October 22, 2021

Why Loudoun Matters…Where Are The Scouts?

The drip drip from Loudoun County, Virginia, in regard to a sexual assault incident(s) continues.  Today we learned,

This flatly contradicts earlier statements from the board and school officials. It’s sort of amazing there has not been more attention to this incident. There are credible, law enforcement confirmed, allegations that a student sexually assaulted or raped two different students in the school system. The second because the alleged offender was not removed following the first incident. That alone seems like an important story?

What we don’t know is everything that went into the district’s decision-making. What the second school knew. A whole host of issues. But at this point it’s pretty clear the district is not being forthcoming about what happened, which should get antenna up. It might be stonewalling, incompetence, or concern about legal exposure. It’s not OK. The parents of one of the alleged victims are suing.

So why does this matter? Because regardless of what’s going on there is a story here with some broader implications.

Scenario 1: These parents are so wound up about transgender issues and ‘CRT’ or whatever else that they and right wing media will stop at nothing – including cooking up stories about sexual assaults – to attack this school board and its leadership. So in this case, yes the district screwed up, but people are being opportunistic with the episode.

Scenario 2: Whether because of political sensitivities about some of the as of now unconfirmed details regarding the alleged perpetrator, general public relationist tendencies in the sector, or some other issue(s) the school district was not transparent about this issue or actively sought to squelch it.

It increasingly seems like scenario 2 is more likely. But either case seems like a big story? And either has pretty big implications as illustrative of the culture wars enveloping school boards.

Overall, around the country one faction says that parents are pretty worked up about nothing or are just bullying school boards, and another faction says school districts aren’t shooting straight about what’s actually happening in schools. Loudoun’s a high profile test case.

Bottom line: A 15-year-old was apparently raped, in a school, and a second student apparently assaulted by the same person, in a second school. Did the district cover that up, or are parents cynically using the episode to advance a political agenda? Or some of both? As we discussed on Monday, it’s going to take some scouts to ask some questions and sort this out rather than just repeat the narratives of either faction.

Local media continues to advance the story via TV news, radio, and print. But given the stakes, increasingly people are asking, where is The Washington Post? And the whole ostrich posture from the ed sector isn’t a good look. I hoped we had learned that lesson with Parkland.

Why Is NAEP Flat Or Falling? Part 2 – The Commodore On $

Why are NAEP scores doing the opposite of what the Rolling Stones would want…going up up up. NAEP is going down or flat. People have different takes. Yesterday we heard from Sandy Kress about accountability, today school finance expert Marguerite Roza takes a look at the question of money.

NAEP scores are down. Funding is up. Wait, wut? By Marguerite Roza

Why are NAEP-reported student outcomes lower than in previous years? We’re likely to hear in the coming weeks that the culprit is a lack of funding.

But here’s the thing: The US increased funding for K-12 public education during the period in question. In 2013 we spent $11,791 per pupil and by 2019 we averaged $13,187 per pupil. And yes, those figures are both in 2019 dollars, which means the funding jump exceeds any rate of inflation.

And yet several key student outcomes went down. So, what gives?

The answer is messy: there’s a lot involved in making sure that money matters for students.

For years, dueling research battled over whether money mattered for student outcomes. On the one side were researchers like Eric Hanushek, who wrote in 2015: “Outcomes observed over the past half century – no matter how massaged – do not suggest that just throwing money at schools is likely to be a policy that solves the significant U.S. schooling problems seen in the levels and distribution of outcomes.”

Then, more recently, Kirabo Jackson and colleagues used newer analytical techniques and found spending more money translated into statistically significant benefits for students, including rising test scores and high school graduation rates. By 2018, Jackson declared: “By and large, the question of whether money matters is essentially settled.”

Now to be fair, we can’t cherry pick two data points (spending and NAEP outcomes) and use them to second-guess the conclusions of solid research studies. But at the same time, some of the explanation for the lower student outcomes on NAEP amid the higher student spending is right there in the concluding paragraphs of nearly every legitimate study: There are many factors involved in this complex relationship. Jackson and colleagues tell us that while “adequate funding may be a necessary condition… money alone may not be sufficient.”

Beyond the question of how much money, it also matters, for instance, how the money was spent. And of course it does. It’s a stretch to think that when new funding goes only to sports fields, for instance, or toward paying for retirement promises for former school employees, that such spending choices are likely to boost reading scores.

