Archives for the month of: September, 2019

This is a lovely way to usher in the New Year 5780!

Thanks to my dear friend David Berliner for sharing!

And a happy New Year, L’Shana Tova, to all!




ProPublica documents that Trump has been proclaiming his interest in the Ukraine investigation  on Twitter for months. Why are we surprised when he has told the story out loud for months?

Conspiracy theorists convinced him long ago that Ukraine—not Russia—interfered in the 2016 election, to aid the hated Hillary. He also telegraphed his belief that Ukraine leaked damaging information about Paul Manafort (accurate but that’s beside the point).

Rudy Guiliani’s trips to Ukraine were no secret.

It was all out there.

Why are we surprised?

Trump seems to believe that if you commit a crime, an indiscretion, a betrayal of your oath of office to protect the country, and you do it in plain sight, it’s just fine. If they catch you, your defense of “So what?” is good enough for his fanatical base. This is the base that Trump predicted would not care if he murdered someone in Fifth Avenue in broad daylight.

Will they now tolerate his invitation to Ukraine to smear Joe Biden?


Andrea Gabor wrote this article for Bloomberg News.

Andrea Gabor, a former editor at Business Week and U.S. News & World Report, is the Bloomberg chair of business journalism at Baruch College of the City University of New York and the author of “After the Education Wars: How Smart Schools Upend the Business of Reform.”

The College Board, which administers college entrance exams to high school students, is trying to use its advanced placement courses and tests for high-achieving students to get American schools to take civics seriously again.

That’s a welcome development after years of neglect by both schools and policymakers. Even better, last year’s redesign of its AP U.S. government and politics course — the first since it was introduced in 1986 — goes well beyond requiring basic knowledge of, say, how a bill becomes law, and seeks to get students engaged with civic life. While the academic part of the AP U.S. government course explores the diverse forces that shape everything from legislation to Supreme Court precedents, students also are required to put their knowledge into action by working on a civics project, even one that takes sides in today’s partisan political battles.

The new U.S. government AP is part of a nationwide push — both inside and outside schools — for high-school students to engage in civic debate and action. Last year, Massachusetts became the first state to require schools to coordinate student-led civics projects, though that state’s high school projects must be nonpartisan.

A civics revival is long overdue. As of 2018, only eight states required students to take a yearlong civics and government class, and only 19 required students to take a civics exam to graduate. Even the National Assessment of Educational Progress, which is considered the nation’s report card, dropped its 4th- and 12th-grade civics and American history exam, in 2014. The ostensible reason was to save money, but the NAEP then adopted a new technology and engineering literacy test a year later.

Indeed, civics fell victim to the narrowing of curricula under both Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama, and to the standardized testing regimen that focused on math, science and English. Worried about economic competition from China, neither Democrats nor Republicans anticipated the recent populist and authoritarian threat to Western democracies that civics education is meant to forestall.

The reality is, schools need to do both: prepare students for a global economy and to be engaged citizens in a democracy.

Putting action at the core of civics education may seem counterintuitive at a time when basic knowledge of the three branches of the U.S. government is in short supply and especially considering that college students’ activism has often been seen as controversial — think of the sit-ins at segregated lunch counters in the South during the civil rights era and the protests against the Vietnam War.

Yet the benefit of getting high-school students working on civics projects of their own choosing — even partisan ones — goes beyond tapping into the innate desire of teenagers to change the world. Having students work on new legislation or lobby their city council representatives can promote a deep understanding of local, state and federal government and provide the basis for future political engagement.

That’s especially true for immigrants and members of minority groups. Studies conducted nearly 50 years apart — including one by the American Enterprise Institute — show that civics education is especially effective both in teaching poor students and immigrants about government and in increasing their sense of political empowerment.

Students already are demonstrating the power of action civics. In Chicago, high schoolers lobbied Illinois legislators to change harsh disciplinary practices that often pushed minority students out of school and into the criminal justice system, and were instrumental in helping to draft a new school-discipline law in 2016. In New York City, minority student activists are suing the education department for equal access to athletic facilities and school teams. And schools across the country are experimenting with efforts to let students determine school spending priorities on extras such as building a greenhouse or funding a music club.

