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Ten Most Read, Ten You Should Read

Eight years ago, on the second anniversary of my blog, I asked, “Am I a hedgehog or a fox?”  Hilarious, that I could ever be so deluded. I understand why my brain thinks itself a hedgehog, but it will just have to cope with reality.

I am a fox. Even at my lowly level of the word, this is a list only a fox could produce.

Ten Most Read Articles:

  1. More than Gotcha: Kamala’s Busing Blunder— June 28, 2019
    The only item past its sell date. Most of my work maintains its relevance. But this article, outdated though it is, has a good number of my strengths on display. First, unlike the entire media class, I know how to search for and use relevant history. No one listening should have thought anything other than “that’s bullshit” when she claimed to have been on the frontlines of segregation in Berkeley, CA. But no journalist bothered to do the research. Next, I understood as no one else seemed to that she was essentially coming out in favor of busing.  At a time when most of the media (and all of Twitter) was wowed, I  pointed out she’d almost certainly have to walk that comment back. The other strength: sometimes I really hate people while many other folks are like, man, why is Ed hating on her and then later they go oh, I get it.
    ignore me, lazy way to space
  2. Asian Immigrants and What No One Mentions Aloud–October 8, 2013
    I’ve kind of cornered the market in Asian immigrant criticism–not of the people, but of the culture, which I think is very damaging to American education. I wouldn’t make such a big deal out of it if everyone else weren’t determined not to notice. This was the first time I wrote about it.
    ignore me, lazy way to space
  3. Functions vs. Equations: f(x) is y and more — May 24, 2015
    A math curriculum piece in third place? Blew me away. But as I mentioned, curriculum searches are specific and get through Google’s recency bias, so they’re the one article category that still gets fed via search engines. I keep meaning to revisit this article because it had a very bimodal reaction. Mathy readers who didn’t teach were aggravated and confused by the article and told me I didn’t understand the math. On the other hand, a number of professors on Twitter understood my point  instantly and were very appreciative (and some later commented as well). I think the mathy folks thought I was confusing a system with a function, whereas the professors understood I was using an example of multiple equations that wasn’t a system to show students a difference they hadn’t seen before.
    ignore me, lazy way to space
  4. Homework and grades–February 6, 2012
    I have relatively few strong views about what teachers should do. Homework is the exception. Homework is insane. Grades are fraud.
    ignore me, lazy way to space
  5. Algebra and the Pointlessness of The Whole Damn Thing— August 19, 2012
    My first really huge piece, and one I’m still quite fond of. It’s getting harder to find data easily; more states are hiding racial and economic distinctions. But if you look at current data, you’ll see the same pattern: poor whites do about as well as non-poor blacks and Hispanics. Been like that for decades.
    ignore me, lazy way to space
  6. Philip Dick, Preschool and Schrödinger’s Cat — April 5, 2013
    Canonical Ed on IQ.
    ignore me, lazy way to space
  7. Binomial Multiplication and Factoring Trinomials with The Rectangle— September 14, 2012
    Another curriculum piece. I took a long time to make sure the figures and explanations were thorough. I hope other teachers get good use from it. Still the best way to teach factoring, even if your kids don’t use it.
    ignore me, lazy way to space
  8. The myth of “they weren’t ever taught….”— July 1, 2012
    This is one of my favorite pieces. It’s all true, still. Every word. And new teachers have to come to grips with it every year.
    ignore me, lazy way to space
  9. The SAT is Corrupt. No One Wants to Know.–December 31, 2014
    I am adamantly opposed to grades-based college admissions. But the College Board is corrupt. The international SAT is corrupt. And they’ve changed it in ways to make it far less useful, all in the hopes of ending the score gap, which was never going to happen.
    ignore me, lazy way to space
  10. The Gap in the GRE–January 28, 2012
    Another of my favorite pieces that asks a very good question: why are genuine high achievers in verbal tests so less frequent than in math tests? Note that in the intervening years, the College Board and the ETS have eliminated all the verbal difficulty in the SAT and the GRE.

So there’s my ten most popular.

Then I just looked over all my articles and looked for favorites that also captured my zeitgeist (can people have zeitgeist?). I was particularly looking for self-contained articles–a lot of time I go down one rabbit hole and then get to the main point. (Yes, I’m thinking of those for my rewrite plans.) I also wanted a good sample.

