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Celebrating in the Face of COVID, Hurricanes, and DeVos

I am sitting in my living room waiting for Hurricane Zeta to pass over my southeastern Louisiana home in a few hours. It’s our fifth hurricane to hit the region this season and the seventh time southern Louisiana has fallen within the cone of hurricane threat.

This year has been a regular diet of COVID and hurricanes overshadowing my teaching experience, even as Betsy DeVos continues to publicly express her disdain for America’s systems of public schools.

Well, Betsy, my public school is a good school, and I am a good public school teacher.

In the last several weeks, seven new students have enrolled in my Eng IV classes. Six arrived from other schools. That would not happen in a private school. There is no obligation to enroll whoever shows up on the private school doorstep. But we enroll students as they arrive, and each one enters my classroom with a circumstance that I must figure out how to navigate so that the student can become part of my class as successfully and seamlessly as is possible.

It is quite a challenge, but we do not turn students away. We. Do. Not. Turn. Students. Away. That is profound, and the likes of Betsy DeVos, steeped in her ideological bias, completely misses it. 

Then there are the numerous specialized situations in which students and their families find themselves, circumstances that necessitate individualized, often instantaneous and creative, solutions. Longterm illness and disease. Comprehension issues. Physical limitations. Psychological challenges. Homelife instabilities.

And now, with the advent of online learning, wifi issues. Password issues. Platform issues. 

And you know what? We are nearing the end of our first grading period, and I have offered more graded assignments than required. I have (and continue to) work with students with extenuating circumstances. I have been able to address specific issues interfering with individual students’ success in my class by building relationships with my students and, in turn, by helping them confront those fears, sometimes in time to raise grades, sometimes as a hard-earned lesson to improve future grades.

The key is that authentic learning and personal responsibility are behind students’ improving less-desirable grades.

The bottom line: My students and I are moving forward, despite COVID, despite hurricanes, despite DeVos.

And that, my friends, is success.


No time like the present to sharpen your digital research skills!  See my latest book, A Practical Guide to Digital Research: Getting the Facts and Rejecting the Lies, available for purchase on Amazon and via Garn Press!

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Good News, Teachers: Cloth Masks Do Protect the Wearer

COVID-19 has shaken classroom teaching to its core. It’s like carrying a platter of full water glasses while walking down the aisle of a lurching bus, and doing so daily.

Expect varying degrees of success, and intentionally celebrate those successes in that day to fortify your mental stability.

Believe me when I write that I thank God that he measures out my life in daily installments.

My sanity is grounded in understanding what, exactly, I control and leveraging that control to counter the volley of adjustments to adjustments.

And so, we arrive at mask wearing during this pandemic.

I am relieved that my school district requires students and staff to wear masks, and I am so grateful that I have virtually no pushback from my students regarding this requirement.

One issue under my control involves creating a respectful atmosphere in my room, which includes explaining why mask wearing is important to me; modeling the very behavior I am asking of my students, and thanking them for complying.

Of course, what is also completely under my control is my choice to wear my own mask.

When the pandemic first short-sheeted life in Louisiana, on Friday, March 13, 2020, I did not immediately take to wearing a mask, but I did immediately begin social distancing. Within a few weeks, I adjusted to and accepted mask wearing indoors, even as I deliberately limit indoor activities in places other than my home.

I cannot deliberately limit my time in my classroom. So, my own mask wearing is that much more important to me while I am at school.

From the time I accepted wearing a mask as a useful strategy for combatting COVID-19, I thought it logical that my mask would not only protect others but would protect me, as well. It just makes sense that having a cloth barrier between my mouth and nose and the air I breathe provides a filter that would dilute the concentration of any virus I might inhale. As a result, I might still contract the virus, but a milder version– even so mild as to exhibit no symptoms.

Research supports this logic. On August 19, 2020, infectious disease physician, Monica Ghandi, published an article about this very issue, entitled, “Cloth Masks Do Protect the Wearer – Breathing in Less Coronavirus Means You Get Less Sick.”

Since Ghandi’s article is part of creative commons, I have reproduced it here in full. (I particularly like the part about the masked hamsters):

Masks slow the spread of SARS-CoV-2 by reducing how much infected people spray the virus into the environment around them when they cough or talk. Evidence from laboratory experimentshospitals and whole countries show that masks work, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends face coverings for the U.S. public. With all this evidence, mask wearing has become the norm in many places.

