Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Why DeVos Might Lose

So far, Betsy DeVos, Donald Trump's nominee for U.S. Secretary of Education, seems to be one of the most, if not the most, unpopular of all of the cabinet nominees. That's not to say that she won't be confirmed. But as of my writing this, she has not been confirmed and only one more vote from the Republicans is needed to deny her the appointment.

Why is this? Well, just as there was bi-partisan unpopularity (aside from GOP establishment types) of Eric Cantor in Virginia's 7th district (my old district) during the 2014 elections, there is bi-partisan unpopularity of Betsy DeVos.

1. She is a blatant pay-to-play actor. She bought the Michigan legislature. She has given tens of thousands of dollars to several Senate Education Committee members. The way Cantor thought he was above members of the public, she operates in a way that shows she believes she is above members of public. On this point, this ad by End Citizens United is particularly devastating:


2. Besides purchasing pet education policies, Betsy Devos has no experience in education at all. Proposing someone to be U.S. Secretary of Education who has no experience in education at all is a slap in the face to all educators. Public school teachers and educators are tiring of getting crapped on and they are tired of people with little to no experience in education telling them what to do. Teachers got crapped on by the Bush administration and then the Obama administration and they are tired of it. Kind of like no one outside of the GOP establishment liked Cantor, hardly anyone who actually worked in public schools or had children in them liked Obama's education policies. Mostly insulated centrist Democratic and moderate Republican DC wonks and education reform-types liked Obama's education policies. Many of the policies that DeVos advocates for, including the Common Core, are part of the bi-partisan education reform regime that we have all been suffering through.


3. I live in a very conservative area of Virginia where public schools are very popular. In fact, public schools are very popular in many conservative areas in Virginia. 53% of white women voted for Trump. Public school teachers are 82% white and 76% female. Of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) members who voted, roughly one in five of them voted for Trump.  Among National Education Association (NEA) member voters, more than one in three likely voted for Trump.

Basically, there is bi-partisan support of public schools. A small majority of white women voted for Trump. A large majority of teachers are white women.  They might have voted for Trump (and I don't have time right now to get into how messed up that is) but that doesn't mean they take kindly to being insulted by the nomination of someone who has no experience in education and who doesn't support the work they do anyway.


4.  Parents of students with disabilities are Republicans and they are Democrats and they are Independents. Disabilities do not manifest themselves in children according to the political party of their parents. These parents are very organized and they are very big advocates for their children and their groups are very powerful. I see this where I live, too. I also have a child with a (medical) disability. Except in extreme cases, because of IDEA, a child with disabilities has a better chance of being accommodated, served, and better educated in public schools than in private schools, let alone religious schools. The idea that a child with disabilities is to be protected and equitably educated is largely a mainstream, assumed one that is part of the fabric of public schooling. I have rights as a parent of a student with a disability, my child has rights as a student with a disability, it's on paper, and everybody knows it. Everybody, that is, except for Betsy DeVos. She has shown an ignorance of IDEA and a callousness towards students with disabilities. That is a big bi-partisan, political no-no.


5. In her confirmation hearing, Betsy DeVos came across as robotic, fumbling, clueless, lacking in leadership skills, and bland. I have yet to meet a bland educational leader who serves in a public position. Her answer to every question was a smile and  "choice." She knew nothing beyond her own ideology.

Q: What would you do to serve students with disabilities?
A: Choice.

Q: What is your plan to stem bullying?
A: Choice.

Q: How are you going to enforce civil rights laws in our public schools?
A: Choice.

Q: What are you going to do about sexual assault on college campuses?
A: Choice.

Q: What are going to do when we give you follow-up questions to answer?
A: Plagiarize.

Plagiarizing may be part of the Trump administration modus operandi and education reform ideologues might be able to overlook it, but it does not go over well with parents and educators.


6. Betsy DeVos is a woman. She is completely unqualified but she is a woman. I don't doubt that Democrats (except for Eva Moskowitz) would oppose her nomination even if she were a man. But I wonder if a completely unqualified man would get put through the same thing.



