False Positives

I quit writing about tests. And test prep.  Five, six, years ago? I still taught test prep until this year, always giving in to my old employer’s pleas to teach his Saturday classes. But I largely quit the SAT after the last changes, focusing on the ACT. I still love tests, still enjoy coaching kids for the big day.

Explaining why has been a task I’ve avoided for several years, as the doubt is hard to put into words. 

It was an APUSH review course, the last one I taught, I think. Class hadn’t started for the day, but one of my five students was sitting there highlighting notes. She was a tiny little thing, perky and eager but not intellectually remarkable and it was March of what would have been her junior year.

“This is my last test prep course. I’ve taken the SAT for the fourth time, took AP Calculus BC last year, and I’m all done.”

“Yay! How’d you do on the SAT?”

“2400,” she said, casually. “I got 2000 the first time, but I spent the whole summer in two prep courses, plus over Christmas.”

Boom.

Like I said, she was….ordinary. Bright, sure. But her APUSH essays were predictable, regurgitating the key points she’d read in the prep material–pedestrian grammar, too many commas. Her lexile level was unimpressive. Nothing terrible. I gave her some tips. 

This girl had placed in the 99th percentile for the SAT but couldn’t write a grammatically complex sentence, much less an interesting one. Couldn’t come up with interesting ways to use data (graphs, statistics). Couldn’t accurately use the words she’d memorized and didn’t understand their nuance in reading text

She was a false positive.

I’ve known a lot of high scoring students of every ethnicity over the years–and by high scoring, I mean 1400-1600 on the 1600 SAT, and 2200-2400 on the 10 years with the three tests. 5s on all AP tests, 700+ on all Subject tests. Until that conversation, I would have said kids had high test scores were without exception tremendously impressive kids: usually creative, solid to great writing, opinionated, spotted patterns, knew history, knew the underlying theory of anything that interested them. I could see the difference, I’d say, between these kids and those slightly lower on the score scale–the 1200s, the kids who were well rounded with solid skills who were sometimes as impressive, sometimes not, sometimes a swot, sometimes a bright kid who didn’t see much point in striving.

Every time saying it, though, I’d push back memories of a few kids who’d casually mentioned a 5 score, or a 1600 or 2400, that took me aback. That particular kid who didn’t seem all that remarkable for such a high score. But in all these cases, I was only relying on gut instinct and besides, disappointingly high IQ folks exist.   For every Steven Hawking there’s a Ron Hoeflin. Or a Marilyn vos Savant, telling us whether or not larks are happy.  Surely the test would sometimes capture intellect that just wasn’t there in the creative original ways I looked for. Or hey, maybe some of those kids were stretching the truth.

But here, I had my own experience of her work and her scores were easily confirmable, as my employer kept track (her name was on the “2400 list”, the length of which was another shock to my prior understanding). She got a perfect score despite being a banal teen who couldn’t write or think in ways worthy of that score.

Since that first real awareness, I’ve met other kids with top 1% test scores who are similarly…unimpressive.  98+ percentile SAT scores, eight 5 AP scores, and a 4.5 GPA with no intellectual depth, no ability to make connections, or even to use their knowledge to do anything but pick the correct letter on the multiple choice test or regurgitate the correct answer for a teacher. Some I could confirm their high scores, others I just trusted my gut, now that I’d validated instinct. These are kids with certainly decent brains, but not unusually so.  No shame in that.  But no originality, not even the kind I’d expect from their actual abilities. No interest in anything but achieving high scores, without any interest in what that meant.

It probably won’t come as a shock to learn that all the kids with scores much higher than demonstrated ability were born somewhere in east Asia, that they all spent months and months learning how to take the test, taking practice tests, endlessly prepping.

The inverse doesn’t hold. I know dozens, possibly hundreds, of exceptional Asian immigrants with extraordinary brains and the requisite intellectual depth and heft I would expect from their profile of perfect SAT scores and AP Honors status. But when I am shocked at a test score that is much higher than demonstrated ability, the owner of that score is Chinese or Korean of recent vintage. 

I don’t know whether American kids (of any race) could achieve similar scores if they swotted away endlessly. Maybe some of them are. But my sample size of all races is pretty high, and I’ve not seen it.  On the other hand, I’m certain that very few American kids would find this a worthwhile goal. 

Brief aside: when I taught ELL, I had a kid who was supposedly 18. That’s what his birth certificate said, although there’s a lot of visa fraud in Chinese immigrants, so who knows. He didn’t look a day older than fourteen. And he had very little interest in speaking or learning English. Maybe he was just shy, like Taio, although I’d test him every so often by offering him chocolate or asking him about his beloved bike and he showed no sign of comprehension. But then he’d ace multiple choice reading passages. Without reading the passage. He had no idea what the words meant, but he’d pick the right A, B, or C, every time. I mentioned this to the senior ELL teacher, a Chinese American, and she snorted, “It’s in our genes.”

I don’t think she was kidding but the thing is, I don’t much care how it happens. If American kids are doing this, then it changes not a whit about my unhappiness. It’s not a skill I want to see transferred to the general teenage American population. (That said, the college admissions scandal makes it pretty clear that, as I’ve said many times, rich parents are buying or bribing their way in, not prepping. And unsurprisingly, it appears that Chinese parents were the biggest part of his business.)

Now, before everyone cites data that I probably know better than they do, let me dispatch with the obvious. Many people think test prep doesn’t work at all. That was never my opinion  When people asked me if test prep “worked”, I’d always say the same thing: depends on the kid. “Average score improvement” is a useless metric; some kids don’t improve, some improve a bit, some improve a huge amount. Why not pay to see if your kid improves a lot? But I also felt strongly that test prep couldn’t distort measured ability to beyond actual ability, and I no longer believe that.

But I didn’t believe what critics at the time said, that test prep worked…..too well. I didn’t believe that false positives were a real problem. And the terrible thing is–at least to me–is that I still believe normal test prep is a good thing. Distortion of ability, however, is not.

As the push to de-emphasize tests came, as test-entry high schools came under attack, as colleges turn to grades only–a change I find horrifying–I could no longer join the opposition because the opposition focused their fire almost exclusively on their dismay at the end of meritocracy and the concomitant discrimination against Asian immigrants. I oppose the discrimination, but I no longer really believe the tests we have reliably reveal merit to a granular degree. The changes I want to see in the admissions process would almost certainly reduce Asian headcount not by design, but by acknowledging that specific test scores aren’t as important.

I have other topics I’ve been holding off discussing:

  • why I support an end to test-based high schools in its current form
  • why we still need tests
  • how the SAT changes made all this worse
  • how the emphasis on grades for the past 20 years has exacerbated this insanity
  • why we need to stop using hard work as a proxy for merit

But I needed to try, at least,  to express how my feelings have changed. This is a start. It’s probably badly written, but as you all know, I’ve been trying to write more even if the thoughts aren’t fully baked, so bear with me.

 

 


Three Covid19 Lawsuits We Need

I was against masks and lockdowns and school closings in March 2020, so I’m close to losing my mind at this point.  I find this return to lockdown and masks infuriating, and no media institution seems up to the job of explaining just why it’s horrible. From Commentary to National Review to The Dispatch to Richochet to Fox News, the message is “Get vaccinated” and “it’s not our job to care about the people who don’t get vaccinated.” Sure. Fine. Whatever. I agree. That’s not the point, and by missing the point everyone taking that stance is little more than an appeaser.

What we need are lawsuits. I’ve been amazed at how few we’ve seen. Let the suing begin.

I’ve identified three lawsuits that need to happen. Two are obviously the source of much government fear. The other one isn’t even mentioned, from what I can see.

Lawsuit 1: Can Vaccines Be Mandated?

I am assured endlessly by Twitter folk that this is a no brainer. I’m….skeptical. Assume the FDA approves one or more of them.

The federal government can require immigrants to vaccinate, and I’d like to know why they are only now getting around to adding  covid19 to the list. The feds can also make life unpleasant for its own employees (and probably contractors) who don’t get vaccinated, without going so far as demanding they get “the jab”, as some so loathesomely describe it. Military vaccination mandates are  But permissible. I couldn’t find any source that disagreed with the  Kaiser Family Foundation:

The federal government’s authority to institute a general vaccine mandate is unclear, and has not yet been tested in the courts, though it is likely limited at best.

As the KFF goes on to point out, states have much more clearly defined authority (cf Jacobson vs Mass, Zucht vs King), although no state has ever mandated vaccines for adults. Employers? Health care workers live with mandates. Some states ban employer mandates. 

Bottom line, really, is that anyone who says vaccine mandates are a done deal are ignoring the fact that federal government has no case history supporting mandates, and states have never required adult vaccinations.  And the real thing I wonder about is whether the case law supporting state mandates ever intersected with the ADA? 

Finally, schools are an excellent control point for ensuring vaccinations, and while they do a very good job, it seems that a percentage escape vaccines without exemptions.

So 5% have exemptions, and another varying percent just gets away with not vaccinating. If that’s true for all the states, then even with mandates, it’s going to be tough to get full coverage.

Are Vaccine Passports Constitutional?

The difference between a vaccine mandate and a vaccine passport (proof of vaccine) strikes me as a bit fuzzy around the edges. Let’s restrict the term vaccine mandate for a requirement imposed by the federal or state government, while a passport is something that can be required by either government or private business in an environment where no vaccine mandate exists.

So for example, a private business requiring that employees and customers be vaccinated would want to see a vaccine passport, preferably one superior to a piece of paper with a scribble and a stamp. A government might not mandate a vaccine for everyone, but require evidence of vaccination to enter an official building.  Or a business could require proof of vaccine for employees and customers to be unmasked, but still employ and serve the unvaccinated. 

 Some argue  that proof of vaccine is constitutional; others say it’s not clear cut. I have no idea. Seriously, not even an opinion, although I’m far more in favor of the government just adding one more vaccine to the school list than I am a vaccine passport which in this era will see all sorts of new requirements once it’s created. That said when I consider the contortions that schools experience because of the judicial rights granted by the ADA and, separately, disparate impact, well. Let’s have that lawsuit, shall we? 

Can Governments Require the Vaccinated to Wear Masks?

I care not at all about vaccine mandates, am more troubled by vaccine passports, but am seething with rage at this one, and no one else seems to care.  Many call for people to ignore the mandate, but how will that help employees or government demands? Or, in the case of teachers, a government employer? 

There are dozens of lawsuits protesting mask mandates, for children–unvaccinated children.   Think about that.  Everyone is up in arms about protesting mask mandates for the unvaccinated, and best I can see there are no lawsuits challenging the right of the government or employers to demand that vaccinated people wear masks. 

Why not?

I asked a lawyer friend who shrugged and said first, no one is interested in challenging these mandates. He also said that the courts would defer to health emergencies for some amount of time. Great, I said, for how long? He said that a lawsuit might result in a government response that explained their standards, and most likely a protest that the mandate would be of short-term. Well, I said, wouldn’t that be a good thing? Once the government made that response, wouldn’t a judge be more likely to use that standard–or even question the standard? He agreed that was a decent possibility. I’m depressed that a judge would defer to the government for a vaccinated mask mandate under any conditions, but as absurd as that would be, at least a judge would at worst demand the government prove its standard and duration. 

So why no lawsuit? I am really boggled by people like Tim Carney and Jonah Goldberg, who agreed on a recent podcast that they were fine with a mandate if it prevented lockdowns (Carney said it again in an article.) I can’t bear such thinking and that it comes from “the right”, it’s downright disgusting. (When Carney and Goldberg moan that the right has moved inexplicably away from them, I hope they remember how willing they were to bend the knee to this bullshit.)

So where’s the lawsuit?

Do people not realize that if the government starts mandating masks for covid19, it’s a short step to mandating them for measles outbreaks, diptheria, pertussis?  You may think that’s absurd, and I hope it is, but there’s literally no difference. If the government no longer accepts vaccines as the last word in prevention. And yet I can find no one challenging this demand legally–and legally is what matters.  God help us all if the court system holds that the government can force citizens to wear masks any time it wants to. 

