CURMUDGUCATION: Ed Reform v 6.3 Accountability Lite

CURMUDGUCATIONThe slightly-cranky voice navigating the world of educational “reform” while trying to still pursue the mission of providing quality education.

Ed Reform v 6.3 Accountability Lite

Full disclosure– I made the number 6.3 out of the air, because frankly I’ve lost track of the various versions of ed reform that we’ve seen. But we’re definitely on to something new.

The new ed reform has staked out a position against bureaucracy and paperwork. This conversation starts with a Rick Hess piece, which becomes a thing because Betsy DeVos decided to quote it in her address to charteristas. And so we arrive at a call for reformsters to stand up against reformocracy.

The call for getting rid of bureaucracy is not without disagreement. Checker Finn pushed back hard, and Mike Petrilli chimed in. But there continues to be a buzz surrounding the issue of accountability/bureaucracy. The most recent entry in the discussion is on the Fordham website, written by Max Eden of the Manhattan Insititute, defending the book project that Finn attacked.

The piece highlights some of the important features of v 6.3 reforminess. “Results: Yes. Regulation: No. How to beat back the new education establishment” is a rather mixed-up manifesto.

One of the curious features of current reforminess is the complete brain-wipe when it comes to Common Core State [sic] Standards. Reformers led the charge to inflict a set of national standards on every state and every public school district, and I’m happy that CCSS is more ghost-like these days, but it’s mighty disingenuous for Core supporters to pretend that it’s just awful how someone somehow created a mighty web of regulations and paperwork and bureaucratic hoop-jumping to make sure that the Core was properly implemented. This selective amnesia occurs periodically in the reform movement. Reformsters were shocked that the Big Standardized Test narrowed curriculum and warped education, after they worked hard to create a test-based accountability system. Reformsters used political tricks and tools to install their various policy ideas, and then complained that education discussions had become too political.

This has been a pattern for a long time. Slap public schools with tons of regulation and mandates, then declare that school choice is needed because public schools are too tied up in regulations and mandates.

Eden quotes the old saw that charters trade autonomy for accountability, a red flag all by itself because A) if that’s the secret, then lets fight for more autonomy for public schools and B) charters have regularly and forcefully fought to avoid accountability as much as possible.

And then the flat-out falsehoods begin:

Unlike public schools, charter schools are accountable to parents (whose children they must enroll by choice), authorizers (which may choose to shut or not renew charters), and the state (which sets rules and regulations for authorizers). The debate over charter accountability is a question of emphasis among these actors.

Public schools operate transparently, run by elected boards. They are accountable to every taxpayer, including parents. The “unlike” is baloney.

But central here is Eden’s definition of the issue of accountability– balance between parents, authorizers and the state.

The “new education establishment” wants to shift the locus away from parents and authorizers, and to the state, by passing laws that prescribe and circumscribe the work of authorizers.

He identifies  National Association of Charter School Authorizers as an example of this group, with a published call for such prescriptions. Eden says that their calls for uniform authorizer standards and student achievement requirements should make sense, but don’t seem to make any difference– as always, the measure of effectiveness used here is test scores, which remains a terrible choice, like judging food quality based only on color. But he worries that the cost is greater:

As Tulane professor Doug Harris says, there hasn’t “been as much actual innovation as maybe the original charter folks hoped…when you have intense test based accountability it really restricts what you can do and to what degree you can innovate because…there are only so many ways to make test scores go up.”

First, I’ve got another explanation for the absence of any charter-ignited wildfire of innovation– charter operators (who are largely education amateurs) don’t know anything innovative and have leaned heavily on old non-innovative solutions of controlling the quality of the student body. But Eden does note the other obvious implication of the quote– that depending on test scores as a measure does mall sorts of damage to the whole educational model.

This does not lead him to conclude that maybe we should ditch the whole test-centered model for all schools. Instead, it leads him to conclude that  “authorizers ought to retain autonomy to open and closer charters based on their own human judgment.” Here he again glosses over some realities, including states where authorizers have a financial interest in keeping charters open, or the more common situation where it’s much harder for authorizers to close a charter than — well, than it is for public schools to fire a tenured teacher.

Eden says that then book calls not for ditching state-based accountability entirely (just mostly) but leaning on authorizers and parents. In particular, he says this:

Parents know things that authorizers don’t, and authorizers know things that parents don’t. While low test scores shouldn’t trigger a default closure, they could trigger a default conversation. If parents have a good reason to love their school despite its low test scores, they should be able to make that case directly to authorizers. Then authorizers can come to a decision informed by parents rather than have their hand forced by the state.

If these defenses all sound familiar– don’t tie our hands with bureaucratic red tape, don’t enforce unfair standardization, don’t judge us on Big Standardized Test results– it’s because this was what public school supporters back when charteristas were trying to clear the ground to make room for their babies. One of the large, consistent shifts in ed reform has been from “We should use these pickaxes on public schools to test their worthiness” to “It’s not right to use these pickaxes on charter schools.”

