I will protect your pensions. Nothing about your pension is going to change when I am governor. - Chris Christie, "An Open Letter to the Teachers of NJ" October, 2009

Friday, December 30, 2016

The Attacks on Teacher Tenure Still Don't Make Sense

The attacks on teacher tenure keep on coming -- and they're as illogical as ever. From the Partnership for Educational Justice:
Newark, NJ—Earlier this month, the New Jersey State Department of Education released state and district level educator evaluation data from the 2014-15 school year. The data revealed that Newark employs more ineffective teachers than any other district in the state and more than five times the number of ineffective teachers in Camden, the district with the second highest number. In the 2014-15 school year, 2.4 percent of New Jersey teachers taught in Newark, but in the same year:
  • More than half (53.3 percent) of the state’s ineffective teachers were in Newark
  • Less than one percent (0.9 percent) of the state’s highly-effective teachers were in Newark
  • Additionally, 12.4 percent of Newark’s teachers received a less-than-effective rating, which was nearly eight times the statewide average (1.6 percent)
If we're going to buy into these numbers, we have to make a whole bunch of assumptions: that data suppression isn't a factor in the skew, that Newark's teacher evaluations are equivalent to other districts', that the unmistakable bias in Student Growth Percentiles isn't affecting these outcomes, etc.

But let's set all that aside for the sake of argument and agree that Newark has an inordinately high percentage of ineffective teachers compared to other districts. What's the solution, according to PEJ?
Despite carrying far more than its fair share of ineffective teachers, most teachers in Newark were rated effective, and 321 Newark teachers were rated highly effective in 2014-15. Recognizing that some of these effective and highly-effective teachers are at risk of losing their jobs while Newark Public Schools continue to employ a disproportionate number of ineffective teachers, six Newark parents filed a lawsuit on November 1, 2016, challenging the constitutionality of New Jersey’s quality-blind teacher layoff law. Under the current statute, when budget reductions force school administrators to lay off teachers, they must do so based only on the date teachers started in the district, with the newest teachers losing their jobs first. In districts like Newark, this “last in, first out” (LIFO) law forces school districts to lay off some of their best teachers while keeping ineffective ones. Newark Public Schools currently face budget cuts that will reduce state funding to the district by nearly 69 percent. [emphasis mine]
OK, hold it a minute:

Maybe the problem for Newark's schools isn't teacher tenure or seniority -- maybe the problem is persistent underfunding and the pernicious effects of charter school proliferation.

Newark has been screwed out of the state aid it should be getting according to the state's own law year after year. It suffers further injury thanks to the "hold harmless" policies of charter school funding the state imposes. And it can't access some of its potentially largest generators of revenue because of the state constitution's restrictions on school funding; essentially, Newark suffers from an inability to tax itself to raise money for its own schools.

Newark's schools are run by a State Superintendent, Chris Cerf, who has the power to veto the wishes of the duly elected school board. This past month, Cerf overrode the board's vote to dismantle the "One Newark" universal enrollment system, which puts the school district in the weird position of promoting charter schools at the expense of its own enrollment.

All of this is forcing the district to conduct layoffs, regardless of the wishes of local citizens. And yet the PEJ thinks gutting tenure and seniority rights -- not just for Newark, but across the entire state -- will somehow fix Newark's woes.

What makes this especially bizarre is that PEJ admits that funding does matter:
The six Newark parents who filed HG v. Harrington have also filed a motion with the New Jersey Supreme Court to intervene in Abbott v. Burke, a decades-old school funding lawsuit. The Newark parents’ Abbott motion, which is also supported by Partnership for Educational Justice, opposes the State of New Jersey’s request to remove the current court order for extra education funding to 31 high-need school districts, including Newark, paving the way for significant funding cuts to these same districts.
So PEJ says districts with large numbers of children in economic disadvantage -- who generally can't raise enough local revenue by themselves because their property values are too low -- should get more state aid. But they aren't getting the resources they need, and that's supposedly part of the reason districts like Newark have disproportionately high numbers of ineffective teachers.

PEJ's answer, however, isn't to concentrate on fixing differences in funding or student poverty; instead, they want to remove tenure and seniority from all New Jersey schools. Which will address these structural inequities by...

[chirp, chirp...]

I haven't shown this old table Bruce Baker made in a while:

Just a few miles from Newark, Millburn has some of the highest performing schools, public or otherwise, in the nation. The teachers there have tenure; they have seniority rights; they have union contracts. How does taking away these things away from teachers in both districts help reduce the inequities between them?

In other words, as I asked nearly six years ago: What is the independent variable?

A teacher who is effective in one district isn't always going to be as effective in another, for all sorts of reasons. So even if we could easily shuffle teachers between districts, there's no guarantee effective teachers in the 'burbs will be as effective in the cities. But let's, again, set that aside and ask: what does it take to get high-quality candidates to become teachers in districts like Newark?

As I've noted before, tenure has a value to teachers; take it away, and you'll have to replace it with some other form of compensation to attract good people to the profession. It's also worth noting that tenure and seniority don't just protect school staffs; they protect taxpayers and students, who benefit from having teachers who, once they've proven their worth, can stand up and defend their community's interests.

But who will want to teach in Newark -- a place whose schools seem to be a plaything for the politically ambitious -- without some level of protection against cronyism? Especially if wages remain the same as they were before tenure was gutted?

In Newark, teachers wait about 15 years before getting a significant bump in pay on the salary guide. Who will stick around that long if you can be fired under an innumerate and easily-gamable evaluation system the moment your pay goes up substantially?

For that matter: who wants to teach in a school with lead in the water? Where the buildings are unsafe and decrepit?

American History HS, Newark, NJ, 2011

Where staff face retaliation for speaking out?

If PEJ really believes "bad" teachers are concentrated in Newark, it ought to take a moment and reflect on why that may be. Teaching is hard enough; teaching at-risk children is even tougher. But teaching at-risk children in underfunded, unsafe schools is damn near impossible. If we want to make teaching in Newark more attractive, we should focus on making teacher working conditions -- which are student learning conditions -- better.