Monday, January 23, 2017

#WomensMarch 2017


I was fortunate enough to be able to participate in the Women's March on Washington this past weekend. I went with my husband, parents, and my three children. My mom's sister was also there and so were my husband's parents. And countless friends and family friends were there. It was incredible. Like nothing I have ever seen or been a part of. Amazing. I have participated in many marches and demonstrations over the years, but it's not my favorite thing; I am more comfortable with writing and making phone calls and public meetings and with direct advocacy and activism, but I know showing up for marches and protests important, too.

Here are some things that I have been puzzling over regarding the march and that various friends and folks I follow on social media have brought up (thanks if you were one of them):

1. The march was not about any one thing or one issue. It did not mean the same thing to each participant. We should not try to dictate to people how they were supposed to experience it or what they were marching for. You can't give people prerequisites for marching. You can't screen them for participation according to life story, history of activism, or issues of importance (if any). A march is public event, this one with millions of people. And anyway, that's what diversity and pluralism and democracy looks like. Really, really messy. 

In addition, feminism is not one thing and no one person gets to define it or decide who does and doesn't practice it. In that vein, this commentary was illuminating and illogical:  The author makes some good points--about the Women's March not advocating enough for policies, though I think that's what's supposed to happen when you go home. Otherwise, she talks talks a big game about unity and big tent feminism but then says, for example, that a Muslim woman wearing a veil can't be feminist and implies that religious faith is disqualifying. Huh? Maybe her "inclusive liberal feminism" isn't so inclusive after all. And maybe she is exemplifying the problem. Keep in mind that inclusive means to include and respect, not necessarily to accept as your own beliefs.

2. That being said, although the Womens March (not just in DC) was intended to be intersectional, it may not have been for all participants. We should not deny people accounts of their own experiences even if they make us uncomfortable. Collectively, women have a lot of work to do internally, as a group.

For example, I thought the DC Metropolitan Police did a great job and I personally thanked several officers along the route. That was very encouraging and a good sign. However, the DC police are well-trained in handling protests (though so far I am hearing the police in other cities were also supportive and professional). And, while the March had a diverse set of participants, it also had a lot of white people. It might be uncomfortable, but we must ask ourselves if that might have been different, according to history, if there weren't so many white people in the march. Black Lives Matter and NoDPL protesters have been peaceful, too.

3. Do not confuse critique (yes, even of the march) with lack of support. Critique is usually a sign of engagement and care. You can go to the march and be critical at the same time. We can have a big, inclusive Women's March and still talk about the role, for example, of white supremacy within women's movements. The two aren't mutually exclusive. Talking about racism and other biases and differing views among groups of women does not cause division. It helps to heal them, in my opinion. And anyway . . . The divisions. Were. Already. There.  The airing of those divisions is healthy and what the march was partly about.

On the flip side, however, I don't have a lot of tolerance for people who get hung up on the critiques only, without learning the story and without doing anything to change them. I like to earn my right to complain first. I find that when I contribute to an effort, many of my criticisms are cured because I gain insights and empathies  I didn't have before. If you are criticizing, ask yourself: Did you, in two months time, help to organize the biggest march in U.S. History? Did you contribute in even a small way? No? Then your criticisms should include what you're going to do to fix them and how you are planning to contribute.

4. If you didn't go to the march because, for example, you're offended that a black woman pointed out that racism exists among womens rights activists and even among progressives, then you probably weren't that committed to going in the first place. 54% of white women voted for Trump. It's a fact. Look, I don't feel like those women are my people, either, and there are a lot of white people in the country. Given what we know now, I'm actually surprised the numbers weren't more of an overwhelming majority. But it's there, it's real, and get used to hearing about it.

If you didn't go because privileged white women were excited about going, then you are not being very savvy about growing your movement and gaining their support. If you didn't go because one or a few other people going or talking about going said something that made you uncomfortable or said something that exhibited racism or bias, well, there were around 4,000,000 people marching in this country and you let a handful keep you away. 

Of course, there have been accounts of white women objectifying women of color at the marches or becoming defensive upon seeing their signs. Not okay.

That all being said, it's important listen to why people didn't go or if they did why they didn't have a good experience. We will learn something.

5. There are a lot of parallels to the world of education (my world) here, especially since the K-12 teaching force is dominated by white women. We can all show up to a pro-public education march and still have critiques and work to do. 