I am an infectious disease doctor and a professor of medicine at the University of California, San Francisco. As governments and workplaces began to recommend or mandate mask wearing, my colleagues and I noticed an interesting trend. In places where most people wore masks, those who did get infected seemed dramatically less likely to get severely ill compared to places with less mask-wearing.

It seems people get less sick if they wear a mask.

When you wear a mask – even a cloth mask – you typically are exposed to a lower dose of the coronavirus than if you didn’t. Both recent experiments in animal models using coronavirus and nearly a hundred years of viral research show that lower viral doses usually means less severe disease.

No mask is perfect, and wearing one might not prevent you from getting infected. But it might be the difference between a case of COVID-19 that sends you to the hospital and a case so mild you don’t even realize you’re infected.

Exposure dose determines severity of disease

When you breathe in a respiratory virus, it immediately begins hijacking any cells it lands near to turn them into virus production machines. The immune system tries to stop this process to halt the spread of the virus.

The amount of virus that you’re exposed to – called the viral inoculum, or dose – has a lot to do with how sick you get. If the exposure dose is very high, the immune response can become overwhelmed. Between the virus taking over huge numbers of cells and the immune system’s drastic efforts to contain the infection, a lot of damage is done to the body and a person can become very sick.

On the other hand, if the initial dose of the virus is small, the immune system is able to contain the virus with less drastic measures. If this happens, the person experiences fewer symptoms, if any.

This concept of viral dose being related to disease severity has been around for almost a century. Many animal studies have shown that the higher the dose of a virus you give an animal, the more sick it becomes. In 2015, researchers tested this concept in human volunteers using a nonlethal flu virus and found the same result. The higher the flu virus dose given to the volunteers, the sicker they became.

In July, researchers published a paper showing that viral dose was related to disease severity in hamsters exposed to the coronavirus. Hamsters who were given a higher viral dose got more sick than hamsters given a lower dose.

Based on this body of research, it seems very likely that if you are exposed to SARS-CoV-2, the lower the dose, the less sick you will get.

So what can a person do to lower the exposure dose?

Masks reduce viral dose

Most infectious disease researchers and epidemiologists believe that the coronavirus is mostly spread by airborne droplets and, to a lesser extent, tiny aerosols. Research shows that both cloth and surgical masks can block the majority of particles that could contain SARS-CoV-2. While no mask is perfect, the goal is not to block all of the virus, but simply reduce the amount that you might inhale. Almost any mask will successfully block some amount.

Laboratory experiments have shown that good cloth masks and surgical masks could block at least 80% of viral particles from entering your nose and mouth. Those particles and other contaminants will get trapped in the fibers of the mask, so the CDC recommends washing your cloth mask after each use if possible.

The final piece of experimental evidence showing that masks reduce viral dose comes from another hamster experiment. Hamsters were divided into an unmasked group and a masked group by placing surgical mask material over the pipes that brought air into the cages of the masked group. Hamsters infected with the coronavirus were placed in cages next to the masked and unmasked hamsters, and air was pumped from the infected cages into the cages with uninfected hamsters.

As expected, the masked hamsters were less likely to get infected with COVID-19. But when some of the masked hamsters did get infected, they had more mild disease than the unmasked hamsters.

Masks increase rate of asymptomatic cases

In July, the CDC estimated that around 40% of people infected with SARS-CoV-2 are asymptomatic, and a number of other studies have confirmed this number.

However, in places where everyone wears masks, the rate of asymptomatic infection seems to be much higher. In an outbreak on an Australian cruise ship called the Greg Mortimer in late March, the passengers were all given surgical masks and the staff were given N95 masks after the first case of COVID-19 was identified. Mask usage was apparently very high, and even though 128 of the 217 passengers and staff eventually tested positive for the coronavirus, 81% of the infected people remained asymptomatic.

Further evidence has come from two more recent outbreaks, the first at a seafood processing plant in Oregon and the second at a chicken processing plant in Arkansas. In both places, the workers were provided masks and required to wear them at all times. In the outbreaks from both plants, nearly 95% of infected people were asymptomatic.

There is no doubt that universal mask wearing slows the spread of the coronavirus. My colleagues and I believe that evidence from laboratory experiments, case studies like the cruise ship and food processing plant outbreaks and long-known biological principles make a strong case that masks protect the wearer too.

