Folks who really, really hate public education …

Curmudgucation (aka retired Pennsylvania schoolteacher Peter Greene) hits the nail smack-dab on the head in just about every column he writes, so it behooves you to subscribe to his blog feed.

Today he shows how there are folks (like Betsy Devos, the Koch brother(s), and Bill Barr) who really, really hate the very idea of public education, and of government in general, and want to destroy both. I am reprinting the entire thing this time. But, again, you should read him daily, instead of reading my pitiful contributions.

Scorched Earth Education Policy (Charters, Watch Your Flank)

Posted: 16 Oct 2019 01:45 PM PDT

This is you should ignore the old admonition to not read the comments.

I converse with plenty of folks that I disagree with, both in the ed policy world and outside of it, and those conversations are largely civil, which sometimes distracts me from the fact that there are people out there who hate, hate, hate public education (“government schools”) and the teachers who work there  (“union thugs”).

I meet them, some days, on Twitter. On Facebook, there are groups that sprung up in the days of “Let’s all get together and fight Common Core” that are now dominated by folks who rail daily against teachers and unions and public schools and how we should just burn it all down until there’s nothing left but homeschooling and church schools (Christian ones, of course).

Of course, these days, you don’t have to dig so deep to find these virulently anti-public-ed folks. Here’s the Attorney General of the Freakin’ United States of America, declaring that our country is under assault in an “organized destruction” of the foundational values of our society (by which he means the Judeo-Christian ones). And “ground zero” of the assault is US public schools. Attorney General Barr, the head law enforcement official of the United States of America has called out public schools as everything just short of “enemies of the people.”

Meanwhile, the author of a new book about the Koch political empire tells us that what the Kochs want from public education is simple– they want it to go away. Talking to Jennifer Berkshire and Jack Schneider at the Have You Heard podcast, Christopher Leonard summed it up like this:

Here’s the actual political philosophy. Government is bad. Public education must be destroyed for the good of all American citizens in this view.

So the ultimate goal is to dismantle the public education system entirely and replace it with a privately run education system, which the operatives in this group believe in a sincere way is better for everybody. Now, whether you agree with that or not as the big question, but we cannot have any doubt, there’s going to be a lot of glossy marketing materials about opportunity, innovation, efficiency. At its core though the network seeks to dismantle the public education system because they see it as destructive. So that is what’s the actual aim of this group. And don’t let them tell you anything different.

Barr’s opinion is not exactly unique in the current administration where the State Department front page featured a speech from Secretary Pompeo about Christian leadership. And it’s no secret that Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos is long focused on “kingdom gains.” The government-run school system needs to be broken up, and a privatized system, built mostly of church-run schools, should be put in its place.

These are not fringe positions. There are plenty of people out there who agree with the Kochs or the theocrats or both, cognitive dissonance be damned.

With that in mind, I wonder if some reformsters aren’t making the same mistake that Common Core supporters made.

Common Core fans like Jeb Bush thought they just had to worry about those damned liberals and lefties. They were shocked and surprised by the uproar on the right (an uproar so huge that progressive core opponents occasionally had to jump up and down and holler “Us too!”) that they never quite recovered; they couldn’t quite shift to their right flank fast enough.

Charter proponents have likewise focused on their left flank. They carefully cultivated alliances with card-carrying Democrats, ginned up DFER, and even now, keep trying to sell the idea that Real Democrats like charters. They are insistent that charters be called “public” charters because, doggonit, they are, too, public schools.

I’m wondering if they might not live to regret that. I wonder if they’re not concentrating on the wrong flank.

The scorched earth crowd is not interested in tweaking public education. Folks like DeVos see charters as a nice stepping stone to the true goal, but no more. This, incidentally, is not really news. Charter fans stepped up to oppose DeVos’s nomination, and charter fans are about the only group that DeVos attempted to make nice with when she took the office. But that truce seems unlikely to last.

