Category Archives: politics

Principal Responsibilities in the Pandemic

Layfolk have little clue what principals do all day. For example, principals spend very little time evaluating teachers and that’s how they like it. Most of them aren’t terribly interested in outward metrics of student learning, like test scores.  Most school administrators only worry about problematic teachers on an exception basis: they don’t hear, they don’t care.

School administration is an intense, brutal management position that has a limited relationship to teaching. Issues that are largely unconsidered in the public perception are of fundamental and compelling importance to a school and its districts, dwarfing such piddling concerns as teacher quality. Merely excellent teachers aren’t terribly valuable in a principal’s currency. Without too much vanity, I can say that my students and colleagues alike consider me one of our school’s top three or four pure-play teachers. (meaning pedagogy, curriculum, delivery, effectiveness).  From a technical standpoint, I know my principal admires and appreciates my skill. From a school ecological health standpoint, my quality matters not at all. For years, my value to administrators was my ability to fill a teaching gap in any one of three subjects. Taking on a new responsibility six years ago bumped my stock skyhigh–which barely moved me into the lowest tier of valuable teachers. The top tier is peopled with the coordinators of school-wide initiatives: student activities, ELL testing, Title I.

Day to day operations combined with a series of one-offs rule the administrator world. Student discipline. Answering a tiny slice of the thousand emails received since 8 am. Parent phone calls. Meetings. Facility emergencies. District visits. Attending every single sporting event. Routine yearly or regularly scheduled events that nonetheless require planning, which at the high school level might look like: the master schedule, state tests, graduation, accreditation. Most of the intense planning occurs during the summer month when teachers and students are gone.

But these interrupt-driven tasks are actually a luxury permitted because the district manages the really important school responsibilities, the hulking beasts known as federal and state education mandates. These obligations are so essential and failure so threatening that the tasks are automated and audited by clerical or administrative staff at an expense of millions per year.

For example: attendance reporting is critical to school funding, audited at the district, county and state level. Principals aren’t usually evaluated on test scores. They are evaluated on whether or not their teachers take role. As in, if 90% or more of teachers in a school aren’t identifying any missing students on the expensive online attendance system and clicking “Save”, the principal will get some negative attention and an evaluation metric on that point for the next year.

Another important requirement:  a credentialed human being has to be in each classroom nearly every minute of the school day. As in the case of attendance management, districts spend millions each year to take this off individual administrators, usually with a teacher absentee system that allows substitute teachers to sign up for logged teacher absences. This frees principals from a task that would otherwise dominate their day–and, in fact, has dominated their days since the return from the pandemic occasioned a catastrophic sub shortage.

Then there’s the food issue. School researchers and reporters academically and casually use the term FRPL–the usual criterion for Title I designation–but far less attention is spent to the logistics of lunch time or, god spare me, breakfast time, particularly in elementary schools. It’s not just the money for food, but the scheduling, the hygiene standards, the workers, their pay, their hours, their substitutes….it’s a whole thing. No point in blaming federal mandates for this, mind you:  school lunch had  been in place for over fifty years in 1946, when Truman signed the National School Lunch program. (To this day I wonder why we never decided just to give school kids coupons for meals at local diners. Maybe just add the food cost onto SNAP cards? Sure would have been cheaper and more efficient.)

But the most significant requirement lurking at the edge of every principal’s worry horizon is special education. A behemoth of legal responsibility created by the unexpected collision between 1975’s special education law and 1991’s ADA, the legal mandate of IDEA and the civil right statute known as 504 have effects that were exacerbated by collisions created by medical advances and the APA’s ever-expanding DSM. The original special education law was intended for mildly “retarded” students but for the past 30 years, ever since it was retagged IDEA, the monster has created a whole slew of rights for kids who are a) severely mentally disabled, b) physically disabled (from minor to severe) and c) kids who have learning disabilities that were after the fact categorized as disabled. These are rights that only accrue to those with the magic three letter document known as an IEP, or the less-impressive but still powerful 504. (I would repeal IDEA in its current form, so take my pith with some salt.)

504 is primarily about disabilities that require equal treatment. IDEA covers “learning disabilities” that require equal educational opportunities. IDEA gradation goes from mild learning disability (executive function, auditory processing, ADHD) to low IQ but otherwise functional, to needs two paras and diapers and constant monitoring, to all that plus a $300k wheelchair, by which point school is little more than free institutional daycare.

Special education tasks are usually one-offs, only raising their head when a parent complains, which is often.  Ask any principal about the high-maintenance sped parents and they’ll have a list. Any time the parents are unhappy, well, just add more entries onto the day-to-day list–attend the IEP meetings, write careful emails, and so on.

So that was life before the pandemic closed all the schools. The method of teaching underwent a tremendous change,  but the responsibilities did not. Administration, on the other hand, had a pretty dramatic shift in responsibilities because they had to assume some of the responsibility for delivering legally mandated services.

First, the good news: they lost one responsibility, gained another that was easy to handle, and a lot of the day to day tasks got a lot easier.