The Stoneman Douglas High School students in Parkland, Florida, may provide the best argument for a civics approach that encompasses both knowledge and action. Their gun-control advocacy since the 2018 shootings there, which killed 17 students and school staffers, was inspired by research they were already doing for both their AP government class and a district-wide debate program.

Educators also are developing ways to measure the educational value of such projects. In New HampshireNew York City and Oakland, they have developed assessments that treat the projects like mini dissertations and often require a written report as well as an oral presentation. The AP’s civics projects, however, will count only toward a course grade and not its college-level U.S. government test; that’s in large part because most college government courses do not require projects, according to the College Board.

The biggest challenge may be to scale the efforts at action civics. Only about 281,000 public-school students take the AP U.S. government course — last year, about 30 percent of these students were African-American or Latino and 23 percent were low-income; indeed, the College Board has come under criticism recently for failing to make its tests more accessible to minority students.

States and districts also will need to resist pressures from both the political left and the right that could dilute the push for more robust civics. The movement to require ethnic studies must not be allowed to erode time and attention devoted to civics. And states that require high-school graduates to pass the U.S. citizenship test must resist the lure of a rote multiple-choice approach to civics.

Instead, embracing a meaningful civics project as part of a broader U.S. government and history curriculum may be the best way to help kids make the connection between what they learn about the nation’s political institutions and a future they can affect.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.

To contact the author of this story:

Andrea Gabor at


The charter Industry faction on the Los Angeles School Board wants to introduce a Jeb Bush-style evaluation system to rank and rate schools. It hasn’t worked anywhere else in the nation, so why not introduce it in Los Angeles.

Every other state has demonstrated that the school grading system ranks schools by the income of parents. Schools that enroll the poorest children get the lowest grades. Schools that enroll affluent children get the highest grades.

The purpose of school grades is to set schools up to be privatized.

Sara Roos, who blogs as Red Queen in L.A., writes that the school district does not need a Yelp system. She is right.

She points out that board member Jackie Goldberg wants the school system to help schools that are in need of support, not devise a system to call them “failures.”

The charter advocates are pushing the Jeb Bush Plan because it will help build the charter industry. It will do nothing for children.


John Thompson is a historians and recently retired teacher in Oklahoma.


For more than two decades I’ve mourned the loss of opportunities for online instruction to augment and enhance student learning, as opposed enabling a Social Darwinian competition where charters attack traditional public schools. Educators seeking meaningful choices, such as real personalized learning, have been shackled by the need to fight back against “choice” advocate, as well as their spin, claiming to offer “personalized” instruction, measured by impersonal test score metrics.

Above all, I’ve been saddened by the way that beaten-down educators have often been bogged down in a defensive war against test-driven, competition-driven reformers. In order to survive the charter assaults armed with bogus test scores, too many schools merely complied with the corporate reformers’ mandates. In doing so, they robbed the students of the opportunity to be taught and to learn how to make the real choices that can guide them to lifelong learning.

This year’s Oklahoma legislature’s Common Education Committee Interim Studies are revealing a new, brave, and worthy campaign for holistic instruction. Almost all of the legislators who attend these hearings are former educators. Even though the committee avoids mentioning the unfolding Epic virtual charter school scandal, their weekly questioning of state educationleaders and virtual charter supporters make two things clear: today’s accountability for virtual charters is completely inadequate and it’s hard to even visualize a path toward a valid accountability system, much less build and implement one.

These hearings have been especially impressive because witnesses now dare to “keep it real.” They share the lessons learned in their years of experience in developing blended learning, recent experiments in virtual learning in traditional public schools, and their witnessing of the harm they’ve seen imposed by for-profit virtual charters. These efforts have been guided by experienced educators, by cognitive science, and educationresearch, not business people assuming that the market would solve vexing dilemmas.

So far in the interim hearings, charter advocates have kept their cards close to their vests and ducked the most important questions. A common refrain is that many charter leaders now agree that more accountability is necessary. An unknowable number of online students “hide out,” pretending that they are enrolled in school.

