Category Archives: philosophy

Baraki, Caldeira, and Foolish Hysteria

(hey,kinda rhymes)

Back in November, Abigail Shrier, a journalist who achieved notoriety by pointing how much of the trans movement involves girls in their early teens,  revealed, with much fanfare, How Activist Teachers Recruit Kids: (Yes. A while back. I’ll explain the delay.)

Two California middle school teachers, Kelly Baraki and Lori Caldeira, of Spreckels Union School District, gave a presentation at an October union conference about their struggles and triumphs running a gay-straight alliance club. Based on the recordings, though, their primary focus appeared to be helping “trans” kids find themselves. Highlights of their claims:

  • They advised finding alternate club names (UBU instead of GSA) that didn’t alert parents to the club’s purpose.
  • They didn’t keep club meeting rosters to keep parents unaware of their child’s participation.
  • They were concerned about club attrition and their efforts to keep the kids motivated and attending the gender awareness clubs.
  • They described “stalking” kids’ online activity during the pandemic to identify students who expressed interest in exploring sexuality.
  • They discussed the best ways to “integrate” their gender preference instruction into their anti-bullying presentations so the students are less likely to mention it to their parents.
  • They mocked parents who complained about their kids being exposed to sex-ed. They crowed that with tenure,  the principal might “flinch” but couldn’t respond to parents’ concerns.
  • In every way they presented their club as a recruitment project, in which parents were to be ignored and subverted whenever possible.

Shrier, as is evidenced by the title of her piece, characterized their presentation as “insight…into the mindset and tactics of activist teachers themselves.”  She saw this presentation as education and instruction.

I read about this at the time and several things immediately seemed obvious, pointing to a real failure on Shrier’s part to do any reporting or analysis.

First, and this is fairly minor but it speaks to the hysteria: Shrier was reading way too much into “union conference”. She clearly sees it as indoctrination. It’s not. Most teachers are required to document seat time for recertification; all of them have to come up with educational credits to move along the pay scale. These union conferences serve as seat time for recertification and, for extra money, can be converted into credits. Plus, Palm Springs! Take the kids, sit by a pool. Nobody–but nobody–sitting in that conference was being educated, advised, or instructed.

Clearly, Shrier didn’t know enough to ask the right questions. Namely, who was paying? Were teachers listening to this swill on district time? Were Caldeira and Baraki getting paid by the district to present? I did some research on union conferences, and am reasonable satisfied that districts don’t pay for teachers to attend. Someone ought to make sure, though.

Regarding the content of the presentation, I was stunned. Tracking kids’ internet activity? Total control over morning announcements? Not keeping attendance at club meetings? Mocking angry parents and gloating that tenure protects them? Smugly talking about the principal “flinching” but being forced to back them?

Why would anyone believe all this?

Teachers can’t hold club meetings and keep them secret. Morning announcements aren’t the personal domain of a teacher. No teacher is stupid enough to think pissed off parents can’t change her existence, especially with a principal who is privately flinching at her behavior but feels forced to comply. Tracking a student’s internet activity…that was so weird I googled and found out about GoGuardian, which freaked me right out, as I teach for one of the 90% of schools who don’t use it. I think it’s only for Chromebooks? And in the classroom I could see it being useful. But either way, I don’t believe any teacher, even one with the worst intentions in the world, could “stalk” kids internet use without singling them out ahead of time or running reports after the fact. No teacher would brag about the first, and there had to be controls on the second, which meant they were lying.

So most of what Caldeira and Baraki were recorded as saying was utter bullshit and obviously, once the tapes came out, these two tearchers were toast. If their presentation was accurate, they’d be fired now that it was public. If they were lying, as seemed likely, they were going to be fired for embarrassing the district.

I commented to this effect on Shrier’s blog. And I was right.

The district, upon learning from Shrier about the recordings, instantly sent out a response, suspending the club, requiring principals to sign off on announcements, and denying some of the claims the teachers made. As I expected, the district emphasized that Baraka and Caldeira were using personal days and not speaking as school representatives. The two teachers were placed on administrative leave while a formal investigation (done by a lawfirm, not the district) took place.