It makes no sense to blame the inequities between school districts on factors that they share in common, like tenure and seniority. We should be focusing on what is different if we want to equalize educational opportunity. The appellate court in California understood this, which is why they overturned Judge Rolf Treu's poorly-reasoned decision in the original Vergara case and found the state's tenure and seniority laws constitutional.

PEJ, under the direction of Campbell Brown, seems to think its best chance of gutting tenure is to shop around to different states and hopefully find another judge like Treu who is willing to buy into their arguments. They've got money to burn (and they won't reveal where it's coming from), so why not? If they can't make it work in California, maybe some judge here in Jersey will fall for their schtick...

But that isn't going to help Newark's students, who need safe, clean schools with well-paid, well-qualified teachers who can work free from political interference and cronyism. Gutting tenure does nothing to address the profound differences in the lives and schools of children living in different worlds; if anything, it will make those differences even worse.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Mapping "Kingdom Gain" Through School Vouchers

As I did in my last post, let's start with some quotes from our incoming Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos and her husband Dick, caught in a moment of candor:
However, the DeVoses also say public schools have “displaced” the church in terms of importance.

“The church — which ought to be in our view far more central to the life of the community — has been displaced by the public school as the center for activity, the center for what goes on in the community,” Dick DeVos says.

“It is certainly our hope that churches would continue, no matter what the environment — whether there’s government funding some day through tax credits, or vouchers, or some other mechanism or whatever it may be — that more and more churches will get more and more active and engaged in education," he said. "We just can think of no better way to rebuild our families and our communities.”

When asked why they don’t just spend their time — and money — funding Christian schools, Betsy DeVos said they want to reform the whole system to bring “greater Kingdom gain.” 
“We could give every single penny we have, everybody in this room could give every single penny they had, and it wouldn’t begin to touch what is currently spent on education every year in this country and what is in many cases … not well spent."
Now, this is not usually the argument for school vouchers that you will hear from the reformy types who push them; in fact, DeVos herself will usually sell vouchers under the free-market arguments of Milton Friedman and other pseudo-libertarians. In fact, in his best-selling 1980 book Free To Choose, Friedman argues that a voucher system that only applied to schools that weren't connected to churches would be "far superior to the present system." (p.164)*

There's scant little evidence that Friedman was right about the superior performance of these schools. And he made another prediction about vouchers in his 1962 best-seller, Capitalism and Freedom:
Our problem today is not to enforce conformity; it is rather that we are threatened with an excess of conformity. Our problem is to foster diversity, and the alternative [school vouchers] would do this far more effectively than a nationalized school system. (p. 97)
The desire for "Kingdom gain" expressed by the DeVoses isn't to be found in the advocacy of Friedman and his acolytes; then again, DeVos usually sells vouchers under the same free-market premise, as she did in this 2013 interview with Philanthropy Roundtable.
MRS. DEVOS: Well, I’ve never been more optimistic. Today there are about 250,000 students in 33 publicly funded, private-choice programs in 17 states and the District of Columbia. The movement’s growth is accelerating. Within the last year, the number of students in educational-choice programs grew by about 40,000. In 2012, we saw new programs in Louisiana, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Mississippi, and New Hampshire, and expanded programs in Arizona, Florida, Louisiana, Ohio, and Pennsylvania. In 2011, Indiana passed a major new statewide voucher program, which is only in its second academic year and is already enrolling nearly 10,000 children. We conducted polling in five states, and found educational choice enjoyed enormous popularity, especially among Latinos. 
This confluence of events is forcing people to take note, particularly because of the public’s awareness that traditional public schools are not succeeding. In fact, let’s be clear, in many cases, they are failing. That’s helped people become more open to what were once considered really radical reforms—reforms like vouchers, tax credits, and education savings accounts.
No talk of "Kingdom gain" here. Why, you'd almost think DeVos has learned to keep her true agenda quiet, for fear of alienating people -- particularly her allies in the cause on the political left -- who value the principle of separating church and state...

As I noted in my last post: when the Supreme Court, in Zelman v Simmons-Harris, found vouchers for religious schools to be constitutional -- in a tight 5-4 vote -- David Souter wrote a dissent that took the majority to task for engaging in "formalism." What he meant was that the Court could pretend that the Ohio voucher scheme in question was neutral when it came to religion, but the practical reality was that the religious schools completely dominated the program.

Is that still the case? As a practical matter, would public monies flow to religious schools -- specifically, Christian schools tasked with promoting "Kingdom gain" -- if a Trump/Pence/DeVos voucher program were implemented across the nation? 

Let's go to the data. As in my last post, I've matched state-level lists of private schools that accept vouchers/scholarships/whatever to the 2011-12 Private School Universe Survey (PSS) from the National Center for Educational Statistics. I concentrate here on some of the nation's largest school "choice" programs" Wisconsin, Indiana, Ohio, Louisiana, and Washington, D.C. My matches aren't perfect: there are time differences between some of the lists and the 2011-12 database, and not all schools on the voucher-eligible lists could be matched to NCES data. Still, we should be able to get a fairly good picture as to whether religious schools predominate in these programs.

Let's start with the Milwaukee, WI area, home of one of the country's largest and oldest voucher programs:

There are a few nonsectarian schools, three affiliated with Judaism, and a couple of Islamic schools. But the vast majority of voucher schools in Milwaukee are Catholic or affiliated with some other type of Christianity.

Here's greater Indianapolis, IN:

Within Marion County, I could only match one school that wasn't affiliated with some form of Christianity.

Here's Cleveland and Akron, OH:

Catholic and other Christian schools overwhelmingly dominate the "choices" of voucher schools in Northeast Ohio.

Here's greater Colombus, OH:

There are only two nonsectarian voucher schools in Franklin County, OH.

Cincinnati, OH:

There are very few non-Christian voucher schools to "choose" from in greater Cincinnati, OH.

New Orleans, LA:

Only two voucher schools in greater New Orleans, LA are not affiliated with Christianity.

Finally -- and this really is an interesting contrast -- here's Washington, D.C.:

The DC "Scholarship" program has been in flux for years, a victim of mismanagement and corruption. But it seems to be the exception when it comes to offering nonsectarian schools as "choices." That said...

