May 12, 2022

A Weekend At Bernie’s Charter Policy? Why Is Joe Biden Parroting Sanders On Charters?

From The New York Times

The 2016 Democratic primary between Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton was pretty tight. The 2020 Sanders re-run, not so much. Joe Biden surged to victory on the strength of the Black Democratic vote in South Carolina, winnowed the field, and never looked back. You surely remember who he ultimately beat? Bernie Sanders.

But you might not know that if you only followed charter school policy. It’s Sanders’ view of the world not Delaware Joe Biden – who represented a pretty good charter state in the Senate – driving policy now at the Department of Education. That’s a problem because it’s a view of the world out of step with the evidence and arguably with the politics.

So one of the more interesting political questions around the proposed charter school regulations might be, why is Biden sucking Sanders’ fumes on charter policy?*

If you recall the Biden – Sanders Unity document, and if you’re a normal person I’m sure you try not to, it included language on charter schools that is basically a distillation of the ideas behind these proposed regs:

It wasn’t a ban per se but it was a de facto war on chartering. It was a bone to throw in the context of how much Biden could move left and still remain a viable generation election candidate.

There has been a lot of focus on the kamikaze mission of the teachers’ unions cat’s paws. Jon Chait has more on that today. But that’s par for the course. And their job as a special interest is to advocate for their interest when the window is open to do so. It’s not to reflexively do what’s politically sensible for Democrats or what’s the best policy for kids. Why the Biden White House is going along with this is a better question. No one expected a big push for charter schools given the politics, but these regs are something different.

Yes, in the 2020 race Biden was hostile to charter schools. But he hasn’t been a doctrinaire anti-choice type. In the 1990s, as the D.C. voucher bill was hotly debated he said he was reconsidering his opposition to that program. That’s another reason this fight is so strange. It’s one thing to throw some anti-charter red meat on the campaign trail or even have a policy of benign neglect once in office. That’s politics. It’s another to use the regulatory process to curtail charters. That’s policy.

You don’t need the Obama position on charter schools. Just what about a Joe Biden position? It should go without saying, as with some other Sanders positions, the charter one plays better on Twitter than towns around the country.

And of course, it would be bad for kids, including in ways that cut against priorities of this administration.

The President talks a lot about understanding the anxiety and stress that Americans feel around the kitchen table trying to make ends meet. He gets intuitively why joblessness or rampant inflation is terrifying for working class Americans. Another stress and hard situation is what to do for your child’s schooling when the school you are assigned to is not working for your family. If you have means there is one way to solve that problem. If you don’t then you need government to ensure you have some choices – especially because, as they say, one size doesn’t fit all.

Sanders, too, has spoken eloquently about the loneliness and isolation a lot of Americans feel – in ways you don’t often hear from political candidates. School can’t singularly solve that, but not being able to have your children in a school that works for them surely doesn’t help anyone feel more connected to their community.

That’s why expanding choice is part and parcel of an agenda that aimed at a more inclusive America not at odds with it. If the politics of the moment don’t allow for expanding that agenda, at least don’t curtail it.

In other words, Mr. President, you won. Please act like it. 

*The obvious answer is that while everyone was happily greeting Miguel Cardona as a consensus pick the Biden Administration was stacking the Department with teachers union alums and allies and folks who wouldn’t politically rock the boat. Except you can do that and still not do things like this regulation, which is basically a political unforced error at a moment there is little margin for one.


May 10, 2022

The Charter School David Is Landing A Few Rocks Against The Anti-Charter Goliath

It’s been wild. A team of Goliaths stunned by a scrappy David. Few expected it. And it’s exciting to watch because it’s a little unpredictable even if Goliath has an edge.

But enough about the Capitals – Panthers first round contest in the Stanley Cup. I want to talk about public charter schools and the regulation aimed at slowing their growth.

Plenty of pixels have been spilled about the problems with the proposed regulation. It’s an assault on charters. Or it’s Cold Harbor, bloody and pointless. In some ways what’s more interesting is the politics. Often interest groups will decide to fight over something that’s not such a big deal because it’s a “Washington issue” or an important symbolic place to take a stand.

That’s not the case with these regulations, they’re just bad news if you think that providing parents with more public alternatives to traditional public school district schools is a good idea. In a nutshell, key parts boil down to letting Starbucks decide if anyone else can run a  coffee shop in various communities. They’re a real test of the politics of education right now. And charter schools are putting up more of a fight than many expected.