In early July, the lawfirm released the results of a thorough investigation: 1600 documents reviewed, 21 witnesses. The text of the report is very specific on a key point: Baraki and Caldeira made “harmful and disruptive comments” during the presentation that “were not reliable evidence of their actual conduct.”

That is, they lied.

Baraki and Caldeira never put any gender-related comments in the announcements. They didn’t mislead kids during their lessons. While they generated 30 reports of student activity between 2015 and 2019 (which doesn’t strike me as a lot, but I can’t be sure), but all of them had some other purpose. They did notice a student clicking on a link, but never followed up with that student. The only two kids they invited to the club meetings had first approached their teachers about joining.

Baraki and Caldeira resigned and were not fired. They almost certainly would have been, although it might have taken a couple years. But no administrator or district official would forget the shit those two caused by, let’s not forget, lying.

The details were reported sympathetically by the SF Chronicle which talks of the teachers being cleared but glossing over the fact that they lied. Oddly–or maybe not so oddly–Shrier wrote five stories on this in six weeks last winter but hasn’t mentioned this update in three weeks.

Brief aside: this has to be bad news for Jessica Konnen, mother of a former Caldeira student who went through a phase of believing herself transgender while attending the middle school. Konnen was notified by Caldeira and the principal, where the two made it clear that they’d known about this for a long time. After hearing the tapes, she was convinced that Caldeira had unduly influenced her daughter and got lawyer Harmeet Dhillon taking her case against Caldeira and the district, which was filed in June. The recordings were a key part of the evidence and now a law firm investigation has shown the teachers were lying.

What Shrier et al. see as an appalling example of business as usual in our public schools is, in fact, exaggerated or rule-breaking behavior the teachers are bragging about in order to impress their audience.

Of course, that’s still bad.  Baraki and Caldeira are bragging to make themselves look good The dreary reality, in their minds,  is that school procedures prevent them from finding all the potentially confused kids to straighten out. They don’t have the control they claim to have over morning announcements, student clubs. But they want to project a voice of authority to impress their audience–an audience, they presume, who is excited as they are at finding transgender kids who need their help. You want evidence of a polarized country? There you go. Many people support helping kids find their identities, as they think of it. 

But they aren’t the cause! Yes, Baraki and Caldeira want to “find” (convert, to Shrier et al) more transgender students. Yes, they want to run over the rights of concerned parents. Yes, they want to “educate” (indoctrinate) kids by making their club seem exciting, by normalizing gender issues in school, by growing their club. And yes, the union staff setting up the conference see those goals as admirable. All of these are, in my view, horrible objectives and reflect a terrifying mindset.

Except they can’t achieve their goals. School and district policies prevented it. Parents were leery and districts heeded parents. In fact, when the district learned that Baraki bragged about controlling announcements and not keeping a roster, it instantly created policies forbidding that control–policies that normally wouldn’t be needed, because if Baraki had indeed been sliding in propaganda, someone would have noticed. Doesn’t matter. Avoid the risk, mandate signoff. Mandate attendance lists (something common in high school, anyway).

So if the teachers like Baraki and Caldeira have to lie to pretend to have any power, they certainly aren’t the ones preventing parents from being told their kid is transgender. Who’s doing that? 

State and federal governments, that’s who.

I’m in this weird situation where I get reviled by progressives for being a hateful anti-trans bigot and yelled at by conservatives for being a pedophile groomer. I think  “gender dysphoria” is at best a phase and at worst a mental illness.  I am comfortable with finding adults finding whatever gender solution works for them. I am against younger kids taking medical steps. Use of proper pronouns is polite, but should not be required or forced at risk of social and economic obliteration. Any discussion of gender with young kids is wildly inappropriate, whether it’s a doctor, teacher, librarian, or drag queen raising the subject.  Kids should not be actively taught about sexuality….ever, as far as I’m concerned. Let them figure it out for themselves. All of this is enough to get me reviled by progressives.