The scorched earth crowd represents an alliance much like that which birthed the Tea Party– religious conservatives and libertarian-ish money righties. While that’s a hard alliance to hold together, on the matter of public schools, they’re in agreement (even if it doesn’t entirely make sense)– public schools need to go. People are attached to them, so it’s not possible to attack them head on. Some patience and rhetorical flourish is necessary. DeVos’s “Education Freedom” proposal is a fine example– it’s about vouchers, not charters, and she’s been quite clear that it’s money that can be spent many ways, not just in a “school.”

I don’t find it at all difficult to imagine a future in which the scorched earth folks work to take down charter schools right along with the public system (the one that charters insist they’re part of). If I were a scorched earth person, my plan would be first to split the funding stream into several streams (public this way, vouchers over there) and then just slowly pinch off the public stream. The techniques that we’ve already seen work just fine– starve the schools, create a measure to show that they’re failing, use their failure as justification for starving them further.

Charters, meanwhile, have been flipping through a stack of index cards looking for a justification that will work. They don’t get superior academic results. They don’t close the achievement gap. They don’t create competition that makes everyone improve. These days they’ve settled on the argument that choice is the right thing to do in and of itself, but that argument serves vouchers far better than charters, which scorched earth folks can paint as just an appendage of those same damned gummint schools (hell, some of those charter teachers have even unionized).

And Espinoza v. Montana is on the Supreme Court docket, a case that would shatter the wall between church and state in education. Why send a kid to a charter when you can go straight to a church school. That would become one more charter problem– why would voucher fans stick with voucher lite when they can get the real thing?

Ultimately, scorched earth ed policy would involve choking the revenue stream for everybody, because one of the things they hate about public education is those damned taxes. In one version of the scorched earth education future, there are just tax credits– wealthy patrons support their educational vendor of choice instead of paying taxes, and everyone else just scrapes by. As traditional tax revenue is choked off, charters get caught in the same vice as public school, with too little money to serve underserved communities. That’s okay with the DeVos’s and Kochs and other folks who, at heart, disagree with the notion of elevating the Lessers. Society works better when everyone accepts their proper place (that either God or economics have called them to) and all these socialist attempts to help people rise above their station are both expensive and against natural law. If some people end up getting little or no real education in this system, well, that’s just too bad– they shouldn’t have chosen to be poor and powerless.

I’ve called charters the daylight savings time of ed reform, like trying to reposition on too-small blanket on a too-large bed, arguing about who gets covered instead of shopping for a bigger blanket. But the scorched earth folks approach is “I’ll buy a blanket for my kids and you buy one for yours. We’ll just use our personal resources and you use yours and we’ll just keep that thieving, interfering gummint out of it. Good luck, and enjoy your freedom!”

Charter schools would end up on the wrong side of all of this if they fail to watch their right flanks. And all of the US suffers if the scorched earth education crowd manages any level of what they call success. But do not underestimate them; they are out there, and they are pissed.

What Will the Frontline Report on Michelle Rhee Be Like?

From: Marilyn Williams:
   In case you are interested, Frontline, Michelle Rhee’s Legacy will air on Tuesday, 1.08.2013 at 10pm PBS.
Spread the word.