The goal of any tool to fight this pandemic is to slow the spread of the virus and save lives. Universal masking will do both.

I find the apparent increase in asymptomatic cases due to mask wearing intriguing. It makes sense that if a mask can dilute the virus one inhales, it is possible to dilute it to such a degree that infection produces no readily observable symptoms. 

The potential for a mask to protect its wearer is good news in a pandemic world in which so much is unstable, including daily classroom operations.

Also good news: Wearing my mask is something I can control.


No time like the present to sharpen your digital research skills!  See my latest book, A Practical Guide to Digital Research: Getting the Facts and Rejecting the Lies, available for purchase on Amazon and via Garn Press!

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“Who’s Watching This Class?”: America’s COVID-Era Substitute Teacher Shortage

On November 09, 2020, my southern Louisiana school district will tentatively have all high school students return to the classroom every day. At this time, we are on a hybrid schedule in which approximately half of the students attend on alternating days.

More students in attendance means an increased likelihood of COVID-19 on campus, which, in turn, means a greater likelihood that teachers will find themselves in situations requiring a two-week quarantine.

As it is, on our current, hybrid schedule, our high school is short on substitute teachers. And a quarantined teacher means a substitute teacher is needed for not a day or two, but for two weeks.

I believe having all students on campus every day is a bad idea. One way in which that bad idea will reveal itself is in a possibly-daily frenzy to create a patchwork of adult supervison on the fly for multiple, unmanned classrooms full of students.

As it stands, we already have that frenzy multiple times per week.

Other states are facing substitute teacher shortages during the pandemic (e.g., Pennsylvania and Connecticut and Kentucky and beyond).

As a result, two Michigan schools had to briefly close, as the October 15, 2020, WWTV 9 & 10 News reports:

Two local schools made the decision to close Thursday after teachers and staff were forced to quarantine following positive cases in the district.

They couldn’t find enough substitutes to hold in-person class.

Morley Stanwood Superintendent Roger Cole says a handful of staff members at the district recently had to quarantine. That, combined with several teachers already scheduled to be off Thursday and an ongoing shortage of substitute teachers, lead to the decision to close school for the day.

“Today (Thursday) was not closed because of a mass outbreak, today we closed because we didn’t have enough grownups in the building. Replacing one, or two or three isn’t bad, but replacing 10, that doesn’t work,” Cole said.

It was a similar story for Reed City Middle School: staff under quarantine and difficulty finding subs on short notice.

Colorado is “being forced to get creative”:

In Denver Public Schools, the largest district in Colorado, a little more than half of the teachers active in the substitute pool said they were willing to take in-person assignments this fall.

Now, districts are scrambling to figure out how to cover teacher absences and where to find more subs. And they’re being forced to get creative. 

In one district, parents are raising their hands to sub to help prevent a shortage. Other districts, including Alamosa, are looking within, at their own teacher and paraprofessional workforce, offering a financial incentive to those staff members who step up and fill in when needed. And in some districts, administrators who still hold a teaching license are adding the role of substitute to their many responsibilities.

The state’s substitute teacher shortage isn’t far off from a crisis….

And Indiana is having its own substitute shortage and has resorted to billboard advertising to address the issue:

Click image to enlarge.

“The COVID Classroom Coverage Scramble”:

Now playing at schools and districts everywhere.



No time like the present to sharpen your digital research skills!  See my latest book, A Practical Guide to Digital Research: Getting the Facts and Rejecting the Lies, available for purchase on Amazon and via Garn Press!

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The Modern-Day Monster of Racism

My seniors are in the process of reading Beowulf. One assignment they recently completed was a brief written speech assignment on a “modern-day monster” that adults often face in contemporary society.

One of my students, Janiya, chose racism as her “monster.” Here is her response, reproduced with her permission:

In Beowulf, Beowulf fights three monsters, all of which are physical and instill fear in the Danes. In modern society, adults still experience fear; however, modern-day monsters are often abstract. For example, a modern-day monster that black people have been fighting for so long is racism and discrimination. Despite having so many African American leaders who opened doors for all, black people are still judged by the color of their skin. This monster is the biggest of them all because as long as there are people encouraging and teaching this, the bigger it becomes. The petrifying part is that this monster is more than often protected by our own government. Innocent black people are being murdered for absolutely nothing at all. Meanwhile, ther killers can walk freely.

