Friday Reading List: Weekend Assignments and EVENTS FOR BROOLKYNITES!

Do you need some reading to take you through the weekend?

Check out Yesenia Robles in Chalkbeat, discussing Betsy DeVos's partisan rhetoric at a big meeting of conservative lawmakers.

If that's not enough, Education Week is covering every angle on the tension between the federal government and states on education law. On the one hand, as Andrew Ujifusa writes, the states are "bristling" at the feds' feedback on accountability plans. On the other hand, Jackie Zubrzycki watched the same speech that Yesenia Robles saw, and she heard DeVos encouraging states to "take the lead."

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Beyond the reading, for my New York City readers, I want to talk about two events that are important to me. Next week, Get Organized BK will be holding a Civic Festival at the Prospect Park bandshell. The Festival will be on Tuesday the 25th from 5:30-8:30PM. There will be community organizations, activists, and performances, including a public art project by Racial Justice BK, which is a group that is important to me.

Speaking of which, Racial Justice BK also will be co-hosting a screening of films about race and identity on Sunday July 30, including black enuf* by filmmaker Carrie Hawks, who was profiled in Colorlines earlier this summer. If you're looking for a way to get out of the heat next Sunday, and engage in some critical conversations about race, you should sign up for the free tickets here.

Have a lovely weekend!

An Imagined Dialogue Between the Game of Thrones Showrunners and a Fictional White HBO Executive (Who Thinks Critically About Race)

Yesterday, The Wrap broke news about the next big project from the creators of HBO’s mega-hit, “Game of Thrones”:

After “Game of Thrones” wraps up, showrunners David Beinioff and D.B. Weiss will continue onto their next project for HBO — an alternate history series called “Confederate,” the network announced Wednesday. Benioff and Weiss will executive produce the series, which exists in a fictional timeline where the South succeeded in seceding from the Union. In this version of the United States — or what’s become of it — slavery has remained legal and has continued into the modern era.

Like many of you, my first reaction to this news was:

And then I was like:

I wanted to write an open letter to Benioff and Weiss, as that is one of my favorite ways of holding white celebrities’ feet to the fire when they do racially insensitive things (Hi Justin Timberlake!) I wanted to ask them why they thought it was a good idea for two white producers to run a show that would involve the inevitable glorification of a lightly-fictionalized slaveholding America. The optics alone are terrible, and that’s before we even consider what the culture on the set might be like.

I realized, though, that I couldn’t blame the two showrunners alone, as this specious idea had accomplices at the highest reaches of media. Someone at HBO heard about this idea and not only didn’t laugh in their faces, but gave this show the proverbial “greenlight.”

So rather than write a stern letter to Benioff and Weiss, I decided to imagine a fantasy world, wherein the white people with power understand why this was such a terrible idea.

I know. Crazy, right?


[Scene: A corner office in an elegant high-rise in midtown Manhattan. David Benioff and D. B. Weiss sit on a leather couch, drinking Pamplemousse flavored La Croix water out of orange cans. A fictional middle-aged HBO executive – let’s call him “Wokey McWokerson” – sits behind an enormous steel and glass desk, wearing horn-rimmed glasses and a Brooklyn Nets hat.]

David Benioff: Look. We all know that, after Game of Thrones, we could have just retired.

DB Weiss: It was a great run, and the Game of Thrones money was no joke. In all honesty, we don’t have to do shit again. Like, ever.

David Benioff: But it’s time to change the TV game once more, and I really think that we are the guys to do it. We have a vision, and it’s just begging to jump out of us! 

Executive Wokey McWokerson: Great! Let’s hear it! You made us so much money on Thrones, not to mention the Emmys and street cred. Our marketing department is chomping at the bit to get to work on whatever you guys have up your sleeves next. We love being in the “Benioff and Weiss” business.

Benioff: We love to hear that. So picture this: the South won the Civil War.

Executive Wokey: I’m gonna stop you right there. Say that again.

Weiss: Follow me for a minute. The new series takes place in a totally fictional America. The South won the Civil War. During the last century and a half, the Southern way of life has dominated the land that we call the United States. Slavery exists. Today. And people are still fighting over it, but there are real slaves, and slaveowners, and plantations.

Weiss: And there are also politicians who totally hate slavery, and abolitionists and stuff. Some people are still super pissed off about it.

Executive Wokey: Let me put this as plainly as I possibly can: Are you fucking out of your fucking minds?

Weiss and Benioff look at each other, confused

Weiss: No, man. That’s the idea. What’s the problem? It’s perfect for your network. There’s conflict. There’s oppression. It’s incredibly relevant to our contemporary discourse, just in a somewhat different setting. It has a lot of the same elements that made Thrones so successful.

Benioff: Let’s be clear. People are talking about race. Today. Constantly. In this country. This will be a real conversation starter.

