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

Thursday, June 15, 2023

Bipartisan Opposition to PGA Merger with the Saudi Bone Saw Tour

I used to enjoy a lazy afternoon of watching golf on TV, but the PGA proposed deal to be taken over by murderers and terrorists has put that pastime on what could be a permanent hold if the the deal goes through.  Could it be possible that it won't? From The Guardian:

The proposed merger will not only face opposition from senior Democrats such as Wyden and Richard Blumenthal and Chris Murphy of Connecticut but also Republicans who have expressed discomfort with it, as well as a vocal and important lobby of family members of victims of the 9/11 terror attacks on the US, who said in a recent statement that they had been “betrayed” by the PGA’s decision to reverse course and agree to a deal.

Education Tax Dollars for Christian Nationalist Indoctrination

 From NEPC Newsletter

In Texas, a charter school uses creationist science texts; the section that covers the origin of life states, “In the beginning God created the Heavens and the Earth.”

At a charter school in North Carolina, students recite a daily oath that requires them, among other things, to avoid “overreliance” on “rational argument.”

At another—in Arizona—students in an eighth-grade history class were asked to list the positive aspects of slavery.

And in Colorado, one charter chain advertised a preference for hiring unlicensed teachers, and permitted employees to carry guns at work, in direct violation of the policy of the school district that authorized the school.

These are just a few examples cited in a new report about an expanding group of “classical” charter schools that embrace Christian Nationalism—defined in the report as viewing Christianity as a cultural and tribal identity that began with the founding of the nation and as imbued with a resentment that the world won’t stop changing. The report is titled, A Sharp Turn Right: A New Breed of Charter Schools Delivers the Conservative Agenda.

Charter schools receive public funds but are not required to abide by the same rules as regular public schools.

Charters that advertise themselves as “classical” or “traditional” tend to emphasize “early and mid-20th century values, pedagogy, and curriculum,” write the report’s authors, journalist Karen Francisco and NEPC Fellow Carol Burris, executive director of the Network for Public Education, which published the study.

Francisco and Burris used keyword and name searches to identify 273 existing charter schools that “offer a classical curriculum and/or have websites designed to attract white conservative families.” Nearly half (47 percent) have opened since the inauguration of former President Donald Trump in 2017. The authors also identified 66 new schools scheduled to open in the next year.

Demographically, these schools look very different from the charter school population as a whole. While 29 percent of charter school students nationwide are white, more than half the students at the “right-wing” charters identified in the report are white. Just 17 percent of the right-wing charter school students qualify for the federal free or reduced-price meal program for lower-income families as compared to 48 percent of all charter school students.

The charter schools flagged in the report typically describe their curricula as “classical,” “back-to-basics,” or a combination of the two. Common instructional approaches include adopting curricula that stresses rote memorization; avoiding history lessons that portray the experiences of non-white, Christian populations, or portray the United States in a less than flattering light; and restricting required reading to books written by white men.

Christianity is a major focus—sometimes including Bible study, teacher-led prayers, and the singing of hymns.

The schools’ operational models also set them apart. For-profit companies run 29 percent of these schools—a rate nearly twice as high as is found in the overall charter sector.

Moreover, Francisco and Burris cite multiple examples of fraudulent practices engaged in by these right-wing charter schools, including self-dealing involving founders renting their own properties to charters at inflated rates, a “pay-to-play” model in which donations to a nonprofit charter school operator gave for-profit businesses an opportunity to sell their wares to the schools, and a scheme to create a hollow (fake) charter school whose only function was to funnel public funds into private religious schools.

“Charter schools took a sharp turn right and now serve a purpose never imagined by their early proponents,” Francisco and Burris write. “The only question that remains is whether moderate, progressive, and liberal-minded voters and politicians recognize where the runaway charter movement is headed.”