There are also implications for our two-party system. The Republicans get everyone to show up and then they sort it out later. That's why they win. (Okay, they also actively work to suppress votes of people in the other party.) As the head of my local Democratic Committee told me the other day when I asked how the conservatives in our state senate district could justify voting for some inexperienced libertarian whom they knew nothing about instead of the highly experienced and broadly respected state legislator running for the Democrats in a recent special election. "Well," she said, "they just vote for the option they have with the plan to work on them once they're in office."

At this point, that sounds like a plan.

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Book Review: The End of Consensus

I wanted to announce my first official academic publication. Woot, woot!

It's a second-authored book review in Teachers College Record with one of the professors at VCU who I work with, Dr. Genevieve Siegel-Hawley. The book is The End of Consensus: Diversity, Neighborhoods, and the Politics of Public School Assignments by Toby L. Parcel and Andrew J. Taylor.  Here is the first paragraph:

Changes to student assignment policies that determine who goes to school with whom typically engender political controversies around race, class, opportunity and equity. In 2009, North Carolina’s Wake County Public School System (WCPSS), which includes the city of Raleigh, drew national attention as area leaders debated over significant shifts to a student assignment policy long been held up as a model for promoting diversity and equity. In a fast-growing city-suburban district historically committed to comprehensive school desegregation, the tensions between old and new, conservative and progressive and narrowly- and broadly-defined community came to a head. North Carolina State University sociologist Toby L. Parcel and political scientist Andrew J. Taylor take us into the heart of these controversies in their recent book, The End of Consensus. Parcel and Taylor’s principal findings, laid out over seven concise chapters, showcase a tension between those who prioritized heterogeneous schools versus those who prioritized neighborhood schools.
If you want to read the whole thing, I think it might be behind a paywall, though I had somehow thought that the book reviews in TCR were open access.

Friday, November 11, 2016

Post 2016 Election Post

I have long outgrown (I hope) shaming, scolding, and ranting.  I am sobered, I am humbled, and I am devastated.  I will say that, yes, more empathy, compassion, and understanding is needed, but this goes both ways.  If people like me should understand why others voted for Trump (and I agree that we should), they need to understand why people like me find that vote threatening--threatening to us, to people we love and to people we've never even met (especially to non-white, non-Christian, non-straight, non-cis male people), to our society and the world, and to our values.  For more of what might articulate what I am thinking and feeling, read this twitter thread by Michael Schur.

As for education, I don't have some detailed post on what a Trump presidency would mean for education; I am only able to string together some thoughts and recommendations.

1.  I am leaving the details of why Trump happened to others, but I will say that ultimately there are many reasons Trump won and that social science can help to tell us what those were.  And we need both quantitative and qualitative research to tell us.  Quantitative can tell us what and who but it can't tell us why.  We can also examine the policies that impact voting and see where they were oppressive and where they were facilitative.  Otherwise, while we know the extent of racism, sexism, homophobia, bigotry, ableism, and xenophobia in our country is great, we don't know what each American eligible to vote was thinking when they went into the voting booth or made a choice not to vote, or neglected to register in the first place.  But that can and should be studied.

Recommendation #1: Read, respect, and support high quality social scientific research that studies people of all groups and researchers that represent people of all groups.


2. Although I won't, others have written generally about what a Trump presidency might mean for education.  A good place to start is this straightforward piece from Mike Petrilli of the Fordham Institute.  Mike is a Republican and people like him would know best what Republicans might try to implement.  The most comprehensive, yet concise piece I have read on what education policy might look like is this by one of my favorite education journalists, Emma Brown of the Washington Post.  Otherwise, there is tons of stuff up at Education Week, this, for example.  As we have found out, we need to support journalism, especially investigative journalism, more than ever.  I have said this for a long time.  I am an education news junkie.  I don't pay for all of my content, but I happily pay for a lot of it.

Recommendation #2: Read people who you don't agree with and who make you uncomfortable--they can tell you things you won't pick up on by only reading people you agree with.