Technology was the only new factor.  Ensuring Internet access was one of the easier tasks schools took on. In reality, students age twelve or over probably had a phone and at the high school level far too many students used their phone anyway. Younger than twelve, I’d argue online school wasn’t much use. Still, it was a popular method of looking productive. Look, we’ve passed out 300 Chromebooks. Easy metric.

Substitutes became a non-issue, at least on a daily basis. Most student disciplinary issues ended, once they got the zoom-bombing under control. No suspensions, no expulsions, and no teachers calling to remove students from the classroom.

Attendance would have been a problem except the binding federal and state mandates were first lifted and then redefined by legislative act or Betsy DeVos, depending.

The bad news: closing schools also closed the cafeterias.

Feeding students took up a great deal of a principal’s pandemic day. In urban and suburban regions, lunch distribution was a centralized activity; parents lined up at the school. I once counted a hundred cars–a quarter of a mile of cars–waiting for food delivery from an elementary school. In rural areas, where transportation is more of an issue, teachers themselves had to step in to distribute lunches. In either case, schools had to assume responsibility for feeding the kids that would otherwise be getting free meals from the cafeteria.  So in the early days of the pandemic,  food distribution took hours each day in the spring of 2020, and still consumed a lot of effort throughout the 20-21 school year.

The worst news: the special education beast rose to greet the pandemic monster and it’s still hard to figure out who won. I would love to know if anyone in education policy gave a thought to special education during those crazy weeks in March 2020. The binding, restrictive and costly laws that schools face were utterly unworkable. Shutting down infuriated one group of special ed parents, while staying open outraged the other.

There was no right answer for special education during the school shutdown era. Remote education screwed one big chunk of their population whose parents desperately wanted them in school ever day, while in-person education would trigger lawsuits from another chunk of parents who were convinced that covid exposure would kill their children.

Severely disabled students basically needed daycare and stimulus so, by definition, remote education violates their right to a free and appropriate education (FAPE). In Seattle, one of the earliest areas hit by the virus, a school district suspended all remote education for fear they’d be sued by parents or the federal government for failing to provide special education students equitable access. The Department of Education responded:

ensuring compliance with the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act (Section 504), and Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act should not prevent any school from offering educational programs through distance instruction

Translated: Districts can’t refuse to offer remote education using special ed mandates as an excuse–but districts still need to comply with special ed mandates.

Later, Betsy DeVos, who never met a public school she didn’t despise, issued guidance exempting schools from IEP compliance in the event of school closure but required compliance if only the school building was closed–that is, remote education was no excuse for IEP non-compliance.  Schools had to provide remote education and live with the fact that the feds could punish them for failing to meet special ed mandates.

Meanwhile, kids with any immunity issues had an instant ADA lawsuit were they required to attend in-person instruction–at the time, that is. Before the vaccine, everyone looked to the day when the  vaccine would eliminate the risks. Now we know there will never be any perfect protection, so the entire rationale that so terribly threatened schools is mostly a moot point. However, even after schools opened, sped parents whose child had an immune issue were furious at being forced out of remote–and some of them won lawsuits to gain that remote access.

The above is another logic point in support of my case that school districts heeded parents, not unions, in keeping schools closed. Yet another unacknowledged hierarchy: districts fear special ed parents far more than they fear unions. But even with the obvious violation of special education law and the threat of penalty from the federal government, schools still stayed in remote when that was what a majority of parents wanted. And even with the obvious risks of lawsuits that arose when schools were opened and no remote option was available, schools ended mask mandates when a majority of the parents called for it.

Based on their behavior, districts prioritized in this order: 1) overall parental preference, 2) special ed and 504 disability demands  3) in-person institutional needs of severely disabled students.

Generally, schools made the right bet. The lawsuits from angry sped parents whose severely disabled students were non-responsive and miserable all day haven’t been nearly as bad as originally feared. (Moreover, judges haven’t been totally sympathetic to the parents.) Settlements, on the other hand, in which the government just agrees to fork over compensatory services, are still an open issue.

So why am I nattering on about administrators, special ed, and lunch?

I’m trying to give a very rough, incomplete overview of actual school administrator responsibilities to give people  to a better grasp of school life during the pandemic. Principals had serious shit to deal with. They told teachers to figure out zoom and do their best. Even over the summer of 2020, it was district staff who focused on finding some curriculum they could use as talking points when asked what they were doing to help teachers with remote instruction.

For decades, we’ve been piling on additional responsibilities to public education. Finally, it turns out that during an emergency, actual education has to take a managerial back seat to those other demands.

In the main, teachers did much better than they were given credit for. I taught online nearly continuously from March 2020 to August 2021. I’m a good teacher. I adjusted my curriculum. Made sure my kids couldn’t easily cheat, and as much as possible eliminated cheating. And I’m here to tell anyone who’ll listen that teachers could not realistically cover the same material while ensuring student learning–that is, no cheating. We also couldn’t reasonable ensure student attention, or even presence. I’d say 70% of my kids learned 60% of a normal year. Teachers with more motivated students might be able to do better, but the harsh truth is (and those teachers will agree with me) using normal methods and teaching at normal pace meant the kids were cheating.

More administrative attention on teachers would not have improved results. If nothing else, the pandemic should lead people to question the value of virtual instruction. (Instead, since many parents are still terrified of covid19, they are booming in popularity.)