Wednesday, June 14, 2023

Europe Steps Out Ahead Again on Tech Guardrails

This article today at WaPo illustrates the political and moral chasm between the U.S. and the European approach to protecting its citizens and the rest of the world against the grave harms that are in store for humanity unless international agreements can be hammered out to establish case-hardened boundaries for the development and spread of AI and antisocial media. 

In the WaPo story we have the Europeans celebrating passage of the EU AI Act, which moves the Continent closer to hard and fixed parameters for AI R&D by tech giants and entrepreneurs, alike. The legislation would 

. . . ban systems that present an “unacceptable level of risk,” such as predictive policing tools, or social scoring systems, like those used in China to classify people based on their behavior and socioeconomic status. The legislation also sets new limits on “high-risk AI,” like systems that could influence voters in elections or introduce harms to people’s health.

The legislation would set new guardrails on generative AI, requiring content created by systems like ChatGPT to be labeled. The bill also requires models to publish summaries of copyrighted data used for training, a potential impediment for systems that generate humanlike speech by scraping text from the internet, often from sources that include a copyright symbol.

The story also has real villains like the greedy bastards of Silicon Valley, who respond with threats that American AI companies "may be forced to pull out of Europe, depending on what’s included in the final text."

The story contrasts the difference between Europe's process of regulatory policy making with the U.S. system.  Whereas the former has been working for some years now to develop guidelines that allow companies to innovate and make money while safeguarding humanity, we have the latter who are just beginning to straggle into a Schumer-sponsored meeting on the Hill where about half of the Senators showed up wanting to know what AI means. As Schumer noted, American politicians "have a lot to learn."

Meanwhile, some U. S. politicians are concerned that the U. S. will fall behind the Europeans in development of regulatory policy, while others (guess which party) are more concerned about losing the lead in "incentivizing the creation of more AI technology" than they are about protecting humanity.

Some things never change. Until they do, of course.

Tuesday, June 06, 2023

The DeSantis Final Solution for Public Schools

 While the Yalie would-be dictator, Ron DeSantis, has declared that he is Governor of the state where “woke goes to die,” more and more Americans increasingly view Florida as the state where businesses don’t go to relocate and where families don’t go to vacation or live anymore.

Does DeSatan care? Nah, he plans to be President when the bills for his authoritarian, racist, and homophobic policies come due for Florida taxpayers.

The latest budget crushing initiative is a case in point. DeSantis has pushed through school voucher legislation that will hand out an $8,500 voucher to any family in the state, whether poor or mega-wealthy status. And it doesn't matter if the private school reaping the benefit of Florida taxpayer generosity have accreditation, physical adequacy, qualified teachers, libraries, transportation systems, or playgrounds. As for the Constitutional issue of publicly-funded church schools, don't be silly.

Will this plan spell the end of public education in Florida? If not, school boards and parents across the state are likely to face a previously-unimaginable level of churn and chaos in whatever remains of public schools.

And how will private schools respond? Many will see this as an opportunity to rake in millions of extra dollars by raising tuition, as this news story has found already in Tampa.

As for that old-fashioned question regarding the educational value of school vouchers, the research hasn’t changed. It may be a good time review some of that research, even if, for now at least, it is less relevant in making policy than it has ever been in history.  

“Apples to outcomes?” Revisiting the achievement v. attainment differences in school voucher studies

The summer of 2022 has seen a flurry of legal and policy efforts to expand publicly funded private school choice programs. These include: the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Carson v. Makin, which ruled that voucher programs cannot exclude religious schools; Arizona’s creation of a near-universal voucher program; and various state-level actions, such as a ballot initiative led by Betsy DeVos to create a tax credit-based voucher program in my home state of Michigan.

Joshua Cowen

Professor of Education Policy - College of Education, Michigan State University


I, and many others, have studied voucher programs for a number of years now. After more than two decades of research on vouchers, a general pattern has emerged in the results.

The effects of voucher programs on student attainment (how long students persist in school/college) appear at least somewhat positive while the effects on student achievement (what students know as measured by standardized tests) appear very negative. Voucher advocates also point to positive impacts on survey measures such as school satisfaction or safety as well, but studies employing these outcomes vary in quality and method and are not generally included as a major evaluation focus.