Jared Polis, the Democratic Governor of Colorado has spoken up about the regulations. Democratic Senators Bennet, Booker and Feinstein, too. That’s not enough opposition, but it’s not nothing.

We’ll see how much more charters will turn up the heat on the administration and Congress. The lines of attack are pretty obvious.

You can’t claim to “center” marginalized communities and do this regulation.

You can’t claim to follow the science or the evidence and do this regulation. Yes, there is a problem with the for-profits but it’s, in my view, best handled by better authorizing and state policy than blunt regulations. The for-profits have not created a sympathetic situation though.

And you can’t really claim to be for innovation, parent empowerment, or any of the rest and do this regulation. Whether because he’s a nice guy and ed writers are far too cozy with the establishment or because his team is picking his media spots carefully, no one seems to have really put any of this directly and strongly to Secretary Cardona who continues to say in the same breath that he supports charters and supports this regulation. We’ll see what happens.

The department has a few choices.

They can decide that the original calculus that organized special interests are more potent than disorganized parents remains and basically drive this through.

They could pull the regulations and start again. That’s not going to happen.

They could substantially modify the regulations in response to the feedback, the public comments were not helpful to the anti-charter side.

Or they could kick the can down the road through negotiated rulemaking and other process to delay it until after the election or longer.

I’d prefer that last option. I don’t think abortion will be the political get out of jail free card some think it will be for Democrats and the electoral map is daunting and the atmospherics  (inflation, the stock markets, crime, and culture wars) are all headwinds for Democrats. So, given the stakes, it seems like an incredibly ill-considered time to take the side of special interests against parents on an issue like this where a majority of Black and Hispanic parents support charter schools and independents positively associate with reform. I’ve seen some polling here and the school choice issue isn’t a slam dunk at the ballot box. But this position surely doesn’t help the broader frame around the Biden Administration right now, which is pretty soft, especially among Black and Hispanic Americans. If nothing else, why risk it?

What’s clear is the teachers’ unions and their fellow travelers appreciate the timing and the urgency. We’ll find out soon if the Biden team does.

Posted on May 10, 2022 @ 4:10pm

May 4, 2022


What Do You Do When The Supreme Court Is Wrong?

Photo via Ed Post.

I was taking some time off this week, the shad are running among other things. But it’s not every day a draft Supreme Court case leaks. Juicy Supreme Court leaks, at least historically, are once a decade kind of things.

Unless you live in a cave you certainly heard about the leak of a draft opinion in the Mississippi abortion case that would overturn the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision.

I’m not going to try to change your mind one way or another about abortion. That’s a fool’s errand and as Caitlin Flanagan recently pointed out it’s basically an unreconcilable issue.

Instead, I will point you to a few education angles. Not in the ironic, there’s always an education angle kind of way, this is too serious. There are, though, some parallels.

For starters, there is a lot of confusion in the moment. If the draft is the way the Supreme Court goes (an actual “if” it should be noted) it would not ban abortion. Rather, it would return the issue to the states and the political process – and some of them have laws that would immediately ban it, many don’t. So as with a lot of education policy questions Twitter is probably not the best place to get your information.

The practical effect would be, according to experts, roughly a 13 percent decline in legal abortions. It’s hard to square that with some of the sky is falling rhetoric except that the burden will fall heaviest on those least able to evade the consequences because they lack financial means and other resources.

In other words, that 13 percent is not equitably distributed across the population, it’s concentrated among women who lack money and power. That, of course, sounds an awful lot like the school choice debate: A hothouse political question where the consequences are most acute and immediate for those with the least political power because everyone else can figure out workarounds. Except, obviously, overall the political positions are reversed on the two issues.

Finally, if you’re pro-choice and wondering what now, there is an essay by the late Democratic Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, “What do you do when the Supreme Court is Wrong” that is an excellent look at the question the title implies. Even better, it’s in part about education with fascinating education history.


April 29, 2022

Three Gold Medalists, Panic On SEL, Boston Disaster, And Rare Collectible Willingham Fish Porn! More…

Photo: Jen Mull-Brooks

It’s SEL Week here at Eduwonk!

On Wednesday we talked about how SEL is not inherently crazy political and to the extent people try to make it that way SEL leaders should push back.

