Archives for category: Education Reform

The New York Times reports that the public schools of New York City have been conducting random drug tests, and the results reveal a surprisingly small number of COVID-19 infections. The city might be a “national model.”

For months, as New York City struggled to start part-time, in-person classes, fear grew that its 1,800 public schools would become vectors of coronavirus infection, a citywide archipelago of super-spreader sites.

But nearly three weeks into the in-person school year, early data from the city’s first effort at targeted testing has shown the opposite: a surprisingly small number of positive cases.

Out of 15,111 staff members and students tested randomly by the school system in the first week of its testing regimen, the city has gotten back results for 10,676. There were only 18 positives: 13 staff members and five students.

And when officials put mobile testing units at schools near Brooklyn and Queens neighborhoods that have had new outbreaks, only four positive cases turned up — out of more than 3,300 tests conducted since the last week of September.

New York City is facing fears of a second wave of the virus brought on by localized spikes in Brooklyn and Queens, which have required new shutdown restrictions that included the closure of more than 120 public schools as a precaution, even though few people in them have tested positive.

But for now, at least, the sprawling system of public schools, the nation’s largest, is an unexpected bright spot as the city tries to recover from a pandemic that has killed more than 20,000 people and severely weakened its economy.

If students can continue to return to class, and parents have more confidence that they can go back to work, that could provide a boost to New York City’s halting recovery.

The absence of early outbreaks, if it holds, suggests that the city’s efforts for its 1.1 million public school students could serve as an influential model for school districts across the nation.

In September, New York became the first big urban district to reopen schools for in-person learning.

Roughly half of the city’s students have opted for hybrid learning, where they are in the building some days, but not others. The approach has enabled the city to keep class sizes small and create more space between desks.

Since then, large school districts across Florida have opened for in-person learning, too. Some wealthier districts in the New York suburbs declined to take this step, worried that it was too risky and logistically challenging.

The city’s success so far could put much more pressure on other districts that have opted for only remote instruction to start considering plans to bring their children back as well.

“That data is encouraging,” said Paula White, executive director of Educators for Excellence, a teachers group. “It reinforces what we have heard about schools not being super spreaders.”

So far, it is also good news for Mayor Bill de Blasio, who has staked much of his second-term legacy on reopening schools for in-person learning during the pandemic.

While public health experts said the data was encouraging, they also cautioned that it was still early.

In general, maintaining low levels of infection at schools would depend on how well New York City does in holding off a broader spread in the population.

Also, some experts have called for much more frequent random testing in all schools — something that city officials are considering — in order to increase the odds of discovering an outbreak early.

So far, most coronavirus testing for school workers has taken place at city-run sites outside the purview of the education department.

Out of 37,000 tests of staff members at city sites, 180 were positive, a city official said.

According to separate data reported to the state by local school districts, 198 public school students in New York City have tested positive since Sept. 8. (Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo in early September ordered those conducting coronavirus tests to collect school information on children, but so far compliance has been spotty, state officials said.)

The city’s new schools testing regimen, which began Oct. 9, calls for 10 to 20 percent of the school population to be tested once a month, depending on the size of the school. The city is applying this testing to its 1,600 traditional public schools; the city’s 260 charter schools are not included.

Some researchers have questioned the efficacy of that approach, saying it could miss a large outbreak.

“It’s great that New York City is doing some level of random testing,” said Dr. Ashish Jha, dean of the Brown University School of Public Health. “It’s not at the level that would be ideal.”

One study recommended testing half the students twice a month.

Michael Mulgrew, president of the teachers union, said the city is looking to increase testing to as much as three times a month citywide. Such frequency, he said, would be “much more valuable” in terms of keeping the virus in check…

A positive test of a student or teacher causes the city to spring into action. Under the rules, one case can cause the closure of a classroom. Two or more cases in separate parts of the same school can prompt a temporary schoolwide closure. At least 25 schools have temporarily closed since classes began. But only three were closed as of Friday…

A positive test of a student or teacher causes the city to spring into action. Under the rules, one case can cause the closure of a classroom. Two or more cases in separate parts of the same school can prompt a temporary schoolwide closure. At least 25 schools have temporarily closed since classes began. But only three were closed as of Friday.

Nancy Bailey checks in on Betsy DeVos and reports that she is still hating on the public schools that the overwhelming majority of American students attend. Moreover, she discovers that charter schools are taking advantage of the pandemic to market their class sizes. Wouldn’t every public school teacher like to have small class sizes? Of course. But it won’t happen without funding to make it possible.