It should be noted that some reformsters have been pretty consistent and intellectually honest over the last decade (Rick Hess among them). And some reformsters have been pretty adamant about holding the accountability line (see above-referenced Chester Finn piece). While it’s tempting to attribute the pickaxial shift to self-serving hypocrisy, it’s also true that the charter industry has been largely run by educational amateurs, leading to same sort of revelations that Trump has experienced in the White House (Hey, this is harder than I thought).

If public education supporters seem a little touchy about reform’s new opposition to bureaucracy and paperwork and red tape and test-centered evaluation, it’s because we could have used all this outrage and resistance back when reformers were on the other side of the p0ush. It’s like reformers whipped up a mob against schools, set the mob on public schools, then, after the public schools were weakened and charters were built, stood up and hollered, “Hey, you mob! You should knock it off and go home.”

Eden winds up his argument by saying that accountability isn’t a binary thing– you could be all for it, all against it, or just trying to walk a line somewhere down the middle. But even Eden’s “nuanced” view of accountability oversimplifies the questions of accountability. To whom? For what? With what consequences for coming up short?

Those are all important accountability question to ask (just in case you’ve been confused by reformster rhetoric, let me be clear that I, a union public school teachers, am absolutely in favor of accountability). But Eden doesn’t really seem to be exploring the realm issues of accountability so much as he’s looking at a way to make it hard to close charters without actively arguing against accountability. So we have the new reformster stance for accountability lite– of course we want accountability for charter schools, but here’s a long list of the ways in which we don’t want it. Enough accountability to keep critics happy, but not so much that it actually gets in our way.

Source: CURMUDGUCATION: Ed Reform v 6.3 Accountability Lite

Fearing border tax, retailers boost lobbying 31 percent in a year

Along with a new administration in the White House comes a “retail lobbying frenzy” – especially in a remarkably tough year for the retail sector.

It’s been a remarkably tough year for the retail sector. So far, retailers set a record pace for bankruptcies and store closings. Household names are faring no better than small shops: J.C. Penney said it would shutter 138 locations in July; and Sears Holdings will turn off the lights at over 170 Kmart and Sears stores.

Credit ratings agency Moody’s added to an already-grim outlook when, earlier this month, its list of U.S. retailers at risk of bankruptcy rose to 22.

Read more

By Kennett Werner

Source: Fearing border tax, retailers boost lobbying 31 percent in a year

Despite its controversies, Uber was more popular than taxis during the 2016 election

In addition to Uber’s popularity with the general public, PACs and candidate committees were frequent users to the app throughout various 2016 campaigns.

Despite its controversies, Uber has quickly become king of the ride-hailing service industry

, making it a huge competitor to taxi companies. In addition to Uber’s popularity with the general public, campaigns and PACs often rely on it for transportation.

During the 2016 election cycle, at least 528 different PACs and candidate committees used Uber, according to FEC expenditure data.

Read more

By Sara Swann

Source: Despite its controversies, Uber was more popular than taxis during the 2016 election

Out of the swamp… or into the shadows? • OpenSecrets

If reported lobbying goes down, was the swamp drained, or is someone trying to circumvent the rules?

Nearly 2,100 federal lobbyists who were active in 2016 did not report undertaking lobbying activities in the first quarter of 2017. Of those, 58 percent or 1,200 of them continued to work for the same employer.

People change jobs all the time, of course, even within the same company. In the lobbying world it’s not uncommon for individuals to refocus their work on state level or global issues, move to public relations or take a more managerial position that does not involve trudging the halls of Congress.

At the Center for Responsive Politics, however, we found that nearly a third of the former lobbyists who stayed at the same organization have titles that indicate they are still working on influencing U.S. federal policy. Thirty percent had job titles that included terms like public policy, legislative, government, lobbyist and the like. (We excluded those that also mention state or international responsibilities.)

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Source: Out of the swamp… or into the shadows? • OpenSecrets

Billionaire Meijer Family opens store on Bridge St. now that the neighborhood is catering to the professional class

Grand Rapids Institute for Information Democracy

On Monday, Meijer executives and other members of the Grand Rapids elite showed up for a photo opportunity and to promote their own business interests.

Meijer held a “ground breaking” ceremony, where a bunch of White-connected men did the whole, “we are only mimicking that we are doing actual physical labor,” photo op.

Channel 8 began its news story with the news reader saying, “It’s an exciting day for Grand Rapids’ westside,” which normalizes the ongoing celebration of more development that will cater to the more professional/business class and further marginalize the working class and communities of color. 

The WOOD TV 8 story, like most media coverage of the new Meijer store on Bridge St, leaves out any historical context, which the billionaire Meijer family is happy about. MLive has Hank Meijer talking about how proud his father would have been about this new urban store. However, neither Hank, not…

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CURMUDGUCATION: PA: Charter Transparency Fail

CURMUDGUCATIONThe slightly-cranky voice navigating the world of educational “reform” while trying to still pursue the mission of providing quality education.