Today, there is a new essay from Panic at the Pondiscio arguing SEL is not a Trojan Horse for CRT while also repeating his argument that some SEL activity does cross some lines from educational to therapeutic. Both are  important points that will at once antagonize right and left for different reasons. I don’t agree with the full scope of Robert’s SEL critique, though I think the blurred boundaries issue is one that is not getting enough attention in this hot house moment. Recommend the essay.

Also on Wednesday I mentioned this discussion I did with Kelly Pannek and Nicole Hensley from the U.S. Women’s Olympic Hockey Team. They won Gold in 2018 and Silver in 2022. We talked about coaching, teaching, relationships, drive, and why addressing gender inequity in sports is good for everyone. You can watch it here via the BARR Center’s feed.

The BARR agenda was a really thoughtful compilation of mind, body, culture and art. Great arc for a meeting. One final random note from the BARR conference. After the evening events ended Wednesday night I was walking across the hotel property to a friend’s room for a little party she was throwing. It was hard to miss that every few patios or so there was a group of teachers partying. The pools had teachers in them hanging out and partying. And it was not early evening, it was late. After two years of off-again and on-again interaction it’s so clear a lot of people want to be together and are ready to have a good time with others.

Here’s Steve Mesler, also a Gold Medalist, also has contributed Fish Porn, everything on Eduwonk today ties together, on SEL and touching on the same issues. Steve is the co-founder of Classroom Champions, an organization that uses mentors and the mindset of elite athletes to mentor students. About 4:20 in, but watch the whole thing:

(And disclosures, so many. BARR is a client, Steve Mesler is a personal friend and I’m on his board at Classroom Champions).

The Boston Schools Fund puts out a terrific weekly round-up on what’s happening in education there. Today’s is must-read with regard to the Mission Hill situation. Surprised there is not more attention on this. OK not surprised, but still…c’mon.

This Noah Smith column is interesting and weirdly made me a little happier:

This morning I noticed that the New York Times blamed rising imports for the fall in U.S. GDP in the first quarter of 2022:

“The ballooning trade deficit, meanwhile, took more than three percentage points away from G.D.P. growth in the first quarter. Imports, which are subtracted from gross domestic product because they are produced abroad, have soared in recent months as U.S. consumers have kept spending. But exports, which add to G.D.P., have lagged in part because of weaker economic growth abroad.:” (emphasis mine)

The part in bold is not right. In fact, it’s the most common mistake in economics journalism. And it’s a mistake that helped to fuel Donald Trump’s misguided trade policies.

There is a tendency, I know I am sometimes guilty, to think that misconceptions in the media about your field are uniquely sloppy, common, or bad. Grass is greener, expertise bias, or whatever. There are certainly some issues with education coverage but in practice all fields have gaps of various kinds and commonly repeated mistakes or misconceptions that find their way into the political debate. It’s not good, nor helpful, but it’s a thing in life. And it’s not unique to education. Sometimes it’s ideological or biased, but sometimes people are just doing the best they can, reporting well is not an easy job, and things are confusing. Anyhow, a good reminder.

It’s Friday, where is the fish porn?

People ask! I have been awfully busy lately and the pics have been piling up. I have Katie Rouse, Jonathan Harber, Chad Ratliff, Simmons Lettre, Ben Wallerstein, and more! I will get to them. For now, here’s a pic Dan Willingham sent. It’s a nice one to end the week. And because the past few weeks have been a little rough for a lot of people Dan’s the perfect fisherman to highlight. He doesn’t even fish. He sent me this note:

I don’t fish, so I never thought I’d get to participate in fish porn. And in truth the attached hardly qualifies as porn of any sort. But here I am posing with a lightning whelk, probably 12-14 inches, which is likely as close as I’m going to get.

That is close enough for what we do here. Especially because Dan is one of the nicest, most caring, and most committed people you will run across in this sector. Genuinely lovely human. And his work (at least the stuff he and I don’t collaborate on) is really valuable for the field and will push your thinking. All of which is why it’s a great pic to feature even if Dan didn’t actually catch the fish.

Finally, for the real Dan nerds, here’s a track from the archives. An article Dan and I did together was recently traducido al español y publicado en Chile. Puedes leerlo aquí. Originales aquí.

Have a warm, in all senses of the word, weekend.