Recommendation #2a: If you don't already, invest in journalism. I repeat: read, support, and pay for journalism, especially investigative journalism.  Demand that journalists be of diverse backgrounds and groups and that coverage reflect that diversity.


3. If you read the links in #2, you will see, according to what he said on the campaign trail and who is advising him on education so far, that Trump supports the current traditional Republican agenda, that is privatization, school "choice," and the complete elimination of education as a public good.  In my opinion, those are not good policies--they are not good for public education but they also are not good for our society.  Public schools are flawed and as an institution have been tools of segregation and oppression but they are our best model for sustaining a pluralistic democracy.  Public schools are where kids (hopefully) from all kinds of backgrounds and families come together and navigate the world.  Privatization and "choice" will end that.  Keep in mind that privatization and school "choice" are part of what we've been contending with for a long time, including from the Obama administration, though most centrist Democrats do draw the line at vouchers.

And education is a matter that is largely left to states and localities.  Trump has indicated that he would leave education to the states and localities to a even greater extent than ESSA does.  However, at the same time, he has said things such as that he wants to abolish Common Core, which is a state matter.  He has no record of governing (he has never held office), has no demonstrated expertise or knowledge of policy, is unpredictable, is, and is especially interested in amassing power.  Education does not appear to be much on his radar screen.  So some of what happens will depend upon his education-related appointments, but otherwise, who knows how much he will leave education to states and localities and how much he will want to control himself?  Who knows what he will do?

Recommendation #3: If you are not already, now is the time to get engaged in your local and state governance.  That is the only thing that is left.  Learn all about your local and state governing bodies, including your school boards. Learn about the issues and policies.  Get informed.  Talk with your fellow community members about the issues and policies.  Comment publicly on what your local and state governing bodies are doing and what you as a citizen, taxpayer, and constituent want them to do.  Cherish those public democratic institutions and work to preserve them and keep them healthy.  Work to get people from diverse backgrounds and different groups elected and appointed to such bodies. Serve in those bodies yourself. Contribute and be a participant.  I can't stress this enough.  I have long said that local and state governance is the most important and this is more true than ever.  Neo-liberals have demonstrated disdain for institutions and matters of local and state governance.  Obama's principal Secretary of Education Arne Duncan thought school boards were dysfunctional and a nuisance.  Do not follow this example.  Set a new one.  When you fail to engage with your local and state institutions, you leave a void for others or nobody to fill.  Local and state political leaders are obligated to serve their constituents and they need to be held accountable. We have to make them serve the public, ALL members of the public.


4. Going back to federal education, while I stated that much of what Trump has said about education aligns with current initiatives in education generally, there will be a large, devastating difference from the Obama administration in terms of the focus of the Department of Education.  Trump may work to eliminate the Department of Education, he may completely redirect the way federal funds for education are used (Title I, for example, and Pell Grants).  Civil rights components and integration initiatives will be gutted.  So much of the work that has been done towards establishing even just a fragile understanding of white supremacy and just a small start to countering and dismantling it will likely be lost.  This will have devastating effects.

Recommendation #4: Get involved and be present in your community's schools, in your children's schools. Advocate for diverse school staffs and diverse curricula. Tell your local educators that you know that they can't control what kids learn at home, but that once in school, you expect everyone be treated with respect and dignity and to be kept safe.  If you hear something or see something, say something.  Right now, there are many kids in schools (including many traditional public schools) who are just trying to survive. Read this --it's alarming but you must read it.  It's always been this way on some level, especially for Muslim, black, Latino, LGBT, and immigrant students and students with disabilities, but now it's even worse and female and all other non-Christian students are also in more danger. The country will have a president, unless the electors of electoral college step up to the plate, who is a white nationalist sexual predator and whose behavior would violate the code of conduct in many of our children's schools and warrant suspension if not expulsion, not to mention arrest and conviction outside of school.  Our schools will be charged with enforcing codes of conduct to keep students safe from sexual assault, bullying, harassment, and attacks. Many are being bullied, intimidated, provoked, and in some cases attacked. They need our support and protection.

It isn't much, but that's all I got. Stay safe and remember to breathe.


