Thursday, February 22, 2018

Coleman's College Board Hits a New Low

Most folks looked at the mass murders of students and faculty at Marjory Stoneman Douglass High and saw an unspeakable horror, a moment for national mourning and action. Unfortunately, some looked at it and saw a call to defend gun ownership against people who dared to think that human lives are more important than gun ownership. 

And then there's David Coleman's College Board. Somebody there looked at the loss of life in Florida and saw, apparently, a marketing opportunity.

Wednesday, the College Board reportedly sent out an email to admissions leaders over the signature of College Board president (and Common Core architect) David Coleman. 

"The shootings in Florida reverberate throughout our halls, hearts and minds," the letter begins. Then it gets down to business. Coleman (or whoever wrote the letter-- I'll give him the benefit of that doubt) goes on to praise the speech by Emma Gonzalez, noting that "One of the things that makes Emma's speech so striking is that is infused with references to her AP Government class" AP tests, and the AP classes that lead up to them, are a product of the College Board.

Coleman (or someone) also praises David Hogg whose "words honor Advanced Placement teachers everywhere, for they reflect their power to open worlds and futures to readers." 

But just in case you worried that the Coleman and hi company are advocating the kind of crazy radical ideas that those AP-infused students actually expressed--

I do not write today to endorse Emma's every word; her speech may have benefited from a less partisan approach and an attempt to better understand the positions of gun rights proponents.

So the letter not only tries to use the students as advertising props, but it simultaneously criticizes them and undercuts their position. 

The letter hit twitter along with the less-than-impressed reactions of some admissions officers. 

I've seldom seen something in poorer taste.

In all seriousness, who are the individuals at the @CollegeBoard that wrote and approved the sending of this message?! Absolutely disgusted with bthis horrible judgment.

It's an astonishingly lousy moment for the College Board; I'm not sure who needs to be fired and what kind of apology needs to be issued, but something sure needs to happen. We'll see if somebody there has enough sense to figure out what to do next.

[Update: Somebody did. An apology of sorts followed, although not from David Coleman himself, which adds fuel to the notion that he did indeed write the spectacularly bad original note. Which would not be a surprise.]

Florida Legislators Might Be The Worst People in America

About fifteen years ago, I was the president of our local teachers union. We were on strike. It was not fun. But the most not-fun part about it was the number of people-- many strangers, but also friends and neighbors and even former students-- went out of their way to call me or look me in my eye and tell me just how little they value the work that I do, just how much they don't care about the school and the people who work in it.

It's not like any of it was news to me. But it's one thing to kind of know, somewhere in the background, that your work is not valued, that you are not valued. It's another to look that dark straight in the face.

I've thought about that in the last few days, along with my thoughts of the young people across Florida and the rest of the country. I think, for instance, of this picture:

That's a photo of some students watching the Florida legislature send a clear message, and the message was, "Your friends and classmates are dead, and while you may want that death to mean something, thereby giving their too-short lives some meaning and value, we reject all of it. We don't care. You don't matter. Your dead friends don't matter. We aren't even going to talk about it." They could, however, consider a bill that dealt with the evils of pornography. One GOP lawmaker noted

a connection between pornography use and mental and physical illnesses, forming and maintaining intimate relationships and deviant sexual behavior

No word if any Florida legislators had discovered any connection between mental illness and holding a weapon of war while shooting a bunch of innocent civilians.

This goes beyond the mockery of an ass like Dinesh D'Souza or Ben Shapiro, who apparently believes that only he was given the gift of wisdom at age 17.  This is beyond the attacks by the morons who claim this is all an act, that these grieving teens are crisis actors (as if that's even a thing in the first place).

It was more closely expressed by the poster on social media who stated bluntly, "My right to own a gun matters more to me than your dead child." Except that, of course, what's pouring out right now is being addressed directly to the children themselves. If it were, it would come out more directly in something like, "Some day someone may decide to shoot you dead, and I don't care. You can go die, as long as I get to keep my guns."

