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John Thompson is an historian and a retired teacher in Oklahoma. He wrote this piece for the blog at my request.

In 2006, our John Marshall High School was enduring the worst of the five months-long, extreme meltdowns I witnessed in 18 years with the Oklahoma City Public Schools. Many days, I’d see the anarchy and the blood-splattered halls, and ask if I was dreaming. One thing that kept me sane was the discovery of education blogs, above all Deborah Meier’s and Diane Ravitch’s conversations in Bridging Differences. In a prescient example of the wisdom which grew out of their “animated conversation,” they agreed:

That a central, abiding function of public education is to educate the citizens who will preserve the essential balances of power that democracy requires, as well as to support a sufficient level of social and economic equality, without which democracy cannot long be sustained. We agreed that the ends of education–its purposes, and the trade-offs that real life requires–must be openly debated and continuously re-examined.

As Oklahoma City pulled out of the crack and gang crisis in the early 1990s, I saw a pattern that persisted for two decades – and which became more tragic during the third decade when I was a part-time teacher and an education writer. Each year, our school would make incremental improvements. Then, the district would bow to pressure and implement disastrous policies that would wipe out those gains – or worse. It would mandate policies that Ravitch later dubbed “corporate school reform.” Administrators who publicly endorsed policies where segregation by choice was combined with data-driven decision-making would often tell me off-the-record in the parking lot, that they knew the reforms would backfire. But they had no alternative.

During the first years after the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, local and state leaders often had some success in minimizing the damage done by school “choice” and in “monkey wrenching” the push towards high stakes testing. But, as in the rest of the nation, that resistance angered market-driven reformers who then pushed for harsher, more punitive policies. As opposed to Meier’s and Ravitch’s counsel, they believed that it was essential to remove balances of power, so they could force everyone to “be on the same page.”

One of the worst examples was requiring benchmark testing to be graded; that absurd policy drove John Marshall’s dropout rates for 9th and 10th graders through the roof. Then, the poorest halves of our high school and its middle school feeder were combined into a new school characterized by extreme, concentrated poverty. When a new data-driven staffing model was implemented, a deputy superintendent privately acknowledged that these two, intertwined “reforms” could be disastrous but said that the only thing I could do was lobby the state legislature for more support.

Back then, partially because of my success in conversing with conservative legislators, I naively believed that I could communicate with neoliberal output-driven, competition-driven reformers and the non-educators who conducted their research. But I eventually had to admit that Meier and Ravitch were correct when writing:  

Almost all the usual intervening mediators–parent organizations, unions, and local community organizations–have either been co-opted, purchased, or weakened, or find themselves under siege if they question the dominant model of corporate-style “reform.”   …

This allows these elites the opportunity to carry out their experiments on a grand, and they hope uninterrupted, “apolitical” scale, where everything can, at last, be aligned, in each and every school, from prekindergarten to grade 12, under the watchful eye of a single leader. If they can remain in power long enough, it is assumed (although what actually is assumed is not easy to find out) that they can create a new paradigm that no future change in leadership can undo.

Not understanding how single-minded “venture philanthropists” were in using “disruptive innovation” to drive top down “transformational change,” I didn’t understand why they would be so adamant about ignoring educators and social scientists, who continually reexamined their hypotheses and complicated analyses. (Falsifiable hypotheses! Who needs falsifiable hypotheses?, was the reformers’ response. We’ll just run more controls on our statistical models.)

When practitioners and researchers tried to explain the interconnected challenges faced in high-poverty schools, these true believers in “the Market” dismissed our advice as “Excuses,” and “Low Expectations.” Reformers instead gambled that they could find individual levers, like data to engineer a “better teacher,” who could turn schools around.

That is why edu-philanthropists sought to use the stress of competition to overcome the stress of generational poverty and trauma, and segregation by choice to overcome the legacies of de jure and de facto segregation. They seemed to deny that the trade-offs that Meier and Ravitch acknowledged even existed.  Reformers thus ramped up high-stakes testing to force compliance; in doing so, they ensured that soulless worksheet-driven instruction would result in in-one-year-out-the-other educational malpractice which often would push the most disadvantaged schools over a tipping point.  

Then – and now – if I could get data-driven, competition-driven reformers to listen to one thing, I would try to explain why their misunderstandings about generational poverty led to hurried doomed-to-fail micromanaging. I’d try to tell them the story of our run-of-the-mill inner city school, a place with tragic failures as well as great strengths, that corporate school reform turned into the lowest-performing secondary  school in the state, where meaningful teaching and learning was replaced with nonstop remediation.

Our Marshall H.S. had survived “White flight,” and the crack and gangs crisis of the 1980s. It had working class and a few middle class students, as well as students from situational and generational poverty. It had a significant number of students who were seriously emotionally disturbed and/or burdened by multiple traumatic experiences, now known as Adverse Childhood Experience (ACEs). Back then, however, we also had numerous students with reading and math learning disabilities, who often became student leaders. Despite confidentiality laws, it was easy to identify many of the students on Individual Education Plans (IEPs) on the first day of class. They disproportionately sat on the front row, with carefully prepared notebooks, ready to “work smart” and succeed.    

By 2005, however, school choice had produced an exodus of the top teachers and students (including special education students who were not wrestling with behavioral or emotional disturbances.) Our highest challenge neighborhood was known as the “New Hood,” the home of families that had been driven out of the “Old Hood” by urban renewal. The Old Hood had endured plenty of racism and economic oppression, but it was a community full of African-American churches and home-grown institutions that had resisted Jim Crow.

The New Hood combined concentrated generational poverty, with families disrupted by multiple traumas, in a neighborhood lacking social capital. For example, when campaigning for Jesse Jackson, I learned that we didn’t try to canvass the New Hood because the high incarceration rate resulted in so few eligible voters.  Even so, when I canvassed the neighborhood for Barack Obama, I conversed with parents and learned that the majority of its students officially or unofficially transferred to schools in the 20+ districts across the metropolitan area.    

Because it is so much harder to improve education “outcomes” in schools serving the highest challenge neighborhoods, our low test scores led to more worksheet-driven mandates. This increased official and under-the-table transfers out of our poorest neighborhoods by families who could find legal or other ways of getting their children into the best schools that they could get to.

After NCLB, it was the highest challenge neighborhoods in the eastern half of our school’s area which first lost their recesses, art and music classes, and extracurricular activities, as drill-and-kill instruction failed to increase test scores. When the school board chairman visited my class and was thrilled by the standing room only audience, each student told him something about their elementary school. Virtually everyone who attended schools in the western half of our feeder area had positive things to report. The majority of those who came from the poorer eastern neighborhoods had horror stories to tell. Those from the New Hood were especially angry about being “robbed” of an education by nonstop test prep.    

The tipping point was crossed in 2006 when school staffing was driven by a primitive statistical model that could not distinguish between low income students and children of situational poverty, receiving Free and Reduced Lunch, as opposed to children from extreme poverty, who had endured multiple traumas. Because of the additional costs of providing services for the most seriously emotionally disturbed students, teachers in “regular” classrooms were assigned up to 250 students.  So, I had classes such as the one with 60 students where many students on the west side of the room had had family members killed or wounded by family members of classmates on the other side of the room.

Within a couple of years, even after the staffing formula had been worked out, segregation by choice created classes of 35 or more, with more than 40% being on IEPs or English Language Learners, with a majority carrying a felony rap (whatever that meant in a state with the world’s highest incarceration rate); and where two students had recently witnessed the murder of a parent, and two others watched the murder/suicide of their parents; during a year when our kids buried an unprecedented number of family members.

