Archives for category: Bush, Jeb

Billy Townsend writes in the Tampa Bay Times about how Florida politicians game the NAEP (National Assessment of Educational Progress) scores to boast about unearned “success.” The gaming consists of bragging about fourth grade scores (which are high) while ignoring eighth grade scores (which are unimpressive).

The big Florida trick is third grade retention—holding back the children in third grade who have low reading scores. This artificially boosts fourth grade scores. But then comes the eighth grade scores, and Florida falls behind. They can’t hide the low-scoring students forever.

He writes:

A close look at ‘the Nation’s Report Card’ shows how Florida fails its students as they move up through the grades.

A few years ago, just before COVID hit, a Stanford University study of state-level standardized tests showed that Florida’s “learning rate” was the worst in the country — by a wide margin.

Florida has the worst learning rate, according to a Stanford study.
Florida has the worst learning rate, according to a Stanford study. [ Provided ]

Florida students learned 12 percent less each year from third to eighth grade than the national average from 2009 to 2018. The next worst state was Alabama, according to The Educational Opportunity Project at Stanford University. Florida’s political and education leaders completely ignored that finding.

Contrast that deafening silence with the hype and misinterpretation that comes with the release of the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), “the Nation’s Report Card.” When those results came out last fall, Gov. Ron DeSantis crowed on Twitter that, “We kept schools open in 2020, and today’s NAEP results once again prove that we made the right decision. In Florida, adjusted for demographics, fourth grade students are #1 in both reading and math.”

Tellingly, DeSantis ignored the eighth grade results, which came out far worse than fourth grade — just as they have in every NAEP cycle since 2003.

The “Nation’s Report Card” is a snapshot of group proficiency taken by different cohorts of kids every two years in reading and math in fourth grade and eighth grade. It produces state-by-state results and proficiency rankings. It does not track individual kids year over year. But it does tell you how Florida’s fourth and eighth graders compare with students in other states. I crunched the data, and here’s the bottom line: Florida’s students perform worse as they move up through the grades. There is consistent, massive systemic regression with age. And the gap is widening.

This is a state failure, not a local one attributable to individual districts. Yet, in every NAEP cycle, Florida politicians and education leaders brag about fourth-grade NAEP results in press releases.

But ignoring the eighth grade results or the “learning rate” study does not change these facts:

· Florida kids regress dramatically as they age in the system. Since 2003, Florida’s eighth grade rank as a state has never come close to its fourth grade rank on any NAEP test in any subject.

· The size of Florida’s regression is dramatic and growing, especially in math.Florida’s overall average NAEP state rank regression between fourth and eighth grade since 2003 is 17 spots (math) and 18 spots (reading). But since 2015, the averages are 27 spots (math) and 19 spots (reading).

· No other state comes close to Florida’s level of consistent fourth to eighth grade performance collapse. In the last three NAEP cycles — 2017, 2019 and COVID-delayed 2022 — Florida ranked sixth, fourth and third among states in fourth grade math. In those same years, Florida ranked 33th, 34th and tied for 31st in eighth grade.

· For comparison, Massachusetts typically ranks at or near #1 among states on both the fourth grade and eighth grade NAEP for math and reading. Its eighth grade rank has never been more than one spot lower than fourth.

· Florida has never matched the U.S. average scaled score on eighth grade math NAEP.

· In COVID-marred 2022, Florida’s eighth grade scale scores in reading and math both lost 8 points relative to the national average, compared to fourth grade. That’s larger or equal to the overall collapse of NAEP scores nationwide attributed to COVID.

To restate, what happens every NAEP cycle between fourth and eighth grade in Florida matches and mostly exceeds the negative impact of COVID. Overall, recent NAEP cycles show Florida collapsing from elite test scores in fourth grade reading and math to abysmal in eighth grade math and average in eighth grade reading, even after its much-hyped approach to COVID in 2022.

And, worse, there is no reason at all to believe Florida’s test performance regression with age stops at eighth grade. The only two years the NAEP tested 12th graders — 2009 and 2013 — the Florida collapse worsened significantly with further age, but against a smaller pool of states.

Willful ignorance, useless testing

So what to make of this?

You can rest assured that your top education officials know all about Florida’s eighth grade NAEP and learning rate failures, which is why they never discuss them. I suspect these test data realities helped drive Florida to drop its big state growth test — the Florida Standards Assessment — and move toward a “progress monitoring” regime this year that may or may not create functionally different data reporting models.

The discourse around Florida’s NAEP performance — and the catastrophic learning rate that we ignore on our state tests — makes me deeply skeptical of standardized tests and their use in our education systems and society. I see them as punitive political and social sorting tools, rather than “assessments” designed to help individual children reach their potential.

Forget whether test results are valid or biased. We can’t even accurately describe what the test results say — on their face — about the success of our state school system. So what use are they?

Florida’s politicians, education leaders, policy community and journalists should look at these results and ask this basic question: The data tells us your child will regress dramatically every year he or she stays in the Florida system. What’s going on?