Studies suggest other variables matter too, like school leaders’ management skills or school-level student outcome targets. Or possibly factors like who made the spending choices. (Did local schools have a say in whether proposed investments would work for their kids?) Or even whether funds delivered to districts then made it to the schools with the most students needing added resources.

Even in those studies that have found a positive relationship between funding and outcomes, the relationship is limited and doesn’t explain as much of the variation as we’d like. That means: if the system doesn’t get better at translating dollars into outcomes, we’d need to spend hella more money to do right by kids.

There’s a caution in there for those tempted to make ‘more money’ the goal itself. Spending increases must be coupled with a corresponding commitment to ensuring the funds are allocated and used in productive ways. When money becomes the only rallying cry, students can get lost.

This all matters tremendously right now, especially as the country is investing an historic $190 billion in one-time federal pandemic relief. We must remain vigilant in calling on schools and systems to ensure students meaningfully benefit from the new funding. Leaders need to stay laser-focused on ensuring these investments translate to student outcomes—especially for students who most need help.

One thing we do know: There will be calls for continued increased investments when the federal money runs out, and those calls will undoubtedly be hampered by any evidence (including these NAEP scores) that erodes confidence that funding can bring real benefits for students. The strongest case proponents can make is to help make money matter more.

October 21, 2021

Why Is NAEP Flat Or Falling? Part 1

Last week’s NAEP results were received with less handwringing than you might have expected given that in the past relatively insignificant changes garnered a lot of attention. But the results matter – a lot. Especially if you consider it’s a precursor to the learning loss subsequently caused by the pandemic.

What’s going on? There are multiple theories and I’ve asked a few folks to discuss them here. Today Sandy Kress, education advisor to President George W. Bush and a former school board leader discusses accountability. Tomorrow school finance expert Marguerite Roza discusses money.  And we’ll also look at Common Core and the shifts in instruction associated with that reform. If you have another theory reach out and let me know.

Here’s Sandy’s take:

Accountability Works, Until It’s No Longer Accountability – By Sandy Kress

Although folks involved in K-12 policy disagree on many things, they will largely agree that the declines in achievement since 2012 are extremely disappointing and very worrisome. To learn of this lost ground after the economically strong decade of the 2010s and while we await even worse results coming out of the COVID period – this is all incredibly dispiriting.

Let’s look at samples of these discouraging outcomes.

In math, for 13-year-old blacks, the Long-Term Trend NAEP shows that while they made a nice gain of 13 scale score points (251-264) from 1999 to 2012, they lost a good part of it by 2020, back down to 256.

The bottom 10% of students fell from 240 to 228 from 2012 to 2020. The bottom 25% fell from 263 to 255.

In reading, 9-year-old blacks made impressive gains from 1999-2012 of 20 scale score points (186-206). Over the next 8 years, they were stagnant, falling back 1.

The bottom 10% of 4th graders grew 12 points from 1998-2009 but fell back 7 from 2009-2020. The bottom 25% grew 8 in the earlier period but fell back 2 in the latter.

So much for every student succeeding. We made progress in achievement in some states just before No Child Left Behind was passed and considerable progress nationally afterwards. But then we lost ground badly.

So, why did we make progress in the 2000s and go stagnant-to-bad in the 2010s?

Let’s begin with the data scientists’ warning: we don’t know for sure. Until we do serious cause and effect research, we can’t prove our assertions.

But we’d be irresponsible to leave it there. Policymakers and citizens can’t look at these trends and walk away, frozen from acting, because we can’t know for sure the scientifically proven explanation.

What we must do is put forward our best hypotheses and act on what seems truest.

Let’s look at some of the most popular explanations.

Could it be Common Core standards? Without citing the research, I’ll summarize it: Common Core had no significant impact, one way or the other, on student achievement.

Some say the drops may be due to the Great Recession of 2007-2009. Unless students were so severely traumatized, and on a virtually unprecedented basis, there’s no proof student achievement should have continued to fall for a decade after the recession ended.

Money? Some argue money makes a great difference; some say not. In any event, education spending increased for most of the years achievement dropped.

Instead, I want to argue that once we reduced or eliminated consequences for failing to make progress for disadvantaged students, we should not be surprised that their achievement went south.

It began when Secretary Duncan let consequences for failing to make progress be diminished by states that agreed to buy into the Administration’s teacher effectiveness and Common Core initiatives.