But the people, whatever their ideology, who are appalled by this radical ideology and the insistence on demands and requirements that seem to violate the laws of reality seem to have no idea of what’s causing it and the wrong idea on who to blame. Once again they focus on unions, teachers, ed schools. 

Smug parents bragging that they homeschool are fooling themselves. Pediatricians think screening kids for gender is a great idea. If it’s not already a state requirement, just wait. Their churches probably won’t comply but why are so many corporations are coming up with DEI initiatives? 

The institutional capture people need to worry about is not teachers and ed schools but state policy makers and legal overreach. If you want to know why schools take a particular action, don’t look to unions but policy, laws, and accreditation–not just of K-12 schools but also colleges, universities, and every organization you can think of.  If states don’t play along, the feds can just devise some sort of mandate to qualify for funds.

This article is too long already, but in researching this story, I found a very troubling expansion that may illustrate the real perpetrator. From the most recent Chronicle article on Baraki and Caldeira:

The California Department of Education says that school staff should not disclose information about students’ gender identity without student permission under AB1266, which protects transgender students’ rights and went into law in 2014.

The first link goes to the CDoE policy which is a full page of things California schools must do to support transgender students because of AB1266–including restrictions against telling parents. The second is a link to AB1266 which says that California Education Code 221.5 shall be modified. It’s not specific about the modifications, which necessitates a look back to 221.5 as it existed in 2010 to learn that 221.5 had five clauses, a-e, and AB1266 added one more:

(f) A pupil shall be permitted to participate in sex-segregated school programs and activities, including athletic teams and competitions, and use facilities consistent with his or her gender identity, irrespective of the gender listed on the pupil’s records.

That’s it. 

Well. That’s enough. That’s the wording, undoubtedly enacted in many states, enabling males to compete as females and the bathroom confusion. But there’s no mention of parents. 

So the CDoE is attributing a near total mandate forbidding schools from notifying parents (with a few weasel words for cover) and using as its rationale legislation changes that don’t mention parents at all. 

Now, go back to the CADoE FAQ and it’s clear that all the legal text added in that section is rationale. Someone took this opportunity to interpret privacy laws and create a whole slew of school mandates that were not in the original legislation. You have to wonder if that’s what Tom Ammiano, the legislative sponsor, had in mind. An attempt to recall the legislation failed. 

By the way, this change to California law happened back in 2014. Long before anyone was paying attention. 

Think it’s only California and those wacky progressives? Trump SecEd Betsy DeVos resisted his order to change policy on transgender students and bathrooms. GOP bastion South Dakota legislators passed a law to force transgender students to use the bathroom matching their biology in 2016, but the governor, a Republican, vetoed it. Even today, Governor Noem was willing to kiss any shot at the presidency goodbye by vetoing a ban on transgender athletes.  I see plenty of GOP opinion folks mocking Rachel Levine; far fewer mocking Dierdre McCloskey.

Understand what forces compelled Noem to veto that law despite the overwhelming support in her state and why DeVos resisted ending transgender access to bathrooms. Accept that people who pushed this started things in motion long before most people were paying attention. Remember  that schools, the institutions most subjected to these pressures, still care about parents and political pressure. Push them hard and they’ll close gaps. Ensure minimum compliance with laws and don’t allow overreach.

Untangling this craziness while still allowing self-determination will be a long process and the other side on this has a head start. But there’s an obvious state law that should be made immediately, one that reporters making their bones on transgender outrage should immediately support:

Mandate  schools to immediately notify parents should their child express a gender identity different from his or her biological one. Specifically: student confides as transgender to school employee, school employee notifies administrator, form letter goes out to parent. If the school’s opinion is the child would be endangered by parental notification, school notifies child protective services who takes it from there. Schools are not allowed to keep this information from parents.

This is a no-brainer. And quite apart from the logical reasons to support this change, there’s one additional positive side effect:  ending or at least wildly curtailing the clubs and activities that seem to encourage student gender confusion. It is perversely easier to force teachers to hide secrets from parents than it is dealing with really pissed off parents blaming the school’s UBU club for their suddenly transgender kid. 

