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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.


Bush/Obama Ed Reform: Core Damage?

History will probably never adequately address the reasons for Common Core’s educational failure to improve results (as opposed to political failure, which I’ve outlined over the past year).

Contemporary analyses can’t even agree that they’ve failed.

  1. We need more implementation time to show the results. (ex: Stay the Course)
  2. The standards were too easy. (ex: Common Core Has Failed. Now What?)
  3. Standards don’t make a difference. (ex: Common Core Has Not Worked)
  4. What are you talking about? Common Core didn’t fail! ex: In California, Common Core Has Not Failed)

Before NAEP failed to show any improvement, everyone pushing Common Core called NAEP the “gold standard” of educational testing. After NAEP scores failed to show any improvement, some Core proponents including, sadly, Michael Kirst, blamed NAEP.

But to me, there’s always been another interesting question: granted that Common Core didn’t improve academic performance, did it do something worse? Did it actively slow or retard student progress?

NAEP Reminder

To begin with, for those who don’t actively pore over NAEP scores, here’s the reformer nightmare:

Click to enlarge. ELA on left, fourth grade on top. These scores go from 1990 to 2019. Notice that the only steep hike is in 4th grade math, next steepest in 8th grade math, and both of the major growth happens not only before Common Core, but before NCLB–that is, long before reformers got their way at the federal level. My take on this: the growing criticism from “A Nation at Risk” on clearly convinced states to take academic achievement more seriously, teaching more content earlier, thus leading to a boost in scores.

That boost in achievement, as anyone who knows NAEP will tell you, never translated to high school:

There are three explanations of why high school NAEP scores remain flat. First, we are holding onto more students, so their ability level is lower, thus pulling down scores.  Next, the population demographics have changed, and the growth rate has been among the races with lower test scores, which prevents the average from increasing. That’s certainly possible, but looking at 17 year old scores by race:

They all seem pretty flat, so surely that would have resulted in a decrease? Eh.

My own pick for why scores stay flat in high school is that the question is reversed. Instead of asking why scores stay flat in high school, ask yourselves why so many more blacks and Hispanics do well in younger grades. I first wrote about this in my seminal article The false god of elementary math scores–well, seminal in the Ed Realist oeuvre, at least:

We should take to heart the Wise Words of Barbie. Math achievement will fall off as the courses get more challenging. Students who excelled at their times tables and easily grasped fractions might still struggle with complex numbers or combinatorics.

Or, as Steve Sailer said once, Usain Bolt wasn’t much faster than any of his age peers–at six months old.

State Tests

I’ve always preferred state test scores over NAEP. Granted, they aren’t standardized over geography or time. But the entire state population is tested by grade on the same assessment.  You’d think that would be a baseline requirement, but in fact NAEP just selects kids at random, allowing the states some selection sculpting, and then tests those kids on a subset of the entire question set.

So what did the state tests show about Common Core?

God Bless Education Week.

Common Core 2015 Test Results

pic39

Blue states are SBAC, red states are PARCC, purple states either didn’t adopt Common Core or didn’t adopt the tests, using their own.

Step through every state’s results from 2013-14 to 2014-15 and you’ll notice that all the purple states saw little or no change in test scores. Meanwhile, the red and blue state scores plummeted, with the singular exception of Missouri, whose English scores on the SBAC were an improvement from the year before. Someone should ask Missouri why. All  the rest, all the way down: state-designed tests, no change. PARCC or SBAC, steep drop in proficiency.

Edweek compared overall student populations over a year period. I picked three states: California, Illinois, and Colorado (an SBAC state and two PARCCs) and broke them out by grade and growth/decline over a five year period.

Orange is before; blue is after. So, a massive hit in test scores. And this was the norm, fairly close to universal, for all states that adopted the PARCC or SBAC. Which is why so many states dumped the tests.

They were designed to be more difficult. Education reformers desperately want to expand charters beyond their primary base of low income parents looking for a way out of chaotic schools. They wanted to break into the suburbs and wreak the same kind of budgeting havoc in wealthy school districts as they do in poor ones. The path towards achieving this, they thought, was to “convince suburban parents that their schools sucked, too!” as Michael Petrilli said in a podcast several years ago.