  1. Teacher Quality Pseudofacts, Part II–January 15, 2012
    This is a top 20 all-time post and was a steady performer for years. I almost didn’t include it; today it seems kind of old hat. But in fairness, that’s like saying 1933’s 42nd Street is cliché because it uses all the old tropes about movie musicals. It didn’t use them. It invented them. When I wrote this article, it was common wisdom that teachers were low-skilled, low-quality, and not very bright. Only the terminally uninformed, the amateurs and the hacks,  have made that claim in four or five years.  I like to think Pseudofacts has had something to do with that change,  because of the very easily found data I brought to light.
    ignore me, lazy way to space
  2. The false god of elementary school test scores–July 30, 2012
    Another one I almost didn’t include because it definitely has the rabbit hole problem about Rocket Ship at the beginning. However, like Pseudofacts, it’s an early example of my actually looking at readily available information and pointing out the obvious. Plus, great title.
    ignore me, lazy way to space
  3. The Fallacy at the Heart of All Reform–September 7, 2012
    I wrote a history of modern education reform throughout much of 2020-21. This was a history of earlier policy. But the definition of fallacy I include here holds for the entire era.
    ignore me, lazy way to space
  4. The Day of Three Miracles— April 28, 2015
    I don’t often talk about colleagues, mainly because for years my relationship with them was….fraught. Not bad, just…there. But this is not only a colleague story, it captures a conundrum that few people in education policy seem to understand. Access or rigor. Not both.
    ignore me, lazy way to space
  5. Citizens, Not Americans— June 16, 2016
    I love this piece. By the way, Dwayne is married, has a kid, and is in the military. Abdul went to a top tier school and majored in pharmacy, and when he told me I want “Gack!” and he said “yeah, I know. Stupid move.” and now he’s getting an MA in nurse practitioner, or whatever it’s called. Haven’t heard from Chuy. Wing and Benny still teach. One of them is now department chair, and I had a lot to do with it.
    ignore me, lazy way to space
  6. “Get Out” a scathing satire? Get Out.–January 22, 2018
    I love movies, and I know as much about American diversity as anyone in the country, and I think this is a terrific review that isn’t at all what you’ll expect.
    ignore me, lazy way to space
  7. Algebra 2, the Gateway Course–January 28, 2018
    Another story about colleagues, students, and really stupid education policy.
    ignore me, lazy way to space
  8. Making Rob Long Uncomfortable–December 24, 2018
    Silly title, but you can listen to the podcast and see what I mean. It’s well-written, and captures a certain mindset among the centrist conservative punditocracy. As I wrote: “You could practically hear Rob’s toenails shrieking against the tiles as he braked to a stop.  This was not the conversation he’d signed up for. He was there to lightly mock feminists and social justice nuts, not crack witty, on-the-nose jokes with Heather about the racial skills deficit.
    ignore me, lazy way to space
  9. The Students of My Christmas Present— December 25, 2018
    I don’t often get sentimental. And I’ve put up Christmas trees most years since.
    ignore me, lazy way to space
  10. Idiosyncratic Explanations for Teacher Shortages–May 31, 2019
    Here I raise an issue that seems quite obvious, but isn’t. We have thousands, if not millions, of unemployed PhDs who will never get a tenured job and work as poorly paid adjuncts. Why don’t they become teachers? After all, everyone says we need smarter teachers, right? There’s a cognitive dissonance revealed in the fact that everyone understands that a poorly paid PhD is acting rationally in refusing to take a better-paid, more secure job with great benefits.
    ignore me, lazy way to space
    I thought I was done, but 2017 spoke up, really pissed off. Why nothing? I tried reassurance. It was nothing personal. I wrote some good shit that year. Besides, 2020 and 2021 aren’t represented either. But it would not be assuaged and as my mother isn’t doing well, and this is a not only an ode to American schools but also a lovely story about my mom, an extra…
    ignore me, lazy way to space
  11. What the Public Means by “Public Education”–March 19, 2017
    When education reformers wonder why everything went wrong, they should think about the thoughts expressed here.

Thanks for reading.


Celebrating the Decennium

December 31, 2011. I set a goal. The first ten years of the new century were a bit stressful and unfocused. The dot-com bust hit me hard. I found work but had a lot of down time. New Years’ goals helped force me to use the downtime in search of some other goal. in forcing me to me structure the year. In 2001 I vowed to follow through on grad school, a goal I achieved, but left me with more down time. The ironic outcome of meeting that goal was a radical and permanent career change in an direction utterly unrelated to my field of study–no surprise, really, given that my first degree was in English and I went into tech. On December 31, 2007, having spent five years comfortably living as a test prep instructor and tutor, I decided to get a teaching credential. I wasn’t sure I wanted to teach full time,  but it’d be a good thing to have in the back pocket. I got my applications done in a week, entered a program in June of the same year. Six months later the 2008 crash revealed that “tutor” is a luxury item that the rich cut when their stocks tank, so I decided I may as well use the credential I was studying for. Six months after that I got my third college diploma and second master’s that, for the first time, was actually related to my future career plans.

In 2010 I left off professional goals and decided to lose weight, and did, and kept it off  until I started sharing a house with my brother five years later. He was like an invasive species on my eating habits and it took me another five years to recover.

My track record with New Year’s resolutions having been pretty successful in the oughts, I decided to see if I could set a goal for my writing. By this time, I was deeply cynical (although certainly adequate to the occasion) about the prospects of regular publication. Most teachers who get published do so by singing the song someone else wants to hear: union advocacy, education reform, school choice, merit pay, anti-union. Find a think tank who needs a shill. That way wasn’t going to work for me. Some teachers get published because they write deeply and well about their topic (Ben Orlin, Michael Pershan), but I don’t drill down on any one thing. I had been published, and that pathway was clear:  write an 750-word op-ed with an uncomplicated narrative and easily grasped data and hope it captured some editor’s eye. I did this successfully twice, and three other times came close. But “750 words in an uncomplicated and easily grasped op-ed” doesn’t describe me very well.

By that December evening, I hadn’t even tried to write anything for publication for a year. I missed writing. But I also acknowledged another truth: getting published in the traditional sense would require endless attempts and eternal rejection.

Consider one of the more popular teacher writers, Roxanna Elden. She became a teacher in 2003,  came up with her book idea in 2005, spent four long years workshopping her book in writing conferences while looking for an agent. She started a standup routine to increase her name recognition. Her book got published in 2009 by a publisher that abandoned her category shortly afterwards, picked up again in 2013. Then she quit teaching.

