. School turnaround consultant Paul Vallas ran the Louisiana Recovery District (mostly New Orleans Schools) for 4 years.

Education reform generally became more popular in Democratic circles, given Obama’s strong support.  Steven Brill’s article The Rubber Room called attention to NYC’s practice of housing teachers who’d been removed from the classroom but couldn’t actually be fired.  Waiting for Superman, a documentary promoting choice and blasing unions and tenure, opened to universal praise by media, politicians, and other thought leaders. In 2010, Obama openly supported the dismissalof a Rhode Island high school’s entire staff, saying, “our kids get only one chance at an education, and we need to get it right.”

All this criticism kept building. 2012 was a nadir year terms of establishment discourse about public school teachers, although their reputation among the public seemed largely unchanged. It became increasingly popular to attack teacher tenure, again by both Democrats and Republicans, and certainly in the generally left of center media. Many states had agreed to evaluate teachers by test scores and both major unions had signed onto the Common Core standards, although teachers themselves were very doubtful.  A preponderance of politicians and academics were more than willing to agree that teacher quality needed to improve, that tenure might be problematic, and that teachers should be judged at least in part on test scores.  The Chicago Teachers Union went on strike, pitting union president Karen Lewis against Rahm Emmanuel, and media sympathies were entirely with Rahm. Governor Scott Walker ended collective bargaining for public workers (except cops and firefighters!).

One major setback: DC’s 2010 election, in which black voters booted Adrian Fenty, the media-popular mayor, largely because they wanted to get rid of Michelle Rhee, who stepped down the day after the election. Her successor, Kaya Henderson, kept firing teachers, but she’s black, which might have made a difference. Rhee immediately announced a new organization, Students First, and let Richard Whitmire write an admiring biography.

Standards

In 2008, California made algebra I the “test of record” for eight graders, meaning that 8th graders would take an algebra end of course test or the schools would receive a penalty towards average yearly progress.

High school exit exams mostly held constant; this 2008 Edweek article actually says that fewer than half of the states required exams, but that may be because of lawsuits. California, for example, was sued constantly about the use of the CAHSEE in the early 2002.

Charter Growth, Choice, TFA

Just one state, Washington, authorized charters during the Obama administration. Absolute growth was still slow through  2011,  but then recovered from 2012 to 2017. As a percentage, though, the decline from 2001 to 2011 was steep, slowed slightly but still declined through 2017.  By 2012, charter advocates began pushing the suburban progressive charter, realizing that growth would continue to slow if they couldn’t disengage white folks from their beloved public schools. Suburban charters were (and are) popular with whites in racially diverse areas, particularly in the south; for example, Wake County charter schools were 62% white in 2012.

When the 2007-2008 meltdown hit, TFA recruitment soared ever higher as elite grads sought shelter from a horrible job market. Relay Graduate School began in 2011, basically providing a teaching credential for new hires of inner city charters.

In 2010, Douglas County (major Colorado suburb) began a highly contested investigation into a voucher program, one that would give public money for all private schools, including religious ones. The school board ultimately supported a move forward, despite a split community.

And that’s the end of the very nearly straightforward rise of education reform. It’s impossible to cover every major development, but I really tried to look at advances in every major area.

I’m going to call 2012 as the peak of the era, for reasons I’ll go through in the next post. It’s not that all progress stopped. It took four more years before education reformers even began to consider how badly they’d been beaten. But most of them would realize that they were now fighting significant opposition that they couldn’t easily dismiss.

Something I’ve mentioned before: it’s amazing that Republican media folk, as opposed to education reformers and even politicians, still talk like it’s 2008-2012. There’s really no understanding in the pundit world how badly they’ve been beaten.

Working on the next; hoping to get it done before the new year. I will go back and edit these if something significant occurred to me.

 

 


Bush/Obama Ed Reform: The Road to Glory

The utter collapse of ed reform in 2016 and beyond really hasn’t received much notice in the mainstream media, although the conservative branch of the old movement certainly talks about it. So prompted by Spotted Toad, I’m expanding (of course), the rise and eventual fall that I began in response to a question in a comments section.  As an aside, if you haven’t read Spotted Toad’s outstanding article referencing this collapse, do so after finishing this piece, however long it becomes, the better to appreciate his sublime analogy.

