There is mounting evidence that curriculum and teaching with a social justice focus can benefit students long-term. For instance, from research on a high school social justice course:

Black alumni of the class, many years after graduating, uniformly credited the social-justice course for provoking a process of self-exploration that altered their sense of justice and influenced their self-identity.

Makes total sense to me. Common sense, actually. Yet, emphasis on things like “self-exploration” and “sense of justice” would likely tip off a debate on the goals of education. Education reform adherents explicitly emphasize the role of schooling as preparation for “college and careers,” or workforce participation. Excessive attention to measurable skills will inevitably lead to a de-emphasis of other potential outcomes, namely the soft skills that elude objective measurement.

I feel like a broken record here, do I really have to keep repeating this? Do we have to keep repeating this?

You rob Peter to pay Paul.

I’m not sure senses of justice and equity could be measured, and even if you could narrow them down to a metric, would you not be taking something away from them? Nevertheless, if the hard, measurable skills are necessary, then anyone writing curriculum for the hard stuff should take note. If students are learning to read or practicing reading strategies, for example, then they might as well be reading and reviewing materials that promote or encourage social justice outcomes. Why spend a month or two reading about, I don’t know, generic community “helpers” when you can examine the real and actual makeup of the current community in which students reside? Explore some tough questions about why certain businesses or resources do and don’t exist, and what is or isn’t available elsewhere?

Makes sense to me.

 

I don’t know very much about how law enforcement works. I also think the whole concept of “reform,” for schools and otherwise, is so much nonsense, anyway. But let’s think about this for a moment, shall we?

Law enforcement, as a public service, is failing in low-income black and brown communities, largely in concentrated and segregated urban areas. I think there are legitimate questions not only about methods of policing, but the kinds of individuals that are “attracted” to law enforcement. How high are the bars for entry, for instance? Is police preparation effective or rigorous enough? I’m sure there’s a test out there somewhere that can answer these questions.

Maybe some market forces and good old fashioned competition are what law enforcement needs to improve its outcomes in terms of actually stopping crime and, you know, not killing people. Law enforcement might be a good game for investors right now. You have your regular, neighborhood precincts, but let us also imagine that “charter precincts” opened up in certain neighborhoods. Rather than boring, lifeless names like “District 12” or “Precinct 5,” these new charter police stations are named, “Safe Zone 4” or “Empowerment Collective 11.”

Instead of calling 9-1-1, a separate hotline could be established, maybe 9-1-2, so that potential victims of crime have a choice. Charter and public precincts alike would have to compete for state and federal dollars based on law enforcement outcomes on a per-interaction basis. Community surveys could be mailed out and police could be rated on their customer service.

Who needs a strong union like the FOP to come out and defend the actions of police, regardless of how egregious? New charter precincts would hire at-will officers without due process (although, I’m sure this is something many could still get behind). To take it one step further, all we really need are some young, precocious do-gooders to handle most criminal activity. A few, but trusty, hardened veterans can handle the more dangerous calls. Charter precincts would therefore hire a legion of fresh college graduates on short-term contracts, perhaps two years? These young missionaries could walk the beat and conduct the vast majority of community policing activities. Mix it up with the people. If things get dicey, a Master Officer could be called in. Fewer of these higher paid MO’s, so to speak, would be needed if enough OI’s, or officer interns, can be hired at cut rates to establish an extensive police “presence.”

Think of all the lush federal and state contracts up for the taking if new investors decided to get in law enforcement. That’s potentially billions of dollars in equipment and training. Costs could be cut once funds are disbursed. Let’s say you get $250 million for equipment. Does everyone actually need a radio, am I right? Charter precincts need buildings, too. Cities and municipalities would be happy to give away valuable real estate right in the middle of their communities for the purposes of this new vision of policing. If this charter police district fails? Well, investors still have the building for their troubles, so I’m sure there’s a Harris Teeter and condos that could find their way in its place. Everyone needs mixed use development.

