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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: https://www.christenseninstitute.org/

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

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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.

THE SECRETARY OF EDUCATION

WASHINGTON, DC 20202

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 OESE.TitleI-A@ed.gov. Thank you.

                                                                        Sincerely,

                                                                       /s/

                                                                          Betsy DeVos

Betsy DeVos

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Silver Lining: My Students Are Okay with Wearing Masks.

This past week was my first with students since the pandemic hit.

So much is in flux, including whether my district will continue with the hybrid model for middle and high school given that Louisiana governor, John Bel Edwards, announced Louisiana’s shift into Phase 3 (“with restrictions”) just as we are getting accustomed to the Phase 2 hybrid schedule.

Meanwhile, southern Louisiana is under yet another hurricane watch.

As of this writing, I do not know if I will be at school on Monday because of the approaching storm. Also, I do not know if next Monday, I will have a classroom full of students (with social distancing not possible) as opposed to the hybrid arrangement in which I am able to place student desks six feet apart. But here is what I do know:

The students at my school are overwhelmingly compliant with the mandate to wear masks.

I cannot tell you how relieved I am about their willingness to comply with the mask requirement, which the governor is keeping in place during Phase 3.

The governor’s order also includes adhering to social distancing guidelines, which is not possible if I must have 24 students in the room at one time and all 1,600 students on our school campus each day. Our state superintendent, Cade Brumley, assumes “more students” will “return to campus” as we “transition” to Phase 3, even as he says, “It’s more important than ever that our schools continue to implement the safety procedures they have in place.”

Social distancing with “more students” is a contradiction on its face. Brumley is leaving individual districts to decide how to make this transition happen.

Some of my colleagues are nervous. We are in limbo, but we see the writing on the overcrowded wall.

I am so glad my students readily accepted wearing their masks.

That makes for one less storm on my horizon.

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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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Standardized Testing: Indispensable to Those Who Are Not Subjected to It.

This is what standardized testing has been in public schools across America ever since No Child Left Behind (NCLB):

It’s like some president-backed, bipartisan Congress decided that we need to measure student physical health based on student weight. Of course, student physical health is by far too complex a concept to be captured by student weight, but let’s just put that reality aside in favor of the appearance of being able to pack a huge, complex package into a matchbox by getting those kids on the scale and putting the onus on teachers and schools to make students weight what the state (answering to the federal government in exchange for funding) decides those students should weigh.

Now, it is ridiculous on its face to hold teachers and schools responsible for student weight– which is why no bathroom scale company will guarantee that their scales are meant to be used to determine anything beyond the weight of the person standing on the scale. However, that president-backed, bipartisan Congress has decided that schools and teachers must ensure that their students achieve some predetermined optimal weight.

So. Weight-prep programs are instituted for students at risk of not achieving their state-determined optimal weights, the point of which is to drill students in scale-optimizing strategies (i.e., where to stand on the scale in order to make the weight appear higher or lower; how to push down on the scale to “weigh more”). In order to make time in the school day for these at-risk weighers to be drilled and redrilled, they must miss lunch, group sports, and playtime, but what is important to the school and to the teacher is achieving the optimal weight number so that we can tout that number, tag the student as physically healthy, keep our jobs, and collect federal dollars.

Surely we also congratulate the hungry and lethargic student for achieving that state-determined weight number. And if anyone points out that the student is hungry and lethargic, supporters of the process ignore the child and tout the number. 

This is where American public education is with standardized testing. Standardized test scores are inadequate for capturing the complexities of teaching and learning, can be manipulated, and can lead to exploiting the very children we profess to be helping. The whole process is simply wrong, beginning with the fact that elected and appointed officials who advocate for “test-based accountability” will themselves never be subjected to it.

I wonder how many of those officials would continue to push test-centric ed reform if as a condition of their stance they had to agree to put their political positions on the line if NAEP scores did not continue to significantly rise from year to year, or even if they had to pass an annual standardized test detemined by an independent committee drawn from their constituency.

