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

Tuesday, February 22, 2022

Self-selected reading! Susan Ohanian in the LA Times

Feb. 21, 2022 LA Times

To the editor: As a longtime teacher of kids having difficulty in school, I’m worried about The Times’ description of new L.A. Unified School District Supt. Alberto Carvalho as a leader “acutely focused on testing and other data to improve school and student performance.”

I just worry about how much of that “other data” involves how much time kids spend freely reading books of their choice.

My class was grouped as the “lowest scorers” in third grade. We started the day with an hour of silent reading. The kids chose the books to read. As a teacher, I showed them lots of possibilities for good reading.

And I told my talkative principal, “No interruptions, please.” The kids, who’d probably never seen an adult reading, saw me read during that hour.

Individually, they wrote to their favorite authors. Imagine the thrill of having such stars as Jack Prelutsky and Beverly Cleary write back.

At the end of the year, every child except one scored at grade level or above on the sacred standardized test. Now, I only wish I had the data so important to Carvalho — the number of pages read by those kids in books they chose to read.

Susan Ohanian, Charlotte, Vt

Wednesday, February 16, 2022

Who Gave $184 Million to Hillsdale College in 2019-2020?

 Below is a clip from Hillsdale's 990 for the period ending June 2020:

Really? $184,000,000 in contributions and grants in one year to a small "liberal arts" college in a single year? Where, oh, where could all that money have come from?

We do know that the Kochs' Americans for Prosperity has an interest in Hillsdale's "classical" education model, as seen in this interview by AFP Foundation Florida's Lee Dury as he finds out more about Hillsdale's Barney Charter School Initiative from Hillsdale's Assistant Provost, Dr. Kathleen O'Toole. The money trail remains a mystery, however.

The same year that Hillsdale reported $184 million in contributions and grants on its 990, Governor Bill Lee traveled to Hillsdale to find out more about the Hillsdale Charter School Model. According to Hillsdale's President, Larry Arnn, Lee was so impressed that he asked Arnn to bring Tennessee some of that white Christian 19th Century book learning:

All of the classical schools with which we are involved, which number close to 50 now, pursue the aims in this Honor Code. There are wonderful citizens all over the country who have taken the lead in founding these schools alongside the College. Some of them are in public office, and here I single out Governor of Tennessee Bill Lee. About two years ago, he visited Hillsdale College to sit in my Aristotle seminar for two and a half hours and to learn more about our work with K-12 education. With the encouragement of the governor, we have undertaken to found several dozen schools in Tennessee alone. This is a mighty work. We will continue to help extend it everywhere.

Who sent Aristotelian Gov. Bill Lee to Michigan with an order for 50 new charter schools that Lee would like to place in TN public schools, rent free? Inquiring minds want to know.


Sunday, February 13, 2022

TN's Bill Lee Plans $32 Million for White Christian Nationalist Charter Schools

 . . . [Hillsdale] College values the merit of each unique individual, rather than succumbing to the de-humanizing, discriminatory trend of so-called “social justice” and “multicultural diversity,” which judges individuals not as individuals, but as members of a group and which pits one group against other competing groups in divisive power struggles (Hillsdale College 2018-2019 Catalog, p. 15)

Located since 1853 in Hillsdale, Michigan, Hillsdale College (HC) is a small Christian liberal arts college (think Greek, Judeo-Christian, and American traditions almost exclusively) with just under 1,600 undergraduates.

On the Hillsdale College 2021 catalog page headed "Hillsdale College Faculty Statement On Academic Freedom," the page is heavy with references to the College's commitment to "ordered liberty" and "moral order." Though "ordered liberty" is never defined, context clues point me to conclude that faculty are free to practice academic freedom as long as it coincides with the dictates of an administration bound to uphold a politically-conservative view of Trump-approved Christian principles and a staunchly Spartan conception of ordered liberty:

Hillsdale College affirms that academic freedom is bound up with a valuable legacy of other freedoms and duties. Among these are the following aspects of ordered liberty to be considered with their related moral and social obligations: freedom of worship; freedom in work; freedom in politics; freedom in the economy.

Hillsdale College affirms that all these freedoms are dependent upon the maintenance of a moral order; and that academic freedom in particular requires attachment to a body of truth, made known through the order and integration of knowledge. Of such truths the College is the conservator and renewer, and the primary function of the College is to transmit, through these truths, some measure of wisdom and virtue.

In short, if you want your students to read Marx, rather than a Hillsdale-approved detractor, you'd better ask the President first. 

Back in the good old days when white patriarchy, unregulated capitalism, and scientific racism went unquestioned, Hillsdale College, which was given its name by Freewill Baptists in 1853, was free to run the lives of its students as Baptist clergymen saw fit. Male and female students, for instance, who wanted to walk together on campus during the 1850s, had to first seek permission from the College President or the Dean of Women to do so.