I am reasonably certain that the government is mandating masks for everyone because they are afraid they’ll lose the first two lawsuits. The loopholes for disabilities and disparate impact in the other two challenges seem obvious. And maybe all the zealots in pursuit of zero covid19 understand how reluctant everyone is to challenge a mask mandate for the unvaccinated. Because reluctance is the only word I can see for it, given all the brave, bold people calling to ignore the mandate.

As regular readers know, I’m getting back into writing after a long hiatus (and long intermittent spells before that) in part by abandoning the research component that would normally send me down a bunch of enjoyable rabbit holes learning the ins and outs of Jacobson vs Massachussetts and Zucht vs. King or the Public Health Service Act. But I am a damn good internet researcher and I can’t find any serious legal analysis of forcing vaccinated to wear masks and on that point, I’ve been looking hard. Misleading headlines of worried articles, sure.  But even a cursory discussion of the legal issues involved in forcing vaccinated people to wear masks, I can’t find. Maybe I missed something. By all means, let me know. Here’s a starting search. I went down four pages. 

Meanwhile, everyone left right and center is righteously demanding that the unvaccinated comply. Why the hell should they, if the government can randomly demand we wear masks despite the fullest medical protection any time they feel queasy? 

Far too many conservative commentators are more interested in mocking liberals and using the child mask mandate to push for their favorite school choice initiative. If you don’t see mask mandates for the vaccinated as the single most pressing issue–worse than making unvaccinated kids wear masks, worse then refusing vaccination, then you are doing it wrong. We need start there, if we’re going to push back. 

I don’t bargain with these control freaks and think the many conservative appeasers who originally backed or demanded these mandates and are now whining did much to lead to this appalling situation. I think it’s all a horrorshow. Back when most of the media was calling for a temporary lockdown, I was warning that it was a foolish overreaction that would be hard to undo. I don’t care if people get vaccinated and find the lectures are articles on “persuasion” to be offensive and condescending. I oppose vaccine passports. I don’t think children should have to wear masks. But none of these are as bad as forcing masks on people who have vaccinated. So let’s start with the most important idiocy.


White Flight From Admissions-Test High Schools

I’ve written this approximately 5 billion times on Twitter, but Razib Khan’s review of Charles Murray’s new book, coupled with my recent failure to create any articles at all, combined to convince me to put it in essay form.  The point has nothing to do with the book, which I haven’t read yet but is certainly excellent, or the review, which is perceptive, particularly the last bit.

But this part here is often repeated and quite misleading:

In New York City, the elite Stuyvesant public high school illustrates the discrepancy between the quality of our discussions of systemic racism and how race, class, and education actually interact in the real world. Admission to the school is based on a standardized test. The current student body is 73 percent Asian American and 19 percent white. New York City is about 15 percent Asian American and 30 percent white. In other words, white kids are under-represented in the student body (though far less so than blacks and Latinos).

John Podhoretz mentioned the same stat a few months ago:

If you add whites, blacks, and Latinos together, they will constitute around 37 percent of the kids at these eight schools. Now take a wild stab at the ethnic origins of the absolute majority of admits—a stunning 53.7 percent in all. You guessed it. Asian.

This is the case even though Asians make up a little less than 12 percent of New York City’s population. Black people make up 26 percent. White people make up around 26 percent. Latinos make up around 26 percent. And Asians? Around 12 percent.

The stats are all true, but there’s one big problem: both Khan and Podhoretz use the wrong stat. It doesn’t matter how many whites and Asians are in New York City, but how many of them are in public schools. 

White kids are twice the absolute number of Asian kids in the New York City general population, but public school population is a different matter:

    • 40.6 percent Hispanic
    • 25.5 percent black
    • 16.2 percent Asian
    • 15.1 percent white

These stats have been mostly consistent for a decade or so; the NY Times correctly lists the populations back in 2010, when whites were 15% and Asians14%.

So Razib and Pod use the fact that whites are twice as populous as Asians to demonstrate the shocking disparity in the specialized school population. But in fact, whites and Asians are equally represented in the public school population, so the disparity is already half as bad as they say. 

But there’s still more data that is rarely mentioned in the white/Asian disparity debate–Podhoretz does bring it up, but as usual misses the relevance. Given that whites and Asians represent equal populations in public schools, it’s worth looking at the attempts and admit rates:

NYCDOE on 2020 SHSAT results

The dark blue line at the bottom shows the acceptance rate of testers by race. Notice that whites and Asians have basically the same admissions rate (caveat: the thousand multi-racial or unknown race have a very high acceptance rate). Asians probably have higher scores on average than whites, as more of them get into top-ranked Stuyvesant. Given the much higher, one might say obsessive, Asian dedication to test prep, this isn’t surprising. New York City test scores show 3rd through 8th grade white and Asian ELA proficiency rates the same in English, although 77% of Asians test proficient in math and “only” 66% of whites do the same. I couldn’t find granular data for 8th grade in NYC only, but suffice it to guess that they test at roughly parity in ELA and Asians do better in math.

Point being that whites and Asians both have high proficiency levels on state tests and identical admissions rates to the specialized high schools.

However, take a look at the top line of the graph, showing overall testers by race.  Despite their overall population parity, whites and Asians have very different interest level in the schools. Twice as many Asians took the test as whites. 

This reporting tool reveals that in 2019, at least, there were 12,769 Asian and 11,147 white 8th graders.  So about 64% of Asian and 39% of white 8th graders took the SHSAT.

Well, that’s…..weird. 

It’s almost like whites aren’t nearly as interested in attending the “best public schools in New York City”. 

This thoroughly screws with the traditional conservative take on merit-based high schools, which goes like this: “Asians work hard, study hard, care about school, and that’s why they dominate admissions in the best schools.” 

How come whites aren’t testing–that is, applying–to the “best” schools? 

In an article that almost certainly couldn’t be written today, the Atlantic goes through the history that explains why whites are less interested. First, a very interesting graph on Stuyvesant student population over a 20 year period:

Atlantic also did populations for Bronx Science and Brooklyn Tech

Notice that black and Hispanic population has been cut in half, but white population has dropped by more than half. If Stuyvesant admissions are truly test-based, as I’m sure they are, that shouldn’t happen. Only at Brooklyn Tech did white population increase, and only slightly.

The Atlantic points out that the drop began in 2002, when mayor Michael Bloomberg instituted school choice:

The white population at Stuyvesant hovered around 40 percent from the late 1980s until the early 2000s, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. Around 2003, when Bloomberg became mayor, the number of white kids at these schools dropped as the number of schools that screen for academic criteria like grades or exams, or require an audition or interview, more than doubled.** This selectivity increased the pool of schools that were considered “good,” which diverted many white students away from the specialized schools and into these newly prestigious schools.

So when Bloomberg allowed all public schools to screen for academic criteriam, suddenly, whites weren’t interested in Stuyvesant and the other specialized high schools. (Note: while elite private schools do suck up a lot of bright black and Hispanic kids, a lot of the others attend these “choice” high schools.)

White NYC public school students aren’t failing in their efforts to get into the specialized high schools. They aren’t interested. They aren’t applying. They have schools that are just as good.

While the national status of the specialized high schools is unquestioned, it’s pretty clear that the local status is much diminished. Asian students are overrepresented in these schools not because the schools have high academic standards and desirable status, but because bright white, black, and Hispanic kids have equally good options that they find more attractive. Why bother with obsessive test prep and a school culture that Americans find unpleasant when you can set a perfectly solid standard that keeps out the low-skilled and unengaged? 

Look throughout the country at the test-based schools and you’ll find a similar pattern, although the SHSAT is the only test whose results are readily available online. But in every area with a mostly Asian test-based public high school, look for  an equivalently ranked school that’s mostly white, that also has more blacks and Hispanics. I don’t know enough about Virginia area schools to state this with a certainty, (I’m trying to write more, research picayune yet interesting details less) but this 2019 reporting reveals that whites comprised only 25% of the admissions to Thomas Jefferson High School, while they are surely more than 25% of the population.  In other areas, like San Francisco and Lowell, whites rich enough to live there pay for private school or move south or east in the megalopolis.

It’s simply inaccurate to refer to the specialized high schools as “New York City’s best schools”.  It’s totally wrong to argue, as most conservatives do, that Asian kids are “dominating” academics, or that the lack of black and Hispanic kids at these schools is a mark of a “failed education system” or even “black culture not valuing academia”.

The simple fact is that everyone involved in this debate has no idea what they are talking about. They see the specialized high schools as pure meritocracies. In fact, they are an expensive service NYC provides Asian immigrants who want to get their kids away from black and Hispanic students.

Now, some of this is my interpretation, so I’ll try and break it down.

Fact: white student interest in the NYC specialized schools is far lower than Asian interest, despite similar representation in public school population and similar acceptance rates to the eight schools.

Fact: when Bloomberg allowed public schools to restrict admissions, a large number of prestigious local schools set standards and this led to a drop in white student interest in the eight specialized high schools.

Opinion: whites are uninterested in the NYC specialized high schools because of the Asian immigrant culture.

Opinion: immigrant interest in any “merit-based” institution, coupled with the ability to build less competitive, but still exclusive, institutions leads to reduced white interest. 

Opinion: what the media refers to as “best schools” is not what American parents consider “best schools” if the schools are overwhelmingly populated by Asian immigrants and contain the competitive, grade-obsessed Asian culture.

The white flight away from test schools to public schools with test-in standards explains why white parents were freaked out when di Blasio threatened to end this option. DiBlasio can’t change the specialized high school requirements but he can end white parents’ ability to sculpt their own schools. If diBlasio did end these programs, I’d expect white participation in the specialized high school application process to double.  Alternatively, whites may decide it’s time to leave the city entirely, although that’s a different decision in New York City than it is when moving from San Francisco to, say, Palo Alto.

So the primary rationale for ending or changing test-based high schools is to make public schools more attractive to American (read white) parents.  The real driver isn’t equity. That’s just cover. District leaders might talk about the importance of black and Hispanic achievement, but  (as many have noted) ending test-based admissions always leads to more white students. Most of the parents screaming about the end to test-based schools are Asian parents–most of them immigrants, many making demands that might possibly be considered a tad ungrateful. Given a choice between a school that pleases newly-arrived Asian immigrants and one that pleases their tax base of mostly white but all high-income parents–and also improves black and Hispanic participation–which option is the best political strategy?

As usual, conservatives–and, for that matter, black opponents like Glenn Loury, John McWhorter, and Wilfred Reilly–get it all wrong. They are wailing about the injustice to the Asian immigrants and the threat to merit. They complain that black students aren’t encouraged to compete or achieve. But this is all bullshit. There are smart black kids. They have other options that they find much more attractive.

Asian dominance of specialized public schools has nothing to do with academics or high standards. It’s white flight. Districts are taking action to end white flight. This is unsurprising and something that conservatives would normally support except their loathing of public schools interferes with their ability to notice the obvious. 

I  shouldn’t have to point this out. But there’s one thing that I’ve noticed elites of either party are categorically reluctant to discuss, and it’s something that a (barely) upper middle class white living in extreme diversity is uniquely suited to observe. White people living around huge populations of Asian immigrants aren’t enamored with them. When you read that Asian participation in an institution or activity has soared, start by wondering whether absolute white participation has significantly declined. Then find out why.

Naturally, when elites do discuss this behavior, it is tagged as racism by conservative and progressive alike. Plus ca change, and all that.

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

There are many reasons my writing has fallen off a cliff this year, not least of which that remote teaching is far more work. But another key reason that I just figured out recently involves the huge push over the last year to end SAT and other test based admissions policy, an issue that would normally be right in my wheelhouse. But my opinions on all this have grown more complicated in the past five years. 