I think such conditions would yield a notable about-face from many pro-testing politicians.

Betsy DeVos, who takes no tests.

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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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Open Letter to Joe Biden: Ed Sec “That Has Been in Public Schools” is Not Enough

Dear Candidate Biden:

On September 01, 2020, I saw part of the interview your wife, Jill, did with CNN contributor, Biana Goldryga, on the topic of K12 education. In that interview, Jill said that you plan to replace Betsy DeVos as US secretary of education “with somebody that has been in the public schools.”

On the surface, that sounds fantastic. On the surface.

The problem is that the education reform movement specializes in its members having temp time “in the public schools” as a resume-padding device designed to catapult them into leadership positions in K12 education, such as district and state superintendents. So, technically, one of these classroom-exiting, sleight-of-experience resume padders could slide right on in as the next secretary of education, without spending but a moment’s time as a classroom teacher, and you, sir, might not know the difference because the person is *technically* able to declare having been “in the public schools.”

In fact, hearing Jill Biden say that you plan to appoint as next ed sec “someone who has been in the public schools” makes me realize that being “in” the public schools doesn’t really commit to having as ed sec someone who has spent time in the classroom at all, much less years enough in the classroom to see a wave of ed trends come and go. I’ll pursue the classroom longevity issue in more detail shortly; for now, I will assume that Jill Biden’s use of “in the public schools” means having been a classroom teacher “in the public schools.”

Let’s return to the education reform movement’s penchant for churning out token teachers who really desire speedy procurement of positions of power and influence over the K12 classroom, not an actual classroom teaching career.

The principal vehicle for this career catapult is ed-reform teacher-temp agency, Teach for America (TFA). When Jill Biden says that you want a US education secretary “that has been in the public schools,” my first thought is that you will be heavily lobbied by TFA to appoint one of their “alumni” as the next US ed sec. TFA alumni are recruited to be in the K12 classroom for two years. They might stay for three or four, but they usually don’t remain long enough for a classroom teaching career; if they stay “in education,” it is to fly up the ed-admin ladder or to influence education policy. (Elizabeth Warren had a former TFAer with two years of classroom teaching experience “advising” her “on all matters pertaining to early, elementary, secondary, and higher education.”)

As a career teacher, I have been subjected to years of federal- and state-levied, test-centric, punitive education reform, including eight years with a state superintendent who hailed from TFA, John White, and who became a state superintendent having had only three years of K12 classroom teaching experience and never having been an assistant principal or principal.

White was a TFA executive director in Chicago, which connects him to the Obama-Biden administration via former US ed sec Arne Duncan, who called Louisiana state boards members in 2011 to help convince them to approve White as Louisiana’s next state superintendent, even though at the time, White had only six months’ experience as a local superintendent in New Orleans.

John White became Louisiana state superintendent because Arne Duncan– of the Obama-Biden administration– help put him there.

Here is my chief concern: I do not want the likes of John White to be the next US secretary of education, and I do not want John White himself because of his having been promoted in his top-heavy, light-on-classroom-teaching administrative career by the Obama-Biden administration. But I see the writing on the wall since he already has connections to you via Obama ed sec and longtime Chicago friend, Arne Duncan– and since the likes of White technically fits the Biden campaign criteria as someone “that has been in the public schools.”

A three-year stint “in the public schools” is insufficient, and career teachers like me are tired of token teachers being positioned as the power brokers of K12 public education.

In order to convince career K12 teachers that you mean business in supporting us, let me suggest that you expand your criteria for US secretary of education to include firsthand classroom teaching experience under the oppression that has come our way from the federal government beginning with George W. Bush’s punitive, test-score-fixated No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (NCLB), extending through the oppressive Obama-Biden appointment of Arne Duncan and his push to rope states into Common Core and to measuring teachers using student test scores via NCLB waivers, and, now, under public school-despising, billionaire Betsy DeVos and her tunnel-vision adulation for and relentless promotion of private school choice.

