The Unfair Way These Democrats Will Lose on Schools in 2020

The charter-school window is closing fast and many 2020 Democratic hopefuls will likely get hurt as it snaps shut. Part of the phenomenal success of the charter-school movement since 1991 has come from its ideological flexibility. As Queen Betsy stiffens that ideology into a sour blend of Jesus, Koch, and Trump, it looks as if Beto O’Rourke, Elizabeth Warren, and Cory Booker will all face awkward questions.

Betsy DeVos Confirmation Hearing, Washington DC, USA - 17 Jan 2017

Kneel before the charter-school Queen!!!

Like many changes in America’s culture-war landscape, this one happened fast. Since 2016, charter schools have been seen more and more as a conservative scam, a way to rob public schools of needed funding. Why? The honors should go to Queen Betsy. Her single-minded focus on increasing “choice” has made it difficult for anyone else to agree.

It wasn’t always this way. Of course, some on the left have always abhorred charter schools. But others haven’t. The unique appeal of charter schools between the 1990s and 2016 was that they appealed to everyone who thought public schools were lacking. And lots of progressive folks have always found big problems with public schools.

Exhibit A: My student-teaching mentor back in the 1990s. He was the best teacher I’ve ever seen, and he was chomping at the bit to start a charter school as soon as Missouri passed its charter law. For him, it was all about cutting red tape and getting educational resources into the hands of underserved kids. He and a small group of fellow progressives had outlined their plan for a wrap-around progressive school, one that would use truly child-centered teaching methods and provide a host of other services for families such as day care, medical care, and meals.

Beto_El_Paso_IVP_TT_PLACEHOLDER

I LOVE–erm…I mean I HATE charter schools.

Or consider activists such as Milwaukee’s Howard Fuller. Though prominent civil-rights groups such as the NAACP oppose charters, Fuller has always seen them as the best hope of low-income African American families. For families trapped in dysfunctional school districts, Fuller argues, charters and vouchers provide a desperately needed escape hatch.

In the past, then, charters and “choice” were embraced by both the left and the right. Anyone who thought the current public-school system was failing could jump on the charter-school bandwagon. For politicians who wanted to be seen as “doing something,” charter schools were the thing to do. That has changed, though, and today’s leading Democrats will find themselves hard pressed to explain their pro-charter pasts.

booker on oprah

…here’s Superman.

President Obama got out in time to avoid tough questions, but his administration pushed hard for charters. Many other Democratic politicians did the same. Beto O’Rourke now tells crowds,

We will not allow our public tax dollars to be taken from our classrooms and sent to private schools.

However, back when it was fashionable for hyper-educated dilettantes to open charter schools, his wife did just that.

Cory Booker might be in an even worse position. Backed by Facebook and Oprah, then-Mayor Booker endorsed a huge expansion of charter schools in Newark.

warren two income

What did you know and when did you know it?

And Elizabeth Warren has recently bashed charters, but until recently she was a huge supporter. Nothing exacerbated the social divides in America, Warren argued in her 2003 book The Two-Income Trap, as much as did the brutal economic and racial segregation of the public-school system. The solution? Charters, vouchers, and “choice.” As Warren argued back in 2003,

The crisis in education is not only a crisis of reading and arithmetic; it is also a crisis in middle-class family economics. At the core of the problem is the time-honored rule that where you live dictates where you go to school. . . . A well-designed voucher program would fit the bill neatly.

Unfortunately for these Democratic hopefuls, the tide has turned and they will be left high and dry. It’s not fair, of course. Back when Booker, O’Rourke, and Warren touted “choice,” they had every reason to think they were on the side of the progressive angels. Thanks to Queen Betsy, however, supporting charter schools these days feels like a deal with the devil.

Advertisements

Put It Up!

I admit, at first I pooh-poohed the story as just another example of wacky boorish Trumpism. The more I think about it, though, the more I’m hoping the Smithsonian will relent.

maga smithsonian 3

“Unashamed,” indeed.

