"A child's learning is the function more of the characteristics of his classmates than those of the teacher." James Coleman, 1972

Monday, February 22, 2021

Biden's Blockheaded Approach to Teachers and Covid

Everyone wants schools open, particularly teachers engaged online with disengaged children online. But teachers, being the selfish sort they are, would like live out their lives, rather than dying alone while a machine pumps air into their Covid-melted lungs.  

The Biden Administration messaging on reopening schools that would be safe for teachers and staff has been the biggest mess I have seen from what, otherwise, appears to be a well-oiled machine on top of most of the chaos left by T---p.  Yesterday's appearance by Jen Psaki did not help:

“The CDC is saying in order to be safe, there are a number of steps that can be taken. Vaccinating teachers is one of them,” Psaki said Sunday on ABC’s “This Week,” before listing an array of other measures, including smaller class sizes, separating children on school buses, providing personal protective equipment to schools and making testing facilities more available.

“Our secretary of education will work with school districts to implement that,” Psaki continued. “So [teachers] should be prioritized. But our science experts are saying it’s not a prerequisite and that’s the guidelines that we follow.”

Let's face it: school systems already crushed by underfunding do not have the resources for this "array of other measures." And they won't have the resources until weeks or months after the Covid relief bill is passed and signed by the President.  So stop pretending, okay?

If Team Biden wants schools reopened, teachers protected, and parents happy, then sign an order to get money immediately to states to vaccinate teachers.  States will do it if they have the money to do it.  How could such a simple solution turn out to be so confounding!

Monday, February 01, 2021

Part 2: Red State Governors Pick Up Where DeVos Left Off

More than 15 years before the Trumpers arrived in DC to initiate the latest "back to basic stupidity" era in all things social, cultural, economic, and intellectual, there was another Republican, George W. Bush, who had his own particular backwards fixation, which found its way into education policy in general and K-3 reading instruction in particular. 

Following his appointment to the Presidency by the Supreme Court in December 2000, Bush's first big initiative was No Child Left Behind, and reading instruction was the centerpiece of that legislation. 

In shaping NCLB reading policy, Bush leaned heavily on NIH neuropsychologist and self-declared reading guru, Reid Lyon, who viewed learning to read "the right way" as important for neural wiring as it was for academic success.  In a 2002 speech, Lyon told a group of Maryland teachers that "[w]e have to realize that education has to take on the same importance as medicine. . . . Teachers are the best brain surgeons around, the best at developing the nervous system." 

Lyon's enthusiasm for regimented phonics instruction as the best way to hard-wire receptive, convergent learners was matched by his animosity toward professional teacher preparation and research-based methods for teaching reading that go beyond . Just two months after Lyon spoke to Maryland teachers about the importance of their craft, he said this at a national policy forum:  "If there was any piece of legislation that I could pass it would be to blow up colleges of education."

Five years later, however, Lyon was helping to launch a for-profit college of education focused on preparing reading teachers the way God and Reid Lyon intended (my bolds): 

What I learned at NIH and what guides our course development at American College of Education is that children's brains can literally be molded, changed, by the teaching they receive. Our goal now is to close the gap between our science tells us about learning and what our teachers apply in the classroom. A graduate degree from American College of Education means that teachers know the science behind how children learn.

Despite five years and over $5 billion spent on Reading First federal discretionary grants that were used to cajole, pressure, and bribe school systems to adopt and implement direct phonics instruction methods, DOE's own research, in both the interim and final reports, showed that Reading First was a big flop. From the NCEE Final Report Summary

The findings presented in this report are generally consistent with findings presented in the study's Interim Report, which found statistically significant impacts on instructional time spent on the five essential components of reading instruction promoted by the program (phonemic awareness, phonics, vocabulary, fluency, and comprehension) in grades one and two, and which found no statistically significant impact on reading comprehension as measured by the SAT 10. 

To add insult to Lyon's injury, a 2007 study by the federal "What Works Clearinghouse" found that the only reading program to pass muster in all reading domains was one that Reid Lyon and the Reading First goons had excluded for its lack of fidelity to the reductionist catechism preferred by right-wing code breakers. From Education Week:

Just one program was found to have positive effects or potentially positive effects across all four of the domains in the review—alphabetics, fluency, comprehension, and general reading achievement. That program, Reading Recovery, an intensive, one-on-one tutoring program, has drawn criticism over the past few years from prominent researchers and federal officials who claimed it was not scientifically based.

Federal officials and contractors tried to discourage states and districts from using Reading Recovery in schools participating in the federal Reading First program, citing a lack of evidence that it helps struggling readers.