Given the necessity of police “reform” right now, I’m sure we could get an army of well-intentioned liberals to stand behind this new model of law enforcement. What do you say?

 

A massive story on school choice in NYC is in the NY Times magazine. Many of these issues are local matters, but many are also part and parcel of the false promises of school choice, which all evidence underscores the fact that schools have become more, not less, segregated as a result. Moreover, choice benefits families who are better able to navigate complicated sets of decisions and access the right information. If some parents are not adequately prepared and proactive, then the grifters and hucksters come in, with fancy names and brochures for their new, special schools that promise the moon but deliver dust.

I teach in a community that is the primary target of school choice. That is, a low-income, low-performing school with a 100% Black student population. Charter schools are popping up everywhere around our school and in nearby communities. This is in stark contrast to more affluent parts of Washington, DC, whereby parents who do send their children to public schools avail themselves less of school choice, it seems, and instead exploit their political and cultural capital to actually improve their highly coveted neighborhood schools. Charter operators find that their promises and methods do not appeal to most affluent families, which is why they’re clustered close to or over the Anacostia River.

As a teacher, I experience some odd effects of school choice, ones that fall below the radar, but may ultimately leave lasting impacts on students and families in our school community. Over the years, I’ve seen a lot of transition with my students. When I started teaching at my school three years ago, I had 32 students in my K class at one point. And three years later, only four are in our school’s second grade.

When a student of mine is upset about losing a privilege or not getting his or her way, they say, “I want to go to another school.” This may be something a lot of K students say out of anger, sadness, or frustration, but this is a very real phenomenon. I’ve seen students leave for a year, come back mid-year, then leave again. Some families change schools like socks. I can imagine some school choice advocates might say that this is very beneficial to families. If a placement is not working, then finding a better fit might be a good thing. Why squander a child’s education by trapping them in a situation that’s less than optimal?

But I’ve had conversations with parents who are clearly in denial about the extent of the issues and problems, or difficulties, their child is having. Rather than confront those problems head on and avail themselves of the resources that we have to offer, the parent will decide that the school is the problem, pull their child out, then realize that the same problems persist. In some situations, blaming the school detracts from the real struggles their child may be having. And transition is the last thing the child needs.

Finally, there are families in largely low-income and highly segregated communities who have difficulties navigating school life. Organizing dates and deadlines don’t come so easily. As a result of school choice and lotteries, families living on the same street and in the same building cannot support each other. They cannot share information or build networks. PTAs cannot hold community fundraisers or solicit donations on their street. School choice has fractured some communities, splintering children on the same street, same apartment building, and sometimes the same families. Rather than simplifying lives, families now need to negotiate differing start and end times, different dates, and varied school policies. Parents can’t share or compare notes with their peers. Hell, they need to purchase different school uniforms!

At this point, we might be arguing a chicken and egg problem. Which came first, school choice or the disparities we continue to experience? It’s more likely the latter, but the former was promised to alleviate disparities. It hasn’t. In many cases, it’s magnified them.

 

 

 

 

NAEP results are yet again indicating that strict reforms, as current high school seniors have experienced a near-lifetime of initiatives that count as education “reform,” from NCLB to RTTT, have failed.

Mountains of evidence are collecting, but education reform programs, like scripted curricula in all subjects, persist for two reasons, in my estimation.

One, educational change is slow. Systems are clumsy. The winds may be shifting in favor of less reformist perspectives, the dropping of “no excuses” and entirely test-based accountability, for instance, but it could take years for the weight of reform to be lifted. Legions of new principals and administrators and leaders have been indoctrinated. They simply can’t imagine alternatives. And when confronted with very complicated problems, everything looks like a nail.