There are people who think I dislike Asians, and that’s just not true. I do have concerns about the huge influx in Asian immigrants since the 90s. (there’s a clear distinction between them and those who have been in the country for decades and multiple generations.) South and East Asian academic culture is rife with fraud and competition, and I don’t welcome its influence here in America. I grit my teeth and scowl at Americans* who talk about the Asian work ethic, Asian two-parent families, and all the other “positives” that they are just sure lead to Asian success (recently on display in Andrew Sullivan’s podcast with Wesley Yang). It’s all bullshit. Asian immigrants are people, and like all people they range from utter scum to totally amazing. But culturally, they have attitudes and values that are in total conflict with American ones, and Americans should not allow these values to override what makes American education great–and yes, American education is great. Nor has our education system ever been overly obsessed with grades, competition or endless study. We should seek to acculturate Asian immigrant education values, not reward them.

Leaving aside all the value-judgment (theirs and mine), I am also disturbed at the constant confusion between grades and achievement, as well as the utter ignorance of the real problems with the SHSAT scoring that would reward an Asian immigrant (or anyone else) scoring in the high 90s in math and the 40s in verbal while rejecting a black or Hispanic kid (or anyone else) scoring in the high 80s on both.

But none of my distaste leads to approval for college admissions offices discriminating against Asians by using enough of them to boost their metrics and dismissing the rest. Nor does it mean we can ban test prep. And using grades as a proxy for achievement, which is the actual means by which we are eliminating test-based admissions at both college and high school, is utter madness. Not only are grades basically fraud, but a grade-based admission process will encourage segregation, particularly for blacks and Hispanics. Black kids at integrated high schools have better scores than those at majority minority high schools, but lower grades. This is the Big Lie that runs all through the “top students at each school” admissions process. Grades favor low achievers. Tests don’t. 

However, I’m far more skeptical of the value of test scores past a cutoff mark than I was before around 2016. That is, an SAT score of 600 verbal or math has meaning. I’m not sure a 2400 SAT score does anymore. Well, it does, but not reliably. That’s a topic for another article. 

So tests, yes. But cut scores and a lottery, not ranking by score. That’s a topic for another day as well, but I wanted to be clear that I am unhappy–very, very unhappy–with the current move away from test-based college admissions. I believe we are destroying the value of a college diploma beyond redemption. It’s very worrying.

Once again, parts of this are more disjointed but focus is on writing to get past this perfection block, so bear with me.

*I mentioned this throughout, but unlike Asians, who often say American to mean “white”, I mean American as all races. If I mean American whites I usually say so.


Coins Dropping, Lights Dawning, and Other Impossibilities

So I was just snotty to Aaron Sibarium last night and now I feel mean. 

I should be gracious to the guy who took on a topic I’ve been howling about for months. My point: for all the hysteria about “leftists taking over public schools” as the ads on NRO podcasts bleat, parents have far more control over public schools than they do private schools and charters. The real CRT insanity is taking hold at the most elite private schools and is a much bigger problem at charter schools than it is at public schools. (When I was in ed school over a decade ago, one of my adjunct professors was leaving to start an all black charter school that was devoted to critical race theory, although she didn’t call it that).

Not that Sibarium mention charter schools at all, or even correctly identifies the problem with private school wokeness. I mean, he’s completely wrong in arguing that an ideological cartel of gatekeepers is keeping Dalton and other elite private schools from abandoning DIE dogma. That’s hilariously nuts. But he gets closer to the point here:

The challenge for both proposals is the college admissions process. In interviews with the Free Beacon, multiple parents expressed concern that elite universities would not look kindly on schools outside the accreditation establishment, which could handicap their kids’ odds of getting in. “The better the school, the more woke it is,” one mother said—”because all the best colleges are woke.” If Dalton is held hostage by the accreditors, parents are held hostage by the meritocracy.

The last sentence is where he goes wrong: like there are Dalton administrators blinking in code: “Send help. End cartel.” But the rest of it correctly identifies the real problem, which is that parents are more interested in access than education.

But the real reason I approve of Aaron’s article is here:

All this poses a problem for market-based education reform: For many parents, there is no market. Far from offering more choice than public schools, private schools may offer even less.

Hahahaha. Yeah,  no shit, Aaron! Well done!  Seriously–he’s maybe 25 years old and says the unsayable. 

And I was mean to him anyway, because first, he’s wrong about the cartel nonsense, but most importantly because of a tweet comment:

If you want school choice to actually offer choice, you’ve got to go after the woke bureaucracy that stifles market competition.

The sound you hear is the point whizzing over Aaron’s head.

The less important wrongness is, again, that Aaron gets the cause completely backwards. As he already pointed out, parents choose these schools for access, not education. The “woke bureaucracy” isn’t the reason there are no excellent conservative private schools that are a pipeline to the Ivies. Elite colleges manage that gatekeeping all by themselves. The “woke bureaucracies” aren’t gatekeepers. While I haven’t looked into it, my first guess is that the various organizations and consulting groups are full-employment mandates for well-connected spouses, much in the way we pretend that Michelle Obama had an important job at a hospital when in fact she got the job when her husband got important. They aren’t powerful. The jobs aren’t powerful. The jobs are mostly wife sinecures. That’s my guess, anyway.

But the really important issue here is way meta, and it’s in the opener: “If you want school choice to actually offer choice”…

Think about it.

Thirty years. THIRTY YEARS conservatives have been pushing school choice. THIRTY YEARS they’ve been howling about the evil public school cartels. THIRTY YEARS their only solution to any education problem was the wholesale destruction of public schools.

Result? Almost every initiative they won during a 16-year reign of bipartisan state and federal legislation was ripped out and declared a total failure by the voters and general public. If education reform organizations were held to the same criteria they demand for teachers, Rick Hess, Michael Petrilli, Nat Malkus, Matt Chingos, and a host of other think tankers would be on unemployment.

I do believe it’s finally sunk in that the institutions, private schools AND charters, that conservatives have been pushing as the right and proper solution to “government schools” are unrelentingly dedicated to the wholesale destruction of everything conservatives hold dear: free speech, merit, academic achieve ment, high standards. Everything that conservatives held the evil teachers’ unions responsible for is now more present, more powerful, and more destructive than before.

But here’s Aaron, offering a fix: “If you want school choice….”

Dude. Some humility.

If nothing else, the smoking, hulking wreck of conservative dreams should give them all pause. Perhaps–I’m gonna just throw this idea out there–perhaps school choice isn’t going to do a damn thing to achieve your goals. In fact, perhaps school choice is an actively wrong answer. Perhaps, given that the organizations you dreamed of are dedicated to your obliteration, you should stop trying to obliterate public schools.

Just a thought.

But in any case, stop offering fixes, Aaron. and everyone else. It’s time to acknowledge that school choice has failed in critical ways to advance conservative or even Republican agendas.  Be a little less flip with solutions.

As a Republican, if not a conservative, who knows public schools are a lot better and far more responsive to communities than the choice shrines, I have no definitive answers. But I have some thoughts. 

School choice gives power to schools, not parents.

The right to attend a local public school is near absolute. The right to attend charters, magnets, and private schools is non-existent. The school choice movement works on the fringes, appealing to the parents who don’t have the money to choose their kids’ peers. It’s not a serious universal solution. Parents know this very well. Schools of choice can always reject the kids and teachers they don’t want, which allows them to enforce ideological demands.

Public schools respond to community demands. Private schools don’t have to.

Naturally, conservatives get this entirely backwards. Never has this been more obvious than in the recent pandemic year. Yes, private schools were more likely to offer in-person instruction. Duh. Why pay for zoom school when you can get it for free? But charters were as likely to be in hybrid or remote as publics were, and for the same reason: parent demand. It was parents, coupled with idiotic state-wide restriction, that kept schools in remote. Every single take blaming teachers unions is goofy. Don’t believe me? Maybe Andrew Smarick, conservative and choice advocate in good standing, will convince you:

The comfort of citizens and parents in any particular geography—not missives from the CDC, studies from universities, or prodding from politicians—is proving to be the key factor in returning to normal. Indeed, though school systems have gotten lousy press for months on end, there might come a time when we see the behavior of American K-12 education during the COVID era as typifying decentralization and democracy in action.

And remember this: anywhere schools opened, teachers went back to work.

Right now, while private school parents are chafing at the woke theology their kids are subjected to, public school parents are voting out school boards and demanding their legislators ban CRT instruction. Public schools are a hell of a lot more democratic than they’re given credit for.

While I’m supportive of CRT laws, remember they’ll only go so far precisely because of local control. Go into any inner city school and odds are the history teachers are using CRT lessons to keep their kids engaged. Try the same thing in the suburbs of Tennessee or Florida and the teacher will be summarily canned.

1 in 3 teachers are Republicans

Do you know who they are? Have you bothered to talk to them? I don’t mean the Fordham Institute-sponsored puppets who mouth the choice dogma that gets them published, but rather the every day teachers who vote for Republicans but don’t think public schools are irretrievably broken. Like me, except probably in red states where it’s not instant suicide to come forward.

Might want to find out who they are, what they think, and how you could support them and maybe make more of them. Hint: best not talk about how useless teachers are, and “we don’t hate teachers, just teachers unions” line won’t reassure them.

Focus your energy on college, not high school

I have been writing about the wholesale destruction of college diplomas for years. It’s a huge problem. Conservatives correctly complain that college isn’t for everyone, but no one is pushing Congress to do anything about it. 

Weakening private colleges and strengthening state colleges is key to addressing the gatekeeping issues that Aaron correctly observes in his article. 

The best solution: Mandate a minimum demonstrated ability level for college loans (Congress) or state universities (state legislatures): Nothing too high. Something like a 550 SAT section minimum, or a composite 25 ACT. Be flexible–we could use more competition in the test market. This suggestion has HUGE disparate impact problems and will be the subject of endless lawsuits, so get started on it now.

I realize all of these suggestions, as well as a host of others I left off because of time and focus factors, are anathema to the people in a position to work on enacting them.  Because Sibarium’s article makes it clear that no one is rethinking things. The coin ain’t dropping. The light ain’t dawning. Textbook definition of insanity runs all through his piece.

But I’m a teacher in a Title I school, which makes me an expert in teaching people who take a long time to learn.

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

This the first actual Ed_Realist article I’ve been able to write in months, so I’m not going in depth on these and didn’t have time to support with links to things I consider obvious. Spending time trying to craft this would add it to the large pile of unfinished pieces in my draft folder. So I just decided to put these thoughts out there rather than endlessly mull the best way to write this. 

 


Bush/Obama Ed Reform: It All Came Tumbling Down

Education Reform, on the other hand, was a Napoleon-Invades-Russia near-total victory followed by collapse—new teacher evaluation, curriculum, and testing systems were adopted across almost every state, implemented in almost every district, and promptly drove almost everybody crazy—suburban and urban parents and teachers alike—while promised results failed to appear. We are now, it appears, in the “gaunt, haunted French soldiers scrambling westward in blind fear across Poland” stage of the Napoleonic story of recent education reforms. Mass charter conversion, new multi-day online tests, new quantitative test-based teacher evaluation systems—states simply can’t drop the reforms they adopted just a few years ago fast enough. More than a pendulum swing, it has become a panicked rout.

Spotted Toad, Waking From Meritocracy

Over a year ago, just after Toad’s epic article hit, he suggested I write a “single coherent summary” of the education reform era–expand on the glorious extended analogy he uses above. Yeah. And I’d keep it under a thousand words, too.  

And now, the denouement:  It all disappeared. Better yet, it all disappeared because the public hated it.

NCLB/Race to the Top:

Just as the Bush/Obama era began with No Child Left Behind, the 2001 version of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) so it ended with the 2015 version of the same law, Every Student Succeeds. All the accountability, controls, and demands that the Republican-controlled 2001 Congress put in, the Republican-controlled 2016 Congress took out. The Department of Education became little more than a bank, so far as K-12 was concerned, leaving states to make their own decisions again while giving them block grants to succeed.