Thanks to the ever-watchful John Fea, I’ve been following the story of artist Julian Raven and his Trump fan art. Raven has sued the Smithsonian to force the museum to display his portrait of Trump, “Unafraid & Unashamed.” So far, no dice. The gallery told Raven the painting was too big (it weighs 300 pounds), too political, and too terrible.

But the people love it. Attendees at the recent Conservative Political Action Conference lined up to have their pictures taken in front of the monstrous painting.

As Raven told the Daily Beast, the inspiration for this work came to him in a flash when he saw Trump speak back in 2015:

I just had the words go through my mind: ‘unafraid and unashamed’. . . . The image in my mind was this soaring flagpole, a U.S. flag pole falling to the ground. Right before it falls to the ground, an eagle swoops in and snatches it.

So far, the artist has had no luck in court. One judge informed him that the National Portrait Gallery does not have a Constitutional duty to display his painting. Yet Raven perseveres, complaining that the Smithsonian has trampled his First Amendment right to free speech, and now his Fifth Amendment right to due process. (He says his sales have been hurt by the negative publicity.)

What should the Smithsonian do? Put it up!

Here’s why: Nothing could capture the Trump era better than this gauche, over-sized, childish portrait, composed in a flurry on a sudden impulse and surprisingly beloved by conservatives. Even better, the artist is complaining—unburdened by any knowledge of the actual Constitution—that he has a First Amendment right to cram his painting into the Smithsonian. Furthermore, Raven insists that a left-wing conspiracy is the only thing keeping his portrait out of the National Gallery.

When future generations want to understand Trumpism, what could be better than this yuge painting, accompanied by a placard (or better yet, video interview) explaining the artist’s schlock-vs.-Goliath story?

The Creationist Harvard Is…

Quick: If you are a die-hard young-earth creationist, where would you want your kid to go to college? Bob Jones? Cedarville? They are both on Ken Ham’s list of “safe” schools. In fact, though, radical creationists are in a more complicated dilemma when it comes to elite higher education.CREATION COLLEGE MAP

Here’s what we know: In spite of their long-simmering resentment over the state of mainstream and liberal higher education—as I documented in Fundamentalist U—radical creationists are still trapped in a bitter one-way love affair with elite colleges. In the past, young-earth creationists pointed with pride to the credentials of people such as Kurt Wise.

Dr. Wise earned his PhD in the Harvard lab of the late Stephen Jay Gould. Yet Wise famously clung to his young-earths beliefs. As he wrote a few decades ago,

I am a young age creationist, because that is my understanding of the Scripture. . . . if all the evidence in the universe turned against creationism, I would be the first to admit it, but I would still be a creationist because that is what the Word of God seems to indicate.

For years, Wise’s devotion to young-earth beliefs, coupled with his Harvard credentials, earned him the love and respect of the radical creationist community. And now radical creationists have another Crimson hero to celebrate. Dr. Nathaniel Jeanson recently explained his academic journey in the pages of WORLD Magazine. Dr. Jeanson also earned his PhD at Harvard without giving up his young-earth beliefs. As WORLD explained,

Jeanson entered Harvard with a burning desire to find a cure for cancer. He emerged with a determination to push back against evolution and help people struggling with science-religion tension find their way back to Biblical truth.

So what? This celebration of a real live creationist who studied in the world’s greatest university is still a source of enormous pride among radical creationists. As Ken Ham bragged on his blog, Dr. Jeanson’s career proves that their science is really science. As Ham put it,

Creation science is such an exciting field. Many people have this idea that creationists don’t do research, but that’s not true. Many creation scientists are actively involved in exciting discoveries regarding the world around us.

Ham’s celebration of creationist achievement highlights the century-old creationist dilemma. On the one hand, they need to explain to themselves why mainstream science no longer values their vision of proper science. Usually, that means dismissing bitterly those mainstream institutions as “deluded” or “biased.” On the other hand, though, radical creationists yearn endlessly for recognition from those same mainstream institutions.