She writes:

Meanwhile, in Baltimore, a public school teacher interviewed in a CNN reportmentions that she’s teaching 42 third-graders remotely.  She’s uncomplaining, smiling, and forging forward positively.

It’s wrong to showcase charter schools as innovative due to class size when public school teachers across the country are juggling huge numbers of students under serious conditions to help them learn.

Where’s DeVos? Of course, never having been a teacher, she cannot understand what it’s like to manage 42 students remotely or in-person. It’s not in the job description she has been permitted to design for herself.

Nor does she care. DeVos’s goal is to privatize. The pandemic gives her a chance to falsely make the public think that charters, private, and religious schools are on the frontline of the disease, and real public schools and their teacher unions don’t have what it takes.

But the pandemic doesn’t discriminate between schools, and the charter school report is problematic. Lowering class size is hardly an innovative experiment. It’s a choice. Those in charge make those choices.

Our wonderful reader Laura Chapman reports here on the origins of the laws that purport to measure teacher quality by the test scores of their students. The founding father of this methodology was the late William Sanders, an agricultural statistician who believed that the same productivity used to measure cows could be used to measure teachers. His ideas were adopted and promoted by Arne Duncan’s Race to the Top, which required states to adopt “value-added methodology” if they wanted to compete for a share of billions of federal dollars. The Gates Foundation also embraced test-based accountability. These methods proved to be ineffective at measuring teacher quality; they are inaccurate and demoralizing.


According to a 2019 report coauthored by Audrey Amrein-Beardsley, 15 states are still inflicting teacher evaluations by VAM (value added measures) and 28 are using the equally invalid process of writing up Student Learning Objectives (SLOs). SLOs require you to predict the end-of-year (or end of unit) achievements of students, among other ridicule-worthy feats. https://kappanonline.org/mapping-teacher-evaluation-plans-essa-close-amrein-beardsley-collins/

Vamboozled, the website of Audrey Amrein-Beardsley, is a great resource for anyone still being a victim of this method of estimating the “value you have added” to the test scores of your students.

But there is also a deeper and little known origin story for VAMs. That story was exposed to view in April, 2020, by Gene V. Glass, a Senior Researcher at the National Education Policy Center and a Regents’ Professor Emeritus from Arizona State University. Glass released a treasure trove of correspondence about VAM (value added measures), first used in education by the late William Sanders, an agricultural statistician. http://ed2worlds.blogspot.com/2020/04/an-archaeological-dig-for-vam.html

In his blog post “Archeological Dig for VAM,” Glass reveals how William Sanders borrowed statistical methods for calculating VAM, then began using those calculations to judge teacher productivity/quality, based on the test scores of their students, specifically in the Tennessee Value-Added Assessment System (TVAAS).

It turns out that Sanders’ TVAAS process (VAM) was “built on the formulation of the late C.R. Henderson, a Cornell statistician, a fellow in the American Statistical Association, known for his pioneering work in breeding animals, specifically herds of dairy cows. Henderson’s statistical methods of producing a “genetic evaluation of livestock have been widely accepted, utilized, and enhanced by animal breeders and statisticians.”

Until Henderson’s 1953 publication of “Estimation of variance and covariance components” in Biometrics,” no one had tackled the difficult problem of “estimating variance components from unbalanced data of cross-classified models, e.g., of milk production records of daughters of A.I. (Artificially Inseminated) sires in different herds – where sires are crossed with herds, and, for a large group of herds, each sire has daughters in many herds and each herd has daughters of many sires.” https://ecommons.cornell.edu/bitstream/handle/1813/31657/BU-1085-MA.pdf;sequence=1

If you have a background in statistics (mine is minimal and vintage), you may enjoy reading the extended “defense” of VAM/TVAAS by the late William Sanders who cites his debt to Henderson’s work. Sanders’ defense of using VAM with teachers and the test scores of their students is revealed in his answers to numerous questions from William Robert Saffold, Vanderbilt Institute for Public Policy Studies, who is well-informed about the results in TVASS in Tennessee and wanted more information to interpret the results of TVAAS for educators. The extended discussion reveals the many unwarranted assumptions Sanders made in constructing TVAAS.

I think the hoopla over the specifics of VAM (and SLO’s) is too often disconnected from the fact-based origin story on “how to cull herds of dairy cows to maximize their productivity.” VAMs and SLOs are designed to cull teachers based on their productivity in raising the test scores of their students.

