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

Friday, February 24, 2017

Marsha Blackburn Contracts Trump Lying Virus

Despite the fact that Marsha Blackburn comes across as a Southern version of Sarah Palin (without the charm or intellect), some very creative gerrymandering of the 7th Congressional District in Tennessee has made Blackburn's seat in Congress safe, at least for now.

Like many Republican (and Dem) Congressional reps home for the first time after capitulating principles in favor of Trumpism, Blackburn faced many boos and some tough questioning at her town hall this week in Fairview, a hamlet just west of Nashville.

Following the lead lie by her boss, Trump, about townhalls packed with non-constituents, Blackburn followed suit Wednesday night when she told CNN:
“A little bit less than one-third in the room were actually very (sic) constituents of mine,” the Brentwood Republican told interviewer Anderson Cooper, according to a transcript of the show.

“We had a couple – several that identified themselves as from being outside of the district, a couple from Nashville, one from Murfreesboro,” Blackburn said.
Apparently, Blackburn has forgotten that her district runs from the Kentucky to the Alabama state line and as far west as the white eastern suburbs of Memphis.  If she bothered to host town halls where her constituents live, folks would not have to drive across the state to get their questions answered.  

Or maybe Blackburn did not know that Fairview's mayor polled the crowd prior to her arrival, and found that almost every soul at the town hall was from Blackburn's district.  Or maybe Blackburn has contracted the insidious and highly-contagious lying bug that Trump and Bannon brought to DC a month ago.

Monday, February 20, 2017

Yolie Flores Aguilar email colluding with charter school executives

“PLEASE don’t forward this email. simply state it in your own words.”—Yolie Flores Aguilar

Corporatist Yolie Flores always puts privately managed charters first.This email was addressed to some 60 individuals, including myself, on February 4, 2017. While its authenticity is not absolutely certain, I have researched the email addresses in the email body and they all seem legitimate. The content is consistent with the language that these charter school executives use both in public and internal conversations.

Yolie Flores Aguilar was an employee of the infamous Gates Foundation (of ALEC and Discovery Institute donation fame) while she sat on the LAUSD Board. She brought a resolution to give away new schools built with taxpayer dollars to privately managed charter school corporations.

Here Flores colludes with several well paid charter executives to avoid public mention that her resolution (inappropriately named Public [sic] School Choice) was essentially a real estate bonanza for the lucrative charter school sector. Marco Petruzzi and Ben Austin of Green Dot/Parent Revolution, Judy Burton of Alliance, Mike Piscal of ICEF are the big names in this secret missive. The lot of them have been plagued by scandals, but most of them are still profiting mightily from the charter industry.

Flores is currently running for U.S. Congress. If she's capable of this sort of duplicity and malfeasance while on a school board, imagine her in another position of power to further serve her corporate masters. Arch-reactionary Betsy DeVos would love to have more neoliberal Democrats that support her school privatization agenda of charters-vouchers. DeVos already has corporatists like Corey Booker in her thrall, Yolie Flores would be no different.

The second document should help authenticate this email chain. It's an email from Dr. Danny Weil with Yolie Flores Aguilar's <itsyolie@sbcglobal.net> email address in the to field. I recall she had a blog by the same name (i.e. "itsyolie"), and remember seeing emails from her from that address back in that era.

Yolie Flores Aguilar email colluding with charter school executives by Robert D. Skeels on Scribd

Dr. Danny Weil email with Yolie Flores Aguilar's <itsyolie@sbcglobal.net> email address by Robert D. Skeels on Scribd

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Decaying Buildings and the Rise of Digital Education

by Wrench in the Gears

“DeVos doesn’t think we should be funding school buildings as much as students.” The line caught my eye as I scrolled through social media this weekend. How could it not? I’ve been working hard over the past year to try and convince other education activists that the true endgame of the reform movement is to make school buildings obsolete. So I listened to the video of DeVos speaking to attendees of the Magnet Schools of America National Policy Training Conference in Washington, and there it was at timestamp 11:40: “I don’t think we should be as focused necessarily on funding school buildings, as much as we should be having a conversation around funding students.”
DeVos, being from Michigan, surely knows the deplorable conditions students in Detroit face daily trying to access a free and appropriate public education. And Detroit is not alone. Parsons completed a Facility Condition Assessment for the School District of Philadelphia last month identifying $4.5 billion in deferred maintenance. Over $1 billion of that total involves life safety, code compliance, health hazards, accessibility, and security issues. Think about that. We are asking vulnerable children and school staff to enter buildings that are not safe five days a week, while at the same time the Secretary of the US Department of Education is proclaiming we should not be funding school buildings.