When asked how we got to the point where at least 18,000 students are enrolled in virtual charters, although we don’t even have adequate methods of counting attendance, they hear from charter supporters that the accountability law is only two years old, there are concerns about accountability metrics, and concerns about virtual charters not being accountable for low graduation rates, as well as a prominent multi-million dollar marketing campaign (which clearly referred to Epic’s advertising budget.)

The latest hearing, “Family Choice within Oklahoma Public Schools,” started with an overview of the vast range of choices that are offered by traditional public schools. Patrons don’t need charters to have access to: “Empowerment Schools;” “Conversion Schools;” supplemental online blended and virtual learning; and magnet and enterprise schools; or to take advantage of the state’s Open Transfer law. Expert witnesses then made the case that all of these options are less risky and more likely to benefit students when they are deliberately planned and implemented by professional educators, as opposed to true believers in market forces that can “blow up” the education “status quo,” producing rapid, “transformative” change.

Two of the best things about the evidence being presented to the interim committee are that they draw upon seven years of research by the National Education Policy Center (NEPC), and cognitive science about what it really takes to devise 21st century pedagogies. For the first time in years, I heard thoughtful discussions of how schools can nurture “inner directedness,” respecting students by helping them to develop their internal locus of control.

In previous meetings, Derald Glover of the Cooperative Council for Oklahoma School Administrators (CCOSA) cited the National Education Policy Center and others showing that virtual schools need  24 to 41 percent less funding than brick and mortar schools. A key recommendation was that virtual school funding should not be based on student counts like brick and mortar schools; Oklahoma should learn from research and from states that base funding on course completion.

And the NEPC research cited by Glover explains why traditional public schools are the better vehicle for expanding online instruction. They cost less and produce better student performance. (For instance, administrative costs of virtual programs run by Oklahoma traditional public school systems range from about 1/3rd to ½ of Epic’s administrative costs.)

Their testimony was also consistent with the NEPC’s conclusion that blended learning is much more promising than virtual learning, but that blended charters haven’t shown that much better outcomes than virtual charters. This helps explain why blended learning offered by brick and mortar traditional public schools are the best option for online learning.  Drawing upon the work of Gary Miron, Alex Molnar, and others, CCOSA developed Blended Learning Framework where the teacher drives instruction.

Moreover, representatives of the Tulsa Union and Cleveland school systems described the process of how they started with blended instruction, and used those experiences when devising virtual learning programs. Tulsa Union is the district which inspired the headline for David Kirp’s New York Times article, “Who Needs Charters When You Have Public Schools Like These?”

Union’s virtual students are offered “every choice they could ever want.” They are welcome to enjoy the “entire high school experience, including prom.” About 1/4th of the virtual students sign up for music electives, and they can sign up for early college instruction and graduate with associates degrees; or participate in Career Tech partnerships that seek, “Commencement for a Reason”

Union, as well as Cleveland Public Schools, “vet applications carefully.” In contrast to for-profit and competition-driven virtual charters, traditional public schools understand that, ultimately, it is the patrons who choose the type of school they want, but if you have a kid who has struggled, extra guidance needs to be provided. They invest heavily in conversations with counselors and families, and seek buy-in by parents and students. During Q&A, the Cleveland superintendent said that if parents chose virtual schooling for a student who seemed to not be ready for it, they would then meet with counselors after two weeks, continuing the conversation about what was best for the kid.

And that brings me to the crucial issue that has been mostly ignored during the corporate school reform era. It was so rewarding to hear superintendents stressing the need to help learners become inner directed, not “outer-directed” persons, controlled by external forces. In contrast to some charters that are trying to socio-engineer a better system of controlling children’s behavior, molding them into better gladiators in the global marketplace, these traditional public schools want to help students develop an internal locus of control. Of course, that means these innovative districts put the whole child over test scores. Give the persuasiveness by which they explained their blended learning frameworks, I expect more and more districts to follow their lead, build upon the power of public education, and serve students holistically.