Executive Wokey: You realize that both of you are White, right? And that viewers of color make up a disproportionate share of your audience, even though you have employed almost no black actors with speaking roles in seven seasons of one of the biggest series in television history. There are at least two hashtags whose sole purpose is to signify the people in the Black community who watch your show. Do you have any idea how your viewers would react to this?

Benioff: What does race have to do with this?

Weiss: Yeah, I mean, this isn’t really about race, per se. It’s about the erosion of the social contract. The way people use power against each other. It’s like Thrones, but in a lightly fictionalized contemporary America. Where slavery still exists.

Wokey stares at Weiss. Blinks twice. Says nothing.

Weiss: Look, if you insist on making this ALL about race, we can certainly play up that angle.

Benioff: Well actually, let’s be smart about this. The Civil War wasn’t ALL about slavery. It was about money and power and states’ rights and a whole bunch of other issues. Slavery was an important factor, but let’s not get hung up on the slavery part of this.

Executive Wokey: Get the fuck out of my office.

Benioff: Aren’t we being a little hasty here.

Executive Wokey: The fuck out. Now.

Weiss: We made you so much money.

Executive Wokey: I don’t care. Some things are more important than money.

Benioff and Weiss laugh hysterically

Benioff: Really? There are? You know we can just take this to CBS right?

Executive Wokey: Good luck. Make sure it has a white male lead. It will fit in perfectly with their nightly line-up.

Wednesday Reading List: A "Nothingburger" on Federal Oversight and Accountability in New York State

The House panel responsible for overseeing the federal department of education held a hearing about ESSA - the big federal education law - yesterday. Andrew Ujifusa of Education Week went so that you didn't have to:

At a House education committee hearing, which DeVos didn't attend, lawmakers from both sides of the aisle Tuesday expressed concern about the consistency of feedback from the U.S. Department of Education to states about ESSA plans. GOP legislators also quizzed state and local education officials about how they were taking advantage of new policy breathing room under the federal education law. Meanwhile, Democrats stressed the importance of federal oversight and how states had to ensure protections for underserved students. Funding was also a very sore spot for Democratic lawmakers and those education officials who testified. Both criticized proposed budget cuts of about $2 billion in President Donald Trump's spending blueprint and in a House education funding bill that would end teacher-training and class-size reduction programs.

So far as I can tell, the early headline from the DeVos regime vis-a-vis federal oversight of school accountability is "more than GOPers had hoped, and somewhat less than Democrats want." Despite the strum-und-drang of DeVos's confirmation process, the K-12 action from the department has been a "nothingburger" thus far.

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Amadou Diallo, writing in The Hechinger Report, thinks that the city of Buffalo may have cracked the code on turning around struggling schools:

In Buffalo, a Rust Belt city still grappling with high poverty and an under-educated population, the results of the Say Yes program have exceeded expectations. Since its launch in 2012, the city’s high school graduation rate has climbed 15 points, to 64 percent, according to New York State education department figures, the highest rate the city has achieved in more than a decade. And black and Latino students have seen the most dramatic improvements, significantly narrowing the graduation gap with their white peers. According to Say Yes, it has awarded roughly 4,000 tuition scholarships, and the number of Buffalo schools classified as “in good standing” by the state’s education department has almost doubled since 2012, from 11 to 20.

The Say Yes program offers free college tuition to any student that graduates from a Buffalo high school. I'm a fan of this story, but I want to offer two caveats. First, the Say Yes program required tens of millions of private dollars, which - from the standpoint of education policymaking - we can file under "nice work if you can get it."

Second, while this piece focuses on the college access component of school improvement, it says very little about the concomitant investments that need to be made in order to ensure college persistence. I'm less impressed with the increase in graduation rates if students are dropping out of college after two or three semesters.

Elsewhere in the Empire State, accountability might get stricter for non-traditional schools. Kate Taylor of The New York Times has the story:

West Brooklyn Community High School is what is known in New York City as a transfer school. The city’s Education Department now runs 51 such schools, serving 13,000 students. The schools are small, and many of them work with community-based organizations to offer counseling, college and career advising, and internships. They have a significantly better track record than other high schools in graduating students who are two or more years behind. But because students often enter transfer schools with few credits, it can take them six, seven or even eight years in total to graduate ... Under the expected regulations, the vast majority of the city’s transfer schools would be designated as “in need of improvement” and could be at risk of being closed.

If you're not familiar with this sort of school, you should read the piece. Most folks would consider me to be an "accountability hawk," but I do not think that transfer schools and so-called "alternative" high schools should be held to the exact same standards as traditional comprehensive high schools. I'm not sure what the exact standards should be, but this is one area where I sympathize with the notion that overwrought accountability systems can take a toll on strong education programming. 

Have a great day!

Monday Reading List: School Choice Might Be DOA in Congress and Different Ways to Look at Testing

Alyson Klein of Education Week reads the tea leaves and thinks a big federal "school choice" push is unlikely this year:

U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos came to Washington primarily to do one thing: Use the power of her office to expand school choice, her passion for decades. Members of her own party appeared to deal a major blow to that goal Thursday, when the House panel charged with overseeing education spending approved a bill that doesn't include two of DeVos' big budget asks: using an education research program to offer school vouchers, and allowing Title I dollars to follow students to the school of their choice.