Principals had to completely reorient their world during the pandemic for remote instruction.Then consider the exponentially more hellish their lives became in hybrid mode, when some students are on campus and some still in remote, and teachers likewise.  Food and technology must still be delivered, but substitutes and student discipline get thrown back into the to-do pile. Additional levels of (ultimately needless) sanitizing. The only schools that would undergo hybrid would be blue state districts forced to comply with CDC restrictions as well as a white parent populations demanding in-person instruction (Vermont, sections of Connecticut and Washington). Polls showed that hybrid didn’t satisfy parents enough for the work it took–and teachers hated it.

My last article argued that parents, not unions, were the primary driver of school and district choices for remote or in-person education. By examining the administrative requirements of schools during the pandemic, it becomes clear why districts only opened if enough parents demanded it. If demand for in-person was weak, then the second group in priority, special ed parents with immunity concerns, as well as the hassles of hybrid, would prevail.

This puts the hybrid mode offered by NYC and Chicago in a different light.  While angry Republican moms bewailed the union control, the importance of white (taxpaying) parents, even as a minority, was such that these large districts went through the hassle of aggravating their unions and the expense of hybrid instruction (all that was possible given state governance) to at least partially assuage these constituents.

But generally, districts had no incentive to push for inperson instruction without parent support, even though they clearly saw the problems with remote learning.  Absent significant majorities for in-person instruction, remote would be the preferred delivery.


The Real Reason for School Closures

Now that we’ve finally moved on from covid19, can we also look honestly at what was driving school closures?

Most importantly, school board bureaucrats weren’t controlling a furious parent population anxious to get their kids back to school.

I knew closing schools was a horrible idea back in March 2020, and opposed everything short of return to in-person instruction. But even though the reporting on school closures was very solid, the narrative was universally wrong.

So I thought I’d go through the data to paint a more accurate picture. Schools were fully remote when a majority of parents in the school or district wanted them that way. For reasons no one entirely understands, parent choice was strongly influenced by one particular demographic factor. There is some variation on this, but it’s by far the most reliable predictor.

Where’s the rage?

NYTimes writer Jessica Grose described her surprise at recent polling showing that parents are generally happy with their public schools, even after the pandemic.

This isn’t new. Polls consistently showed all through the pandemic that 70-80% of parents  were satisfied with their schools’ response. Dozens of polls tell the same story.

Morning Consult has been polling on education throughout the pandemic.

In October 2020, they found that most parents polled wanted remote education and, of those parents who had a choice, most chose virtual learning.

In April 2021 they found that most parents (82%) were very or somewhat satisfied with how their school responded and both the general public and parents were surprisingly satisified with local and national teachers unions (well under 30% strongly or somewhat disapproved, while 48% (public) and nearly 60% (parents) strongly or somewhat approved of local and national teachers unions.

In November 2021, Democrats won the education question so thoroughly among pollsters that Morning Consult advised Republicans to focus on the economy instead.

Morning Consult also runs a tracking poll on parental preference for instruction method, comfort with inperson instruction, and beliefs on school reopening. While they only poll 400-500 adults, the results do not in any way support the preferred narrative. Even today, 21% of parents thought schools were opened too quickly and no more than 50% at any tme believed they were opened at the right speed–and at no point in time did more than 50% of parents think in-person instruction was the best solution.

All polls reject the narrative of Goliath school districts beating down the little David parents who finally banded together to fight.  Polls mostly show a very contented parent pool, consistently at 70% or over satisfaction, with relatively little unmet demand for in-person instruction. At a time when increased media attention was occupied by furious parents with megaphones, most parents were quietly satisfied with their schools’ response to a difficult situation.

Political Approval

Polls also seem to contradict the assertion that aggressively lenient covid19 policies were the road to political success. Covid19 hawk politicians seemed to have more voter approval than covid doves.

Gavin Newsom of California, who enforced remote instruction by mandate longer than any other state,  won a recall with just 49% approval on covid19–but a lot of that disapproval was from covid19 hawks pissed he hadn’t been more restrictive.  Recently he’s been polling at 60% on his covid19 handling. New Mexico’s Michelle Grisham, another governor who kept schools closed for a long time, doesn’t have great polling on crime and economy, but her covid policy approval is at 60%. Meanwhile, Florida’s DeSantis, much lauded by school opening proponents, saw his polls go up and down; while Florida is gaining a lot of transplants who like his policies, the natives are split. Texas’s Greg Abbott has tracking polls specifically on covid, and his approves were almost always lower than his disapproves.

If the policies that Abbott and DeSantis insisted on were as popular and obvious as their media fans would have it, shouldn’t they be getting raves for their policies?

Newsweek evaluated governor polls a year ago and found that “Democrats and Republican governors in blue states appear to have benefited the most from their approach to the crisis, while Republicans in deep-red states have largely suffered if they did not take strong action against the virus.”

So there’s a clear cognitive dissonance between the opinion rhetoric from all areas of the political and media arena (where even the covid19 hawks are defensive) and the public opinion polls, which seem to be largely satisfied with whatever policy their state has to offer, but not noticeably preferring aggressive re-openers.