I hope readers of the entire series understands this point, but I meander sometimes.

It’s called the “Bush/Obama era” for a reason. It began with NCLB’s critical failure: the mandate that all students test above average. While No Child Left Behind was unpopular with the very schools it was intended to fix, it might have survived in a toothless form were it not for the deeply flawed assumption at the heart of the policy.  NCLB was built on the assumption that good schools would not have an achievement gap. Alas. All schools have an achievement gap. Therefore, all schools, including all the excellent public schools in the suburbs, failed to meet that criteria, and thus all schools were threatened with  “program improvement” status and a variety of unattractive restriction.

It was this terminal and universal state of restriction that created both the necessity for the NCLB “waivers” and the power the Obama administration had to enforce a new round of reform demands without the messiness of Congressional approval. This gave SecEd Arne Duncan tremendous power to enforce states to commit to value added testing and Common Core adoption. From 2001-2015, the federal government had profound control over state education.

And again: the public hated the results.  Education reformers got almost everything they could conceivably want to convince the public of the value of choice, accountability, and curriculum reform and their nirvana was so despised that every bit of these changes were ripped out and states were given control of their own destiny.

Common Core and  Value Added Metric Evaluations

I devoted four articles to the Common Core meltdown, and if I do say so myself they kicked the crap out of Dana Goldstein’s somewhat mealy-mouthed overview. VAM demanded its own thousand or so words.

Upshot: both rendered largely toothless.

Split in the Reform Movement

Much of the remaining story doesn’t make sense without understanding that the bipartisan reform movement splintered. On the Democrat side, the reform movement began as “neoliberals”, with moderates like Andrew Rotherham, but it’s really impossible to do anything as a Democrat without running into headcounts by race. As the left side of education reform moved away from ex-Clinton policy wonks and towards ex-TFAers, the movement’s whiteness became an issue. I’m not involved enough to know if the movement became progressive because the leaders became increasingly black and Hispanic or if the movement became progressive AND the leaders became increasingly black and Hispanic. Doesn’t matter, I’m just pointing out I don’t know which. But it most assuredly became really left of center.

Robert Pondiscio was, I think, the first person to point out that conservatives were being sidelined in education reform–describing in early 2016 actions that had been going on for a couple years.  Making matters worse for conservative reformers (or reformers working for thinktanks funded by conservatives, at least), is that they were all never Trump or silent on the subject. Hillary Clinton was the friendliest Democrat teachers unions had seen in eight years, so they had no good options. 

And then Trump won. So both sides of education reform were entirely out of power during the Trump administration, even though he appointed as SecEd reform moneybags Betsy Devos who never met a “government school” she didn’t want to raze to the ground. (Note: Devos was useless in K-12, thankfully, but in all other purviews, she did much better than I expected.) Meanwhile, the education reform movement schism grew. 

The progressive side was completely radicalized. Most black reform activists had concluded, as Andre Perry wrote, that the education reform movement was too white to do any good. Many felt sincerely that the obsessive focus on test scores and failure was hurting black kids. Many now openly working for black schools and empowerment:  Chris Stewart, Derrell Bradford, and most notably, Howard Fuller (“I didn’t get into this business to help white kids.”). I say that not in criticism, but it’s a huge shift from the marching orders that traditional reformers had, which was to expand suburban charters to get more white support.

Ironically, these progressive reformers have no institutional support. Teachers unions are back in the heart of the Democrats. So the progressives shat all over the conservatives but their own party is moving back hard against charters.

This split is, I think, permanent. As a result, education reform has been political crippled. The progressive reformers agree with the Dems and unions on everything except charters, so they will be taking a back seat. The conservative ed reformers, particularly those who have 20-30 years in (Hess, Petrilli) are among the few who understand what happened, and aren’t sure what to do about it. The Republican party and non-education reform conservatives are completely clueless as to what happened, but that’s because they get their talking points from The Big Book of Ed Reform Shibboleths, and there’s no  money for a new edition.

TFA

TFA was beautifully positioned to be wiped out by crossfire in the reform split. By 2012,it was targeted for being too much a puppet of the charter school movement, even while it was being feted as the solution to the lazy, union-fed teacher population. Possibly suspecting her charmed existence was ending, Wendy Kopp quit TFA in 2013 and appointed two co-directors. One was a McKinsey consultant who got hired into TFA management. One was a teacher who worked up the ladder. One was a Hispanic woman. One was a white guy. One quit within two years, saying that “we spend a lot of time maintaining alignment, and we often speak in a voice that reflects our daily compromises”. One is still the director of TFA. Guess which one was more radical? (Hint: the resignation letter didn’t mention racism.)

Following Kopp’s departure, applications and cohort size cratered.

 

The organization recovered by emphasizing its diverse student body, but that may have further dimmed its appeal.

I suspected this back in 2014, when I wrote TFA Diversity and the Credibility Gap, about TFA’s much touted diversity push–or, as I indelicately asked, “How the hell can Teach for America have recruited 1000 African Americans?” It’s not that I don’t think a thousand or more could pass the credential tests, but elite black candidates have far better options. I go through the numbers in the articles that give rise to skepticism–but I also point out ways that TFA could scout out candidates, and I suspect they took many of these steps.

The thing is, and here’s another indelicate truth: you can focus on diversity or merit. Not both. Once TFA made diversity its brand, it seemed to become a lot less attractive to elite candidates. 

Significantly, they no longer mention their application or cohort size. It’s difficult even to find their previous announcements, all 404-ed. Moreover, as Rise and Fall of TFA points out, Arizona State University is now a top source of admits. 

 

Charters

Stalled.

Source

Enrollment population is still growing, but charter school growth is becoming polarized, and previously strong blue charter states are slowing or reversing.

2016: Massachussetts voters crushed a proposition to lift the charter cap. 

In 2019,  California enacted a new law allowing school districts to consider financial impact when reviewing charter school applications, a major defeat for choice advocates.

In 2020, New York reached its charter limit and Cuomo hadn’t had any luck in getting the legislature to lift the cap.

In 2021, Newark charter schools,  object of Mark Zuckerberg’s largesse, applied for an expansion and the state slapped them down. 

For all the talk about charters being separate from those pesky union-run public schools, they are just as likely to be closed during covid19 as public schools are, which makes sense. Most charters are in Democrat-run areas, and Dem run areas are more likely to demand CDC guidance, social distancing, and more likely to have non-white parents who are worried about returning to school. Once again, reformers are let down by reality.

Reform advocates will cite New Orleans as a major success, but the scores are still dismal for African American students, and the dropout rate is hard to track but pretty scary.  Besides, go right ahead and say “Hey, the trick to fixing schools is to fire all the black teachers!” and see how far you get. Bottom line, if you think that kids are actually doing better, go buy a bridge in Manhattan. 

I don’t wish to overstate the case. Charters are private schools for free, and there will always be a market for them if parents are given a say. But eventually, the state is given a say, and charters turned out to be more expensive than anticipated. 

New York, California, and New Jersey politics have seen a significant shift away from charters. According to Michael Petrilli, support for charters has declined in many states since 2016, but it’s more popular where white parents can use charters to get away from non-white public schools (my interpretation, obviously, not his). Which…has a limited shelf life, because most white parents like their schools, and they won’t like the diminished funding that comes along with white parents crafting their own private schools on the public dime. Probably. We’ll see. I’m not spiking the football on charters.

Vouchers

Like charters, mostly stalled. Vouchers are popular in the South, where white parents support them for private schools.  The Supreme Court has been very friendly, ruling that vouchers could be used for private religious schools.

But courts can’t mandate vouchers, and for a fascinating look at how fast the public has switched, consider at Douglas County, Colorado.

2011: Voucher program established and instantly blocked by litigation by the ACLU, Citizens for Separation of Church and State (not unions, that I can see, but don’t quote me).

2015: Colorado Supreme Court blocked the voucher program. 

2017: The Supreme Court established that religious entities couldn’t be denied public funds available to similar secular institutions in  Trinity Lutheran and shortly thereafter ordered the Colorado Supreme Court to rethink its 2015 decision.

BUT! also in 2017: a head to head school board election, in which one slate CommUnity Matters, promised to undo all the reform changes of the previous six years and end the voucher program and give more support to teachers, while the other slate, Elevate Douglas County,  promised to keep all the reform agenda. CommUnity Matters stomped Elevate Douglas County and the board rescinded the voucher program and all those lawsuits were for nothing.

Moral: Court decisions can’t get you past the voters.

As with charters, I’m not spiking the football. But vouchers and charters take money away from public schools, and most voters like public schools. 

The money folks

Bill Gates has found his education philanthropy very disappointing. School children and teachers everywhere have let him down.

Mark Zuckerberg, humbled by the lack of results in Newark, has decided to listen to his wife, do more small bore stuff, and focus on efforts close to home.

Eli Broad suspended the Broad Prize in 2014, giving no more money to “good” urban districts. Three years later, California’s response to the leaked information about Broad’s plan to double the number of charters in Los Angeles was so hostile the organization was forced to regroup and claim they weren’t focusing on charters. No one believed them, and the anger may have led to California’s decision to give districts more power to deny charter applications (see above). A year later, Broad retired. His successor pulled up stakes from California and paid Yale to give them digs–the pandemic followed. I’m not saying it was a cause, or anything. 

Betsy DeVos learned that writing checks to people who want her approval and trying to make  policy by winning the approval of people who don’t need her money isn’t at all the same thing.

Unions

The 2012 Chicago teachers won their strike and won big, despite the active opposition of  liberal columnists and wonks, in addition to the usual  criticism by education reformers or just conservatives. Obama probably would have supported mayor Rahm Emmanuel in fighting for what were clearly the Administration’s priorities, but he was running for re-election and couldn’t alienate teachers. Yet in the face of all that Democratic establishment support, and the near-complete support of the media, polls showed that over 60% of black and Hispanics, and nearly half of whites, supported the teachers. (I was fascinated by those polls because “an extremely overweight, frowsy, no-bullshit, way the hell left of center black woman virtually coldcocked a younger, relatively good-looking hard ass Democrat mayor who’s best buds with the big O.” Just as had been the case two years earlier, when black voters kicked out Michelle Rhee’s boss so she’d have to be fired, the CTU strike showed the vast gap between the widely bipartisan establishment view of those greedy teachers and the ground view reality of the voters.

Unions lost a number of court cases, but it’s hard to argue it hurt them much. Vergara was overturned. Janus, the victory that conservative have awaited for 30 years,  led to a minor loss of union membership but certainly didn’t yield the desired results.  Almost immediately after the decision in 2018, a wave of red state teacher strikes proved successful. Unions have very little power in these states, and yet wild-cat unauthorized strikes were successful in winning pay increases. Why? Well, parents supported the teachers and it’s a bit difficult to fire all the teachers in an illegal strike if there aren’t any replacements waiting around.

Meanwhile, during the pandemic, conservatives have been shrieking about the corrupt union hold on public schools and how they are keeping the schools closed despite no covid19 risk. Now, this is also nonsense, but leave the details for another article. The larger point is this:  it’s two years past Janus and Republicans are still blaming unions for their money and their power and their chokehold on Democrat policy. Again, nonsense. But what the hell did Janus do, if they’re still bitching? 

Governance

The Tennessee Achievement School District, which took on all the state’s lowest scoring schools to be fixed and sent on their way by miracle worker Chris Barbic, has crashed and burned. (Barbic got out before anyone noticed.) Mark Zuckerberg and Corey Booker’s handpicked superintendent, Cami Anderson, was run out of town by an angry parent population. Joel Klein left his job running NYC schools after everyone learned that the great test score gains of the previous few years had been due to lowered cut scores. He then ran a Murdoch-owned education company Amplify that was a complete failure, and he’s out of education now as well. Quick: what’s the name of the next two NYC chancellors? You can’t remember, can you? (Cathie Black and, when she flamed out after a few months, Dennis Walcott.) Then diBlasio won, and while Governor Cuomo jerked him around with Success Academy, New York City schools have rolled back a lot of the reform movement.