The feeling this monster instills is very hard to explain, and a lot of people will never understand no matter how much you explain it. Being judged for something you have no control over makes you question your self worth. People who feed into this monster are simply simple minded. I don’t want to say this monster can’t be defeated, but as there are racists there will be racism.

What stopped me in my tracks were Janiya’s words, “Being judged for something you have no control over makes you question your self worth.”

She questions her value as a human being for being born black.

The very thought grips my heart and makes me incredibly sad.

Is this where we are, America? In 2020?

James Victore. Racism. 1993.


No time like the present to sharpen your digital research skills!  See my latest book, A Practical Guide to Digital Research: Getting the Facts and Rejecting the Lies, available for purchase on Amazon and via Garn Press!

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Our First Student Tests Positive for COVID-19

We made it longer than I thought we would.

Our first day with students was September 08, 2020. One month later, on October 09, 2020, my Louisiana high school had its first case of a student testing positive for coronavirus.

I appreciate the way in which the situation was handled. Our administration did not leave the issue to ferment in rumors. Instead, faculty received an email about a robocall sent to us and one to parents informing that a student (identity not released) tested positive for the virus, and that a local health agency has been informed and is guiding the process of contact tracing, which involves identifying students and faculty who were within six feet of the infected student for more than 15 minutes and instituting 14 days of quarantine for those individuals in order to combat potential spreading of the virus on our campus.

Such tracing is enabled by classroom seating charts that teachers are required to provide to admin for this very purpose. (The email also reminded faculty of the importance of keeping accurate attendance and updating seating charts.)

I also appreciate that having approximately half of the student body on campus enables individuals to maintain social distancing; that masks are mandatory (and that most individuals wear their masks consistently and correctly), and that admin actively work to keep students from congregating in hallways and at lunch.

We’ve had a good month. Our district admin intend to keep our hybrid attendance schedule for one more month, then maybe send all students back to school every day. I think it is a bad idea, especially since Louisiana’s COVID cases are once again rising following the state’s move to Phase 3 on September 11, 2020, and since both flu season and the holiday season are both approaching.

Like so much about life during this pandemic, we’ll just have to see what happens and how the governor and, in turn, the state and district superintendents choose to respond.

For now, for today, I appreciate where my high school is with this virus.


No time like the present to sharpen your digital research skills!  See my latest book, A Practical Guide to Digital Research: Getting the Facts and Rejecting the Lies, available for purchase on Amazon and via Garn Press!

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I Have Met the Enemy, and It Is iPhone

With the advent of coronavirus-induced, hybrid instruction, I find myself not only having to learn how to teach using Google Classroom to deliver lessons but also having to learn how to combat a higher level of cheating enabled by the wedding between Google Classroom and the iPhone in my students’ hands.

My lesson this week: The iPhone enables screenshots of my out-of-class, Google Classroom quizzes to be shared among my students.

For my Google Classroom quizzes, I usually disable the options for students to immediately see their final grade upon submitting an assignment and also to view correct answers for each question after submitting work. Well, last week, I forgot to disable these features on one quiz, and a handful of my students were able to see the answer key, so to speak, once they submitted their assignments. I found this out because one sent me a message asking to retake the quiz because “a 55 is unacceptable.”

When I saw that he knew his actual score, I thought, “Uh, oh.” And I immediately disabled the two features mentioned above. (Once I disabled the features, students who initially saw the answer key could no longer view it.) I did remember to disable “edit after submit,” so students could not take a quiz, see the answers, then retake the quiz after viewing the answer key. At the time, only six of my 110 students had completed the quiz, so I thought I might have caught it in time. 

Apparently not.

My quizzes are difficult, and I usually curve. I noticed that one student scored remarkably well– not perfect, but well.

Over the next two days, five other students scored exactly the same, remarkable score– including the missing the exact same items and choosing the very same wrong answers for those missed items. 

Something tipped this handful of students that copying these answers was the way to go, and I think someone among the six who saw the answers took photos of (at least) most of the answer key and shared with a friend, who shared with others.

There’s another reason I believe that the cheating derived from iPhone pics of the answer key: I accidentally included items on the quiz that did not parallel the reading selection, which explains why students who honestly completed the quiz scored notably low. In contrast, this handful of high scorers perfectly answered all of the accidental items and missed only answers one could actually locate in the associated reading. 