The First Variable

Everything gets a bit clearer by tossing race into the narrative.

Race? Good lord, why think about race?

Well, for starters, pretty much everything about public schools involves race. It’s the first variable. It’s the one researchers and the media control for when they want to blame public education for its failure, and the one they ignore when it brings up questions no one wants to answer.

For another, like most issues involving education, viewing the issue through a racial prism is instructive–even if, as in this case, it’s hard to figure out why the racial aspect exists. Any poll on parent preference that controlled for race–which was most of them–showed the same results: white parents were consistently distinct from non-whites. They were the first to demand school openings, in-person instruction, and the first to reject mask mandates and vaccine mandates.

For once the journalist side of the media did its job in reporting the parental preference. There are dozens of articles like Angry White Parents vs. the Public School System:

Belying the issue of urban school districts’ hesitance to reopen for in-person learning amid outcries from mostly white and upper-middle class parents is a complex racial dynamic that underscores how the coronavirus pandemic was experienced by and has affected groups of people differently.

Or More non-white than white parents prefer remote learning for their children

 White parents are least happy with online learning. Only 34% of white families prefer fully remote school, compared with 58% of Hispanic, 59% of black, and 66% of Asian families.

Every state in the country  has produced articles or research discussing the racial imbalance of parent preference, that non-white parents were reluctant to return to inperson instruction and whites were eager and angry at any delays.  National surveys told the same story. By November 2020, 45% of “low-minority” districts throughout the country were offering full-time in-person instruction, while only 28% of “high minority” districts were–and “low minority” and “high minority” cover a huge range.

Combining this clear racial distinction in education model preferences, and then adding in the fact that most school districts don’t reflect America’s demography on a percentage basis, and much becomes clear. From the earliest days of the pandemic to today, white parents are disproportionately the covid-19 doves. This pattern is found throughout the country and holds up regardless of state covid19 policy, political affiliation, or relative union strength.

The race factor is often obscured to those who don’t go looking for it. Regional and school demographics don’t always run in tandem.  Many majority white counties have majority non-white school districts.  For example, Arlington County is 60% white, but the school district is 46% white. Fairfax County  is 50% white but its school district is 39% white.  San Francisco’s school district is 34% Asian, 31% Hispanic, 14% white, and 8% black, while the city itself is 39% white, 34% Asian, 16% Hispanic, and 5% black. These differences matter when the racial pattern of support for strict covid19 policies is so clearly predictive.

Sometimes seemingly inexplicable decisions make more sense when district demographics are taken into consideration. For example, Michael Brendan Daugherty was furious earlier in the year when two neighboring districts in Westchester County ended mask mandates while his district was still mandating them. But the two neighboring districts are 75% white and if MBD still lives in Mt. Kisco, his school district is just over 50% white.

Similarly, urban charters closed for as long as their public counterparts. In California, charter students were more likely to be in remote instruction than publics (63 to 55) and less likely to be in hybrid or full-time, a finding that Martin West’s excellent survey confirmed nationwide as well.

That charters were more likely to be remote than publics is very consistent with the racial preference in covid policy argument, as the charter student population is majority non-white, and thus more likely to favor remote instruction.

School Choice

Polls were the very first sign of different racial attitudes towards opening schools. But revealed preferences show the same story. Whenever parents were given a choice for in-person instruction–at least where we can track the data–white parents were far more likely to take that choice. Non-white parents were far more likely to stay in remote mode, even when state leadership was aggressively in favor of in-person instruction.

Florida and Texas were hailed by the conservative media and chastised by the mainstream media for their bold approach to opening schools. Meanwhile, New York City and Chicago were targeted by the conservative media and, eventually, the mainstream media for their delayed reopenings.

At various points in the year, Chicago, New York City, Houston, and a wide swath of central Florida either a) surveyed its entire parent population for enrollment intent or b) tracked each student by actual enrollment choice. All four areas provided datasets revealing parental preferences for in-person or remote instruction and included a wide variety of family demographics.

In September 2020, Houston polled all the parents in its districts on whether they were coming to school in person or remote. A central Florida newspaper collected school data attendance, remote vs in-person, for several districts in November 2020.  In March 2021, Chicago queryed its parents in k-8 schools on intent to enroll. New York City collected enrollment choices throughout the pandemic year.

Only one of these data sources coded parental choice by race. But all district and school demographic data is publicly available information and while it’s boring to look up every district and school for that information, it’s not difficult. That makes it possible to compare percentage of white students to percentage of students opting for in-person instruction.

A.  Chartdinpersonwhite

B. Chartainprsonwhite

C. Chartbinpersonwhite

D.chartcinpersonwhite

Logic will aid in matching  graph to region. Politics will not. In all cases,  white students are positively correlated with in-person instruction. Governance or unions or even time in pandemic cycle doesn’t affect the strong white preference for in-person instruction. (It’s theoretically possible that more white students in a school led more non-white kids to opt in and the white students to opt out, but I’m hoping it’s obvious that’s not the most likely explanation.)