I have dealt with this before - both on the blog and on twitter - but I will reiterate and expand upon my premise: rank-and-file GOP legislators are much less enamored of vouchers than their party's ideological policy wonks are. In part, this is the natural divide between political ideas and political practice, but there's something more specific at work here.

DeVos's plan for school choice carves the money for choice out of "Title I," which is a federal program that sends money to schools and districts based on a formula. The formula for how much money a school receives is predicated on a few factors, but the most significant one is the number of students in a school who qualify for a free or reduced-price lunch. That particular signifier is a proxy for poverty.

Even if you're a Republican legislator who HATES federal spending in theory ... in practice, every school district you represent receives a bunch of predictable federal money, which local officials depend upon to balance budgets every year. When President Barack Obama made a bunch of changes to Title I spending, in order to foster reforms through both the Race to the Top and School Improvement Grant programs, he did so while adding billions of new dollars to the program, ensuring support in both legislative chambers. DeVos will have a hard time carving school choice funds out of Title I, because every school superintendent in America will call his/her congressional representative and beg to be held harmless; that superintendent, in many cases, will be the congressperson's largest employer.

Wayne D'Orio of The Hechinger Report looks at what may be America's most popular summer school:

“My kids begged me to come to summer school,” said Chantelle Mullins, a mother of two elementary school students. More than half of the learners — 58 percent — in the 270-student elementary school are involved in summer learning programs; about 20 percent of kids at the combined middle/high school are continuing to study in the summer ... Wilder [Idaho] is part of a new national trend to customize learning to each child. But the tiny district of just under 500 students is taking the idea to the extreme. Located about 40 miles west of Boise, Wilder has erased grade levels and been awarded a state waiver to avoid seat-time requirements (meaning a student does not need to prove she spent x number of hours learning algebra, for instance). Other schools around the country are starting to take notice — and schedule visits.

As we learned last week, it's hard to determine which trends in personalized learning are worth emulating, and which are falling flat. One way to sort the wheat from the chaff is to couple real data analysis with long-form examinations, like this one. Personalized learning isn't going anywhere, so lay people and policymakers alike need to get much smarter about assessing its efficacy.

Speaking of assessment, Matt Barnum of Chalkbeat finds that some schools are trying to dodge weak assessment data by putting their least effective teachers in grade levels that lack formal testing regimes:

... it’s a big problem when schools encourage their least effective teachers to work with their youngest students. And a new study says that the pressure of school accountability systems may be encouraging exactly that ... The study, published earlier this month in the peer-reviewed American Educational Research Journal, focuses on Miami-Dade County schools, the fourth-largest district in the country, from 2003 to 2014. Florida had strict accountability rules during that period, including performance-based letter grades for schools ... The trio of researchers hypothesized that because Florida focuses on the performance of students in certain grades and subjects — generally third through 10th grade math and English — less-effective teachers would get shunted to other assignments, like early elementary grades or social studies. That’s exactly what they found.

Part of this phenomenon comes from the design of accountability systems themselves, but part of it is just bad educational management. Most state accountability systems want students to be reading at grade level by third grade. That means that schools have four years - kindergarten, first, second, and third grades - to get a student to be able to read at grade level. Giving that student the least effective teachers for 75% of that time is bafflingly stupid, even if the test itself isn't perfect.

Speaking of tests, Susan Dynarski is in The New York Times examining how to make college admissions more egalitarian:

The two standard college admission tests — the SAT and the ACT — could be administered universally and free of charge to students. That would reduce the administrative barriers to applying to college, help identify talented disadvantaged children, and increase the likelihood that they will attend a college that matches their skills. A child born into a high-income family is six times as likely to earn a college degree as one who is poor, research that I have participated in shows. This gap is largely rooted in disparities in achievement that appear as early as preschool ... Michigan began requiring public school juniors to take the ACT in 2007, and the share of high school graduates taking a college entrance exam rose immediately to nearly 99 percent from 54 percent. That growth was even sharper among low-income students; only 35 percent had been taking the test.

First, this research seems quite promising, as the costs associated with expanding free access to the the SAT and ACT are modest, relative to other potentially-transformative educational investments. Second, this article also illustrates the hypocrisy about "testing" in this country. Many of the same people who lampoon "testing" in schools also pay thousands of dollars on SAT prep classes for their own kids, so that those kids can have a privately-financed advantage when it comes to applying for college admissions. Just sayin.

Have a great week!

Thursday Reading List: Assessing Personalized Learning and Why Do Republicans Suddenly Hate College?