The weakening of the commitment to accountability was formalized in the passage of the ironically misnamed Every Student Succeeds Act. Then, states, in effect, could stay soft, and studies showed that’s what many did.

The solid research on accountability (Carnoy and Loeb, 2002; Hanushek and Raymond, 2005; and others) shows that accountability moves the achievement needle positively. Plus, we’ve learned much more over the years. If we use this knowledge and hold ourselves accountable for improving student achievement, it improves.

Improve by how much? It all depends. If our commitment is widespread and we fix problems that arise, improvement might be greater, perhaps far greater, than in the past.

Here’s the burning question for us now: dare we allow 2009 to be the peak of student achievement in American history?

October 19, 2021

Kaepernick And RBG Might Offer A Lesson For “CRT?”

Julia Galef has a great book recently out called The Scout Mindset. The world needs scouts and soldiers but Galef argues the scout approach has unique value. I’d say that’s especially true in a sprawling sector like education. Oversimplifying a bit, scouts seek to see things as they are and have habits around seeking dissenting views, falsification, and so forth. Soldiers are more about narratives. We all have some of each. Recommend.

Last week journalist Katie Couric made news when she revealed, by way of her new book, that she had selectively edited an interview with then Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

I haven’t read her book yet, so relying on public accounts. Apparently a few years ago when Couric asked Ginsburg for her take on Colin Kaepernick and his protest at NFL games the justice really leaned into the issue. It was reported at the time that Ginsburg had said she thought the protests were “dumb and disrespectful.” What was not reported is that she apparently also said the protest showed,

“contempt for a government that has made it possible for their parents and grandparents to live a decent life.”

“Which they probably could not have lived in the places they came from,” the justice added, according to Couric. “[A]s they became older they realize that this was youthful folly. And that’s why education is important.”

What does this have to do with education? Perhaps more than it appears.

I don’t agree with Ginsburg here, protest and dissent are important and are exactly why the United States is not like the places many of our grandparents came from. Last week we talked about how our teaching and discussion of American history is undercut by a lack of appreciation for the role of dissent. Kaepernick and related anthem protests don’t really bother me because they’re just asking if we’re living up to our ideals. Mileage will vary.

In other words, I can appreciate some objections. Sure, there were too many people who didn’t like what Kaepernick was doing because they didn’t like seeing a Black person protest racial injustice, but that’s not the universe of objections about the format or the content of the protest. Ginsburg’s take would have been controversial, but also helped illuminate how not all objectors are of a piece. Only through airing and discussing can you arrive at a better understanding, a better politics, and some kind of progress.

Instead, for the most part one side said Kaepernick was un-American the other side said anyone who disagreed with him was a bigot. It’s that binary that led Couric to want to “protect” Ginsburg in the first place. But the effect was to deny us a perhaps richer conversation. Lashing ourselves to narratives is a bad way to have a real conversation.

Sound familiar?

Right now the same dynamic is playing out on the “CRT” debate in schools.* Rather than parsing the issue and listening there is a pretty intense pressure – on both sides – to just fall into line. Any quarter for “CRT” critics makes you a bigot in a lot of circles now. Pointing out that we do a pretty lousy job teaching about race in schools and that there are serious problems in schools that can be attributed to racism gets you labeled as unserious and woke in others. The ethos that anyone raising questions about what schools are doing in the name of “equity” is just an outrider for Christopher Rufo, or that if you raise concerns about racism and schools then you’re illiberal or “anti-white” (whatever the hell that means in 2021 America) flattens the dialogue – exactly what culture war partisans want.

But isn’t there a difference between someone who is trying to ban books in high school and some parent who doesn’t want their 7-year old getting half-baked workshops from a teacher who found some stuff on Pinterest or segregated activities and privilege walks? Or a difference between someone arguing that documented racial disparities in school demand attention and reform, and someone who wants schools to go full throated Kendi across the board? Of course there is.

People know this, which is why their private “I could never say this publicly” takes and their public posture is often so divergent. What’s happening now impedes progress, chills expression, obscures the messiness, and really is no way to have a conversation about such an important basket of issues. Or to separate the genuinely bigoted from other dissenters. As Kaepernick revealed in his strident opponents, only those who don’t have confidence in the power of their ideas are afraid to subject them to the give and take of debate and instead try to ram them through with tautologies, circular logic, or brute political force.