Graph A: 5 central Florida counties (November 2020, actual enrollment, source).  While the data patterns have the widest range, I looked up several of the outliers and found a few inconsistencies. For example, Hegerty High School has a 66% white population with  only 3% in-person enrollment, according to the data record. But several stories  written just a couple months after the data record makes it clear that a much larger percentage is in school.  So some outliers are probably genuine, others might be errors.

While I’m on the topic of Florida, nowhere was the narrative more egregiously skewed than on the fabled state where “the schools are open”. As the data shows, many non-white schools were in remote mode. The two largest counties had similar patterns. Broward County (65% nonwhite) and Miami Dade County (90% nonwhite) refused to open their schools  at all until October and November.  By the end of the 2021 school year, half of Miami’s public school students and 55% of Broward County’s were still in remote. Both counties were described by Edweek as “open for wide-scale, inperson learning”. Nat Malkus of AEI introduced an instructional status tracker that scraped school district websites and determined how many districts in each state were offering in-person instruction. His tracker showed Florida’s districts as 100% in-person from its inception.

Both Edweek and Malkus may have been technically accurate, but when half of the two largest Florida districts were remote for the entire year and large chunks of central Florida were likewise choosing remote, perhaps these statements were a tad misleading.

30% of all Florida students were still in remote instruction in February 2021. Given the pattern above, it’s very likely most of those students were non-white.

Graph B: Houston (September 2020, enrollment intent, source). Texas governor Greg Abbott was very aggressive about opening schools, believing long before it became common knowledge that remote education was bad for students. In fact, the open nature of Texas schools was a compare-contrast case to New Mexico in Pro Publica’s heartrending story of a high school football star’s suicide in New Mexico. But even though “the schools were open in Texas”, Texas students of color returned to person in below average rates: ” 56% percent of Texas students on average returned to on-campus instruction during the school year, including 75% of white students, about 53% of Black students, 49% of Hispanic students and 31% of Asian students.”

Graph C: New York City (Jan 2021, actual enrollment, source). NYC has the least impressive trendline in my graphs given the fact that almost no school had a majority white population. But the NYC data source has something that none of the others have: a breakdown of all students’ in-person or hybrid selection by race, which makes another easy graph possible (I only do easy graphs):

Chartcstacked

One of every two white NYC students chose inperson, as opposed to 1 in 3 Hispanics, 3 in 10 blacks, and 1 in 5 Asians.

Graph D: Chicago (March 2021, enrollment intent, source). As Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor wrote in  the New Yorker back in February,  the first time the Chicago teachers refused to return to class, roughly a third of Asians, Hispanics, and blacks signaled an intent to return to in-person instruction and of those numbers less than half of blacks and Hispanics and only 60% of Asians actually showed up. Meanwhile, two-thirds of whites opted in and 75% of that group actually showed.

Four regions. Two different covid19 policies. Same pattern. These are  parents making choices based on identical policies offered, often in the same schools.

Was Race a Proxy for Politics?

Nate Silver has speculated that the racial skew in education preferences is just reflecting political preferences.

Indisputably, Democrat governors were far more covid-hawkish than GOP governors, and GOP-run states were more likely to allow full-time in-person instruction. State political control was the second biggest factor in school opening decisions and in my telling, Democrat governors bear a huge amount of the blame for the angry white parents (a topic for a second piece I’m working on, assuming I ever finish this one).

But why were Democrats more cautious and controlling? Why were Democrats stressing safety long after the media had determined that covid19 didn’t pose much of a risk to young people? Perhaps because there weren’t millions of angry parents.

To disentangle this, begin with the fact that the progressive left went totally nuts on covid. I don’t know if it began as a reaction to Donald Trump’s desire to play down the pandemic or a genuine fear of a virus that wasn’t all that dangerous for most of us, but even today thousands, possibly millions of people are still covid hysterics freaked out that mask mandates are ending, and they all are the sort who post their pronouns.

The moderate left did not go totally nuts, or at least got less scared much faster. That’s why Democrat politicians are so terrified that a midterm meltdown awaits them, right?

But who is the moderate left?   Non-whites aren’t particularly progressive.  It’s well-established of late that progressive, “woke” Democrats are much more likely to be white, that non-white Democrats are more centrist and moderate.

Building out from that fact: if politics controlled choices, then centrist non-whites should behave more like moderate white Democrats,  favoring in-person instruction and less restrictive policies.  But the evidence shows exactly the opposite. So either nonwhites are more progressive than is currently thought, or non-white centrist Democrats are behaving differently from white centrist Democrats and politics is a less effective predictor than race.

To separate politics from race, I looked at three cases.

Case 1: how did Republican politicians respond to the demands of majority non-white districts? If these districts wanted in-person instruction, the politicians themselves would owe no allegiance to the teachers unions and would readily open the schools.

But data above from Florida and Texas show nonwhites actively opted for remote instruction. Couple that evidence with that from Mississippi, a state with weak unions and a governor who aggressively opened schools (and oh, by the way, had pretty terrible polls as a result). The six poorest school districts in Mississippi, all entirely African American students, were online for the entire 20-21 school year. Then consider Tennessee, where just 1 in 4 students started the 2021 year in remote. Yet in two largest schools districts, the remote rates were  46% (Nashville, 75% non-white) and 67% (Shelby County Schools, 88% nonwhite–and by the way, when allowed to go mask optional, just 2% took the deal in the early days).