 

 


Same Thing All Over Again–But Events Happen

Many, many irritating things happened during the omicron phase, things that sent me into a mild depressive episode. One happy note, however, was that the union obsessive pretense that covid19 is dangerous meant we could have staff and department meetings on Zoom.

Our staff meetings occur before school, so we start the actual school day late. But the meeting start time is half an hour earlier than the normal school day beginning. So I have to get to school half an hour earlier on a day when school starts half an hour late. This induces a cognitive dissonance that eleven years at the same school has never entirely resolved, and every week, I’m at best five minutes late. Zoom meetings allows me to actually leave later in the day and listen to the meeting in my car. On time. Given that two years of school insanity has never once played in my favor, this feels like win.

Anyway.

Our department chair, Benny, was explaining….wait. Before I begin this story, I want to be clear that I’m not really criticizing anyone involved, including Benny. I should also mention, as I have before, that our school is blissfully indifferent to test scores. Admins really don’t care. This exercise I’m about to describe is about as far as we get to caring. Also relevant: since Common Core, juniors take a test that has multiple levels but from a practical standpoint is binary. Students are either “college ready” or they aren’t.

So Benny was asking for volunteers to run brief 30-minute math tutorials designed to help students review topics. We have an intervention time after lunch that can be used for this purpose. Nothing new; we’d done this for the two years pre-pandemic. Except.

“So we’ve identified the kids who failed algebra 1, geometry, and algebra 2 and give them the opportunity to come to tutoring.”

Wait, what? Kids who failed what?

In years past, we had all agreed that kids who failed algebra I and geometry had not a single chance in hell of testing as college ready.  I had argued, unsuccessfully, that we should still tutor those kids and bump their failing grade if they got….better. To use SAT terms: “college ready” is around 600 Math (top 30%). Any junior who was still working on algebra 1 or geometry would be rocking that test at 450.

I know kids in our school who made it to precalc and got a 500 on the SAT math section and did not pass the college readiness standard.

So Benny was suggesting that kids who’d had multiple shots at algebra 1 and geometry would somehow be able to pick up all they’d failed to understand the first time as well as all the topics they needed in algebra 2 in ten 30 minute sessions.

He’s also suggesting we give this tutoring to the kids who failed algebra 2. But in a good year, pre-pandemic, 60-70% of the kids taking and succeeding at algebra 2 don’t test as college-ready. Kids who failed algebra 2 were not good candidates for passing the college readiness marker. And tell them that if they succeed at an impossible task, we’ll change their grade but only if. Not just for trying.

I said nothing. All hail Zoom.

“If they go to all the tutoring sessions and make college-ready on the test, we’ll change their F to Pass.”

“What about the students that are marginal but passed algebra 2, trig, or pre-calc? We should give them the same tutoring. And kids who flunked pre-calc or calculus, they’d be eager for that deal.” suggested Pete.

In a good year, pre-pandemic, these were the kids we tutored. We spent time identifying the students who had it together enough to pass three or four years of math with a C+, a B, or even a shaky A, and gave them support. That’s what you always do, if you’re looking to get maximize kids across a finish line. These were the kids who had a shot at passing the test.

“No,” responded Benny. “The test only goes through algebra 2 material. Kids who’ve passed algebra 2 should be able to pass this test without tutoring or an incentive.” 

I said nothing. I didn’t volunteer, either. All hail Zoom.

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

In the early days of my blog I would have immediately documented this craziness to provide some insight into how things work. Benny is, like all my colleagues, a progressive Democrat. But in math teacher typology, I’m the woke-conversant social justice warrior. Benny’s the traditionalist (check out our pass rates in this algebra 2 article). I know for a fact Benny doesn’t think his target group is up to the task he’s set. I know this because four years ago, we all agreed that the tutoring pool should be comprised of strong, motivated juniors taking algebra 2 or trig, along with any pre-calc students with Cs. This was the group whose pass rate we might be able to move from 0-10% to 30-50%.

Even more notably, in years past, I would have spoken up to make this very observation. I wouldn’t have been alone, either. Yet no one spoke up.