As I have explained, these doomed-to-fail, test-driven, competition-driven policies were pushed by corporate school reformers who knew little or nothing about the nuances of poverty and the legacies of segregation. They ignored the cognitive science which explained why their test-driven approach would drive holistic teaching and learning out of the classroom. 

As we deal with the legacies of today’s COVID pandemic, I hope we can learn from the history of my school and so many others. Maybe we can agree with Meier and Ravitch that “democracy cannot long be sustained” without public – not market-driven education. If nothing else, let’s agree that our democracy requires adults to listen to each other, as well as to students.

John Thompson, retired teacher and historian in Oklahoma, reviews a book of memories written by immigrant children about their ordeals. We will long suffer the embarrassment of Trump’s cruel immigration policy, but the children will never forget.

Thompson writes:

Where the Rainbow Ends: Project VOICE Visions of Inclusion, Culture, and Empathy, edited by Jamie Hinds and Savanna Payne, is the latest book by Oklahoma City Public Schools English Language Development students. This year’s volume faced an additional challenge as the COVID-19 pandemic shut down in-person instruction. But these resilient authors have overcome far greater challenges.

The student-authors started with the reasons why they left Central America, Mexico, Africa, and Asia for the United States. Most described harrowing experiences crossing Mexico, with many facing brutal encounters with the U.S. Immigration Services. Fortunately, despite continuing obstacles, almost all have had a better experience in Oklahoma City.The stories were peer edited. The student-authors are anonymous, often not even revealing their gender.  Most were forced to immigrate by climate change or the murder of family members or other threats by gangs. This post focuses on the majority who immigrated from Central America.

They begin with a description of life in their previous homes, and with the stress of departure.  A 15-year old, who had “always considered myself the man of the house” left Guatemala when it became too hard to get food and water. Early in the trip, his family was starved by the “coyote.” They were crowded into a truck full of 50 people until reaching the border, and walking through the desert.  Separated from his mom by Immigration, he spent three frightening days without seeing the sun. Fortunately, Texas church members accepted them and helped them travel to Oklahoma City.

A 13-year-old started the trek, alone, from Guatemala. He or she was picked up by the coyote, who charged $3,000, and was crammed into a truck with 35 people, along with the “zetas’” marijuana and cocaine. This was followed by the terrifying ride on the train called “the Beast.” After four months in detention, he or she was reunited with their mother and is now the “happiest child because I have [had] a lot of years without my mom.”

Similarly, a 12-year-old left Honduras and was crowded into the Beast. He or she saw passengers thrown off the train and killed. A 13-year old girl left Honduras after being sexually accosted and almost kidnapped. During the trip, she and others were stored in an ice cream trailer without food for three days. She learned two valuable lessons though. “There are good as well as there are bad people,” … and if molested, children should “trust their parents and do not remain silent.”

Then there was the cruelty of the American detention system. It was bad enough, said one immigrant, to be locked up in Sinaloa for 15 days, but upon arriving in the U.S., the young person was thrown into “the cooler.” Another was “put in the cooler’” and then sent to a “safehouse” for 2-1/2 months. One of 3,000 detainees described immigration officers who “were very rude to everybody,” and put them in a freezer for up to 4 days. Another spent 8 days in the cage and then was sent to foster care in New York.

Some revealed complicated endings to their story. A girl started working at 9 years-old, but kept her grades up until she had to leave Guatemala at 11. When she was put in truck and babies cried, the guide put rags in their mouths. The babies turned purple and the immigrants were afraid they’d die. They later had to sell their clothes for food and water, and escape from kidnappers. She’s since moved back and forth among family members in Oklahoma. Another Guatemalan student concluded that now, “I am half agony and half hope, although perhaps more agony.”

A Guatemalan was 5 years- old when “they” killed his grandfather, who was a father to him or her, in front of their family. He or she started to “grow up with the mentality that everything in my life would be wrong,” and has had to mature without a stable family. He or she observes, “I’m a good student, I respect who gives me roof, I have many values in my life,” but would like “a life without so many questions, that nobody answers [for] me.” The author understands that humans have to make difficult decisions, but his or her story is “so painful, so empty” and it warns about the effects of “the lack of love and feelings protected.”

Others had unambiguously happy endings to their stories. A student-author had been comfortable in Guatemala, before losing everything. In the U.S., they found a house and a job, and bought a car. So, “Now we are blessed … now I get to go to school. This is the start of a new journey.” Similarly, a Guatemalan girl helped her dad sell bananas, and had enjoyed parades. In Oklahoma, she learned “no matter who you are, if you are small, skinny, fat, pretty, ugly or colored if they are real friends, they will love you as you are.”

Another Guatemalan was threatened by police for money, locked up with 30 people for 2 weeks, and traveled across Mexico with 28 people in a van. But the story closed with a thank you for helpful Americans, concluding “If you think of Oklahoma, I hope you’ll think of Jim and Jean Dawson. …”

Read the book, and comparably profound insights will be offered from immigrants from other countries. The father of a 16-year-old  from Juarez was murdered by extortionists, but now he is happy and calm in Oklahoma City, and tells the story in support of others who have endured worse. Another high school student concluded, “Mexico still calls me,” and “Oklahoma made me strong.  Mexico makes me safe.”

An elementary student said her life in Mexico made her mature, but she also loves clean, beautiful streets, and stores of the U.S. Some of her Oklahoma classmates made fun of her, but others were helpful. When feeling broken, she relies on God. And she concludes, “I wanted to exceed the limits people thought I had because I was Latina.”

John Thompson writes below about the ongoing confusion about whether it is safe to reopen schools. Trump and DeVos demanded that schools reopen without the resources to reopen safely. Now, the debate continues, with a mixture of science, hope, and fear. I am not a public health expert, and I offer no advice. But common sense suggests that teachers should be vaccinated first, along with other essential workers. Teaching in a room with a large group of students all day long, it seems to me, is materially different than shopping in a store where one enters and leaves within 15-20 minutes. If we expect teachers to be frontline workers, they should get the vaccinations and PPE equipment they need.

He writes:

Today we’re in a situation in regard to reopening schools that is similar and different to that of the first six months of the Covid pandemic. Then, it seemed likely that schools could reopen by the fall semester as long as we respected public health evidence, and set smart priorities, such as reopening schools not bars. But Trump and his acolytes politicized the pandemic, even leading the way to super-spreadings by holding crowded political and motorcycle rallies, as well as pushing the premature reopenings of indoor dining and partying.

I’m afraid, however, that we’re also in a situation similar to last November when it should have been obvious that the holidays were coming, bringing super-spreads. Rarely do we face school reopening issues that lead to obvious conclusions. However, it would have been crazy to reopen schools as Thanksgiving approached, prompting the surge which would feed the super-surges of Christmas and New Years. Even so, true believers in the claim that educators were being too cautious often continued to ramp up the blame game. In “When Trump Was Right and Many Democrats Wrong” (Nov 18), Nick Kristof criticized Democrats for failing to learn from Europeans who had safely kept their schools open.

Ironically, Kristof’s editorial was published 6 days after Spiegel International’s “Reevaluating Children’s Role in the Pandemic.” It explained in great detail that “a large study from Austria shows that SARS-CoV-2 infects just as many schoolchildren as it does teachers. Other surveys indicate that while young children may show no symptoms, they are quite efficient at spreading the virus.”  