I wouldn’t call Elden a teacher. She’s a writer who spent every waking hour outside of her teaching job working on getting published. Hey, more power to her, but I actually want to teach, not spend ten hours a day building a writing career.

Besides, it’s not just that I don’t want to take Elden’s route, but I actively find it….repellent. I love my job, and that means I don’t want to spend 80% of my time outside of work shilling and planning for a career in which I pretend to be an expert at a job that’s just the venue to what I really want.

By 2011, I’d long since accepted that a constant in all my careers was my disinterest in selling my wares. Fifteen years as a consultant and eight (by then) as a tutor had revealed a life path that didn’t requir active promotion. As a consultant, I got work through interviews for open positions, great references and an awesome niche resume. As a tutor, I got work because parents thought I was fantastic and told others. I never had a website, never did outreach. (The teacher hiring process came as a huge shock to me, and I still count myself lucky I found work, considering all my disadvantages and the lousy hiring environment in 2009.)

People who want excellence or experience and don’t care about niceties find me via word of mouth.  You don’t build that sort of reputation by spending all your outside time focusing on an entirely different objective. Besides, if endless marketing and pitching repels me, rejection outright horrifies me. So if my goal was to continue writing, I had to accept that my past two years of failure to publish would probably continue. I wouldn’t be capable of making the changes in my writing, focus, or behavior that might–just might–get me more recognition.

That night, I thought hey, why not a blog? I could write what I want, develop ideas, find an audience–and more importantly, find an audience my way, find people who liked my ideas without having to sell a middleman.

And so I began.

The first three years of this blog were successful beyond anything I’d ever imagined. I joined Twitter in June 2012, which did a great deal to build my immediate audience, but the vast majority of my referrals came from search engines. In 2016, something changed. Despite the fact that I was writing as much, my traffic dropped dramatically.  In the years 2013-2016, I got between 50 and 60 thousand search engine referrals–the vast majority of it for older articles.  Starting in 2017, search engines dropped to 30K and then kept going down. My writing output didn’t decrease dramatically until 2020, so that’s not the reason. My Twitter referrals have actually increased over that time, with a slight dropoff in referrals in the last two years, but nothing drastic.

I’m pretty sure my blog got hit by  Google’s recency bias, which really hurts writers like me who aren’t super well known but have high data value posts.

(For an example of recency bias that anyone can understand, try a one word search, without specifics. Like recently, I googled “Aladdin” and got hit with a billion entries for the 2019 Will Smith version. The Disney 1992 animated version is just out of the top 100 movie box office hits adjusted for inflation, and was the 8th biggest moneymaker in the country two years in a row. The Will Smith version had crap reviews but did hit #8 in the box office in 2019, disappearing from sight the next year. And as long as we’re being thorough, there’s a pretty famous book in which Aladdin made his first appearance? Nowhere to be found. Brave’s results (shoutout to Brenden Eich) are better–still top heavy for Will Smith but does include a lot of results for 1992 film and even a Time article on the character Aladdin.

That’s recency bias. No sense of context. If you don’t create really specific searches, then Google is going to reward whatever was in the news last.)

I am not blaming Google for my reduced output, nor am I terribly upset about the decline in traffic. The first three years of my blog exceeded my wildest dreams, but I’ve been happy with my audience and from a prestige standpoint, my Twitter audience is appropriately think-tanky, academic, and media-ish. But the impact of Google’s recency bias does bother me. In 2015, Amy Wax quoted my blog in a response to a letter. That was cool. I don’t think Amy Wax reads me (and if she does, someone should let me know!). She probably found the article in google, and that’s the kind of find that Google is making harder.

Coupled with my non-existent marketing and promotion department, it becomes quite possible that more and more of my work is just disappearing into the bowels of the internet, undiscovered by all but the most dedicated googler. That 2013-2015 had so many hits is proof of how many  people found my articles through searches. A lot of my one-off audience isn’t finding me anymore.

By far the biggest challenge I face in keeping this blog going is not “google algorithms are biased against me” but rather “I quit writing.” Beginning in 2018, my work was more sustained and took a lot of research. I enjoy doing that, but it was definitely reducing my output. The real crash began in late 2019, when I took on the Bush/Obama era history of education. I don’t regret the focus, but the timing was terrible. The work on that, added to the rise of covid19, the closing of schools, a complete reworking of the daily tasks of my job, my rage at the whole idiotic response and not incidentally, the disappearance of coffee shops to write in for most of a year, all contributed to a profound drop in output.  I couldn’t even write about classroom action, although I gave some thought to coming up with a Zoom chat session of my students and me. But the editing would have been brutal (removing names) and my god, in remote ed there was always grading to do or curriculum to change or Desmos activities to build.

Then, as I wrote recently, I’ve been having some trouble organizing my thoughts to set the groundwork for future writing. So nothing was easy.

I’m coming out of it. No promises, but I am back to thinking about writing and working on writing rather than having an idea float through my head but get overwhelmed by all the meta involved in crafting the argument and thinking ah, fuck it, I’ll tweet.

The last ten years have been a wonderful and productive era. I began my blog during my third year of teaching, just before  starting with my current district. I have used all my credentials; my boss knows my value. If my teaching career has veered in directions I didn’t expect, it still has brought me tremendous satisfaction. My blog recounts many of the experiences during that time, but also thoughts and analysis of and on a wide range of educational issues, and I’m very proud of it. Consulting and tutoring are short-term gig jobs; I have largely floated through life; outside of family, the list of people I’ve held as friends for more than a decade is a short one. Not just people, either. Behaviors, habits, hell, even restaurants before 2010–I drifted away after a phase or three.