HarvardShield

Who wants to go to Harvard? We all do…

Harvard has long symbolized the very best and worst of these trends in higher education. Henry Morris, the godfather of radical American creationism, called out Harvard by name in his book The Long War Against God. Harvard went wrong, Morris warned, back in 1869 when Charles Eliot took the helm. In Morris’s telling, Eliot appointed John Fiske, like Eliot a Unitarian, to “introduce and popularize evolutionism in the Harvard curriculum” (pp. 46-47).

Yet as the recent celebration of Dr. Jeanson makes clear, radical creationists still relish the thought of a Harvard diploma. In their view, Harvard may be a terrible and terrifying spiritual institution, but creationists still love it deep down in their hearts.

I Love You but You Didn’t Do the Reading

April Fool’s, but who’s the fool? Maybe this week’s readings from around the interwebs will help us figure it out:

Has Trumpism killed the New York Times? At Esquire.

New York Times Trump

Who will be the ultimate loser in this fight?

Still not Fonda Jane: Upstate town breaks with museum over her induction to the Women’s Hall of Fame, at RD&C.

What do standardized tests measure? North Carolina study finds higher results are tied to food at home, at Chalkbeat.

Trump’s intervention in campus politics:

Harris 2020! Democratic hopeful promises big pay raises for teachers, at NBC.

Another step toward the teacher as widget: Michigan uses temp agency to provide its substitute teachers, at DFP.

Using prayer as a culture-war weapon in PA, at The Hill.

St. Louis school board candidates endorse teaching creationism, at FA.

Bad news for historians of American evangelicalism: Billy Graham’s papers might leave Wheaton, at TWOILH.

Are Methodists heading for a split? At R&P.

Could it help? What admissions lotteries at fancy colleges might look like, at NPR.

What will Westmont College do with its White Jesus? At RA.

Westmont-Jesus

Westmont’s “White Jesus”–stay or go?

What people who aren’t teachers don’t understand, at Curmudgucation.

All the News That’s Fake to Print

Teachers don’t get freaked out easily. But our new world—in which the President denounces journalists as “enemies of the people” and news coverage he doesn’t like as “fake news”—has altered the world of classroom teaching already. Peter Boyer recently warned that Trumpism might kill the New York Times. In schools around here, at any case, it’s already dead.

New York Times Trump

Who will be the ultimate loser in this fight?

Here’s what we know: Boyer took a look at the long and contentious relationship between Trump and the Times. As NYT reporter Jim Rutenberg argued back in 2016, Trump forced some journalists to question their core beliefs in non-partisan journalism. As Rutenberg wrote,

If you view a Trump presidency as something that’s potentially dangerous, then your reporting is going to reflect that. You would move closer than you’ve ever been to being oppositional. That’s uncomfortable and uncharted territory for every mainstream, nonopinion journalist I’ve ever known, and by normal standards, untenable.

And Boyer concluded,

The unavoidable takeaway from [Rutenberg’s piece] was that Donald Trump, in shattering the norms of presidential politics, had baited the elite news media into abandoning the norms of traditional journalism—a central tenet of which was the posture of neutrality. That certainly seemed to be the case at the Times, which soon began to characterize dubious Trump statements as “lies” in news reports and headlines, a drastic break from the paper’s once-indelible standards.

What does this have to do with today’s classrooms? Everything.

I’m lucky to work with a group of smart, engaged history teachers. Recently, we were looking at some material from Stanford’s History Education Group. The goal of one lesson was to help students evaluate arguments made online, in places like Facebook threads.

Facebook Argument_edited

News, Fake News, and Damned Lies…

The SHEG folks offer a mock-up of a potential Facebook debate about gun control. They want students to be able to differentiate between substantive arguments with good evidence and claptrap. As SHEG writes,

Successful students will notice and compare the sources each user provides. Anya links to an article from a mainstream, national newspaper. In contrast, Grace’s chart comes from a group that lobbies against restrictions on gun ownership.

The hope was that students would recognize the superiority of a New York Times article over a partisan, pro-gun organization. Unfortunately, that’s not how it works any more. The teachers I met with immediately warned that their students would tend to think that the New York Times was untrustworthy and politically imbalanced. Teachers knew their students would not trust the New York Times or consider it a “mainstream” reliable source.