Spiegel explained, “‘Schools are not islands of serenity,’ says study leader Michael Wagner, a professor of microbiology at the University of Vienna. Leaving them open is ‘a significant risk.’” Moreover, “‘Children reflect the infection levels they are surrounded by,’ says microbiologist Wagner. But because they are so often asymptomatic, they are ‘severely undertested,’ leading him to believe that there are a rather significant number of unreported cases.”

In fairness, even if Kristof had read about and contemplated the new situation in Europe, he could not have known that it would foreshadow the most important pandemic challenge we face today. But he no longer has an excuse for sticking with his simplistic attacks on teachers.

As the super-spread that took off in November subsides, and given the fact that President Biden has replaced Trump, it could be argued that we should be able to safely reopen schools over the next 100 days. As was true in the summer and the fall, new scientific research keeps producing evidence that schools can operate safely in person, especially in places where masking, social distancing, and public health guidelines are respected when dealing with community transmissions. Recent studies documented successes in North Carolina, Wisconsin, and European schools. Research keeps confirming that schools for the youngest children are the least likely to spread the virus. And a recent JAMA study concludes “there has been little evidence that schools have contributed meaningfully to increased community transmission.”

On the other hand, the path JAMA describes toward “return primarily or fully to in-person instructional delivery” also requires “steps to reduce community transmission and limiting school-related activities such as indoor sports practice or competition that could increase transmission risk.” For instance, it cites a recent wrestling tournament where, “Among the 130 tournament participants, 38 (30%) had laboratory-confirmed SARS-CoV-2 infection diagnosed, but less than half the participants were tested. At least 446 contacts of these cases have been identified.” These and secondary transmissions are still being studied.

Sadly, we’re also seeing a repeat of the politicization of public health which contributed so much to the super-spreads that made it impossible for so many urban districts to reopen in the fall. One of the worst examples is Derek Thompson’s article published online with the title, “Open Schools, Already.” Thompson began with an oversimplified characterization of the Center for Disease Control’s call to reopen schools “as soon as possible,” and asserted, “the CDC seems to be shouting: Enough! To which, I would add: What took you so long”?

I always follow the links in these reports, and almost always I find a story more complicated than anticipated. But, these reports tend to start with the conclusion about whether schools can reopen safely, followed by a number of disclaimers and warnings. Thompson turned out to be one of the most extreme examples of a respected reporter misrepresenting the complexities documented in the sources he cited. 

Rather than get into the weeds of methodology, before addressing Thompson’s misleading arguments, I’ll just mention a few more differences between today’s questions and those of the summer and fall. New research estimates that 59 percent of transmissions, not 35 percent as previously estimated, are by asymptomatic persons. Moreover, we now have evidence that teens are more likely to spread the virus than originally thought. And a new study of infections in Florida and China shows that children may be more likely to be asymptomatic, and they may be 60% more likely than adults over 60 to spread the infection. 

These findings, combined with the lack of testing and contact tracing in many places, call into question the previously understandable conclusions by some that schools aren’t major contributors to community transmission.

Also, there are new reasons to worry about the unknown, but potentially serious, harm done by Covid to asymptomatic persons.   

Getting back to Thompson’s article as a case study in misrepresenting complex science, North Carolina and Wisconsin offer just two of many examples of studies of small samples of committed school systems that are not representative of many other districts. In “Incidence and Secondary Transmission of SARS-CoV-2 Infections in Schools,” Duke University researchers found that infections were rare in “35 North Carolina schools that offered in-person teaching for at least some of the 9 weeks, with only 17 staying open to students for the entire quarter.” 

The researchers acknowledged that the sample of schools “may select for school districts that enforce adherence to preventative measures, emphasize transparency, and cooperate with peers.” These characteristics “are likely associated with greater adherence to masking, reduced secondary transmission, and lower risks.” And, when two districts faced reduced compliance with masking and distancing, a nonprofit stepped in to reinforce those policies.

In response to my questions on methodology, co-author Daniel Benjamin volunteered that the key to success:

Is that there is 99% mask compliance for every person in the mainstream curriculum that steps on school property. It’s the mitigation strategies—distancing, masking, hand hygiene that are crucially important. If a school district does not do these things, they will likely make the pandemic worse by being open. This is why we don’t advise “you should open” or “you should go remote”…. It’s all about the public health measures.

And while we’re reading more optimistic reports by reliable researchers like JAMA and the CDC, let’s not forget their qualifying statements, such as the CDC’s summary of Wisconsin infections from Sept 3 to Nov16. Schools were the 4th largest source of infections, following long term care and corrections facilities, and colleges; an estimated 14% of infections were linked to schools.

These are just a few of the new pieces of evidence that schools may not be super-spreaders, but they are spreaders. But, how fast do we want to reopen those spreaders as the virus variant comes to the United States? The New York Times cites the CDC and other institutions that predict the more contagious U.K. variant will be predominant by March. If so, will it make sense to not reclose the schools that contribute to spread, even if they don’t drive the increase in infections?  

The reopening of schools in 100 days is a reasonable goal, but decisions on the pace of reopenings and when it is necessary to reclose schools, should not be politicized. My sense, however, is that more of the press, and public health and education advocates are now discussing politics more, and complicated science relatively less. For instance, there has been a steady increase in charter school advocates implicitly or explicitly blaming shutdowns on unions. Robert Pondiscio’s “How Anger Over Covid Closures Can Fuel the School Choice Movement” is just one recent example.

At the same time, more journalists are focusing on the differences between statements by some of Biden’s public health experts, and his apparently more balanced approach, as well that of teachers and unions, than the nuances of medical science conclusions. Moreover,, the Washington Post explains, “CDC researchers looked to Europe’s experience in the fall to inform their conclusion that ‘there has been (emphasis mine) little evidence that schools have contributed meaningfully to increased community transmission.’”

But new research from Europe leads towards a new conclusion, articulated by Celso Cunha, director of the medical microbiology unit at Nova University of Lisbon’s Institute of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, “By themselves, schools are not the main problem, but it makes sense to close them when the numbers are so high that anything can have an impact on the health system as a whole,” 

The Wall Street Journal also reports:

A consensus is emerging in Europe that children are a considerable factor in the spread of Covid-19—and more countries are shutting schools for the first time since the spring.

Closures have been announced recently in the U.K., Germany, Ireland, Austria, Denmark and the Netherlands on concerns about a more infectious variant of the virus first detected in the U.K. and rising case counts despite lockdowns. …

The Journal quoted the director of the University of Geneva’s Institute of Global Health, “In the second wave we acquired much more evidence that schoolchildren are almost equally, if not more infected by SARS-CoV-2 than others.”

And as Spiegel reported in November, Europeans have had to ask, “Might children, in fact, be mini-superspreaders running around without so much as a sore throat as they pass the virus on to classmates, parents and siblings?”

I sure can’t anticipate the answer to that question, but unless we can discuss it in a non-ideological manner, we might fail at both the reopening of schools within 100 days, and contribute to a resurgence of Covid. 

John Thompson, retired teacher and historian in Oklahoma, reviews law professor Derek Black’s recent book, Schoolhouse Burning.

Derek Black’s new book,Schoolhouse Burning: Public Education and the Assault on American Democracy, combines the best principles of the historical research that I was taught in the 1970s with the best of recent scholarship. Overall, the result is a surprisingly hopeful overview. Unfortunately, it offers an analysis of contemporary history which is more pessimistic.Black makes the case that at the end of the 1700s, and after the Civil War, Americans saw education as a right of citizenship. That explains why access to the 19th century American education system was second only to that of Prussia.