Since I began teaching, I’m a bit more settled, for obvious reasons. While my closest work friend, Bart,  has left teaching (I still mourn him weekly, at least), I am now the fifth most senior teacher in my department (whoo!), and because of my multiple credentials I have contacts with colleagues throughout the school. I am known at the district, and for the right reasons.  The tech guy, principal’s secretary, and attendance clerks all take good care of me, and I still give them presents.  I even have more stable relationships with restaurants, particularly many local Starbucks and my favorite sushi bar.

I want to leave the area, but not teaching, in the next few years. That’s been a consistent objective,  and I’m taking steps to make it happen. However, finding a teaching job as a sixty-something isn’t easy, and I’ve got backup plans in mind.

But for the blog, I’ve got one ask and some plans.

The ask: While I can’t make Google change its recency bias, I would like to make sure my articles are getting read and found. I’m one of those writers who is read but not mentioned by a lot of people with large followings. To those people, I’d ask: hey, mention my work more often. I love the notes and letters. But from an audience perspective, even a critical review of some of my thoughts would probably do me better. Retweet my stuff. Mention it in your own columns. I realize the problem–professional writers are bound by clicks, and my stuff is rarely timely. But if you could do it occasionally, I’d be grateful. It’s about the only productive step that might get Google to recognize me more.

Plans:

  1. Write more about curriculum. A review of my most popular articles shows that the curriculum articles are doing very well. Teachers looking for curriculum are specific in their searches, and they’re finding me. I’ll give them more to find. Let’s say, three articles on math curriculum.
  2. Remind people of what I’ve already written. I’ve got about 350 articles on this blog. Hell, I don’t even remember all of them. So I will pick three topics and write the Ed equivalent of a position paper. My three identified topics: impact of Asian culture in US education, update on teacher credentials, and boy, wasn’t I right about how college admissions corruptions and fraudulent grades were combining in evil and awful ways.
  3. I want to produce a book on my articles–not really because I think it will sell, but because it’d be fun. I’ve started this. So my goal is to complete “Great Moments In Teaching” before next year, with at least two new articles.

Regardless, I will write more.  I get too focused on one article that will take a long time, and resist putting it aside. The reasons for that are obvious (I have almost as many unfinished as finished articles on this blog) but it’s clear that unfinished articles are a price I pay for a reasonable amount of output. I hope to keep remembering that.

Thanks for reading.

Happy New Year.


Wokesters, Grift, and Bureaucratic Sludge

Late one Tuesday night in 2018,  I checked my email, thank god, and learned that next morning’s staff meeting devoted to professional development (PD) was “Understanding Trans Students”. I’ve endured a wide range of asinine PD, including one hilarious afternoon years ago with a black activist consultant who lectured the staff of my last school, which was 75% low income, ELL, Hispanic, on how students were hurt by teachers who didn’t understand what it was like to be black and poor.  

But as early as 2018 the transgender issue was really…fraught. So I gave the meeting a pass and got some grading done. 

Almost immediately after the meeting, our principal sent out an email apologizing for the presentation. Turns out a good chunk of the staff had openly and angrily objected to the presentation as simplistic and insulting, treating the teachers as unenlightened dead-namers.  The principal cut the whole activity short. 

A few months later, we did a session on trans kids’ legal rights, where we were informed that we couldn’t use a student’s chosen name and gender with a parent if the parent was unaware of the student’s sexuality. But how were we to know whether a parent was aware of this or not, a skeptical teacher (raises hand) asked. Reply: we couldn’t know and shouldn’t ask the student.

Juan beat me to the punch. “So we can be sued if we use the student’s birthname to parents who know their kid’s trans, but we can also be sued if we use the student’s chosen name to parents who don’t know their kid’s trans, and it all depends on information we don’t have and can’t ask for?” 

Note: the feds have now likewise stated that we teachers can’t tell the parents that their kid is transgender, even if we don’t know they don’t know.

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

The conservative media is, as always, convinced the entire public education system is a leftist indoctrination mill, intent on spreading wild wokism and CRT throughout the country and hopeful that this time, finally, American parents will rise up and kill public schools for all time. Charlie Brown, meet the football. 

The proper response to all these stories should fall more towards “Jesus, people, don’t panic” with a healthy dose of “nip any shit you see in the bud” when appropriate. But in consuming all the media around these events, I noticed time and again the reported stories don’t make an important distinction. 

Teacher Proselytizing: Bad

A small percentage of the stories actually involve a teacher trying to promote a political world view as a specific objective.  These are the more serious offense, where indeed one should inject a dose of “nip that shit in the bud”. Parents and the community should act instantly and vigorously if teachers engage in any form of values imposition: be it abortion rights (one way or the other), race-shaming, transgender inquisitions or, god save us all, gas chambers and Hitler’s suicide (although that last in real life was a school librarian, a fact I was pretty much the first to point out, while everyone else was screaming about America’s lousy public education.)

But these stories shouldn’t be seen as the tip of an iceberg. They’re too easy to spot.  The kids will talk. The teachers will get caught and canned. Cf: Matthew Hawn in Tennessee, James Whitfield in Texas. 

Public schools are far more responsive to community than either charters or private schools. This, at least, should be obvious given the host of school board bootings in November.  Conservative communities can be assured that tain’t no CRT and white blaming in their schools. (On the other hand, urban schools with majority black populations have been teaching critical race theory for decades, most particularly in the “no excuse” charter schools conservatives love so much, and the few parents complaining about “Fuck Police” posters in Compton are going to get a polite brushoff.)