I’m not sure which is more worthy of comment: I’ve stopped bothering to write about the crazy unreasonable plans that show up in my teacher life, or I’ve stopped pushing back on crazy unreasonable plans that show up in my teacher life.

The first is easier to explain: events, dear boy, events. Both progressives and education reformers upped the nuttiness. The SAT changed to be a much harder test, then became irrelevant. Common Core spent billions on nothing. Two of education reform’s three legs got chopped off.  There was a pandemic and most of the craziness in that era I couldn’t bitch about because it was more central to my location than I usually allow online. Moreover, I try to say it once or maybe twice and then move on, linking to the original article to say “still this.”

The second question is more interesting because it’s not the usual answer. I’m not burnt out. I’ve not given up. I still care. I gritted my teeth and actually picked up my phone to put an observation in the chat yes, while driving, but Benny had set “Chat to Host Only” and so I didn’t end up driving into a ditch while typing a carefully worded but cynical comment.

If I have one Big Idea on high school math instruction*, it’s this: teach less and learn more. Find your comfort limit and develop your skills. Move on if you’re interested.

Kids who struggle with math could productively learn to apply arithmetic, geometry, and a little bit of algebra. The next group, the bulk of high school students, could do a huge amount of math with all that plus second year algebra, basic trig, and some stats. Top tier really should stop at analytic geometry, functions, and more trig. We could teach so much math that calculus could wait until college.

We will never be able to do this, because everything in education is about race. Astonishing, really, why more people can’t grasp that basic reality. Pick any education proposal you like, apply race, and you’ll realize it’s a lawsuit waiting to happen.

But individual schools like mine can still focus on helping kids at every point of the spectrum, even if we have to work through the state mandated structures for class sequencing. In terms of test prep, state tests might only focus on how many students were “college ready”, but we could focus on our average score. Maximize everyone’s score and celebrate that our lowest achievers worked hard to get every question right. This is, in fact, what we did the year before the pandemic. Absent that, we could focus solely on the students who are near the line and increase their pass rates, as I mentioned above.

My first five years at this school, I spent hours advocating for my vision. Chuck, the math coach, and I did our best to find a math path in our existing curriculum to route weaker students through. We differed on end goals–Chuck felt students should fall out by failing, I thought any plan that had students getting Fs by design was absurd–but we both shared the goal of homogenizing our classes so we could teach more content to those who were able and willing. In 2019, we took the top half of algebra 2 juniors, along with the non-honors precalc students and gave them prep sessions. This *dramatically* increased our college ready numbers to nearly half, when in prior years, before and after Common Core, we were happy with low 30%.

In early 2020 we had just started our tutoring groups for the state tests. Juniors still in A1, geo, and bottom half of A2 got skill review on the basics, to raise their confidence and willingness to try on the test. We also prepped the A2/Precalc students as described above.

Then the pandemic shut everything down. No tests in 2020, no prep in 2021 because of a different schedule. We get back in 2022, and the policy is now back to “let’s only give tutoring to kids who have no prayer of passing the test and promise them something they really need but only if they pass the test.”

And only as I wrote this did I realize that Chuck retired at the end of 2019.

Chuck, who endlessly advocated and presented at the district and administrative level. Chuck, whose emails reminding me to be sure to fail more kids annoyed me, but who was at least on the same page. Chuck, who was far more successful than I understood until he left.

Personnel matters.

That’s not the reason I originally began writing this, but once again, writing things down helps me find insight. Need to keep that in mind.

A couple other points.

When I mention events in the title, I wasn’t thinking of Chuck’s retirement but two other major ground shifts. For four years or more, major state university systems and their community colleges have completely abandoned remediation (See “Corrupted College” for details). In all the coverage, left and right, approving and disapproving, of the wholesale abandonment of SAT/ACT requirements in college admissions, no one mentions an obvious fact: grades are worthless. If grades are worthless, then schools up and down the selectivity food chain are going to acquire thousands of students whose transcripts say 4.0 but whose abilities are at the ninth grade or lower level. It seems to me that this will necessarily lower standards dramatically for college diplomas.