In 1972, however, the Supreme Court denied that education was a fundamental right, and that contributed to today’s argument that education is a private choice, not a public good. Black reminds us that “Schools are not roads.” But, today, the outcome of the battle for public education is unclear.

Black explains that federal grants to education began in the 1700s, but then the South criminalized education for blacks. Schoolhouse Burning doesn’t downplay the evils of slavery and racism which denied education to people of color. But, despite efforts by slave owners who knew the quest for knowledge was a huge threat to their system, enslaved persons passed “secret knowledge” to each other, 

Moreover, “Between 1865 and 1868, the nation embarked on the most aggressive education project before or since…” By 1867, 600 schools and 600 Sabbath Schools provided education services to former slaves. And, freedmen spent over $1 million on their educations through 1870, with 30,000 students paying tuition. Moreover, during Reconstruction, Congress demanded that states revise their constitutions, and provide education; Southern states acceded as they rejoined the nation.

According to Black, Congress’ effort to base readmission after the civil war created a “baseline” where “states could expand education rights, but they could not retract them.” Even the terrible 1899 ruling in Cummings v Richmond Co. Board of Education had a “silver lining.” Black notes, “wereas attacks on public education were the centerpiece of the assault on black citizenship, the right to education … nonetheless lived on.”

After the last decade of bipartisan denigration of education, Black has had to wrestle with the question whether African Americans were right to focus on education, as opposed to housing and jobs. He still believes the answer is “yes” because “public education has always represented the idea of America, not its reality.”

During the 1980s, the Reagan administration launched an assault on government as a whole, as well public schools. Those who would privatize schools and other institutions have shown remarkable political savvy in demonizing teachers and “government schools.” So “those who would fight to save public education are playing catch-up with opponents who have no intention of playing fair.”

Koch brothers, for instance, treated education as the “lowest hanging fruit for policy change.” Radical individualist-libertarians have advanced their own economic self-interest over public welfare. This market-driven approach “incentivizes insatiable, base human instincts.”

Black also speaks the truths that too many education supporters have been reluctant to express. He writes, “The assault on public education happened because of the general discontent with public education.” Because of its flaws and the ways it has been broken in many places, too many Democrats bought the argument for charter schools that “if its public dollars, its public education” Moreover, “It was Arne Duncan, not Betsy DeVos who fueled the fire” attacking tenure, and mandating test-driven accountability. Due to both the Great Recession and Duncan’s “reforms,” from 2009 to 2012, schools lost 300,000 teaching positions. Also, the number of students pursuing teaching degrees has dropped 30%.

Of course, the Trump administration stepped up the assault on the already-weaken public school system.  The administration’s most notable victory was tax deductions and credit for private schools. And, “Betsy DeVos even hinted she might ‘try to use the widespread pandemic-driven shutdown to create a path to national school vouchers.’”

Although Black’s research was conducted before the COVID-19 pandemic, he added a few final thoughts on the additional threats it produced. For instance, online learning can be spun as “a shining panacea,” replacing schoolhouses.

So, Black is not saying public education will be better off in five years. Too many Americans have not been taught to distinguish fact from fiction. And as more Americans lose faith in government, opponents are positioned to exploit those feelings. Black admits, “Public education could go out with a whimper, not a bang.” So, “I do not know how many additional losses our schools can take on top of the last ones.”

But Black does know about historic successes. His history can serve as a “pleasant reminder of silver linings – silver linings that, when added together could reveal enduring truths.”

Today, as in other frightening times, liberal democracy “is not as stable and robust as the world thought.” Political norms have declined but he still believes “the average American won’t let go of public education.” Black thus concludes, “I believe education will survive, not that it already has.”

John Thompson is a historian and retired teacher in Oklahoma. He keeps us abreast of what is happening in his home state.

He writes:

Now that Oklahoma voters rejected Gov. Kevin Stitt’s recommendations and chose to accept hundreds of millions of dollars a year of Medicaid Expansion funds, policy-makers must ask what could go wrong with Stitt’s current effort to privatize up to $2 billion in Oklahoma Medicaid services. Nondoc reports that this week:

Amid an air of confusion over its own powers and responsibilities, the Oklahoma Health Care Authority Board voted this morning to authorize financial expenditures for contracting with managed care organizations, controversial entities that take a portion of public Medicaid funding for attempting to improve care coordination, increase patient compliance and decrease overall program costs.

Several of the “five major health care associations” that opposed Stitt’s plan “referenced Oklahoma’s past managed Medicaid effort from the 1990s, which was ended owing to many of the same concerns opponents are voicing now.”

Since the Oklahoma governor has repeatedly pushed to allow private entities to innovate in terms of fighting the Covid pandemic, the answer might be found in more recent history. For instance, last spring, Oklahoma Health Department contracted with a piano bar owner to purchase about $2 million worth of N95 masks from China!

(I wonder if Stitt refused to listen to public health experts and close bars when infections super-surged for fear that that would have been undermined such innovations…)

Recent issues of The Frontier help evaluate the effectiveness of Stitt-era innovations. The state is now trying to return $2 million of stockpile of the malaria drug, hydroxychloroquine. Stitt ordered the purchase after former President Donald Trump praised that untested treatment.

The Frontier and ProPublica also reported on problems with CARES Act expenditures, and concluded, “The scope of those problems is clearly visible in Oklahoma, which tied for the third-highest number of hospital closures in the country in the nine years before the pandemic.” They found that, “One hospital used more than $1 million in federal aid to pay off its years-old debt to a management company that left before Oklahoma’s first coronavirus case was diagnosed.

On the other hand, “Three Oklahoma hospitals that were purchased last year after filing for bankruptcy were unable to access more than $6 million in funds deposited by the Department of Health and Human Services, the agency in charge of the rollout for health care providers.”

The Frontier also reported on Payroll Protection Program (PPP) money that went to Oklahoma churches. It showed that “between $90.2 million and $153.9 million went to churches in Oklahoma;” for instance, the “Edmond-based LiveChurch.TV, received between $5 million and $10 million.”

The Tulsa World also reported on Stitt’s sending $10 million in federal COVID-19 relief money  to help private school students. Those grants ranged up to $6,500 per family.

Speaking of school privatization, this week the Epic Charter Schools board “accepted the resignation of 11-year member Mike Cantrell.” This occurred as the State Department of Education continued efforts to “recoup” $11.2 million of inappropriately spent state money. Cantrell still claims, “They don’t have a right to look at a private company’s records.” He calls the auditing process a “sham,” and speculated that maybe the auditor should be impeached.

Okay, this history of privatization by Stitt and his and Trump’s supporters hasn’t turned out well, but maybe we need more innovation, such as contracting with a bar owner to obtain PPE. How did that experiment turn out?

The same day as Stitt defeated OHCA board members who opposed his managed care of Medicaid policy, the Oklahoman reported:

Health officials got fewer than 10,000 masks from PPE Supplies and only $300,000 of the deposit back, according to the breach of contract lawsuit.

The Health Department is seeking the rest of its money back — $1.825 million, plus interest. It also is seeking punitive damages for “misconduct.”Whether its ideology-driven use of Covid funds to promote private schools, or using $25 million CARES Act funds for old-fashioned pork barrel politics, like defying medical experts by moving the public health lab from Oklahoma City to his alma mater, Oklahoma State University, Stitt’s schemes are destructive and wasteful. We can laugh at his more absurd misuse of federal money, but if he gets away with imposing managed care for Medicaid, the damage will be devastating. 

Who knew that “adequate yearly progress” and “accountability” could be the subject of a comic novel? John Thompson just read that novel and he reviews it here.