Peter Greene recognizes the RAND Institution’s adroit use of the Reformy vocabulary in its latest report. 

Almost all your favorite jargon and buzzwords are found there, he says.

Check it out and see if they overlooked any of your favorite buzzwords.

RAND Corporation, with its vision to be “the world’s most trusted source for policy ideas and analysis.” regularly contributes to the total thinky tank output of material that wants to be viewed as “a report” or “research” or “a study” or “a paper,” but is more like an op-ed or blog post that has put on a tie and juiced up its vocabulary.

This week they cranked out a new one entitled “Reimagining the Workforce Development and Employment System for the 21st Century and Beyond.” Its scope is fuzzy and wide, like a wooly mammoth that has overindulged in pizza and beer, and while it doesn’t lay all the blame there, it does take some shots at K-12 education, and in doing so manages to tick off plenty of the boxes on the Reformster Talking Points Bingo Card.

Authors with no actual background in education? Check, check, and check. (For bonus points, two of the three are economists.)

Bloodless gobbledeegook? By the truckload. For instance, the authors note that during childhood “people make decisions about schooling and other aspects of human capital acquisition.” Yes, I often think back fondly to when I sat down with my children to discuss their human capital acquisition. Them was the days.

21st century skills? Yep. Employers are “struggling to find workers with 21st century skills that go beyond routine cognitive skills and stock academic knowledge to capture competencies in such areas as information synthesis, creativity, problem-solving, communication and teamwork.” Wait– those are 21st century skills? Really? Communication?? Because it makes me wonder how humanity survived all the previous centuries. On the other hand, I know feel like my colleagues, my college teacher program, and I were all forward-looking savants, given the fact that we were talking about all these things well before Y2K was a bug in a shortsighted programmer’s eye.

Schools haven’t changed in the last [fill in your favorite time frame here]? Yep. What the reportish thing calls “the current approach” is characterized as “a linear pipeline from kindergarten through 12th grade education to possibly college and then a job” and it hasn’t changed, despite “technological change, globalization, and important demographic changes.”

Half-baked ideas they read about somewhere? Sure. Hey, isn’t gamification a thing? Wouldn’t schools better if they did that?

Pitch for personalized learning that goes on forever? Yep. The need to keep training throughout “lifecourse” is necessary because employers need workers to acquire new skills, though not necessarily through any fancy college-type stuff. Quick micro-credentials (yes, check that box off, too) that you can shop for yourself online– that’s the ticket.

Peter concludes:

It’s a discouraging read, but since it advocates for vouchers and choice, it will be lapped up by Certain People. There really isn’t anything new here, but an outfit like RAND can put the old wine in fancy new skins. Well, maybe not wine. More like koolaid.

How about a really innovative idea? Like, for instance, starting babies in college, then moving them into kindergarten at puberty.



I am confused about why Trump is considering a war with Iran.

Saudi Arabia’s oil production facilities were attacked by Iran. Saudi Arabia has a military. Why doesn’t Saudi Arabia defend itself? Why should we go to war on behalf of Saudi Arabia?

This secretive desert kingdom produced most of the 9/11 terrorists.

More recently, its leader brazenly ordered the murder of a Saudi journalist who was working for the Washington Post and living in the U.S.

The Washington Post produced this gripping documentary about the murder of its journalist Jamal Khashoggi. 

The CIA concluded that MBS ordered the murder. One of the Saudi team members was a surgeon who arrived with a bone saw to dismember Khashoggi’s body.

The U.S. Senate heard the testimony of CIA Director Gina Haspel and voted unanimously to condemn Crown Prince MBS for ordering Khashoggi’s murder.

It is a sad day when the president of the United States is unwilling to condemn the heinous murder of a journalist whose sole crime was to advocate for democracy in his homeland.

And a sad day when the president is contemplating war with Iran for striking another country.


Lady Hale is the Chief Judge of Britain’s highest court, the court that unanimously rebuked Prime Minister Boris Johnson for trying to suspend Parliament for five weeks so it could not discuss or delay his intention to leave the EU on October 31  (Brexit).

