Staffer fired for correcting a kid’s spelling

A student, “Nathan,” tweeted “Close school tammarow PLEASE” to Frederick County (Maryland) Public Schools.

Katie Nash, the district’s social media director, replied “but then how would you learn to spell ‘tomorrow’? :)”, reports the Frederick News-Post.

Image result for nash tweet schoolHow do you spell “stupid?”

The exchange was retweeted. District officials told Nash to stop tweeting. Then they fired her.

After only a few months on the job, she said, “I sort of would have expected that there would have been some counseling or some suggestions on how to improve.”

“Nathan,” who’d exchanged other tweets with Nash before she was shut down, told the News-Post he wasn’t offended.

S-t-u-p-i-d.

Via Reason.

Teachers like snow days too

In a paean to snow days, Mary Morris, who teaches at Rush Strong School in Strawberry Plains, Tenn., turns Adele’s “Hello” into “Snow.”

Technology is turning snow days into virtual school days in some districts, reports CNN.

King: Opportunity saves lives

Orphaned at the age of 12, John King “was fortunate that I had teachers and mentors who kept my life on the right path,” the outgoing Education secretary tells NPR’s Cory Turner.  “Schools and educational opportunities can save lives.”

His likely successor, Betsy DeVos, is a billionaire philanthropist educated in private schools. Like King, she helped found a public charter school, but that’s about the only parallel.

“What matters is beliefs and actions,” not “biography,” King says in the interview.

President Barack Obama and Education Secretary John King, Jr.

President Barack Obama and Education Secretary John King, Jr. Photo: Carlos Barria / Reuters

The new Education secretary should realize that “the department is a civil rights agency with a responsibility to protect the civil rights of students and to ensure that school is a safe and supportive place for all kids,” he says.

In his official “exit memo”, King brags about progress over the last eight years, writes Emily DeRuy in The Atlantic.

He starts with expanding access to preschool,” then “touts record high-school graduation rates, a reduction in what the administration dubbed ‘dropout factories,’ and the expansion of technology (as a tool for creating individualized learning plans) in classrooms.”

He lauds the fact that it has become easier to apply for federal financial aid to pay for college, and the development of a college “scorecard” to help students evaluate which colleges might be a good fit.

The bipartisan Every Student Succeeds Act, a revision of the main federal education law, “has a strong focus on underserved students,” King stresses. All students need “a quality education that prepares them for college and careers.”

Obama’s education legacy

What will be Obama’s lasting education legacy? asks PBS NewsHour.

“In President Obama’s first state of the union, he said . . . that every American needs at least one year of post-secondary training to succeed in today’s economy,” says Inside Higher Ed’s Scott Jaschik.

Congress “never touched” the president’s proposal for “free” community college, but “districts all over the country took the idea and ran with it,” he says.

President Obama scored some first-term “victories on teacher quality, academic standards, and school turnarounds,” writes Ed Week‘s Alyson Klein but second-term “backlash threatened the longevity of his signature initiatives and made it virtually impossible to enact similarly sweeping change in new areas, including early-childhood education.”

On the new administration’s way in the door, Obama and (Education Secretary Arne) Duncan were handed $100 billion for education, including more than $4 billion to push almost any K-12 policy they chose, thanks to the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, which was crafted to jump-start the stalled economy.

Obama and Duncan took the money—which came with few congressional strings—and . . . created the Race to the Top competition, which sought to reward states with grants of up to $700 million for embracing the president’s priorities on school turnarounds, tests, state data systems, and teacher evaluation based in part on student outcomes.

Obama’s Education Department used its financial clout to push states to adopt Common Core standards, undercutting its credibility as “state standards.”
Graduation rates are up. Reading and math scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress are down.

 Tired of school

Image result for apathetic students

“Academic apathy” is common in high school, writes Laura Handby Hudgens on The Federalist. She thinks  students are burning out in middle school.

“Up until sixth grade I had never made less than an A in any of my classes,” Leo told her. “By seventh grade, I was just tired. I just didn’t care anymore. I just quit trying.”