If we can’t do that, then why do we force standardized tests on kids at all?

What we should be studying

I’ve been attempting to draw attention to this dramatic Florida regression dynamic for years. So I was pleased to the see the Tampa Bay Times Editorial Board and Hillsborough County Schools Superintendent Addison Davis notice and publicly address the massive drop in test performance between fourth and eighth grade in Florida on the 2022 NAEP. But I was puzzled by suggestions that it was something new, caused by COVID. It isn’t; and it wasn’t.

Indeed, if we took standardized tests seriously as diagnostic and development tools, we would have long ago started asking: What causes this? What changes need to be made beyond rebuilding and supporting a developmentally focused teacher corps? What are the system quirks of Florida that cause this dynamic?

Here are some good questions to ask and study:

· Why doesn’t “learn to read, read to learn” work in Florida?

One of our treasured education cliches is “learn to read” so you can “read to learn.” It’s essentially the policy justification for imposing mass retention on third graders, as Florida does. And yet, although Florida routinely ranks high fourth grade NAEP reading, our readers immediately lose massive ground relative to other states. The data shows that Florida’s often punitive emphasis on “learn to read” by third or fourth grade creates no benefit in “reading to learn” in later grades — in math or reading. Why not?

· What is the role of mass third grade retention in Florida’s fourth grade peak and subsequent collapse?

Florida pioneered mass third grade retention based on reading standardized test scores in 2003. This prevents the lowest scoring third grade readers from taking the NAEP with their age cohort in fourth grade. And when that low scoring third grader finally takes the fourth grade NAEP, retention has made it as if he or she is a fifth grader taking the fourth grade NAEP.

Florida law theoretically subjects more than 40 percent of Florida’s roughly 200,000 public school third graders to retention because of low scores. A smaller — but still significant — number is actually retained. Florida does not appear to publish that actual total number of third graders retained.

· What is the cost to the individual children and overall system performance?

Essentially all data shows that ripping kids away from their age cohort because of testing leads to significant human harm and increased drop out rates over time.

Is that affecting Florida’s learning rate for older kids and the eighth grade NAEP collapse? A 2017 study of a cohort of southwest Florida students showed that seven years after retention, 94% of the retained group remained below reading proficiency. It also showed that third and sixth graders find retention as stressful as losing a parent.

· How many voucher third grade testing refugees are there? What effect do they have on the fourth grade NAEP?

Third grade retention is not Florida’s only way to get low scoring fourth graders off the books for the NAEP. It’s been well-established that Florida over-testing and third grade retention is a primary sales tool for vouchers.TheOrlando Sentinel’sPulitzer-worthy “Schools without Rules”report in 2017 about voucher schools reported: “Escaping high-stakes testing is such a scholarship selling point that one private school administrator refers to students as ‘testing refugees’.”

How many testing refugees are there? And how does Florida’s massive voucher program — America’s largest and least studied — affect performance on the NAEP by allowing low scoring kids to duck it?

· What effect do voucher school dropouts have on scoring when they return in massive numbers to public schools?

At the same time, 61 percent of voucher kids abandon the voucher within two years (75 percent within three years),according to the Urban Institute, in the closest thing to a study ever done on Florida vouchers.

Enormous numbers of “low-scoring” kids duck third and fourth grade tests and then come back into the public system to be counted in the eighth grade NAEP and other yearly tests. That’s likely a recipe for score collapse. But there is no hard data to analyze. Florida is long overdue for such a study, and voucher advocates know it will be a data bloodbath.

Perhaps that’s because independent studies of smaller state voucher programs — with much greater oversight — shows attending a voucher school will “meet or exceed what the pandemic did to test scores,” according to Michigan State researcher and former voucher advocate-turned-critic Josh Cowen.

· Does chasing test scores kill test scores over time?

Test-driven instruction isn’t engaging. Kids come to understand how useless these tests are to their lives; and they behave accordingly. Teachers come to hate the test-obsessed model and leave the profession. How has that affected test scores?

A longstanding waste of human potential

For me, the eighth grade NAEP and “learning rate” failures are evidence that we’ve wasted a generation of human potential and severely damaged Florida’s teaching profession. Will anyone “follow the data” where it leads? Will anyone ask: Should our kids peak at age 9 and decline inexorably from there?

I believe Florida has long had one of America’s worst test-performing state school systems because of its governance model and intellectual corruption and pursuit of useless measures and fake accountability.

I

Billy Townsend was an award-winning investigative reporter for The Lakeland Ledger and Tampa Tribune. He oversaw education reporting as an editor for The Ledger. He has been an independent writer and journalist since 2008, focused on Florida history, education and civic systems. He was an elected Polk County School Board member from 2016-2020. Today he writes the Florida-focused email newsletter “Public Enemy Number 1.” He can be reached at townsendsubstackpe1@gmail.com.

Josh Cowen is a veteran voucher researcher, having worked in the field for more than 20 years. He is a professor of education policy at Michigan State University. After two decades as a researcher, he concluded that vouchers are a disaster for the children who use them.