GOP governor Larry Hogan of Maryland, a Democrat state, had to beg schools to open by March, and Baltimore City schools were still primarily remote for most of the year. Massachusetts governor Charlie Baker, also a Republican running a blue state, first started pushing in November 2020 to convince districts to open, but 23% of students were still in full-time remote instruction in February.  Boston, the largest district, (15% white) didn’t start opening schools to the general population until March while Springfield, the second largest district (10% white),  delayed opening even elementary schools until April.

One of the more interesting and instructive examples of politicians responding to race-related covid hawkishness better than politics just took place in Virginia. Glenn Youngkin ran on ending the mask mandate. Virginia’s counties are school districts, for the most part, so it’s very easy to map county demographics, governor support, and–thanks to the Washington Post–whether or not the district went mask optional after Youngkin’s declaration but before the lawsuit was decided. The first graph shows the county’s decision to go mask optional or mask mandate based on the percentage of white students in the district. The second breaks down the decisions further by the district governor support. (Forgive the weird colors.)

VAwhitepopmask

vapoliticalpopmask

As the Washington Post story noted, many districts were simply holding onto the mandate until the court case was decided, for all sorts of legal reasons I’ll try to discuss in my next piece on this. This probably explains the outliers.  Still, many Republican voting districts with majority non-white student populations held onto the mandate.

Case 2: What did schools do in  majority white Democrat states? If politics drove school policy, then Vermont (90% white) and Washington (63% white) should have had the same school closure patterns as more diverse Democrat states.

In Vermont,  just 14% of students were in remote and 30% of students were in school full time by February 2021. At no point in the entire 20-21 year were Vermont students more than 18% remote. High school students were rarely allowed to return full-time, but were overwhelmingly in hybrid mode.

In Washington,  statewide data shows that much of the state had open schools (light and dark blue).

Washingtoninperson

The map on the left outlines the Trump voting counties. The northwest and a southeast corner of dark blue did not vote for Trump, but have plenty of dark blue. The map on the right is all the majority white districts which account for the dark and medium blue areas that the Trump voting regions miss.

WashingtonTrumpCovidWashingtonWhiteCovid

Only with the white majority district map do you see how many districts had lukewarm Trump support and decent to high in-person instruction.

Thus, in at least two majority white states dominated by Democrats, school options were far more similar to Republican states and very unlike diverse Democrat states.

The final case, and the most difficult to hunt down, is the inverse of majority white Democrat regions. What did majority non-white counties that voted Republican do?  I found two, one that went each way.  Dodge City School District, a Republican area with a school districts that’s 80% Hispanic, saw 95% of kids choose in-person instruction despite very high covid19 rates. Another, Zapata County, despite governor Greg Abbott’s stated priority for open schools and inperson instruction, was one of the school districts that begged for more time in remote instruction and pushed the time to even offer in-person instruction, much less open the schools to everyone, to December. No helpful conclusions there.

Recently,  Report Card podcast’s Nat Malkus discussed his Return to Learn tracker that’s been updated to reflect mask mandates, and he goes on for half an hour about political views and never once mentions race.  It’s depressing how often people attempted to correlate political positions with covid19 policies. Many public schools are filled with students whose immigrant parents can’t vote. Moreover, school districts only occasionally overlap with counties. But school districts faithfully report their racial demographics. It’s much easier to correlate racial demographics than political ones. So easy a teacher could do it! For some reason few researchers wanted to go there.

It Wasn’t Unions

(I originally had a lot more rebuttal to the “unions closed the schools” narrative, but that was probably my obsession talking.)

The most common culprit offered up for continued remote education are teachers unions–although most union leaders think of their responsibility as credit, not blame. In fact, unions were at best tertiary.

Randi Weingarten has no power to influence the teachers in her union–and by the way, her union is an also-ran of the Big Two. (Quick, name the president of the really powerful union, the NEA. No googling.) Weingarten’s primary job is as fundraiser and showboat, not teacher representative. What Weingarten advises the CDC has absolutely no impact on school closures. Governors weren’t bound to follow the CDC, and many didn’t.

Several studies purported to find union strength as predictive of remote education, most notably Corey De Angelis’s study of September 2020.  DeAngelis used four metrics of union strength: right to work status, Fordham Institute ranking, percentage of union members in labor force and increase in union menbers at county level. If I’m reading this correctly, only the Fordham Institute ranking was directly related to teacher union strength. All but four of the right-to-work states are over 60% white. Two of the states with right to work laws, Texas and Florida, have clear patterns of large percentages of non-white students opting out of in-person instruction.

The Fordham Institute rankings are good, and when DeAngelis used this ranking, he found that a10% increase in “union power” made a school 1.3% more likely to close, which doesn’t seem to be all that much.

In any event, exceptions to the union story abound.

For all the complaints,  New York City, considered to have strong unions, opened schools relatively early in December, February, and  March for elementary, middle, and high school. Similarly union-strong Chicago opened schools by March. California didn’t open most of its schools until April and only after Gavin Newsom essentially bribed the school boards , not the unions, to open. Even then, at least three large districts stayed in remote education all year.