In some ways, though the upstart Hillsdale College in the early days was a progressive outlier.  Its founders were largely abolitionist teetotalers, and one faculty member was active in the formation of the Republican Party in 1853. More importantly, anyone, "irrespective of nation, color, or sex" could seek an education at Hillsdale. Many of its students fought for the Union Army during the Civil War, and Hillsdale was the first in Michigan and the second in the U. S. to “to admit women on an equality with men.”  

Today, enrollment numbers show pretty equal representation between women and men (just under 1,600 total), even though 90 percent of students enrolled in Hillsdale's only PhD program in Political Thought are men.

By the 1960s and 70s, however, any vestiges of progressivism were swept away when students at Hillsdale and elsewhere began receiving federal college assistance.  With federal aid came requirements for federal record keeeping and accountability, which Hillsdale refused to do when faced with the mandate to file reports required under Title IX.  

Hillsdale went to court, and in 1984 the College was handed a final defeat in the courts on the matter of federal reporting requirements. Having grown increasingly hostile to federal reporting requirements, the Trustees decided to cut ties with any federal funding, which included refusing student attendance when that attendance required students to pay their way with federal grants or loans.

You can imagine how this decision made Hillsdale's white student body even whiter. But we really don't know how white, unless we go there and do a head count, since HC does not report any racial or ethnic numbers publicly. (After a search through most of the web pages of HC's website, I could find zero photos of black or brown students, though I did see one Asian student).

In terms of faculty diversity, HC ranks 3,627 out of 3,790 American colleges, according to College Factual--which puts HC in the bottom 10 percent.

Today, the progressive outlier that was once Hillsdale has morphed into and defensive bastion of white right-wing Chritian activism.  Its early Republican founders who were largely abolitionists have been replaced by Goldwater, Nixon, and T---p era Republicans devoted to preserving white rights under the guise of liberty and freedom, which is essentially anti-government when government is involved in enforcing federal statutes and regulation in ways that chafe against the "freedom" to discriminate . 

Here is some representative rhetoric from HC's page, "Civil Rights in American History:"

The Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Rise of Affirmative Action

The understanding of civil rights in America has been transformed fundamentally since Congress passed the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The view that every individual has a right to equal treatment under the law has been replaced by a system of affirmative action that demands race be taken into account in the pursuit of equal group outcomes.

Identity Politics Today

Identity politics holds that America is fundamentally and irredeemably racist. This ideology, which has become dominant in American public life, requires discrimination in order to elevate and privilege the identities of the oppressed.

To alleviate any doubt about the partisan nature of Hillsdale College's efforts to free itself from the bondage of federal mandates such as the Civil Rights Act, Title IX, ADA, U. S. Equal Employment, LGBT protections, etc., here is the latest affirmation of Hilldale's hostility to any such encumbrance.  Note that the Obama Administration is called out, specifically:

Resolution of the Board of Trustees

WHEREAS the Board of Trustees and Administration of Hillsdale College have been entrusted with, and are determined to uphold, the original and great principles and mission of the College as set down over 165 years ago by its founders; and

WHEREAS those principles and that mission require the College to provide “sound learning” to all willing
students, and to do so in a way that perpetuates the “blessings of civil and religious liberty” and “intelligent
piety” in the land; and

WHEREAS the entanglement of the federal government in the financing of colleges and universities, and the
consequent regulation of these institutions by federal agencies, violate the idea of limited government embodied in the Constitution; and

WHEREAS such violations are inherently corrupt, as seen in attempts of the Department of Education to compel
Hillsdale College to count its students by race, in direct violation of the noblest principles of the College and of America; and

WHEREAS the Obama Administration and Congress today appear, even more than the worst of their
predecessors, bent on extending federal control over American higher education and other areas of American life; now therefore be it

RESOLVED that Hillsdale College will continue zealously to defend and uphold, against all threats and
inducements, its independence from federal government financing and federal government regulation; and be
it further

RESOLVED that the Administration of Hillsdale College, with the support of the Board of Trustees, will
continue to provide not only the finest liberal arts education, but also national leadership in promoting the principles of liberty across the land, and to pursue these aims in strict avoidance of all subsidy from the federal taxpayer.

Now it is obviously difficult to square this high-sounding resolution, especially the last sentence, with the College's tax-exempt status, which relieves it from federal and state tax obligations on any of its net assets worth more than $1.25 billion. There's lots of dark money going to Hillsdale each year.

Hillsdale College's president is Larry Arnn, who was paid $1.2 million in salary and bonuses in 2019.  Arnn received his Masters and doctorate from Claremont Graduate School.  After being granted a PhD in 1985 from Claremont, he founded and served President of the right-wing Claremont Institute for the next 15 years. He remains a Trustee of the Heritage Foundation.

Hillsdale's resolve to pursue "strict avoidance of all subsidy from the federal taxpayer" is particularly puzzling, since Hillsdale is now providing the T_____-approved curriculum and instructional model for charter schools that could not exist without the public per-pupil expenditure that the Hillsdale Model charter schools receive.