Two, there is this very persistent and stubborn belief that reformist programs, like highly scripted programs, can work, and will work, even when they don’t or haven’t worked in the past. The problem is with program “fidelity”; that is, we the practitioners have not been faithful enough to the program. This is not to say that obstacles to fidelity are in fact part of the program itself. If practitioners find it difficult, despite millions of dollars in professional development and materials, to reach fidelity, then it might indicate that the program is in fact a failure for that reason alone.

True fidelity is elusive, and likely impossible to reach. Fidelity is subjective and may be so in some cases, but not others. You will likely know when a leader or district is unwilling to let go of a failed program when they persist with fidelity despite repeated failures in reaching it.

Teachers will see a list of, say, ten aspects of program fidelity, with the promise that a program will work if they only perform those ten things. When those ten things are performed, and programs still don’t work, you’d think that’s it, right?

Not.

There will likely follow another list of ten things that also need to be done. Failure, and now we can try something else?

No.

Another list will follow, and another, before you realize that a program will be done regardless of success or failure. And if a program is so desirable, fidelity will be forced by fiat, checked and re-checked. If you can’t provide this elusive and rare condition, someone else will be found who will and the cycle will continue.

Ultimately, however, students may not actually improve their outcomes as a result. But that never really was the goal.

If I’m trying to fix something and I have a toolbox, I don’t force the tool to fit the problem. I don’t blame my hand for not wielding the correct size of wrench to loose the nut. I drop the damn tool and find another. In the case of educating children, imagine loosening bolts of various sizes, that change size on a whim, and may in fact not be bolts at all, but nails and zip ties and staples and glue. It’s messy, you might not need a tool box at all, but in fact could solve your problem with a butter knife in your kitchen drawer.

Yeah, it’s like that.

I’m not necessarily talking about whether or not parents have the right to opt their children out of standardized testing. Opt out of testing groups, of which the NPE is now involved, are doing a pretty good job of getting that bit out there, although it’s still not reaching, from where I stand, the real epicenters of education reform.

I could be wrong.

Since I still follow the movement, although I’m not a part of it, I can see bits and pieces of misinformation still sprinkling in. And to be honest, I thought all of this would have been sorted out by now.

In earlier days of opt out movements, there was this comorbidity with hysteria over the Common Core. The standards evidenced a Federal takeover of the minds of children, and they would therefore be manipulated to smoke grass, vote for Obama’s re-election, toss their guns, hate God, and have copious amounts of sex for pleasure, which would then lead to wonton abortion as a method of birth control.

Opt out leaders attempted, with mixed results, to quell this anti-government hysteria because it lead to calls for the elimination of public schools altogether. There was a time when strict homeschool or unschool advocates became involved and cited the prominence of high stakes testing and Federal standards as reason to divest from public education.

Groups had to do some damage control, and an expunging of group membership, to reinforce their faith in a free and equitable system of public education. But one without testing and common standards. I think I see less mention of the Common Core in most opt out discourse nowadays because the standards turned out to be less of a boogey-person than was originally thought.

Despite the evolution of testing opt out movements, there is still a trickle of misinformation about testing itself, with a subtle smattering of anti-government flavor to it. For instance, that opting out of tests is always related to the Common Core.

It isn’t. There are a number of interim and summative assessments that have nothing to do with the standards.

Another example: there is one single way to opt out of a single, Federalized standardized test.

There isn’t. As it currently stands, there is no single, Federalized standardized test attached to the Common Core. I think the PARCC and SBAC were supposed to become those, but fewer and fewer students and fewer states are taking them. Otherwise, there’s still a patchwork system of high-stakes standardized tests, which therefore relegates this still to a state-by-state fight. Honestly, a single, Federalized test would make opt out movements more successful. All of this state-by-state stuff gets confusing and true consensus is unachievable.

What makes it more difficult are the series of additional assessment products taken throughout the school year, which again have very little, if anything, to do with a Federal Common Core.

Ultimately, opt out groups need to continue informing their activists and members and be very clear on what tests are out there, how they work, and above all, how to speak to them.