Today, he writes an inside guide to voucher research. All pro-voucher research is actually disguised advocacy for vouchers, especially if it funded or produced by the organizations listed here.

I hope you will share this post with your friends on social media, post blogs about it, and get it into the hands of journalists. The public deserves transparency.

Josh Cowen writes:


The entire base of evidence to support school vouchers comes from a small, interconnected and insular group of research-activists with direct ties to Betsy DeVos, Charles Koch, the Waltons and other privatization financers.

If you stopped reading this post right now, that’s the take-home message right there: the case for vouchers relies entirely on data and evidence contributed by what amounts to industry-funded research and advocacy on behalf of the cause.

But if you’re a journalist, an educator, or just a committed public school supporter (thank you!) and you want the links and the details, read on.

WHO’S WHO IN THE VOUCHER RESEARCH/ADVOCACY WORLD?

If you’re a professional journalist either in the education space or a broader policy/politics issue, you’ve probably heard of some of these people and certainly their institutions before. But you’re busy, you’ve got deadlines to meet and editors to approve your copy, and it’s not always easy to connect some of the important dots in this area.

But they need to be connected. The single most difficult task I’ve found in my writing on school vouchers has been to explain to journalists how the question of whether vouchers “work” for kids is not some obscure academic ivory-tower debate in which both sides have a nuanced, complicated and reasonably well-founded point.

There is credible research on one side—that vouchers are largely a negative force for student outcomes—and politically oriented reports on the other. That’s it.

So the next time you see a press release, or are given a quote, or talk off record to a voucher supporter saying that vouchers work, try this little exercise and see what you find for yourself:

STEP 1: DOES THE RESEARCH COME FROM ONE OF THE FOLLOWING ORGANIZATIONS?

• American Federation for Children: the 501(c)(4) advocacy organization co-founded by Betsy DeVos to lobby for vouchers. DeVos was so close to this group she had to recuse herself as Secretary of Education from contact with the group in her first year in government.

• Cato Institute: A Right-wing advocacy think tank co-founded by Charles Koch (although Koch later sued for lack of direct control of the group).

• EdChoice: Formerly the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice, named for conservative economist who first proposed vouchers. Enough said.

• ExcelInEd: The advocacy group founded by Jeb Bush to expand vouchers and other conservative education priorities from the model Bush developed while he was governor of Florida.

• Goldwater Institute: A self-described libertarian think tank in Arizona that is chiefly oriented toward litigation on behalf of a number of different conservative policy priorities—most recently school vouchers.

• Harvard University Program on Education Policy and Governance (PEPG): A research center at Harvard run by Professor Paul Peterson, also of the Hoover Institution, and the father of modern-day pro-voucher research.

• Heritage Foundation: the most influential Right-wingthink tank in the country, devoted in part to privatizing schools and exploiting culture wars. Also directly tied to voter suppression efforts, per deep reporting by The New Yorker.

• University of Arkansas Department of Education Reform: A university-based doctoral training department responsible for producing nearly all of the currently active voucher research-advocates working at the institutions above today. This department was founded by a $10 million gift from the Walton Family Foundation in the early 2000s.

STEP 2: IS THE AUTHOR, CO-AUTHOR OR SOURCE FOR BACKGROUND OR ATTRIBUTION ONE OF THE FOLLOWING PEOPLE?

The Original Voucher Research-Advocates

Jay P. Greene Currently Senior Fellow at Heritage, former founding head of the University of Arkansas Department of Education Reform, received his PhD under Paul E. Peterson.

Paul E. Peterson Currently Professor at both Harvard and the conservative Hoover Institute at Stanford University, and the primary intellectual force behind the original positive voucher studies of the late 1990s.

Their Students, Colleagues and Acolytes

Lindsay Burke Currently at the Heritage Foundation and a member of GOP Governor Glenn Youngkin’s transition team.

Corey DeAngelis Currently Research Director for DeVos’s American Federation for Children group. But so much more: a regular Fox News contributor and active campaigner with far-Right governors like Kari Lake in Arizona and Kim Reynolds in Iowa.

Greg Forster Currently at EdChoice and a co-blogger with Jay Greene.

Matthew Ladner Currently at ALEC, EdChoice, Goldwater, and the Charles Koch Institute.

Martin Lueken Currently a research director at EdChoiceand former PhD student of Jay Greene and Patrick Wolf at University of Arkansas.

Mike McShane Currently a research director at EdChoiceand former PhD student of Jay Greene and Patrick Wolf at University of Arkansas.

Neil McCluskey Currently “Director of Education Freedom” at the Cato Institute and a member of the editorial board for the Journal of School Choice—a publication edited by Robert Maranto of the University of Arkansas.

Patrick Wolf Currently interim-head of the University of Arkansas Department of Education Reform, former colleague of Jay Greene and a former PhD student of Paul Peterson.