In many ways, there is no news here. Not in Florida, where the legislature has also been busy gutting public education  some more so that private operators can have a better shot at making money by operating education-flavored businesses (while giving a boost to car sales-- I'm not kidding). Florida's legislator has shown in so many many many many many many ways that there is such a very long list of things that they care about more than they care about the education, health and well-being of children. Remaining unmoved and unconcerned about the actual deaths of those children is not a huge leap, or even a big step.

This has not been about, "We share your concerns, even as we have different ideas about how to best address them." This has been "Your blood might be the cost of freedom, and we're okay with that."

This is my biggest worry for these students-- that being forced to confront how little they matter in the political calculus of their elected leaders will be too hard to bear. But this is where we are-- our students face an unthinkable trauma, a horror that most of us can't even imagine, and as they stand up and cry out in their grief, a sizable slice of our state and national leaders belittle them as fakers and dupes, and another sizable slice looks at their grief and says, "You just aren't all that important to us."

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

It Shouldn't Make Any Difference

You may have heard this in a discussion of education policy in general, or if you're a teacher, you may have heard it in internal discussions of curriculum and instruction.

It shouldn't make any difference.

It shouldn't make any difference which teacher you have. It shouldn't make any difference who teaches that course. It shouldn't make any difference if we have to replace you with a new hire next year, or next week, or tomorrow.

It's a variation on the dream of the teacher-proof classroom, a hope for standardization so rigorous that individual teachers can be switched like cogs in a machine or bricks in a wall. And it's wrong. Really wrong.

It is a call to bland mediocrity. Anything that sticks out about a particular teacher, anything that they do better than their peers, anything that is a special strength they bring to the table-- those things must all be lopped out and ground down, because they would be a difference. Do you (like my colleague) teach a unit centered around reading Paradise Lost and putting John Milton on trial in front of a jury of local attorneys and educators? Well, not any teacher who stepped into your job could pull that off, so that unit should not be part of your class.

Are you someone with a particular gift for teaching writing? Well, knock it off-- if you are going to deliver the prescribed, aligned curriculum with fidelity, then you can devote no more or less time to that material than anyone else in the department.

You might remember a time when schools were staffed by a veritable Avengers roster of teachers-- each with her own special power, special field of expertise, special style. It was, in fact, one of the most effective ways to provide school choice-- by having a wide variety of teachers under one roof, so that students could find a good fit without having to leave their friends or their neighborhood schools behind.

In truth, such schools still exist. But they are not the dream of many education "leaders."

Instead, the dream is a cookie cutter school, a school where the scope and sequence are set in stone, bought in a box, or meant to be executed with extreme fidelity. If it's Tuesday, this must be adverbs.

Some school "leaders" will insist they don't want to stamp out differences between teachers. "No. of course not," they declare. "Once you have properly taught all the material that we've aligned to the standards, you can go ahead and spend the rest of the time on those little extras you like to do." Because, of course, the material aligned to the standards is what matters, and those things you teach because you are knowledgeable and passionate about them, because you know how to connect students to them like connecting a light bulb to a live wire, because your professional judgment tells you that they are an important part of the body of knowledge in your field-- those things are just silly little frills.

I get that no administrator or parents wants to discover that Pat and Chris aren't getting some critical content because they happened to land in the classroom of Mrs. Suxalot. But that is not a standards problem or a curriculum problem or a get everybody aligned with fidelity problem. It's just a bad teaching problem, and if administrators do their jobs, that problem can be addressed without trying to turn the building staff into Stepford Teachers.

No teacher ever went into the profession to not make a difference. No teacher gets up in the morning and thinks, "Today, I just hope that I can do my job in a way that's indistinguishable from anyone else's job performance." Hell, nobody does any job anywhere thinking, "I just hope that my work could have just as easily been performed by anybody else."

But this is where we are right now. And we wonder why teaching looks progressively less attractive to a new generation, a generation that has watched teachers try to become interchangeable content delivery widgets.

