Why Did the Democrats Give Bloomberg a Pass on Charters?

Some of you might have better things to do with your time. Not me. I sat spellbound during last night’s Democratic debate. Beyond the obvious lesson that we need some adult supervision of these events, another point bugged me: The candidates were not shy about calling Bloomberg a flat-out racist. Yet they gave him a pass when he waffled about charter schools.

bloomberg debate

They nailed him on stop-and-frisk. Why give him a pass on charter school policy?

At the Washington Post this morning, I offer a few lessons from the archives. I think history gives us a better way to evaluate charter schools, one that seems to fit with today’s Democratic vibe.

I Love You but You Didn’t Do the Reading

Another big week. Here are a few headlines you may have missed if you put down your phone at all during the past seven days:

Can Never-Trump conservatives ever prove their case? At NR.

the story of recent right-wing politics has been a nearly unrelieved study in bomb-throwing and icon-smashing, from the ’90s distempers of Gingrichism on through to the neoconservative capture of foreign policy in the George W. Bush administrations to the intersecting bigotries of the Tea Party and Birther movements in the Obama age. To truly brand an honest inquiry into conservative intellectual life as “Never Trump,” such an effort would also have to show how Trumpism is in fact a culmination of long-unruly, demagogic, and cynically jingoistic tendencies in the house of the American right.

Wow: Brigham Young University removes its restriction on same-sex romantic displays. At CNN.

Ouch. Olivet University admits to fraud. At CT.

California-based Olivet University—represented by its president Tracy Davis—pleaded guilty to falsifying business records and engaging in conspiracy, and was fined $1.25 million, according to the DA’s press officer.

Historian John Thelin puts “free college” in historical context, at HNN.

The historic reminder is that creating and funding colleges has been – and remains – the prerogative of state and local governments.

Another big story: CA has to spend $50 million to help kids learn to read, at EdWeek.

The state did not meet its constitutional responsibility to educate all children and had not followed suggestions from its own report on the problem from years earlier, the court filing claimed. . . . The settlement is a “milestone” that represents “a comprehensive, holistic and far-reaching program for achieving literacy in California,” said Public Counsel lawyer Mark Rosenbaum, who sued along with the law firm Morrison & Foerster.

Under the settlement with the state, most of the funding will be awarded over three years to 75 public elementary schools, including charters, with the poorest third-grade reading scores in California over the last two years. The agreement comes after the novel lawsuit contended that the students’ low literacy levels violated California’s constitutional mandate to provide all children with equal access to an education, said attorney Mark Rosenbaum at the pro bono law firm Public Counsel.

Time for your Texas-Man story of the week, from TT.

Almost no one — Democrat or Republican, wealthy or poor, old or young — wants to see [Robert Morrow] elected to the State Board of Education, the 15-member body that decides what millions of public school children learn. Yet according to political pollsters, Morrow’s chances in this March’s Republican primary can’t be ruled out.

Robert Murrow TTE BD TTHistory teacher in hot water for comparing Trump to Nazis and Soviets, at NBC.

A slide used in an Advanced Placement history class at Loch Raven High School in Towson shows a picture of Trump above pictures of a Nazi swastika and a flag of the Soviet Union. Two captions read “wants to round up a group of people and build a giant wall” and “oh, THAT is why it sounds so familiar!”

Trump nazi teacher slide

Michael Petrilli: Watch out: Schools are cramming leftist history down kids’ throats. At NYP.

“In many schools, you are more likely to encounter the 1619 or Zinn version of history than anything positive,” he said. “We’re telling our young people that America is racist and oppressive and has only failed over the years to do right by the most vulnerable, rather than that we were founded with incredible ideals that we have sometimes failed to live up to.”

We had a lively Sunday discussion of this question on the Tweeter. Short version: We settled nothing.

Where Are Disney’s Creationists?

At first, it seems like a reasonable question. Ham no disney creationists

Radical creationist Ken Ham is the questioner in this case. He’s wondering why Disney can have an LGBTQ character, but not a radical creationist one. As he puts it,

I wonder if Disney will introduce a biblical creationist character who refutes all their paganism, or a bible-believing Christian who witnesses to others?

…and when Ham puts it like that, it’s immediately obvious why Disney won’t include a radical creationist as one of their characters. The mantra of inclusion doesn’t include everyone. People who insist that they are the only ones who have the Truth can’t be part of the multicultural community.

After all, Disney has plenty of creationist characters. How about Snow White? She famously prays n stuff. If she is a Christian, she likely believes that God is involved in the creation of life.

Or how about Friar Tuck? As a man of God, Tuck certainly would have believed in creation.