Almost all of the accountability structures in education based on standardized test scores are designed to cull–select and discard–teachers who are not producing gains in test scores. In VAMs, test scores of students are not much different from measures of milk production, whether of individual teachers or the whole herd (school).

Some supporters of VAM’s are acting as if education geneticists. They seem to think that some teachers are destined to be more productive than others. They insist, for example, that Teach For America graduates with high GPA’s from selective colleges are good breeders of above average test scores in their students. Moreover, these potentially good breeders only need is a brief course in summer before they are ready to produce students who are high scorers on tests. That brief summer dose of instruction is analogous to providing artificial insemination in breeding females… or for males, perhaps a dose of Viagra.

VAMs and SLOs are flawed measured pushed by the Obama/Duncan administration’s Race to the Top. These measures are still present in many state ESSA plans. That may explain why Race to the Top testing resources are still available, even if developed under contract for Race to The Top by members of a “Reform Support Network.”

The Reform Support Network was nothing more than a huge marketing campaign for these flawed measures. Here, for example, is how they marketed SLOs as a substitute for subjects and grade levels for which there were no statewide standardized test scores for calculating VAM. One is the infamous collective measure where, as Diane notes, teachers “are assigned ratings for students they never taught in subjects they never taught.” https://www.engageny.org/sites/default/files/resource/attachments/rsn-slo-toolkit.pdf

Madeline Will wrote in Education Week that many states plan to resume teacher evaluations, despite the pandemic and the difficulties of teaching remotely and/or in-person. Some will incorporate student test scores, which is absurd. Many teachers believe this is unfair, since teaching conditions are adverse. Unfortunately, Will relied on the “National Council on Teacher Quality” for its “expertise.” This is an organization launched by the conservative Thomas B. Fordham Foundation that has no professional credibility and that issues an annual rating of teacher education programs based on its reading of course catalogues and on whether the programs offer instruction in Common Core, for example.

The best authority on VAM in the nation is Audrey Amrein-Beardsley of Arizona State University, who earned her Ph.D. as a student of David Berliner and Gene Glass. She has written the definitive studies of test-based teacher evaluation. Her blog VAMboozled! is the go-to place for updates on this fraudulent evaluation method.

If Joe Biden is elected, one of the first things his Secretary of Education should do is to give blanket waivers are annual federal testing in grades 3-8 and urge states to eliminate any teacher evaluations based on test scores. Test-based teacher evaluations were enacted into state law solely to qualify for a chance to win some share of the billions attached to Race to the Top. Ten years ago, the research on value-added assessment (VAM) was almost non-existent but then Secretary Arne Duncan insisted on its validity. In the past decade, VAM has proven to be unreliable, invalid and unstable. Every state should repeal the laws they passed at Duncan’s urging.

Will reports:

For many teachers, stress levels are at an all-time high this year, as they navigate remote lessons, socially distanced classrooms, or a combination of the two. And there’s yet another looming stressor: teacher evaluations.

“You would think that given everything that’s changing and everything that’s brand new to teachers, that they would have figured out a way to skip a year,” said Kristin Brown, a high school math and computer science teacher in Wisconsin. As a teacher, she added, you shouldn’t have to “defend yourself and prove that you’re an effective educator in a pandemic.” 

In the spring, nearly half of states eased evaluation requirements or issued flexibility or guidance for school districts, and teachers’ unions are arguing for more of that as the coronavirus pandemic rages on.

So far, at least 17 states have released guidance on teacher evaluations this year, according to an analysis by the National Council on Teacher Quality. Most states are still requiring teacher evaluations in some capacity, although Mississippi has suspended the requirement for districts to submit annual employee performance data, and Illinois has told districts they will not be penalized if they don’t conduct summative evaluations this year.

While some administrators and other experts say evaluations and observations are crucial to providing valuable feedback and support, many teachers say it’s unfair to make potentially high-stakes job-performance decisions when they’re navigating new technologies, adjusting to different methods of teaching, and trying to reach students who might not have reliable internet access or stability at home. They worry that evaluations this year, particularly those that include student growth data, won’t be reflective of teachers’ abilities, since students’ lives and learning have been so disrupted.

Shannon Holston, the director for teacher policy at NCTQ, said she expects more states to release guidance in the coming weeks. For those that have already, “it seems a number of states understand that this is not a normal year and have tried to adjust requirements for evaluations while still really focusing on the observation and feedback component,” Holston said. 

