Patty Hearst and the Ed Reform Left

January 19, 2017

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

So yesterday Elizabeth Warren read the six-inch Dark Lord of Nightmares’ letter at the DeVos confirmation hearing, and it got me to thinking about Patty Hearst. In the early 1970s heiress Patty Hearst was kidnapped by a radical left-wing terrorist organization, kept blindfolded and bound in a closet for weeks. She suffered terrible abuse. Eventually she grew sympathetic with the views of her captives, changed her name, and joined them in bank robberies and the creation of propaganda, eventually leading to her arrest and imprisonment in 1975. President Carter commuted her sentence in the late 1970s and then someone bought a Bubba pardon for her on Ebay President Clinton pardoned her in 2001.

To my progressive friends in the education reform movement, let me respectfully suggest that this is not an example you wish to follow.

So Donald Trump will take the oath of office to become President of the United States tomorrow. I’m still shocked to write such a thing. To put things delicately, he’s not my cup of tea either. The American people however chose to elect him. They had other options available and the rules of the game regarding the Electoral College were known to all players in advance. I don’t know who hacked Podesta’s email but I’m pretty sure they didn’t force Hillary to avoid visiting Wisconsin and Michigan. Nor did they inexplicably direct millions of dollars to television ads in states like Arizona, Georgia and Texas in preference to more GOTV and efforts in the real swing states of MI and PA. If you are looking for the folks who lost this election for HRC, search Brooklyn rather than Moscow.

In 2008 I found myself attempting to assure my conservative friends that life would in fact go on despite the election of Barack Obama. Don’t get me wrong- I was no fan at the time and never became one. The world ended again in 2012…except it didn’t. I had liberal friends that were ready to move to Canada in 2004. I told them that I survived 8 years of Bill Clinton and that they would survive 8 years of Dubya. Sure enough they did. While Trump is unique in many ways, let’s try to remain open to the idea that the Founders prepared for scoundrels in high office and that this too just might pass.

Fear, loathing, triangulaton, whatever-Stockholm Syndrome is always bad look imo.



















The View Sure Looks Good from Here

January 19, 2017


(Guest post by Greg Forster)

My Win-Win findings read out loud on The View (check it out at the 9:30 mark).

I promise to remember y’all now that I’ve come into my kingdom.

Meanwhile MOOCs continue to grow and evolve…

January 18, 2017

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

The Economist provides a current state of play for the MOOC space, Georgia Tech announces a new ultra-low cost Masters Degree in analytics, and EdX has a summary of who uses their courses, earns credentials etc.

Who’s a Little Massachusetts Charter School Fear Demon?

January 15, 2017

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

So in a delightful episode of the television series classic Buffy the Vampire Slayer the Scooby Gang discovers that the demon terror du jour is approximately six inches tall. The demon babbles on about his fearsome power as the Dark Lord of Nightmares, only to have classy Giles admonish the good guys for taunting the boastful mini-monster in preference to a quick dispatching and well deserved stomp.

So…for some reason this scene came to mind when I read a letter that the Massachusetts Charter School Association sent to Elizabeth Warren opposing the nomination of Betsy DeVos for Secretary of Education.

Ok calm down-I know you have a lot of questions: Yes the same charter school association that helped burn through tens of millions of other people’s money only to lose decisively on a ballot measure to allow 12 new charters a year to open in the state. The same association whose sector is too small to meet the minimum reporting requirements in either Massachusetts or even Boston. Yes the same Elizabeth Warren that turned on them when they went to the ballot.

Well then, what do the wee-tiny Dark Lords of the Bay State’s safely contained charter sector have to say for themselves?

By all independent accounts, Massachusetts has the best charter school system in the country. We are providing high quality public school choices for parents across our state. Our urban schools are serving the highest need children in Massachusetts, and are producing results that have researchers double-checking their math. These gains held across all demographic groups, including African American, Latino, and children living in poverty.

(… according-six-year-study/hCpVGMeEQvNODUvB6bXhcK/story.html)

The cornerstone of the Massachusetts charter public school system is accountability. The process of obtaining and keeping a charter is deliberately difficult. The state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education is the sole authorizer and historically has approved only one out of every five applications. Once approved, each charter school must submit to annual financial audits by independent auditors and annual performance reviews by the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. Every five years, each charter must be renewed after a process as rigorous as the initial application process. For-profit charter schools are prohibited by Massachusetts law.

Tremble before their fearsome technocratic awesomeness or they will DESTROY YOU!

Okay, so here is a new independent evaluation for you- MA charters are apparently effective for many of the small number of kids who will ever have the chance to attend them. That’s wonderful, but outside of that one can’t help but notice that very few people in MA, including Senator Warren, seemed overly impressed with either their bureaucratic compliance or test scores during the initiative. I can’t say I’m overly impressed with a sector that has approximately zero prospects for growth.

Moreover, if you find yourself stalemated at the legislature and crushed at the ballot box, does the scroll inside the “Break Glass in Case of Emergency” box say “Write a pompous letter to someone who was already a ‘no’ denouncing someone who supports your cause?” Let’s ask the 8-Ball whether it would be good to follow that advice:

Oh and by the way, the independent evaluations referenced in the letter that like Boston charters also like Detroit. As Max Eden noted:

The 2013 study of Michigan charter schools by Stanford’s Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) found that “charter students in Detroit gain over three months per year more than their counterparts at traditional public schools.” A 2015 CREDO study of 41 major cities concluded that Boston, Newark, Washington, D.C., and Detroit, “provide essential examples of school-level and system-level commitments to quality that can serve as models to other communities.