Roxanna Elden’s Adequate Yearly Progress is a hilarious, satirical novel that nails the very serious truths about the real world effects of corporate school reform. Although Elden’s humor spectacularly illuminates the reformers’ often-absurd mindsets, she also reveals the good, bad, and the ugly of a diverse range of human beings.

Adequate Yearly Progress begins with Lena, a young, black, literature teacher returning to school at Brae Hill Valley High School in a high-challenge Texas neighborhood. The way she is greeted starts to reveal some of the flaws of the complex people who teach there. A colleague asked, “Don’t you read the news? Miss Phil-a-delphia?” She thus assumed that Lena comes from a city where everyone is in a hurry and no one attends church.

The news is that Nick Wallabee, a political celebrity without real-world experience in classrooms, but who had written a book on “easy fixes” to schools, has been hired as the district’s superintendent. Any discussion about Wallabee was likely to become a “morale-draining gripe session.”

The Wallabee administration starts by introducing a new accountability metric, the “Believer Score.” Stressing the positive, the administrator said the measure will “let you gain points by proving you believe all children can learn.” Teachers need to “just be ready to show that you fully embrace any new initiatives.”

The announcements caused “collective grumbling,” but hope was raised by the school’s principal, Dr. Barrios. He was known as “the superintendent whisperer,” who had always been able to buffer teachers from the ill-conceived quick fixes that are routinely dumped on schools.

Wallabee was a new type of micromanager, and even Barrios was unable to temper his new boss’ hubris. Wallabee asserted, “I know there are adults (spitting out the word adults) … who take issue with being held accountable.” He proclaimed the willingness to break eggs to make an omelette, and it became clear that Brae Hill Valley HS and Barrios were targeted.

The school was turned into a “Believers Make Achievers Zone.” A series of “three-ring binders, the highest level of the organizational hierarchy” would guide the process. Brae Hill Valley became a “Curriculum Standard of the Day Achievement Zone.” Teachers were given the first of a series of orders, and each Curriculum Standard of the Day must be written in its entirety on the board each day.

The next interventions were the “fearsome Office for Oversight of Binders and Evidence of Implementation,” the “Pre-Holiday Cross-Departmental Midyear Assessment Data Chart” (PHCDMADC), and the “Cross-Disciplinary Compare-And-Contrast Holiday Review Packet,” as well as worksheets to identify what students don’t know in order to fortify instruction. A non-educator, Daren Grant of “Transformational Change Advocacy ConsultingPartners,” then distributed the folder, “Research-Based Best Practices That Work,” and made surprise visits to classrooms, as well as the football team’s locker room during halftime.

Two of those visits foreshadow climactic outcomes.  Hernan Hernandez was perhaps the school’s best teacher, even though he refused to join the teachers union. A student who was exited from the “Demographics Don’t Determine Destiny” or Destiny Charter School arrived unexpectedly, and disrupted Hernan’s class. This happened as Daren, the consultant, dropped in.

Second, in perhaps the only type of activity in the novel which I had never witnessed in schools, he spoke to Coach Ray and his players, using the same data-driven vocabulary and reality-free exhortations in the middle of a game, as Coach Ray was exhorting the team to put on their “inner game face.”  (I would have loved to witness such a scene.) It foreshadowed a positive outcome that offset the sad result of the consultant’s dropping-in to Hernan’s class.

Coach Ray, brought much of the negative baggage of his family in Huntsville, the infamous prison’s town, to coaching, but he had another side that made him the story’s silent hero.

Also foreshadowing a crucial realization at the end of the novel, Lena seemed to have mixed but mostly negative feelings about a scene with white people clapping off-key and rapping a poem with the line “I got ninety-nine problems , but a b____ ain’t one of them”

A young Teacher Corp history teacher, Kaytee, was understandably outraged by her mentor who offered the “QUIT” or “Quit Taking It Personally” advice. Even though I don’t think I’ve ever worked with a veteran teacher who didn’t oppose the data-driven accountability systems that were imposed by non-educators, Kayte would be right to resent the response of some of her colleagues to those metrics. They called for the “neck-tattoo statistic.” Students who wear those tattoos can’t be expected to meet outcome metrics as well as poor children of color who don’t wear them.

Then, Wallabee sought to ramp up the types of teaching methods that Kaytee was taught in her Teacher Corp classroom management principle professional development class. The consultant said, “I’d like to start by having everyone in here physically unpack their preconceptions and assumptions and put them in the assumption box.” Her call to “raise the roof!” was followed by pressed palms reaching up to imaginary roof beams.

Kaytee seemed destined to rise in the reformers’ world after her blog post went viral when it was endorsed by the filmmaker of Show Me You Care and I’ll Show You My Homework. That anti-teacher film was followed by How the Status Quo Stole Christmas, which, of course meant How Teachers Stole Christmas.  That foreshadowed the possibility of a different education film genre, The Mystery History Teacher.

Reality started to set in, for instance, after Kaytee’s effort to teach a culturally relevant lesson was undermined by the technology which was supposed to drive “transformational” change. Her video of Cesar Chavez “Fighting for Improved Hand Job Conditions” was blocked by the online autocorrect censor. Much worse, after being assaulted by a student and no disciplinary consequences were contemplated, she started having second thoughts about whether simplistic memes could really help students. 

Eventually, Kaytee found herself drafting a letter to a law school admissions office. She knew the best pitch would be something like how she had learned to “lead from the classroom and scale up her macro impact for low-income students.” But she wanted to write, “Dear Admissions Committee, I want to go to law school because I will do anything in this world to get out of being a teacher.”

As the “Crunch Time” which always proceeds high-stakes testing approached, even more test prep was mandated. During a faculty meeting, angry teachers asked whether the principal was “trying to tell us to teach nothing but test-taking skills?” Principal Barrios replied with the standard answer, “I don’t think that’s exactly what I said.” He thus stirred an “amiable laugh,” while exemplifying the culture of compliance that traditional teachers resent, and corporate reformers tried to exorcise. (To complicate things, those on all sides of the teacher wars complained that the principal hadn’t fired an obvious incompetent.  However, nobody else knew that Barrios was reluctant to fire the teacher in his late 6os because he  had cancer.)

As the year ended, reformers focused on the need to terminate teachers based on their “Believer Scores.” Because of their relationship with Global Schoolhouse’s test creation division, an administrator seeking to replace Barrios felt free to let favored teachers with high “Believer Scores” preview sample test questions, so that the two accountability metrics would line up with each other.

A scandal then leads reformers to shift gears and invest in a new virtual school charter network startup.

Another result was a great teacher was “selected out of the classroom.” On the other hand, these experiences help inform Lena’s growing enlightenment, inspiring the line in her poem, “Tapping their feet, shifting and creaking the seats, struggling students with ninety nine problems apiece.”

In a brilliant ending, that I don’t want to reveal too much about but which spoofs another test question meme, Elden asks, “What would an additional scene at the end of this story most likely be?”

Will an anxious principal be looking at the test scores, or will the new Global Schoolhouse School Choice Solutions be started? Will filmmakers shift from themes that demonize teachers, or will there be a happy ending for an excellent, unfairly fired teacher?

Or will the answer be, “All of the above.”

John Thompson, historian and retired teacher in Oklahoma, reviews historian Jack Schneider and journalist Jennifer Berkshire’s A Wolf at the Schoolhouse Door. Schneider and Berkshire have collaborated on podcasts called “Have You Heard.”