When her son started kindergarten, she “looked around his classroom and saw rows of tiny tables and chairs, but not a single toy. Where was the little kitchen with the miniature pots and pans? Where were the blocks?”

Fast-forward six years, and Johnny sounds a lot like Leo. On the one hand, he’s happy at school. He likes his friends, and he enjoys their time together at recess (all 15 minutes of it). Johnny thinks his teachers are cool. He rarely gets into trouble. He loves P.E.

 On the other hand, he dislikes actual school—the lessons, the homework, the constant rigor combined with a classroom full of apathetic peers.
By nature Johnny is inquisitive. He likes to learn. But the school day is hectic and exhausting. There’s little time for enjoying what he’s learned and even less time to enjoy being 12 years old. School has become a source of nearly constant frustration, and Johnny is tired. At the age of 12, Johnny is weary of school.
As a mother and a teacher, she thinks kids need more play, more recess, more sleep and age-appropriate instruction to avoid 12-year-old burn out.

Who is Betsy DeVos? What will she do? 

On the eve of confirmation hearings for Donald Trump’s nominee for Education secretary, American Federation of Teachers chief Randi Weingarten blasted Betsy DeVos as “the most anti-public education nominee” ever.

Betsy DeVos

Betsy DeVos

DeVos is a “fairly traditional, center-right education reformer,” not a radical, argues Michael Q. McShane in Education Next.

She “has a long history of supporting the kinds of accountability and school-choice policies that a broad swath of the education-reform community has championed over the last two decades,” he writes.

DeVos grew up in a wealthy family, then married an Amway heir. She and her husband, Dick DeVos, are major donors to Republican candidates and conservative causes, as well as to education, the arts, their community, etc.

As a whole, the DeVos family has given $1.33 billion to charity, according to Forbes’ list of America’s Top Givers of 2015.  That’s one-quarter of their current net worth, making them the “24th most-generous philanthropic family in the United States,” writes McShane.

DeVos’ interest in education reform was spared by a visit to The Potter’s House, a “Christ-centered” school that serves low-income students in Grand Rapids, she said in a 2013 interview with Philanthropy Roundtable. She and her husband started by funding private-school scholarships for low-income students, but worried about the many children who needed better schools.

Potter's HousePotter’s House school in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

“I’m most focused on educational choice,” she said. “But, thinking more broadly, what we are trying to do is tear down the mindset that assigns students to a school based solely on the ZIP Code of their family’s home. We advocate instead for as much freedom as possible.”

DeVos founded the pro-choice American Federation for Children, and the Great Lakes Education Project (GLEP), which advocates for “choice, quality and accountability” in Michigan.

Betsy and Dick DeVos also founded West Michigan Aviation Academy, a charter high school in Grand Rapids.

Some conservatives are dubious about DeVos, reports McShane. GLEP backed Common Core standards, when they were adopted by the Michigan State Board of Education in 2010.

“When governors such as John Engler, Mike Huckabee, and Mike Pence were driving the conversation on voluntary high standards driven by local voices, it all made sense,” writes DeVos on her web site. She abandoned the Core when the U.S. Education Department intervened, she claims.

Ed Week rounds up the nominee’s backers and detractors.

Update: DeVos’ confirmation hearings have been postponed by one week.

Take away the takeaway

Diana Senechal criticizes our cultural emphasis on takeaways, “the surety squeezed from things unsure,” in a TEDx talk.

Teachers must teach lessons with takeaways that will fit on a poster, she says. Bound to standards-linked objectives and student-centered teaching, they design vapid lessons.

For example, students might read Polonius’ advice to his son: “To thine own self be true, and it must follow, as the night the day, thou canst not then be false to any man.”

They spend days evaluating the usefulness of bits of advice, writing a rubric to evaluate advice, reading a non-fiction article (Common Core!) on giving advice, and, finally, creating an advice manual with a quote from Shakespeare and a quote from the non-fiction article. In five days, they never discuss the context of Polonius’ speech, says Senechal.