April 27, 2022

Let’s Not “CRT” And “Groomer” SEL. Plus, What’s Old Is New On Sloppy Poll Trends? Fake Vax Cards, Northern Reads…More!

I’m in California for the BARR Center annual conference – first time in-person in a few years. BARR does – shhhhh – SEL work for teachers. Great results from independent evaluations. And they’re a client so all the usual disclosures and disclaimers. But, if you needed a reminder that our culture wars are dumb this is it. 700 teachers here and they are interested in helping kids learn a full panoply of skills to succeed in school and life, not in brainwashing them. This is not controversial stuff with parents or teachers. You hear nothing about any of the culture war stuff that animates the SEL debate on social media and in some communities.

That said, to the extent SEL is being used in some instances as a cover to smuggle political things into curriculum – and in some cases it is – the SEL community should stand up and call BS. Otherwise one more worthwhile thing will be steamrolled by culture war theatrics.

At 2:45PT/5:45ET this afternoon I’m doing a discussion with Kelly Pannek and Nicole Hensley from the U.S. Women’s Olympic Hockey Team. Both women won gold in 2018 and silver in 2022.  We’ll talk about teachers, mentors, coaches, and what they’ve learned on their path to the pinnacle of their sport. It’ll be available after the fact on video, too.

This from an interview I did with The 74 following the 2021 Virginia election:

I’m wondering what you make of the fact that Glenn Youngkin can win a blue state in part due to outrage about school governance even as activists in Idaho Falls can’t get rid of a few board members?

This is an important point. It doesn’t seem like there was a unidirectional wave around the country where it all went one way in board races. Parents are frustrated, people disagree, but in general, people don’t gamble with their schools. There is a real chance the Republicans will misread this and overreach.

From the overreach beat:

Republican lawmakers around the country are pushing an array of bills that limit the discussion of gay rights in schools under the auspices of parental rights, leading some party strategists to worry that the initiatives may backfire with moderate voters by making the party seem anti-gay.

Hateful and politically stupid is no way to go through life son.

You generally have a broad consensus in this country arounds greater inclusion for LGBT individuals. It’s why in relatively short order you had Lawrence, Obergefell, and Bostock (6-3!) at the Supreme Court. The modal voter is now broadly supportive of what used to be called gay rights. From where I sit that’s a very good thing. The issues we fight about, sports, bathrooms, are not trivial issues, but at the same time show how far we’ve come. And we’re talking about kids, and that creates some sympathy, too. So the Republicans are playing with fire if they extend and conflate efforts to restrict sex and gender education in the early grades and parental rights, which enjoys broad support, with things like not allowing gay teachers to acknowledge their families and eroding tolerance and acceptance more generally.

Rick Hess points out that politically the Democrats are struggling on education but the Republicans are not cleaning up. This may be in part why.

Eroding confidence in Democrats has not yet, however, translated into substantial Republican gains. When it comes to education, confidence in the GOP hovered between 32 and 40 percent in all but two years between 2003 and 2019, and it remains firmly planted in that same range now (though it has recovered from Trump-era lows).

When it comes to education, the share of voters rejecting both parties has jumped sharply in the past five years. A substantial chunk of voters (nearly one in five) currently expresses confidence in neither party.

On the other hand, a school could go full realist and adopt this Freddie deBoer passage as its DEI statement. (It would also make a fantastic wedding or graduation card):

I don’t mean to be a bummer here. But it’s important to point out that we’re born in terror, we exist for no reason, we experience confusion and shame as children, we busily prepare ourselves for lives we don’t want or can’t have, we are forced to take on the burdens of adult responsibility, we compromise relentlessly on what life we’ll pursue, we settle and settle and settle, we fear death and ponder our meaninglessness, we experience the horrors of aging, and when we die the only comfort we have is that we aren’t conscious to learn that there was never any heaven or God to give it all meaning. This is the inevitable reality of human life and it can never change. That condition has a way of spilling out into our quotidian day-to-day concerns of being desirable or important.

Here we go again. A few years ago I noticed something weird in the MetLife teacher survey and realized they were cooking the books by conflating two seemingly similar but actually different questions.