For example, Colorado and Ohio will not incorporate student growth data in teacher evaluations at all this school year. And districts in Connecticut and Oregon can use social and emotional learning or student engagement measures in evaluations this year instead of academic measures to show student growth. 

Massachusetts has streamlined its evaluation rubric to focus on six priorities, and Washington state has reduced the number of criteria required for comprehensive evaluations from eight to two. The rest of the evaluation score will be based on the teacher’s previous score...

New Jersey had to tweak its student growth percentile formula because there were no statewide assessments last year from which to collect data. Instead, teachers and administrators this year are responsible for setting goals for students and assessing whether they’ve met those goals by the end of the year. This objective will make up 15 percent of teachers’ evaluation rating, while the observations or the portfolio of practice will make up the remaining 85 percent...

A new law in Indiana says that schools are no longer required to use state test scores when evaluating teachers. But Indiana State Teachers Association President Keith Gambill said he has heard some districts are still planning to use test scores this year—which the union is against. Gambill said local associations will be working with those districts to try to eliminate test scores from evaluations...

Teachers are limited with how they can react to unexpected challenges during remote classes, said Gambill, of the Indiana state teachers’ union.

“If technology freezes or there’s an issue with connectivity, that’s not something you can course-correct for in the same way you could if everyone is in person,” he said. 

Teachers say they welcome coaching and feedback. [Monise] Seward [a special education teacher in Georgia] said she’d find it more helpful to have another teacher observe her class, so she can get feedback from someone who’s currently in the trenches with remote instruction. Mostly, Brown said, teachers want to be afforded professional trust that they’re doing their best possible work under challenging circumstances.

“The sentiment out there is that teachers are drowning, and day to day we might have our heads above water for a little bit of time, but the next minute we’re gasping for air,” she said. “What can I give up, and what can I do differently, so that I’m always above water? Once we’re in this for a while, we’ll get a routine going. Just let us get our feet under us before jumping in.”

The New York Times published this editorial for its Sunday edition, accompanied by articles detailing the multiple failures of Donald Trump. This is my favorite line: “the lesson of the last four years is that he cannot solve the nation’s pressing problems because he is the nation’s most pressing problem.” The title of the editorial is: “End Our National Crisis: The Case Against Donald Trump.”

Donald Trump’s re-election campaign poses the greatest threat to American democracy since World War II.

Mr. Trump’s ruinous tenure already has gravely damaged the United States at home and around the world. He has abused the power of his office and denied the legitimacy of his political opponents, shattering the norms that have bound the nation together for generations. He has subsumed the public interest to the profitability of his business and political interests. He has shown a breathtaking disregard for the lives and liberties of Americans. He is a man unworthy of the office he holds.

The editorial board does not lightly indict a duly elected president. During Mr. Trump’s term, we have called out his racism and his xenophobia. We have critiqued his vandalism of the postwar consensus, a system of alliances and relationships around the globe that cost a great many lives to establish and maintain. We have, again and again, deplored his divisive rhetoric and his malicious attacks on fellow Americans. Yet when the Senate refused to convict the president for obvious abuses of power and obstruction, we counseled his political opponents to focus their outrage on defeating him at the ballot box.

Nov. 3 can be a turning point. This is an election about the country’s future, and what path its citizens wish to choose.

The resilience of American democracy has been sorely tested by Mr. Trump’s first term. Four more years would be worse.

But even as Americans wait to vote in lines that stretch for blocks through their towns and cities, Mr. Trump is engaged in a full-throated assault on the integrity of that essential democratic process. Breaking with all of his modern predecessors, he has refused to commit to a peaceful transfer of power, suggesting that his victory is the only legitimate outcome, and that if he does not win, he is ready to contest the judgment of the American people in the courts or even on the streets.

[Kathleen Kingsbury, acting editorial page editor, wrote about the editorial board’s verdict on Donald Trump’s presidency in a special edition of our Opinion Today newsletter. You can read it here.]

The enormity and variety of Mr.Trump’s misdeeds can feel overwhelming. Repetition has dulled the sense of outrage, and the accumulation of new outrages leaves little time to dwell on the particulars. This is the moment when Americans must recover that sense of outrage.