The concept of personalized learning is all the rage right now. Nichole Dobo is in The Hechinger Report, trying to determine if there's a way to know whether or not the idea works:

Traditional school districts that attempt to bring a new model of education that provides personally designed lessons for students often face conflicting priorities that make it difficult to follow through, according to a new report released Tuesday. And schools should not expect a dramatic or sudden increase in math and reading test scores, according to the new research from RAND Corporation ... The new report from RAND follows a 2015 study of personalized learning that generally found more positive results. The earlier research included some of the leading pioneers in personalized learning, such as Summit Public Schools and Rocketship Education. The new report includes a more diverse subset of schools that are not part of big networks. In other words, it might provide a more clear-eyed look at how personalized learning strategies play out in typical public schools. The new report from RAND found that traditional schools tended to run into roadblocks more often than charter schools did.

There's a lot to unpack here, but these results reflect what tends to happen when new ideas "scale up." The early adopters of a new approach are more likely to implement an idea with fidelity to the intent of the model, and as a result, rapid expansion can lead to diminishing returns. These results also serve as a good reminder not to place too much faith in any hot new educational idea as a panacea. The best way to kill a promising reform is to overstate its potential before it has a chance to prove itself.

Hot ideas, coming through!

Hot ideas, coming through!

Erica Green and Sheryl Gay Stolberg of The New York Times look at how Betsy DeVos's administration is thinking about campus sexual assault:

In recent years, on campus after campus, from the University of Virginia to Columbia University, from Duke to Stanford, higher education has been roiled by high-profile cases of sexual assault accusations. Now Education Secretary Betsy DeVos is stepping into that maelstrom. On Thursday, she will meet in private with women who say they were assaulted, accused students and their families, advocates for both sides and higher education officials, the first step in a contentious effort to re-examine policies of President Barack Obama, who made expansive use of his powers to investigate the way universities and colleges handle sexual violence. How university and college administrations have dealt with campus sexual misconduct charges has become one of the most volatile issues in higher education, with many women saying higher education leaders have not taken their trauma seriously. But the Obama administration’s response sparked a backlash, not just from the accused and their families but from well-regarded law school professors who say new rules went too far.

Read the whole thing. While the administration hasn't changed anything yet, the rhetoric of top officials sends important messages about their values. In particular, DeVos's top civil rights official has made some flippant, offensive comments about the victims of sexual assault, which justifiably have angered activists.

In other news, David A. Graham of The Atlantic wants to know why so many republicans have turned against the concept of higher education:

In the era of Trump, institutions—and especially those that are perceived as liberal—are unpopular, and opinions divide sharply along party lines, according to a new poll from the Pew Research Center. Alright, maybe that isn’t surprising. But there is one startling result in the survey: a sharp decline in conservative impressions of universities ... What could possibly account for such a steep drop in trust in universities? Several analysts, including Philip Bump, suggested that this is backlash against the rise of identity politics on college campus. Bump noted an increase in Google searches for “safe space” over the time period in which the flip happened ... Still, I’m skeptical that this explains all of the change. After all, to mix a metaphor, conservative leaders have used the Ivory Tower as a punching bag for decades ... So if “safe spaces” account for only some of the shift, what else might be at work? One theory that seems to make a lot of sense is that the composition of the Republican/Republican-leaning demographic has shifted.

While Graham does not prove any of his hypotheses, it's a cultural divide worth considering. 

If colleges want to be a stepping stone for social mobility, they need to respond to the needs of students who are upwardly mobile. To that point, Jeremy Knight is in Blavity discussing the need for first-generation college students to have a greater voice in education policy:

First-generation college students are the first in their family to attend college, and their achievements represent generations of sacrifice and the promise of upward mobility. In spite of our successful accomplishments and progress in pursuing the American dream, our viewpoint does not have enough influence in conversation about the American education system.  34 percent of undergraduates were first-generation college students in the 2011-2012 college year. As a group, we face unique issues and obstacles: The majority are from low-income families and are more likely to come from low-performing schools. Leaving our distinct firsthand experiences and valuable perspective out of the equation means ignoring a sizable hole in discussions about education generally, and more importantly, where the system falls short in preparing students who may need the most support.

Knight is with the organization Students for Education Reform, and in the interest of full disclosure, I serve on that group's board of directors. I won't add much to his perspective, except to say that there's an interesting interplay among the arguments that Graham is making in The Atlantic, and Knight is making here. In both cases, you see large swaths of the American public clamoring for a greater voice in the institutions that purport to serve them ... without getting much in return.

Have a thoughtful day!

Tuesday Reading List: Foreign Languages, American Cities, and Human Rationality is a Myth

Corey Mitchell of Education Week looks at a new study of foreign language instruction in American schools:

The reports from the American Academy of Arts & Sciences and American Councils for International Education found that public schools and state departments of education are struggling to find qualified world language instructors and unequipped to track local and national trends on language learning. The American Councils for International Education survey—which sought state-by-state data on enrollment in foreign language courses—estimates that 10.6 million K-12 students in the United States are studying a world language or American Sign Language. That's only one out of every five students.