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GFB here:
This bears watching. My TV is set to record the parts I will miss. Thank you, Marilyn, for bringing this to attention or reminding us.
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Sounded to me when I talked to John Merrow a couple of times, some months ago, that this version of Frontline won’t be kind and fawning to Michelle Rhee and the entire corporate educational DEform movement* as many  as many thought the original was.
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Maybe the tide will turn against this nonsense sooner than I expected.
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There have been many, many ridiculous “reforms” that have been foisted on public education since, say, the 1800s, and most of them have been pretty stupid, though well-intentioned. The current Corporate Educational Movement, with Michelle Rhee as its ‘poster girl’, looks like one of the most stupid *** fad or movement ever foisted on public school students and their teachers. In my opinion, the current fad is having the worst and most widespread pernicious effects of any that I can recall either from living and working through them, or from reading and hearing about them from my elders. It is actually having tremendous success in dismantling public education, especially since the a state Supreme Court just ruled that charter schools maybe are   or, according  to the NLRB,  are not in the public sector at all.
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I don’t remember the original series well enough to recall exactly what I thought when I saw them, but I do remember the part where Rhee said something like this (as I recall it — someone else can look up the exact words and correct me where my memory twisted things – as does the memory of every other human being on earth):
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Interviewer: Ms. Rhee, have you done anything you later on regretted doing?
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 {with the implication that this was a softball, open-ended question that she could interpret any way she wanted and, say, described a case where she had made a mistake, and then follow up by explaining how she was able to fix it by working harder; obviously one area where there had been a lot of bitterly-opposed actions by her might be fair game, right? So she might decide to concede one error to show she’s human? Not Michelle Rhee.}
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Rhee: [Serious, not joking at all.} You know, unlike anybody else I know, in my entire life I have never done a single thing that I regretted. Ever.
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I don’t think she was joking.
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If I am correct, and Rhee was dead serious, then what kind of crazy egomaniac are we dealing with anyway? Why has this crazy person apparently been anointed by the wealthiest people in the country to be in charge of determining the route that education in this country**? Why isn’t she a candidate for mental health treatment instead?
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 Will this version of Frontline apologize and excuse and gloss over the complete and utter failures and very profitable frauds of Michelle Rhee and her corporate educational DEform* paymasters**? Or will Merrow point out a lot of those lies, failures, and frauds?
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* (Also called GERM: Global Educational Reform Movement), by Pasi Sahlberg and others.
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** Joel Klein, Michael Bloomberg, Bill Gates, the Koch Brothers, the people behind ALEC etc etc etc.
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*** stupid in the sense that every single one of the centrally-written tests that this entire movement is based on, are, risibly and obviously, stupid. Yeah, that’s right. They are stupid tests written by overworked, underpaid, temporary workers while the company rakes in billions in state, local, and federal payments and fees. These tests, which bear almost no connection to concepts that are worth learning, are the ones that my colleagues remaining in the classroom are legally required to administer, and who are judged on some utterly arcane statistical formula that has never been explained to the public or even to any individual teacher who has questioned his or her own rating: a VAM of unbelievable and incomprehensible complexity.
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Your thoughts? (You have to click on the tiny “comment” button below – it’s unfortunately very hard to see.)

If the tests by which all of education is to be measured by are garbage, then so are the results

On this blog I have reprinted examples of what I see are crappy test items and dissected them, hoping to show readers that those items neither made sense nor measured what they are purported to measure.

However, I never worked inside the testing industry itself, so I don’t have direct experience of making up BS test items on an industrial scale.* My own experience, however, is that EVERY test — no matter how good — has validity and reliability problems. This passage shows that the tests on which all US educational decisions are supposed to be based are, in fact, ridiculously badly made from the beginning, and cannot possibly measure what they pretend to measure, are unreliable, and thus utterly invalid.  (Plus the tests are snatching at least potentially valuable class time away from our students, while enabling a handful of big corporations like Pearson (more on which below) are raking in huge dividends because they control almost the entire education market.)

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This comes from an interview published by Diane Ravitch ( http://dianeravitch.net/2012/12/27/11990/ )

Rebecca Rubenstein: Since your book was published in 2009, has the “standardized” testing industry improved?

Todd Farley: Not the slightest bit. There was a story in The New York Times in 2001 about how test-scoring was a wildly out-of-control industry, which quotes various employees—not me!—as saying that they faced “too little time, too much to do, not enough people.” It implies the industry was doing a terribly suspect job. Since then, the industry is about a hundred times bigger, but those problems mentioned in the Times article or in my book have never been addressed. The industry has simply grown exponentially, and there are hundreds of millions of dollars to be earned by companies that are completely unregulated—to repeat, completely unregulated, so whatever Pearson et. al. tell us, we’re supposed to say “thank you very much” and just write them a staggeringly large check—but of course things haven’t gotten any better.

