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

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.