Not all of these organizations or individuals occupy the same problematic position. For example, I happen to make a point of reading everything McShane publishes, for example, because I respect his writing and the way he talks about the world even though I fundamentally disagree with his conclusions.

And the University of Arkansas group also includes a robust and insightful group of researchers examining the needs of teachers in the Ozarks and other high-poverty areas. I’m a great admirer of Professor Gema Zamarro and her students, who are doing some very important work on the role that the COVID0-19 pandemic played in teacher workforce conditions.

For that matter, some of what we know about the devasting effects of vouchers in Louisiana actually comes from Patrick Wolf’s reports. I’ve written with him myself on studies like one showing how critical strong oversight is to voucher program performance. Wolf is in fact the only person on the list abovewith a long and commendable history of publishing negative voucher impacts in top academic journals. The point here is not to disparage the individuals but to judge the insular and self-citing base of research that supports vouchers.

The point here is to be critical consumers of this line of research. Think of it this way: no news editor would release a story on an explosive topic going on the say so of a single source. At minimum that editor would require two and usually more sources. The problem for voucher advocacy research is that it is usually the only source for positive voucher impacts available. And it’s been that way for a decade or more.

What’s the take home point? It’s this: not all voucher advocates publish exclusively pro-voucher studies, but all pro-voucher studies come almost exclusively from pro-voucher advocates.

STEP 3: WHO FUNDED THE WORK YOU’RE READING OR THE SOURCE YOU’RE CITING?

One or more of the following funders—the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation, the Kern Family Foundation, the Koch Family Foundation, and the Walton Family Foundation—funded the original studies supporting school vouchers.

The Bradley and Koch Foundations—along with Heritage—are directly involved in Big Lie, election denialism, and voter-suppression funding, as reported by Jane Mayer of the New Yorker in painstaking detail last summer.

The next time you read a report, or talk to a source for attribution, ask first about their funding sources. If they decline to provide those sources, consider declining to report their results or their viewpoint. It is common for philanthropists to request non-disclosure of their donations—that is their right. But it is your right as a reporter, and certainly the right of your readers, to decline to print their material.

Transparency is just the name of the game for credible research. You can see my own research funding right here. You can see that I once upon a time also received grant funding from the Walton Foundation. And from Bloomberg, and the Laura and John Arnold Foundation. My only current active funding comes from the U.S. Department of Education Institute for Education Sciences—awarded to my research team while Betsy DeVos was education secretary!

Do I believe those organizations swayed my earlier research? Of course not. And the advocates above would say the same thing. But I don’t get to decide what to think and neither do they. That’s for the reader to judge, and that can’t happen without full transparency.

WHAT DOES ALL THIS MEAN?

This all may seem like inside baseball. A bunch of current and former voucher researchers arguing about who’s who and what’s what. A bunch of annoying and self-centered PhDs.

But in some sense that’s the entire point.

Whether an educator, reporter, researcher, policymaker or just avid reader of Diane’s blog here, you would be hard-pressed—if not find it absolutely impossible—to find a single study of voucher participant effects (how vouchers impact outcomes) that did not come from one of the few organizations or few individuals listed above, or a handful of others with direct ties to Greene, Peterson, or Arkansas.

That’s a problem, because what that means is that hundreds of millions of dollars, and hundreds of thousands of school children are being affected every day by the advocacy of a small group of people. In many cases advocacy disguised as objective and credible research.

As a counter point, consider this humble list of studies showing far more nuance and at times outright negative results from voucher programs. To create that list, I made a simple rule: no studies from organizations listed in Step 1 above. Notice the variety of names and the diversity of venues and outlets. That’s what a credible research base looks like.

A LITMUS TEST: IS THE PRO-VOUCHER EVIDENCE I’M READING POLITICAL/IDEOLOGICAL?

If at this point you’re still not convinced that the entire structure of pro-voucher research amounts to industry-funded research—think the Sacklers funding research on oxycontin’s addictive properties, or ExxonMobil funding research on fossil fuel environmental effects—there is also this:

Many of the organizations and individuals noted above also contribute to other areas of politically engaged conservative education reform.

Consider that Greene alone has published in the last 12 months studies arguing against the provision of gender-affirming care, against “wokeness”, and against Diversity, Equity and Inclusionoffices in both K12 and higher education.

Greene even put right in print for you to see that these culture war issues are useful to Right wing activists pushing the privatization of schooling.

In other words, pro-voucher research exists right alongside—and is often published by—the same people and organizations pushing other far-Right education outcomes. You need to know that to have a full picture of what voucher research truly says.

Pro-voucher research is pro-voucher advocacy, and pro-voucher advocacy is part of the larger effort to undermine public education, undermine a more humane approach to tolerating difference and diversity in our schools, and in many cases undermine free embrace of democracy itself.

Billy Townsend, Florida blogger, has reported regularly on Florida’s gaming of NAEP scores. He writes here that Governor Ron DeSantis is carrying out Jeb Bush’s old trick to inflate 4th grade NAEP scores. He calls the governor Ron Jebsantis. The trick is third grade retention, which ensures that the lowest scoring third graders never take the fourth grade NAEP test (the kids who take the NAEP test are selected at random).