Some communities will see a more strategic, organized effort to indoctrinate. These  are generally cities that have undergone significant demographic change that has, not coincidentally, altered the politics of many previously white suburban communities. Like, say, in Fairfax and Loudon counties, which have seen their white population drop by respectively 9% and 30% in 20 years. But here again, notice how quickly the communities responded, and how unnerved the schools are by the response. That’s as it should be.

So schools or teachers engaged in an indoctrination attempt are going to get caught. People will be called to account and possibly fired–even in ultra-liberal, ultra-white Mill Valley, CA.  If the district or school board supports these efforts,  they’re voted out. I oppose mayor-controlled school districts plugged by Matt Yglesias and others for exactly this reason. School boards must fear voters in order to respond to community values. (And if you say “but no one votes in these elections”, well, that’s kind of evidence that the community’s not unhappy, isn’t it?)

Professional Development: Yawn

Christopher Rufo is building a reputation  by reporting on progressive indoctrination in all corners of America, focusing heavily on schools. But just three of his eleven “CRT in schools” articles involve classroom exposure to race-blaming. In all cases, the students were majority non-white. Two of them were in majority black schools in Buffalo and Philadelphia–and if you note, Rufo didn’t hear about the lesson from outraged parents, but rather the teachers themselves. (see above note about community standards.) The third example is the hilarious case of white teachers telling Chinese immigrant kids in Cupertino that they’re white supremacists and that’s a mistake because, see, Chinese parents don’t play the guilt game. 

The remaining eight of Rufo’s breathless articles don’t have anything to do with classroom instruction, but professional development: the “heartland” of Missouri, Seattle, Wake County NC, Santa Clara CA, Portland, OR and of course the NEA has all sorts of professional development and curriculum it’d just love to sell to districts.  

As Rufo goes, so too go the rest of the “public school indoctrination” stories: case after case of professional development slides, every so often a horror story about classroom instruction where the teacher was immediately fired.

Overt propaganda in the classroom is a cause for action. But professional development training, both district and union-provided, is not even a cause for worry.

Do you have any idea how much crap we sit through as officially district- or school-sanctioned professional development? I’m  not surrounded by Republicans. My colleagues are solid blue Democrats, of varying levels of progressivism, in the bluest of blue regions, teachers in a Title I, extremely diverse school, and they nonetheless roll their eyes in resigned disgust at the ideology flung their way. If they’re listening at all. Teachers aren’t spending professional development time building critical race theory curriculum or strategizing ways to keep transgender kids’ intention from their parents. Most of the time they’re checking email, grading papers, or planning their next ten-week summer vacation, neener neener. 

Professional development isn’t a mandate. It’s a time waster. It’s extremely rare and often illegal for an principal,  district, or state or federal mandate, to order teachers what to teach. 

But while absurd professional development doesn’t do much harm, it’s a lot harder to eliminate.

Professional development is encoded deep into the DNA of modern American education via the mother of all education reform bills, the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, which from its earliest version on allowed districts to spend money on instructional services. Title I funding accounts for the vast majority of federal education spending.

Title II is devoted entirely to various forms of professional development, from teacher training to induction and beyond. Districts hire drones to apply for grants, further drones at the state level review them, and then drones on all sides make sure the grant boxes are checked off. Many states outline all the hours of PD teachers must spend (eg New Jersey, Colorado,Florida). Every state has a Title II report, produced by more drones at great expense and audited regularly, again at government expense.

 Federal Title I funding criteria explicitly include mandates like “include strategies for identifying and eliminating gender and racial bias in instructional materials, methods, and practices.” Then there are all the state requirements of which I’ll just give a sample: California, Pennsylvania, ColoradoFlorida, Alabama.  Thanks to Gorsuch and Bostock, transgender equity got added to the already really long list of issues that districts are mandated to include in the PD list.

Red states or blue, diversity and equity are officially sanctioned reasons for the achievement gap, creating a huge market for any folks with a sales approach they can call a learning strategy.

Envision, if you will, the sort of people who want to train teachers on equity and diversity. Now picture their politics. Now remember that states are required to find professional development on equity and diversity. And there you have it: activist grifters using taxpayer dollars to recite dogma to teachers who aren’t listening unless they already believe.

Professional development is simply a massive case of bureaucratic sludge, run by default and drones for half a century. 

Stopping the Sludge

You can’t fire bad PD.  

From a public spending perspective, the outrage is backwards. A progressive ideologue teaching dogma doesn’t cost much money and can be easily caught and canned. Meanwhile, several million teachers spend several days a year in school libraries ignoring the expensive propaganda show put on by activists funded by taxpayer expense, curated by a district or government drone intent on checking off a box on a state or federal form, all processed and paid for, again, by taxpayers. 

But investigating the cause and choice of professional development providers is hard. Easier, and more satisfying to write columns about teacher mind control, show videos of board meetings filled with angry parents, and howl for your allotted 60 seconds on Tucker or Laura or Sean and occasionally get a teacher fired. Considerably more difficult and less newsworthy to hunt down the HR drone who put that consultant company on the “approved” list, or demand to know why our federal and state dollars are paying for this garbage.