*Other recent examples of this narrative problem is the whole furor about schools having to teach “both sides” of the Holocaust in Texas. That Texas law is lousy policy in my view, on a few levels, one of which is that it leads to nonsense like this. But it pretty plainly does not require teachers to teach both sides of historical issues like the Holocaust. But that claim is what you call “too good to check,” casual slang for narrative confirming. This unfolding situation in Loudoun County, where it increasingly looks like administrators mishandled a rape at a school, perhaps for political reasons, is an apparently tragic example as well. [Update: Read this as well]. It has echoes of Parkland. We’re all better off when adhering to narratives is less important than just figuring out what’s happening.

Foo Fighters.

October 18, 2021

When Do Teacher Free Speech Rights Collide With Welcoming School Culture?

It’s Loudoun people! And since it’s emerging as a toxic edge case you’re going to hear about it more.

More seriously, this is a take you are hearing a lot. But it seems like there are two actually complicated questions here for schools (and then also the overlay that a lot of people are surprised to see/concerned about the ACLU’s rapidly evolving position on speech questions more generally and their decision to join this case, what that signals, but that’s a separate issue).

First, teachers engage in compelled speech all the time. K-12 teachers don’t enjoy free speech rights the way we generally think of them or in the same way college professors do. For starters, K-12 teachers teach a state determined curriculum. So the issue here is not cut and dry in school if the state or a school division determines a policy about what to call students and pronouns and there is a rational basis for that policy. And as with some other recent episodes, your first obligation as a public employee is to legal policy not your own religion or political point of view.

Second, I’m not sure it’s cut and dry out of school either. It’s established since the late 1960s that teachers do enjoy First Amendment rights outside of school, including about school related issues, if they’re acting in a private capacity. A 2006 Supreme Court case eroded this right somewhat for public employees in relation to their job but you still can’t, say, fire a teacher for just stating a view on a school policy question. But it’s also established that there is a variety of conduct out of school that makes it impossible for a teacher to do their job effectively (the scope of this, a lot of which was sexist, has thankfully narrowed over the years).

Those issues seem like they will collide here? It hardly seems an unreasonable argument that a teacher who engages in out of school political activity that is clearly anti-transgender can’t effectively operate in a school context where there are transgender students.That’s not “safetyism” run amok from where I sit. Rather, it’s a line that is probably sometimes obvious and sometimes more grey – especially because in today’s context people disagree about what’s a political statement and what’s an attack on someone’s humanity. This all also seems complicated for the teachers unions.

While one faction in this debate seems to forget that transgender students are a fraction of a fraction of students another faction seems to forget that public schools have an obligation to be welcoming to all kids, and we’re talking about kids here. Legal questions aside, if, within reason, you really can’t call a young person what they want to be called, perhaps teaching isn’t the line of work for you anyway?

If you’re a First Amendment lawyer with some school law experience I’d like to hear from you and your thoughts on these questions.

Posted on Oct 18, 2021 @ 10:26am

October 15, 2021

A Cautionary Tale & A Follow-Up

72 hours ago everyone was pretty convinced they knew the deal in Loudoun County Schools. Maybe not?  It’s worth watching what’s happening there. Today the superintendent is apologizing for apparently seriously mishandling a sexual assault and a school board member is resigning. Loudoun County is the kind of place the Democrats need a strong showing in Virginia to hold the governor’s mansion.

The other day I noted that Eric Adams isn’t on board with the current push to reform gifted programs in New York and, “Hopefully the incoming mayor can craft a more robust plan to address multiple issues at once.”

Scant details, but apparently that’s his plan. Here are three unremarkable ways to do that. “Gifted” education doesn’t have to be as scarce a good as we make it.

Education’s Gig Economy…Can You Put A Price On Teaching?

Here’s an interesting one.

Outschool (live online classes for up to 18 learners) just announced a series D at a valuation of $3b. That’s a lot of Outschool. And it’s the third round of funding in the past year.

A friend observed this morning that with 7,000 teachers that’s a value of about $428k per teacher – organizations can join, too, but for argument’s sake 7k freelance teachers. Assume that there is some multiplier in there based on future value and perhaps it’s maybe $140k per teacher if it’s 3x, more or less depending on the assumption.

Is that a lot? Depends how you think about it. In some communities, ranging from Washington, D.C. to tony suburbs teachers make six figures annually. On the other hand Outschool offers value for teachers as well as students – flexible schedule, audience, payment processing, lower barriers to entry, and opportunity for creativity for instance. Outschool is pretty cool.