The educators in my community were waving the flag on this when I was a child, and it seems like little has changed in the intervening decades. The liabilities here stretch from international trade to national security. Moreover, there is significant academic research indicating the cognitive benefits of learning a foreign language.

In other research news, Lauren FitzPatrick of the Chicago Sun Times looks at a new report on that city's schools:

One in four African-American students in Chicago Public Schools attends a “failing” school, according to a new analysis that puts the number for Hispanic students at two in 25 and, for white students, two in 100. That’s according to a report Monday from the education advocacy group New Schools for Chicago, which also says about one in every five schools overall isn’t fulfilling the promise of a quality education ... The bulk of the lowest-performing schools are found on the South Side and West Side, serving predominantly low-income, African-American student bodies that constitute 37 percent of CPS students. Austin, Englewood, the Near West Side and West Englewood account for a quarter of them.

It's easy to get caught in the blame game, which is what this article devolves into after the data is presented. Both education reformers and traditionalists need to swallow hard and accept some difficult truths. The vast majority of America's cities contain disparities similar to those found in Chicago. Those disparities existed long before the onset of standards-based reform, much to the chagrin of traditionalists who want to blame their preferred bogeymen (i.e. charter schools! privatization!) for the problems.

But it's also important to remember that two decades of reform have not changed the fundamental performance disparities of American schools, particularly when it comes to our most vulnerable kids ... which should come as a wake-up call to reformers who have been pushing solutions for the last twenty-five years. Everybody needs to chill the f out with the finger pointing and work on improving schools.

In other news, Isaac Carey of The Hechinger Report examined a Virginia program that aimed to determine whether information about future earnings can drive college attendance decisions:

Researchers gave students at participating high schools in Virginia access to a state-backed website called, which analyzed the average wage earned by graduates and the average cost of enrollment, sorted by university and type of program. The students used the website rarely, and did not seem to base their academic decisions on it. During the three-year study, researchers were able to see where students ended up going to college, and what type of programs they chose to pursue. There was no evidence that access to salary data had a detectable impact.

Gosh. It's almost as if humans sometimes make decisions that aren't 100% geared at maximizing microeconomic outcomes. 

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In all seriousness, the more information that students have about the colleges they hope to attend, the better. As the author points out, though, information alone cannot reduce costs, increase student readiness to succeed in college-level courses, and otherwise prepare teens for higher education success.

Have a great day!

Monday Reading List: Giftedness Among English Language Learners and Surprises from the DeVos Regime

Sarah Sparks and Alex Harwin of Education Week look at the representation of English language learners in gifted classrooms:

Gifted education generally includes the 3 percent to 5 percent highest-scoring students on academic tests, as well as those who show significant leadership, creativity, or strengths in particular subjects. But programs vary significantly from state to state ... Some studies suggest that children who grow up bilingual have greater cognitive flexibility and problem-solving skills than monolingual children, but English-learners in the United States often don't get a chance to show their skills. Nationwide in 2014, within schools that have gifted programs, English-learners were underrepresented by more than 5 percent, with gaps between the share of students who are English-learners and the percentage of ELLs in gifted education that were as large as 19 percent in California and 18 percent in Nevada.

As anyone who grew up as speaking a non-dominant language can attest, even educators tend to conflate facility in the dominant language with cognitive ability. A student who speaks a different language at home is just as likely to exhibit signs of academic giftedness, but schools often use identification protocols that overlook English language learners. As the authors of this piece point out, many school districts rely on teachers and parents to nominate students for gifted programs. Guess who tends to excel in that scenario?

In other news, Erica Green of The New York Times examines Betsy DeVos's surprising approach to a new federal education law:

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, who made a career of promoting local control of education, has signaled a surprisingly hard-line approach to carrying out an expansive new federal education law, issuing critical feedback that has rattled state school chiefs and conservative education experts alike ... After more than a decade of strict federal education standards and standardized testing regimes, the Every Student Succeeds Act was to return latitude to the states to come up with plans to improve student achievement and hold schools accountable for student performance ... But her department’s feedback reflects a tension between ideology and legal responsibility: While she has said she would like to see her office’s role in running the nation’s public schools diminished, she has also said she will uphold the law.

For fans of bloodsport among education policy wonks, there are some great nuggets in this piece. For just about everyone else, this story seems like further evidence that the DeVos regime is putting its political capital into loosening higher education regulations, and staying away from rocking the boat too hard on K-12. While DeVos's rhetoric represents a sharp departure from that of her predecessors - particularly on Civil Rights - when it comes to accountability and choice, her policy regime has been almost indistinguishable from that of the prior administration. So far.

One place where DeVos's policy aspirations differ from that of the Obama administration is on school voucher programs. While most research on vouchers has unearthed lackluster student outcomes, Matt Barnum is in The Atlantic looking at a new study from Louisiana:

Past research on Louisiana’s school-voucher program came to a bleak conclusion: Students who used the program to transfer to a private school saw their test scores plummet. A new study complicates that narrative, finding some good—or at least, less bad—news about the closely watched program. The research shows that, for students who received a voucher at the middle or end of elementary school, there were no statistically significant effects on their math or reading test scores by the third year in the program. That’s a boon for voucher advocates who have argued against judging a program by its initial impacts.