So, I am discarding that quiz and rewriting another version in which I correct my own item-to-reading-selection misalignment.

I’m also seriously limiting the window for quiz completion.

And I’m letting my students know that I’m onto them.


No time like the present to sharpen your digital research skills!  See my latest book, A Practical Guide to Digital Research: Getting the Facts and Rejecting the Lies, available for purchase on Amazon and via Garn Press!

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The Awful Inhumanity of Life at NY’s Success Academy

Eva Moskowitz is a former NYC council woman who was chosen by hedge funders to operate a charter school chain in New York, Success Academy (SA).

Her authoritatian leadership produces high test scores (from “little test-taking machines”)– and high student and teacher attrition. 

 SA’s ever-percolating dysfunction has found expression on the Instagram site, @survivors_of_successacademy, described as “a place to anonymously share your experience of racism and/or mismanagement at Success Academy.”

Below are some entries detailing a twisted inhumanity at SA:

“On my last day at SA as an assistant, I fainted in the blocks room with my K kids. This was after a nonstop day, in the hot sun with them outside, and no lunch break besides trying to snack when I could sneak away to my bag really quick during the day. … My head teacher was annoyed I missed dismissal because I fainted. She realized it was bad when I needed my dad to pick me bc I wasn’t comfortable driving. I called the dean on the way home and quit.”

“In the 2018-19 school year, my leadership team made us keep scholars who had low grade fevers in school. I would call their parents and tell them we would ‘monitor’ the situation, even though SA guidelines are to have scholars with a fever  sent home. Only if the fever kept rising is when we would ask for them to [be] picked up. My direct manager, a business operations manager, made the main office switch from an in-ear thermometer to an orl thermometer because she thought the ear thermometer was giving inaccurate results. She then told us we couldn’t order the oral thermometer covers because it would make the readings higher. When we expressed to her how unhygienic that was, she told us to ‘wipe the thermometer with an alcohol pad after each use.'”

“[One of our teachers this year] wasn’t feeling well on a Wednesday and found out she had the flu. She was still asked to come in for the full day Thursday because she was teaching by herself and they ‘coudn’t find’ coverage for her. Even after she messaged out that she had thrown up in her room and needed assistance, she was asked to stay because her AP wanted her to go to the grade team meeting. She wasn’t allowed to go home until another teacher took a picture of her curled under her desk during her break and showed it to leadership. After she went home and took the next day off, leadership was annoyed and tried to get staff to chime in and talk about her because she had taken a sick day with the flu.”

“Once a teacher was hit by a taxi and still came to work. Everyone applauded her for her dedication but this was just the culture. No sick days, no personal days. My husband had surgery and I was so brainwashed that I didn’t even take the day off to help him.”

“It’s sad because we become so used to getting treated like we’re less than human. I used to have panic attacks in the middle of the day because I had so much on my plate (SA was not my first job so I knew it wasn’t supposed to be this way). I’d lock myself in a closet because I knew that if anyone saw me crying it would count against me. And it did. I was once told in a mid year review that I needed to work on my ’emotional stability’ because I cried too often. But I was so overworked, under paid and dispensable to them and my inability to do my job well was a lack of their training and support.”

“We were pressured to get kids to come in sick for attendance data purposes (especially during testing season). We told parents of sick kids to give them medication to lower their fevers and come in to take ‘important’ practice tests. Typically the fever came back and they were sent home afterwards. Not only did this cause undue stress for the sick child but also created problems for the parent who then had to leave work to pick them up. If a parent can’t pick them up and their fever gets too high, we could not legally give them medication and had to call 911– and the parent had to foot the bill, no SA.”

“One night, I worked at the school until 10PM. The following morning, I fell asleep driving to work at 6AM and got into a car wreck. I immediately called my principal. The next day she was upset with me for not explicitly telling her I wasn’t coming in. After the crash, my doctor wanted me to have a sleep study done. When I told the principal that I would need to come in late, her response was, ‘you might have personal problems, but I need you to run Ops [operations].’ The experience crushed me, and I left education altogether.”

“I was a 1st grade teacher at [SA school] and had pink eye. I knew I had to come to school to prove it which in itself is troubling but when I showed my principal, she didn’t let me leave to go to the doctor… no she told me to wear sunglasses.”