Thus, DeSantis put out a flashy press release celebrating fourth grade NAEP scores in the test scores recently released. But, as usual, DeSantis neglects to mention the collapse of eighth grade NAEP scores. Somehow the kids who were retained in third grade managed to skip fourth grade and rejoin their classmates by eighth grade.

Here are his numbers, drawn from NAEP reports:

With that in mind, here is a view of Florida’s 2022 NAEP scores peaking in elementary school and dramatically worsening with the older cohorts —- which is ALL of the red numbers after the green baseline.

I personally put no stock in the twelfth grade numbers (which Billy extrapolated) because NAEP stopped testing seniors a decade ago. Seniors know that NAEP doesn’t count and they don’t do their best. Some don’t even try. Their answer sheets had doodles, or some just picked the (A) answer to every question or some were blank.

But the stark drop from fourth grade to eighth grade says something’s fishy in Florida.

The ever wise Jan Resseger points out that the Ohio House overwhelmingly voted 82-10 to end the policy of holding back third graders who don’t score proficient on the state reading test. Now, she hopes that the State Senate will complete the elimination of this disastrous experiment. The idea that children will become better readers if they are failed is nonsense. Years of experience and research shows that failure leads to negative consequences, causing a loss of confidence, a sense of failure and higher dropout rates in later years.

She writes:

Ohio’s Third Grade Guarantee, enacted by the legislature in 2012 and implemented beginning in the 2013-2014 school year, requires that students who do not score “proficient” on the state’s third grade reading test must be retained for another year in third grade. Brown reports that,”Ohio has retained around 3,628 students per year.”

Jeb Bush and his ExcelInEd Foundation have been dogged promoters of the Third Grade Guarantee, but last May, the Columbus Dispatch’s Anna Staver traced Ohio’s enthusiasm for the Third Grade Guarantee to the Annie E. Casey Foundation: “In 2010, the Annie E. Casey Foundation released a bombshell special report called ‘Early Warning! Why Reading by the End of Third Grade Matters.’ Students, it said, who don’t catch up by fourth grade are significantly more likely to stay behind, drop out and find themselves tangled in the criminal justice system. ‘The bottom line is that if we don’t get dramatically more children on track as proficient readers, the United States will lose a growing and essential proportion of its human capital to poverty… And the price will be paid not only by the individual children and families but by the entire country.’”

But it turns out that promoters of the Third-Grade Guarantee ignored other research showing that when students are held back—in any grade—they are more likely later to drop out of school before they graduate from high school. In 2004, writing for the Civil Rights Project, Lisa Abrams and Walt Haney reported: “Half a decade of research indicates that retaining or holding back students in grade bears little to no academic benefit and contributes to future academic failure by significantly increasing the likelihood that retained students will drop out of high school.” (Gary Orfield, ed., Dropouts in America, pp. 181-182)

Why does holding children back make them more likely to drop out later? In their book, 50 Myths & Lies That Threaten America’s Public Schools, David Berliner and Gene Glass explain the research of Kaoru Yamamoto on the emotional impact on children of being held back: “Retention simply does not solve the quite real problems that have been identified by teachers looking for a solution to a child’s immaturity or learning problems…Only two events were more distressing to them: the death of a parent and going blind.” Berliner and Glass continue: “Researchers have estimated that students who have repeated a grade once are 20-30% more likely to drop out of school than students of equal ability who were promoted along with their age mates. There is almost a 100% chance that students retained twice will drop out before completing high school.” (50 Myths & Lies That Threaten America’s Public Schools, pp. 9-97)

In a recent report examining the impact of Third-Grade Guarantee legislation across the states, Furman University’s Paul Thomas explainsthat short term gains in reading scores after students are held back are likely to fade out in subsequent years as students move into the upper elementary and middle school years. But, Thomas quotes the National Council of Teachers of English on how the lingering emotional scars from “flunking a grade” linger: “Grade retention, the practice of holding students back to repeat a grade, does more harm than good:

  • “retaining students who have not met proficiency levels with the intent of repeating instruction is punitive, socially inappropriate, and educationally ineffective;
  • “basing retention on high-stakes tests will disproportionately and negatively impact children of color, impoverished children, English Language Learners, and special needs students; and
  • “retaining students is strongly correlated with behavior problems and increased drop-out rates.”

Here is what Thomas recommends instead: “States must absolutely respond to valid concerns about reading achievement by parents and other advocates; however, the historical and current policies and reforms have continued to fail students and not to achieve goals of higher and earlier reading proficiency by students, especially the most vulnerable students who struggle to read.” Specifically, Thomas urges policymakers to eliminate: “high-stakes policies (retention) around a single grade (3rd) and create a more nuanced monitoring process around a range of grades (3rd-5th) based on a diverse body of evidence (testing, teacher assessments, parental input)…. Remove punitive policies that label students and create policies that empower teachers and parents to provide instruction and support based on individual student needs.”