And despite the occasional headline, $140k is far more than the median teacher is seeing on any of the peer to peer teacher sites where teachers can sell their wares. So’s even a fraction of that.

But that’s not what Outschool teachers make. Outschool says the “average” teacher makes $50/hr. It’s a 70-30 split. Traditional teachers are not making $50/hour, but they do have guaranteed hours and employment for a set period of time. They also get benefits, sometimes really good packages.

An obvious question is, is this a good deal for teachers? For some teachers? Is this a better deal than unionized teachers are getting from their unions? Is a teacher gig economy desirable for some teachers? Should teachers see more upside with Outschool? You can argue those questions both ways – especially depending on what you value most. The New York Times op-eds write themselves, “I was a teacher unionist, then I discovered Outschool” or “I was an Outschool teacher, now I’m a building rep.”

For my part, I like Outschool* and think it fills an important and interesting place on the landscape – and is just one part of the a la carte or unbundled approach to schooling that is coming. Interestingly Outschool wants to work with employers. This was all coming before the pandemic, but that experience created more appetite. It’s not a substitute for trad school, but it’s a derivation that right now is offering real value.

Homeschooling has grown during the pandemic and an outstanding question is whether this will increase the demand for more a la carte services from schools by homeschoolers. Schools have traditionally resisted this although some states let homeschoolers take classes a la carte now. It might be a great time to build some bridges if broad support for publicly funded education and some sort of mass customization is the goal rather than pointless turf fights.

But what does it mean for teachers and how should Outschool teachers feel about this new deal and where it places them? I don’t know.** But it does signal change and probably more aggregated opportunities outside of traditional teaching roles in the future.


*No formal relationship, the co-founder and head of school spoke to a class I taught last year.

**Sorry Ned, two days in a row!

October 14, 2021

NAEP Craters, Vax Questions…

If you want to get Eduwonk by email the new supported email function is via Substack. It’s the same content as here, different format. Here’s yesterday’s for example.

The NAEP data out today isn’t very good! The 74 here. Culprits include too much testing, not enough money, Common Core, or the abandonment of NCLB style accountability pressure on states and schools. Not a culprit? Covid. These are late 2019 or early 2020 results.

It’s pretty easy to dismiss the testing and money gripes, not a lot of correlation there over time and some negative correlation. But because the test wasn’t given in 2016 it’s harder to parse out the other two.

And to add another level of questions, if the culprit is Common Core, is it the standards themselves or poor implementation?

On all this, views vary! In other words, as with every NAEP release, plenty to argue about. But this seems like a problem the sector should focus on. It’s a noteworthy outcome. I don’t say that every time!

I’m pro vax. I was vaxed in January, my wife is a teacher and was vaxed early in the year as well, and my kids are. If you want my view, I’d suggest getting a Covid vaccination, it could save your life and is generally the safe choice based on all the available evidence. And I’ve seen Covid close up, you don’t want it. All that said, the issue that is bubbling around with adolescent males seems like something to keep an eye on and not without some risk for school districts that are mandating the vaccine. There’s a big what if here. If the guidance on this changes at some point- and we should always remember they call it a *novel* coronavirus for a reason – the downstream costs in terms of trust and vaccine policy would be real and consequential. From a Politico look at a Hopkins doctor with some questions:

He isn’t entirely alone in his thinking. Health officials in Hong Kong, Britain, Norway and other countries have recommended a single dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for children 12 and older. Health officials in these countries have become increasingly worried about new data suggesting myocarditis may be more common among this group than they originally had thought.

But other U.S. public health experts, like Mark R. Schleiss, a pediatric infectious disease doctor at the University of Minnesota Medical School, told Nightly today that the vaccine is still the lowest-risk option.

Downbound Train.

October 13, 2021

Boundaries, Degrees, And…No Kids, Everyone Wasn’t Doing It…Plus Loudoun’s Gonna Be A Tell…

At Bellwether we released an analysis last week looking at school boundaries and educational access.

The analysis looks at the relationship between rental housing access, per-pupil funding, and school district boundaries in the 200 largest metropolitan areas. In particular, we look at three questions, access for low-income families, relationship between rental housing and PPE, and how district boundaries affect access to public school options.

Elsewhere, as a parting gift New York Mayor Bill de Blasio is tanking the city’s gifted programs. Unfortunately his preferred solution, relying on teachers, could be rife with bias, too. It’s, you know, complicated.