Most of the nation's school voucher programs are overwhelmingly dominated by Christian schools.

There is very little evidence that nonsectarian schools will play a significant role in any expansion of vouchers under the Trump-Pence-DeVos administration. Instead, school voucher money will almost certainly flow inordinately toward Christian institutions.

This will be a radical shift in public policy. By using "choice" as its pretext, federal and state governments will be diverting billions of taxpayer dollars, used previously to support public education, toward Christian churches -- all advancing DeVos's goal of "Kingdom gain."

Everyone OK with that? More to come...

"Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God." - Matthew, 19:24.

* Friedman also makes a bizarre argument that public schools "...teach religion, too -- not a formal, theistic religion, but a set of values and beliefs that constitute a religion in all but name." This kind of facile, trite argument is worthy of a Fox News screaming head, and not an eminent economic scientist.

The plain truth is that Friedman was a remarkably shallow thinker on educational "choice"; he largely based his voucher advocacy on his authority as a Nobel Prize-winning economist, and not on any empirical evidence. I've got some formal work coming soon that delves into this further; stand by...


Aside from the 2011-12 NCES-PSS, here are the sources for eligible schools in various voucher programs:

Again: the matches are hardly perfect, the data is dirty, and it's survey data. Caveat regressor.

Monday, December 26, 2016

"Kingdom Gain" Through School Vouchers: It's Already Working

Why do our new Secretary of Education and her husband support school vouchers? Back in 2001, they were quite candid about it:
The billionaire philanthropist whom Donald Trump has tapped to lead the Education Department once compared her work in education reform to a biblical battleground where she wants to "advance God's Kingdom." 
Trump’s pick, Betsy DeVos, a national leader of the school choice movement, has pursued that work in large part by spending millions to promote the use of taxpayer dollars on private and religious schools. 
Her comments came during a 2001 meeting of “The Gathering,” an annual conference of some of the country’s wealthiest Christians. DeVos and her husband, Dick, were interviewed a year after voters rejected a Michigan ballot initiative to change the state’s constitution to allow public money to be spent on private and religious schools, which the DeVoses had backed. 
In the interview, an audio recording, which was obtained by POLITICO, the couple is candid about how their Christian faith drives their efforts to reform American education.
School choice, they say, leads to “greater Kingdom gain.”
The two also lament that public schools have “displaced” the Church as the center of communities, and they cite school choice as a way to reverse that troubling trend. [emphasis mine]
The DeVoses made these comments at "The Gathering," an annual conference of wealthy Christians that pushes a hard-right social agenda, including normalizing homophobia, destroying women's reproductive rights, and even denying climate science.

Certainly, the DeVoses buy into the idea that "competition" will improve schools -- but let's not for a second believe their school "choice" agenda stops there:
The DeVoses say in the 2001 interview that they adhere to the Calvinist perspective of Christianity. Richard Israel, a professor of the Old Testament at Vanguard University in California, said Calvinists see it as the work of Christians to influence culture. 
"Their view of the Christian mission isn’t to be in the fortress and hold out against the pagans, but to engage culture from a Christian worldview and transform it," Israel said.

At one point in their interview, the Devoses are asked directly if they want to "destroy our public schools."
"No, we are for good education, and for having every child have an opportunity for good education," Betsy DeVos says.

“We both believe that competition and choices make everyone better and that ultimately if the system that prevails in the United States today had more competition — there were more choices for people to make freely — that all of the schools would become better as a result."
However, the DeVoses also say public schools have “displaced” the church in terms of importance.

“The church — which ought to be in our view far more central to the life of the community — has been displaced by the public school as the center for activity, the center for what goes on in the community,” Dick DeVos says.
Now, I've been doing some research lately into the origins of school "choice" in America. Undeniably, the current choice movement has its origins in segregationist ideology in the South. I'll be saying a lot more about this later, but for right now, check out Jim Carl's Freedom of Choice: Vouchers in American Education and Kevin Cruse's White Flight: Atlanta and the Making of Modern Conservatism for the history.

As the 60s and 70s progressed, it became clear the "choice" movement wasn't going to be sustained by appealing to segregationists; another rationale had to be sold to the public. Enter Milton Friedman, the Nobel Prize winning economist whose 1962 best-seller Freedom and Capitalism contains the first widely-read argument for school vouchers presented in terms of market-style "choice."

This is the mainstream argument you'll hear these days for school vouchers: creating a market for schooling will improve education by leveraging competition. Friedman asserts that this is also the best way to address school segregation: the market will reward producers who establish integrated schools, and it will reward consumers -- in other words, parents -- who choose those schools.

Of course, time has shown that Friedman was dead wrong about this. But his market-based arguments have still had a profound effect on the way we talk about school choice: by hiding behind the rhetoric of the free market, voucher proponents can erase any of their ulterior motives, including segregation and "Kingdom gain."

Which raises an interesting question regarding vouchers: Have the school "choice" programs already in place -- programs that exist in part thanks to the efforts of Betsy DeVos -- led to "Kingdom gain"?

Let's go to the data. I'm relying here on the National Center for Education Statistics' Private School Universe Survey (PSUS). There are a few cautions I have to note: first, the latest survey data is from 2011-12. I wasn't always able to get the names of schools in the various voucher programs we'll look at for the same year; the best I could do is match the schools that were in the PSUS for the closest year that I could find a list of participating schools. Which means I might be missing some schools that were part of the voucher program in 2011-12, or I'm relying on data from the PSUS that's earlier than I can confirm a school's actual participation.

That said, I think we've still got a fairly good picture of what private voucher schools look like in terms of their religious affiliation for several of the largest voucher programs in the nation. Let's start with Indiana, which is the likely model for a Trump/Pence/DeVos school "choice" plan.

Over 97 percent of the voucher schools in Indiana are affiliated with a Christian religion. Only a tiny fraction of enrolled students attend a nonsectarian school (I could only match 7 schools to the NCES data).