Do you remember the 1776 Report, which was the work of T____'s 1776 Commission to attempt to undercut the 1619 Project?  The 1776 Report provided a partial K12 social studies curriculum that was meant as the whitest of whitewashes on the Pulitzer-winning 1619 Project, which had successfully spawned a K12 curriculum that includes the actual history of slavery in the story of America's past.  

Besides conservative ideology and a palpable animosity to cultural diversity, affirmative action, and social justice, what pedagogical expertise undergirds the 1776 Curriculum? And what is the connection to Hillsdale?  To the first question, we must answer, not much; to the second question, almost everything.  

T----'s Chairman for this 1776 Report was none other than Hillsdale President, Larry Arnn, who chose Carol Swain, retired right wing Vandy professor of law (think Clarence Thomas in a dress), as his Vice-Chair.  The Executive Director is Arnn's right-hand man at Hilldale, Mathew Spalding, who is Hillsdale VP in charge of Hillsdale's DC operations.

The President’s Advisory 1776 Commission
Larry P. Arnn, Chair

Carol Swain, Vice Chair

Matthew Spalding, Executive Director

Phil Bryant

Jerry Davis

Michael Farris

Gay Hart Gaines

John Gibbs

Mike Gonzalez

Victor Davis Hanson

Charles Kesler

Peter Kirsanow

Thomas Lindsay

Bob McEwen

Ned Ryun

Julie Strauss

The 1776 Report provides the ideological foundation for the 1776 Curriculum, which is meant to provide an antidote to the fact-based inclusive portrayal of American history.

Dr. Kathleen O’Toole, Assistant Provost for K-12 Education at Hillsdale College, gave NWEF a statement about the Hillsdale 1776 Curriculum: 

“The Hillsdale 1776 Curriculum represents a culmination of the endeavors of decades of forming and honing curriculum at Hillsdale College, Hillsdale Academy, and its dozens of associated K-12 charter schools, bringing together and producing a content-rich curriculum that covers both American history as well as American government, politics, and civics,” O’Toole said.

If you haven't already figured out why Gov. Bill Lee would choose this particular outfit as his unqualified choice to lead his new charter school initiative that would drain 32 million pubic dollars from the public schools just to get 50 new charters up and running, then you haven't been paying attention to Lee's complete subservience and unqualified fealty to the former President. Lee believes that schools must produce more patriots, and patriots must be miseducated by conservative propaganda.  

Bill Lee must be sent packing in November.  You think?

Tuesday, February 08, 2022

Cash to Poor Families and Early Childhood Brain Activity

In a randomized controlled study, new research finds "causal impact" between decreasing poverty and increased brain activity of young children. 


This study demonstrates the causal impact of a poverty reduction intervention on early childhood brain activity. Data from the Baby’s First Years study, a randomized control trial, show that a predictable, monthly unconditional cash transfer given to low-income families may have a causal impact on infant brain activity. In the context of greater economic resources, children’s experiences changed, and their brain activity adapted to those experiences. The resultant brain activity patterns have been shown to be associated with the development of subsequent cognitive skills.


Early childhood poverty is a risk factor for lower school achievement, reduced earnings, and poorer health, and has been associated with differences in brain structure and function. Whether poverty causes differences in neurodevelopment, or is merely associated with factors that cause such differences, remains unclear. Here, we report estimates of the causal impact of a poverty reduction intervention on brain activity in the first year of life. We draw data from a subsample of the Baby’s First Years study, which recruited 1,000 diverse low-income mother–infant dyads. Shortly after giving birth, mothers were randomized to receive either a large or nominal monthly unconditional cash gift. Infant brain activity was assessed at approximately 1 y of age in the child’s home, using resting electroencephalography (EEG; n = 435). We hypothesized that infants in the high-cash gift group would have greater EEG power in the mid- to high-frequency bands and reduced power in a low-frequency band compared with infants in the low-cash gift group. Indeed, infants in the high-cash gift group showed more power in high-frequency bands. Effect sizes were similar in magnitude to many scalable education interventions, although the significance of estimates varied with the analytic specification. In sum, using a rigorous randomized design, we provide evidence that giving monthly unconditional cash transfers to mothers experiencing poverty in the first year of their children’s lives may change infant brain activity. Such changes reflect neuroplasticity and environmental adaptation and display a pattern that has been associated with the development of subsequent cognitive skills.

This latest finding is consistent with a body of research that shows direct correlations between family wealth, family income, school funding, and child academic achievement levels.  

It is sickening to think that monthly federal tax credit payments to families with children have been discontinued due to white privileged intransigence among anti-democrats.  The cutting of child poverty in half, which the program promised to accomplish in just a few years, could have been the greatest education reform of the past half century--if education reform were actually meant to help the disenfranchised, rather than holding them accountable for the educational problems that the white power establishment created.