This is a delightful profile of a very accomplished woman, the daughter of two schoolteachers.

When the full weight of Britain’s Supreme Court came down on Tuesday against the suspension of Parliament, it was dropped like a hammer on Prime Minister Boris Johnson by the first woman to serve as the court’s president: Lady Hale.

In calm, clipped, riveting tones, she read the damning judgment from a sheaf of papers ruling on the act of suspension, called “prorogation.” “The decision to advise Her Majesty to prorogue Parliament was unlawful because it had the effect of frustrating the ability of Parliament to carry out its constitutional functions without reasonable justification,” the judge said.

She added: “The prorogation was void and of no effect — Parliament has not been prorogued.”

There were gasps in the court and tears from the lawyers who had argued the case, according to the BBC. Superlatives erupted on television and social media, as visibly stunned journalists delivered the news:





“No one expected this.”

Minutes later, “Lady Hale” became a trending term on Twitter. Who is Lady Hale?…The appointment in 2017 of Brenda Haleas president of the Supreme Court was a landmark decision: She was the first woman to hold the position, just as she had been the first woman appointed to Britain’s highest court.

An academic, legal reformer and feminist, the judge took the office at 72 after being described as “one of the most forthright and liberalizing influences on the court.”…

Born in Yorkshire, England, to two teachers, both of whom became school principals, she attended Girton College at Cambridge University, where as a law student she graduated at the top of her class in 1966, “one of six women in a year of well over a hundred men,” according to British Vogue….

In 2004, Brenda Hale became Baroness Hale, Britain’s first female law lord, as the country’s most senior judges were then known. On her appointment, she chose a coat of arms with the Latin motto “Omnia Feminae Aequissimae”: “Women are equal to everything.”



Bob Shepherd, polymath, wrote this:

When I started to work in educational publishing, many years ago, there were some two hundred or so companies dividing up the textbook market in the United States and about twenty with significant market share. Now there are four.


Over the decades, there has been considerable consolidation of the industry. There were many, many mergers and acquisitions. And while this was happening, something else, more insidious, was occurring.

Most of those small publishing companies had been run by people who had started out in education, had entered educational publishing, and had risen through the ranks as editors. Some were started by editors or teachers turned entrepreneurs. But as the companies grew, often via acquisition by outside entities with no background or expertise in education, the old editorial managers were replaced by financial types.

Let me give you an example. Years ago, two publishing guys, Fred McDougal and Joe Littell, started a small company called McDougal, Littell to publish a really innovative product–small, theme-based books for short units to be taught in English classes in schools using something called “Flexible Modular Scheduling.” Their innovative “Man” series, heavily influenced by anthropology and multiculturalism, was denounced by American fundamentalists, who actually held book burnings to destroy the new McDougal textbooks. The books were quite successful. In those days, English teachers had enough autonomy to design their own classes, and they loved the “Man” series.

I went to work for McDougal, Littell early in my career. Not long after I started there, the company, still small, invested a lot of money into a health textbook, which it tried to get adopted in Texas. The fundamentalists in Texas rejected the book. One thing that disturbed them: It contained the line “Humans and other mammals lactate.” They were disturbed by the reference (in a health textbook!) to the normal human process of lactation, but what REALLY bothered them was that humans were referred to as mammals. News flash, fundies: We are members of the biological kingdom known as Animalia. And yes, we belong to the biological class known as Mammalia.

After the loss of the adoption bid in Texas, Fred McDougal held a company-wide meeting, and I shall never forget what he said that day. He said, “Losing this adoption was big for us. It was huge. We can’t have a lot of losses like that. But one thing I wanted to say to you, to all of you: we did in that textbook what we thought was right for kids and teachers, and as long as Joe and I are running this company, we’ll keep doing that.”

But as the companies consolidated, and as financial types brought in by outside entities were hired to run them, the older, often legendary editors were summarily canned and replaced by newly minted MBAs–kids fresh from their internships with management consulting firms who had little or no subject matter expertise.