Some of these charter sectors-like Detroit btw- delightfully have the opportunity to grow and serve more students. Others apparently prefer to accept their containment and babble about their fearsome powers. Somehow it is not hard to imagine why Massachusetts voters administered a ballot box stomp.


The Battle for Room 314

January 13, 2017

(Guest Post By Jonathan Butcher)

Are American classrooms improving? After a century of government and non-government interventions, we hope so. But we’ll need to look someplace other than Ed Boland’s The Battle for Room 314. A visitor to earth who had never seen a school before might be unable to distinguish between demilitarized zones and Boland’s class. Drugs, guns, obscene speech and behavior—imagine if Quentin Tarantino rewrote the script for Dangerous Minds.

We learn near the end of Room 314 that Boland’s school, Union Street, ranked in the bottom five percent of New York’s schools, so his class is not representative of the U.S. We hope things would have improved since other hard-luck education stories like Up the Down Staircase and the Morgan Freeman film Lean on Me, these works now some 60 and 30 years old, respectively. Room 314 forces us to look for good news elsewhere, because it’s not found at Union Street.

Room 314 is a memoir, not a policy guide, even though Boland offers recommendations in the book’s conclusion. The author is a 40-something New Yorker who leaves his successful career in fundraising to teach in a New York City public school. He gives an account of his year spent trying to make sense of American teenagers with absent or unstable parents. Boland leaves little to the imagination and tells the story with the same salty language that his students use in class. Be warned, it’s brutal and explicit storytelling at times.

Because this is a book about public schools, Boland’s personal story cannot help but expose familiar policy problems. Halfway through the school year, Boland and his fellow ninth grade teachers plan to reconfigure the classrooms to break up the most disruptive students. The teachers agree to teach an extra period.

Enter the union. The representative says, “If management sees that teachers are willing to work more without more compensation, they’ll hold that against us during the next round of negotiations… We have to adhere to the contract strictly or the whole thing falls apart.” Boland says his class has already fallen apart.

The demoralizing union tactics are not lost on him. In his suggestions for system-wide improvement, he says:

“In simplest terms, unions must be more willing to work with the administration so they can fire the least effective teachers; change lockstep compensation; reconsider evaluation, seniority, and tenure; and create incentives to put the best teachers in the neediest schools.”

Still, he understands his students’ obstacles are more than he can overcome in class. He says that one of his students wants to attend Columbia University after participating in a model United Nations competition on campus: “I didn’t like knowing that Solomon’s fate was already pretty-well sealed by his ethnic surname, his lousy zip code, and his mother’s measly income.”

The conflicting ideas in Room 314 are whether Boland was unprepared or his students had too many challenges at home or the school somehow failed them all. An NPR review of Room 314 written by a teacher says, “Had Boland stuck around another year or two…he might have written his story quite differently.” Boland says Union Street was under new leadership shortly after he left, and it was unclear how many students were to repeat a grade—so there are no guarantees. The NPR reviewer is critical of Boland’s lesson planning and inability to connect with his students. Fordham’s Robert Pondiscio (who worked for Boland at a non-profit) is less critical of Boland and blames inadequate teacher preparation programs for those headed to inner-city schools.

Regardless, Boland deserves credit for taking a year and all the compassion he could muster to protect, console, and, at times, even teach a frightening group of teenagers. His criticism of the union is noted, but his other calls to action like different integration laws and more funding fall flat. There is not enough taxpayer money in all of Albany (or Washington) to solve Room 314’s problems.

The Mythbusting Never Ends

January 12, 2017


(Guest post by Greg Forster)

OCPA’s Perspective carries my latest under the somewhat discouraging title “Ed Choice Mythbusting Never Ends.” At least I’ll never be out of a job:

The funniest thing in the article is where McCloud mocks the emergence of Education Savings Accounts (ESAs) and then complains about precisely the problem ESAs solve. After making fun of the choice movement for switching from vouchers to ESAs—because apparently it’s a bad sign if you’re willing to move from a good idea to a better one—McCloud asserts that “vouchers would inflate the cost of private education.”

Indeed, vouchers do inadvertently raise private school tuition. That is one reason the movement is switching from vouchers to ESAs, which allow parents to buy education services without creating an artificial tuition floor for schools. It’s also true that even ESAs raise economic demand for education services in general—but that’s just another way of saying they empower parents to pay for those services!

McCloud’s article provides a public service in one respect: It collects almost all the school choice myths in one place. Maybe I don’t mind so much if the defenders of the status quo make my job easy after all.

As always, your thoughts are appreciated!

Tears for Beers

January 11, 2017

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

Arizona Republic columnist Bob Robb wrote a piece on Arizona Governor Doug Ducey’s recent State of the State address. Money quote:

Ducey wasn’t a party to the deep cuts to K-12 education that were made after the bursting of the housing bubble knocked a big hole in state revenues. In fact, during his governorship, per-pupil spending, adjusted for inflation, has gone up, not down. Try to find an acknowledgement of that in the education funding debate.

In his speech, Ducey pointed out that “Arizona students are improving faster in math and reading than any other kids in the country.” That’s true.

Yet, there is a curious lack of curiosity about this development. In fact, Matt Ladner, a scholar with the Foundation for Excellence in Education, is about the only person in the state documenting it and inquiring about its causes. Everyone else is crying in their beer.

Bob’s kind remarks require two clarifications. First I made a professional transition a couple of months ago. Second, it is only bloody well near everyone else crying in their beer in Arizona, rather than actually everyone else. Crying in your beer is a bad look after all. A select few of us are just way too busy celeNAEPing our progress and trying to figure out ways to get more for it.