Reformers thought most people approved of their goals. They thought the public had their backs. They thought the public shared in the disapproval of those dumbed-down NCLB era tests. They were wrong.

Why Make The Tests Harder?

The tests could have been made more difficult, the cut scores higher, without making any underlying change in the materials learned. But Common Core standards, at least in math, were much harder.

Why? Because the Common Core developers had their own ideas about the falloff between elementary and high school scores.  They understood, as I’ve pointed out, that elementary school focuses on arithmetic fact and algorithm mastery.  Math curriculum gets dramatically more difficult and more abstract in high school.  Thus, elementary school test scores are always higher than high school scores. It’s easier to achieve mastery of arithmetic and algorithms.

But they didn’t even consider the Wise Words of Barbie.  The Common Core developers, as well as all education reformers and progressives, see ability as irrelevant to policy planning. They see the falloff as a failure of instruction and expectations.

Solving the huge influx of abstract math in high school required,er, flattening the difficulty curve. Teach young children the theory behind arithmetic, rather than just the algorithms and math facts. Introduce conceptual math much earlier into the educational time line. Students would master difficult arithmetic concepts earlier and be ready for the higher difficulty of advanced math.

As far as I can tell, I’m one of the only people who correctly observed this plan seven years ago, in Core Meltdown Coming, (I’m kind of proud of this, given that the Common Core math criticism was that the standards were too easy). You can read some of the details of how they pushed the difficulty down in that article. Or you can just read the thousands of articles delineating the angry woes of elementary school kids throughout the country.

One could easily explain the perceived failure of the past fifty years of educational policy as nothing more than the failure to see ability as highly relevant to educational achievement.

Teaching vs. Learning

So Common Core’s failure to improve academic achievement could be seen as the imposition of ruthless reality: Introducing difficult math concepts earlier didn’t lead to earlier mastery.  

But Stripe wasn’t harmed by the attempt to teach him whistling.

What if teaching more abstraction not only didn’t achieve understanding but also prevented the understanding previously taken for granted? What if kids who’d previously been able to grasp the basics of math facts and algorithms were now struggling with them? If you don’t tell a kid that 3+8=11, but rather continually ask him to prove it, maybe the kid’s own intelligence influences understanding of math facts.  Bright kids will realize that there’s a pattern to the “proofs”, that they are actually just using patterns to reflect reality. Less able kids might  never get around to realizing that math facts are facts, as opposed to opinions they can prove kind of like in writing class, just by finding a cool quote.

Possibly–just possibly–Common Core math standards interfered with algorithm and math fact mastery.

That would explain the falloff in NAEP math performance, although once again NAEP isn’t focused enough to pick up on this in any comprehensive manner. It would also explain why the lowest achievers were the hardest hit.

I have no evidence. Zip, nada. (Although I was just reminded that Spotted Toad wondered the same thing, and that’s a good sign.) It’d be an interesting research project, requiring a deep dive into particular question types. Someone should check it out. My theory has face validity, at least. Intuitively, teachers all understand that teaching students aggressively beyond their capabilities is damaging. It’s why so many of us reject the demand for “higher standards” and often actively support “dumbing down” as a way for children to learn more effectively.

Imagine being an education reformer shilling and then defending Common Core. NAEP scores, which you routinely describe as the “gold standard of education measurement” flatten or drop in fourth and eight grade math and reading in apparent response to a  hugely expensive, howlingly unpopular standards change.  Then it appears that the lowest performers are declining more than high performers, when your argument for Common Core was that higher standards were what weaker kids needed to know what is expected of them.

At that point, you’re left with “It was the implementation!” or “Stay the course!” or “The NAEP is testing the wrong stuff!”

And so, the national standards dream died a horrible death once more.

And so, finally, I have finished all but the final chapter of my Rise and Fall of Bush/Obama Education Reforms. The pandemic derailed my focus, alas, and I probably could have done better on Common Core. Each one of these pieces has something interesting to say, I think, but ideally I would have collapsed them all into two. Sorry about that.