If you are a teacher, it should absolutely make a difference that it's you in the room and not somebody else. If you are a teacher, your relationship with the work and your students should be personal, and therefor different. If you are a teacher, you are certainly not irreplaceable, but when your replacement arrives, it should be different, because you were different, because you made a difference.

It should make a difference. That's the job-- making a difference. Don't let anyone tell you otherwise.

Monday, February 19, 2018

Is PA Chasing Teachers Away

The Economic Policy Institute has just released a new report, and announced it with this subheading: "Undercompensation is likely a factor in Pennsylvania’s growing teacher shortage."

Pennsylvania has been working on a teacher shortage for a while, but for years we cleverly masked it by shedding teacher jobs by the thousands. From a distance, that made it appear that our teacher supply was reasonably stable, because districts were complaining far less about a teacher "shortage" than other states were. But it was also exacerbated the problems with the teacher pipeline long term because high school and college students could look around their home districts and see that nobody new had been hired for years. "Why pay college tuition to pursue a field in which there are no jobs," was the comment I heard more times than I could count from my own students. That in turn led many universities to trim their own education programs.

EPI describes the decline this way:

Pennsylvania is in the midst of a growing teacher shortage. The rate of Pennsylvania teacher certifications has declined by two-thirds between 2010 and 2015 (Benshoff 2016). College students are shunning education majors, with reports indicating that enrollment fell by 36 percent in traditional teacher education programs at the 14 Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education colleges (Palochko 2016). In 2013, 16,631 students graduated from teacher-training programs; by 2015, that number had dropped to 6,125, a 63 percent decline, according to data from the state’s Department of Education (PDE) reported on WHYY public radio in Philadelphia (Benshoff 2016).

EPI also notes that this is found in the substitute teacher sector, and from big districts like Philadelphia all the way down to my own tiny corner of the world, the substitute shortage is pretty dire.

EPI set out to see if compensation was an issue, and they did the old "compare teacher pay to pay in fields requiring similar education and skills" research. Their findings are not particularly surprising:

We find that Pennsylvania public school teachers are undercompensated relative to other full-time workers with similar education and skills. Their weekly wages are 12.1 percent lower than the wages of comparable full-time employees in Pennsylvania, and their weekly compensation (including both wages and benefits) is 6.8 percent lower.

In addition, EPI also looked at pensions-- and here's where PA is in real trouble.

We are outstandingly underfunded, our system suffering from some epic bad choices made by the legislation over a decade ago (among other things, we bet heavily on the housing boom of 2007). The legislation has been looking for a variety of fixes:

Pension legislation passed in 2010 (Act 120) decreased PSERS benefits for teachers hired in 2011 and later, while a 2017 law (Act 5) will further cut pension benefits for teachers hired in 2019 (and beyond). Act 5 will require new teachers to participate in a pension plan that significantly shifts funding from the state and school districts onto employees. The new plan includes 401(k)-style offerings, which also shift retirement income risk onto teachers.

Which is why the pension for me with 39 years in the classroom is looking far rosier than the pension that my wife faces with her 5 years. And as EPI notes, the state still isn't done fiddling, which means that lifetime compensation for PA teachers continues to be cut, and cut, and cut. "Well, the pay may not be super, but at least you'll can rest secure in the knowledge that when you finally retire, you may or may not be financially screwed in your old age," is not a very snappy or effective recruitment slogan.

And so we're back to the same old point. There is no teacher shortage. What there is is a shortage of states and districts willing to make teaching attractive enough to draw the candidates they want. If I can't buy a Porsche for $1.95, it does not follow that there is an automobile shortage. Pennsylvania has not yet put real muscle into trying to "solve" the problem by, say, letting anyone with a pulse hold a teaching job, or by trying to bolster growth of charters that can hire without regard to actual qualifications. But the state also hasn't shown any inclination to try to make teaching more attractive as a career, either. We could do better. It remains to be seen if we'll actually try to.

Another Choice Diversion

Over at School Leader, "an education administration blog by Dr. Gary Houchens (Western Kentucky University), Houchens talks about his podcast discussion of proposed school vouchers under the name "Scholarship Tax Credits" for Kentucky.