Public school teachers have spent decades being knocked about by federal mandates involving tying their careers to standardized-test-dependent legislative concoctions despite the fact that measuring teachers and schools is not a valid use of student standardized testing, period. (If it were, testing companies would use such measurement potential as a selling point, but they don’t because using a test taken by one person to measure another is idiocy on its face.)

Mr. Biden, it is about time for the US secretary of education to be a career teacher who has weathered the K12 brutality that the G.W. Bush, Obama-Biden, and Trump administrations have levied against American public education. A career teacher whose career extends at least a decade and includes classroom time under NCLB, Common Core, and DeVos’ public school contempt.

No more Duncans, no more DeVoses, and certainly no room for a TFA-leveraged White to slide into Washington as next federal education chief. American public education needs a genuine, career teacher in that top spot, not just “somebody that has been in the public schools.”

Thank you for your time, and God bless America.

Sincerely,

Mercedes Schneider

Career teacher, beginning under the George H. W. Bush administration

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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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Mandatory Quarantines Should Not Bleed Teacher Sick Leave.

As teachers across the nation return to school in person amid the coronavirus pandemic, personal safety and safety of others are on our minds. We don’t want to contract the virus. We also don’t want to spread the virus, especially to vulnerable populations, including aging family members.

But there is another looming concern: What will happen to my accrued sick leave if I am required to quarantine more than once due to being exposed to someone (i.e., a student or a fellow faculty member) with COVID-19? 

Our district is following the CDC guideline of 14 days of quarantine from last day of known exposure, regardless of receiving a negative COVID-19 test result. A 14-day quarantine entails missing 10 days of school.

According to the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, the first two-week quarantine period is paid by the employer and does not involve tapping into the employee’s accrued vacation or medical/sick leave. For subsequent COVID-19-related quarantine periods, the employee is eligible to be paid two-thirds of regular rate of pay and can substitute accrued vacation, medical or sick leave in place of this two-thirds-pay option. The Act does not specifically allow for such substitution beyond a second, two-week quarantine period.

Important point before we proceed: This Act expires on December 31, 2020. That would almost surely be before less than half of the 2020-21 school year has passed for schools and districts that have delayed the start of the year. 

Back to a second quarantine (assuming the first quarantine occurs before the end of 2020 and therefore does not affect an employee’s own accrued sick leave):

In my district, teachers are allotted 10 sick days per school year. So, a second COVID-19 quarantine would effectively wipe out an entire year’s worth of sick days in one shocking sweep.

For first-year teachers, that is all of the sick leave they have. After a second quarantine, there would be nothing left, and if the first-year teacher uses any of those days for other health issues prior to being required to take a second quarantine, then the teacher might be able to claim the two-thirds pay option, which is quite the rub in its own right but becomes more of an issue if the teacher is told that he/she must provide lessons for a substitute or provide remote assistance to students. 

It is possible that by the time teachers are facing second quarantines, the school or district has so many faculty and students in quarantine that officials have decided to shift to remote learning. Maybe, maybe not. It is also possible that specific teachers are asked to quarantine multiple times even as the greater school population is less affected. One simply cannot predict such outcomes; however, the longer a school stays open for in-person instruction, the more likely it is that teachers will confront having to quarantine multiple times.

If teachers (and other staff, for that matter) are facing the prospect of having to deplete their sick leave because of quarantining time and again, it is also likely that litigation will happen if the school or district is not proactive about the situation. Will teachers be told, for example, that they must still teach remotely while on their own sick leave? Will they be told that they are going to lose pay because they lack enough sick leave and be told that they must remotely fulfill job duties? Will a district allow some employees to skirt the full quarantine period because their jobs do nto involve direct instruction, thereby holding teachers to a higher, more costly, quarantining standard? Will a quarantine be the result of negligent behavior of other employees, such as refusal to wear masks or to wear masks consistently?