Five Things I Learned Remote Teaching Summer School

Attendance is a lot better when grades are involved.

Back in March, a younger, more innocent me argued in favor of excusing students who didn’t show up for high school classes after the shutdown. They didn’t sign up for online school. School is an obligation that society shunts on kids, and it has certain boundaries and (yes, really) choices. So if some students didn’t wake up on time and gave up, or decided that a grocery store hourly wage was a better use of their day, I was all in favor of holding them harmless from that decision. Their choice. In my view, they should not be penalized for that choice. No “F”. No delayed graduation. Take the class off their transcript, reduce the credits for graduation.

Silly me, not to anticipate that some districts and unions would band together and decide that if some kids couldn’t perform, then everyone must pass. Some schools froze grades at point of shutdown, others mandated the even more disastrous credit/ no credit for everyone. In both cases, students could skip school entirely and move on to the next class in the sequence so long as they were passing in March. In the second case, students could work hard and learn or never show up and get the same grade. In my particular school’s case, kids who didn’t show were literally missing an entire semester. Didn’t matter. Even in math. They passed with the same grade as the students who attended zoom sessions, asked questions, learned. And don’t try to feed me any shit about how the hardworking kids earned a moral victory, because without college admissions tests there’s no difference between a kid who didn’t learn anything and a kid who did, if the teachers were forced to give them both a pass.

I wrote half an article about this before I realized I was ranting. Peace.

Anyway. In summer school and, I dearly hope, this fall, teachers can give out grades. I had good attendance all summer.

So from now on when you read those stories about absentee students, remember to email the reporter and ask if the students who didn’t show were guaranteed passing grades and knew it.

Brand new students you’ve never met before? Not a problem. 

One thing everyone seemed certain of last spring was that remote learning only worked because teachers had existing relationships with their students. I worried about that, too. Happy news: that turned out to not be a thing.

I don’t do team building exercises, don’t spend lots of time getting to know my kids. None of this made a difference. I had roughly 25 students in two classes, but all but about five of them were taking both sessions (algebra semester 1 and 2). So about 30-32 students total.  None of them were from my school. I didn’t like remote teaching, but I still routinely received the two plaudits that comprise my success metric: probably 25% of my students said “I like the way you teach so much better; I’m really getting this.” and by direct count eight parents sent me a note saying their kids had mentioned how much they like my teaching. I say this not to brag, but because, well,  I’m a pretty darn good teacher and I get a lot of compliments. And that didn’t change in the move to remote. Students who had no idea who I was still thought I was and only saw me on Zoom a couple hours a day liked me a lot better than their last math teacher.

However, explaining is my go-to skill. So if that’s you, then not knowing your students might not be something to fear. If you are a beloved mentor whose influence is based entirely on in-class conversations and bonding, or lunchtime safe space, good luck.

One challenge left to take on: I sit my students in ability-level groups and they work together productively. I didn’t try this in summer school. Again, I’m not a huge fan of getting-to-know-you activities. I just bunch the kids together and tell them to get to it. I’ll have to be more conscious about this if I try it on Zoom.

Zoom Breakout Rooms

According to David Griswold, Google Meet has some nice features, but the list of limitations he rattled off have convinced me Zoom is my bet. I learned about breakout rooms in my other summer job, teaching test prep (they begged me and hey, I could go on vacation and still teach so why not?).

Breakout rooms solved a huge problem I had during the spring, when I ran “office hours”. I had no training on Zoom, just used what I saw. I used to have different groups sign in at different times, based on what topic they needed to learn, and it was a huge hassle. Breakout rooms are fantastic. You can set them up ad hoc.

Downside #1–to the best of my knowledge, you can’t add rooms after you’ve started, so I always create a couple extra.

Downside #2–if a kid drops off the line and comes back on, you might not see it for a while. If you, the teacher, are in a breakout room, you don’t hear the sound alert for a new entry. So learn to check the icon (it will say “1 unassigned”).