There is hope, however. Oklahoma’s CRT law HB1775  specifically bans mandated diversity training for teachers. The law’s text doesn’t make this quite clear, but the state board of education passed emergency rules to clarify, so that the word “course” in this section:

“No teacher, administrator or other employee of a school district, charter school or virtual charter school shall require or make part of a course the following concepts” 

is translated as 

any forum where instruction or activities tied to the instruction are provided, including courses, training, seminars, professional development, lectures, sessions, coaching, tutoring, or any other class.

Best of all, check out the specific bans on professional development spending at the state and district level. 

That’s the kind of language that might actually cut the grifter employment a bit, and make enough of an impression on HR drones to force the bureaucratic sludge ever so slowly in a different direction–or even cut off certain pathways entirely. Pray the Oklahoma law survives the lawsuits.

Naturally, many folks both oppose CRT instruction and any laws to ban it in public schools. Some are liberals who think woke has gone too far (looking at you, Bari Weiss). On the conservative side, chief among the “CRT is bad but don’t ban it” flagwavers is David French…and I’m not a lawyer, but does it strike you as odd that French, a lawyer, is always in favor of solutions that require lawsuits? He doesn’t want bright lines, he wants causes of action under Title whatever of the Civil Rights act or the Constitution and oh, hey, I’m not the only person who noticed. Point is, I don’t want lawyers always telling me the best solution is full employment for their kind.

Terry McAuliffe was right about one thing: parents can’t–and shouldn’t–be able to micromanage curriculum. And anyone who thinks that great day is coming can dream on. But schools are run with state and federal money, and it’s entirely appropriate for governments, through its voters, to put some broad outlines on how they spend that  money educating our kids. 

I grant a certain amount of self-interest here. Less of my time spent in pointless PD, less of my tax dollars spent funding grifters, ideologues, or HR drones. Win win.

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

Note: I’ve made a distinction here between banning CRT PD and banning CRT teacher speech. This article is long enough without going into detail, but I’m firmly in favor of the first, largely indifferent to the second. 


Wise Blue States Take Away Choice

I’ve found this subject entirely too annoying for an article, but anyone who follows me on Twitter knows my counterprogramming.

  1. Schools should never have been closed, and anyone who ever called for their closing loses their right to bitch when they didn’t reopen.
  2. Schools remained closed where a plurality of parents preferred remote education (with a secondary factor being Dem governor restrictions making hybrid the only inperson option)
  3. Teachers went back to work everywhere when schools were opened.
  4. Union rhetoric was offensive but irrelevant to school instruction decisions.

These all seem quite obvious, but apart from Andrew Smarick, fivethirtyeight, Martin West, and anyone else who actually looked at survey data and revealed preferences, most media folks act as if American parents are furious at teachers for keeping schools closed.

But folks who see Randi Weingarten as the all-powerful anti-Christ should wonder why, if politicians and policy folks bend so easily to union will, so many states quickly banned or limited remote education for fall 2021.

California, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Virginia, Connecticut, Illinois, Oregon, Rhode Island –all blue states, all closed for much of last year, and all placing significant restrictions on remote learning for the new school year.  So far as I can ascertain, union opposition was either muted or non-existent.  Parent (not union) outcry forced most states to back off of “in-person only” and offer some form of virtual instruction. But the virtual offerings were rarely what the parents expected.  Students had to leave their local schools for online academies. No magnet programs, no pull outs for special ed or language help, and most notably, no sports. This restriction alone cooled a lot of the ardor for remote instruction, particularly among high school students with friends and athletic abilities. More importantly, local schools did not have to respond to parent demand for remote instruction. They could return to “normal”, or at least as normal as masks and quarantines allowed.

It’s beyond my scope to do a full comparison, but I first started looking into this when I noticed that a number of states had schools in remote mode already, and none of these states had established strict policies requiring in-person instruction. New Hampshire tried to ban remote learning much later, in September, but met resistance and failed and now many schools are in remote. Colorado deliberately left decisions on remote instruction up to schools, which gave a number of Denver schools the option to switch to remote due to staffing shortages. North Carolina explicitly allowed districts to switch from in-person to remote and a number of schools began fall 2021 in remote.  New Mexico left it up to districts and many are in remote.   (In contrast, a Massachusetts school tried to go to remote for November and was explicitly ordered back to school by the MA BOE.)

These are all blue states, most of whom have Democrat governors, all of whom were routinely blasted by conservative media as in thrall to their lazy teachers unions. But a number of these states took advantage of the hopeful period in the early days of the vaccine to take a strict line on remote education and they did so in a manner that makes it clear they considered parent demands, not union demands, the problematic element.

As I mentioned at the beginning, the blue state push to end remote education is far more consistent with my analysis of school closures. During the 20-21 school year, many blue state governors made the serious mistake of banning in-person instruction or making restrictions for opening schools so onerous that remote instruction was preferable to the hybrid bastardization needed for inperson schooling. When they finally opened schools, they were still bound by their stated deference to parental choice, despite–or perhaps because–surveys showed consistently that 75%  or more of white parents but just half or fewer of non-white parents wanted schools open for instruction. Blue state schools with longer than average closures were almost entirely in majority non-white districts. White parents, who pay most of the taxes in those non-white districts, were apoplectic. 

It’s not terribly good optics to point out, but the simple truth is that remote instruction was bad for the very students whose parents were most likely to support remote instruction. Black and Hispanic parents (as well as a large number of Asian parents) are even now more likely to demand remote instruction. 

The only solution to saving these kids was preventing the parents from making a bad choice by taking away remote education–or at least making it wildly less attractive. Wise were the states that took away parent choice in this matter.