Nearly 9 in 10 students enrolled in a Milwaukee "choice" school get a Christian education. The nonsectarian schools are represented a little better here, but not by much.

Here's Louisiana:

More than 9 in 10 students attending a Louisiana "choice" school are enrolled in a Christian school. Again, the nonsectarian schools are only a small fraction of the total number of schools participating.

Finally, Washington, D.C.:

Even in the nation's capital, the vast majority of students attending a "scholarship" school are enrolled in some sort of Christian school.

A few things to consider about all this:

- First, there is good reason to believe that at least some of the families that are "choosing" private schools are doing so for religious reasons. In most of these areas, there hasn't been a big growth in nonreligious schools to meet market demand.

- Which means it's quite likely these families would have "chosen" private schools anyway. So taxpayers aren't necessarily just shifting costs from public schools over to private schools; very likely, if the vouchers were discontinued, they wouldn't be paying for the public school education of many of the students who now receive vouchers. Which means it's quite likely a big expansion in school vouchers will actually costs the taxpayers more than they currently spend on schooling.

- The Catholic church is, by far, the biggest recipient of school voucher monies. But, given its decline in vocations, it's questionable whether the church could sustain a large growth in enrollment without access to more clergy to teach and administer in its schools.

Certainly, evangelicals like the DeVoses have had tricky relations with Catholics over the years. But even if we separate Catholic schools from other Christian denominations, it's clear those other schools have done well under the voucher schemes already in place. Unquestionably, churches will be the biggest beneficiaries of any new, national school voucher program.

In Zelman v Simons-Harris -- the 5-4 decision that found school vouchers are constitutional -- Chief Justice William Rehnquist wrote for the majority:
“In sum, the Ohio program is entirely neutral with respect to religion. It provides benefits directly to a wide spectrum of individuals, defined only by financial need and residence in a particular school district. It permits such individuals to exercise genuine choice among options public and private, secular and religious. The program is therefore a program of true private choice. In keeping with an unbroken line of decisions rejecting challenges to similar programs, we hold that the program does not offend the Establishment Clause."
But in his dissent, David Souter points out the majority is engaging in nothing more than "formalism":

“If regular, public schools (which can get no voucher payments) participate in a voucher scheme with schools that can, and public expenditure is still predominantly on public schools, then the majority’s reasoning would find neutrality in a scheme of vouchers available for private tuition in districts with no secular private schools at all. Neutrality as the majority employs the term is, literally, verbal and nothing more.”
In other words: When voucher supporters claim they are offering "choice" to families, but the vast majority of the "choices" are religious, it's simply disingenuous to claim that the government is not using public funds, through school vouchers, to support churches.

If DeVos, or Pence, or Trump, try to weasel their way out of acknowledging this reality over the next several months, they should be called out on it -- hard. The plain truth is that Betsy DeVos's beloved school vouchers are going to get her exactly what she wants: "Kingdom gain" at the expense of the American taxpayer.

Pretending otherwise is bearing false witness. More to come...

"Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God." - Matthew, 19:24.

Friday, November 25, 2016

What Can We Learn About Betsy DeVos From Her Husband's Charter School?

And so it begins:
It is hard to find anyone more passionate about the idea of steering public dollars away from traditional public schools than Betsy DeVos, Donald J. Trump’s pick as the cabinet secretary overseeing the nation’s education system. 
For nearly 30 years, as a philanthropist, activist and Republican fund-raiser, she has pushed to give families taxpayer money in the form of vouchers to attend private and parochial schools, pressed to expand publicly funded but privately run charter schools, and tried to strip teacher unions of their influence. 
A daughter of privilege, she also married into it; her husband, Dick, who ran unsuccessfully for governor of Michigan a decade ago, is heir to the Amway fortune. Like many education philanthropists, she argues that children’s ZIP codes should not confine them to failing schools. 
But Ms. DeVos’s efforts to expand educational opportunity in her home state of Michigan and across the country have focused little on existing public schools, and almost entirely on establishing newer, more entrepreneurial models to compete with traditional schools for students and money. Her donations and advocacy go almost entirely toward groups seeking to move students and money away from what Mr. Trump calls “failing government schools.”
Yes, elections do have consequences, and while I am much more fearful about what is going to happen to our foreign relations, our economy, and our planet under President Trump (can't get used to saying that...), DeVos's nomination makes clear that public schools will also get beat up but good over the next four years.

I'll let others take us through the history of Mrs. DeVos's war on public schools; instead, let me access some data I have immediately available to give us a little insight on what we can expect from the Education Department in the near future.

You see, Betsy and Dick Devos have money -- a lot of money. And while much of it goes into political activity, they do have a few pet projects worth looking at:
MRS. DEVOS: There are probably some funders who believe that charter schools are the be-all and end-all answer. To them, I would simply point out that charter schools take a while to start up and get operating. Meanwhile, there are very good non-public schools, hanging on by a shoestring, that can begin taking students today. Charter schools, on the other hand, take time and resources. Believe me. My husband started a charter high school.
MRS. DEVOS: Yes. Actually, it was my idea for him. He’s a pilot. He flies everything—jets, helicopters, you name it. And, of course, he’s been involved in educational choice for as long as I have. A few years ago, I asked him, “Why don’t you combine your love of flying and your love of education? You could start an aviation school!” And that’s exactly what he did. He started the West Michigan Aviation Academy, a charter high school located at the Gerald Ford Airport in Grand Rapids.
PHILANTHROPY: Talk about a niche.
MRS. DEVOS: It is! Of course, they have high academic standards, in order to prepare students for real-world careers in aviation, whether it’s as pilots, aeronautical engineers, or airport administrators. There are many opportunities in aviation, and if you can interest high-schoolers in those careers, you’ll find that they tend to focus more on their courses in math and science. This is the school’s third year, so we have 9th through 11th grades, adding another grade every year. Next year, they will see the first senior class. [emphasis mine]
It must be nice to be so rich you can just start a school, based on whatever theme you want, just for the hell of it...