And the whole point of it all–what was good for kids and for teachers–was forgotten. In a four-year stint at one company, I received paychecks from eight different entities. The company was acquired that many times in that short a period!!! The financial types cared only about optimizing profits this quarter. The industry became all about the marketing hype. It became impossible to make an argument in an editorial meeting based on what would actually work to teach kids syntax or vocabulary or their times table or whatever. All anyone with power was interested in hearing about was marketing slogans and design features and give-away loss leaders to drive sales. It became routine for companies to compile vast databases of old content to be regurgitated, using software, into new design molds for “new” textbooks that were all about the hype. Old wine in shiny new bottles. Change the headings, spout whatever slogans were current on the educational midway this carnival season, generate some hype, and cash in quickly before doing it all over again. That became the formula for making a new textbook.

And so, actual innovation in curricula and pedagogy in K-12 textbooks pretty much died. It died because there was no longer competition among many small firms looking for an innovative, competitive edge, and it died because all the old editorial types with subject matter expertise backgrounds in education were gone (or were relegated to minor positions way, way down the corporate hierarchy). Oh, and the financial whiz kids became adept at hiring edupundits with big names to rubber stamp their programs and even serve as program “authors” without having written anything. (“I’m not an author, but I play one in marketing material.”)

And then along came Bill Gates and his hireling David Coleman to create a single national bullet list of “standards” to key online educational software to, in order to consolidate the market further–to create what Gates referred to as “scale.” Another word for “scale,” btw, is monopoly. This, he said, would encourage innovation–you know, in the same way that promiscuity encourages chastity or blowing a village off the map with a missile encourages peace. LOL.

The educational publishing industry, like many others, is now all about a few oligarchs maximizing profits in the short term, and everything else (a pedagogical design that works, that engineering failure modes and effects analysis, or FMEA) be damned.

If you want innovation, you need a lot of small companies competing with one another, and you need to give teachers and schools the freedom to innovate.

Standardization and consolidation kill innovation.

This is not what you are going to hear from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which should adopt the motto “All your base are belong to us.”

Shortly before I retired from publishing, I had lunch with the CEO of an educational publishing house. I explained to him that there was a lot of research in cognitive psychology and linguistics showing that people were missing some crucial facts about early reading instruction, to whit:

a) kids come into school with VAST differences in the amount and variety of spoken language they have been exposed to, and, in particular, in the amount of vocabulary and syntactic variation that they haveencountered in the spoken language around them;

b) syntax and vocabulary are almost entirely UNCONSCIOUSLY ACQUIRED from the child’s ambient SPOKEN linguistic environment; almost none of either is learned through direct instruction (in other words, direct instruction in vocabulary and grammar is almost entirely irrelevant to this acquisition);

c) most reading programs entirely ignore syntactic development, even though it is a key component of decoding ability; and

d) much of the problem in reading comprehension is related to lack of the underlying background knowledge assumed by the writer.

I explained to him that even though linguists and cog psi people now know these things to be true, many people in education don’t yet, and NO reading program has turned this knowledge into new pedagogy and curricula that use spoken language exposure to make up for the early vocabulary and syntactic deficits and that address the deficits in world knowledge and vocabulary via subject-matter-specific, domain-based reading units that systematically build that knowledge and vocabulary. I explained that he had the opportunity to be the first to build a program incorporating these ideas, which could have revolutionary consequences for the effectiveness of reading programs. I wasn’t trying to sell the guy anything. I just wanted someone, finally, to make a reading program that actually worked to help kids acquire language in the ways in which their minds are built to acquire it.

He answered me by pointing to the parking lot. “See those cars out there?” he said. “They all look the same. People don’t want new. They want the same old thing but newer and shinier.”

This is the kind of thing they teach in MBA school. People are idiots. Think about the packaging and forget about the rest.

In other words, create a reading program without thinking about what’s preventing kids from learning how to read and how to address that.

Read the rest of this entry »


In this post, Larry Cuban reflects on what he has learned about schools and social reform over many decades as a teacher, superintendent, and historian.

He began convinced that schools could change society. Today, he believes that teachers can change the lives of individual students but that schools are not powerful enough to reshape the structure of society.

I agree with him.