Note again that union opposition to these actions was apparently non-existent, or at least not reported on. The NEA called, unsuccessfully, for student vaccine mandates, but didn’t resist the return to in-person instruction.

In addition to the “Ed was Right About the Pandemic” brownie points factor, I feel that not enough attention has been given to the importance of these legislative mandates. Legislatures so rarely seem to do anything productive, but whether you agree about the parental choice factor or blame the Mean Weingarten for school closure, the legislatures took advantage of a narrow window of opportunity to act.  In that brief period of time when everyone, left and right, thought that the vaccine would end covid19, the state legislatures or departments of education most hamstrung by closed schools made sure that remote education couldn’t easily be re-instated.

I loathe teaching in masks all day. The insane NPI theater we are forced to undergo has caused me possibly permanent hoarseness. But given the resurgence of the Delta virus and the left’s insane obsession with safety theater, those of us who were infuriated by remote education–regardless of who we hold responsible–should be profoundly grateful if we live in those states. I am certain we’d all be back in permanent remote education without their surprisingly decisive action.


The Same Thing Over and Over: Yglesias Edition

(with apologies to Rick Hess, who means exactly the opposite of me when he says it.)

Matt Yglesias is a liberal I’ve followed for years. He’s become more temperate since his signing the Harper’s letter, now that he’s realized how insane the progressive left has become.  But if you want a representative sample of why Democrats turned away from neoliberalism,  Yglesias is your guy. In his recent two part article that’s ostensibly about critical race theory, he rehashes the nostrums he’s been pushing his entire pundit life. Naturally, Twitter moderates were ecstatic. 

If I wrote an angry takedown every time an ed reformer preached nonsense–well, I’d write more, so maybe I should. But Yglesias, despite making a few concessions I was happy to see, shocked me with his implicit….lies? misrepresentations?…ignorance? not sure which.

mattysin1

I really, really wish that people with megaphones could be reasonable about unions. It’s fine to hate them. It’s stupid to think they have much in the way of influence. It’s worse to pretend that education reform proposals failed because teacher unions prevent them. Most egregious of all is to pretend that charter school expansion and merit pay for teachers hasn’t been tried and rejected.

But this is just normal, ordinary middlebrow pabulum. This passage is shocking in its naivete, ignorance, or dishonest–take your pick.

mattysin9

I mean, my god. We have not yet been able to persuasively demonstrate through test scores that particulates, healthy meals,  or even air conditioning in the summer has any impact on student achievement, particularly not at a granular level. We’ve spent billions on free lunch programs and air conditioning and a host of other environmental adjustments. The achievement gap endures. Thestudents  tossed the healthy food in the trash.

As for standardized tests, surely the past thirty years of debate should have informed him that no, everyone does NOT agree that we can assess competence with a test.  Why else are colleges so insistent on committing affirmative action? Why did so many of them seize the opportunity of the George Floyd moment of righteousness to use  GPAs instead of SAT/ACT scores? Why are so many black activists angry about the “achievement gap”? A significant chunk of the institutional left believes those scores are lies–or at least unpleasant ephemera that can safely be ignored.

Most egregious: Measuring teacher impact via student achievement “would be uncontroversial”?  Doesn’t this sound like he thinks VAM would be this terrific, obvious improvement if only policy makers could stand up to unions and put this sucker in place?

The Obama administration wasn’t just “open” to value add–it mandated some form of student performance metrics to any state trying to qualify for Race to the Top funding. Forty three states complied with a strict form of value add by 2014. Twenty three states mandated student performance metrics for teacher tenure decisions. Teachers unions sued endlessly to stop these mandates, and lost, time and again. (Once more, with feeling: unions have no influence on their  own. They win when a major player agrees with them: districts, parents, or politicians.)  

The entire rationale for VAM was first popularized in “The Widget Effect“, an article that argued for more differentiation in teacher evaluations, since 99% of teachers got a good review. But data revealed that three years of VAM resulted in….99% of teachers getting a good review. When states didn’t water down the test component, principals simply juked the stats. 

Research isn’t the conclusive slam dunk that  Yglesias’s “uncontroversial” implies, either: 

  • RAND: VAM are not absolute indicators of teacher effectiveness and are imprecise.
    American Statistical Association: VAM measures correlation not causation, can change substantially based on model used, and show that teachers affect from 1-14% of variability in student test scores.
  • For a complete review, pro and con, of the research, Scott Alexander does his typical deep dive into VAM and finds it wanting, as does the great (and MIA) Spotted Toad.

By 2016 ESSA, the most recent version of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, had removed all the evaluation mandates. Twenty three states no longer required VAM in evaluations, another fifteen did but left it up to districts to determine implementation.  Public opinion, always split, declined: surveyvamtrend

New Mexico, the one state that genuinely gave bad reviews and fired teachers for insufficient value-add, unwound the entire program with a new administration that explicitly promised to undo the policies wrought by the previous governor Susanna Martinez and her reform darling ed chief, Hanna Skandera.

Yglesias’s representation of VAM as an uncontroversial implementation blocked by only by those unreasonable unions, is absurd. States, desperate for federal funding, implemented a wide range of value-added metrics that infuriated teachers. Public approval dropped, principals show by behavior they didn’t agree with the results, and research is at best equivocal. 

 Yglesias’s casual offhand shilling for charters is at least anodyne, if not original. But a close read reveals an interesting bias. While conservative education reformers emphasize parent choice, read closely and it’s clear Matt would cheerfully override parents and voters if they don’t agree with him. 