West Michigan Aviation Academy is located in Kent County, Michigan; Grand Rapids is the county seat. The school's profile should be an excellent window into what DeVos sees as the ideal education system. In fact, DeVos herself would likely argue comparing WMAA to other schools within the county is more than fair:
PHILANTHROPY: Apart from increasing educational choice, what do you see as especially promising education-reform strategies?
MRS. DEVOS: I’m most focused on educational choice. But, thinking more broadly, what we are trying to do is tear down the mindset that assigns students to a school based solely on the zip code of their family’s home. We advocate instead for as much freedom as possible. 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. Within the right framework of legislation, that freedom will ultimately be healthy for the education of our kids. 
OK, then -- let's not confine ourselves to comparing WMAA to schools in its immediately neighborhood. Let's, instead, compare it to all of the high schools within its county. We'll start by looking at the school's student population relative to its peers (click to enlarge).

Dick DeVos's charter school has one of the lowest shares of special education students in its county.

Understand that Betsy DeVos is absolutely fine with this. In her opinion, we would be better off segregating children who "struggle" from those who do not:

50:50 "But there's also a contract that parents and students will sign that talks about what the expectations are for personal behavior and commitment to one's education and so forth. And some students self-disqualify, based on what expectations are communicated. 
"It is true that traditional public schools essentially have to take whomever comes through their doors. By the same token, I know that there are a lot of schools of choice in various forms -- whether they're private and parochial schools or charter schools -- that specifically look for students that have been troubled and struggling in another setting."
Let me be clear here: I don't have a problem with educational options for students who do not thrive within the traditional public school system. Nor do I necessarily have a problem with some students who have special needs attending schools specifically set up to address those needs.

But let's get a few things straight: schools that serve special student populations will almost certainly not perform as well on standardized tests as schools that don't serve those students. That does not mean they are "failures"; far from it. Further, schools that serve special education students need more resources to provide their students with an adequate education.

If you set up schools that do not serve many students with special needs, you will inevitably concentrate those students into other schools which must accept those students. DeVos herself admits this -- and yet she still praises the schools, like her husband's charter school, that place a burden on the rest of the system. For example:

Dick DeVos's charter school enrolls relatively few Limited English Proficient students. Again, there may be good cause to set up a school like Newcomers Community (on the far right of the graph), which has a very high LEP percentage. But many of the other traditional public schools are taking at least some LEP students; WMAA is not.

Again, we can debate whether it's a good idea to isolate many of these students from the rest of the community. But we all have to agree -- unless we're totally ignorant of the realities of school finance -- that schools serving more students with special needs must have more resources. One would think, therefore, that a school like WMAA, with its relatively small special education and LEP populations, wouldn't be spending nearly as much as the other high schools in the area.

One would be wrong:

Dick DeVos's charter school spends more on salaries for all employees per pupil than almost every other high school in its county. Hmm... well, Betsy DeVos says she wants to pay "good" teachers more. Maybe all that extra money is going into instructional salaries...

Or not:

Despite its high spending on total salaries, Dick DeVos's charter school spending on instructional salaries is fairly typical. Which leads me to wonder: where is all that extra money going? You'd think Betsy DeVos would be looking into this, because she's simply shocked at how profligate our nation's schools have become (from the video above):
30:09 The reality is our country, as a nation, spends more than every other country in the world per child on education, with the exception of, I think it's Luxembourg, a major economic force in the world (smirks). 
First of all, that's a grossly misleading comparison, for all sorts of reasons. But even if we set that aside, Mrs. DeVos, let me ask you: If we're spending too much on our schools, shouldn't your husband's own charter be showing us how to "do more with less"?

I can tell you on thing for sure: WMAA is not spending its money on maintaining a highly-experienced teaching force.

Teachers gain the most in effectiveness over the first few years of their careers; yet nearly half of the teachers at Dick DeVos's charter school have less than three years of experience. To be fair: WMAA is quite typical for charter schools in Kent County, most of which employ relatively large numbers of inexperienced teachers.

What's the takeaway here?

- Betsy DeVos says American schools are "failing," yet her husband's charter school, which she holds up as an exemplar, educates far fewer special education and LEP students compared to the other schools in the region.

- Betsy DeVos believes America's schools are overspending, yet her husband's charter school spends more on total salary than almost any other school in the region.

- Betsy DeVos says "choice" will unleash innovation and efficiency, yet her husband's charter school doesn't appear to put much of its spending advantage into actual instruction.

- Betsy DeVos says she values good teachers, yet her husband's charter school has a staff where nearly half of the teachers are inexperienced.

High spending schools, enrolling proportionally fewer students with special needs, taught by inexperienced teachers. That's Betsy DeVos's vision for American education -- just ask her husband.

Everyone OK with this?

I am, bigly!

Sunday, November 20, 2016

(Some) Reformsters Normalize Trump: Part II

You can count on Eva Moskowitz to never miss an opportunity to do one of two things:

1) Promote her brand.
2) Hobnob with the wealthy.

So there was no way she was going to pass up this two-fer:
Charter leader Eva Moskowitz hosted Ivanka Trump for a personal tour of a Harlem Success Academy school on Friday.
The morning excursion came one day after Moskowitz removed herself from consideration for U.S. Education Secretary under President-elect Donald Trump, saying she wanted to focus on the burgeoning charter network.
Moskowitz ascended Trump Tower to meet with the president-elect Wednesday but wouldn’t reveal if he offered her the position.
After meeting the clan patriarch, Moskowitz kept it in the family Friday and gave Ivanka a guided tour of Success Academy’s inaugural location in Harlem. The network now boasts a total of 41 schools.
Flanked by security, Moskowitz strolled into the building alongside her freshly established ally as school staffers looked on.
While Trump was greeted warmly at Success Academy, the visit raised eyebrows with employees at the public school it shares space with.
“Yet another downside of co-location,” quipped one staffer. “You’re exposed to this.”
Heh -- I wonder if the president-elect will demand via twitter an apology for saying that...
Moskowitz, an avowed Democrat, said she had voted for Clinton Thursday and had opposed Trump’s election.
But she said his pro-charter stance helped to ease her discomfort and that she hoped to assist him in developing policy that would benefit the sector. (emphasis mine)
Well, thank goodness Moskowitz's "discomfort" with having a xenophobic, unqualified, maniac president -- surrounded by a contemptible cast of racists, homophobes, misogynists, and anti-Semites -- has been "eased."