So it’s not creationism that is the problem for Disney. No, it is Ken Ham’s particular version of creationism, what we call “radical” creationism. As Ham writes, he doesn’t just want creationist Disney, he wants a character “who refutes all their paganism.”

That’s something Disney’s not likely to include. Looks like Ham will have to stick with VeggieTales.

When #Red Beats #Purple, or, How Conservatives Have Already Lost this Round

Me, I don’t mind if conservatives lose this battle. But I can’t help but think that they’d rather win. If so, they should avoid the tactics of Trump and #PurpleforParents and focus instead on what has always worked in the past.

purple forparents

A losing strategy in action…

Here’s what we know: In the face of sweeping victories for #RedforEd protests, conservatives have turned to accusations that teachers are just dupes in a grand subversive scheme to undermine core American values. You may have seen a recent video making the rounds, in which Jennifer warns of

RedforEd, the NEA, and the radical agenda behind it.

These warnings have been circulating on the Right for a while now. As Breitbart noted last year, #RedforEd has become a front for “social justice demagogues” who don’t care about parents’ “values and attitudes.”

In the past, conservatives have had great success by painting teachers’ unions and other educational experts as subversive, anti-American organizations. In the 1970s, for example, conservative Alice Moore won big when she attacked the “Educational Bureaucracy” and fought for

Our right as parents to rear our children according to our own moral, ethical and religious beliefs without interference.

Will the same strategy work for #PurpleforParents? Can Jennifer and her allies convince America that #RedforEd is just a scheme? A racket to fool parents into indoctrinating their children with anti-American values?

alice moore posterI don’t think so. Historically, the fight in school politics has always been for the middle. Whoever can prove she is fighting for better schools will win. Alice Moore won in West Virginia in 1975 by fighting for better textbooks for students. She won by convincing enough neighbors that she represented better schools, the “best academic education possible.”

So far, #RedforEd has been able to maintain its position as the voice of high-quality public education. Protests have kept their focus on improving schools for students. In St. Paul, for example, teacher protests have demanded

class size limits, paid teacher visits to their students’ homes, a new approach to school climate, and the hiring of more counselors, social workers, nurses and psychologists.

Teachers are making similar demands all over North America, from California to Canada.

Will it work? Who knows. But #RedforEd benefited from an unforced error by President Trump. When Trump excoriated “failing government schools,” he unwittingly left the field in the hands of protesting teachers. As long as #RedforEd is seen as a protest in favor of good schools for students, red-baiting conservatives will have no luck.

Thanks to KD for the tip!

Hitting Radical Creationists Where It Hurts

Fighting about science doesn’t help. Radical creationists have an answer for their radically different views about DNA, population genetics, radiometric dating, etc. Where they don’t have an answer is elsewhere.Burge v ham tweet

As I’m arguing in my new book about American creationism, the thing that distinguishes radical creationists from the rest of us isn’t really science or religion. Instead, it is good old-fashioned culture-war anger. Radical creationists like Ken Ham (what do I mean by “radical creationist?” Check out my explanation here) share a lot of theology with non-radical creationists. Where they differ—or, to be more precise, where they differ most markedly—is in their political and cultural attitudes.

Trying to puncture the scientific vision of radical creationism is not a losing battle—it is pretty easy to do. But it IS a meaningless battle. Radical creationists are very well prepared to have their dissenting science mocked and even overturned. Nothing Bill Nye can say, in other words, can ruffle their creationist feathers.

But the culture-war claims of radical creationists are different. Like radicals’ scientific claims, they can be fairly easily debunked. Unlike radicals’ scientific claims, however, debunking creationists’ culture-war claims threatens to upend the entire project of radical creationism.

Exhibit A: Ryan Burge and the true numbers on Southern Baptists. A significant element of radical creationists’ culture-war appeal rests on an assumption that Christians are not Christian enough any more. Arch-radical Ken Ham often warns his followers that Christians have slipped away from the true faith. In fact, however, as Ryan Burge recently demonstrated, Ham’s claims of conservative declension are wildly overstated.

Exhibit B: Dan Williams and abortion history. Ken Ham often warns that opposition to abortion is a primary element of real Christianity. Historically, however, there have been plenty of conservative evangelicals who had disagreed. As Prof. Williams demonstrated in Defenders of the Unborn, the evangelical fervor against abortion rights is a fairly recent development.

Exhibit C: Karen Pence and “unchanging orthodoxy.” Sometimes, conservatives will claim that they are only defending ancient truths delivered once for all to the saints. But as I’ve argued in places like the Washington Post, many central ideas of radical creationism are not really ancient truths at all.