This week I also came across a legislative forecast for Educational Savings Accounts (vouchers) prepared by Jeb Bush’s group Excellence in Education. The info-graphic accompanying the report indicated that my home state of Pennsylvania was one of 13 states identified as having a 75+% chance of implementing ESA legislation in the coming year. Our schools are already in an incredibly precarious financial position after years of austerity budgets and onerous debt service. The combination of intentionally unsafe buildings and ESAs will likely end up pushing more families out of the public school system with devastating consequences for those who remain.

Following on the “don’t invest in buildings” comment was another doozy from Jonathan Swan’s conversation with DeVos featured in Axios “I expect there will be more public charter schools. I expect there will be more private schools. I expect there will be more virtual schools. I expect there will be more schools of any kind that haven’t even been invented yet.” And while some chuckle over that last line, I’m pretty sure she’s talking about “Learning Ecosystems” which exist in concept right now, if not execution. The decentralized cyber-based education model with community drop-in centers would be consistent with her support of market-driven choice and tech-based educational content delivery, as well as her disdain for neighborhood schools being anchors in their communities. In a 2013 interview with Philanthropy Roundtable DeVos noted, “One long-term trend that’s working in our favor is technology. It seems to me that, in the Internet age, the tendency to equate “education” with “specific school buildings” is going to be greatly diminished.”

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Let's Slow Down the Faster Future

Whiplash: How to Survive Our Faster Future, Joi Ito, Director, MIT Media Lab & Jeff Howe
Grand Central Publishing 2016

Kirkus calls this book “exhilarating and authoritative,” two cybergurus offering a “user’s manual to the twenty-first century.”  As a longtime teacher, I find the manual to be flawed. I was interested in the authors’ observation that the failure of Microsoft’s  professionally designed Encarta encyclopedia contrasted with the success of Wikipedia’s amateur-led platform as examples of  push-pull consumerism, with suppliers “pushing” goods toward consumers and consumers “pulling” goods according to their needs, with  Encarta being push and Wikipedia pull. Similarly, AOL, with its traditional push approach originally faltered and Twitter’s pull flourished.

Certainly it’s not surprising that the director  and visiting scholar at the MIT Media Lab would be cheerleaders for technology, but I guess I’m too old to embrace  Moore’s law, which the authors explain thusly: “everything digital gets faster, cheaper, and smaller at an exponential rate,” and this results in “wearable computers. Robots building robots.” We are told that we live in exponential times and “Change doesn’t care if you’re ready.”

 One assertions strikes me as particularly whacky. The authors  insist that compasses are way more useful than maps. “A map implies a detailed knowledge of the terrain, and the existence of an optimum route; the compass is a far more flexible tool and requires the user to employ creativity and autonomy in discovering his or her own path…..a good compass…will always take you were you need to go.” I’d say it depends on where you are and where you want to go. I’m comfortable watching the compass when my hand is on the tiller only  because of my husband’s careful study of  the charts that have given him  detailed knowledge of  the shallows and hazards of Lake Champlain.

It seems astounding that authors who have extolled compasses over maps can be so enthusiastic about KIPP schools, gushing,“KIPP schools have achieved admirable results in communities saddled with failing public schools. They focus on discipline, longer school days, and a steady diet of math, reading, writing, and homework.” The authors choose to ignore devastating research by scholars such as Professor Jim Horn whose Work Hard, Be Hard: Journeys Through “No Excuses” documents what it’s like to teach and be taught in KIPP with its straightjacket classroom conditions. No compasses here, only strict schedules that must be obeyed. With breathtaking and heartbreaking examples, Horn shows that teacher behavior becomes reminiscent of subjects in Stanley Milgram’s infamous experiments—all to produce a corps of Blacks who obey orders.