And all it took was the promise of a few more charter schools!

I wonder if all of Eva's students and their families are as sanguine about the next four years as she is...

I and others have repeatedly gone over the tactics Moskowitz's charter chain, Success Academies, uses to game its scores: massive test prep, attrition without backfilling, a churn-and-burn faculty working very long hours, and tons of extra spending thanks to Eva's ties to Wall Street.

Those ties to big money had already established connections between Trumpworld and Moskowitz's burgeoning charter empire -- but I think there are actually some deeper connections worth noting.

Because as Moskowitz has shamelessly promoted herself, she's invited unwanted scrutiny. Which means that, unlike many other charter chains who carefully control their public image (for example...), we've been able to get a better sense of what actually goes on inside the Success Academies.

And it ain't pretty.

"Got-to-go" lists. High suspension rates, even for the youngest children. Vindictive actions against families who challenge the schools' public image. A learning environment so disturbing staff felt it needed to be recorded surreptitiously. Pressure on staff and families to participate in political rallies.

Sound like anyone you know?

Earlier this year, Gary Rubinstein reviewed several videos SA has since retracted; see herehere, and here. I watched some of the videos before SA scrubbed them, and had a similar reaction as Gary:
This last video is long, but I was most struck by the first two minutes where the teacher (A TFA teacher, actually) is giving a pep talk before the activity, reading some non-fiction passages and answering 7 questions.  In the first two minutes the word “score” is said ten times.  At 4:43 a student mentions the state tests as a reason for learning about reading.  At 5:00 a second student chimes in and mentions the state tests.  These students have been trained well indeed! 
I notice that any time a teacher poses a question to the class, the students seem to have to respond by first rephrasing the question.  So the teacher asks “Why is it important to have a deep understanding of the passage before answering the question?” and the student answers by first saying “It is important to have a deep understanding of the passage before answering the question because …”  It seems very ‘conformist’ to me. 
The students do get opportunity to talk and answer questions and express ideas but this lesson is extremely ‘teacher-driven.’  Also, these are 6th graders doing a reading passage with 7 questions after they’ve already been through the Success Academy program for 3rd, 4th, and 5th grade test prep so this lesson seems a bit unnecessary to me.
As a teacher in a relatively affluent district, I find this emphasis on "teacher-driven" instruction to be quite foreign. Our evaluation rubrics are set up in a way that promotes student-driven instruction: we get good reviews when our kids are more active participants in their own schooling. SA, however, seems to put a heavy premium on authority: the teacher is to be given unquestioning, unconditional deference while the student gives up almost all agency in her own learning.

I find this comports perfectly with Donald Trump's worldview. Why wouldn't a guy whose catchphrase is "You're fired!" love a school with a got-to-go list? Why wouldn't a guy who thinks it's fine to threaten journalists love a school that releases student records when parents publicly complain? Why wouldn't a guy who is already leveraging his future office to drum up business love a school that uses its students as political props to gain advantages?

Eva Moskowitz doesn't seem bothered by any of this, or the many other troubling aspects of a Trump administration; in fact, it appears that she and Trump are largely on the same page. She's already normalized an authoritarian style of education for students of color; why wouldn't she also normalize the president-elect's behaviors by going over to Trump Tower and kissing his ring?

Trump is going to be a powerful ally in Moskowitz's ongoing war with Mayor Bill de Blasio. This "longtime Democrat" need only avert her gaze away from all of the further outrages The Donald will foist upon this country and, specifically, her students in the days ahead.

Normalizing deplorable conduct is, for some, a small price to pay to get everything you want...

Eva says: "I stand ready to support his efforts in any way I can."

Saturday, November 19, 2016

(Some) Reformsters Normalize Trump: Part I

There's nothing we teachers love more than a good hectoring by think-tank types who believe we have magical powers over our students' feelings:
We’re no fans of the president-elect, whose behavior has frequently been appalling, whose policy ignorance is vast, and who appears to lack any coherent philosophy of government. That said, we are astonished that so many educators, schools and colleges chose to treat his election as reason to alarm their students and to suggest that only a Democratic victory would have aligned with the nation’s values. 
We understand that the country is divided and that some kids share their parents’ fears of potentially being deported or losing their health insurance. We’ve surely no objection to teachers comforting fearful children. That’s a responsibility of all adults who care for them. But we don’t believe that educators are supposed to make kids scared or teach that there is a right outcome and a wrong one to a presidential election. And we’re puzzled to see so many educators – and even education journalists – imagine that Trump’s election can only be understood through the prism of racism and xenophobia.
Clearly, the kids are only upset because their teachers are riling them up! It's not like the president-elect has called for mass deportations, or a Muslim registry, or sent his surrogates out to discuss the precedent of WWII Japanese internment camps, or appointed an unrepentant misogynist and racist as his senior advisor, or an unrepentant racist as Attorney General, or a homophobe as vice president, or a religious bigot as national security advisor...

Of course, Checker Finn and Rick Hess are "no fans" of Trump; they have a difference of opinion with Trumpworld, dontcha know! I mean, sure, there might be some racism and xenophobia at work here, but teachers need to understand that you have to get over that in a classroom. Teach the kids about the electoral college instead! That'll make them feel better...

At the risk of repeating what Larry Ferlazzo and Valerie Strauss and Kevin Carey have already written, the notion that somehow teachers are complicit in stirring up children's unwarranted anxieties is ridiculous. Some very ugly forces in the country are feeling validated and acting on what they perceive as an electoral vindication (considering Trump lost the popular vote, that trick takes a special kind of self-delusion).

We've already had plenty of disturbing incidents in schools (including, sadly, my old high school) in the wake of Trump's election. Countering this outflow of hate with a snappy lecture about electoral upsets since 1800 isn't a serious response; in fact, all it does is normalize Trumpworld's anti-American values and behaviors.