It is the purpose of this special section of the Sunday Review to remind readers why Mr. Trump is unfit to lead the nation. It includes a series of essays focused on the Trump administration’s rampant corruption, celebrations of violence, gross negligence with the public’s health and incompetent statecraft. A selection of iconic images highlights the president’s record on issues like climate, immigration, women’s rights and race. And alongside our judgment of Mr. Trump, we are publishing, in their own words, the damning judgments of men and women who had served in his administration.

The urgency of these essays speaks for itself. The repudiation of Mr. Trump is the first step in repairing the damage he has done. But even as we write these words, Mr. Trump is salting the field — and even if he loses, reconstruction will require many years and tears.

Mr. Trump stands without any real rivals as the worst American president in modern history. In 2016, his bitter account of the nation’s ailments struck a chord with many voters. But the lesson of the last four years is that he cannot solve the nation’s pressing problems because he is the nation’s most pressing problem.

He is a racist demagogue presiding over an increasingly diverse country; an isolationist in an interconnected world; a showman forever boasting about things he has never done, and promising to do things he never will.

He has shown no aptitude for building, but he has managed to do a great deal of damage. He is just the man for knocking things down.

As the world runs out of time to confront climate change, Mr. Trump has denied the need for action, abandoned international cooperation and attacked efforts to limit emissions.

He has mounted a cruel crackdown on both legal and illegal immigration without proposing a sensible policy for determining who should be allowed to come to the United States.

Obsessed with reversing the achievements of his immediate predecessor, Barack Obama, he has sought to persuade both Congress and the courts to get rid of the Affordable Care Act without proposing any substitute policy to provide Americans with access to affordable health care. During the first three years of his administration, the number of Americans without health insurance increased by 2.3 million — a number that has surely grown again as millions of Americans have lost their jobs this year.

He campaigned as a champion of ordinary workers, but he has governed on behalf of the wealthy. He promised an increase in the federal minimum wage and fresh investment in infrastructure; he delivered a round of tax cuts that mostly benefited rich people. He has indiscriminately erased regulations, and answered the prayers of corporations by suspending enforcement of rules he could not easily erase. Under his leadership, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has stopped trying to protect consumers and the Environmental Protection Agency has stopped trying to protect the environment.

He has strained longstanding alliances while embracing dictators like North Korea’s Kim Jong-un and Russia’s Vladimir Putin, whom Mr. Trump treats with a degree of warmth and deference that defies explanation. He walked away from the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a strategic agreement among China’s neighbors intended to pressure China to conform to international standards. In its place, Mr. Trump has conducted a tit-for-tat trade war, imposing billions of dollars in tariffs — taxes that are actually paid by Americans — without extracting significant concessions from China.

Mr. Trump’s inadequacies as a leader have been on particularly painful display during the coronavirus pandemic. Instead of working to save lives, Mr. Trump has treated the pandemic as a public relations problem. He lied about the danger, challenged the expertise of public health officials and resisted the implementation of necessary precautions; he is still trying to force the resumption of economic activity without bringing the virus under control.

As the economy pancaked, he signed an initial round of aid for Americans who lost their jobs. Then the stock market rebounded and, even though millions remained out of work, Mr. Trump lost interest in their plight.

In September, he declared that the virus “affects virtually nobody” the day before the death toll from the disease in the United States topped 200,000.

Nine days later, Mr. Trump fell ill.

The foundations of American civil society were crumbling before Mr. Trump rode down the escalator of Trump Tower in June 2015 to announce his presidential campaign. But he has intensified the worst tendencies in American politics: Under his leadership, the nation has grown more polarized, more paranoid and meaner.

He has pitted Americans against each other, mastering new broadcast media like Twitter and Facebook to rally his supporters around a virtual bonfire of grievances and to flood the public square with lies, disinformation and propaganda. He is relentless in his denigration of opponents and reluctant to condemn violence by those he regards as allies. At the first presidential debate in September, Mr. Trump was asked to condemn white supremacists. He responded by instructing one violent gang, the Proud Boys, to “stand back and stand by.”

He has undermined faith in government as a vehicle for mediating differences and arriving at compromises. He demands absolute loyalty from government officials, without regard to the public interest. He is openly contemptuous of expertise.

And he has mounted an assault on the rule of law, wielding his authority as an instrument to secure his own power and to punish political opponents. In June, his administration tear-gassed and cleared peaceful protesters from a street in front of the White House so Mr. Trump could pose with a book he does not read in front of a church he does not attend.