And it’s no use blaming teachers unions money, either. Pro-charter Marshall Tuck outspent both Tonys, Torlakson and Thormond, for California superintendent and lost both times. In 2012, pro-union underdog Gloria Ritz beat  Tony Bennett, literally the education reform idol, for state superintendent in Indiana, despite Bennett outspending her. Then Ritz lost to Republican Jennifer McCormack in 2016–but Jennifer, a special ed teacher, proved very union friendly, siding with the teachers time and again. Meanwhile, Bennett went to Florida to be state commissioner, and was fired in 2013.

It all really did come tumbling down.

Today

Michelle Rhee has, last I checked, completely left education. Wendy Kopp doesn’t have nearly the visibility; her Wikipedia entry ends in 2013. Most of the school “fixers” of the reform era have moved on: Cami Anderson, Christopher Cerf, Chris Barbic, Joel Klein, John King, Tony Bennett. They’re consulting and think tanking,  but not getting their hands dirty, and there’s no new generation of “miracle workers” in part because the media has moved left and is much more suspicious of reform. 

Reformers move on. They’re movers and shakers. They got shit to do.

You know who’s still in the same job?

Randi Weingarten. Michael Mulgrew. Until recently, Lily Eskalen Garcia.

Go back and look at all those glowing articles on TFA and Success Academy and other reform miracles, and see how many of those earnest purveyors of excellence are still teaching. 

Now do the same thing for real teachers, the teachers that the cool people talk shit about.

Remember back in 2010 when the Los Angeles Times evaluated every teacher in LA Unified for their value add, humiliating teachers. Some of those teachers wrote in and protested the entire effort. One of them was Joan Lavery, who was found “less effective than average“. A decade later, Joan’s still teaching with a National Board Certification (which I’m not that impressed by, but hey, she’s still here.) Irma Estrada of Gledhill Elementary got “most effective“. She’s still teaching, too. Rigobuerto Ruelas isn’t teaching, despite a passion that kept him on the job nearly every day for 14 years, but that’s because the LA Times reporting of his “low” achievement impact depressed him to the point of suicide. Yeah, low blow. 

Teachers abide, is what I’m saying. A lot of them do, anyway. We just duck down and wait until you all move on.

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

And so, dear readers, I come to the end of my history. The pandemic was merely a Chinese whisper when I began, while now we have a vaccine but the schools are still closed. And everyone blames unions.

As I’ve said ad nauseum on Twitter, closures are supported by roughly half of non-white parents and about 1 in 4 white parents, meaning that in diverse school districts (translation: most large cities and almost all blue states), roughly half of parents don’t want to open schools. Democrat governors complicate matters with absurd demands that districts follow CDC guidelines, which force them to act as if there’s no vaccine and kids drop over dead the minute they are infected. Unions, being Democrat-run organizations, naturally oppose schools opening in the name of safety. That did them no good in Florida, Texas, or any other red state. They get what they want in blue states and blue cities because the people want the schools closed. It’s that simple.

But meanwhile, all you folks licking your chops at the notion that this, finally, will be the end of public school dominance: remember your history. Don’t get cocky.

Because at the end of the day, you’re trying to kill what the public means when it says public education. The public might not take kindly to your efforts.

Peace out, peeps.

The History of Education Reform:

Bush/Obama Ed Reform: The Road to Glory

Bush/Obama Ed Reform: Zenith

Bush/Obama Ed Reform: Core Meltdown Came

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

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

Bush/Obama Ed Reform: Core Damage?

Bush/Obama Ed Reform: Victory over Value Add

(and this one)

 


Asymmetrical Executioners

So this is a bit outside my bailiwick, but it’s been on my mind for a while. Besides, I am pseudonymous precisely because I fear the woke world, and was wise enough to do so long before it blossomed into full power. Prescience has to count for something.

One attractive aspect of the new media cancel culture, in which lightweight  crossword puzzle columnists and the most tedious of the people with three names (as John McWhorter refers to various black progressives) demand their betters be fired, is that at least they’re not obliterating ordinary folk any more.

Anyway, whether it be James Bennet or Donald McNeil or any of the other recent absurd terminations, I read responses that are heavy on two questions that don’t really matter, and light on the one that does.

Who the hell do these employees think they are, making demands? Why are they so unreasonable?

This is a boring question. An irrelevant question. A question asked by those who don’t understand how employment works.  Which is why it was odd to hear Rob Long shrug this off in a recent GLOP podcast as Circle of Life cut-throat culture, the younger employees using the threat of bad publicity to cull their seniors from the herd. Odd because Rob Long definitely understands how employment works, so he should be focused on the correct question (see below).

He’s not wrong, of course. Media jobs are hard to come by. If a few complaints can force your manager to fire a worker above you in the food chain, why not?

But that’s not the question.

How can we move out of this cycle? What can we do to raise the next generation to be less horrifyingly fascist?

First question is interesting, but at this point, as indicated by the followup, is focused on the wrong subject. We don’t care about the next generation. They aren’t the problem and so aren’t the question.

Why are the media management folks acquiescing and firing on demand?

Ah. That’s definitely the question.

I was never a big Cheers fan. Carla was mean, Diane was cringy awful, Cliff was fardo personified. The memes were fun, individual moments were classic but I couldn’t usually tell you which episode it was from. For example, for 30 years I’ve remembered the nut job who said “No, I’m the vice president of the Eastern Seaboard! [pause] Now I’m the Eastern Seaboard! [pause] What a view!” but  couldn’t have told you anything else about the episode until I googled it for this piece. I only remember two episodes vividly: the highly ranked “The Heart is a Lonely Snipe Hunter” and the one on point here, “The Executive’s Executioner.

The storyline: Norm Peterson, high status within Cheers, a chubby loser schlub elsewhere in life, is promoted to “corporate killer”. Research has shown that people feel worse if they are fired by someone they can look up to and admire.  So Norm gets a huge salary boost and fires people all day. Eventually, he realizes he’s lost all his humanity and really is the “killer” he was hired to be. So he decides to quit. He calls his boss to resign, but the minute the boss hears Norm’s voice, he screams and hangs up. Puzzled, Norm tries again, getting his boss’s secretary…who screams and hangs up. That’s all the denouement that matters for my purposes, but go watch part 3 to see the last scene.

For a plot a decade older than Walter Kirn’s Up in the Air, it’s all quite insightful and very funny, particularly the denouement. White collar layoffs were a new thing in the 80s, as America’s corporate titans began worrying about Japan and profitability, to say nothing of the equity compensation that made high stock prices tremendously attractive. Blue collar workers were, at that time, unionized so their mass firings were based on seniority. But middle management, accountants, computer programmers and secretaries had no protection and as someone who lived through that time, I can tell you that the selection process for the chopping block seemed an awful lot like voodoo.

So when Norm’s  manager thought that he, too, had been targeted for extinction, the humor derives from the boss’s entirely credible fear that his superiors had targeted him for the same random execution. No one scoffed and said how silly, why wouldn’t the boss know better? Why wouldn’t they know that Norm wouldn’t be firing them if they hadn’t heard first?

And hey, that’s the same question as the one heading this section. Why would the boss think Norm would be firing him? Why didn’t Dean Bacquet tell his staff to go find another job if they didn’t like the way he was running his newspaper? Better yet, why didn’t he just fire them for their arrogant hubris? It’s not as if he couldn’t find other hypersensitive Ivy League prima donnas.

So why?

This is the question I don’t see many people asking seriously, as opposed to a rhetorical flourish.

Jonathan Chait wrote a whole article assessing the management decision without ever asking why, which was also the topic of Bret Stephens’ spiked column. Ann Coulter wrote a very funny piece without ever mentioning management.  Others provided AP Lang & Comp students excellent examples in synecdoche by referring to “the paper” and its decisions. But no one ever really engages with the question, as opposed to deride NYT management.

Why?

The real answer, the one that links this back to Norm, is mentioned almost casually, as Rod Dreher does: “After a meeting in which Madame Defarge Nikole Hannah-Jones was present, and reportedly threatened Baquet by proposing to undertake her own investigation of what happened on that 2019 field trip”

Threatened.

Threatened?

You need leverage to threaten. What does Hannah-Jones have? Why is Baquet afraid of her and his underlings?

When Norm’s boss shrieked, we laughed. No one’s laughing any more. But that’s the answer. Baquet is afraid. He can’t ever be certain that someone, somewhere, might send Norm to call on him.

Cancellation is an asymmetrical threat. Baquet probably wants to write a book someday. All powerful within the NYT structure, sure, but it’s not entirely unrealistic to think Hannah-Jones could “raise questions” after Baquet retired.  You can see the headlines now. “Journalist wonders why Baquet is getting millions in book deal when he continued to employ racists after their behavior came to light.” (leaving aside the joke of calling the Nikole Hannah-Jones a journalist.)

Who, after all, is going to buy Baquet’s eventual memoir? Or give him a talking head job at MSNBC? Who would those decisionmakers see as the natural Baquet audience, the people who’d be impressed and read reviews of his autobiography or celebrate his appearances on Maddow? If that audience is willing to reject him, given the right people pushing the rght outrage, what objective value does Baquet have to any organization outside the Times looking for pricey talent?

Understand that Baquet only rules one tiny portion of the work universe and his decision becomes obvious. No, he won’t get fired for laughing at the idiots demanding McNeil’s ouster. But he might not get a book deal. Or a TV gig. Or whatever else he wants a few years from now. Because the people who work for him in his NYTimes silo have more influence in another.

The answer to the question is: the bosses are complying because they fear negative blowback in an entirely unanticipated direction, not just now but forever.

Which leads me to the skipped question.

How can we move out of this cycle?

Once it’s clear that the real question is the acquiescent management teams, the solution is clearer, if not simpler. We need more Hyatts and fewer Deltas. Dean Baquet has to start caring about the quality of his paper more than he does his book deal or Davos panels.

That’s a big ask.

On the other hand, Justine Sacco is working at the same company that caved in and fired her. David Shor survived an attempt to end his career.

But is that enough?

Once I had this explanation worked out, back in February, my first thought was well, good. Instead of ordinary folk being random victims of a progressive PR onslaught, the problem has narrowed its focus and victims to elites and their management, the people who have book deals and Davos panels and so on. That’s not good, but a big step up from the Smith cafeteria worker who can’t find a job. These are mostly rich people, or at least rich adjacent. Or at least journalists who talk a lot to rich people.

Now, I’m not so sure. Recently, there’s been a spate of articles about critical race theory infiltrating public schools and lots of reaction pieces hyperventilating about thought control. My own take has traditionally been far less hysterical. Communities have always exercised tremendous influence over public and private school curriculum, unless federal or state law mandates override their preferences (and sometimes not even then). Teachers have near total control over what they teach in their classroom. No one can make me teach critical race theory or woke math. Some teachers have been using critical race theory for decades or more. Others will never use it. In both cases, these decisions are policed by the community preference. That is, after all, how these stories all come to light: a parent gets annoyed, contacts a journalist, a big hooha is made, some kid has recorded incendiary comments on her cellphone or a parent has saved a ridiculous work sheet, the offending party (which is often the principal but sometimes the teacher) is taken to task and put on paid leave and even, on occasion, fired. (Ironically, these efforts are often by woke teachers trying to raise their white students’ consciousness but forgetting they have black students.)

Except.

In the past six months, private schools have been in the news because the staff–non-unionized, often poorly paid, no tenure–is making outrageous demands for a more diverse teaching staff and population and a critical race curriculum, while rich and powerful parents are silent and acquiescent despite privately opposing these idiotic demands.