I'm sorry to tell the beltway boys this, but if educators occasionally have to cross some imaginary line of Checker and Rick's choosing to enter the "political" realm so they can help their students, so be it. Like most teachers, I try very hard to respect my students' and their families' political, religious, and personal beliefs, even if they are diametrically opposed to mine.

What I won't do, and what any teacher worth her salt would never do, is stand silent while children feel threatened -- especially when they have a rational basis for their fears.

I'm not going to tell a gay student he shouldn't be concerned that the vice president-elect thinks we should spend taxpayer funds to pray-the-gay-away. I'm not going to tell a student she really shouldn't worry that the president-elect is a hot mess of contradictions when it comes to whether he believes she should control her own body. I'm not going to say to parents that their fears about whether their family's religious practices will haunt their child are without merit.

And I'm certainly not going to pretend Hess and Finn's false equivalencies are anything other than absurd:
Well. While progressives may not believe it, here are some of the students who might have had cause to fear a Clinton victory:
  • Evangelicals and Catholics whose religious schools and colleges are threatened by federal authorities for non-compliance with directives related to gender and sexual identity.
  • College students muzzled by progressive speech codes or sanctioned by “bias response teams” for posting Trump signs or celebrating America as a “melting pot,” and well aware that a Clinton administration would embrace such restrictions.
  • Kids bullied or in schools made chaotic by miscreants who would have been suspended if not for directives issued by the Obama Education Department’s Office of Civil Rights.
  • The children of police, who watched Clinton campaign alongside individuals who had called for acts of violence against uniformed officers.
  • Children in charter schools who understood that a Clinton win would be bad news for their school and might lead to its closure.
  • College students fearful of being falsely convicted by kangaroo campus courts and publicly pilloried or expelled under the Obama administration’s Star Chamber approach to sexual harassment, which has compelled universities to abandon the basic tenets of due process.
The anxieties of those young people would most certainly have been ignored had Clinton won. Indeed, imagine the Bill Maher gibes that would have followed had a single religious college canceled classes so students could mourn a Clinton victory.
Yeah, last I checked, Clinton wasn't seriously considering a registry for evangelical immigrants, and Bill Maher was a guy who said occasionally funny stuff on TV...

The idea that discomfort with Clinton's policies on charter schools and campus hate speech is somehow equivalent to fears of installing an anti-Semite in the highest levels of the White House is exactly the sort of normalizing of Trumpworld that we can expect from the likes of Hess and Finn in the days ahead. They sense they are finally going to get everything they want: "market-based" education, the end of compulsory teachers union dues, unrestrained charter school expansion, and so on.

If the price to be paid for all these ideological goodies is having a maniac in the White House, surrounded by a bunch of homophobic, xenophobic, racist misogynists... well, sometimes you just gotta suck it up.

Just ask Eva Moskowitz. More in a bit...

Hess & Finn: "We're no fans..."

Thursday, November 10, 2016

My Speech at the NJEA Convention

I had an entire set of slides ready to go for today. I was going to talk about things that I believe are important: school funding, teacher evaluation, testing, charter schools, unions, tenure, seniority, local control, identity, race, class, gender, sexual orientation…

I still think these things are important, maybe now more than ever. I still want to take a few minutes to talk about some of them.

But I would be seriously remiss if I stood before you here today – the first one of your colleagues to address you as the keynote speaker in a long, long time – and pretended that what happened on Tuesday isn’t the first and foremost topic we need to discuss.

Those of you who’ve heard me speak know I hate using prepared remarks. I’m a jazz musician, and I like to play off of lead sheets, not prepared scores. I like riffing on ideas and playing around with motifs. But I decided I needed to write this part of my speech out, because I want to be very clear in what I think needs to be said.

Let’s get the least important stuff out of the way first. Last year, the Supreme Court, in a 4-4 decision, decided not to hear an appeal of Friedrichs v CTA, the California court case that challenged the notion of compulsory dues for public employee unions.

The vote was only 4-4 because earlier in the year, Justice Antonin Scalia, one of the most conservative justices to sit on the court in the modern era, died suddenly, leaving the court deadlocked. Tied decisions uphold lower court rulings, so even if Friedrichs had gone to trial and the vote was 4-4, it would have upheld compulsory dues.

Friedrichs sought to overturn decades of precedent. Abood v. Detroit Board of Education was the decision that originally conceived of mandatory union dues. The concept is simple: if employees don’t have to pay dues, and a union bargains on their behalf, “free-riders” can enjoy all the benefits of higher wages and other gains due to collective bargaining without pitching in to cover the costs.

Abood said, however, that employees can opt-out of paying for activities that don’t directly have to do with bargaining. That’s the system we have here in New Jersey; you can opt-out of paying that non-negotiation share of your NJEA dues if you wish.

There is no question about what is going to happen over the next year or so regarding compulsory dues. The Republican Senate has held up the nomination of Merrick Garland, an extremely well-qualified and moderate candidate to replace Scalia, for an unprecedented months-long period. He will not be a Supreme Court justice – at least, not any time soon. Donald Trump will very quickly nominate a new candidate, and he will fly through the Senate nomination process. The Democrats will try to filibuster; they will not succeed, even if that means the Republicans throw out years of Senate rules and precedence.

Soon after this new justice is confirmed, a new court case will be filed along the lines of Friedrichs.  I’m not a lawyer so I’m not sure of the technicalities, but the people who bring the suit, backed by a group of extremely wealthy, anti-union backers, will find a way to push the suit through the lower courts and directly to the Supreme Court.

The ruling will abolish mandatory dues for public unions. This will happen well before the midterm elections.

This will be an existential threat for public employee unions; however, it will NOT be their certain death. Public employee unions – and especially teachers unions, who have historically been at the front lines of protecting worker rights, particularly those of women – must, however, change how they do business.

This union here, the New Jersey Education Association, will be one of the prime targets in the new anti-teachers union era. This union has stood strong for teachers and proudly used its political and other capital to advocate for the best interests of its members, which also – and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise – happens to be the best interests of this state’s students and their families.