The bankruptcy of current education reform initiatives is evident in ongoing attempts to resuscitate explicit, phonics-based methods that seeks to convert learners into compliant code breakers and rule followers, thus using neurological and behavioral patterning to influence children's brain functions. Phonics fanatics believe this can be done "during the reading initiation phase." 

Part 3 will examine the latest efforts to impose the antiquarian science of reading in South Carolina and Tennessee.

Sunday, January 31, 2021

Red State Governors Pick Up Where DeVos Left Off, Part 1

It's easy to make a case that Donald Trump was the least informed, least effective, and most racist President since Woodrow Wilson. And it is even easier to do same for his "utterly unqualified" Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos.

Now that a competent and less racist Administration has saved the Nation from international shame and a domestic nervous breakdown, it is up to red state governors to push forward with the kinds of cruel, bigoted, corrupt, and Christian fascist initiatives that DeVos's hedge fund social planners pushed forward to gain the slimy seal of approval from the criminally-degenerate Trump.

Take Iowa, for instance, where Trump loyalist, Gov. Kim Reynolds, along with the Trumper legislature, is seeking to expand school privatization with publicly-funded "scholarships," i. e., schools vouchers, and a new state charter school law.  The legislation would also expand textbook tax credits, which will provide more private school and home school indoctrination materials for K-12 students who don't attend Iowa's historically-great public schools.
The State of Iowa also plans to make sure that public schools do not teach the social, political, and economic history of slavery in America, a subject that has never been adequately presented in standard school texts--and certainly not in the conservative doctrinaire curriculum now used in many of the Trump-loving "Christian" schools that operate with public financing. 

Specifically, the proposed legislation cancels the use of a history curriculum, the 1619 Project, developed by Iowa native and Pulitzer Prize winning investigative journalist, Nikole Hannah-Jones.  The 1619 Project essays have been rolled into a curriculum project made available by the Pulitzer Center and are free to the thousands of schools in the U.S. that now use the materials.  
Even so, the Iowa Trumpers plan to withhold education funds from any school that uses the materials from the 1619 Project:
NEW SUBSECTION . 5A. A school shall not utilize any United States history curriculum that in whole or in part is derived from a project by the New York Times, known as the “1619 Project”, or any similarly developed curriculum.
In a recent report on the textbooks that are widely used in much of red state America, education reporter, Rebecca Klein, noted:
. . . a 2017 HuffPost investigation found that about one-third of Christian schools participating in private school choice programs used a curriculum created by these two publishers [BJU Press and Abeka] or a similar company called Accelerated Christian Education, amounting to around 2,400 schools. The number of schools using these company’s products that do not participate in a voucher program likely amounts to thousands more. (Voucher programs allow students to use taxpayer funds to attend private schools.)

If all this were not enough to boost her white pride polling numbers, Reynolds and her legislative counterparts want to do what they can to reestablish segregation in schools by allowing students "to transfer out of schools with a voluntary or court-ordered diversity plan."

Part 2 will have a look at what's going on in SC and TN school politics to alleviate the fears of white nationalists.

Friday, January 22, 2021

Gov. Bill Lee to Sacrifice Third Graders to Help Him in 2024?

Revised January 24, 2020

Prior to this week, the last time a Tennessee governor brought the General Assembly into Special Session to pass education legislation was January 2010, and it was all about getting more federal money to pay for the schools that state politicians are unwilling to support.  

Responding to call by Gov. Phil Bredesen (D), the TN legislature quickly met in January 2010 and passed into state law the necessary policies that would make the state a shoo-in for a half-billion dollar federal grant to be provided by Obama's Race to to the Top (RttT).  A core component of Tennessee's half-baked program was to use the money for a test score based teacher evaluation scheme, which added to Tennessee's reputation as an educational laughingstock.

Just this week, Governor Bill Lee (R), has ridden herd over another special session on education, this one ostensibly to address 1) what educational snake oil salesmen call the Covid-related "learning loss," and 2) the reading proficiency emergency at Tennessee's elementary schools.

Since "learning loss" scam is covered in this recent post, let me focus for a moment on Bill Lee's other manufactured crisis, reading literacy. 

Less than two years ago, Lee's Commissioner of Education, Penny Schwinn was providing this spin on recent NAEP results for Chalkbeat:

Tennessee jumped from 34th to 25th in fourth-grade math and moved up three spots to 31st in fourth-grade reading, according to calculations provided by the state education department. For eighth-graders, Tennessee now ranks 30th in both reading and math, up from 38th and 35th, respectively.