New York, California, and Illinois are ranked in the top ten for most powerful teacher unions states but had wildly different reopening schedules. One possibility: New York City and Chicago need their white parents for their tax base, and assuaging them to the extent possible would have to be a high priority. Meanwhile, California has different power bases depending on the location. In the northeastern part of the state, just a third of all students were in remote mode.  (Quick, guess what blue stands for in this California county map.)

Meanwhile, Montana, third on the list for most powerful teachers unions and with a Democrat governor, opened schools in May 2020 and by September 2020, most schools–not school districts, but schools–were open for full-time instruction. Ohio has strong unions but its schools were mostly opened in September, as were the aforementioned Vermont and Washington, both with strong unions.

DC, with unions so weak they can’t even get rid of performance pay, opened schools in February.

Texas and New Mexico, whose school policies were compared in the Pro Publica football piece, both have very weak unions yet had entirely different re-opening policies at the state level. (These two states are an interesting contrast, more on this some other time.)

North Carolina has very weak unions, and is over 60% white. School boards were given the choice at the beginning of the 2020 school year to go full remote, hybrid, or full-time in person. Last amateur graph, I promise:

ncremote

Another study finding that union strength correlated with closures found that districts with Catholic schools were more likely to open for in-person learning. As it happens, North Carolina isn’t terribly Catholic, but its recent Hispanic influx has increased the numbers over the past 20 years. There are 46 Catholic private schools in the state. Forty of them are in districts that chose remote; six were in districts that opted for in-person. Of those six schools, 5 were in counties that were 50-80% white. One was an outlier, just 34% white.

Why?

I don’t know why white parent preferences varied so distinctly from the others. Nor do I “blame” non-white parents for taking the remote option, even though that preference clearly appeared to have damaged educational outcomes for low income black and Hispanic children.

As Andy Smarick wrote a year ago, making many similar observations to the ones here: “the story hasn’t been politics, unions, laziness, risk-aversion, or ignorance. It’s been parents, pluralism, and self-government.”

A year ago. His article was largely ignored, as were the many polls and stories reflecting the fact that schools were in fact responding to local parent demand.

How would things have changed if the debate had honestly acknowledged the reason for school closures? Both sides were actively distorting reality. For every “open the schools” advocate, there was a matching “covid19 is dangerous” proponent. But in fact, the correct answer to “open the schools” was “the majority of parents in your district disagree with you”–a response the covid19 hawks didn’t want to give because they wanted to present school closures as “science”.

Perhaps an honest discussion would have gone into when and how it was easier and less expensive to default to closed schools, and when the odds went the other way. Perhaps acknowledging the schools never should have been closed would have been helpful and, having made this mistake, that parents should never have been given a choice to keep their kids home once schools were open again.

The irony, of course, is that most of the loudest voices advocating for opening schools are often in favor of giving parents a choice.

I’m not interested in blame. I’m interested in making sure people understand what happened because lord knows I don’t want this to happen again.

But that’s for the next article. (At least, I hope so. I’m a slow writer.)

(Note: I edited this after I posted it, focusing all the union content in one area, and I added a review of the Corey DeAngelis study. No other changes were made. I just realized I was getting a tad obsessive about the “union closed the schools” narrative).


Murray/Sailer on Powerline Podcast

This is more of a comment than a fully-developed article, but I though I’d try to be timely. It refers to part one of Steve Hayward’s conversation with Charles Murray and Steve Sailer for the Power Line podcast.

It was as great (as expected), but Charles Murray had one response that I don’t think Steve Hayward followed up on enough, and it’s important. At one point, Murray says, accurately, that conservatives don’t like to talk about race and cognitive ability. It makes them uncomfortable. He then added that the cognitive ability aspects of education totally mess with the permanent libertarian zeitgeist that says hard work is everything.

As it happens, I’ve written about this a lot. My favorite piece about a conservative who is made uncomfortable by a frank reference to race and education was written in response to a podcast as well: Making Rob Long Uncomfortable in which Heather MacDonald goes off on a rant about black underperformance. Rob’s response is a textbook case of discomfort. He was fine talking about bad schools and lazy teachers, but when MacDonald goes there you can, as I said, practically hear Rob’s toes shrieking across the bathroom tiles. It’s hilarious. I then do some verb conjugation on the hypocrisy of the right on this point. (“They’re reactionary fascists, you’re unreasonably censorious, I’m judicious in setting limits.”) Not, I hasten to add, that the left isn’t in hideous shape on this point.

I also mention the fact that few conservatives, in their review of the craziest of the libertarian batshits, Bryan Caplan, mentioned the obvious racial implications in his book The Case Against Education. Hard to tell whether I was more infuriated by Caplan, who combines “let’s kill public education” with “let’s open the borders”, or the dozens of conservative media reviews that never mentioned the obvious racial implications of his policies. I wrote a whole series on Caplan’s book, as I found it exceptionally dishonest when it wasn’t just being facile: How Did We Get Here?,  Pre-Employment Testing, Toe Fungus Prevention,How Well Are Americans Educated? and the one in which I go through the ramifications of Caplan’s policies on black Americans,  Average Was Always Over.