“I taught at [same SA school as sbove] where I’ve literally had to throw up in the hallway before I was allowed to go home sick. I got out of bed sick, rode [the train] sick just to be sick at school cause there’s no such thing as calling out sick.”

“I taught science at SA for a little under two years. The way the teachers speak and act around black and brown children is completelt f***ed up. I never, EVER had any ‘outlier’ behavior in my classrom, and yet, I would constantly hear homeroom teachers explain how their kids were horrible and violent… and they were always the black and brown kids. It’s disgusting. I had to leave after I had Six year olds SOB because they failed a science test. I had one second grader have to see the school psych because she would dig her nails into her hands because she was overwhlemed with anxiety over tests. I couldn’t do it. That place is a hell and they show off how ‘diverse’ and ‘inclusive’ they are during enrollment tours. I was literally like we were showing off children to white upper class families and donors. Absolutely disgusting.”

And this– for this, I have no sufficient words–


“A white assistant principal created this bulletin board of effigies of black bodies hanging upside down from a tree. SA staff, school safety and cafeteria employees complained and it was taken down. However it was never acknowledged nor apologized for.”


Success Academy, where humanity is trashed.


No time like the present to sharpen your digital research skills!  See my latest book, A Practical Guide to Digital Research: Getting the Facts and Rejecting the Lies, available for purchase on Amazon and via Garn Press!

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For a long time, I did not realize what you had done for me.

Thank you.


Ruth Bader Ginsburg      (1933-2020)


Bill Gates Is Still Dabbling in Common Core

Billionaire Bill Gates doesn’t use the term “common core” much anymore, but he still dabbles.

In 2008, he agreed to bankroll the effort. Over the next several years, in his effort to “release powerful market forces” because “scale is good for free market competition,” Gates spent roughly $200M to cement Common Core as a fixture in American K12 education.

Gates is no longer dropping hundreds of millions of dollars on Common Core. Still, it seems that he feels some obligation or interest or fancy in investigating Common Core “adoption behaviors.” So, in May 2019, Gates paid $250K to the Innosight Institute “to study the adoption behaviors of districts who are now using high quality common core curriculum and better understand their ‘switching behaviors'”:

Innosight Institute Inc

Date:  May 2019

Purpose:  to study the adoption behaviors of districts who are now using high quality common core curriculum and better understand their “switching behaviors”

Amount:  $248,703

Term: 17

Topic: K-12 Education

Program: United States

Grantee Location: Lexington, Massachusetts

Grantee Website:

Innosight Institute was “founded on the theories of Harvard professor Clayton Christiansen,” who is none other than the originator of the idea of “disruptive innovation,” which only sounds like a swell education theory to those who view stability as an expendable nuisance to the business of education:

Disruptive Innovation describes a process by which a product or service initially takes root in simple applications at the bottom of a market—typically by being less expensive and more accessible—and then relentlessly moves upmarket, eventually displacing established competitors.

In other words, Gates wants disruptors to study the “relentless, upmarket move” of a Common Core that “displaced” state-level education standards, not because Common Core was “less expensive and more accessible,” but because he pumped millons into Common Core adoption and promotion.

For Common Core, there was no initial taking root at the bottom of the market. Common Core started at the bilionaire-funded top and descended. Gates himself was the relentless mover of Common Core, and millions of his dollars were the principal vehicle.

As for Gates’ referring to “high quality common core curriculum”:

“High quality” is usually an ed reform sales tag reserved for charter schools and “seats” to selective admission schools

Even Common Core pimp org, the Fordham Institute, did not rate Common Core as better than all state-level standards in its own slanted, 2010 comparison of Common Core to state-level standards. And yet, Gates expects that curriculum tied to a fraudulent Common Core will be “high quality.”

Question: What will Gates do with the disruptive innovator’s findings? Will he revive a push for Common Core? Will he try to “scale” some favored set of “switching behaviors”? Will he congratulate himself for some vestige of Common Core success? 

Or will he simply shrug off lackluster results of yet another Gates-funded imposition that disrupted but did not innovate America’s schools?

Whatever his response, know that he will experience zero accountability for the outcome. It’s how billionaire disruption works.

Bill Gates


No time like the present to sharpen your digital research skills!  See my latest book, A Practical Guide to Digital Research: Getting the Facts and Rejecting the Lies, available for purchase on Amazon and via Garn Press!