The common thread: Radical creationism is built on a foundation of shaky claims and assumptions about history and society. Leaders like Ken Ham build their following by warning that America is under constant threat from secularism and sex. Evolutionary theory is only the most obvious efflorescence of the Satanic temptations. If people want to debunk creationists, it is pretty easy to point out that their historical assumptions do not match reality. It has only recently been considered of vital Christian importance to oppose abortion rights, for example. And young-earth creationism—the way it is embraced these days—is a novel idea, not an ancient Christian truth.

To make their cases, radical creationists use far more than just their radical science. Ken Ham, for example, teamed up with a creationist pollster to tally up the dangers lurking to creationist youth. The need for a radical science like the one offered by Answers in Genesis only makes sense as a desperate last-ditch move. It only seems necessary or sensible if mainstream culture has gone to the dogs. To make that case, radical creationists like Ken Ham often rely on spotty statistics and shoddy history. For example, as Ham warned in his 2009 book Already Gone,

we are one generation away from the evaporation of church as we know it. . . . unless we come to better understand what is happening and implement a clear, biblical plan to circumvent it.

Desperate times, Ham warns, call for desperate measures.

But, as Ryan Burge points out, what if the times aren’t really so desperate for conservatives? What if America isn’t really going to hell in a handbasket? Those claims have nothing to do with the science of creationism, but they have everything to do with maintaining Christians’ willingness to accept radical ideas like young-earth creationism.

When historians and social scientists puncture those intellectual supports, it becomes harder and harder for young-earth creationism to convince Christians that radical options are required.

I Love You but You Didn’t Do the Reading

Last week was so busy, our Monday news roundup had to wait until Tuesday. What did you miss? Wacky takes on coronavirus? Trump dumping charter schools? Darwin Day? Christian college closing? How about the new poll numbers about socialist “electability?” Read on!

From the Right: Kooky takes on the coronavirus:

Tough times at Texas State, at CHE.

Davis-Williams, who is black, said one of the conservative students mocked him by saying he didn’t “belong” there. He walked closer to respond, but the student hid behind campus police officers gathered at the scene.

That’s when an officer stopped Davis-Williams — and told him to quit walking in that direction.

Another Christian college shuts its doors, at OL.

Tom Ries, who took the post of interim president in early January, said Concordia’s enrollment plummeted from more than 8,000 four years ago to around 5,000 currently. He said the university has a “significant” debt load and faced significantly higher costs in the coming year.

The shutdown came suddenly. Just last Tuesday, Concordia staged a flashy event that raised $355,000 for its an innovative program with Portland Public Schools. The first some staff and faculty heard anything about a shutdown was when it was announced to them at 9 a.m. Monday. Students got the word an hour later.

Trump’s budget plan cuts funding for education, at Politico.

…and it specifically cuts federal funding for charter schools, at Curmudgucation.

The Trump budget completely axes federal support for charter schools, rolling the federal money for charters into a big fat all-purpose block grant, a big chunk of money retrieved from various programs that have been deemed redundant and ineffective. States will now get a big pile of money that they can spend on a loosely defined bunch of Education Stuff. If they want to spend some of that on charter schools, they can.

What does Trump’s proposed ed budget say? Review at Chalkbeat.

The Trump administration proposed a major reduction in federal education spending Monday that would eliminate nearly 30 standalone programs, including ones that support homeless students, rural students, English learners, and magnet schools.

Perhaps most surprisingly, the proposal would effectively axe a long-standing federal program that has catalyzed charter school growth across the country.

The department packaged this move as part of a bigger effort to give states more decision-making power.

How are charter-school leaders taking the news? Not well, at WaPo.

The hardest electoral positions? “Socialism” or “atheism,” says new Gallup poll.

gallup atheist electabilityWhere are the great TV shows about teachers? At WaPo.

Shows such as “Parks and Recreation,” “Scrubs,” “The Office,” and “Silicon Valley” balance humor with heart and genuine insight. Even through the absurdity, something about the work world these shows create rings true. Not so much with TV teachers.

Darwin Day was Feb. 12. National Center for Science Education collected a series of statements: Why Teach Evolution. You can see them all here.

Teaching and discussing evolution opens so many doors to scientific inquiry and understanding. The very heart of what science is, and is not, is captured in conversations about how we know evolution is happening at the micro and macro levels, the inability of science to consider the metaphysical as an explanation of events, and the nature of science as self-correcting in light of evidence.

Photo of the Century

If you haven’t seen it by now, it’s worth a look. Sam Rowley’s photograph just won some big award as a “wildlife” photograph. To this reporter, the photo gets its appeal not from its wildlife angle, but from the fact that it captures so perfectly our modern human condition.