Answering “yes” to any of these questions leaves schools and districts vulnerable to lawsuits. 

In order to avoid such vulnerabilities, school/district officials would do well to anticipate the teacher unrest associated with bleeding their sick days due to multiple mandatory quarantines by proactively instituting supportive policies and procedures that preserve that leave. Doing so will surely encourage teachers to continue with remote instruction in the face of quarantine disruptions without the distracting fear of income instability. Otherwise, the threat of income instability will prompt litigation.

School officials: Be proactive. Do not drive teachers to desperation. Protect teacher sick leave.

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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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Betsy DeVos: Still Hoping to Divert CARES Act $$ to Private Schools

US ed sec Betsy DeVos’ first love is private school choice, and her second love is trying to slice off funding intendend for public education in favor of her first love.

Keep that in mind as you read.

On August 28, 2020, US ed sec Betsy DeVos did an interview with the Wharton Business Daily. Only 90 seconds of the interview is available for listening free of charge, which Wharton introduces thus:

During a special edition of SiriusXM Business Radio’s “Wharton Business Daily”, United States Secretary Of Education, Betsy DeVos, talks to Show Host, Dan Loney, about the positive changes to America’s education system that the COVID-19 pandemic will force.

Below are DeVos’ words in those 90 seconds, trascribed as follows:

We highly value education as a nation, and, again, I think the last six months have really revealed the fact that the system that most students have been a part of has been a very static, one-size-fits-all system that is unable in way too many cases to pivot, to be nimble and flexible and to adjust to new and different circumstances. And, I think this [the pandemic] is a good thing because I think its going to really force changes that should have happened many years ago, and most of that’s going to happen when families themselves are empowered to make those choices and those changes and those decisions.

And I think about a really important bill that’s been introduced now in both houses of Congress, called “School Choice Now,” which would help families who are more vulnerable and don’t have the resources that many better-off families have had to go and make these decisions on what’s best for their child. This would empower many other families to be able to do the same thing, and it was just introduced this week in the House, and there was bipartisan support in introducing the bill [here DeVos almost chokes up with joy]. And yet, there hasn’t been any mainstream media attention paid to it.

Parents are demanding that they have choices, and whether the system wants to acknowledge it or not is becoming less and less relevant because the demand is contiuing to increase.

A few observations.

First of all, a pandemic is not “a good thing” for schools. Teachers are preparing wills. Classrooms are being stripped bare for sanitation reasons, and the learning environment is stifled by requisite social distancing. Presenting this crisis as “good” is callous and ignorant.

Moving on.

Second, DeVos speaks of “the system that most students have been a part of,” but not by name. What she means is the public school system. However, she quickly contradicts herself in stating that the “system,” which she also calls “static,” is unable in way too many cases to pivot.” So, “THE system” is actually a number of smaller systems, some of which were “nimble” and “pivoted” in adequate fashion (according to DeVos) when slapped with a once-in-a-century pandemic.

Not one system. Not one-size-fits-all.

Third, even not “pivoting” to DeVos’ liking does not make a system “static.” No school system ended the 2019-20 school year following plans set at the beginning of that school year. Once March turned into April, schools and school systems nationwide (public and private) were forced to abandon “business as usual” for impromptu courses of action.

In the face of a pandemic, adjusting “to new and different circumstances” is an understatement. Although stasis might have been desired, it was *not an option.*

And here is the best part: DeVos herself does not adjust. She is not “nimble” but instead stays on her private-school-choice message as the solution for all situations related to K12 education. However, sometimes calling her private-school preference for what it is might not be expedient. Doing so might upset the charter school crowd (still choice, thought not DeVos’ favorite), so let’s not call that “School Choice Now” bill what is actually is: A PRIVATE or HOME school choice bill, not a CHARTER school choice bill.