Thompson writes:

The first 2/3rds of A Wolf at the Schoolhouse Door, by Jack Schneider and Jennifer Berkshire, is an excellent history of attacks on public education. It taught me a lot; the first lesson I learned is that I was too stuck in the 2010s and was wrong to accept the common view of Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos as a “joke” and a “political naif.” The last 1/3rd left me breathless as Schneider’s and Berkshire’s warnings sunk in.

A Wolf at the Schoolhouse Door starts with an acknowledgement that DeVos isn’t the architect of the emerging school privatization tactics. That “radical agenda” has been decades in the making. But she represents a new assault on public education values. As Schneider and Berkshire note, accountability-driven, charter-driven, corporate reform were bad enough but they wanted to transform, not destroy public education. They wanted “some form” of public schools. DeVos’ wrecking ball treats all public schools as targets for commercialization. 

Schneider and Berkshire do not minimize the long history of attacks on our education system which took off after the Reagan administration’s A Nation at Risk blamed schools for “a rising tide of mediocrity that threatens our very future as a Nation.” They stress, however, that it was a part of Reagan’s belief that our public schools and government, overall, were failing, and how it propelled a larger attack on public institutions.

Forty years later, free marketers are driving a four-point assault. They contend that “Education is a personal good, not a collective one,” and “schools belong in the domain of the Free Market, not the Government.” According to this anti-union philosophy, it is the “consumers” who should pay for schooling.

The roots of this agenda lie in the use of private school vouchers that began as an anti-desegregation tool. Because of “consumer psychology,” the scarcity of private schools sent the message that they were more valuable than neighborhood schools. But, neither private schools nor charter schools made good on their promise to deliver more value to families. Similarly, Right to Work legislation and the Janus vs AFSCME ruling have damaged but not destroyed collective bargaining.

Neither did online instruction allow the for-profit Edison schools or, more recently, for-profit virtual education charter chains to defeat traditional schools. Despite their huge investments in advertising spin, these chains produced disappointing outputs. For instance, DeVos claimed that virtual schools in Ohio, Nevada, and Oklahoma had grad rates approaching 100%. In reality, their results were “abysmal.”

To take one example, the Oklahoma Virtual Charter Academy had a 40 percent cohort graduation rate, not the 91 percent DeVos claimed. It received a D on the Oklahoma A-to-F Report Card for 2015-16. Also, in 2015, a Stanford study of 200 online charters found that students lost 72 days per year of learning in reading and 180 in math in a 180-day year.

Such dismal results prompted more calls for regulations for choice schools. Rather than accept more oversight, free marketers doubled down on the position that parents are the only regulators. To meet that goal, they borrowed the roadmap for Higher Education for-profits, adopting the tactics that failed educationally but made them a lot of money.

So, Schneider and Berkshire borrow the phrase “Lower Ed” from Tressie Cottom  as they explain how privatizers patterned their movement after Higher Ed where 10 percent of students attended for-profit institutions. Their profits came from the only part of public or Higher Education that could produce big savings, reducing expenditures on teaching. This meant that since the mid-1970s tenure-track faculty dropped by ½, as tenured faculty dropped by 26 percent. Consequently, part-time teachers increased by 70 percent.

Moreover, by 2010, for-profit colleges and universities employed 35,000 persons. They spent $4.2 billion or 22.7 percent of all revenue on marketing and recruiting. 

In other words, the market principles of the “gig economy” are starting to drive the radical “personalized” education model that would replace “government schools.” Savings would begin with the “Uberization” of teaching.  A glimpse of the future, where the value of a teaching career is undermined, can be found on the “Shared Economy Jobs” section of JobMonkey where education has its own “niche.” Teachers could expect to be paid about $15 per hour.

And that leads the system of “Education, a la Carte,” which affluent families need not embrace but that could become a norm for disadvantaged students. What is advertised as “personalization” is actually “unbundling” of curriculum. Algorithms would help students choose courses or information or skills and teachers (who “could be downsized to tech support”) that students think they need.

Worse, this “edvertising” is full of “emotional appeals, questionable claims, and lofty promises.” Its “Brand Pioneers” started with elite schools’ self-promotion and it led to charters adopting the “Borrowing Prestige” dynamic where the implicit message is that charters share the supposed excellence of private schools. And then, charters like Success Academy took the “brand identity” promotions a step further, spent $1,000 per student on marketing SA logo on You-Tube, Twitter, Instagram, baby onesies, and headphones.

Schneider and Berkshire also described the KIPP “Brand Guidelines” video which compares the charter chain to Target, which wouldn’t represent its business differently in different cities. So, it says that every conversation a KIPP teacher has about the school is “a touch point for KIPP’s brand.”

Similar edvertising techniques include the exaggerated size of waiting lists for enrolling in charter chains. Their marketing role is sending the message, “Look how many people can’t get in.”  Charters have even engaged in “market cannibalism,” for instance issuing gift cards for enrolling children in the school.

Worse, demographic trends mean that the competition between choice schools and traditional schools will become even more intense as the percentage of school age children declines, For instance, 80 percent of new households in Denver since 2009 didn’t have children. And even though corporate reformers and DeVos-style free marketers have failed to improve education, their marketing experts have shown an amazing ability to win consumers over.

So, here’s Schneider’s and Berkshire’s “Future Forecast:”

The Future Will Be Ad-Filled;

The Future Will Be Emotionally Manipulated;

The Future Will Be Micro-Targeted;

The Future Will Have Deep Pockets;

The Future Will Tell You What You Want.

John Thompson, historian and retired teacher in Oklahoma, has a beef with “experts” and pundits who criticized teachers and teachers’ unions for refusing to reopen schools when it was not safe and uncertainty was the rule.

He writes:


The Guardian reports, “Los Angeles is becoming the center of America’s out-of-control coronavirus pandemic in these final days before the new year.” Its “meteoric rise in infections is crushing the healthcare system.” Hospitals have set up triage tents, and “doctors will have to make agonizing choices to ration care.”

Reports about L.A.’s “horrific” super-surge stand in stark contrast to the commentaries of a month ago. On November 20, when it should have been obvious that Thanksgiving was coming and would start a series of “surge on surge” spreads, Alexander Russo continued to compile journalism that attacked teachers for excessive caution in reopening for in-person education, and to urge more attacks on their unions. His focus that week was New York City school closures illustrating the meme, “Never before in my experience has the strength of teachers unions been so clear — or so woefully under-reported — as these past few months.” He then expanded his challenge for journalists to focus on unions pressuring Democrats and the incoming Biden administration.

At the same times, Politico reported, “California’s major cities never even opened their public schools this fall, under pressure from powerful teachers unions.” Without evaluating the danger of the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday, it described the “wave of pushback,” even by liberal Democrats, against supposedly excessive caution regarding reopenings that create “crisis-level inequity.”

In October, one of the most vocal critiques of schools’ caution, Emily Oster, explicitly criticized Los Angeles, as well as Houston and Chicago, for not returning to in-person instruction. She continued to claim “the evidence is pointing in one direction. Schools do not, in fact, appear to be major spreaders of COVID-19.” But she didn’t seem to acknowledge the problem with her data not being representative of the situations in large urban districts. And as late as November 30, she persisted in her calls for reopenings, even though it was inevitable that the Thanksgiving surge would by followed by the subsequent Christmas and New Years’ surges.

Even as public health experts predicted the Thanksgiving surge, Nicholas Kristof ramped up criticism of Democrats who he claimed “instinctively lined up” in opposition to President Trump’s calls to reopen schools. In  “When Trump Was Right and Many Democrats Wrong,” Kristof charged, “Joe Biden echoed their extreme caution, as did many Democratic mayors and governors.” So, he claimed, “Democrats helped preside over school closures that have devastated millions of families and damaged children’s futures.”Kristof also quoted L.A. Superintendent Austin Beutner, who is hardly an objective source about the teachers union, who said, “Students are struggling.” But Kristof didn’t balance criticism of the teachers’ position with the evidence against reopening at such a dangerous time. 