The full scope of his misconduct may take decades to come to light. But what is already known is sufficiently shocking:

He has resisted lawful oversight by the other branches of the federal government. The administration routinely defies court orders, and Mr. Trump has repeatedly directed administration officials not to testify before Congress or to provide documents, notably including Mr. Trump’s tax returns.

With the help of Attorney General William Barr, he has shielded loyal aides from justice. In May, the Justice Department said it would drop the prosecution of Mr. Trump’s former national security adviser Michael Flynn even though Mr. Flynn had pleaded guilty to lying to the F.B.I. In July, Mr. Trump commuted the sentence of another former aide, Roger Stone, who was convicted of obstructing a federal investigation of Mr. Trump’s 2016 election campaign. Senator Mitt Romney, Republican of Utah, rightly condemned the commutation as an act of “unprecedented, historic corruption.”

Last year, Mr. Trump pressured the Ukrainian government to announce an investigation of his main political rival, Joe Biden, and then directed administration officials to obstruct a congressional inquiry of his actions. In December 2019, the House of Representatives voted to impeach Mr. Trump for high crimes and misdemeanors. But Senate Republicans, excepting Mr. Romney, voted to acquit the president, ignoring Mr. Trump’s corruption to press ahead with the project of filling the benches of the federal judiciary with young, conservative lawyers as a firewall against majority rule.

Now, with other Republican leaders, Mr. Trump is mounting an aggressive campaign to reduce the number of Americans who vote and the number of ballots that are counted.

The president, who has long spread baseless charges of widespread voter fraud, has intensified his rhetorical attacks in recent months, especially on ballots submitted by mail. “The Nov 3rd Election result may NEVER BE ACCURATELY DETERMINED,” he tweeted. The president himself has voted by mail, and there is no evidence to support his claims. But the disinformation campaign serves as a rationale for purging voter rolls, closing polling places, tossing absentee ballots and otherwise impeding Americans from exercising the right to vote.

It is an intolerable assault on the very foundations of the American experiment in government by the people.

Other modern presidents have behaved illegally or made catastrophic decisions. Richard Nixon used the power of the state against his political opponents. Ronald Reagan ignored the spread of AIDS. Bill Clinton was impeached for lying and obstruction of justice. George W. Bush took the nation to war under false pretenses.

Mr. Trump has outstripped decades of presidential wrongdoing in a single term.

Frederick Douglass lamented during another of the nation’s dark hours, the presidency of Andrew Johnson, “We ought to have our government so shaped that even when in the hands of a bad man, we shall be safe.” But that is not the nature of our democracy. The implicit optimism of American democracy is that the health of the Republic rests on the judgment of the electorate and the integrity of those voters choose.

Mr. Trump is a man of no integrity. He has repeatedly violated his oath to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.

Now, in this moment of peril, it falls to the American people — even those who would prefer a Republican president — to preserve, protect and defend the United States by voting.

After watching Rachel Maddow on MSNBC on Friday night, I stay tuned for a documentary called “As I See It.” It is a great show and I urge you to look for it as it will likely be repeated.

It’s the story of Pete Souza, the White House photographer for Ronald Reagan and Barack Obama. Lots of unscripted moments with both, behind the scenes banter, intimate photos.

When Pete starts talking about Obama, he shows pictures that bring back vivid memories: Obama playing with his daughters. Obama bending down so a little black boy could touch his hair and see it was just like his. Obama visiting with families two days after the Sandy Hook massacre, hugging a bereft mother. Obama addressing the nation about the slaughter of 6-year-olds and wiping tears from his eyes. Obama at the Charleston church where Dylan Roof murdered the minister and members of a prayer group, speaking to a packed house and singing “Amazing Grace.” Obama meeting with the families of military who died in combat and sharing their grief.

What comes through strongly is that we have a president right now who is incapable of empathy, incapable of consoling a grieving parent, incapable of bantering with a child, incapable of any human feeling.

it is a very moving documentary and I urge you to find it and watch it. It reminds us of what compassion, intelligence, and humor in the White House looks like.

I think Trump is an Android. Or is that an insult to Androids?

A recent state audit of Epic Charter Schools documented many financial problems. As a result, the state’s Virtual Charter School Board has initiated a contract termination process in which Epic will have a chance to present its case against closure. The board voted 3-1.

The one board member who voted no was Phyllis Shepherd. It turns out that she is related to the founder of the Epic charter school. She had wished him “happy birthday” and “happy anniversary” on social media posts and signed it “Aunt Phyllis.”