What Murray didn’t mention, and I was surprised Steve Sailer didn’t, is that there’s a perfectly good political reason why conservatives don’t acknowledge the racial dimensions of cognitive ability. Conservatives and libertarians all want to destroy public schools. And by “conservatives”, I generally mean it’s an openly expressed Republican policy, one that actually isn’t shared by the conservative think tanks that focus in on education in any responsible way. Rick Hess, Robert Pondiscio, and Nat Malkus aren’t thrilled with public schools and they support charters and vouchers (at least I believe they do), but they don’t call for the wholesale elimination of public schools. More importantly, Republican voters don’t share this disdain (check out the EdNext poll–barely 50% of Republicans support charters, for example, and that’s one of the higher numbers.) But among Republican and conservative politicians and media it is entirely normal to hold that public schools are sewers of inadequacy and incompetence. Current buzzwords: “let the funding follow the student not the building”, and all that.

Or there’s this recent example by Governor Ducey of Arizona announcing summer school for low-performing kids:

That’s why the plan is to hire teachers who work in schools currently graded A, B or C, though there may be some outreach to teachers in lower-rated schools who have a proven record of performance.

“We’re going to find a way to take people that are skilled in the profession, allow them to make additional funds, and bring our kids up to grade level,” the governor said.

I could write a whole article on the gefukt thinking behind this comment. Teachers in A, B, or C schools aren’t generally any better; they just have smarter students.  They will be far less able to deal with low-performing students. And oh, by the way, summer school won’t bring kids up to grade level. Behind it all is the assumption that low-performing kids are the result of low-performing teachers.

Needless I totally disagree with this position, and think most of the people espousing an all choice system in which parents spend government dollars on private schools haven’t….quite thought through all the ramifications. Or cost. But leave that aside.

You can’t call schools failing and useless and horrible and all that and then talk about different racial group cognitive abilities.  You can’t rail at teachers for failing to close the achievement gap and then say   yeah, well, some of that gap might be cognitive. Kills the moment.

So politically, in order to keep at playing Charlie Brown to the teachers’ union’s Lucy, the whole conservative political and elite class have to ignore any possibility that schools are, actually, doing a pretty good job once you control for IQ.

Second point: towards the end of the podcast, Steve Hayward asks about the possibility of Asian and Hispanics shifting more towards the GOP, “now that Trump is gone”–which is weird, because Trump did better with Hispanics and blacks than any GOP president since Bush at least, so one would think they’d say “build on Trump’s success”, but ok. The particulars of the Asian vote change revolved around the open discrimination they face in elite school admissions.

I keep meaning to write more about this, but I think Steve Sailer will understand what I mean: Republicans should think carefully about openly courting Asian voters, at least using the rhetoric I keep hearing. As Steve used to say, Republicans could go for increasing the Hispanic vote or increasing their white vote. SImilarly, chasing the Asian vote by pushing for admissions-based testing without fixing the many problems with it might just hurt the GOP percentage of the white vote around the edges.

A while back I almost wrote a piece called Everybody’s Second Favorite, that was going to include this passage:

But a school that’s 50% Asian or black  and the other half majority white will in a few years be 80% Asian or black.  Whites don’t hang around for blacks or Asians, in my experience. (emphasis mine this time round.)

Next, whites do tolerate genuine racial diversity well, probably because there are fewer cultural distortions that arise with both Asians and African Americans.  I can think of a number of 30-30-30-10 schools that hold on to those numbers for a decade or more.

“White flight” from Asians has been around for 20 years or more, long enough for the Wall Street Journal to notice it back in 2005. I wrote recently about the decline in white applications to the eight NYC specialized high schools. Whites and Asians are both about 15% of the NYC public school population, have roughly the same admission rate to the specialized high schools, but Asians apply at twice the rate that whites do. Whites just don’t want to go. Bloomberg’s choice programs allowed people who found the Asian culture at these schools unpleasant to set up their own “soft” choice programs. I found a second dataset for another test-based admissions high school, and will be publishing pretty soon, I hope. (I have a day job, so take “soon” with some salt.) Asian test prep that goes on for years and years, not a few weeks, sets up what I believe are false positives but we can argue that point later.

By all means, Republicans should actively pursue growing their Asian vote, but I don’t advise doing it by giving Asian immigrants what they want in public schools, because what they want generally turns off all American parents, particularly white ones. And one rule of public education that also works with politics is don’t piss off the white folks. There are plenty of ways to improve public education and university admissions without discriminating against Asians or rewarding several years of test prep. Talk about those.

Oh, and by the way, don’t talk to Asians or Hispanics about how stupid the Democrats were to cave to teachers unions to close the schools, since all categories of non-whites were (and probably are) far more supportive of remote education than whites, but that’s another article I’m working on.

Finally, Steve Hayward said they would be talking about college next week. Really? I hope not.

Again, great discussion. Looking forward to next week even if it’s about college.

Hey, got this done in under 24 hours. I should rewrite this but I’m tired, so it will have to do.


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.