Kathryn Joyce of Salon has written one dynamite article after another about the movement to destroy public education. In this post, she writes that Florida was ranked # 1 in “educational freedom” by the far-right Heritage Foundation, which wants to privatize all schools. This is a brilliant, must-read article!

Arizona, which has pushed hard to expand charters and vouchers, came in a close second.

That claim, along with the fact that the list’s top 20 states are mostly deep “red” and its bottom 10 are almost all dark “blue,” might come as a surprise to education watchers who are familiar with more traditional assessments of education performance. But in the Heritage Foundation’s inaugural “Education Freedom Report Card,” the think tank is grading according to a different metric entirely: not things like average student funding, teacher salary or classroom size, but how easily state legislatures enable students to leave public schools; how lightly private schools and homeschooling are regulated; how active and welcome conservative parent-advocacy groups are; and how frequently or loudly those groups claim that schools are indoctrinating students….

In the category of education choice, Heritage’s primary focus is on education savings accounts(ESAs), a form of school voucher that allows parents to opt out of public schools and use a set amount of state funding (sometimes delivered via debit card) on almost any educational expenses they see fit. ESAs can be used towards charter schools, private schools, parochial schools and low-cost (and typically low-quality) “voucher schools,” as well as online schools, homeschooling expenses, unregulated “microschools” (where a group of parents pool resources to hire a private teacher) or tutoring. The report’s methodology also notes that the percentage of children in a state who attend these alternatives to public schools figures into its rankings, implying that families who choose traditional public schools are not considered examples of educational “freedom.” The “choice” category also awards points based on how non-public schools are regulated, docking states that require accreditation or the same level of testing mandated for public schools.

States can lose points if they have credentialed teachers and gain points if they let anyone without any credentials teach. They also lose points if they have good pension plans and unions. They gain points by having strong bans on “critical race theory” and gain points for teaching patriotic history.

What’s especially noteworthy about this report — which Heritage says it will release on an annual basis — is how closely most of its ranking criteria track with the right’s broader education agenda. Over the last few months, almost all the issues addressed in this report have been highlighted as key action items for conservative education reformers, from the promotion of ESAs, as a preferred pathway to universal school vouchers, to alternative teacher credentialing to the expansion of the anti-CRT movement, which now encompasses anything related to “diversity, equity and inclusion…”

Framing the report by invoking the libertarian economist [Milton] Friedman — who, over the course of his controversial career, proposed eliminating Social Security, the Food and Drug Administration, the licensing of doctors and more — is a telling choice. In a foundational 1955 essay, as Heritage notes, Friedman famously argued that “government-administered schooling” was incompatible with a freedom-loving society, and that public funding of education should be severed from public administration of it — which would end public education as the country had known it for generations…

“Friedman may have been an accomplished number-cruncher, but when it came to social issues, he was a crackpot,” said Carol Corbett Burris, executive director of the Network for Public Education. He claimed that “vouchers ‘would solve all of the critical problems’ faced by schools,” from discipline, to busing to segregation, Burris continued. “He presented no evidence, just claims based on his disdain for any government regulation….”

By 1980, Friedman was declaring that vouchers were merely a useful waypoint on the road to true education freedom, which would include revoking compulsory education laws. In 2006, shortly before his death, Friedman told an ALEC audience that it would be “ideal” to “abolish the public school system and eliminate all the taxes that pay for it.”

For Heritage to use Friedman as its ideological lodestar, public education advocates observe, makes clear what the report values most in the state education systems it’s ranking….

“The fact that the Heritage Foundation ranks Arizona second in the country, when our schools are funded nearly last in the nation, only underscores the depraved lens with which they view the world,” said Beth Lewis, director of the advocacy group Save Our Schools Arizona, which is currently leading a citizen ballot referendumagainst the state’s new universal ESA law. “Heritage boasting about realizing Milton Friedman’s dream reveals the agenda — to abolish public schools and put every child on a voucher in segregated schools….”

“With this report,” added Burris, “the Heritage Foundation puts its values front and forward — that schooling should be a free-for-all marketplace where states spend the least possible on educating the future generation of Americans, with no regulations to preserve quality.” It’s no accident, Burris added, that Heritage’s top two states, Florida and Arizona, were ranked as the worst on the Network for Public Education’s own report card this year.

Mercedes Schneider describes a new consulting team that is selling its services to states and districts. Most of its partners are protégés of Jeb Bush and learned his strategies of high-stakes testing, school choice, test-based accountability, and harsh treatment of teachers.

She writes:

Need help with your public or private business venture? Well, NY- and DC-based Ridge-Lane Limited Partners (LP) offers “venture development at the apex of public and private sector…”

Schneider reviews the bios of the firm’s principal actors, which are not reassuring.