When asked about career satisfaction in 2009, 59 percent of teachers said they were “very satisfied.” The next time the satisfaction question was asked, in 2011 —  this time focused on about jobsatisfaction — only 44 percent said so. Perhaps things got bad; you can’t know. But in 1985 and 1986, the question was also changed — again from asking about career to asking about job. What happened? Those saying they were “very satisfied” fell 11 points. It’s reasonable to infer, both as a matter of survey methodology and also common sense, that the wording does matter.

In other words, asking about job satisfaction and career satisfaction are two different things. One is more temporal. You can’t build a trend if you conflate those questions.

The other day Robert Pondiscio wrote excitedly that this survey is being resurrected. But it appears the new survey, now by Education Week and Merrimack College is doing the same thing and conflating the job and career numbers to build a trend line.

On the most current data, what the new survey finds (online survey, usual caveats apply) is that 66% of teachers are “very satisfied” or “somewhat satisfied” with their job. Only 12% said “very satisfied” and only 15% “very unsatisfied.” Look, it’s a tough time for teachers. It’s a challenging job normally. The pandemic was not normally. And now many teachers are unwilling combatants in our stupid culture fights. So maybe 66% is actually pretty remarkable? And compared to some other fields it is. I don’t know, but we rarely talk about these numbers in context.

Now the bad faith reading of what I’m saying is that I’m somehow oblivious to the realities teachers face and the challenges today. That’s obviously not the point I’m making. But we can overstate the problems, God knows this field loves a crisis. So this is merely a plea to play the data straight and put it all in context. Things aren’t great, but also aren’t so bad!

We talked about NCTE’s novel position on reading the other day. Amber Northern does not want to decenter books!

If that weren’t enough, they make a feeble attempt to prove that “research evidence amply shows the need to move beyond the exclusive focus on traditional reading and writing competencies.” Where’s this evidence, you say? Well, they cite two studies—one of which is published in a journal about the “cultural politics of education” and takes place in England and Northern Ireland. It finds that “when students are empowered to critically examine popular culture texts in the classroom, the process can productively disrupt classroom hierarchies.” That hardly qualifies as a bounty of research justifying the “decentering” of traditional reading and writing.

Department of pandemic absurdity: The UFT and fake vax card teachers are squaring off against New York City.

The teachers union is planning to sue the NYC Department of Education after dozens of staffers were placed on unpaid leave for allegedly submitting fake vaccination cards.

 

Posted on Apr 27, 2022 @ 3:18pm

April 22, 2022

Teachers Of Tik Tok…Big Loss For The Sector…Plus, Eduwonk Wildlife Edition

Earlier this week I wrote about or highlighted Prince, but also why tribalism is making us dumber in the policy world, the new charter regulations (politically dumb), NFTs, NCTE’s new aversion to books, pandemic closures, testing, and pensions.

Lillian Lowery has passed. She was wonderful. Committed to kids, smart, effective. A good superintendent and state superintendent. I enjoyed working with her. Big loss for the sector, she’ll be missed professionally and personally.

Teachers of Tik Tok…

Everyone went berserk this week over the Wash Post story on the Libs of Tik Tok Twitter account. It does have an education angle, it was sometimes teachers being highlighted. But it’s more a story of just how dumb our debates are.

When I’ve written here that a lot (though not all) of the stuff animating social media around “CRT” or gender or whatever is teachers freelancing, this is in part the kind of thing I’m referring to. That account’s bread and butter was not teachers talking about the formal curriculum and it was not made up. It’s why the way through a lot of this is better curriculum not leaving it to teachers.

This wasn’t a doxxing. If you run a Twitter feed with hundreds of thousands of followers and go on cable news to talk about it, well then you can’t expect anonymity.

The story was lame because there is nothing there. It’s a Twitter feed. The person who runs it is a random – there was no big ‘aha’ like some major donor or figure funding this. And you did not really even get a sense who this person was, and, really, who cares? Did you learn anything you didn’t already know? The news angle seemed weak to me. The account and its impact seem more germane.

There are more than three million public school teachers in the United States. That’s a large number so even if an incredibly small fraction say stupid stuff for whatever reason on social media that’s still plenty of content for a Twitter feed. The Opossums have their own feed, too, though it’s cuter. Most teachers are not like the ones highlighted. That’s why they call it “nutpicking.” Social media screws up our sense of prevalence and across a range of issues leads to lousy journalism.