I am constantly amazed and appalled when people try to make the argument that somehow teacher work conditions and student learning conditions aren’t the same thing. Middle-class wages with decent benefits are necessary if we are to draw talented young people into the profession.

Job protections, including tenure, are necessary to protect the interests of taxpayers and students, who count on teachers to serve as their advocates within the school system. Safe, clean, well-resourced schools make teaching an attractive profession, but they also lead to better learning outcomes for children.

Teachers unions are the advocates for these necessary pre-conditions for student learning. Teachers unions are the political force that compels politicians to put necessary funds into public schools. Teachers unions are the groups who make the conditions of teaching better, ensuring that this nation will have a stable supply of educators for years to come.

It is not an exaggeration to say that right now, public education hangs in the balance. Teacher workplace rights are in serious jeopardy. The ability of NJEA to protect the future of New Jersey’s outstanding public education system – by any measure, one of the finest in the world, in spite of this state’s recent abdication of its role to fully fund its schools – is under dire threat.

There is only one course to take: we must organize. We must stand strong, we must stand together, and we must refuse to give into desperation. Our families, our colleagues, and our students have always counted on us when they needed us the most – we must not now, nor ever, stop fighting for them or yes, that’s right, for ourselves.

I want every county EA president to raise your hand. I want you to tell these dedicated people right now: “I’ve got your back!’ Say it: “I’ve got your back!”

I want every local EA president to raise your hand. I want you to tell these people, who are the spine of this great organization: “I’ve got your back!”

We will not stop organizing. We will not stop fighting for our public schools. We will not give in to the nihilism and cynicism that sadly defined our country on Tuesday. We will stand strong, we will stand proud, and we will band together to fight for each other and our kids. That’s the only way to win. It’s always been the only way to win.

I told you this was the least important thing I need to talk about right now. Don’t get me wrong: this is very, very important. But we need to talk about something even more important, and that’s our students.

This was, by far, the ugliest election of my lifetime. It’s undoubtedly one of the ugliest America has ever seen. The violence, the racism, the sexism, the homophobia, the class warfare, the xenophobia, the outright lying, the contempt of science, the contempt of decency, the contempt of civility, were at a level I never thought I would have seen in this great country as it journeys through the 21st Century.

By the way – and I say this knowing this is a room full of teachers -- anyone who tells you this ugliness was happening equally on both sides is not accessing higher-order thinking skills.

No one should think for one second that our children have not been deeply, deeply affected by this outpouring of hatred. It is worst of all for any child who has been transformed into an “other” by the rhetoric that had infected this campaign.

I fear for any child who shows up to school after the election wearing a hijab. I fear for any child who wears a hoodie and walks to school through a neighborhood that doesn’t include people who look like him. I fear for any child who is not conforming with our society’s preconceptions about gender. I fear for any child who was not born within our borders, yet who loves the promise of America as much as any of her native sons and daughters.

The only thing that can ever hope to protect these children is the love of the adults in their lives who know better. If you know better, you can no longer sit on the sidelines. If you know better, but you stay silent, your silence will become violence.

I pray that I am wrong about Donald Trump. I pray he will grow into his position. I pray he will find some measure of conscience, some level of decency, within himself and rise to the enormous task ahead of him.

But even if he does, his campaign has emboldened dark forces within our democracy. We saw them in those ugly, violent rallies. We saw them when the so-called “alt-right” said and wrote unspeakably horrible words, spewed across our media and the Internet.

Those forces will have absolutely no qualms about taking out all their anger and all their hatred on our children. We, my fellow teachers, are an integral part of those children’s defense.

We can no longer tolerate racially biased classroom and disciplinary practices within our schools: the stakes have just become too high. We can no longer tolerate racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic language that, yes, sometimes, sadly, comes from our less-enlightened colleagues: the stakes are now too high. We cannot stand by and allow one kind of schooling to be foisted on one kind of student while another enjoys all the benefits of a truly meaningful education: the stakes are now too high.

And we can not, we will not, we will refuse to allow politicians to use the alleged “failures” of our urban students to deprive them of adequate funding; to deprive them of a broad, rich curriculum; to deprive them of experienced teachers who look like their students; to deprive them of beautiful, healthy, well-resourced school facilities; and to deprive them of lives outside of school that are free of economic injustice and racial hatred.

The stakes are too damn high.

I’m not an economist, I’m not climate scientist, I’m not a civil rights lawyer, and I’m not a foreign policy expert. But I don’t have to be one to know that we may be in for very dark times. The economic plans that are likely to become our national policy have been widely derided by even the most conservative economists. Climate change is real and we may already be past the point where we can reverse the heating of our planet.

Our civil liberties have been under assault since 9-11; now, they are in even greater peril. And on Tuesday our world may well have become far more dangerous. If there is another leader of a democratic country who has said that he is fine with the use of nuclear weapons, I don’t know who he is.

I pray I am wrong, but when I rationally consider the future, everything tells me that our students may well soon be living in a world that is less prosperous, less healthy, less free, and less safe.

They will need us more than ever. They will be hungry and scared and stressed. They will be confused, because, even as we preach to them the importance of self-sacrifice and modesty, this country rewards too many who have lived lives of gluttony and arrogance.

We must be there for them. We must never stop fighting for them. We must never stop believing in them.

There is no group better suited to the task of standing up for these beautiful, deserving children than you. You are New Jersey teachers. You are the smartest of the smart and the toughest of the tough. You grade 120 essays in a weekend. You make a close loss for a 1-and-15 team seem like the greatest victory in sports history. You wipe noses when others cower in fear. You make first graders beam with pride like Picasso himself when they see their art displayed on the walls of your school. You find the right words for a scared 12-year-old who can’t understand the world around her.

And, for the last seven years, you have continued to do your jobs – and do them well – even as you were denied the resources to do them, and as explicit promises made to you were broken.

There is no one capable of greater commitment, capable of greater achievement, and capable of greater love than a New Jersey teacher.

I am proud to stand with you. I am proud to call you my colleagues. I am proud to call you my friends. I am proud of this great union, and I will proudly work beside you in our struggle to defend our schools, our profession, and our beautiful, deserving students.

Thank you.