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DeVos to State Ed Chiefs: Don’t Even Think About Testing Waivers This Year.

I have many issues with contemporary American education’s dependence upon standardized testing.

Testing students in order to grade teachers and schools is a misuse of student-completed standardized tests, and the high-stakes nature of this testing makes it a system begging to be gamed.

High-stakes testing narrows the broader curriculum because it wrongly bestows disproportionate value upon “tested subjects.”

Testing– and test prep– and test remediation– and retesting– costs states millions of dollars each year.

Standardized test results are of limited use in understanding student educational needs and pale in comparison to in-the-moment, informal teacher assessment based upon student behavior and performance on class assignments– conducted in classrooms across the nation every day– day to day– in order to understand where students are with mastering particular content and skills and in determining next steps to move those students forward in their learning.

However, in trying to teach during the COVID-19 pandemic, one issue in particular is for me at the forefront of my beef with our nation’s unhealthy devotion to K12 standardized testing:

Testing devours class time, and with the lingering unknowns brought on by the pandemic, in-person teaching time is at a premium.

I do not want to surrender a minute of what little time I have in person with students as an offering to the federally-mandated god of standardized testing. So much about the 2020-21 school year is simply not knowable too far in advance; at the forefront of my mind is, “How much time will I have in person with my students this week?”

I am certain that governors nationwide are also concerned about the profound uncertainty surrounding the school year. Thus, it comes as no surprise that some have already begun asking the US Department of Education (USDOE) for waivers of 2020-21 annual testing requirements tied to the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA).

And like the evil stepmother to K12 public education that she is, US ed sec Betsy DeVos has already said, “Don’t even think about it.”

In her September 03, 2020, letter to state superintendents, DeVos prefaces her unequivocal “no” with how swell she has been for waiving testing in the spring of 2020, a the outset of the pandemic (you know, when it wasn’t nearly as bad as it is now).

DeVos talks about “using data to guide our decision making” even as COVID-19-related deaths in America approaches 200,000, with a 17-percent jump in those deaths the week after DeVos wrote her icy memo to state chiefs.

So, based on the data, one can reasonably conclude that COVID-19 will be with us throughout the 2020-21 school year. Yet DeVos says that the testing must go on.

She says that “organizations to which many of you belong” want standardized testing in 2020-21, such as the Common Core owner (she doesn’t say *that*) Council of Chief State School Officers and the organization that Common Core-, voucher-, and testing-pusher, Jeb Bush, created in order to groom state ed chiefs to follow his lead (she doesn’t say *that*) Chiefs for Change. DeVos also cites another Jeb Bush org (she doesn’t say *that*), Foundation for Excellence in Education (FEE) as supporting high-stakes testing during the pandemic, and she cites another Common-Core-promoting org (she doesn’t say *that*), Center for American Progress as wanting high-stakes testing that it has promoted for years (she doesn’t say *that,* either).

DeVos also cites known federal testing supporter and Common Core establisher and promoter and punitive-test-centered No Child Left Behind (NCLB) key contributor (DeVos doesn’t say *that*), Kati Haycock’s Education Trust and its associated nonprofit (DeVos doesn’t say *that,* either), Data Quality Campaign, as offering pro-testing support. Of course they do. It’s what they do.

However, DeVos does not even bother with arguments against ESSA-mandated testing in pandemic-saturated 2020-21– just a wafture of her testing-slanted hand to any criticism on that front.

How come? Well, because “opponents of reform, like labor unions”:

Opponents of reform, like labor unions, have already begun to call for the permanent elimination of testing. If they succeed in eliminating assessments, transparency and accountability will soon follow.

So, if the tests go, then the psychometrically unsound practice of using student test scores to grade teachers and schools is threatened. Oh, but no! We cannot allow the testing-to-grade-others to be threatened, and anyone who threatens testing is “like labor unions.” If you oppose test-centric ed, you are Like Labor Unions, the worst of insults in DeVos-think.

There is no pandemic that can stop DeVos and her ESSA tests. She tells the state chiefs whom she is willfully ignoring that she is here for them to “help ensure every state can meaningfully assesses student performance during SY 2020-2021.”