A contagion in the school choice sector is the idea of being for choice only when it’s a choice you’d make. Conversely, there is also this idea out there that we can just choice our way out of all these social issues. I tend to think school choice is good in that it shrinks the sphere of stuff to argue about – you want Montessori and you want Core Knowledge and you want unschooling, great have at it. But at some level a society can’t escape having to wrestle with these questions.

This seems like an under-discussed issue to me (both on its own terms and especially in relation to the teacher shortage panic:

Here’s Ruy Teixeria on Democratic politics but with clear parallels to the elite education sector:

The culture of the left has evolved and not in a good way. It is now thoroughly out of touch with its working class roots and completely dominated by college-educated professionals, typically in big metropolitan areas and university towns and typically younger. These are the people that fill the ranks of the media, nonprofits, advocacy groups, foundations and the infrastructure of the Democratic party. They speak their own language and highlight the issues that most animate their commitments to ‘social justice”.

These commitments are increasingly driven by what is now referred to as identity politics. This form of politics originated in the 1960s movements that sought to eliminate discrimination against and establish equal treatment and access for women and for racial and sexual minorities. In evolving to the present day, the focus has mutated into an attempt to impose a worldview that emphasizes multiple, intersecting levels of oppression (“intersectionality”) based on group identification. In place of promoting universal rights and principles—the traditional remit of the left–advocates now police others on the left, including within the Democratic party, to uncritically embrace this intersectional approach, insist on an arcane vocabulary for speaking about these purportedly oppressed groups, and prohibit discourse based on logic and evidence to evaluate the assertions of those who claim to speak on the groups’ behalf.

Policy can work!

Source: Virginia DWR

There is a “nothing” works crowd in education running around Eeyore-like making claims like nothing has improved in education in the past 30 years. This isn’t the case.

Unrelated to education, the other day I was looking at harvest numbers in Virginia for wildlife and saw this chart about bears. I don’t hunt bears, I like having them around, but like any other resource they do need to be managed. And, wow, look at that growth curve – more impressive when you realize it happened against a backdrop of shrinking habitat. Bears were hunted almost to extinction, thanks to the North American approach to wildlife management they’ve made an amazing recovery (deer, too, turkeys are a somewhat different story). You also see the same thing with cold water conservation and fishery restoration.

You can decide if wildlife conservation is more or less complicated than education policy, but it seems clear our problem in education right now is politics, not that policy can’t improve things. Also I just wanted to share the bear chart.

Enjoy your weekend.


April 19, 2022


Odds & Ends, Plus Prince

Keep an eye on the public comments for the proposed regulations to restrict charter school growth. Apparently not going as planned. What’s unfortunate here is that charter school policy in 2022 is not charter policy in 2012, or 2002, or 1992, so there is room for a thoughtful conversation about lessons learned and the future of the federal charter program. This gambit just isn’t it.

Last week I wrote about common errors and how they confuse important issues and also about why “groomer” is the new “CRT” and why that’s no good.

Matt Yglesias on quality policy analysis.

I heard from someone who used to work at a well-regarded center-left think tank that one of her colleagues noticed this exact problem earlier. But when she raised the issue, she was told to keep quiet because the care groups have always been supportive on other issues.

That is the most explicit statement of Coalition Brain that I’ve heard, but I think it’s a widespread syndrome across causes and institutions. Everyone is supposed to mind their own business and support the team, not directly fire at anyone else. And of course it’s true that politics is fundamentally a team sport and a game of coalitions.

This phenomenon is pretty pervasive and it’s why people are left confused about things like evidence on pre-K (not as robust as you’ve been told), school choice (on both the right and the left because of different narratives), school funding and finance (we spend more than many think but less equitably than many others think). Media has some culpability here, too. There are some exceptions, but in general political reliability is the coin of the realm these days. That’s not good for decisionmaking.

This NCTE statement is getting a lot of attention. More after Nellie Bowles highlighted it in her newsletter last week. There are also some issues with the writing, which is ironic. This line, in particular is causing angst,

The time has come to decenter book reading and essay writing as the pinnacles of English language arts education.

This reminds me of the equity math workbook that went around last year. There was a lot in it that made sense – who can be against focusing on representation to help more students see themselves in math? All that, however, was swamped by the woke word salad of the document. The same dynamic is at work here. And again, the irony. Yes “decentering” books seems like a bad idea, especially now. But not all the ideas in the document are lousy and some are what good teachers do now.