The authors intone about the importance of maintaining “a culture of creative disobedience,” emphasizing that human systems are most resilient at their most diverse. In promoting the assertion that all kids should learn coding, the authors nod toward research showing that “people learn best when they can connect the things they’re learning to their interests, their personal relationships.” After all, the Media Lab did much to promote this. Think of Seymour Papert, the educational theorist, and Logo.  But not for those kids, who need to bark on command.

I can’t think of any school policy further from the Whiplash trumpet of “nonlinear innovation that can act quickly to the kind of rapid changes that characterize the network age.” For a reality check, I would recommend Frank McCourt’s wonderful description of his first attempt at classroom management in  New York City. In Teacher Man he describes the chaos that ensues when  kids swipe a kid’s baloney sandwich and toss it around.  McCourt restores order by grabbing the sandwich, standing in front of the class, and eating it.

The authors insist “When you emphasize practice over theory, you don’t need to wait for permission or explain yourself before you begin. And once you’ve started, if your circumstances change or your development process takes an unexpected turn, you don’t always need to stop and figure out what happened before you go on.” Maybe being married to a theoretical physicist is what caused me to jump at  the first part of this assertion. Think Peter Higgs. In the 1960s  Higgs proposed a theory that could explain the origin of the mass of elementary particles.  Fifty-odd years later CERN announced that they had established the existence of a Higgs-like boson. Experimentally. Theory waiting a long time for practice to catch up.

Not to mention Einstein.

 I also thought of my own experience as a teacher whose classroom practice was transformed by  the “messing around in science” principle introduced by David Hawkins, founder of the  Elementary Science Advisory Center. Hawkins’ work emerged from well-developed child development theory and I drew on it to change the way I taught remedial reading.  Yes, I did need to ask permission before I started buying bones, pendulums, test tubes, and the like. And every day I  watched the children very closely, thinking about what kids were doing , figuring out what it meant, and where and when I could give a nudge. When inspectors from the New York State Education Department came to see why the children’s standardized reading scores had soared, what they saw in practice left them more bewildered than when they had arrived.  I am sure they would have understood a KIPP classroom.

The authors promote some educational principles I applaud, but they are too quick to dismiss public schools and the teachers in them. Years ago, an education foundation hired me to travel the country looking at how elementary teachers were struggling to change the way they taught math. Visiting classrooms in twenty-eight states and looking closely at what was going on taught me that just because teachers weren't doing things my way didn't mean they weren't doing good in addition to doing well. The resulting book was titled Garbage Pizza, Patchwork Quilts, and Math Magic: Stories about Teachers Who Love to Teach and Children Who Love to Learn. It was named "best book for parents" by Child Magazine.

Frank McCourt noted that in all his years of teaching, only one parent asked, "Is my child happy in school?" And when he said yes, she expressed approval and left. That's all she wanted to know. It was a big plenty.

It’s a question all parents should ask. Teachers, too.

Susan Ohanian

Trump Makes Cover of Time Again!

Maher: "While you're watching the clown screw the pony, they're breaking into your car."

Maher's opening monologue is worth 7 minutes:

The rest of the show I can't recommend, except for the part where Larry Gilmore tells nazi defender of child sexual abuse, Milo Yiannopoulos, to "go fuck yourself."  

Yiannopoulos breaks many molds that shatter at least two expectations of white liberals, who would rather see this sad, self-hating dude disappear from the Earth: first, white gay guys aren't supposed to parade Hitlerian ideology and attack the LGBT community.  Second, alt-right media outlets are not supposed to hire gay ideologues.  

I don't see why people are surprised, really.  

If the Third Reich had happened 80 years later, no doubt we would have seen the same kind of social progress that Breitbart has now put on full display.

Friday, February 17, 2017

States Use ESSA to Accelerate Online and Blended Classrooms

When the ESEA was boiled down into a racist states rights version, labeled ESSA, and quickly passed, it was Diane Ravitch and her loyal ghostwriters who hailed the new law as a huge success. 

She even gave Lamar Alexander's office nine (9) separate opportunities to sell the high tech and charter incentive stimulus bill as the greatest federal funding event since 1965, when ESEA was originally passed.