She writes:

So, if you want to dip into some of this Ridge-Lane LP K12 “significant experience” (not in the classroom, mind you, but in Jeb Bush reforms, such as school grading, and Common Core, and PARCC, and pension funneling), then get your (or the taxpayer’s) proverbial checkbook ready so that these once state-ed superintendents can spin an income advising you out of those edu-dollars.

The Boss of bosses

Say this for Jeb Bush: he is not dissuaded by failure. No matter how many studies show the failure of vouchers, he doesn’t care. No matter how many studies show that charter schools do not get better results than public schools, he doesn’t care. No matter how many grifters have drained millions through privatization of schools, he doesn’t care. No matter how little evidence he has for any of his proposals, he still pushes them.

His ideas are old and tired and incoherent. But count on him to package them as fresh and innovative, which they are not.

He is the male counterpart to Betsy DeVos.

He just cares about destroying public schools.

He wrote recently in The Miami Herald:

Last month marked two years since the pandemic swept across the country, causing the largest disruption to our nation’s education system in modern history. But at last, this spring brings an academic revival of sorts. Schools are remaining open, mask mandates are disappearing and plexiglass dividers between students in their classrooms are coming down.

In the rush to return to normal, we owe it to our nation’s children to emerge from this pandemic transformed, not by going backwards, but ready to forge a better future for them with all we’ve learned.

Our starting point is challenging. Prior to the pandemic, America’s public schools were struggling to serve the needs of students, and since the pandemic, a study by McKinsey found students have fallen months behind as a result of school closures and disruptions. There were severe impacts on student mental health, too. Pew Charitable Trusts found students are reporting significantly increased levels of grief, anxiety and depression.

It’s also no surprise that there’s a growing distrust in public education. A survey by Ipsos found trust in teachers declined during the pandemic, and there’s been a subsequent decrease in the number of students enrolling in public school.

Those are serious setbacks, but there are reasons for optimism. The pandemic put a spotlight on a myriad of possibilities for the future of education. Notably, it illustrated a desperate need by families for a broadened ecosystem of options for their children, with funding flexibility to create more equity in choice. And it elevated the power of parents to blaze new educational pathways for their children.

The Associated Press recently reported that homeschooling remains a popular choice for parents, despite schools reopening. And, private schools and public charter schools have witnessed increased enrollment. But choice, in and of itself, isn’t enough. Policymakers must continue to seek new ways to unbundle education systems, transforming old approaches into new and better learning options.

In Indiana, lawmakers, led by House Speaker Todd Huston, took the first step toward creating the nation’s first “parent-teacher compact” law. This innovative policy would allow parents to directly hire teachers. Educators would continue to be paid by the state and receive their health and retirement benefits, but this policy would enable parents and educators to enter into a peer-to-peer relationship to benefit individual students, without the hurdle of a district middleman. This individualized approach to education would give educators more freedom, families more flexibility and individual students the personalized experience they may need.

As we unbundle education, we need to reimagine all aspects of how education is delivered to students. One approach is enacting new part-time enrollment policies. Right now, students are defined by the school in which they’re enrolled.

Lawmakers can improve the education experience by allowing students to have more flexibility, whereby a student can enroll in their local public school and easily access a portion of their education funding to also enroll part-time in a private school, with an online provider, or engage in another learning experience that benefits the child’s education.

Another approach that complements unbundling is rethinking education transportation options. Last year, Gov. Doug Ducey awarded $18 million in grants to modernize Arizona’s K-12 transportation system, including direct-to-family grants to help close transportation gaps. In Oklahoma this year, Gov. Kevin Stitt proposed changing Oklahoma’s school transportation funding formula to expand how public school buses can serve students. And Florida’s Legislature recently passed legislation to create a new $15 million transportation grant program that encourages districts to create innovate approaches to school transportation, including carpooling and ride sharing apps, for both school-of-choice families and traditional school students.

Those are just a few examples, and we must continually look for more ways to unbundle and reimagine education. The pandemic saw an explosion of families, in all communities and from all demographics, embrace micro schools, homeschooling and customized learning pods. Rather than trying to limit these families, we should give them access to direct funds to further personalize and benefit their child’s out-of-school learning experience.

That’s what Gov. Brad Little has championed in Idaho. In response to school closures in 2020, Little used federal emergency COVID relief funds to provide direct grants to families to support students who were no longer learning in school. And this year, Little signed the Empowering Parents Grant Program into law, giving qualifying families up to $3,000 to use for tutoring, educational material, digital devices or internet connectivity….

Transforming our nation’s education system and ensuring students receive the individualized experience to unlock potential and lifelong success require continual forward momentum, especially after two years of disruptions. We have to keep moving, keep reimagining, keep transforming. This commitment to excellence is a point of pride for Florida.

Last year, Florida’s Legislature passed some of the most significant improvements and expansions to the state’s school-choice programs. And this year, lawmakers strengthened the charter school law, expanded the Florida Empowerment scholarship program, created a new financial literacy requirement for high school graduates and ensured parents are better informed of their child’s progress through online diagnostic progress monitoring and end-of-year summative tests.