Legislation introduced this week by Lee's team adopts an entirely different spin on reading proficiency by TN students:

(3) In 2019, Tennessee's third grade English language arts proficiency rate was thirty-six and nine-tenths percent (36.9%);

(4) In 2019, Tennessee's eighth grade English language arts proficiency rate was twenty-seven and one-tenth percent (27.1%); and

(5) In 2019, Tennessee ranked thirty-first in the nation in fourth grade reading proficiency and thirtieth in eighth grade reading proficiency.

A couple of things are notable about these claims.  First, there are no third grade proficiency rates provided by NAEP.  Grade 4 rates, check.  Grade 8 rates, check.  No grade 3.  

Second, the mendacious and misleading NAEP proficiency rates cited by Lee's folks are simply wrong: 4th grade proficiency in 2019, according to NAEP, was 35%, and 8th grade proficiency was 32%.  

The reason that Lee's henchmen want to mislead the public with manufactured scores for 3rd graders is explained here by Amy Frogge:

. . . here’s the biggest concern about the “learning loss” bill: It will require districts to hold back third graders who are not deemed “proficient” in standardized testing. (Proficiency rates can be manipulated by the state through cut scores.) If you google the term “Mississippi miracle,” you will find that Mississippi used this very same trick to create the appearance of a sudden increase on NAEP test scores. Holding back low-performing third graders creates the illusion of huge one-time testing gains, and implementation of the bill would take place just in time for the 2023 NAEP tests. This is not about best serving the children of Tennessee; it’s about gaming the system. Furthermore, the costs for holding back large numbers of third graders, as mandated by this bill, would be astronomical.

It's not as if we don't know the harmful effects of grade retention on children.  We do.  Even so, Lee up for, um, a presidential bid? in 2024, and he has consciously decided to sacrifice the welfare of Tennessee's poorest children, who inevitably will comprise the vast majority of 3rd grade failures, for the PR boost that he hopes voters will attribute to his miraculous education interventions, just passed.

Saturday, January 16, 2021

ProPublica's Amazing Trove of Videos from Jan. 6 Capitol Insurrection

From ProPublica:

ProPublica is a nonprofit newsroom that investigates abuses of power. Sign up to receive our biggest stories as soon as they’re published.
As supporters of President Donald Trump took part in a violent riot at the Capitol, users of the social media service Parler posted videos of themselves and others joining the fray. ProPublica reviewed thousands of videos uploaded publicly to the service that were archived by a programmer before Parler was taken offline by its web host. Below is a collection of more than 500 videos that ProPublica determined were taken during the events of Jan. 6 and were relevant and newsworthy. Taken together, they provide one of the most comprehensive records of a dark event in American history through the eyes of those who took part.

Here is the link.

Sunday, January 10, 2021

Recommending: Time to End Tax Breaks for Charter Schools and The Ultra-Rich

“The same day he revealed Cardona as his education nominee, it was announced Biden rehired Reed as deputy chief of staff, despite pre-emptive protest from progressives…” — Jake Jacobs

Educator and writer Jake Jacobs has written an excellent essay that not only explores some of Joe Biden's more questionable appointees, but also curates all of the highly profitable school privatization schemes that the billionaire class have built into their charter heist laws and programs. The piece is entitled Time to End Tax Breaks for Charter Schools and The Ultra-Rich.

Of note is how the essay describes many of TOP­čĹ«‍♀️COP Kamala Harris' connections to various techbros, all of whom profit mightily at the public expense. Hope you find the essay as useful as I did.

Sunday, January 03, 2021

Curriculum Associates, "Learning Loss," and Corporate Gain

Curriculum Associates (CA) started in a garage in 1969 with four employees, and for twenty years the company marketed supplementary basic curriculum materials to K-12 school systems.  In 1989, the original head of the company, Frank Ferguson, saw the testing accountability writing on the wall, and he expanded the focus of the company into the assessment market with the creation of TEST READY®  Mathematics.  

In 2008, Ferguson stepped down as CEO and hired Rob Waldron, who had previously run Kaplan's after-school tutoring division, which was funded in the early 2000s by billions of NCLB federal education dollars that ended up in corporate coffers.  This is a clip from a 2008 Harper's article by a former Kaplan employee:

In New York City, Kaplan provides NCLB- mandated tutoring for the high school Regents exams and the subject exams administered to students in the third through eighth grades.) Many educators argue that the gains from prep courses are negligible and the programs themselves ultimately harmful, since they drain precious funds and class time. A recent Chicago Public Schools study examining student performance on the Iowa Test of Basic Skills found “little difference between tutored students and those who were eligible but did not receive tutoring.” The price tag for supplemental tutoring in Chicago, which 60,000 students received in the 2004–2005 school year: $50 million.

In Waldron's first year as CEO at Curriculum Associates, CA did $26 million in business. By 2020, CA was doing $260 million a year and was in the top 10 education publishers in the world. 