Couple of things happening here. First the likely incoming mayor, Eric Adams, is a pragmatic sort and he’s not on board with this. So there’s an element of theater here. Second, the city’s gifted program does seem inequitable! Solving that isn’t straightforward though. And clumsy solutions, especially combined with the current chokehold on charter schools, could have the effect of driving more parents out of the city’s public schools, which in the end isn’t good for anyone at least insofar as anyone wants a broadly supported system of public education. And more generally, third, gifted programs are at once strategies that have provided a more high quality and customized education to some students and also sometimes a strategy that’s been used to segregate schools. Not sure why this is another thing where everyone has to pick a side when it’s a both?

But like the idea that you can reduce police presence and not fuel a spate of gun buying, the idea that you can get rid of programs like gifted in a place like New York and at the same time have robust economically integrated public schools seems underpowered. Hopefully the incoming mayor can craft a more robust plan to address multiple issues at once.

Check out this new analysis from G’Town’s Center on Education and the Workforce, it is really interesting. The subhead is “More Education Doesn’t Always Mean More Earnings.” This is true! Especially true if you do something stupid like rack up a quarter million in debt to study film at a fancy school and have few prospects as a filmmaker…But the inverse is also true, sometimes more education does mean more money. It depends! And the report has some interesting data on how.

The key money issue is what you study and the key life issue is what you want to do. I have friends who do a variety of things that don’t involve a college education, are lucrative, and they enjoy. I also have friends who went to college and are glad they did. And a lot of successful people from all walks of life, when they’re being honest, acknowledge how they sort of fell into things either way. I’m not going to start extrapolating from anecdote here, and I will note that some of my friends who are happiest now do jobs, for instance surface transportation, that might be automated in a decade or two. The point is that both choosing – which requires a degree of empowerment and a high functioning school system – and information to make good choices are key. We don’t do a great job with either one for kids.

About a decade ago when the “is college worth it” debate was getting going in earnest I wrote that if you are sure you’re going to be the next Steve Jobs or Mark Zuckerberg then sure, bail on college. But in general, playing the odds isn’t a bad strategy. That still seems generally true. Play the odds and do what you enjoy. And if you are first generation or low-income, pay extra attention to what the data show about college and social mobility.

This new report from Brookings, here’s an overview from IHE, is important in the same vein.

Our findings, however, suggest that community colleges do have control over important factors that can improve students’ economic circumstances. For example, community colleges and state higher education leaders have some control over the types and mixture of programs they offer (or encourage students to enroll in), the mix of full-time/adjunct faculty they hire, spending on instruction and student services, and, at the state-level, the amount and structure of community college funding. As we demonstrate, these factors are correlated with student outcomes.

Social issues…man. Back in April I caught some grief for writing that the Dems were playing with fire on social issues in Virginia. It seemed combustible. Seems like that might be blowing up before November, which is really bad timing for the Dem ticket. Keep an eye on this Loudoun County sexual assault issue – whichever version of the facts turns out to be right it’s going to be really illustrative about the politics here.

There is a cancel campaign happening at Michigan right now. Here’s a short summary,

What was Sheng’s transgression? He screened the 1965 version of Shakespeare’s Othello in class as part of a lesson about how the play was adapted for the opera. This version stars Laurence Olivier, a white actor, who wore blackface to portray the protagonist Othello, a Moor. The choice was controversial even at the time, and today, the portrayal is considered by many to be akin to a racial caricature.

I don’t have a fancy film degree that cost $250k or a film degree at all, though I did take an amazing and eye opening film history class in college that I doubt you could teach today. But my point isn’t about the substance here. Instead, what caught my eye was the “even at the time.” Whether in public debates, DEI workshops, and too many classrooms we’ve rhetorically slipped into a really deterministic view of history that seems to overlook how at every juncture there were dissenters.

We now argue about the American Revolution from perspectives of whether the founders were sympathetic to slavery, actively pro-slavery, or actually opposed when the answer is all of the above (and some of them changed their views a few times in all directions, they were politicians). Daniel Boone was courtmartialed for being too friendly to Native Americans. Not everyone thought Japanese Internment was a good idea or legal. Acceptance and celebration of LGBT people is not something just discovered this century, there were people a lot time ago who dissented from the prevailing view. There was literally a dissent in Plessy, which in makes the decision that much more egregious.