Better to keep the language vague in that Wharton interview.

Next, as concerns the bill DeVos laments not receiving enough press:

On July 27, 2020, the School Choice Now Act (S. 4284), sponsored by Senator Tim Scott (R) was introduced to the Senate Committee on Finance. The bill is currently co-sponsored by seven other Republican senators. No other action has been taken to date.

In the House version of the bill, HR 8100 (sponsored by Republican Rep. Bradley Byrne), the name, School Choice Now Act, has apparently been dropped. On August 25, 2020, the bill was introduced in two House Committees (Ways and Means, and Education and Labor) It has two cosponsors, Reps. Mark Walker (R) and Daniel Lipinsky (D). A long time supporter of private school choice, Lipinsky apparently comprises the entirety of Democratic support to date for the unnamed School Choice Now bill in the House.

Maybe there was no media attention because there is no real story here. It is not as though this chiefly-Republican, private school choice idea has found fresh Democratic support, and it is not as though private school vouchers is a novel idea. In fact, the day before DeVos’ Wharton interview, a second federal judge nixed DeVos’ plans to send a hefty slice of CARES Act money intended for public schools to private schools, as Peter Greene of Forbes reports:

On Thursday, a U.S. District judge in San Francisco ruled that the Department of Education used “interpretive jiggery pokery” to make its case, and placed a preliminary junction against the rule.

The department has argued that CARES Act relief money should be sent to private schools based on their total enrollment, not, as Congress directed, on the number of students from low-income families (thereby directing millions of dollars away from public schools). Judge James Donato (an Obama appointee confirmed with a 90-5 vote) was unimpressed by their argument.

But DeVos et al. will continue to send CARES Act money to private schools.

Perhaps there is a story here, after all: The legislation DeVos features in her Wharton interview is yet another attempt to take CARES Act money intended for public education and divert part of it to private school voucher programs.

From the “grants” subheading of the School Choice Now Act:

From any amounts appropriated for section 18003 of division B of the CARES Act on or after the date of enactment of this Act, the Secretary shall, notwithstanding any other provision of title XVIII of division B of the CARES Act (Public Law 116–136), use 10 percent of such amounts to… award emergency education freedom grants to States with approved applications, in order to enable the States to award subgrants to eligible scholarship-granting organizations…..

As to the “section 18003 of division B” referenced above: That is the CARES Act money intended for state education agencies (to be awarded in proportion with most recent Title I amounts) (see page 285/385 of Public Law 116-136).

And there we have it: The point of the School Choice Now Act (and its unnamed House version) is to direct states with voucher programs to use 10 percent of that Title I-proportional, CARES Act amount specifically for funding private-school vouchers.

DeVos wants to shave off CARES Act money intendend for public schools (and for charter schools) and give it to private schools.

DeVos did not say that part out loud. But she meant it.

DeVos

Betsy DeVos

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Doug Harris’ Book, Charter School City ((Shaking My Head))

Education Research Alliance of New Orleans (ERA) founder Doug Harris has published a book about the primarily-post-Katrina charterization of New Orleans public schools, Charter School City (University of Chicago Press, July 2020).

Harris’ book is endorsed by Former US ed sec Arne Duncan:

“The schools in New Orleans have gotten better faster than perhaps any other district in the country. To see this progress, in the wake of the trauma and devastation from Hurricane Katrina, is just awe-inspiring. In this ground-breaking book, Harris provides a full and careful picture of how the community did it and what others can learn from it. New Orleans shows us what’s possible, and it gives all of us reason for hope.”
— Arne Duncan, managing partner, Emerson Collective and former US Secretary of Education

This is the same Arne Duncan who callously tossed off in January 2010, “I think the best thing that happened to the education system in New Orleans was Hurricane Katrina.” (Days later, Duncan apologized for the comment.)

I wonder how much of Harris’ book Duncan had actually read.

