Category Archives: politics

Wokesters, Grift, and Bureaucratic Sludge

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Teacher Proselytizing: Bad

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

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

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

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

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

Professional Development: Yawn

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stopping the Sludge

You can’t fire bad PD.  

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

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

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

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

is translated as 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Wise Blue States Take Away Choice

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


The Same Thing Over and Over: Yglesias Edition

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

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

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

mattysin1

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

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

mattysin9

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Shot #1:

mattysin7

Chaser #1:

mattysin3

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

Shot and Chaser #2:

mattysin10

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

This is all chaser

mattysin8

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

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

mattysin6

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

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

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

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

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

But in the interest of comity:

mattysin5

This, finally, is correct. 

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

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

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

 


Three Covid19 Lawsuits We Need

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

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

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

Lawsuit 1: Can Vaccines Be Mandated?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Are Vaccine Passports Constitutional?

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

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

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

Can Governments Require the Vaccinated to Wear Masks?

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

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

Why not?

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

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

So where’s the lawsuit?

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

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

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

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

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

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


White Flight From Admissions-Test High Schools

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

But this part here is often repeated and quite misleading:

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

John Podhoretz mentioned the same stat a few months ago:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

NYCDOE on 2020 SHSAT results

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

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

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

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

Well, that’s…..weird. 

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

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

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

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

Atlantic also did populations for Bronx Science and Brooklyn Tech

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Bush/Obama Ed Reform: Victory over Value Add

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

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

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

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

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

From 1% Ineffective to…..?

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

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

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

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

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

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

New Mexico

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

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

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

California

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

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

Upshot

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

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

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

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

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


2020 Election: Not Yesterday’s Enterprise

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

Ever hear of Paul Wylie?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And they were wrong.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Except–alas–Joe Biden.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Great stuff. But.

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

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

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

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

Almost.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

…….

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

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

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

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

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


2020 Election: Political What Ifs and Other Gasbaggery

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Really?

 

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

But are voting for Biden anyway.

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

 

 

 

 

 

Really?

 

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oh, hell to the yeah.

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

But it’s different, they assure me.

 

OK.

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

OK, end bitching about media.

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

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

Narrow Biden win:

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

Narrow Trump win:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Bush/Obama Ed Reform: Core Damage?

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

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

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

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

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

NAEP Reminder

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

State Tests

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

So what did the state tests show about Common Core?

God Bless Education Week.

Common Core 2015 Test Results

pic39

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why Make The Tests Harder?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Teaching vs. Learning

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Bush/Obama Ed Reform: Core Meltdown Came

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

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

So what happened? Why is 2012 the turnaround year?

2012: Braking

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

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

Political Maneuvering

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

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

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

ELA Opposition

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

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

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

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

Math Opposition–High School

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

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

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

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

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

Math Opposition–Elementary School

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

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

Testing Opt Out

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

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

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

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

David Coleman was wrong. So was Arne.

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

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

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

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

Denouement

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

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

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

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

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

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

Good question.

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

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

(Tom Loveless is right. A lot.)

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

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

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

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