As the latest COVID crisis unfolds, don’t Russo, Oster, and Kristof, et.al owe an apology to teachers, families, and all the other people in Los Angeles?  

Of course, they were right when calling for the closures of bars before schools, but why didn’t they consider the decisions that educators had to make in cities where those closures were off the table? Even if the evidence didn’t say that schools are proven super-spreaders, why was that an argument for opening buildings that would clearly become contributing spreaders? Finally, shouldn’t they apologize for ignoring the predicable effects of the holidays so they could double-down on criticizing Democrats and unions?   

John Thompson, retired teacher in Oklahoma, knows who Cleta Mitchell is. Her career began in Oklahoma.

Cleta Mitchell sat alongside Trump and Mark Meadows as they made the now famous phone call to Georgia election officials to try to persuade or bully them into “finding” enough votes to reverse the election results in that state. Georgia law enforcement officials are now considering filing criminal charges against Trump for his encouragement of election fraud in that call.

Cleta Mitchell’s law firm, Foley & Lardner, questioned her role in prodding Georgia election officials to “find” enough votes to overturn the result of the state’s election. She “resigned” from the firm. She embarrassed the firm by encouraging Trump’s efforts to undermine the rule of law and the Constitution. I am happy to report that I was one of what must have been many who expressed those views on the firm’s website.

John Thompson writes:

Who is Cleta Mitchell, “a prominent GOP attorney,” who participated in the already infamous telephone call where President Donald Trump pressured Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger “to ‘find’ enough votes to overturn his defeat” in the November presidential election? The Washington Post reports that this “extraordinary one-hour phone call” is described by legal scholars “as a flagrant abuse of power and a potential criminal act.”

Mitchell, the former Oklahoma liberal, subsequently justified the call saying Raffensperger’s office:

Has made many statements over the past two months that are simply not correct and everyone involved with the efforts on behalf of the President’s election challenge has said the same thing: show us your records on which you rely to make these statements that our numbers are wrong.

How is it that the previously respected Cleta Deatherage came to participate in the effort to use “debunked conspiracy theories” to overthrow the results of a clearly legal election? What did Cleta Mitchell think when Trump demanded, “I just want to find 11,780 votes?”

Mitchell had been a well-liked, respected state representative, who became the “first woman in the U.S. to chair a state appropriations and budget committee.” But she said that she realized that professional politicians are “like noncustodial parents in a divorce” who “don’t really know” regular citizens who shop at grocery stores.

I wonder what Mitchell would say about how well this week’s fiasco, merely the latest in the Trump experiment where amateurs and zealots replace professionals, is turning out?   

The Atlantic’s Jonathan Krohn suggested an alternative explanation of how an advocate for the Equal Rights Amendment joined with conservative organizations to advance a rightwing agenda. Her allies include, Americans Back in Charge, the Bradley Foundation, the National Rifle Association, the American Conservative Union, the Republican National Lawyers Association, as well as Stephen Bannon’s Citizens of the American Republic, Krohn recalls Mitchell’s effort to expel GOProud, a gay rights group, from the Conservative Political Action Conference. He said her efforts “led GOProud’s Chris Barron to once call her “a nasty bigot,” and [Executive Director Jimmy] LaSalvia to accuse her of “personal animosity towards gay people.”

Krohn explains that Mitchell’s actions are “ironic” because her first husband was gay. They divorced in 1982. Her former husband, Duane Draper, later directed the Massachusetts AIDS policy office, and died of AIDS.

Krohn also recalls Deatherage’s 1984 marriage to Oklahoma City banker Dale Mitchell.  He then reports:

In late 1992, he (Mitchell) was convicted of five felony counts of conspiracy to defraud, misapplying bank funds and making false statements to banks and ordered to pay $3 million in restitution–something that his wife says convinced her that government had grown too big.The New Yorker’s Jane Mayer also wrote about Cleta Mitchell’s transformation. She quoted Mitchell’s claim that her husband “is the most honest person I’ve ever known.” His conviction convinced her that “overreaching government regulation is one of the great scandals of our time.”

Near the beginning of Mitchell’s post-Oklahoma career, she campaigned for term limits for legislators. She eventually developed a “stepmother theory of government.  “Citizen Legislators” would replace politicians; her vision would be “Why not take turns in office like jury duty.” 

If that sounds weird, however, wait until Mitchell’s allies more publicly reveal the next step toward undermining representative government.

Mitchell explained that she changed after her pastor warned of the “perils of struggling all one’s life to succeed at what in the end could turn out to be an unworthy pursuit.”

But, Mayer ended her article on how Mitchell became an “outsider” with the lesson, “appealing to the discontent of those outside the system may be the surest path to becoming an important player inside it.”

Since Mayer’s 1996 article, Mitchell’s allies at the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) have devised a plan that is the antithesis of her previous “Citizen Legislators” approach, and is even more disconnected from reality. Documented’s Jamie Corey reveals that nearly a year ago, Mitchell was one of three attorneys working with ALEC on a path that “legislators can take to question the validity of an election.”  It seems impossible to reconcile that tactic with Mitchell’s faith in the people, as opposed to their representatives. And the next ALEC move is even more incomprehensible, unless the goal is to attack American democracy on all fronts.

The Huffington Post’s Mary Papenfuss, in an article about Mitchell entitled Attorney on Trump’s Georgia Call Works with Group Aiming to Eliminate Senate Elections, reports that ALEC is trying to persuade legislatures to the repeal of the 17th Amendment. U.S. Senators would then be chosen by legislators not the voters! 

Getting back to The Atlantic piece on Mitchell, Krohn concludes, “Mitchell herself, ironically, offers a clear model of how people can change.” And while on the subject of changing a person’s mind, Law and Crime now cites the McClatchy report that Mitchell (who had worked for the NRA) “‘had concerns about [the NRA’s] ties to Russia’” and the NRA’s ‘”possible involvement in channeling Russian funds into the 2016 elections to help Donald Trump.’” But, I wonder what Mitchell was thinking when she  dismissed the report as a “complete fabrication.” 

Similarly, as reported by Slate, Mitchell was caught on tape telling a closed door ALEC panel on gerrymandering, “My advice to you is: If you don’t want it [notes from the panel] turned over in discovery, you probably ought to get rid of it before you go home.” Don’t such words raise questions about how she could respect voters over her allies who disenfranchise them?

Above all, I wonder what Mitchell thought when, as Law and Crime explains, the January 2 Trump phone call was “completely undermining Mitchell’s attempts to discuss the matters he raised.” And now, her law firm, Foley & Lardner is distancing itself from Mitchell,So, is it possible that the Cleta Mitchell – who is helping Trump undermine our constitutional democracy – might remember the words of her pastor and distance herself from ALEC’s next unworthy pursuit?

John Thompson, historian and retired teacher in Oklahoma, followed the debate about what to do “after COVID,” and he shares his wisdom here.


I’ve been wrestling with two quandaries regarding post-COVID schools. Yes, in the short-run, the tactical use of digital technology has been prioritized, but the longer term priority must be human-to-human relationships. The last thing we want are 21th century schools driven by screen time. So, what can we do to recover from the pandemic which came on the heels of the corporate school reform disaster that was imposed on teachers and students?