Sunday, August 7, 2016

It's not the science that is junk, it's the measures, Part II

So a day or so after my last post, It's not the science that is junk, it's the measures, I came across this interview of Jesse Rothstein by Rachel Cohen in the American Prospect. There's lots of good stuff in there and it's worth reading. I don't mean to take away from the import of Jesse Rothstein's work (I am a big fan of his work and of Rachel Cohen's work) but a piece of it kind of demonstrates what I was trying to get at in my last post.

Talking about VAM, Rothstein said,
It’s very controversial and I’ve argued that one of the flaws of it is that even though VAM shows the average growth of a teacher’s student, that’s not the same thing as showing a teacher’s effect, because teachers teach very different groups of students. 
If I’m a teacher who is known to be really good with students with attention-deficit disorder, and all those kids get put in my class, they don’t, on average, gain as much as other students, and I look less effective. But that might be because I was systematically given the kids who wouldn’t gain very much.
So, yes, this is a very good point: there is a difference between showing "the growth of a teacher's student" and "showing a teacher's effect."  And yes, according to test scores, and how well students perform on them, teachers can look more effective or less effective, regardless of how good they are at teaching.

The he says, when she asks if he is skeptical of VAM,
I think the metrics are not as good as the plaintiffs made them out to be. There are bias issues, among others. One big issue is that evaluating teachers based on value-added encourages teachers to teach to the state test. 
During the Vergara trials you testified against some of Harvard economist Raj Chetty's VAM research, and the two of you have been going back and forth ever since. Can you describe what you two are arguing about?  
Raj’s testimony at the trial was very focused on his work regarding teacher VAM. After the trial, I really dug in to understand his work, and I probed into some of his assumptions, and found that they didn’t really hold up. So while he was arguing that VAM showed unbiased results, and VAM results tell you a lot about a teacher’s long-term outcomes, I concluded that what his approach really showed was that value-added scores are moderately biased, and that they don’t really tell us one way or another about a teacher’s long-term outcomes.
If you look at this response and then go back to the previous one I pulled out, you see that Rothstein is referencing "growth" and then "bias." That certain types of students won't "gain as much as other students" and that the value-added scores are "moderately biased" and that they don't tell us much about a teacher's "long-term outcomes."

Nowhere in there is there a repudiation of the measures, of the tests themselves, or even a question about their validity. His responses seem to assume that determining a teacher's effectiveness according to test scores is unfair because some students won't perform on them and that these tests can show growth and gains in learning.  Nowhere does he question that the tests themselves might not be reflective of real learning, good teaching, or of quality education.

And then the bias and assumptions critique, that has to do with the model, and not with what is being fed into the model, i.e., test scores. Arguments about the strength of statistical models are worth having but those should start with probing what's being fed into them.

If someone like Jesse Rothstein isn't questioning that, then test-based accountability isn't going away anytime soon. It will forever be a matter of tinkering with models.

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

It's not the science that is junk, it's the measures

So I recently had occasion to read a whole bunch of studies on charter schools and one type I read was about their effectiveness. I read the CREDO studies and I read critiques of the CREDO studies and I read meta-analyses and I read smaller studies.

Anyway, I want to go back to something I used to say and that I have heard others who are similarly skeptical of Big Ed Reform, and that is the notion of "junk science." A lot of us have called VAM and have called other studies of educational effectiveness "junk science." I know I did, indignantly. But you know what? I didn't really know what I was saying. (This is one reason I went back to get my PhD, so I would have more understanding of these kinds of things.)

And I was reading all of these studies on the effectiveness of charter schools, I remembered reading this post by Matt DiCarlo on the Shanker Blog from over 3 years ago. I remembered that reading it gave me pause about calling what I did "junk science" and I ceased doing so, but even so, I couldn't fully relate to what he was saying:
Now, I personally am not opposed to using these estimates in evaluations and other personnel policies, but I certainly understand opponents’ skepticism. For one thing, there are some states and districts in which design and implementation has been somewhat careless, and, in these situations, I very much share the skepticism. Moreover, the common argument that evaluations, in order to be "meaningful," must consist of value-added measures in a heavily-weighted role (e.g., 45-50 percent) is, in my view, unsupportable. 
All that said, calling value-added “junk science” completely obscures the important issues. The real questions here are less about the merits of the models per se than how they're being used. 
If value-added is “junk science” regardless of how it's employed, then a fairly large chunk of social scientific research is “junk science." If that’s your opinion, then okay – you’re entitled to it – but it’s not very compelling, at least in my (admittedly biased) view.
I am still no statistics expert and I never will be, but I have a much greater appreciation for what these models and analyses can tell us and what they don't tell us and what their limitations are. And these researchers conducting these studies, they may have different ways of conducting the studies and different opinions regarding which factors should be included and which shouldn't, but they know what they're doing, most of them at least, and they go to great pains to be thorough and thoughtful about their design and methodology and to explain the models they're using and to account for the results that these models produce. So the problem is not with the science.