Downside #3–you can’t peek in on the other rooms. Remember when you were a beginning teacher helping one student out while right behind your back mayhem was breaking out? It feels like that. Except it’s not mayhem, it’s just kids not working.

Still, these are manageable problems. Breakout rooms are your friend.

Collect work right away

I quit assigning homework nearly six years ago. With remote learning, I’m no longer wandering around the room monitoring student work, seeing their progress. Last spring, I just asked students to turn in work via Google Classroom.

I wasn’t obsessive about it; students could skip turning in some assignments. But some students never turned in anything. I’d bring them in for special sessions and establish their level of understanding. Which was a lot of work, but remember, the kids didn’t have to show up at all last spring so I was in “sell” mode.

I couldn’t hold those extra sessions in summer school even if I’d wanted to. Students met with me every day for at least an hour. If they had questions, I held office hours earlier, and they’d come to those. Most kids were also turning in the homework, but at least 10 of the 30-some students were turning in little or nothing, despite coming to class every day and answering questions, demonstrating understanding.

I finally realized that they weren’t turning in work for the same reason they didn’t do homework–because once school ended, they were done. They didn’t think about class until the next day. In short, the reason that I stopped assigning homework all those years ago was still a really good reason.

So what I needed to do was consider this work classwork, not homework. Once I’d explained everything, I didn’t dismiss the class. “Do assignment 2, problems 1-8. DO NOT LEAVE ZOOM WITHOUT TURNING IN YOUR WORK. I will give you a zero otherwise.”

That worked. For some reason, the same kids who were untroubled by zeros for homework would religiously turn in classwork to avoid a zero.

By the way, reviewing classwork adds hours to my week, in case you think it’s all daily walks and a few zoom calls.

Google Form Quizzes

In the spring, I used a Classkick hack as a quiz delivery system. Classkick is a great way to administer several different quizzes to students–upload the quizzes into classkick, which allows you to generate a unique code. You can then give the quiz codes to student groups. Classkick’s value-add is the ability for a teacher to share a quiz view with just one student to help them out with questions.

These were just freeform quizzes, suitable only for regurgitation of the basics. That’s all I was able to do in the spring, and I began summer school using that method as well: build my quiz, convert to PDF, upload versions to Classkick.

But Google Classroom offers a Google “Quiz” option, which I learned was just a google form. With a bit of research, I was able to create my“multiple answer” tests:

Exponents:
GoogleFormQuiz1
Algebraic System
GoogleFormQuiz2

Graphed System
GoogleFormQuiz3

I can weight questions, import images, use images in answer choices. It’s very flexible. Not as flexible as paper and pencil tests, alas. I haven’t yet figured out how to allow students to correct answers or if I want to do that. But it’s a start.

None of this is great.

Pacing is incredibly slow. I’m not optimistic about returning to even my notoriously limited curriculum. If you know a teacher who is bragging about covering everything, that teacher has highly motivated and capable students or a lot of lost kids.  I hate being reduced to one mode of instruction. I know kids are only paying partial attention. their lives have been reduced to nearly nothing. This is a horrible way to teach, a worse way to learn, and shame on the people who think covid19 is a reason to shut down schools.

It’s a terrible thing that fearful people are doing to society, to children, to education. And I’m one of the lucky ones.

 


Will the Rising Tide of Nuttiness Come My Way?

********************************************************************************
Back when school was real life, my phone rang.

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

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

“This is your precalc class?”

“Yes.”

“Manuel Perez.”

“No. I have a Sophie Perez.”

Pause.

“That’s Manuel.”

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

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

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

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

Hung up. Turned.

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

“Sophie?”

“Yeah?”

“Something you aren’t telling me?

“Huh? Oh, I went to senior cut day.”

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

“Oh. Yeah, sometimes.  Some places.”

“Am I supposed to be calling you Manuel?”

“No, I’m fine.”

“Do you want me to call you Manuel?”

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

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

Sophie jaunted out.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 


Figuring Out Podcasts

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

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

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

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

Top Two:

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

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

After these two clear favorites, it’s categories:

 Weekly or daily roundups

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Analyst Shows:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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