Last spring, I timidly made suggestions but I knew that educators were overwhelmed, and it wasn’t time to be pushy about future visions of schooling. It’s unlikely that many of today’s teachers would be allowed to do so, but I used to start my inner city high school classes’ orientation week with music, poetry, and film clips like Amiri Baraka’s “The X is Black,” Bruce Springsteen’s “American Skin,” and Denzel Washington in Cry Freedom, playing Steve Biko, explaining colonialism.

So, if I were still teaching high school, I’d have used much of the spring semester for one-on-one digital and telephone conversations, discussing what each student loves and what each one would love, and get each kid hooked on a genre, artist, musician, or whatever. Surely, it would be easy to sell many kids on great Nature programs, such as the Smithsonian’s new David Attenborough series, or PBS documentaries about the race to the Moon. I’d then focus on each kid learning in depth about the things that enthralled them.

I’d have also started by showing and discussing, and borrowing from great musical and artistic events. I’ve been stunned, and often been left in tears by “Graduate Together: America Honors the High School Class of 2020,” which also featured President Barack Obama; Jason Alexander’s Passover Seder; One World: Together at Home; and 300 singers from 15 countries singing You’ll Never Walk Alone

We also should have learned from Jill Lepore’s history of education during the Great Depression in the New Yorker. Lepore’s “The Last Time Democracy Almost Died” described School Superintendent John Studebaker’s “ambitious plan to get Americans to show up in the same room and argue with one another in the nineteen-thirties.” Starting in Des Moines, Iowa, his idea spread to schools across the nation. We saw what works in our democracy; discussions where “the people of the community of every political affiliation, creed, and economic view have an opportunity to participate freely.”

I’ve also agreed with Dr. Ezekiel Emanuel about the need for outdoor learning. Moreover, we need a 21st century Civilian Conservation Corps where kids learn about global warming, and solutions and career options for battling it.

Similarly, early in the pandemic, John Merrow reminded us, “Just as it takes a village to raise a child, it will take the support of the village to open its public schools.” Merrow recommended two priorities that could not be compromised or negotiated: 1) Keep everyone safe, with frequent testing, social distancing, and adequate PPE; and 2) Create genuine learning opportunities, rather than simply replicating semesters, work sheets, 50-minute periods, and everything else that schools routinely do. He also urged innovation in terms of developing new, safer, and more educationally beneficial learning spaces. Sadly, those conversations, and the timely reopening of in-person instruction were undermined as the reopening of schools was politicized, first by Trumpism, and then by smart and sincere public health experts and journalists who knew little about actual schools. I must emphasize that the overwhelming harm was done by Trump, politicians like Oklahoma’s Gov. Kevin Stitt, and their COVID denialism, mixed with Social Darwinism. But the demand that in-person learning be quickly restored in urban schools also bore a sad resemblance to the corporate school reforms wars. Both were launched by rightwingers seeking to demonize unions and educators. And just as the attacks on public education worsened after Big Data scholars joined the fray, recently attacks on educators for being too cautious in reopening schools haven’t been helpful.

Researchers working for the Billionaires Boys Club often claimed that their statistical models showed that top-down mandates on teachers can improve student performance while, today, some public health experts argued that their data shows that schools can be reopened safely. The question, then and now, is what will likely happen if schools hurriedly follow their advice.

Below are just two examples. An October New York Times report by Apoorva Mandavilli may or may not have been tilted towards a less cautious approach to reopenings. It led with the fact that “so far there is little evidence” community transmission was high. But, the article distinguished between the evidence that in-person instruction of young students can be safe, and the greater possible dangers regarding high school, citing super-spreads in American and Israeli high schools. And the public health expert the Times quoted, Dr. David Rubin, advised, “Rather than closing schools where community transmission is high, businesses like restaurants, bars or other indoor spaces where adults congregate should be shuttered.” But he didn’t take a stand on the question of what schools could safely do in cities where that public health wisdom was ignored.

The real problem was with the article’s title and subtitle which went far beyond the evidence in it presented:

Schoolchildren Seem Unlikely to Fuel Coronavirus Surges, Scientists Say:

Researchers once feared that school reopenings might spread the virus through communities. But so far there is little evidence that it’s happening.

After those sorts of optimistic assertions before Thanksgiving, it would have been nice if experts and newspapers would have acknowledged how much the situations have changed as holidays dramatically increased the super-spread. I also believe educators deserved an apology for those over-simplified commentaries. If anything, however, many commentators have doubled down on their criticisms of urban educators’ caution.

For instance, I respect Nick Kristof, and I loved Tightrope, which he and his wife, Sheryl WuDunn recently published. And he no longer claims to be “infatuated” with Bill Gates, and to trust the teacher bashing “quick fixes” pushed by edu-philanthropists and their data-driven researchers. But Kristof went from his recommendation in May that we “cautiously open some schools” to arguing that we have been “too willing to close schools” in an article entitled, “When Trump Was Right and Many Democrats Wrong.”

So, now we may need to be more blunt in presenting the educators’ case, as Erika Christakes was in her Atlantic article, “School Wasn’t So Great Before COVID, Either.” (I must emphasize that she isn’t making the Nation at Risk or No Child Left Behind case that schools are broken; on the contrary, she wants to fix the damage done by those “Reforms.”)

Christakes begins with the truth that I haven’t wanted to bring up, “Yes, remote schooling has been a misery—but it’s offering a rare chance to rethink early education entirely.”

She writes:

All of the challenges of educating young children that we have minimized for years have suddenly appeared like flotsam on a beach at low tide, reeking and impossible to ignore.” But, she reminds us that beginning with No Child Left Behind, Schools have—quite irrationally—abandoned this breadth [holistic instruction] in favor of stripped-down programs focused on narrow testing metrics.

So, Christakes writes:

A good start would be to include a broader and deeper curriculum with more chances for children to explore, play, and build relationships with peers and teachers. Schools should also be in the business of fostering curiosity and a love of learning in all children, or at a minimum not impeding the development of those traits. This is a low educational bar but one that is too often not cleared, as the millions of American adults who are functionally illiterate might suggest.

Like Emanuel and Merrow implied, Christakes says, “The most obvious demand should be for more time outside.” She draws on the history of the early 20th century, when “tuberculosis outbreaks led many American schools to successfully adopt outdoor teaching.”

As we should have realized before winter, outdoor transmission of COVID‑19 is far less likely than indoor spread, and it offers an alternative to the drill-and-kill that corporate reforms revitalized. Moreover, “Years of accumulating evidence reveal concretely measurable benefits of nature-based learning and outdoor time for young children.” It can be more effective than instruction in the classroom, and it builds on what “we know about nature’s positive impact on mental health, attention span, academic outcomes, physical fitness, and self-regulation.

And that leads to Merrow’s recent advice to “please please please, do not try to ‘get back to normal.’” He suggests the making of “institution more democratic (small d),” and giving students “more agency over their own learning.” Since “social and emotional learning may matter more than book-learning for these first weeks and months,” we must “give kids time and space to get accustomed to being with peers, even socially distanced, for the first time in many months,” as well as “lots of free play.” Merrow would also move away from age segregation and group children instead according to the interests and their level of accomplishment, and “Finally, NO hand-wringing about ‘remediation’ or ‘learning loss,’ because that’s blaming the victim, big time.”

As 2021 begins, I hope the Biden administration can foster the unity that our schools need. I hope we won’t see the revival of corporate reformers’ “blame game.” Regardless, we need a more humane vision of post-pandemic schools and, I’m afraid, we may need to fight for it once again.