While education reformers were of both the left (Howard Fuller, Theodore Sizer, Andrew Rotherham) and right (Checker Finn, Rick Hess), the Republican party eventually seized the agenda and made it their own. Most teachers (raises hand) considered the GOP adoption as a weapon to weaken teachers’ unions, but motives aside, the school reform movement was traditionally considered as conservative policy, primarily because teachers, whose unions are very much of the left, were the opposition. But ultimately, education reform efforts in this era were shared and then arguably taken over by Democrats.

Beginnings

Understand that there’s always education reform going on in our country, so I’ll be specific: in the late 80s/90s, several highly influential books created momentum for specific public school reforms. Public education was, these people argued, corrupt, inefficient, incompetent, and expensive. Proposals to address its failures fell into three categories, broadly. First, give parents public money to spend freely on their own educational choices. Second, invest and examine instruction and curriculum. Finally, tie up federal education funds with demands that the dollars are being spent well, holding schools accountable. (For more on choice and accountability, see my thoughts here.)

Charters

During the Clinton administration, Democrats were still eager to prove they weren’t McGovern leftists.  California and Minnesota already had authorized charter schools by 1993, when Clinton became president. Clinton and Congress passed a new version of the ESEA, Charter Schools Program, which gave a whole bunch of federal money to charter schools. From the start of Clinton’s presidency to the end, charter school growth increased by 1, 992 schools–literally, from 1 to 1, 993.

I was surprised to learn while preparing this piece that most states had authorized charters during the Clinton administration–by my count, 36 states had charter laws and charter schools by the time Clinton left office.

One of the two most famous charter chains and the only one that really tries to reach throughout the nation, KIPP, was founded in 1994–and arguably created the market for charters as selective schools for inner city African Americans and Hispanics whose public schools were chaotic and/or academically undemanding.  KIPP’s success, which was originally evaluated without controlled comparisons, seemed miraculous and charter advocates saw an immediately compelling “killer app” (to use the parlance of  the times). While many advocates were honestly interested in improving educational outcomes for poor African American and Hispanic students, it’s hard to believe they would have gotten as much funding for their efforts if wealthy conservative organizations didn’t see the growth of charters as a way to wipe out teachers’ unions and their Democratic party donations. It’s hard to escape noticing that neither educational advocates nor charter funders have ever been much interested in improving academic outcomes for poor whites.

Alternative Teacher Credentialing

In 1990, billionaire Ross Perot gave half a million dollars to Wendy Kopp to help her get a new organization,Teach for America, off the ground. Based on the premise that the education gap was created by ignorant teachers, Kopp got corporate funding and political support by making it attractive for elite college graduates to teach for a few years in inner city schools. TFA attracted idealist 22 year olds who also, pragmatically, saw the value of a TFA stint on their resume–as Kopp herself put it, she wanted TFA to be the equivalent of a Rhodes scholar award.

It was during the Clinton era that it first became common to think of public school teachers as dull mediocrities. Credential tests for elementary school teachers started to show up in state requirements by the late 1980s, and the Higher Education Act of 1998 required them. Eager to dethrone ed schools as a means of teacher production, education reformers succeeded in including a requirement for ed schools to publish their credential pass rates, certain that outrage at teacher incompetence would push parents and politicians to join with reformers in demanding alternate education credential paths.

Republicans had been targeting teacher tenure and unions as the obstacles to educational excellence since at least “A Nation at Risk”. But Terry Moe, a Democrat, started making such heresy popular among Democrats (at least the neoliberals, as some called them) in the late 80s. Increasingly, critics of  teachers held them responsible for student test scores, and compared them unfavorably to non-union charters.

Governance

Another notable development during the Clinton era was the high school exit exam, although the media really only began to notice during the Bush and Obama administrations. A number of states had very simple exit exams (called MCE for minimum competency exam) in the 1970s, but the “Nation at Risk” report led to the cancellation of many of these. Texas instituted a more difficult test in 1985; that’s the earliest I could find of a more typical high school exam requirement. But the rise of the modern high school exit exam is definitely linked to the Clinton administration. Somewere between 24 and 26 states required a high school exit exam by 2002, and increasingly these exams required passage for a diploma.

(note: I added the above the next day.)

Ascending to Glory

In 2000, George W. Bush’s election put school reform in the driver’s seat. For the next dozen years, reformers achieved almost all of their major policy goals with two consecutive, supportive presidents–as my title notes, the era will be named after them. There’s at least one book on the subject already.