To be honest, I find the headline here to be misleading, which is no fault of the author. The results of this study don't demonstrate that students perform better in voucher programs than in other schools, it merely demonstrates that children perform somewhat better in voucher programs than we previously thought.

If you were an investor, and you moved your money into a different asset class, and three years later your broker called you and was like, "Sorry dude, all of your money is gone," you'd be pissed.

But then, let's say she calls you back later and is like, "Just kidding, I didn't lose all of your money, but there has been literally no return on your investment." You'd be less pissed, but it would be hard to argue that she made a smart investment decision on your behalf.

(And remember: in this tortured metaphor, the three years in question represent the earliest years of primary education, which experts agree are the most critical years for learning how to read. The "wait and see" approach just doesn't hold.) 

Finally today, Natalie Gross of The Hechinger Report looks at the proliferation of alternative high school programs:

Alternative schools can vary widely, and some have been criticized for warehousing difficult cases and using harsh discipline. But a subset of alternative schools has long embraced more progressive models of education. More high schools, and some entire states, are borrowing ideas that “last-chance” schools like [the Boston Day and Evening Academy] have been using for decades — practices such as competency-based education, attention to students’ social and emotional well-being and a “restorative justice” approach to school discipline.

I've seen stunningly bad alternative high schools that left me wanting to cry, and I also have seen amazing alternative placement programs that challenge our assumptions about the capabilities of youth who have gone "off track." The school in this piece sounds like an example of the latter, so it is worth understanding what the educators there are doing. Have a great week!

Thursday Reading List: Children Aren't the Problem With Policing, Policy Squabbles, and "Course Choice"

A. Rahman Ford of Blavity looks at a New Jersey bill that would require kindergarten students to learn how to properly interact with police:

The bill in question, A1114, “[r]equires school districts to provide instruction on interacting with law enforcement as part of the New Jersey Student Learning Standards in Social Studies.”  It recently passed the NJ Assembly unanimously.  According to the Assembly Education Committee, the bill requires school districts to provide instruction on interacting with law enforcement “in a manner marked by mutual cooperation and respect,” and based on the rights of individuals when interacting with a law enforcement official ... Clearly, solutions are needed, but indoctrination of eight-year-olds in the absence of their parents is not a good one.  Extensive statistical data on the disparities in stops, arrests, convictions, and killings prove that the pervasive lack of trust in law enforcement is warranted, and it is certainly not the obligation of kindergartners to rebuild it.

That final point nails the issue: the responsibility for reducing violence and racial disparities in policing cannot sit with five-year-olds. Moreover, teaching children that compliance will lead to safety is a lie. Consider this recent story out of Ohio:

A black man from Michigan and a police officer in Ohio have agreed to sit down for “a conversation” about an incendiary video showing their confrontation during a traffic stop, police said. The video, filmed by John Felton when he was in Dayton, shows the officer saying he pulled Felton over because they made “direct eye contact.”

A quick visit to the comments section of my facebook page demonstrates that this experience is not uncommon. Make eye contact while Black? You're suspicious. Avoid eye contact while Black? More suspicious. You cannot change the violent culture of policing in this country by teaching compliance to children.

In other news, Matt Barnum of Chalkbeat looks at a rift within the charter school community, which was exacerbated by the recent publication of a book:

The book, a collection of essays edited by the Center for Education Reform’s Jeanne Allen and Cara Candal and the Manhattan Institute’s Max Eden, makes the case that the charter school movement has gone awry: it’s over-regulated, hyper-focused on tests, and dismissive of families. They appear to have an ally in U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos. In a recent speech to charter school leaders, DeVos criticized lengthy charter applications, warning that “many who call themselves ‘reformers’ have instead become just another breed of bureaucrats.” What’s needed now, the book’s authors say, is more innovation and less of a focus on test results. That argument prompted Checker Finn, the former president of the Fordham Institute, a right-of-center education think tank, to call the book “idiocy.”

While the average student or parent has little time for internecine battles among the education policy wonk glitterati, the issue at hand is of critical importance. I've said almost everything I ever want to say about the recklessness of privileging market-based choice ideology over measurable improvements in student outcomes. We can file this article away as additional evidence that this tension isn't going away any time soon.

Finally today, Robin Flanigan of Education Week looks at a different kind of "choice," which allows students in rural areas to take online courses remotely:

Opening up the world to students in isolated, rural communities is a challenge. Many rural schools lack the technological infrastructure or the financial resources to offer students rich experiences in foreign-language instruction, science, and other subjects. As a consequence, rural students often end up being academically and technologically unprepared to take on college or jobs right out of high school that require a sophisticated level of thinking and technological skills. Unlike their urban and suburban counterparts in other places, enrolling in charter schools or using a voucher to attend a private school are rarely options. But what is an option, and something that appears to be broadening the definition of school choice, is the freedom to choose online courses offered by providers other than the school district—in other words, course choice.