One member of the board was missing:

Absent at Tuesday’s meeting was board member Mathew Hamrick, who was censured and stripped of his seat on a newly formed audit committee by a majority vote of his fellow board members in September.

Hamrick was accused of intentionally avoiding public votes by the board in 2019 and 2020 on matters seeking to unmask Epic’s use of tens of millions of taxpayer dollars to date budgeted for student learning that Epic, the largest online school operator, is keeping private and for going rogue on the board’s official position in a legal battle over Epic Charter Schools’ spending records.

In late July, Hamrick signed an affidavit on behalf of Epic’s for-profit operator, which is shielding Epic’s Learning Fund spending records — and in direct opposition to the official position of the Statewide Virtual Charter School Board.

Hamrick ran for Senate District 45 during a 2017 special election but was defeated in the Republican primary. Records from the Oklahoma Ethics Commission show that Epic co-founder and co-owner of Epic Youth Services charter school management company David Chaney contributed to Hamrick’s 2017 campaign.

On Monday, the Oklahoma State Board of Education, which accredits all public schools in Oklahoma, voted unanimously to demand back $11.2 million in taxpayer funds based on the investigative audit by the State Auditor and Inspector’s Office.

Peter Greene writes about a new push to expand charters in Maine by the same-old group that has failed in the past to disrupt the state’s devotion to public schools. Wake up, Maine! Don’t be fooled. They want you to divert money from public schools to privately managed schools run by entrepreneurs and corporate chains.

He begins:

Maine has suffered through its own brands of education disruption. Most notably, they became the target for a bunch folks who wanted to use Maine as a proof of concept state for proficiency based learning grafted onto standards based grading. At best they showed that a poorly implemented and underfunded disruption of this sort is disastrous; at worst, they showed that re-organizing education around the needs of data miners is a terrible idea. However you slice it, Maine’s little experiment failed hard.

But what education in Maine hasn’t had to deal with much is the rise of charter schools. The charter industry hasn’t infected Maine as badly as, say, Ohio or Indiana. There are ten charters, with fewer than a total of 3,000 students enrolled. There are plenty of possible explanations, not the least of which is that once you get away from Theme Park Maine on the coast, Maine is pretty rural (I have an old friend who used to describe his central Maine high school as fifteen miles and an hour and a half away from the nearest rival). But that limited role for charteristas may be about to change.

Like every state where charters are legal, Maine has a group that promotes, advocates, lobbies and generally cheerleads for the charter industry– the Maine Association for Charter Schools, whose stated purpose is to promote “high-quality options for all children within Maine’s public education system.” But last year the legislature indefinitely extended a charter school cap

So what’s a chartery education disruption group to do? 

How about renaming yourself? And rebranding yourself with a whole new mission by declaring yourself the leaders of the state’s education community?

So let’s meet a fun new group launched just a few months ago. It’s the Education Action Forum of Maine and it is, well– from their About Us page:

The Education Action Forum of Maine operated for twenty years as the Maine Association for Charter Schools. On June 17, 2020, the MACS board voted to change the name and expand its mission to adapt to the realities influencing the education landscape in Maine.Think of them as the Pandemic Down East Opportunist Society. Also from their About Us…

The time is ripe for an organization, such as ours, to provide leadership to assist the education system to move forward safely, and to develop strategies to restructure the system in ways unimaginable before the pandemic struck. 
It takes its “inspiration” from “analogous” groups like the Mind Trust of Indianapolis and Education Evolving in Minnesota. I’ve written about the Mind Trust before (you can read about them here and here), and they are the same old disruptor model. Declare the public schools a mess, and then declare yourself “leaders” in the education space by virtue of the fact that 1) you say so and 2) you have collected some money and political connections. Mind Trust was, in fact, saying a couple of years ago that they wanted to scale up their model to other states. 

So when EAFoM says that they are “designed to amplify the voices of families, students and teachers,” you can take that with a few tons of salt. When they talk about “restructuring the education system,” assume they mean dismantling and privatizing the public system. And when they say they are looking to develop some “critical partnerships,” pay attention to the people they partner with.

Steve Hinnefeld, a regular commentator on education in Indiana, regrets that Amy Coney Barrett was not asked about vouchers during her hearings.

He notes that she served on the board of a Catholic school in Indiana that received state voucher funds and that openly discriminated against same-sex families.