In January 2020, I read it all. Cover to cover.

I did so at the request of Commonweal Magazine, a New York-based publication seeking a review of Harris’ book. I submitted my review in February 2020, just weeks before the pandemic shut down the country and delayed many plans, including publication of my review.

I have confirmed that Commonweal Magazine still plans to publish my review of Charter School City, but there is no definite date set yet. Meanwhile, I am hearing from colleagues who are asking me if I know of Harris’ Charter School City, and I am receiving ads like this publicizing events to promote the book.

I do want to respond, without violating my agreement with Commonweal Magazine by pre-publishing the review I wrote for them.

So, let me offer a brief paraphrase of my impression of Charter School City.

My own family’s history is rooted in New Orleans. My parents attended all-white public schools that were purposely zoned as all white; “white flight” from New Orleans public schools and the local government’s reinforced racial separation in neighborhoods and schools, with the intentional leveraging of power and economic advancement in favor of white families and against black families– and this is key– across generations– grounded and imbedded– a situation that white-affluent-led, post-Katrina political maneuverings for school takeover only underscores and certainly doesn’t solve.

On the contrary, this white-affluent slighting of New Orleans’ black community is business as usual for New Orleans, and yet, Harris celebrates white, politically-connected reform leader, Leslie Jacobs, as a nonconformist hero. At the expense of New Orleans’ generationally-exploited black community, Harris admires the “reform community” and how they were nurtured by the likes of Tulane University, which leveraged them by providing them office space at a time when locals were hard pressed to return home– including black teachers, whose post-Katrina mass firing Harris views as unfortunate but necessary because of their unionization. No problem, Harris notes: Teach for America was able to provide a ready army of predominately white, inexperienced outsiders to relieve New Orleans community members of their livelihoods in their hour of critical need.

So, as Arne Duncan celebrates Katrina wiping out New Orleans as a fortuitous change catalyst and applauds Harris for presenting “a full and careful picture,” Harris fails to grasp the true depth of the putrid irony he has stepped into in casually promoting yet another white affluent disenfranchisement of local involvement in the school choice imposed upon New Orleans black community.

Later in his book, Harris weakly acknowledges this disenfranchisement, but his cautions do not match the gravity of his support for yet another instance of white privilege displacing black empowerment and support for the New Orleans black community in the public education arena– which cannot be divorced from black security in the promise of black New Orleanian economic advancement that has been actively and intentionally beaten down by whites in power across generations.

Despite his lightly-noted cautions about loss of community involvement, limits of free markets, the decision making of reformers away from public purview and his comment about “not argu[ing]” that “the New Orleans model is best for New Orleans,” Harris ends his book by applauding Leslie Jacobs and the reform community for “creat[ing] an entirely new type of school district.”

Harris had a real opportunity here to accurately frame New Orleans school takeover in its embedded history of black New Orleanian economic and political disenfranchisement, and he profoundly missed it.

In order to gain a sense of critical historical framing missing from Harris’ book, I suggest that prior to reading Charter School City, one first read another book about education in New Orleans, William Frantz Public School: A Story of Race, Resistance, Resiliency, and Recovery in New Orleans. The context is indispensable.

In the end, you will not be celebrating Leslie Jacobs.

charterschoolcity

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In This 2020-21 Pedagogical Twilight Zone, Value Relationship.

Thursday, August 20, 2020, was my first day of school for this COVID-19, 2020-21 school year. No students yet– the current plan is for students to return after Labor Day.

2020-21 promises to be a pedagogical Twilight Zone.

For teachers and administrators across the nation, the difficulty rests in trying to string days together to form some sort of continuity when the at-best predictability guarantee is only the day we are in and what we know in that day. Procedures and expectations are really confined to a single day. True, we might hope and wish and try to plan to make what happens today somehow logically connect to what will happen tomorrow, and as logical creatures, that is the way teachers and admin are attempting to plan for this school year, but even as we do so, we know that we are trying to construct a solid school year on a foundation that we already know simply cannot support the entire structure.