Mice fight

Alone together in the vastness of the universe, we scrabble for crumbs…

The Temptation of “Training” Teachers

What do new teachers need to know? Should they learn specific teaching methods? Or instead a more generic intellectual approach to teaching and learning? The obvious answer, it seems to me, is a little bitta both. Historically speaking, however, long and bitter experience has proven that merely training teachers to deliver a single “system” has failed miserably.

system boys one through four

If new teachers simply learned his fool-proof system…

This old question was raised again recently in the pages of the Fordham Institute’s Flypaper blog by teachers Jasmine Lane and John Gustafson. As they warn, their teacher-ed program left them feeling abandoned. As they put it,

we were not trained in how to actually teach. Our training felt more like a philosophy of teaching degree than ensuring students could learn the tangible skills required for success in high school and beyond.

I feel for them. More than that, I remember feeling a similar way when I started—left on my own, scrambling to prepare for Monday and wondering if last Friday was helpful for my students. Even veteran teachers struggle to know what to do and too often new teachers are left feeling isolated and underprepared.

So should teacher-ed programs help new teachers know exactly what to do? I work every day with talented new teachers, so personally I share the desire to provide teachers with practical, helpful ways to deliver useful lessons and to evaluate student learning. But I’m still skeptical about a couple of things.

NYC manual 1820 2 diagrams alphabet wheel

…nothing could possibly go wrong. All teachers need is the right system and the right tools…

First, as a history teacher, I know far less than Lane and Gustafson do about specific methods of reading instruction. They advocate “effective whole-group instruction or the “Big 5” components of reading.” Would that be better? I admit it happily: I don’t know.

As a historian, however, I’ve seen the dismal effect of trying to impose a one-size-fits-all teaching “system” on new teachers. As SAGLRROILYBYGTH are sick of hearing, I’m up to my eyeballs these days in research for my new book about America’s first major urban school reform.

Back in the 1810s, growing cities such as Philly, New York, Baltimore, and Cincinnati wondered what they could do with all their wild American children. They turned to young London reformer Joseph Lancaster. Since (about) 1798, Lancaster had run a school for low-income London youth. More importantly, he used his school primarily as a teacher-training institute.

Lancaster promised that he had created the perfect “system.” With Lancaster’s careful instruction, anyone could teach, because Lancaster provided perfect guidance. Lancaster’s system, in short, taught teachers exactly what to do. It taught teachers, in other words, “how to actually teach.”

As Lancaster wrote in 1807,

On this plan, any boy who can read, can teach; and the inferior boys may do the work usually done by the teachers, in the common mode: for a boy who can read, can teach, ALTHOUGH HE KNOWS NOTHING ABOUT IT…

What happened? In short, it didn’t work. Among other faults with Lancaster’s system, new teachers found that their “training” did not really teach them what to do. It did not teach them “how to actually teach,” because actual teaching requires flexibility and a wealth of methodological tools, not just one system or method.

In practice, as Lancaster-trained teachers fanned out around the world, they found themselves in exactly the same predicament as Lane and Gustafson, but from the opposite direction. That is, Lancaster-trained teachers found that the simplistic system they had learned did not prepare them for the exigencies of real-world classrooms. Unlike Lane and Gustafson, they yearned for a broader education about teaching and learning, instead of only one over-hyped “system.”

When they got to their new classrooms, Lancaster-trained teachers found they had to make things up on the fly. They found that Lancaster’s pre-fabricated instructions did not address important questions of teaching and learning. In a few years, the actual teaching practices in Lancasterian schools had come to vary widely. By 1829, Lancaster felt it necessary to denounce “erroneous practices” that had taken over Lancasterian schools.

What would have been better? To this reporter, it seems obvious that a simple training program for teachers has never been enough. Because real-world classrooms are infinitely complicated places, new teachers cannot be “trained” in only one method of teaching. Instead, new teachers should learn a mix of methods, ideas, histories, and, yes, even philosophies.

When Trumpism Goes (Anti)-Viral

Sometimes it is difficult to argue that religious conservatives aren’t simply anti-science. When it comes to news about coronavirus, for example, conservatives from Trump on down are making kooky claims. Why?

Let’s back up a minute first. When it comes to big questions like evolution/creationism and climate change, conservatives have a hundred-year history as the anti-science side. However, as I’m arguing in my new book about creationism (cover art updates coming soon), it has never been a fair accusation. Religious conservatives have always loved capital-s Science. They just haven’t trusted the scientists who have usurped control over it.