DiCarlo says the problem is in how the models are being used. Yes. But another problem, as far as I could glean, is with the measures they're using. "Student learning” and “student achievement” have come to be represented by test scores. That is not my currency of educational quality, but it is the current currency in educational research and policy. I think many of these tests are of dubious quality and I don't think that they provide a true measure of what students have actually learned and or of the quality of their educational experience. Richer, deeper, more authentic student learning in charter schools, and schools in general, can be measured if we think creatively and holistically about it. But we're not doing that and we're not incentivized to do that. So much of the money for educational research, so much of the recognition, goes to researchers who use these test scores as measures. Because there's not much else. Even researchers who don't agree that they are good measures will say as much in one paragraph and then cite them as evidence of effectiveness or lack thereof in the next. 

To me, it's kind of like chicken nuggets and milkshakes. McFastFood place has a sound process for making chicken nuggets and milkshakes, but once all is said and done, how much actual quality chicken meat and milk come out of the other side? How much actual nutrition? How much actual, recognizable learning and educational quality gets funneled through these tests and comes out of the other side of these statistical analyses that use test scores as measures?

I doubt much.

Saturday, July 30, 2016

NAACP calls for a moratorium on charter schools but the devil is in the (state) details

Julian Vasquez was one of the first, if not the first, to report that the NAACP called for a moratorium on charter schools. Please read his post as well as the copy of the resolution itself that he posted.

Here are my thoughts:

This is a big deal. In many cases, or at least some, civil rights groups and those representing black and Latino communities were not initially, necessarily against charters. Even if they had reservations, many saw them as an alternative to the traditional public schools TPSs) where many black and Latino have been not been served well by traditional public schools. It is easy for those of us who have been well served by traditional public schools to oppose charter schools, but it's not been a no-brainer for those who haven't been and who can blame them. That the national NAACP has essentially put their foot down on this means something.

However . . .

1. (And their resolution acknowledges this if you examine the language) charter laws are made state-by-state.  Certainly, federal policy, such as RTTT (Race to the Top) can influence the proliferation of charter schools with funding incentives (or lack thereof) and other types of support. But it's at the state level where charters are born and made and it's state laws that determine their regulation, their proliferation, and their governance structures. Every state is different. So while this will have influence at the national level, we'll have to see what individual NAACP chapters do, what each individual's state charter laws and climate is, and what state legislatures do.

2. I could be wrong but the language seems to indicate a moratorium on "privately managed charters" and perhaps even just "for-profit" charter schools. With some exceptions (and remember, this changes depending on the state), all charter schools are privately managed, meaning their governing boards or entities are privately chosen or appointed. There is no public process. (In Virginia, charter schools are permitted but they must be approved by local school bards and then they are still subject to, although not as strictly as TPSs, their governance, they are still under democratic control--we have very sound charter school laws here.) So yes, saying no more "privately managed" charter schools is kind of like saying no more charter schools. But, the distinction between "for-profit" and "non-profit" charter schools is much blurrier. For one, they can still be financed the same. Second, non-profits can still have dealings that foster profiteering and that involve corrupting profit-motives. Third, the governance of non-profits charter schools can still be private and non-democratic, which is the real issue. The funding and profit-making generally come out of the governance. To learn more about this (or maybe see what I got wrong here :) I highly recommend you read Baker and Miron's (2015) report about this.

I have had another little charter school-themed post in the works for a while which I hope to have up sometime in the next week. Stay tuned . . .