Why are they silent? Why pay thousands of dollars a year for a bad education? The journalists think the parents are silent because they want their kids to get into elite universities. Maybe. I myself think that loudly resisting critical race theory could prove risky. Parents protesting their private school insanity might think they are acting in a single silo of their lives. Then, suddenly, an angry brainwashed young teacher has contacted an ambitious media twenty-something who transforms the tale of liberal parents upholding educational values into a David and Goliath story of racist white parents objecting to progressive teachers bent on telling the truth about America. Then suddenly parent employers enter into the story, customers email outrage, and Norm calls.

Unlikely? The parents themselves make it clear they fear cancellation. The more interesting question here is who is the “boss” equivalent tolerating the demands? The parents, quietly going along with critical race theory, or the parents’ bosses who’ll get hit with demands to fire any parent who puts up a fight?  It’s both. In all directions.

Even more terrifying is the story out of Virginia, in which public school employees angry at parental recalcitrant to their progressive agenda are trying to hack private Facebook groups opposing their efforts and doxxing the parents. Look. I know it’s received conservative wisdom that public schools indoctrinate children. English and history teachers are indeed quite left of center. But as I keep on saying on Twitter, if we can’t teach them reading, why the hell are you worried we’ll teach them to hate America?  In reality the far more progressive agendas are found in charter schools and privates (see above).

And then I read that public school teachers are seeking out names to feed the media and ruin lives by putting jobs at risk, and my god. That’s simply appalling.

Maybe anyone who has a life to ruin will need to fear asymmetric execution by  waiting, watchful zealots and a helpful, compliant media.

Or maybe not. American social excesses have always been far more pendulum than progression. I am, after all, the person who predicted that cops would eventually take teachers’ place in the hot seat because “acceptable targets change over time”. If nothing else, rest assured that American history shows people don’t take kindly to whackos messing with their schools.

But sometimes “over time” is a long time, so beware. Above all, know this: right at this moment in time, Norm can come calling for all of us.

 


Bush/Obama Ed Reform: Victory over Value Add

(I was writing my final article on this era when I realized I hadn’t really focused completely on the history of Value Added Metrics (VAM) in my original coverage of the Obama years. I am saying this because VAM sprites both pro and con are holding me at gunpoint demanding I write an article all about them.)

In 2009, The New Teacher Project’s The Widget Effect declared that schools treated all teachers as interchangeable units, didn’t bother to train new teachers, refused to fire tenured teachers, and worse, gave all teachers high ratings.  99% of teachers got ratings of Proficient or higher! The shame!

Mind you, none of these are new declarations, but this paper initiated the argument that allowed Obama and Duncan (as I wrote here)  to demand that states evaluate teachers with student achievement, and that achievement must be test scores. Thus, one of the requirements for a Duncan “waiver” from No Child Left Behind school “program improvement penalities”, which by now were affecting over half of all schools, was that the state must begin evaluating teacher effectiveness using data–just another word for VAM.

Put another way, Obama and Duncan allowed states to escape schoolwide accountability for student test scores by forcing them to agree to teacher accountability for student test scores.

In 2009, 10 states required evaluation to include student achievement metrics. By 2015, 43 states required value-added metrics for evaluation. Most courts agreed that the usually hasty and poorly thought through implementation plans were absurd and unfair, but declined to step in. There were some notable exceptions, as you’ll see. (Note: I wrote a longer opinion of VAM that includes more info.)

From 1% Ineffective to…..?

By now, no one should be surprised to learn that these efforts were a spectacular failure, although rarely reported in just those terms. But by 2019, only 34 states required it, and most other states still requiring them on paper had watered down the impact by dramatically reducing the VAM component, making VAM optional, removing the yearly requirement for teacher evaluations, or allowing schools to design their own metrics.

In the definitive evaluation, Harvard researchers studied 24 states that implemented value-added metrics and learned that principals refused to give teachers bad ratings. In fact, principals would rate teachers lower in confidential ratings than in formal ones, although in either method the average score was a positive evaluation.  When asked, principals said that they felt mean giving the bad results (which suggests they didn’t agree with them). Moreover, many principals worried that if they gave a bad review, the teachers might leave–or worse, force the principal to begin firing procedures. Either way, the principal might end up forced to hire a teacher no better or possibly worse.

Brief aside: Hey, that should sound familiar to long-time readers . As I wrote seven years ago: “…most principals don’t fire teachers often because it’s incredibly hard to find new ones.”. Or as I put it on Twitter back when it allowed only 140 characters, “Hiring, not firing, is the pain point.” 

So the Obama administration required an evaluation method that would identify bad teachers for firing or training, and principals are worried that the teachers might leave or get fired. That’s….kind of a problem. 

Overall, the Harvard study found that only two of them gave more than 1% of teachers unsatisfactory ratings.

If you do the math, 100% – 1% = 99% which is exactly what the Widget effect found, so that was a whole bunch of money and energy spent for no results.

New Mexico

The study’s outlier was New Mexico, which forced principals to weight VAM as 50% of the overall evaluation score, courtesy of Hanna Skandera, a committed reform education secretary appointed by a popular Republican governor. As a result, over 1 in 4 teachers were rated unsatisfactory.

But! A 2015 court decision prevented any terminations based on the evaluation system, and the case got delayed until it was irrelevant. In 2017, Governor Martinez agreed to a compromise on the evaluation methodology, increasing permitted absences to six and dropping VAM from 50% to 35%. New Mexico also completed its shift from a purple to blue state, and in 2018 all the Democratic gubernatorial candidates promised they would end the evaluation system. The winner, Michelle Lujan, wasted no time. On January 3, 2019, a perky one-page announcement declared that VAM was ended, absences wouldn’t count on evaluations, and just for good measure she ended PARCC.

So the one state in which principals couldn’t juke the stats to keep teachers they didn’t want to fire, the courts stepped in, the Republican governor backed down, and the new Democrat governor rendered the whole fuss moot.

California

California had always been a VAM outlier, as governor Jerry Brown steadfastly refused the waiver bribes .Students Matter, an organization founded by a tech entrepreneur, engaged in a two-pronged attempt to force California into evaluation compliance–first by suing to end teacher tenure (Vergara) and then by forcing evaluation by student test scores (Doe vs. Antioch).  Triumphalists hailed the original 2014 Vergara decision that overturned the protections of teacher tenure, and even the  more cautiously optimistic believed that the California appeals court might overturn the decision, but the friendlier California Supreme Court would side with the plaintiffs and end tenure. The appeals court did overturn, and the CA Supreme Court….declined to review, letting the appellate ruling stand. 

Welch and Students Matter likewise tried to force California schools to read its 1971 Stull Act as requiring teachers to be evaluated by test scores. That failed, too.  No appeal.

Upshot

“Experts” often talk about forcing education in America to follow market-based principles. But in the VAM failure, the principals are following those principles! (hyuk.) As I’ve also written many times, there is, in fact, a teacher shortage. But at the same time, even the confidential evaluations demonstrate that the vast majority of teachers are doing good work by their manager’s estimation.

As a teacher, I would be interested in learning whether I had an impact on my students’ scores. I’d be more interested, really, in whether my teaching methods were helping all students equally, or if there were useful skews. Were my weakest students, the ones who really weren’t qualified for the math I was teaching, being harmed, unlearning some of the earlier skills that could have been enforced? Was my practice of challenging the strongest students with integrated problem solving and cumulative applications of material keeping them in the game compared to other students whose teachers taught more faster, tested only on new material, and gave out practice tests?

But the idea that any teachers other than, perhaps, reading teachers in elementary school could be accurately assessed on their performance by student learning is just absurd.

Any teacher could have told you that. Many teachers did tell the politicians and lobbyists and billionaires that. But teachers are the peasants and plebes of the cognitive elite, so the country had to waste billions only to get right back to where we started. Worse: they still haven’t learned.

( I swear I began this article as the final one in the series until I realized VAM was pulling focus. I really do have that one almost done. Happy New Year.)


2020 Thankfulness.

I’m thankful for my brother.

On January 22, I was sitting in stopped traffic at 9:30 at night, thanks to two closed lanes on a major interstate. I’d been at work trying to get grades in shape while finishing the final for the next day, and was cursing my aversion to road tolls and the shorter trip home–I do what I can to deny the government money, but I’d have been home half an hour by now if I’d paid. Suddenly the world seemed to explode. I remember Tom Petty’s “American Girl” was on the radio and thinking I’ll never hear a song in this car again because some motherfucker just killed it. (Yes, readers, my first thought during what turned out to be a four-car pileup was that my beloved 2001 Honda Accord with 300K miles on it was no more.) The motherfucker in question was a county bus driver who never bothered to brake.

Four hours later, when the tow trucks finally came to clear up the mess and I’d made it to my mother’s house (the closest to the accident), staring at the ceiling from my spot on her couch mulling a  a grim and expensive month or three. Either I cut out of school at the semester cutover, when I get new students, all to buy a car in a hurry, or I uber to work, which would be $100/day. (You might think the bus company would cut a quick check but my instincts said no, and I was right).  Yes, of course, I should have been grateful I was unharmed but I’m a pessimist. At 6 am, my couple hours sleep was woken by a text from my brother, already at work, wondering why my car hadn’t been in the driveway. I’d gotten lucky, perhaps? Alas, no, I said, and texted back a picture of my car.  He called. “Hey, my car just sits here all day. Want to borrow it?”

And so for the next two months I got up early, drove him and his bike to his store, and then to school. He rode his bike home and lost ten pounds. I got a blissful break from having to buy a car in a hurry. Even once the shutdown ended my commute, his car was mine to borrow whenever needed.

I pay most of the bills of our household outside of rent, as my salary is nearly double his, but when he had a chance to offer something of value, he didn’t hesitate. I didn’t buy a car until late July.

I’m thankful for all my family.

It was my stepfather’s mechanic who mentioned he had a 2005 Honda Civic for $4000. I said no when my stepfather called. Automatic transmission? Civic not Accord? Pish tosh. He said I should think for longer. Five minutes later I called him back and said yes. The case may never settle.  I had 4K in the bank. This was a nobrainer. Defying his daughter’s social distancing orders, my stepdad and my mom drove me to check out the Civic, which I bought on sight. It’s a good car.

I’m thankful that my sister mostly ignores the similar social strictures of her daughter, my niece, an adorable nurse who has been traumatized by her time in the covid-19 wards. I”ve defied nonsensical travel guidelines to visit twice: first in June, now for Thanksgiving.

I’m thankful my father is doing well as can be expected, given that he spent six weeks in the hospital in February and March. When he came home, he did so well that by early July, he was bored. When I called and told him that my brother and I would like to come see him and take him on a vacation but, you know, covid-19, you’re 83 with every known risk factor and even if we could get in to take a test, the waiting period would render it useless. My dad said unhesitatingly, “Screw that. Let’s go fishing.” We went on a two-week trip through Table Rock Lake and Bull Shoals. Caught nothing, although my casting improved dramatically. Epic vacation.

I’m thankful my son is a good father and husband, even if it means  I can’t go see my grandkids because his wife is, well, clearly not of the same mindset as my family, and the kids can’t leave the house because she’s afraid they’ll get covid19. He backs her play loyally. Or maybe she’s convinced him. Whatever. I’m happy he’s happy.

I’m thankful for my family’s economic good fortune.

No one in my family is suffering from these idiotic pandemic shutdowns. It’s truly a blessing that we’re all still gainfully employed. Hell, my investments are even slightly ahead.

I’m thankful for my students.

Back in September late one night, endlessly grading, I noticed Valerie hadn’t turned in anything in a week and suddenly realized I had no idea what Valerie looked like.

There’s one mirror in my house, in the bathroom. Until the shutdown, I never spent more than a second or two seeing my face, usually when brushing my teeth. Now I spend all day looking at myself in a zoom shot but can’t summon a mental image of my students–a tiny thumbnail impression, maybe, or their avatar.