In my time in test-scoring, we never had enough temporary employees to do the work; we always had too much to do and too little time to do it; and there were always financial punishments looming over our heads if we didn’t get things done. We cut whatever corners we could to get it done (I’m sorry to say). Today the work load is a hundred times bigger and the money to be made is a hundred times bigger, but the system didn’t work to begin with and of course it doesn’t work now.

The same is true in the test development business. When I worked for one publisher as a test developer, it was always a madcap race to get tests written on time, and we faced absurd deadlines and pressure to do so. The reality is that quality was always secondary to the bottom line when developing tests, and then when the Common Core standards were introduced, and tests and products needed to be written for them, our deadlines became laughably absurd; I was once involved in the development of 200 tests in two months, which I think is literally more tests than ETS has produced in its entire existence. With the Common Core standards released, all the companies knew all the other companies were racing to finish their tests and products first, so quality became even worse than secondary. It became tertiary, or “fourthiary,” or whatever. Subcontractors who had been fired for poor work were rehired; item writers were hired off Craigslist; test developers with neither teaching experience nor test development experience were given full-time jobs. It’s important to remember that at the end of the day, companies like Pearson are for-profit enterprises. They want to make money. They want to make money, so of course they do a crappy job, because the quality of the work is never anywhere near as important as their desire to make a profit, and there’s always too much work and too little time to do it.

continue reading …

A comment: I was at first skeptical of the “200 tests” mentioned being more that the ETS has created in its entire existence. But I think he may be right: The SAT is essentially one, or two, or three tests, depending on how you look at it; it just gets revised a little bit each year. Reading, Math, and Writing. Plus, there perhaps a couple of score different Advanced Placement (AP) tests and Achievement tests in different subjects; they get revised every year, at least they do in the field of math (which I follow, of course) and others.

But what Pearson is doing now is essentially trying to replace the teacher in every single grade level, for every single course, by making the entire curriculum driven by the tests and pre-tests and practice tests and test prep material provided by them.  Yes, I do mean all of third grade. Yes, I do mean 6th grade science, music appreciation, and geography and PE. Every class. And if you count every single course or subject area that a student might be measured by from Pre-K-3 all the way up to graduating from high school, that might in fact be roughly 200 brand-new test series! Not just end-of-course tests, by no means. A different corporate multiple-choice test every month or two!

All this corporate educa-crap is just that: crap forced down the throat of public school kids and ONLY kids in public schools.

And it won’t improve a damned thing. Except for corporate bottom lines.

Of course the children or grandchildren of Michelle Rhee, Michael Bloomberg, Arne Duncan, Eli Broad, Bill Gates, the Koch brothers, and Barack Obama will never, ever be subjected to such a poor excuse for an education.

Oh, no.

That’s just for the poor black and latino and white kids who are in high-poverty regions; the only way they can opt out is to go to a charter school which might be doing any damned thing and is almost sure to be even more segregated than the nearest public school, if that’s even possible.

This is progress?

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* My students and I often found mistakes on tests and quizzes and assignments I made up. I used to congratulate the student and give him/her/them a point when they pointed out an error. ETS and Pearson’s responses have been rather different. Remember the famous talking pineapple question? And do you recall that essentially no-one has ever been able to explain, line by line, number by number, exactly how ANY single teacher’s VAM numbers were calculated? Has any school district ever released data showing how well VAM and supposedly ‘scientific’ classroom observation data correlate with each other? (Hint: they don’t!!)

Once again, let me urge the leadership of the Washington Teachers’ Union, and teacher unions elsewhere, to enlist a good statistician with his/her feet on the ground, and poke holes in VAM. It’s all a tissue of fabrications.

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