By popular demand – here’s young Prince talking about teacher strikes on Minneapolis.

What do NFTs mean for education?

I think nothing!

No, that’s not quite right. Though education’s futurists are speculating. An NFT of Jack Dorsey’s first tweet sold for $2.9 million at the height of the NFT craze and the other day was valued at less than $15k by the NFT “market.”  Reminds me of the old joke that the way to make millions in education is to start with billions.

But there is something here that’s less profitable but potentially more useful. Using blockchain or distributed ledger technology for student data and credentials. Every time you raise this it leads to a Bitcoin joke – it’s probably how Libertarians feel with every predictable gold or weed quip – but this technology could transform education data and make it easier for students to carry portable and verifiable credentials from place to place. That’s an equity issue for some students now, a huge system fragmentation issue in general, and over time a systems issue for all student as education becomes more unbundled.

Steve Rees on interim assessments:

If students who take interim tests show little benefit, and if teachers misinterpret results often even after discussing them with colleagues, this shouldn’t lead to test-bashing. It should lead to a review of who’s in charge of test quality and interpretation.

Max Marchitello on teacher retirement in California:

In short, CalSTRS is expensive, it is largely ineffective, and it compounds inequities in school funding.

Can education help fight obesity? Matt Rees is on the case. 

Here’s a thoughtful take on school pandemic closures worth your time if you follow that debate and the politics around it. But I think one issue that doesn’t get enough attention here is how much – with the notable exception of Black parents – parent sentiment on schools being open or not seemed to follow whether schools were actually open for in-person instruction or not. One interpretation is that when schools were closed, people thought they should be closed, trusting officials to make good decisions about safety. And when they were open they understandably thought the inverse.

There is going to be some new case law coming out of the changes schools are making in response to social concerns. We’ve talked about some First Amendment questions. Here’s a case in Albemarle, Virginia, to keep an eye on.

School of hard knocks. Hotchkiss, Princeton, Toni Morrison and the early years of MacKenzie Scott via a Times profile.

Feels Like Rain. Purple Rain.


April 15, 2022

Category Errors

Sometimes we talk about common errors you see around this sector. One of my favorites is ecological fallacies because they’re genuinely interesting to me. There are others, some less interesting. Lately you see a lot of broad category errors. Here are two I came across recently that are illustrative both on the specifics and in general.

This column in The Washington Post echoes a common misconception, 

Frey’s first key point is that according to Census data, “for the first time, children of color (those who identify as Latino or Hispanic, Asian American, Black, Native American, or with two more races) now comprise more than half (53%) of the nation’s under-age-18 population.”

Frey’s second key point is that a very large majority of the nation’s parents — around 65 percent — are people of color or are college-educated Whites, substantially larger than among adults overall.

Those groups tend to be more Democratic-leaning, while non-college-educated Whites lean more Republican. You would think Democrats should be able to effectively address the large bloc of diverse and educated parents on these issues if they try a little harder.

The two authors are trying to make the point that if Democrats can just figure out how to talk about race in the classroom things will be good because all these various voters will join in blissful solidarity.

One would think that after Asian voters put a knife in affirmative action in California and Asian voters moved to Glenn Youngkin in Virginia (and Youngkin seems to have won Hispanic voters outright) analysts would stop with these crude generalizations. Or maybe rethink this theory? In Virginia, Asian voters helped Youngkin because of concern over admissions to selective schools and advanced classes. Those policy changes were critical race theory informed, sure, but that’s not the “CRT” backlash we heard so much about. Democrats are struggling with Hispanic voters, Asian voters, and to some extent Black voters for a bunch of reasons but one is a perception that Democrats are completely out of touch on education (and in general). This Intercept headline pretty much sums it up.

Meanwhile, there is pretty wide agreement on teaching about race and racism across a broad swath of Americans. So orienting a strategy around engaging the dead enders, which right now looks like the caricature of the American tourist who just thinks yelling louder will somehow make people understand, seems like political malpractice. Dems will never get those votes anyway. The problem is, and this is what happened with Terry McAuliffe, if you can’t discern between age inappropriate or blatantly political content and honest teaching of history then you’re going to get painted defending some crazy stuff. And mostly freelancing by teachers who don’t have good curriculum and training. A large amount of what animates social media is not things that are actually in any curriculum.