It sounds agonizingly boring, doesn’t it?

The author of Republic of Noise: The Loss of Solitude in Schools and Culture, Senechal created and taught the philosophy program at Columbia Secondary School in New York City. She’s working on a new book, Take Away The Takeaway.

U.S. schools get a slacker’s C

U.S. schools have a C average on Education Week‘s Quality Counts Report Card. There’s little change from last year in most categories.

Check out your state’s grade on the interactive map. (B’s are in blue, C’s in brown and D’s in orange.)

Massachusetts leads the nation once again with a B and a score of 86.5. New Jersey (85.6) is close behind, followed by Vermont (83.8), New Hampshire (83.4), Maryland (82.8), and Connecticut (82.7).

Nevada, which earned a D and a 65 score, did the worst. Other D states are Mississippi (65.8) and New Mexico (66.3).

Thirty-four states earned grades ranging from C- to C+.

My home states, California, earns a D+ for K-12 achievement, but boosts that to a C- with C grades in “chances for success” and B’s in “equity.” (If all schools are lousy, I guess they’re equitable.)

Here are highlights.

DeVos: Mainstream or monster?

Betsy DeVos, Donald Trump’s nominee for Education secretary, is a “pretty mainstream pick – though usual suspects on right & left of course are already going bonkers,” tweeted Andrew Rotherham. On Eduwonk, he added that DeVos is “within the mainstream of Republican thought on education.”

She’s not the elitist, racist, fundamentalist, public education-hating monster that opponents claim, writes Tyler O’Neill in PJ Media. She doesn’t hate public education or oppose all regulation of charter schools.

She doesn’t want to bring back “child labor.” (A staffer at a DeVos-funded institute argued for teens working “a few hours a week.”)

The challenge for DeVos is to “avoid the Beltway education trap,” Column write Jim Stergios and Charles Chieppo of the Boston-based Pioneer Institute in USA Today.

Only 10 percent of K-12 spending comes from the federal government, they write, yet education secretaries always want to run the whole show.

DeVos “isn’t an educator or an education leader,” writes Stephen Henderson of the Detroit Free Press, also on USA Today. “She’s not an expert in pedagogy or curriculum or school governance. In fact, she has no relevant credentials or experience for a job setting standards and guiding dollars for the nation’s public schools.”

I’m bothered by DeVos’ lack of experience with traditional public schools: She attended private schools and sent her children to private schools. She’s an education advocate — Henderson says “lobbyist” — but not an educator.

That’s surprisingly common: Of 10 Education secretaries, only three — Bell, Paige and — were former K-12 teachers.

Betsy DeVos is a Jeb Bush ally, reports Politico, which calls her appointment his “consolation prize.”

NYT gets it wrong on economists and vouchers

Free Market For Education: Economists Generally Don’t Buy It, claims Susan Dynarski, a University of Michigan education professor, in the Dec. 30 New York Times.

“Only a third of economists on the (University of) Chicago panel agreed that students would be better off if they all had access to vouchers to use at any private (or public) school of their choice,” she writes. “While economists are trained about the value of free markets, they are also trained to spot when markets can’t work alone and government intervention is required.”

Slate Star Codex’s Scott Alexander looked at the source, UC’s Initiative on Global Markets: Economic experts who have an opinion, support vouchers by a nearly two to one margin.

Check out the chart: 36 percent of economists agree vouchers would improve education, 19 percent disagree and 37 percent are uncertain. Weighted by the economists’ confidence, 41 percent back vouchers and 23 percent do not, while 35 percent are uncertain.

IGM redid the survey a year later in response to complaints that the question implied all students would benefit from vouchers, Alexander notes in a follow-up post. The new study asked whether vouchers would make most students better off.

With the new phrasing, 44 percent of economists backed vouchers, while only 5 percent disagreed. Weighted by confidence, half said vouchers would improve things; only 6 percent disagreed. Once again, many were uncertain.

I think this is very misleading reporting.