With Trumpism ascendant, however, I’m wondering how long conservatives can maintain their fingertip-grasp on scientific legitimacy. Perhaps most religious conservatives would share my scorn for the latest batch of hooey coming from a few conservative preachers.

For example, who in their right mind could endorse Jim Bakker’s snake-oil claims? No thinking person—conservative or otherwise—would take Bakker’s claim about his magical “silver solution” seriously, even when he claims it eliminates coronaviruses.

And it will be tempting for thoughtful conservatives to pooh-pooh the exalted exhalations of preachers such as Omaha’s Hank Kunneman. On February 9, Kunneman prophesied that Trumpism had kept America safe from the coronavirus. As Kunneman said,

Listen to the words that I speak to you at this moment, says the Living God. Why do you fear, United States? For I have spoke to you before, and I speak to you again. I have extended and opened a window of mercy to this nation at this time. Therefore the virus that they speak of, the prognostication, the diagnosis—my mercy is the quarantine that shall be greater than what they have spoken to you, United States.

Because of the administration that stands in this land, who honors me, who honors the covenants of your forefathers and of the Constitution, and because they have aligned themselves with Israel, and because they have sided on the right side of life—life in the womb, life given outside of the womb—therefore I give life to this nation, and I give mercy. Do not fear this virus, says the Spirit of God.

I know plenty of intelligent conservatives who would shake their heads at this sort of anti-scientific mumbo-jumbo. Lots of conservative religious people will tell you that their religious beliefs do not put them at odds with science. They will say that there is no need to pretend that “Science” and “Religion” are opposed to one another. And for what it’s worth, I think they are right. There’s no need for conservatives to discredit science in order to prove their religious bona fides.

In Trump’s America, however, the mumbo-jumbo has taken over at the top. When it comes to things like coronavirus, Trump has unleashed the full deadweight of his anti-scientific worldview. Recently, he told a group of governors,

The virus that we’re talking about having to do, a lot of people think that goes away in April, with the heat, as the heat comes in, typically that will go away in April.

Trump’s current blast of anti-science is nothing new. Back when he was a private citizen, he was already fond of over-tweeting his aversion to scientific knowledge. When it came to Ebola, for example, Trump famously warned against readmitting exposed medical workers and a patient to the United States. Trump did not seem to care that the Ebola virus had already come to the US by 2014, with several safe labs studying it.

trump ebola 2014Heedless of science, convinced of his own superior knowledge, Trump might just be trashing the careful, difficult work of generations of religious conservatives. For a hundred years now, thoughtful conservatives have worked hard to overthrow popular misconceptions. Conservatives have labored to convince America that they are not anti-science even though they are pro-God. With a few tweets, Trump seems to have tipped the scales once again, tying conservatism and religion to a crude anti-scientific outlook.

Dumped Chumps Plumped for Trump*

I admit it—I’m out of touch. I’ve been spending most of my time lately in the 1820s, so when I heard the news I thought I had just missed something. When I saw that Trump had proposed cutting federal funding for charter schools, I was totally surprised. Turns out I wasn’t the only one.

Trump and devos

–Did you do the reading? –I did not.

Here’s what we know: Trump’s new proposed budget makes big changes in ed policy. The overall proposal would cut about eight percent in education financing. Most surprising, the cuts include a total elimination of the federal Charter Schools Program. Last year alone, according to Chalkbeat, big charter networks such as KIPP and IDEA scored big grants through that program, $86 million and $116 million, respectively.

That’s not a huge chunk of the federal ed budget, but this switch still seems like a surprising symbolic turnaround. And if hasty straw twitter polling is any measure, it seems as if top ed scholars and pundits also found the proposal surprising.

Will the budget proposal matter? Most likely, it will not survive as proposed. But it marks another dramatic change in the politics of charter schools. As SAGLRROILYBYGTH are painfully aware, one of the big surprises of 2020 has been the dramatic political realignment we’ve seen on the issue of charter schools. Not so long ago, Democratic contenders such as Senator Warren were big fans of charters and even vouchers. Once charters and choice became the signature issue of Queen Betsy, Democrats dropped them. Even St. Obama voiced some urbane skepticism about the ideology of the “reform” movement.

And now this. Charter school advocates found themselves forced to support Trump as the only game in town, only to have that support yanked away.

What does it mean? Maybe DeVos is hoping to open more space for vouchers and other programs. Or maybe—like with their major goof about the kid from Philly—the Trump administration simply hasn’t thought this proposal all the way through. Maybe they just saw a chance to cut the budget and that was enough.

                                                               *So sorry about this headline. I just couldn’t help myself.