All this is obscuring that Democrats have an education policy problem. Right now, just for instance, the Biden Administration is trying to curtail charter school growth through the regulatory process. This is an odd position for an Administration that says it wants to “center” Black and Hispanic Americans. Here’s some charter polling that’s in line with lots of other polling. 

Source: MorningConsult & Ed Choice

This, of course, while the Democratic party is facing intense pressure because it’s associated with what are perceived as longer than necessary shut downs of in-person schooling and for generally being out of touch with parents. It’s an interesting strategic choice.

The voters who really don’t like charters are white progressives, who are to the left of Black and Hispanic voters in general. When he was Lt. Governor of California Cruz Bustamante used to talk about the “Radical Hispanic Agenda,” which he would then reveal to be safe neighborhoods, good schools, and economic opportunity. Democrats could do a lot worse than returning to those basics.

As always, though, Democrats have an ace in the hole: The Republicans.  

A second and similar sort of error can be found in this interview of Delaware State Senator Sarah McBride (D), a transgender woman serving in the legislature there. McBride recently chaired a hearing about the transgender and youth sports issue. In the interview she says,

Second … within all sports, there’s biological diversity, there’s physiological diversity, and some of those biological and physiological realities for students give them competitive edges.

I will tell you, I’m bad at every sport.

But that diversity exists within every gender identity. It exists within cis [gender] students and trans students. And legislation that comes before us that isn’t making individualized determinations, that isn’t actually looking at these issues of disparities and competitiveness, whether that’s access to private coaching, whether that’s differences in height, or actual cardiovascular capacity, but specifically rooted in a protected class’s identity.

I agree on the blanket ban problem. Both the ‘athletes should decide unilaterally based on what they want to do’ and blanket bans are exclusionary and walk on the nuance here. But, this general idea about ability is a common and important misconception about this debate.

First, there are enormous benefits that come from playing sports. They are both physical in terms of movement and exercise and also mental and emotional in terms of teamwork, fair play, winning, losing, efficacy, persistence and a lot more. That’s why, for me, a first principle for this whole debate should be how do we get as many kids as possible playing for as long in their lives as possible? There are a lot of lessons there. This is one reason I helped the Aspen Institute’s Project Play work on ways to make sports, and school sports, more inclusive. 

But, this broad point about sports and how there are lots of differences so what’s one more elides a really key issue: It’s just not the case with many highly competitive sports. At that level of competitiveness the differences are often small but hugely significant. And physical ability matters a lot. That, not recreational and other youth sports, is where the action is on this complicated question. It’s why a guy whose name I can’t even recall, not even in the top 200 of male players, was able to beat the Williams sisters back to back – and they are phenomenal players. We saw this recently in NCAA swimming.

This is why the issue here is so hard – not at the level of recreational sports and young kids where inclusion is an easy default position because getting everyone playing should be the goal. But with highly competitive sports in high school and college (and the Olympics though  that’s less of an education issue). At that level it is a zero sum game, so to speak, where two different rights clash. The transgender athlete wants to compete in the gender they identify with. The female athlete – who at the point of highly competitive sports has put in untold hours of work and effort – wants to compete on a level playing field.

How you balance the rights of the athlete who just misses this finals by one place, or comes in 2nd, loses a spot on a team, etc…with the athlete who just wants to live their life and compete in a sport they love is not straightforward. If you reflexively see one of those sets of “rights” as obviously more important than the other then I’d suggest you’re not appreciating the very complicated issues here. This is a collision of claims, none of which are without merit. Yes it’s a fractional issue overall,* but it’s not to any of the athletes involved.

We’re not doing anyone any favors ducking that or waving it away because most of us never competed at that level or lack the ability to. It’s why for the umpteenth time I think we need a national commission to work through this in a more deliberate way and make recommendations for a framework.

*Just as an aside political point, I’m not sure the messaging that it’s ‘just a few kids’ helps advocates for transgender athletes the way many seem to think it does. Public opinion remains strongly on the side of the bans, consistently across a lot of polling. And governors who have cited the small number of athletes involved in vetoing bans have done it not because they favor letting athletes do what they want but rather because they want a process for the small numbers and also want to avoid a lot of litigation. It’s entirely possible when the public hears, “it’s just a few kids,” some people then think ‘well, if it’s just a few then a ban isn’t really that big of a deal.’ In other words, that messaging may cut both ways depending on someone’s priors.