The world found out later, of course, that ESSA had been the preferred deal cut by the Clintons and their corporate funders.  AFT, NEA, FairTest, and NPE had been trotted out to sell it, and sell it they did. 

Now the chickens are coming home to roost, and we hear nothing from Ravitch and the Clintonians about how god-awful this ESSA piece of dreck really is. 

Ravitch and her sheeple are spending all their time jabbing at their DeVos voodoo dolls and poring over their extended blog posts that try as they might to distinguish bad privatization (for profit online charters) from good privatization (nonprofit blended charters).

Will someone ask Ravitch, Monty, Randi, Lily, and the rest of the zombie resistance gang to explain once more why they supported ESSA?  Or the benefits of hooking up children to more alienating and isolating total surveillance computer screens, even as their teachers wander the classroom feeling inadequate, guilty, and cut off from their students? 

New report linked here from Yahoo Finance page on states' plan to expand depersonalized learning through ESSA. 

Even Fox News Can't Take It Anymore

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Such is the future of education: On hiring exclusively adjunct faculty

Fictitious letter of recommendation from Julie Schumacher. 2014.  Dear Committee Members: A Novel. p. 77. Anchor Books

Alex Ruefle has prevailed upon me to support his teaching application to your department, which I gather is hiring adjunct faculty members exclusively, bypassing the tenure track with its attendant health benefits, job security, and salaries on which a human being might reasonably live. Perhaps your institution should cut to the chase and put its entire curriculum online, thereby sparing Ruefle the need to move ... You could prop him up in a broom closet in his apartment, poke him with the butt end of a mop when you need him to cough up a lecture on Caribbean fiction or the passive voice, and then charge your students a thousand dollars each to correct the essays their classmates have downloaded from a website. Such is the future of education.

The Dubious Claims by the TN Dept. of Education

Tennessee politicians enjoy a long, sordid history of underfunding public schools, crying about poor education quality, making outrageous demands of students and teachers, and complaining about federal interference while begging for federal grant stashes to keep state school doors open. 

One of those big stashes of federal cash is about to run out in 2019 unless state politicians can gin up a good reason for extending the Gear Up TN, a 7-year grant awarded in 2012 "that aims to expand the college-going culture in Tennessee and empower students to succeed."  

This program, which focuses largely on counseling high school students into college and career fields that fit the needs of corporations receiving huge public incentives to locate in Tennessee, is worth $29,590,281 to state politicians, who, by the way, are unwilling to ask TN's wealthy elites or said corporations to pay a fair share to educate Tennessee children.

And so recently the TN Department of Education (TDOE) manufactured a report that claimed that 30 percent of TN's high school graduates had skirted high school requirements, as established in 2010 by Business Roundtable honchos with the U. S. Diploma Project.  Could this be the reason why so many kids drop out of college, the State asks.  How could this happen! 

According to TDOE, it would seem that quite overnight the State realized that Tennessee school counselor corps falling down on the job, along with administrators and teachers who should act as counselors when counselors can't keep up.  And thank goodness, too, for Gear Up TN.  Where would the state be without it!! 

Obviously, TDOE never guessed that someone might challenge their phony claims that were published in this glossy report.  And as you might guess, TDOE never asked local school boards or superintendents to help verify the shocking statistic that 30 percent of graduates were not taking required courses to graduate.

Well, a local superintendent did challenge the fake numbers and came up with quite a different set of numbers.  The news spread, and now the TDOE phony data has been exposed:
While state officials continue to check districts’ data, it appears that more than 70 percent of what looked like missing requirements were in fact data errors. Thirty percent of the time, students had actually been allowed to graduate without taking required courses — meaning that only about 12 percent of graduates overall had not met requirements.
TN Ed Commish, Candace McQueen, added this bit spin that somehow does not restore confidence:
McQueen said the state is taking several steps. At the top of the list, she said, is working with the companies that manage student information to improve data entry.
Does anyone know which companies she is talking about?  Are these the same companies that produced the Report?  How reliable or secure is this student data?

How embarrassing for Haslam's coterie of dissemblers at TDOE.  How will they now justify another $30 million of Gear Up TN federal welfare grants to fund what fiscal conservatives won't pay, themselves?  Surely, one of the State's contracted data mercenaries can come up with something.