Boyer warned that Trumpism had put “the news media’s bond of trust with its audience . . . under strain.” In classrooms around here, at least, that bond of trust is more than strained. It has already snapped.

Where Orthodox Meets Hippie

They don’t agree on much. But on this they do agree: MMR vaccines are not good for their kids. In my great home state of New York, Orthodox Jewish groups and rich hippies are uniting on this one issue (sort of). Why? As I’m arguing in my new book about creationism, it’s not really about God or ethics or any of that stuff. It all comes down to Billy Joel.

Here’s what we know: In Rockland County, New York—just northwest of New York City—the government has taken drastic steps to ban unvaccinated children from all public places. A measles outbreak has led to this unusual measure. Traditionally, most states allowed parents pretty wide leeway in religious and moral exemptions to mandatory-vaccination laws. Today’s outbreak is forcing a re-think of those exemptions.

What does it have to do with Orthodox Judaism and hippie culture? In this case, a lot. The unvaccinated children are clustered in private schools, some of them Orthodox Jewish schools and others from a fancy-pants Waldorf school. In general, the cultural worlds of these two schools could not be further apart. In one thing, though, the parents agree, and this one thing is at the root of the measles problem.

From the Orthodox perspective, MMR vaccines have a complicated backstory. Some Orthodox leaders have counseled against vaccinations, but now leaders agree that vaccines are kosher. Parents, though, are still divided. As Forward described, many in the Orthodox community share

a feeling that their worldview is not in keeping with modern secular society, said Samuel Heilman, a Queens College sociology professor who has authored several books about Orthodox Jews.

“It’s about a view that we have our ways and they have their ways,” he said.

When it comes to measles vaccines, many parents in the Orthodox community simply do not trust the experts, and it is that distrust that brings Orthodox and hippies together.

Just down the street from Rockland’s Orthodox schools, but culturally a million miles away, parents at Green Meadow Waldorf School have also attempted to keep their kids from receiving the MMR vaccine. The lesson about distrusting vaccines is the same, but practically every other aspect of these schools is different. Green Meadow, for example, promises that their school will

create a social, cultural, and learning environment that recognizes the child’s spiritual freedom and growth. . . . Rather than teaching to the test or adhering to Common Core standards, the Waldorf curriculum fosters independent, critical thinking and problem solving, develops ethics and morality, and promotes true joy in learning.

The progressive, child-centered world of Green Meadow may be totally different from that of Orthodox schools, but the parents share one fundamental beef. Just like skeptical Orthodox parents, anxious Waldorf parents share a virulent distrust of the medical establishment. They feel it so strongly they are willing to put their children’s health on the line. They probably wouldn’t agree on much else, but they might agree with Billy Joel that it’s always been a matter of trust.

Pandering? Or Progress?

What do you think? Is Senator Harris’s new plan to raise teacher pay a real winner? Will it improve public schooling? Or is it just an election-season stunt, a way to gain attention without really solving any problems?

Kamala Harris

A winner?

Here’s what we know: In a speech at Texas Southern University, the Democratic 2020 presidential hopeful outlined a plan to increase pay for public-school teachers. In brief, Senator Harris is pledging $315 billion to raise teacher pay an average of ten percent. Here’s how NBC described the plan:

According to the Harris campaign, the goal is to eventually increase teacher pay by an average of $13,500 per person, putting it in line with typical salaries for other employees with college degrees. Campaign materials pointed to research by the left-leaning Economic Policy Institute that found teachers make 11 percent less than college-educated workers on average in combined salary and benefits.

Under the California senator’s plan, the federal government would finance 10 percent of the total pay increase for the first year and then pay out 3 dollars to states for every 1 dollar they put into additional salaries.

It would commit additional funds to further increase salaries for teachers in highest-need schools along with a “multi-billion dollar investment” in career development for educators. Half of it would go toward teachers studying at historic black colleges and universities (HBCUs) and other institutions with predominantly minority students.