PA: Charter Transparency Fail

Last night, my district’s school board voted to raise taxes.

They did it at a public meeting. I could have attended it easily (they meet just across the street from my home) as could any member of the public. I could also have commented on the budget situation, and I could have based my comments on having looked at the proposed budget, a document that has been available for at least a month. And if I attend all meetings regularly, I know the whole process that has gone into the board decisions, because it’s illegal for board members to get together and do board work outside of meetings, and it’s illegal for them to hold a meeting without giving public notice (PA law allows them to hold private sidebars on personnel matters).

That’s transparency in the function of a public school district.

Meanwhile, in another part of Pennsylvania, one more charter is demonstrating how the opposite of transparency works.

Down Catasauqua way, Innovative Arts charter school has been a source for some concerns. Two teachers from the charter went before the Catasauqua public school board with their concerns.

Special education teacher Ann Tarafas and Spanish teacher Elizabeth Fox, herself hired as a paraprofessional and lacking an emergency permit to teach a foreign language, rehashed their non-compliance stories now accompanied with a total lack of inclusion…

Referring to inadequate special education department staffing (down from five to three), [Special Ed teacher Ann] Tarafas declared, “We’re not in compliance with state standards nor are we holding up to the contracts we signed with parents of special ed students on behalf of the school. There is a blatant disregard for what those kids need and that’s been exhausting,” she remarked.

According to Tarafas, seven of the last eight Innovative hires were not certified teachers. Hearing the full litany of issues, the board president commented, “I don’t know what to say I’m speechless.”

The Innovative Arts charter was approved by the Catasauqua public school board just last February, and by April of this year, they were already restructuring in response to a drop in enrollment from 283 to 250 (after originally saying 300 students were needed to open). Their new principal is a veteran of NJ KIPP.

Innovative has adopted a budget, too. Only, they did it at an unadvertised meeting that did not allow public comment, and the budget is still not available for viewing. This is three or four shades of illegal, so it’s not surprising that the Catasauqua board wants some answers from the Innovative Arts people.

The board called a special meeting for tonight to look into these questions– and Innovative Arts has indicated they will not attend. “Acting on advice of counsel,” IA leaders will not attend the meeting to discuss or explain their situation. And while you may think that it’s foolhardy not to give a report to the board that is responsible for authorizing them, but as is the case in many states, Pennsylvania requires something just short of a mountain of paperwork and video proof of intense puppy abuse to rescind a charter.

The specific concerns of IA’s lawyer, Daniel Fennick, is that the meeting might involve asking Innovative Arts leaders questions “that should not be addressed in public.” For instance, those two whistleblowing teachers? They learned their contracts aren’t going to be renewed just a few days after they spoke to the public board. So, yeah, that could be an awkward question. Or “Do you really think that members of a public school board don’t know what business can be discussed in public?”– that might be an awkward question. IA’s fall-back excuse is that they’ve already answered all the questions (though their budget is still unreleased).

So, one more example of how charter schools cut the public out and do their best to avoid accountability. This is not how public education is supposed to work.

Source: CURMUDGUCATION: PA: Charter Transparency Fail

Religious faith may reduce stress, helping believers live longer 

Worship, by reducing stress, may be the secret to longer and healthier lives.

People in the Old Testament lived a long time, we are told. Books like Genesis describe lifespans stretching hundreds of years. Whether or not we take those figures literally, a new paper finds there is indeed a connection between longevity and faith.

Source: Religious faith may reduce stress, helping believers live longer – Journalist’s Resource

The FAFSA form and gaps in college financial aid

More than 19 percent of college students are eligible for financial aid but don’t complete a FAFSA form, according to published research from an economics professor at the United States Military Academy at West Point.

The issue: College students who want financial aid from the federal government must complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, most commonly known as the FAFSA. The information provided on that form determines whether a student qualifies for Pell Grants, federally-subsidized education loans and work-study programs. Many colleges and universities also require students to submit a FAFSA to qualify for other aid, including grants and scholarships the school offers.

Even though there’s potentially a lot of money at stake, thousands of students skip the 105-question form, which is longer and, in some ways, more complicated than a federal tax return (The 2016 Form 1040 is two pages and 79 questions). For years, education leaders, student advocates and others have spoken out about the problem. Meanwhile, schools as well as non-profit groups such as FAFSA Day Massachusetts and the New Jersey Higher Education Student Assistance Authority hold regular events to offer families one-on-one assistance.

READ MORE HERE: The FAFSA form and gaps in college financial aid – Journalist’s Resource

Fracking seems to poison groundwater within one kilometer 

As people who live near hydraulic fracking have long complained, the process seems to poison their water. A new paper measures the distance prospectors should keep from water supplies.

READ MORE HERE: Fracking seems to poison groundwater within one kilometer – Journalist’s Resource