And still we plan. We must plan. And at this time of education during the pandemic, those plans are rife with contradiction.

Write all lessons in the online classroom platform, but also have paper copies on hand for students who do not have their computers on a given day.

Position student desks six feet apart, but fit all of the students in your classroom space when the number exceeds the number of those six-feet-distanced desks.

Require students to wear masks in class and elsewhere on campus, but have them eat their lunch in classrooms– maskless, of course– for about half an hour per day.

Offer students opportunities to work in groups, but observe social distancing requirements (??)

Monitor your classroom, but try not to move from your designated teacher area.

Clean the room every two hours with cleaner that requires 10 minutes to sit in order to disinfect surfaces even as you continue to monitor students by keeping them in the classroom.

In short, go right and left simultaneously but choose one.

None of the above is intended to criticize those trying to plan for a school year. I get it. We are all being asked to deny our socialization in a socialized setting. During the pandemic, we are being asked to operate systemically in a non-system.

So, what to do?

Prioritize relationships.

Focus on building and solidifying relationships with both colleagues and students.

Prioritize creating a collegial atmosphere. We are truly in this together, within our respective schools and in schools across our nation. Offer a colleague a word of encouragement. If there is need to criticize, let it be constructive criticism. In times of disagreement, disagree respectfully.

Prioritize establishing a teacher-student relationships. If you have in-person time with students, make the most of creating a positive atmosphere beginning on Day One because COVID-19 might not give you an in-person Day Two. If no in-person connection is possible (as in schools beginning the year online), still make an effort to get to know your students as people so that the learning experience is enriched via authentic relationship.

Amid such uncertainty, let us begin with what we know to be true:

Relationship transcends pandemic.

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How High Is the Infection Rate of COVID-19 in Kids? Open the Schools to Find Out.

Sending children back to school in person is truly an experiment in the spread of COVID-19.

According to this August 14, 2020, Center for Disease Control (CDC) update:

While children comprise 22% of the US population, recent data show that 7.3% of all cases of COVID-19 in the United States reported to CDC were among children (as of August 3rd, 2020). The number and rate of cases in children in the United States have been steadily increasing from March to July 2020.

The CDC continues:

Due to community mitigation measures and school closures, transmission of SARS-CoV-2 to and among children may have been reduced in the United States during the pandemic in the spring and early summer of 2020. This may explain the low incidence in children compared with adults.

And now, for the continued, school-opening experiment:

Comparing trends in pediatric infections before and after the return to in-person school and other activities may provide additional understanding about infections in children.

So, closing schools may have reduced the spread of COVID-19 in children, and now that schools are reopening, we’ll just have to see in real time exactly how high the infection rate in children will go. In its May 20, 2020, update (archived here on June 01, 2020), the CDC had COVID-19 cases in children 18 and under at 2 percent. The CDC continued to post this 2-percent infection rate among children in July, a statistic that surely seems to support the opening of school buildings for in-person instruction.

Now, based upon data from March to July 2020, the CDC notes that infection in children is higher than thought– and keep in mind that this data was collected at a time when many (most?) schools nationwide had either been immediately closed for in-person instruction or were closed for in-person instruction by the midpoint of the data collection (i.e., May 2020). Even then, the infection rate among children rose from 2 percent to 7 percent.

How much higher will it rise?

Sorry, America. You’ll have to wait for future CDC updates based upon your opening those school doors now.

There’s another layer: We still don’t understand COVID-19 transmission from children to adults, and particulary to adults exposed to large numbers of children (i.e., to the adults at the school), although there is evidence now that children under 5 years can carry a full viral load in their noses, with children 10 and older apparenly able to transmit the virus with the same efficiency as can adults.

Stay tuned for the real-time, school-opening experiment.

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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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