In a sense, Harris’s plan is merely a continuation of a Democratic Party tradition. In the 2016 campaign, Comrade Sanders liked to call vaguely for better pay for public-school teachers. As Sanders liked to say back then,

the top 25 hedge fund managers earned more than the combined income of 425,000 public school teachers.

But Sanders didn’t offer the kind of detail that Harris has laid out this year. Clearly, the echoes of teacher strikes over the past two years have changed the political landscape of progressive politics.

Conservatives are likely to see this proposal as dangerous and extreme. As ed commentator Rick Hess told Politico, it sounds like more of a fantasy for the primary season than a real plan for the Oval Office. As Hess put it,

I don’t know that it’s being proposed as actionable legislation so much as a marker. . . . Republicans, in particular, are nervous about once you open that barn door, just how involved Washington winds up getting in local education decisions and deciding who gets hired, how they get compensated.

And progressives are not falling over themselves to celebrate, either. As my favorite progressive-ed observer noted, Harris’s plan has some glaring problems. As Curmudgucrat Peter Greene tweeted,

If a Dem wants to score points with teachers, pledge to kill test-driven faux accountability. Pledge to champion public ed over privatization. Pledge to put actual educators in charge of Ed Department. Get the federal government out of teachers’ way. And don’t make teachers have to negotiate with DC for their next raise.

All good points, but I can’t help but feel optimistic when I see that teacher-pay is at least being discussed in more depth and detail this campaign season. Like they say, “If you aren’t at the table, you’re on the menu.”

I Love You but You Didn’t Do the Reading

Your humble editor spent most of the week buried in the NSB, but a few stories still caught our attention:

White evangelicals still love The Donald, at PRC.Pew evangelicals and trump

How has religion contributed to political polarization? An interview with Peter Wehner and Melissa Rogers at R&P.

What I think is much more disturbing is this enthusiastic embrace of Trump. That I think is inexcusable. Because Christians, above all, ought to be people who understand that they’re citizens of a different city. There ought to be some distance from politics and the ability to speak truth to power. It’s fine for Christians to praise particular court appointments and particular policies, but when Trump engages in an effort to annihilate truth, when he engages in dehumanizing tactics, when he is cruel, when he unleashes his cascade of lies, they ought to speak to that too and unfortunately a lot of prominent white evangelical Christians don’t.

Another lawsuit: Christian parents accused of banning yoga in GA public school.

What’s wrong with high-stakes testing? They warp the system, at Curmudgucation.

When a measure becomes a target, it ceases to be a good measure.

Mayor deBlasio condemns racial segregation in elite NYC high schools, at Chalkbeat.

When Jesus Is your Fairy Godmother

We’ll know more later today, but so far Liberty’s men’s basketball team has already paid off one of the most remarkable gambles in American higher education.liberty ncaa 2019

SAGLRROILYBYGTH know the story: Back in the 1970s, as I detail in Fundamentalist U, Moral Majoritarian Jerry Falwell dreamed of elbowing his way into elite higher-ed circles. Back then, it didn’t seem at all likely.  In the 1970s, the school that became Liberty University had a squalid little campus, overcrowded classrooms, and no money to pay its faculty.

About twenty years ago, though, second-generation leader Jerry Falwell Jr. won the higher-ed lottery by continuing the long evangelical tradition of non-traditional distance education. Turns out online education was an incredibly lucrative business at the time, and Falwell Jr. plowed his billions into fulfilling his father’s dream.

Falwell invested in traditional markers of prestige in higher-education, including high-performing sports teams. As we’ve seen, they’ve scored big successes in football and now they are poised to be this year’s Cinderella story in the NCAA men’s basketball tourney. Later today, they’ll take on Virginia Tech, having clambered over #5 Mississippi State.

Whatever happens in today’s game, having Liberty teams considered part of the usual landscape of elite college sports already signals a huge win in the Falwells’ long-term strategy. As have other groups before them such as Catholics at Notre Dame and LDS at Brigham Young, Falwell Jr. hopes that Liberty can sport its way into the roster of high-end American universities.