Anyway, I’m not trying to make a point about agency or even criticize Marxist views of history that are now in remarkably casual use (ironically, especially among the well heeled educated professional class). That’s a different issue. The point is that on a lot of these issues both “sides” argue this or that was “just the times.” One side in order to indict everyone, the other as exculpatory. But in general, even “at the time” there was dissent about various issues. And as we think about how to teach history to students, better than we do today, that seems like a place where the action really is in terms of curriculum and pedagogy. Because it’s at once more complicated and honest, and also more damning for those who didn’t dissent than the “everyone was doing it” ethos that seems increasingly common.

And more American, because dissent is American.


October 5, 2021

Today In Targets…Letters…And Ozy’s Edu Audience. Plus Learning Loss Pragmatism…

Bellwether’s Brian Robinson on learning loss:

It’s time to move beyond the semantics of what to call the problem and instead figure out what we’re going to do about it.

Yesterday Merrick Garland announced that DOJ would take a look at what’s happening with regard to school board meeting protests and parents threatening school officials.

This after an NSBA letter asking for federal help.

One way to read the letter he sent is that it’s a big nothing. Basically, ‘we’re going to have some meetings.’ It’s flag showing or bone throwing and little more. Another is that it’s an example of government overreach, chilling dissent. (A third is that the calvary is coming, but c’mon.). DOJ says more measures coming.

In any event, there are three risks here. One is just engaging the prosecutorial mechanisms of the federal government in what is largely a debate about curriculum. There already are federal, state, and local tools to prosecute those threatening or planning violence against school officials – and they should be used, this is unacceptable.

The second is the backfire potential. As everyone knows a fire needs oxygen and fuel to keep burning. This Merrick Garland action seems like it might be oxygen and fuel with regard to the CRT debate. Movements need signals, either as rallying points or targets,, Garland just hung up a big one.

Third, obviously, keeping public officials safe or more precisely failing to do that.

A few other things here worth noting. It’s weird how last summer the big push was for everyone to get on board with “defund the police.” Now the pressure is to fall into line over getting the FBI involved…the FBI!

I don’t really see a conflict of interest because AG Merrick Garland’s son-in-law works for Panorama, an education climate company. But it’s the kind of thing people will spin up about now.

Meanwhile, sexuality seems like more of a flashpoint here than people realize and more consensus than people realize.

Anyway, with these various protests there has been conduct that crosses legal lines. The question remains it seems, are things happening that local and state authorities can’t handle on their own? In other words, can they keep people safe without federal intervention. If not, this is warranted. If so, it’s politics.

At some level the whole school board contretemps is about power – who has it, who wants it, who gets to make decisions about what kids learn. It’s an old story that way.

I remember a conversation once with some very wealthy people about philanthropy. And it became clear that the wealthy people they knew all engaged in philanthropy, as a matter of course. There was a time in the 90s and 00s that if you were real wealthy and not doing ed reform or some other high profile philanthropy it was seen as pretty gauche.

But these wealthy benefactors of a variety of causes didn’t seem to know a lot of people who spent their money golfing, boating, and/or swirling in the bottom of a glass. They were modest not ostentatious about wealth. Despite the fetishization of billionaires where a lot of money and a lot of power resides is with those folks who are fantastically wealthy but not billionaires or anywhere near that. And they’re not doing “philanthropy” as we think about it in this sector.

That all occurred to me reading this interesting Joan Coaston essay in The Times. If you don’t follow her writing, recommend. In a lot of situations we should think about who has power in more sophisticated ways than we often do.

A few education implications from the Ozy meltdown, but here’s a graf from Ben Smith’s after-action:

What that left, said a former employee with knowledge of the company’s analytic data, was a real, if tiny, fan base — just not the one Ozy liked to talk about. “The classic demographic for Ozy was a retired female white teacher who used Ozy to stay young and stay woke and loved learning about the world from it,” the former employee said. Samir Rao, the company’s co-founder and chief operating officer, would sometimes joke about bringing in the AARP as an advertiser, the former employee added.

Via Freddie deBoer:

What remains of that radicalism is the critical race theory fight, and as I have argued, it’s fundamentally a consolation prize – CRT is rhetorically extreme in many of its manifestations, but it makes nothing happen directly, has given conservatives a big meaty target to attack, and any progress that might stem from it depends on teachers being willing to teach it and students not just listening to but accepting what they hear, which is, it’s fair to say, not how it always works in the classroom. I’ll ask again: when you marched last summer, did you march for minor curricular changes in some public K-12 schools? Or did you march to change the world?

Billy Strings.