I asked Valerie to office hours. She kept her camera off until I told her the missing assignments weren’t a problem, that I just needed to know how she was doing. Could she turn on the camera? She was crying. She didn’t understand anything. She was so busy with her English assignments. She kept putting my work off because she didn’t know what to do or how to catch up. She listened, she paid attention, she just didn’t get it. I told her to breathe, to not worry about catching up, and to turn in the next assignment no matter how much wasn’t done so I could see what she needed.

Valerie nodded and smiled. She turned in the next assignment. And the one after that. She’s doing well now. And I know what she looks like.

My attendance rates in all three classes are 100% most days. No chronic absences. No cuts.  All of my students get enough work done to pass, most are learning and improving. Some are thriving.

I am so thankful they come back, day after day, in a world where their lives and opportunities have been traded off in a mostly doomed effort to save the elderly.

I wish their faces were all in my memory.

I’m thankful I’m a teacher.

I’m so angry at this wasted year. My own life is splendid, as you might infer from the regular mention of vacations.  But the idiocy of politicians, the media, the “public health experts” who are doing their best to destroy the young and the poor, to obliterate small businesses by forcing them closed….enough. I’m not going to rant again. And I know they can only achieve this destruction with our permission. Far too many people are terrified of a generally mild illness, embrace the shutdowns, wear their masks in the belief they protect, blame the spread on non-compliance. I await the day those people, the compliers, the believers, realize what a waste all this is. Or the vaccine. Whatever gets life back.

Until then, I find great comfort in my job.  Like many other teachers, I work constantly to improve my lessons, to reach more students, to find ways to help them learn. How much worse would all this be if I were forced to watch the effect of these hated shutdowns, do nothing? If nothing else, I can focus my energy on making education something enjoyable and productive for my ninety or so students. I’m grateful for that privilege.

I’m thankful you’re reading.

Hope your Thanksgiving was as good as mine.


2020 Election: Not Yesterday’s Enterprise

(note: I began this before others made similar points, but decided to clear the cache. I like the two analogies.)

Ever hear of Paul Wylie?

Like most Americans, I only ever watch winter sports during the Winter Olympics, and only then when Americans have a shot at a medal. Which means watching figure skating, mostly.  American men have only won 15 of 75 Olympic figure skating medals, and they were concentrated during two periods. 40% of that haul came from 1948-56 (the Buttons era). Since 1984, just five American men have won medals, 60% of them gold, and 60% from 1984-1992. One last 60% number–that’s how many of the five are straight. Yes, a majority of the US male figure skaters who won Olympic medals the past 40 years are straight. 100% of the British male figure skater medallists are gay (that’s a grand total of 2). But I digress. What was my point? Oh, yes, Wylie.

Paul Wylie’s Alberville medal is one of the greatest Olympic stories in any sport. Long considered a highly talented skater with a life outside skating, Wylie spent over a decade in the top tier of US skaters and five years in the top 3, but he was famous for folding under pressure and never placed higher than ninth in international competition. After graduating from Harvard, he decided to give the nationals one more try, narrowly qualifying for the Olympic team in 92 by a tenth of a point, despite skating quite poorly. The US team coaches regretted his placement, wishing they could give younger fourth place finisher Mark Mitchell some international experience. Wylie had already been dumped from the Worlds, a few weeks after the Olympics, in favor of Mitchell.  Todd Eldredge and Christopher Bowman, the other two Americans, had both been US national champions,  and the heavy gold medal favorites were Canadian and Russian.

But in Alberville, all the favorites fell. Kurt Browning, the greatest skater never to medal at the Olympics, Bowman the Showman, Todd Eldredge, Victor Petrenko, they all had catastrophic errors during their short programs. Everyone except Wylie. For the first time in his skating career, he nailed the short program during a competition. Then in the free skate, with a shot at bronze, his nerves didn’t fail him and he skated the only clean program of the final night. Most people who watched felt he should have gotten the gold, but Olympic judges, always iffy, were apparently determined to give Petrenko Russia’s first gold medal in figure skating. And so Wylie became the oldest figure skating medalist in 60 years by taking silver.

It didn’t matter. Not to Wylie, who would have been ecstatic with a bronze. Not to the people who watched his performance, who knew he’d won in any fair comparison. Not to Scott Hamilton, the 1984 gold medal winner who was mocked for plugging Wylie’s chances after the short. Certainly not to me; the Wylie medal is in my top five great Olympic moments (second only to the 1984 4×200 men’s relay when Bruce Hayes held off the Albatross.)

Donald Trump is not Paul Wylie. But I like this little history for more than its proof that I value second place finishes as extraordinary achievements, often superior to the winner’s. Paul Wylie reminds me that for better or worse, expert opinion has no impact on outcomes. All of us, given the right circumstances, can ignore the naysayers, execute, and achieve far beyond what anyone predicted. So trust me when I say that short of a Trump win, I’m not just pleased with his finish. I’m ecstatic.

At right is just a sample of the conventional wisdom served up by pundits who hadn’t learned a thing in 4 years.

He wasn’t expanding his base. His approval numbers were horrible (based on polls, of course). He wasn’t president to all the people. He was focusing on the hard right “extremist” wing of his voters.

And they were wrong.

Trump grew his voter support in absolute numbers by 16%. This increase registered in every demographic except white males, if we are to trust exit polls. Dramatically. He got the highest percentage of non-white voters of any Republican candidate since 1960.

Understand, of course, he did this with less money. With active media hostility and lies. With a conservative intellectual class at best halfheartedly behind him. With some conservative media outlets and of course, the Never Trump movement, actively agitating against him. With the polls showing him losing  by historic margins in every battleground state.

Trump ignored that and played his game. He did it on his own, with only one real assist: the massive GOP registration effort.

It’s customary to call Trump vain and weak. A weaker guy would have folded. He would have given off flop sweat. Loser fumes. The media mocked him endlessly. Poll analyst Nate Silver, who angrily told people after the election to fuck off if they thought the polls were bad, called the Trafalgar results “crazy” beforehand. David Wasserman nattered about how the private district results showed a wipeout.

The media did everything it could to depress Trump turnout by telling the world it was all over. Biden by a wipeout.

Result: Trump got more votes than any Republican or Democratic candidate ever.

Except–alas–Joe Biden.

We can trust counted votes. Maybe. Here’s the growth in Trump vote, by state. Purple bars are battleground states.

I wrote once about the invisible Trump voters, the blue state voters The west coast ones came out in force. California is still counting votes and Trump is still up nearly 33%. Washington’s nearly at 30%. Oregon and New Mexico increased by over 20%. Fifty percent more Hawaiians voted for Trump. The east coast blue states are still counting absentee ballots, but all gave Trump between 10 and 20%  more votes.

As I’ve tweeted hundreds of times, in 2016 California gave Trump more than any state but Florida and Texas. I’ll have to update that: in 2020, California gave Trump more votes than any other state, full stop. Sum up the votes in the 15 least populated states Trump won, and they’re just barely ahead of California. Who knows, the state might even catch up when they find that last vote coming in on the mail boat from Kathmandu.

In the battleground states, his vote count increased an average of 16%, with a high of 33% growth….in Arizona. With Nevada just behind at 30%.

As the jubilant press corps reminds us daily, Trump’s going to be one of just four single-term presidents since 1900. But take a look at his re-election numbers compared to other presidents since Eisenhower.

Nixon’s huge numbers were because of George Wallace’s relatively successful third party run in 1968. And hey, Clinton is the only Democrat president who got more votes in his second run.

I found only one president who improved on his re-election numbers yet lost the election: Grover Cleveland.

We’ll have to wait four years to see if Trump has has anything more in common with Cleveland than increased votes and a much younger wife.

Great stuff. But.

Biden improved on Hillary’s numbers by far more in the battleground states, with an average increase of 24% and a high of 44% growth….in Arizona. So he won.

“It was rather the moment that the American people surgically removed an unhinged leader and re-endorsed the gist of his politics. “–Andrew Sullivan…and a host of other anti-Trump, anti-woke folks saying the equivalent of “the voters removed Trump with admirable surgical precision”.

No. Not with these numbers. This was a blow out election on both sides. There’s nothing surgical or precise about 2020. Biden held on in the right states in much the way this Joplin hospital held on in the tornado:

A shift in 100K votes and Trump wins. Of course Biden got more votes. I wonder if that will be true from here on in, regardless of the winner. Something we once viewed as an anomaly will become the norm. But in the right places, Trump almost matched Biden’s growth.

Almost.

I wish just a few more Trump voters had gotten out there. Or I wish the absentee ballot fraud were less. Take your pick. I am neutral lean fraud on that issue.

I actually know relatives and friends who flatly disbelieve millions more voters came out for Biden. I was a bit shocked. I’m supposed to be the cynical one, but I totally expected a blue wave. I was just delighted there was a matching red one.

Still, do I think it’s possible there was a coordinated Dem effort to manufacture millions of absentee ballots? Sure. The most likely rationale they’d use for the fraud was conviction that Biden had this locked up, but a massive blowout that totally repudiated Trump would be so much better, right? Wipe out the GOP fear of Trump voters, make them see the light and bend over to more immigration, more transgender nonsense, more government health care, blah blah blah. So why not create more votes? It’s not like we’re changing the election, or anything. Biden’s going to win.

Those who follow me on Twitter know that I think voter registration fraud is a much bigger issue than voter fraud, and much easier to work out ahead of time. The Dems’ concerted push to increase mail-in voting, lower the standards for counting, and fight for extended delivery is all in keeping with this. But hey, it’s not like they were changing the results, or anything. Biden’s going to win, right? The polls all say so. This is just beating down Trump voters, making them look fringe.

And then the stunner: Trump voters come out en masse, and Biden might lose. Stop the counting! And then got to the cities, where Trump did pretty well, and ask them to manufacture just enough votes. City machines are totally up with that sort of thing.

Do I think this happened? Eh. I don’t know. I’m just as willing to believe it was authentically that close, with the usual marginal fraud in cities.

I do know that Megan McArdle and any other media figure who castigates reasonable skepticism “immoral” can whistle disapproval in swing time for all I care. Swim in outrage until they’re pruny. Dunk their faces in smarmy self-righteousness while eating shit. I don’t care.

Because here’s what I’m absolutely certain of: if any “journalist” learned of an effort to rig the election for Biden, he or she would not expose such efforts but instead ask, “How can I help?”

And that’s why so many Trump voters are convinced there’s fraud. Fuck you all, media folk. You are the ones who have discredited America. You aren’t speaking for America. You’re entertainers, shucking and jiving for the people who pay. Once again, you got your hats handed to you with the enormity of Trump’s vote count. Biden win or not.

I wish Trump had less slimy advocates, but then I always wish that. Because of Trump, other GOP pols will see the advantage in being and getting better advocates.

Back in the early days of Trump’s presidency, I wrote:

The first Star Trek “reboot”  took the bold act of altering the past in a famous fictional timeline. The new movies have the freedom to reinvent, while we watch the movies, fully aware what “really” happened. This got taken to extremes for “Into the Darkness”, when the last half hour echoed word for word the greatest Star Trek movie ever made with a character swap, but it’s still pretty clever.

Ever since Trump won in November, I’ve felt like we’re all living through an alternate timeline. Like Tom Hanks’ “Doug” said in that sublime Black Jeopardy skit, “Come on, they already decided who wins even before it happens”. Everyone of any importance knew Hillary would win.  Jobs were accepted. Plans were made.

But while I see it as a reboot, an opportunity to rewrite the future, all the people with any voice or influence think of the election as Yesterday’s Enterprise. Just as the Enterprise C slipped through the temporal rift and forestalled the truce between the Klingons and the Federation, so too did a whole bunch of voters escape the notice of the Deep State.

…….