Flanigan explores a bunch of interrelated factors here, including quality control, access, and funding. One thing to watch, though, is the extent to which the federal government tries to expand this sort of program while cutting other critical sources of education funding in rural areas. Have a great day ...

Wednesday Reading List: I'm BAAAAAAAAAAACK!!!

Did you miss me last week?


That's cool. I missed you too. I'm back, though.

Kyle Spencer is in The Hechinger Report, studying a school that serves a large population of homeless students:

Schools that provide low-income students with this kind of help — sometimes referred to as wrap-around services — are called community schools. Hundreds exist and hundreds more are opening. Their increasing popularity is based on the belief that students dealing with poverty and trauma at home simply can’t learn if their basic health and wellness issues aren’t taken care of first ... Despite its increasing popularity, the model has had mixed results. But the results at Broome Street, a community school on steroids, have been stunning. The six-year-old charter is located inside a community-based organization, a five-story teen crisis center known as The Door. Advocates say that placing a community school inside a community organization is rare. But educators here say the arrangement is the secret to Broome Street’s success. Last year, 72.4 percent of the 87 students who arrived in 2012 as freshmen graduated on time, nearly matching the city’s four-year graduation rate of 72.6 percent.

It's a small school, sure, but that's an amazing rate of graduation, given that the program serves students with exceptional needs. Moreover, it is notable that this school is both a public charter AND operates as a full-service community school. The unique governance structure of charters on the one hand, and the wraparound focus of community schools on the other, are not mutually exclusive concepts.

Elsewhere in New York City, a traditional public schools struggles with socioeconomic and racial integration ... part one billion. Patrick Wall of Chalkbeat has the a series of interviews with parents and community members who were involved in one proposed integration project this year, involving P.S. 191 and P.S. 199:

The rezoning battle was remarkable not just for its rancor, but also for how closely it mirrored the fight that erupted a half-century earlier when the city tried to integrate the same two schools. In 1964, the city proposed “pairing” the racially segregated schools so that students from their combined zones would attend 191 for the early grades and then transfer to 199. After opponents failed to block the plan, many white families abandoned the public schools entirely.

The first-person accounts are fascinating. Here's Stanley Becker, the principal of P.S. 191 during that earlier era:

Stanley Becker, P.S. 191’s principal from 1960 to 1980: You got the same situation with the pairing as we have now [with the rezoning hearings]. Parents from 199 got up at school-board meetings and said, “I bought this home for $200-, $300-, $400,000 dollars so I could watch my kid go to school and come home. I don’t want him on a bus going down to another school.”

Why does that sound familiar? Oh right, that's what ostensibly progressive White people say EVERY time school integration is on the table. The protection of property values is always at the core of privileged folks' anti-integration arguments. That argument is eerily similar to the way in which Jim Crow laws were structured, as I've written before.

In other news, Kevin Carey is in The New York Times wondering why U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos is unwinding a federal policy that protects vulnerable students against ineffective colleges:

Despite strong evidence that the gainful employment rules are working as intended, Ms. DeVos has decided to tear them up and start from scratch, calling the regulations “a muddled process that’s unfair to students and schools.” Both Ms. DeVos and the president of the for-profit college industry association, Steve Gunderson, have said that students should be protected from “fraud.” Many of the failing programs aren’t fraudulent, in the strict, legal sense of the word. They’re just extraordinarily ineffective: a waste of taxpayer money and student time. Bridgepoint Education, a publicly traded for-profit college corporation, offers an online associate degree in early education through Ashford University that costs almost $34,000 in tuition, fees and supplies, most of which students finance with debt. Fewer than half of students finish on time, and the median graduate earns less than $16,000 per year. If those results continue, the program will be cut off from aid under current rules.

Despite the fact that it seems counterproductive to roll back measures that protect student borrowers, this decision is remarkably consistent with the Trump-DeVos conception of public policy. In their frame, private interests ought to be left to their own devices, with minimal government interference. Other people, like me, think that government ought to play a role in holding both the public AND private sectors accountable for not screwing people over. Crazy, I know.

Finally today, some historical reading in honor of the celebration of the 4th of July holiday. On July 4th, 1852, Frederick Douglass delivered a speech to an anti-slavery society in upstate New York. That speech became known as "What to the Slave Is the 4th of July?" and it warrants rereading on an annual basis:

I am not included within the pale of this glorious anniversary! Your high independence only reveals the immeasurable distance between us. The blessings in which you, this day, rejoice, are not enjoyed in common. — The rich inheritance of justice, liberty, prosperity and independence, bequeathed by your fathers, is shared by you, not by me. The sunlight that brought life and healing to you, has brought stripes and death to me. This Fourth [of] July is yours, not mine. You may rejoice, I must mourn. To drag a man in fetters into the grand illuminated temple of liberty, and call upon him to join you in joyous anthems, were inhuman mockery and sacrilegious irony. Do you mean, citizens, to mock me, by asking me to speak to-day? ... What, to the American slave, is your 4th of July? I answer: a day that reveals to him, more than all other days in the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which he is the constant victim. To him, your celebration is a sham; your boasted liberty, an unholy license; your national greatness, swelling vanity; your sounds of rejoicing are empty and heartless; your denunciations of tyrants, brass fronted impudence; your shouts of liberty and equality, hollow mockery; your prayers and hymns, your sermons and thanksgivings, with all your religious parade, and solemnity, are, to him, mere bombast, fraud, deception, impiety, and hypocrisy — a thin veil to cover up crimes which would disgrace a nation of savages.

It is a remarkable speech. If you've never read the whole thing, read it for the first time. If you've read it before, reread it today. Have a great week!

Friday Reading List: Education Secession, Measuring Equity, and the Future of a Movement

(Note to Loyal Readers: due to both professional travel and family vacation plans, my posting during the second half of June will be sporadic. My apologies for the extent to which this causes severe lapses in your news and/or gif consumption.)

Denisa Superville of Education Week looks at the phenomenon of whiter, richer communities seceding from school districts:

Since 2000, 47 communities have broken away from their old school districts to form new ones—often creating school systems that are wealthier and less racially diverse. And nine others are in the process of seceding from their current school districts, according to a new report released Wednesday by EdBuild, a New Jersey-based nonprofit that focuses on school funding inequity. The secessions have been happening largely under the radar as some communities—with the help of state law and policies—seek to wall off their wealth and resources, said Rebecca Sibilia, EdBuild's founder and CEO. Thirty states have laws that allow communities to break away from their current school districts, according to the report.

You can read the entire EdBuild report here, which has great interactive visuals. I'm just gonna go ahead and say it: this is both racist and classist. I'm not making a value judgment, I'm making a statement of fact. In all of these instances, individuals and communities with more power and privilege have isolated their capital - real, social, and otherwise - from individuals with less power and privilege, in a way that amplifies racial wealth and opportunity disparities. That's racism. It's not "prejudice" or "racial hatred," which are personal phenomena. It IS, however, the systematic use of institutional power to hoard resources and reinforce racial divisions. Textbook racism.

On the other hand, some communities have prioritized serving students with less privilege. Mike Elsen-Rooney of The Hechinger Report looks at the leaders in that category:

Texas cities were top performers on a new measure designed to compare how well schools in the nation’s 300 largest cities are teaching their poorest students. The study’s authors surveyed a variety of test results from low-income students in those cities, and used them to create a measurement called the Educational Equality Index that assigns a score to each school and each city based on how effectively it teaches low-income students ... While schools in the 300 largest cities were surveyed to develop the index, only 213 cities provided complete enough data to receive a final score and ranking in this initial survey. Overall, the study confirmed that low-income students are still performing well below national averages.

One caveat here: this research has not appeared in a peer-reviewed journal, and the last iteration of this study had significant methodological flaws. That said, there are interesting things to glean from the data, and as with the EdBuild study above, Education Cities - the organization behind this research - offers rich tools for data analysis.

In other news, Darren Sands of BuzzFeed wants to know what's happening with the Movement for Black Lives (sometimes called "Black Lives Matter") which has had a lower profile since the election:

Outside Washington, the left has been revitalized; protesters have organized some of the biggest demonstrations in US history. Inside Black Lives Matter, some activists have argued that their lowered visibility on the national scene is because the movement is focused on policy ... Inside the larger movement, many of the movement’s young activists — some of whom had never organized before joining — lack experience in dealing with the realities and challenges of a national effort, and the tricky alliances and factions involved in many political movements. Some have also come up against the hard reality of full-time activism and don’t know what to do: There are no tactics for helping organizers feed themselves ... Black Lives Matter is still here. Its groups are still organizing. But Black Lives Matter is on the verge of losing the traction and momentum that sparked a national shift on criminal justice policy.

Sands did some deep reporting, and it's worth reading the whole thing to understanding the complexities of scaling, maintaining, and activating a movement for the long term. Whatever happens to the current iteration of Black Lives Matter, the need for an organized response to racism, inequity, and police violence is more necessary than ever. Jelani Cobb of The New Yorker reflects on this week's ruling in the trial of Jeronimo Yanez, the police officer who killed Philando Castile:

... there was some feeling that the verdict in Philando Castile’s death would be different from the decisions in similar cases that had preceded it. That thought hinged on a belief that his status as a lawfully licensed gun-owner, his long-standing employment as a cafeteria manager at an elementary school, and his general lack of serious missteps might exempt him from the idea that his death was his own fault ... In the end, however, the result was indistinguishable from those in previous cases. There were no appeals for a less vitriolic dialogue, no impermeable hope that this time things would change. There was simply the numb reckoning that we’ll all go down this road again.

Strong words to consider over the weekend ...