Barrett served from 2015-17 on the board of Trinity School at Greenlawn, a South Bend Catholic school, the New York Times reported. Trinity had a policy during Barrett’s time on the board that effectively prohibited same-sex couples from enrolling their children in the school, according to the Times.

That would seem to cast doubt on Barrett’s claim in her confirmation hearing that she had “never discriminated on the basis of sexual preference” and would not do so. It also raises policy questions about whether publicly funded institutions should practice discrimination.

A government agency that has long been trusted as nonpartisan relies on public trust for the information it releases. When that agency is the Centers for Disease Control, public trust is essential to persuading the public that its advisories represent the work of scientists, unaffected by political considerations. This article by ProPublica describes how the Trump administration persistently interfered in CDC guidelines in an attempt to convince the public that the pandemic was no big deal and that the administration was doing a fabulous job in handling it.

It begins:

At 7:47 a.m. on the Sunday of Memorial Day weekend, Dr. Jay Butler pounded out a grim email to colleagues at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta.

Butler, then the head of the agency’s coronavirus response, and his team had been trying to craft guidance to help Americans return safely to worship amid worries that two of its greatest comforts — the chanting of prayers and singing of hymns — could launch a deadly virus into the air with each breath.

The week before, the CDC had published its investigation of an outbreak at an Arkansas church that had resulted in four deaths. The agency’s scientific journal recently had detailed a superspreader event in which 52 of the 61 singers at a 2½-hour choir practice developed COVID-19. Two died.

Butler, an infectious disease specialist with more than three decades of experience, seemed the ideal person to lead the effort. Trained as one of the CDC’s elite disease detectives, he’d helped the FBI investigate the anthrax attacks, and he’d led the distribution of vaccines during the H1N1 flu pandemic when demand far outstripped supply.

But days earlier, Butler and his team had suddenly found themselves on President Donald Trump’s front burner when the president began publicly agitating for churches to reopen. That Thursday, Trump had announced that the CDC would release safety guidelines for them “very soon.” He accused Democratic governors of disrespecting churches, and deemed houses of worship “essential services.”

Butler’s team rushed to finalize the guidance for churches, synagogues and mosques that Trump’s aides had shelved in April after battling the CDC over the language. In reviewing a raft of last-minute edits from the White House, Butler’s team rejected those that conflicted with CDC research, including a worrisome suggestion to delete a line that urged congregations to “consider suspending or at least decreasing” the use of choirs.

On Friday, Trump’s aides called the CDC repeatedly about the guidance, according to emails. “Why is it not up?” they demanded until it was posted on the CDC website that afternoon.

The next day, a furious call came from the office of the vice president: The White House suggestions were not optional. The CDC’s failure to use them was insubordinate, according to emails at the time.

Fifteen minutes later, one of Butler’s deputies had the agency’s text replaced with the White House version, the emails show. The danger of singing wasn’t mentioned.

Early that Sunday morning, as Americans across the country prepared excitedly to return to houses of worship, Butler, a churchgoer himself, poured his anguish and anger into an email to a few colleagues.

“I am very troubled on this Sunday morning that there will be people who will get sick and perhaps die because of what we were forced to do,” he wrote.

When the next history of the CDC is written, 2020 will emerge as perhaps the darkest chapter in its 74 years, rivaled only by its involvement in the infamous Tuskegee experiment, in which federal doctors withheld medicine from poor Black men with syphilis, then tracked their descent into blindness, insanity and death.

With more than 216,000 people dead this year, most Americans know the low points of the current chapter already. A vaunted agency that was once the global gold standard of public health has, with breathtaking speed, become a target of anger, scorn and even pity.

How could an agency that eradicated smallpox globally and wiped out polio in the United States have fallen so far?

ProPublica obtained hundreds of emails and other internal government documents and interviewed more than 30 CDC employees, contractors and Trump administration officials who witnessed or were involved in key moments of the crisis. Although news organizations around the world have chronicled the CDC’s stumbles in real time, ProPublica’s reporting affords the most comprehensive inside look at the escalating tensions, paranoia and pained discussions that unfolded behind the walls of CDC’s Atlanta headquarters. And it sheds new light on the botched COVID-19 tests, the unprecedented political interference in public health policy, and the capitulations of some of the world’s top public health leaders.

Senior CDC staff describe waging battles that are as much about protecting science from the White House as protecting the public from COVID-19. It is a war that they have, more often than not, lost.

Please open the link and read it all.