The media wants to change the world back to way it was.  What’s happening now is all wrong, they’re not supposed to be here, they have to  fix it.  If they can just keep the pressure on and play for time, someone who “wasn’t supposed to be here” will drag the wounded Enterprise C back a hundred years to be destroyed.  The timeline can be restored.

Sure, I’d have rather Trump won. But  Trump ended his presidency with numbers that force the GOP to accept the reboot. There’s no shoving the voters and Trump into the rift to fix the timeline. Republicans have been worried about their “demographic destiny” for years. Trump’s showed them a way forward. (Something I predicted more than once, incidentally.)

History will, I think, be kinder to Trump than the current moment, but I wonder if they will understand his greatest achievement.

Trump faced down media and elite howls of disapproval and outrage. He didn’t apologize. He ruthlessly attacked anyone who insulted him for his views. By refusing to back down, he  showed all Americans how much the media, intellectual class, and even our political parties were throttling American policy by narrowly defining boundaries of acceptable opinions and proposals to their own political demands. He restored balance to American discourse almost singlehandedly. In doing so, Trump gave all Americans a real choice.

I was grateful back in 2016. I’m grateful now.


2020 Election: Political What Ifs and Other Gasbaggery

First, thanks to Kyle Smith for writing part I of my planned article.

If the polls are right, Biden wins. All the endless nattering about “Trump’s window closing“…no, wait, that’s from 2016, this month the meme is “Trump’s running out of time”, is so much idiocy. The polls are either right and Biden wins in a landslide, or they’re wrong in Trump’s favor and he’s got a shot. The point is, he’s got a shot if the polls are wrong, not if he takes whatever sage wisdom various conservative pundits dish out about constructing a good closing story.

Political analysts are always retrofitting their reality post-hoc. The night that Trump won, I remember Steve Kornacki and Bill Hemmer talking about the staggering numbers they were seeing out of rural towns and counties in Florida, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and North Carolina. They had just never anticipated that kind of outpouring and it clearly helped Trump win. But after the fact, no one ever mentions this; instead, “Trump won over the most disliked candidate in Democratic history” (who somehow, despite being epic-ally unpopular, got more votes).

So. If the polls are correct, it’s a blowout. If the polls are right, Biden will win Arizona and Georgia, to say nothing of the original Blue Wall states. He might pull out Texas. If the polls are right, Joe Biden will win a higher percentage of the white vote than any Dem candidate since Jimmy Carter.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Really?

 

So this next part isn’t for Dems. You Dems do what you do, I grok that. This part is for anyone who was even thinking of voting for Trump or who voted for Trump in 2016, the people who are responsible for the plummeting support for Black Lives Matter looting, the people who get utterly squicked out by feeding 8 year olds hormones to change their gender whether or not the parents approve. The people who support fracking and affordable gas prices and think trying to fix climate change is not worth destroying our country. The people who don’t want the virtual open borders and fake asylum claims and amnesty, much less refugees dumped on states without consent, who loathe antifa, who can’t believe that colleges are ending admissions tests.  The people who don’t want to spend young lives fighting pointless, endless wars in the middle east, who think the 1619 Project is bullshit, who are privately appalled at the media open hostility to Republicans. The people who think unisex bathrooms are a horrible idea, who don’t want the courts stacked, don’t want statehood for Puerto Rico, DC, and Guam. The people who are terrified that cancel culture has gone too far, that free speech is disappearing in America.

But are voting for Biden anyway.

If the polls are correct, and “Trump lost the suburbs” and suburban women in particular, who supported Trump last time, then they are all looking at the city riots and antifa street-blocking and Democrats defunding police and Biden always avoiding answering straight up that he won’t support this until a desperate media pushes him to say something and saying yeah, that’s my guy.

 

 

 

 

 

Really?

 

 

You’re….tired of Trump? It’s just always so much….struggle? You find him embarrassing? You think someone else would handle covid19 better? You just don’t like him? You want someone the French and English will respect?

 

Jaysus. The question is, of course, how many of you are out there. To all those potential Trump voters who just got tired of the chaos and plan to or have voted Biden:  you’re kidding yourself. And if you are so numerous that the polls are correct, you’re going to regret what comes. Worse than the lukewarm Obama voters of 2008 and 2012 regretted it when they patted themselves on voting for the first black President and then  realized holy crap, he’s a leftist and sent the Dems scooting, two midterms in a row. Except this will be worse because the Democrat left is ascendant and the pressure on moderates to go along or be cancelled is already unbearable. Let’s hope you have the opportunity to reverse yourself and undo the damage.

A few Ricochet podcasts ago, Rob Long blew up at James Lileks and Peter Robinson for doing what I just did, in chastising people for switching to Biden. It’s Trump’s fault, he said. Politics is persuasion. Trump doesn’t persuade. He doesn’t understand what it’s about. First, I understand the point. I just cry bullshit. Voters have their own responsibilities. Anyone who holds even some of the views I outline above and votes for Biden will get it, good and hard, and screw them for dragging the rest of us down with them. Again, Dems: not you. You do what you do.

So that’s for if the polls are right. Which, again, they might be.

The polls didn’t move. Not through the insane BLM riots, the mad, uncontrolled cities. The crazy violence and highway blockings. That’s when I began to wonder. In 2016, I accepted the polls.  I saw what Trump was trying to do and hoped like hell the state polls were wrong, but until election night it was a pipe dream. This year, I am really forcing myself to accept the state polls, but my basic stance is doubt.  The national polls I think are realistic. But anyone who thinks an even 10% national lead spells a definite Biden rout is delusional. I’ve been pointing out for four years that every Republican in California, New York, Illinois, Colorado, and New Jersey could stay home and make no difference at all to the electoral outcome while creating a popular vote massacre.

Understand, even though every logical bone in my body doubts those polls, I try really hard to believe them and emotionally, I am totally prepared for a Biden blowout.

Is it possible that all this organic support for Trump, the car caravans and boat parades could represent a huge percentage of Trump voters, rather than the tip of the iceberg? Is it possible that untold gazillions of people who never make a political remark show up and vote Biden, crushing the louder opposition?

Oh, hell to the yeah.

But here’s the thing: that’s what everyone thought last time. That’s what keeps on running through my mind, all the parallels. If you follow me on Twitter, you’ll see me do the “Four Year Check” every time some media pundit makes a triumphalist comment: Bill Kristol cackling in glee, Republicans cutting Trump loose, white women hate Trump, Amy Walters confidently predicting a Trump loss, shock that Trump is only 5-7 points up in Kansas, Biden/Clinton lead insurmountable, Megan McArdle mocking the poll unskewers, Dave Wasserman talking of Trump’s utter meltdown, and there’s thousands more. It all feels exactly the same.

But it’s different, they assure me.

 

OK.

 

Here’s what reassures me: win or lose, Trump goes out fighting. It’s widely reported that he didn’t expect to win in 2016. You never saw him say so. The media not only loathes Trump but actively works as campaign hacks for Biden, but there are no Trump equivalent stories to the Bush family reunion in the 2016 South Carolina primary or the desperation in the last weeks of the McCain campaign. Trump didn’t spend the last weeks of October sitting around the fire reading Hemingway short stories, and not only because he’d probably have trouble identifying one. The media may hate him, but they’re scared he might win, and you’ll never know otherwise from Trump. The man doesn’t do flop sweat.

Similarly, I have no fear that all the idiotic pollster prattle will dissuade GOP voters. I worry maybe the weather will do a terrible thing, but have no fears that Bud and Mary will say “Jeeze, Nate Silver says Donald Trump only has a 10% chance to win and Dave Wasserman says he’s almost seen enough, so let’s order pizza and do some premature mourning.” No, if Trump loses it’s because not enough people in the right states want him to be President, not because any supporter didn’t bother to show up.  His supporters will come out, from the homeliest hamlet to the many usually invisible Trump voters in blue states (they’ve been having some fun with their rallies this time round). And that’s comforting. The media might be trying to use certainty to depress the Trump vote. They’ll fail.

I have disliked the media and “experts” generally since 2008, but at this point I just hate them all. Boundless contempt, I have. What comforts me is that I’m not alone. The media can still cancel. The media still has influence with corporations, with employers, public and private. But they have no influence over public opinion.  The middlebrows who look to elites exist, but only on the Dem side, and it’s a vanishingly small group. The rest of us think the media are hacks or honest activists, with the only question being whose side they’re shilling for. If Trump doesn’t win, it won’t be because of a single thing the media wrote or didn’t write.

Which brings up another point I’ve been mulling for a while: GOP voters need new media. The National Review couldn’t even bring itself to endorse Trump, and published another vile diatribe by Kevin Williamson, who loathes America so much he’s moving to Switzerland, which he finds much more civilized.  If I want to read articles overflowing with disdain for the white working class, I’d read Twitter bluechecks.  The editors couldn’t bring themselves to endorse Trump and gave a voice to one formal yes, one formal no, and one formal who knows–but that’s in addition to Kevin Williamson, Richard Brookhiser, and Jay Nordlinger all saying they wouldn’t vote for him.

The Federalist has generally gone pro-Trump. Washington Examiner, with the single best reporter on the conservative beat, nonetheless has Tim Carney bragging he won’t vote and begging people not to hate people just because they voted for Trump.

Never mind The Dispatch and The Bulwark and the other Never Trump folks just slavering to throw out those plebe Trump supporters. I listen to lot of podcasts, most of them by conservative media folks, and they spend their time bitching about Trump, endlessly. Then occasionally they’ll bitch about Biden and the media and the left, but does that make them say Trump’s better? Oh, hell no. Back to bitching about Trump.

Guys, he won without your help once. If he wins without your help twice, who needs you? And if he doesn’t win, and you didn’t fight for him–again, who needs you?

But the sad truth is that we Trump voters still read National Review, still read Jonah Goldberg’s GFile, still talk about Ross Douthat, still call Bill Kristol a conservative and still support their various efforts to some degree because who else is there? They treat Trump voters like crap because they can.

OK, end bitching about media.

What if it’s not a Biden blowout? What if the polls are wrong, at least in part?

Well, then, we have a narrow Biden win or a narrow Trump win.

Narrow Biden win:

  1. Trump keeps Florida, Arizona, North Carolina, Georgia. Biden takes the blue wall states.
  2. Trump keeps Florida, Arizona, Pennsylvania, North Carolina. Biden takes the rest of the blue wall and….Georgia.

Narrow Trump win:

  1. Trump keeps Georgia, Pennsylvania, Florida, and North Carolina. Biden takes the rest of the blue wall and…Arizona.
  2. Trump loses Georgia but picks up Michigan in addition to the rest.

(as you can see, I have no truck with those single elector places. Assume they go to Biden.)

I naturally want Trump to win, but a narrow Biden victory will give serious pause to the plans to rework the GOP, particularly if Trump gets record numbers of blacks and Hispanics. Jim Geraghty hopes that a Trump loss will convince the GOP to be less “Trumpy”, but a GOP that loses white suburbs while gaining with blacks and Hispanics is a GOP in a lot better shape than the free trade, no entitlements anti-affirmative action party that Geraghty dreams about, when he isn’t having covid19 nightmares.

And as bad as a Biden presidency would be, a narrow win would set the media back on its heels, particularly if it was accompanied by an increased black and Hispanic vote.

If Trump wins, well, it’s a great day.

One last election thought, on the Senate: if the Dems tie  the Senate–or even if they don’t–Mitch McConnell should have a heart to heart with Joe Manchin and Jon Tester. Both of them will face endless attacks by their own party if they don’t go woke. And neither of them is woke. Both probably want to be re-elected, which will be increasingly difficult if the Democrats win the Senate. McConnell could probably promise them various committee chairs, right?

Everyone remembers that Jim Jeffords switched parties. But fewer people remember that Richard Shelby, senior senator from Alabama, did it back in 1994. He’s still around.

And maybe that will give ideas to moderate Dem representatives, too.

Worth a shot, anyway. Let’s start that realignment early!

If you haven’t made up your mind: vote Trump.