She closes with an encouragement that only a billionaire far from the front lines of anything can offer:

…Let’s remember that Americans are resourceful people and can accomplish great things even during the most challenging of times. Just as doctors, nurses, police officers, grocery clerks, and other essential workers have demonstrated their resolve, now is our opportunity to show that the same spirit is present in America’s education leaders as we work to safely reopen schools and to successfully educate our nation’s children.

Hollow words.

Read DeVos’ full letter below.



September 3, 2020

Dear Chief State School Officer:

During the past several months, we have experienced unprecedented challenges across this nation, and I thank you for your efforts to meet the needs of all your students and safely reopen America’s schools. I’ve benefited from talking with each of you as this pandemic has gone on, and please know that your ideas, contributions, and suggestions have all been put to good use. As we look ahead, I want you to know my perspective on the importance of assessing student performance.

Research shows that school closures this past spring disproportionately affected the most vulnerable students, widening disparities in achievement for low-income students, minority students, and students with disabilities. Almost every student experienced some level of disruption. Moving forward, meeting the needs of all students will require tremendous effort. To be successful, we must use data to guide our decision-making.

Several of your colleagues recently inquired about the possibility of waivers to relieve states of the requirement to administer standardized tests during School Year (SY) 2020-2021. You will recall that, within a very short time, waivers were granted to all 50 states, the District of Columbia, the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, and the Bureau of Indian Education this past spring following the declaration of a national emergency. That was the right call, given the limited information available about the virus at the time and the need to stop its spread, as well as the practical realities limiting the administration of assessments. However, it is now our expectation that states will, in the interest of students, administer summative assessments during the 2020-2021 school year, consistent with the requirements of the law and following the guidance of local health officials. As a result, you should not anticipate such waivers being granted again.

As you’ll recall, statewide assessments are at the very core of the bipartisan agreement that forged ESSA. They are among the most reliable tools available to help us understand how children are performing in school. The data from assessments can help inform personalized support to children based on their individual needs and provide transparency about their progress. There is broad and consistent support for assessments because there is general agreement among the public that a student’s achievement should be measured, that parents deserve to know how their children are performing, and that it should be no secret how a school’s performance as a whole compares to other schools.

Organizations to which many of you belong, including the Council of Chief State School Officers and Chiefs for Change, researchers, and advocates have all recently expressed support for administering assessments during the upcoming school year. A letter signed by a bipartisan coalition, including the Center for American Progress, the Education Trust, the Foundation for Excellence in Education, and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, among others, clearly noted:

The challenges posed by this crisis only underscore the value of collecting and reporting on a standard measure of student performance. Leaders should not have to continue to steer recovery efforts in the dark, and families and communities should be able to access the information they deserve about how schools are serving all students.

Parents agree. A recent survey conducted by the Data Quality Campaign showed that nearly 90 percent of parents want information about how school closures affect students. Additionally, 77 percent of parents agree that states should resume administration of statewide summative assessments in math and reading in 2021 to better understand how well schools and students are meeting academic standards in the wake of the pandemic.

I understand that presently it might be difficult to imagine the administration of statewide assessments in the same manner as they have been administered in the past. In fact, it may be that the assessments will look different. I am reminded of the old saying: necessity is the mother of invention. Now may be the perfect time for you to rethink assessment in your state, including considering competency and mastery-based assessments, to better gauge the learning and academic growth of your students.

My staff and I are prepared to work with you to help ensure every state can meaningfully assesses student performance during SY 2020-2021, including providing technical assistance and identifying and sharing best practices among states. We are open to discussions about what, if any, actions may be needed to adjust how the results of assessments are used in your state’s school accountability determinations.

Make no mistake. If we fail to assess students, it will have a lasting effect for years to come. Not only will vulnerable students fall behind, but we will be abandoning the important, bipartisan reforms of the past two decades at a critical moment. Opponents of reform, like labor unions, have already begun to call for the permanent elimination of testing. If they succeed in eliminating assessments, transparency and accountability will soon follow.

In closing, let’s remember that Americans are resourceful people and can accomplish great things even during the most challenging of times. Just as doctors, nurses, police officers, grocery clerks, and other essential workers have demonstrated their resolve, now is our opportunity to show that the same spirit is present in America’s education leaders as we work to safely reopen schools and to successfully educate our nation’s children.

If you have any questions or need additional information, please contact the Office of School Support and Accountability by e-mail at Thank you.



                                                                          Betsy DeVos

Betsy DeVos


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