You see, CA was one of the first companies to see the gargantuan profit potential in Common Core.  In 2008, the company aggressively created and marketed print materials aligned with Common Core. 

Then in 2011, CA entered the computer based assessment and personalized learning market with i-Ready, a diagnostic and instructional tool, once again Common Core based, that put CA in the education industry big leagues.  

Meanwhile, Frank Ferguson, who remained active in the company, decided to turn philanthropist and donate the value of his CA shares in the company.  Rob Waldron was able to find a buyer in Berkshire Partners, where he had previously worked, and in 2017 Ferguson handed over his $200 million to two causes.  Iowa State University received three-fourths of the cash, and the Boston Foundation (a needy organization, for sure) received the balance.

So now Berkshire Partners is a partner of Curriculum Associates, even though Waldron remains in charge of operations.

In October, 2020, Waldron became the only education market CEO to be named to the newly-formed CEO Council for the global Association of Test Publishers (ATP). 

So it is not surprising, then, that McKinsey and Company's insipid report on "learning loss" in reading and math during the Covid pandemic depends upon unreliable and invalid data supplied by, you guessed it, Curriculum Associates. The data are taken from formative diagnostic test results gleaned just after school resumed Fall 2020, which purports to identify student groups who are two grade levels behind.  

And what is grade level, and who determined it?  Well, of course, grade level is determined by criterion-referenced diagnostic tests that mirror Common Core grade-level assumptions, the same tests that Curriculum Associates sells and the same ones Rob Waldron would like to see purchased by every school in the U.S.--rather than just the 30 percent of them that have bought in so far.

Expect Curriculum Associates to expand its role as a major player in the next generation of racist and classist standardized tests and teacher-proof instructional materials.

Thursday, December 31, 2020

The Good News and the Bad News on Miguel Cardona

First the good news.  Cardona's has deep experience as a teacher, school administrator, and state education commissioner. He understands public school culture, and he understands the challenges of growing up short on privilege.  

Cardona will be the first Secretary of Education to understand the kinds of school environments and programs that allow English learners to thrive while becoming proficient in English and keeping up academically.  As such, he is an advocate for bilingual and dual language programs, which have been shown by an established body of research to be the most effective and efficient strategies for educating English learners.

Cardona believes that all children and teens should have a voice in shaping their own schooling and not be forced in the college-for-all-regardless mold.  Cardona will likely be an advocate for the kind of K-12 magnet schools where students attend based on interests.

Cardona will likely be a strong civil rights advocate and a supporter of integrated schools.  We don't know, however, if he will be the first Secretary since the federal department was created to take seriously the research on the importance of racial and class integration, social capital, and diversity among faculty.

In addition, we don't know how how much Cardona is willing to focus on the importance of the education debt owed to the children of the poor, rather than being fixated, as most admins are, on the testing achievement gap, which has been used as a cudgel for 40 years to beat down teachers and children whose test scores don't live up to the world class expectations of white philanthropists but, rather, realistically reflect the disadvantage of living in a racist and classist society.  In short, we don't know if Cardona will embrace accountability for the continued segregated living and learning of brown and black kids of this nation--embrace it with the same fervor that his predecessors at ED have clung to the corrupt racism of testing accountability.

And then there's the bad news of Cardona's obvious agnosticism in regards to charter schools, which is an admission that he likes things just as they are or likes them enough to embrace the status quo of 7,500+ charter schools, which are draining off $30 billion public dollars every year to operate an alternate segregated system of punishing corporate reform schools. Probably the most telling comment so far about Cardona's take on charters comes from a charter chain CEO:

“I haven’t found him to be pro-charter or anti-charter. It doesn’t seem like he’s focused on governance and structure. What he is focused on are great schools for kids. And I think just more broadly, I haven’t found him to be driven by ideology and politics,” said Dacia Toll, the chief executive officer of Achievement First, which operates the largest network of charter schools in Connecticut and also has schools in Rhode Island and New York.

Not a good sign.

Wednesday, December 30, 2020

Outgoing Administration Admits Charters are not Public Schools

The latest executive order by troglodyte Trump tacitly admits that charter schools are *NOT* public schools. We all knew that, but it's nice when the vile privatizers tell on themselves. *

While it is good to see DeVos and Trump on the way out, there's little to hope for with Biden. It's already been announced that right-wing, neoliberal hatchetman Bruce Reed will be Biden's Deputy Chief of Staff, and the choice of seemingly apolitical Miguel Cardona is probably for a reason.

At the end of the day Biden was part of the second worst administration for education. The damage doltish Arne Duncan did prior to Trump is what opened the door for DeVos in the first place.

DeVos = Duncan + Dominionism *