From the Archives: If You Want Teachers to Cheat…

I’ll be the first to admit it: I wouldn’t have any idea how to run a complicated school district (or anything else, for that matter). But it doesn’t take much psychic talent to predict what is going to happen when districts put a lot of pressure on teachers to improve a single number. Teachers—being in many ways like people everywhere—will cheat. It happens in this century, and as I found on my recent NSB, it was all over the place in the early 1800s.

Pay per kid 1822

How to encourage teachers to cheat, c. 1822.

As I was riding down to the Big Apple, I was listening to a recent Have You Heard episode about the cheating scandal in Atlanta. You may remember the story of Atlanta teachers charged in 2013 with cheating on student exams in order to make their schools look better. As HYH host Jennifer Berkshire recounted,

it was the longest criminal trial in Georgia history. It started out with 35 educators, all of them Black, being charged under the RICO statute. And that is what is used to go after mobsters. Basically they were being accused of organized criminal activity and when the case finally wrapped up, 11 of the 12 defendants were found guilty. A number of them are still in jail.

The Have You Heard story digs into the story behind those headlines—a story about white flight, neighborhood gentrification, and finding convenient scapegoats for a floundering and biased education system. As co-host Jack Schneider explained, the story was first told as the story of predictably unpredictable outcomes with high-pressure standardized tests. As Schneider put it,

the theory of change behind test based accountability is that people will respond to increased pressure, and they will produce the kinds of results that you want to see from them. . . . The results, in this case being higher test scores. . . . the theory of action was that you would measure educators based on outputs like student standardized test scores and then hold them accountable for those scores and they would respond accordingly. But it’s really interesting that it was not foreseen that one of the ways that educators would get those scores would be through, you know, what is colloquially referred to as juking the stats. There are lots of ways to game these systems.

Looking back, it seems unbelievable that policy-makers didn’t predict this sort of cheating. When all the pressure is put on test scores, it makes a lot of sense that students, teachers, parents, and administrators would all collude to jack up those scores no matter what.

Atlanta’s case, the HYH folks argue, was not an exception because teachers cheated. It was an exception because it was singled out for punishment.

As I found to my surprise as I dug through the NYC archives doing research for my new book, Atlanta’s cheating scandal was also unexceptional in another surprising way. School administrators, it turns out, have ALWAYS made the rookie mistake of putting a lot of pressure on teachers to cheat, to “game the system.”

Here’s how it worked in 1822: The New York Free School Society ran a handful of schools exclusively for low-income students. After a few years, they realized that their system had a big problem. Namely, they paid teachers the same amount whether they taught 60 students or 600. One of their teachers, they thought, was purposefully discouraging students from attending his school so that his job would be easier.

As the trustees saw it, the system encouraged teachers to be lazy. A lazy teacher, they thought, would have a cushy no-work job, a “sinecure.” In 19th-century-speak, they concluded,

The place of the delinquent teacher becomes in a degree a sinecure.

What to do? Like administrators in the 1990s, they came up with a system that positively encouraged teachers to cheat. Here’s what they decided: Instead of paying a flat salary for every teacher, no matter how many students they taught, they would pay a bonus for more students. They thought this would encourage teachers to go out and recruit suitable low-income students. In today’s language, they were pushing teachers to be “entrepreneurial” in their recruitment. As they put it, the teachers would

seek themselves amongst the families of the poor, new objects of attention and instructions.

But here’s the kicker: When it came to reporting attendance, the trustees relied on teachers to keep track of students. In effect, the trustees unintentionally set up a plan by which teachers were promised more pay for more students, and were given that money based on their own self-reporting of student attendance.

I wasn’t all that surprised to find that the system broke down almost immediately. The teacher of school number two promised to raise his attendance rates. He was quickly discovered to have faked those rates in order to keep his job.

What did they think would happen? Just as in the cheating scandals of this century, the attendance scandals of the early 1800s seem predictable and fairly ridiculous. If you set up a system in which everything rides on one single number, teachers will be squeezed to fix that number in any way they can.