This Pied Piper plays a tune meant to deceive. Ignore him.

Billy Townsend reviews the tenure of Richard Corcoran as Florida’s State Commissioner of Education. His main qualification for the job, aside from his time as chair of the education committee in the state senate, is that he loathes public schools. He once said that he wanted to see every Florida student in a charter or voucher school.

Billy Townsend details his multiple failures. Be sure to open the link and read to the end. Watch the video, where Corcoran wrestles with his son on a brick floor, then throws him into the end of the pool, with the boy’s head barely missing the concrete coping. What an educator.

Townsend writes:

Florida Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran’s general leadership incompetence defines him far more than his trolling.

The Department of Education’s corrupt, ongoing institutional collapse under his three-ish years of leadership testifies to what he would have done (or will do) to any college or university foolish enough to make him a president.

Any “business” he might start that doesn’t grift public money or collect and/or spend other people’s political donations is going to fail — if he runs it.

But Corcoran did have two great talents in his short, happy public life:

  • Convincing powerful people to breathe some of their power on him.
  • Getting the weird Florida media to confuse trolling and leant power with actual power and leadership and capability.

More of the same, just with more trolling

It’s difficult to evaluate Corcoran’s record as Speaker of the House and Education Commissioner because he had no real governing goals or ideology beyond self-interest and the perception of personal dominance in the moment.

Just mesmerizing the child-like DeSantis into paying him $276K for three years is a massive personal victory for Corcoran. One has to acknowledge that.

But under Corcoran’s “leadership,” Florida continued Jeb Bush’s catastrophic, longstanding failures of student test score growth, if that’s what you care about. He continued to shovel tax money and tax-sheltered corporate money into Florida’s “Endtimes Academy” style voucher schools, ignoring the 60 percent 2-year drop out rate of our signature voucher program. And he continued to worsen Florida’s teacher and education worker capacity shortages by making education work as miserable and poorly paid as possible.

But in all that, Corcoran’s not special. He’s just a mainstream Florida leader who talks a little more trash. All of that education failure is openly tolerated and/or celebrated quietly by the private interests that actually run Florida — your Disneys and Publixes and FPLs.

Anybody else DeSantis would have appointed would have indulged the same neglect and general grifting. It’s the institutional story of the last 25 years. Until that changes, you’ll get the same institutional results.

Perhaps the DoE organization and building itselfwon’t be a rotten, corrupt cesspool with a more competent Jebbie in charge; but the Florida state system as a whole is America’s worst because institutional and governing power wants it to be. Corcoran doesn’t have much to do with that. He just looks to scavenge that reality for himself and his buddies.

Blogger Billy Townsend (Public Enemy #1) here summarizes the latest Florida education scandal.

Who is responsible for the widespread teaching exodus? Who demoralized America’s teachers, the professionals who work tirelessly for low wages in oftentimes poor working conditions? Who smeared and discouraged an entire profession, one of the noblest of professions?

Let’s see:

Federal legislation, including No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top.

George W. Bush; Margaret Spellings; Rod Paige (who likened the NEA to terrorists); the Congressional enablers of NCLB; Sandy Kress (the mastermind behind the harsh, punitive and ultimately failed NCLB).

Erik Hanushek, the economist who has long advocated for firing the teachers whose students get low test scores; the late William Sanders, the agricultural economist who created the methodology to rank teachers by their students’ scores; Raj Chetty, who produced a study with two other economists claiming that “one good teacher” would enhance the lifetime earnings of a class by more than $200,000; the reporters at the Los Angeles Times who dreamed up the scheme of rating teachers by student scores abd publishing their ratings, despite their lack of validity (one LA teacher committed suicide).

Davis Guggenheim, director of the deeply flawed “Waiting for Superman”; Bill Gates and his foundation, who funded the myth that the nation’s schools would dramatically improve by systematically firing low-ranking teachers (as judged by their students’ scores), funded “Waiting for Superman,” funded the Common Core, funded NBC’s “Education Nation,” which gave the public school bashers a national platform for a few days every year, until viewers got bored and the program died; and funded anything that was harmful to public schools and their teachers; President Obama and Arne Duncan, whose Race to the Top required states to evaluate teachers by their students’ scores and required states to adopt the Common Core and to increase the number of charter schools; Jeb Bush, for unleashing the Florida “model” of punitive accountability; and many more.

We now know that ranking teachers by their students’ test scores does not identify the best and the worst teachers. It is ineffective and profoundly demoralizing.

We now know that charter schools do not outperform public schools, as many studies and NAEP data show.

We now know that public schools are superior to voucher schools, and that the voucher schools have high attrition rates.

We now know that Teach for America is not a good substitute for well-prepared professional teachers.

Who did I leave out?

We have long known that students need experienced teachers and reasonable class sizes (ideally less than 25) to do their best.

Given the vitriolic attacks on teachers and public schools for more than 20 years, it almost seems as though there is a purposeful effort to demoralize teachers and replace them with technology.