Shot #1:

mattysin7

Chaser #1:

mattysin3

So school closures were horrible, “real anger” was unleashed–but only by white parents. Meanwhile, black (and Hispanic and Asian) parents were, er, “less annoyed” (translated: while as many as 3 in 4 white parents wanted schools open, 1 in 2 or fewer non-whites preferred remote education, findings that have been consistent throughout the pandemic). Yglesias is saying, explicitly, that we should not give parents a choice. (That said, he at least acknowledged the racial difference in preferences, which almost no one else mentions, so props for that.)

Shot and Chaser #2:

mattysin10

Democrats have responded to their voters’ preferences by moving away from charters. Voters have rejected charters (he doesn’t mention that California, another previously strong charter state, has flipped a law that banned districts from considering the financial impact of charters–and this is after charter growth in California and the nation had stalled. These are all deep blue states, previously supportive of charters. Yglesias doesn’t have much interest in voter opinion–unless, of course, it agrees with his.

This is all chaser

mattysin8

Everyone who pushes for mayoral control of schools is arguing against voter control. All those school board recalls? Yglesias thinks they’re a bad idea–or at least, they’re a bad idea where non-white and poor parents might make decisions he doesn’t liike. Fine for the angry white parents in Loudon to recall their school board, but where it really matters, where achievement is low, let’s put school control in the hands of an executive. Once again, all this choice is fine unless Yglesias thinks he knows better.

The money quote that everyone’s been retweeting about nearly made my head explode.

mattysin6

Oh, hey, integration, choice, curriculum, merit pay, healthy food and higher teacher standards!! Damn. Here we could have knocked out decades of achievement gaps if we’d just known about these obvious policy changes and put them into action.

Oh,wait, we did. We tried. They failed. Achievement gap has been stable for years. NAEP scores stalled and then dropped after 20 years of the reformers running the table.  And the kids dumped the healthy food in the trash. What now? 

More money won’t help. School choice won’t help. Firing teachers won’t help.

Maybe education policy should start by realizing schools are doing a pretty good job, given the idiotic constraints imposed on them by people who don’t understand the limits of education. Maybe we should change some laws, drop others, and ensure we spend money on our neediest citizens (ask yourself how much Title I funding is going to Afghani refugees and border asylum claimants?). None of these failures mean that teachers don’t matter or that we can’t improve schools. But we have to understand what “improvement’ means. Most of the people screaming for better schools won’t approve.

I try not to be depressed by the regular evidence that the vast majority of people with megaphones don’t understand education. But it really was horrifying how many people approved of Yglesias’s recipe for improving schools, how few of them seem to understand what has already been tried and failed or tried and rejected dozens of times in the past fifty years. And hell, I needed something to write about. I’m stalled on three other pieces.

But in the interest of comity:

mattysin5

This, finally, is correct. 

Note: I’ve written two articles on Value Add, one of which goes through the obvious logical failings,  the other outlining the voter political rejection mentioned here.

Also, I don’t spend enough time praising Freddie deBoer, who is writing fantastic reality about education from the left. He might be a socialist or a Marxist or whatever, but he’s much more of a realist than anyone with a similar audience and mainstream politics. I particularly liked his article on college admissions (which led to one of the pieces I’m stuck on) and on resisting blank slate thinking

Just a reminder that when I’m trying to write something, I do the second draft instead of the tenth to get anything out at all.

 


False Positives

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

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

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

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

“Yay! How’d you do on the SAT?”

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

Boom.

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

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

She was a false positive.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 


Three Covid19 Lawsuits We Need

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

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

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

Lawsuit 1: Can Vaccines Be Mandated?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Are Vaccine Passports Constitutional?

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

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

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

Can Governments Require the Vaccinated to Wear Masks?

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

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

Why not?

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

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

So where’s the lawsuit?

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

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

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

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

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

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


White Flight From Admissions-Test High Schools

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

But this part here is often repeated and quite misleading:

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

John Podhoretz mentioned the same stat a few months ago:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

NYCDOE on 2020 SHSAT results

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

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

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

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

Well, that’s…..weird. 

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

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

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

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

Atlantic also did populations for Bronx Science and Brooklyn Tech

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Coins Dropping, Lights Dawning, and Other Impossibilities

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Think about it.

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

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

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

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

Dude. Some humility.

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

Just a thought.

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

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

School choice gives power to schools, not parents.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1 in 3 teachers are Republicans

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

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

Focus your energy on college, not high school

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

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

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

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

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

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

 


Bush/Obama Ed Reform: It All Came Tumbling Down

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

Spotted Toad, Waking From Meritocracy

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

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

NCLB/Race to the Top:

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

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

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

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

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

Common Core and  Value Added Metric Evaluations

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

Upshot: both rendered largely toothless.

Split in the Reform Movement

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

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

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

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

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

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

TFA

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

Charters

Stalled.

Source

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Vouchers

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

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

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

2015: Colorado Supreme Court blocked the voucher program. 

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

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

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

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

The money folks

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

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

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

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

Unions

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

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

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

Governance

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

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

It all really did come tumbling down.

Today

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

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

You know who’s still in the same job?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Peace out, peeps.

The History of Education Reform:

Bush/Obama Ed Reform: The Road to Glory

Bush/Obama Ed Reform: Zenith

Bush/Obama Ed Reform: Core Meltdown Came

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

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

Bush/Obama Ed Reform: Core Damage?

Bush/Obama Ed Reform: Victory over Value Add

(and this one)