It’s also important to understand the timing of this research. The early voucher studies—roughly 1998 to 2005—focused on programs that were generally city-based and relatively small (e.g., in Milwaukee) and found some positive effects on student achievement. This is in stark contrast to more recent studies that have shown clearly negative effects on student test scores in places where vouchers have expanded into large programs, such as Louisiana, Indiana, Ohio, and Washington, DC. Some of these negative effects have been extremely disconcerting.

The effects from Louisiana, for example, approach 0.5 standard deviations in math—more than double some estimates of even the COVID-19 pandemic’s effects on learning loss. These initially harmful test score effects often seem to persist over time, too.

On the other hand, a few of these studies have shown improvements on outcomes such as high school graduation or enrollment in college (e.g., in Milwaukee and Washington, DC).

This leaves us with a bit of a puzzle. How can we reconcile findings that voucher programs lead students to perform worse academically with research suggesting they might also lead students to persist longer in school?

As a researcher on vouchers since 2005, I’ll offer a few possible explanations.

First, I believe the positive effects on attainment are often overstated. Apart from the genuinely large effects of the small program in Washington, DC, the positive effects on attainment in the literature are very modest in size (especially compared to the shockingly significant negative effects on test scores). This includes our initial findings from Milwaukee. Notably, too, our slightly positive findings on college enrollment in Milwaukee are partly a story of students from Catholic high schools entering Catholic colleges, which raises questions of whether these gains might come more from networking than increased educational productivity. In fact, the studies that track students for the longest periods of time—from New York City and Milwaukee—find that any attainment effects fade away as students work their way through college. There’s little evidence of voucher impacts on rates of college persistence or graduation.

Second, for the most part, the seemingly inconsistent effects on attainment and achievement come from different students, schools, and/or places. That is to say this literature generally does not come from a single group of students who experienced both negative effects on their test scores and a boost to their persistence in school. In some cases, this is because the attainment and achievement studies come from altogether different cities or states. In other cases, it’s because they come from different students attending different schools within the same site. For example, in Milwaukee, we studied achievement effects primarily in grades 3-8 and attainment with a separate cohort of 9th graders (with limited follow-up for students in earlier grades). This leaves us to speculate whether the positive attainment results are driven by some private high schools that are succeeding in ways that their private primary school counterparts are not.

Third, it’s worth noting that private schools—especially if not subject to rigorous state guidelines or oversight (as most are not)—might be able to improve graduate rates by simply lowering their standards and making it easier to graduate (in ways not available to public schools). Some writers have argued that public secondary schools prefer graduation as an accountability measure because those rates are easier to manipulate than test scores. If that is true, the same logic applies at least equally, and probably more so, to private schools that are marketing themselves to would-be consumers. This story would also help explain why voucher students are generally no more likely to persist in college.

This potential tradeoff between attainment and achievement, if it even exists, isn’t just an academic argument. Parents have to make decisions about which schools their children attend—maybe more than ever if private school choice programs continue to expand. And we have some data on what parents actually value. We know from voucher application data in Washington, DC and New Orleans (that is, based on the characteristics of the schools they actually choose, not what they say in a survey) that academic quality is the dominant determinant of private school choice. Other factors like distance from home to school, safety, religious education, or after school programs matter too, but private school parents still appear to overwhelmingly prioritize the academic success of their child.

All of this leads me to suggest that it’s time to reframe the question that has been guiding the debate on voucher effects. That question has been, “Which outcome matters more, achievement or attainment?,” with some voucher advocates arguing forcefully against paying much attention to test scores. Instead, maybe we should be asking, “What would it take to offset the dismal learning loss induced by vouchers?”

Joshua Cowen is a Professor of Education Policy in the College of Education at Michigan State University. He also currently serves as a research advisor to the new federally mandated evaluation of the DC Opportunity Scholarship (voucher) Program.