No Child Left Behind

The decade started with the rewrite of ESEA famous enough to get its own name: No Child Left Behind.  NCLB was bipartisan; Democrats George Miller and Edward Kennedy were co-sponsors. Accountability was always a key component in the education reform agenda. In a nutshell, NCLB required that all students in all categories score at proficient or higher by 2014,  leading to the absurd demand that all students be above average. Schools that didn’t meet what was called “adequate yearly progress” in state-defined proficiency were put on “program improvement’;  students were allowed to go to any other public school that accepted them. Oddly enough, the threat of students leaving wasn’t all that terrible, as students who wanted to go to charters were already leaving, and public schools weren’t terribly interested in accepting students outside their geographic district. But there was plenty left that was horrible about program improvement, including the never-ending relentless focus on test scores.

TFA had solid growth during the Bush era, although it wasn’t the soaring rates that they’d see next term.

Charters

Absolute growth slowed from 2001 to 2011.  As a percentage, though, the decline from 2001 to 2011 was steep, slowed slightly but still declined through 2017. Part of this is because most states had authorized charters before the Bush administration; from 2001 to 2008 Iowa, Maryland, New Hampshire, Tennessee, and Wyoming authorized charters.

However, charters saw a major boost because of a natural disaster. Education reformers were a little too ecstatic about the “opportunity” provided by Hurricane Katrina, when the Louisiana legislature summarily fired the vast majority of New Orleans teachers, 71% of whom were black women, in order to turn New Orleans’ schools over to the State Recovery District. (More than half of these teachers never taught again.) New Orleans became a predominantly charter school district after that, and less than 50% of its teaching population is black (as of five years ago).

New Orleans became the crucible for education reformers. Finally, they’d been able to completely scrub (one might say bleach) a school district and redefine it the way they thought schools would run. Overwhelmingly, they believed that New Orleans would serve as an impetus for more cities to go full charter, or at least full-scale choice.

Another famous charter network, Success Academy, was founded in 2006 when Eva Moskowitz lost her election for the NYC council and needed a backup job.

Charters were still being primarily targeted as a method to improve black and Hispanic student outcomes, but Summit Prep in the Bay Area, California was began as a suburban charter in 2003.

Governance

School and district takeovers continued to be an important strategy to institute charters and choice. TFA alum Michelle Rhee was appointed the head of Washington DC schools by mayor Adrian Fenty after the DC Board of Education was stripped of its power.  Joel Klein, with Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s support, instituted choice throughout the NYC school system and supported dramatic growth in charters.

The outcry against ed schools got stronger, aided in no small part by the National Council on Teacher Quality (which, in my view, is the educational equivalent of the Southern Poverty Law Center). Founded in 2004, NCTQ is well-known for providing research fodder for sympathetic education reformers that is generally ignored by teachers, even more than they ignore most research.

NCLB built on the 1998 Higher Education Act to require that all states define “highly qualified teachers” that test in through credential test or other rigorous standard.  In many states, middle school teachers had to meet the same requirements as high school teachers (although existing teachers were grandfathered in). The credential test created significant challenges for new black and Hispanic teachers.

One crushing blow, however, to ed school critics, was the failure of the 1998 HEA to create an ed school ranking system. Ed schools were required to publish their graduates’ credential test pass rate which critics expected to be low for many schools. This, they hoped, would create a ranking system and thus an opening for alternate credentialing programs to break the near-monopoly of university-based ed schools. Alas, ed schools bit hard on a bullet and simply denied diplomas to any ed school candidates who couldn’t pass the credential tests. Thus, the vast majority of ed schools had a 100% pass rate, and alternative ed school programs simply copied the prevailing requirements. Curses! foiled again.

However, this new ed school policy, coupled with NCLB’s demands for teacher quality, led to many black and Hispanic teachers losing their jobs. In the 90s, ed schools simply issued diplomas to everyone who completed a program, leaving the credential test an open issue. Teachers who couldn’t pass the tests (a disproportionately black and Hispanic population) just applied for an emergency credential and kept teaching with that, sometimes for years. No Child Left Behind eliminated the emergency credential, thus forcing teachers, sometimes with a decade or more experience, to take the credential tests.

****************************************************************

So this became much longer than I expected. I split it into two sections.