While improving math achievement for all students is a worthwhile goal and one I sign on to, my original advocacy for tutoring on state standardized tests was sourced in my desire to help students avoid expensive college remediation and for those of those who needed it, give them a better leg up to pass those remediation classes.

That’s pretty clearly  no longer going to be an issue. Thus, while I still think this approach is crazy and cruel, my concerns about their future in a degraded college system is less acute.

The second shift comes in answer to a question some might be wondering about: Why not Ed for Chuck?  Why don’t I volunteer for Chuck’s work?

My first response is hahahahahaha. Chuck’s job not only needed diplomacy and adminspeak, but also organization and focus. I’m 0 for 4. Moreover, Chuck had spent years teaching at an elite local (public) high school and had transferred here specifically to take on this task. He cared about teaching, but wanted to run a program, and taught less as a result. I care about teaching, and don’t like teaching less.

But the second response came a bit more slowly. Over the past five years, I’ve also undergone a shift in teaching topics, one that utterly gobsmacked me. If you’d asked me a decade ago how I would branch out, I’d have said my druthers were to still teach math, but up my quota of history and English. Ideally, say, in an AP Lang/Lit/US History class designed for bright kids who can read well but hate homework. I also predicted I’d be doing more mentoring.

None of that came true. Instead, I’m teaching with no prep (yay! more money, more variety, less boredom!) and running a program that I don’t talk about because it’s too specific**. But I am making a difference at the individual student level (from remedial to excellent) and the school-wide level with tons of money (which I need***) and  visibility (which I don’t).

Now, we can all agree that I’m an ornery cuss who seeks out the hard way every time. But surely, if I’m not looking for something that falls into my lap, I should take it and run with it rather than beat my head against a wall on an issue that is contrary to stated policy, requires endless handling and maintenance, and gives me no visibility except as a troublemaker?

Don’t worry, though. After I began this piece our district ended staff and department zoom meetings. Back to in-person, where I will inevitably mouth off.

*********************
*Actually, all subject instruction.
**Please don’t speculate, particularly to others. Remember how I wear anonymity.
***Not me personally. For the program.


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.


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.


Coins Dropping, Lights Dawning, and Other Impossibilities

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Think about it.

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

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

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

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

Dude. Some humility.

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

Just a thought.

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

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

School choice gives power to schools, not parents.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1 in 3 teachers are Republicans

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

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

Focus your energy on college, not high school

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 


Bush/Obama Ed Reform: It All Came Tumbling Down

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

Spotted Toad, Waking From Meritocracy

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

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

NCLB/Race to the Top:

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

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

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

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

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

Common Core and  Value Added Metric Evaluations

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

Upshot: both rendered largely toothless.

Split in the Reform Movement

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

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

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

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

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

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

TFA

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

Charters

Stalled.

Source

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Vouchers

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

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

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

2015: Colorado Supreme Court blocked the voucher program. 

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

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

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

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

The money folks

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

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

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

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

Unions

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

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

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

Governance

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

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

It all really did come tumbling down.

Today

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

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

You know who’s still in the same job?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Peace out, peeps.

The History of Education Reform:

Bush/Obama Ed Reform: The Road to Glory

Bush/Obama Ed Reform: Zenith

Bush/Obama Ed Reform: Core Meltdown Came

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

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

Bush/Obama Ed Reform: Core Damage?

Bush/Obama Ed Reform: Victory over Value Add

(and this one)

 


Asymmetrical Executioners

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

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

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

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

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

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

But that’s not the question.

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

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

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

Ah. That’s definitely the question.

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

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

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

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

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

So why?

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

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

Why?

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

Threatened.

Threatened?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Which leads me to the skipped question.

How can we move out of this cycle?

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

That’s a big ask.

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

But is that enough?

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

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

Except.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


2020 Thankfulness.

I’m thankful for my brother.

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

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

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

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

I’m thankful for all my family.

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

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

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

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

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

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

I’m thankful for my students.

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

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

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

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

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

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

I wish their faces were all in my memory.

I’m thankful I’m a teacher.

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

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

I’m thankful you’re reading.

Hope your Thanksgiving was as good as mine.