STC are the Kentucky version of Education Savings Accounts, a particularly destructive version of voucherism. Pro-voucher folks are pushing hard, and there's been some attempt (including by Houchens) to paint these as relief for poor families, yet proposals like House Bill 162 aren't aimed at low- and middle-income families at all.

Houchens is a big choicer, and he has some pretty standard lines about school choice, none of which strike me as very solid. But he's been at this for a while, railing against "status quo" folks in a dismissive manner. But these issues matter in Kentucky, where there are some major financial challenges. 

We could at many Houchens posts, but let's focus on "Does giving parents education options "divert" money from schools? My TeachThought Podcast discussion on scholarship tax credits" because it's a nice clear question with a nice clear answer.

The answer is "Yes. Yes it does."

Now let's look at the fallacies Houchens uses to avoid arriving at that answer.

I believe in school choice because, while education is a public good, it's not a generic, one-size-fits-all public good like the fire department provides.

Since when does a fire department provide a one-size-fits-all public good? Fire departments are the very definition of the opposite-- every fire they respond to presents a unique set of circumstances, from the distance to the fire to the access to the availability of resources like water to specific configuration of the building to the placement and nature of the fire itself. If the fire department in your own is providing "generic" service, they are doing it wrong.

Every child is unique and no school, no matter how good, can meet the needs of every single student.

But that is, in fact, the gig. I will not pretend that every public school achieves that goal every single time, but here's the critical difference between a public school and a private or charter school-- a public school is legally compelled to try. If I feel that the public school is failing to meet my child's needs, I can take that school to court. If a private or charter school is failing, they can just shrug, say "Well, I guess your child isn't a good fit" and show me the door. Houchens claims that choice increases the "likelihood" that every family can find a school that fits, but that's not true. Choice increases the likelihood that hard-to-fit students, students who cannot profitably be served by choice schools, will find themselves stranded, an educational hot potato.

Houchens' podcast partner expresses a concern that tax credit encouragement of school choice "drains money from public coffers at a time when the state budget is in shortfall and schools are facing potentially large funding cuts." Houchens sympathizes and longs for a day when pension and tax reform create a different picture. "But our gloomy budget forecast is not a reason to continue denying low-income families choices in how their children are educated" (Again with the marketing talking point of "but it's for the poor kids!")

But having said all that, Houchens is going to throw it out the window, and pitch a "new paradigm"

For starters, if you accept that families should have some choices in who educates their children, then you've got to start thinking about education spending in a different way. Education dollars are a benefit for students, not for institutions.

Again, a time-honored talking point. But it's incorrect.

Education is not a service provided for families, and it is not exclusively for the benefit of the students. Public education is for the benefit of the public, the community-- not just the students, but their future neighbors, employers, fellow taxpayers, and people to whom they will provide some good or service. That is why members of the public pay taxes for schools, even if they don't have children to attend, and that is why school boards are properly elected by all taxpayers and not just parents.

But education should be treated like other highly personal public goods. Medicare and Medicaid are personal benefits for the health care of the elderly and poor. Pell grants and the GI Bill are a benefit for the education of low-income college students or veterans. Foods stamps are a food security benefit for low-income families. But in all these cases we give the beneficiary some choice in where they obtain these public goods, because the needs and preferences of individuals are so diverse and the good in these cases is so highly personal.

I will give Houchens credit at least for not comparing schools to Ubers. But there are some critical differences here in these diversionary analogies. First, none of these "benefits" provide the sole support for the providers on which they are spent. Hospitals, colleges, and supermarkets do not depend on these benefits for their existence, because none of these institutions are created for the sole use of the people who use these benefits. Second, uses of these benefits are highly regulated-- you can't spend food stamps on beer and cigarettes, your Pell grant has to go to an approved school, and Medicare won't pay for your toad-sacrificed-under-a-full-moon treatment for broken bones. Kentucky is not proposing any such accountability or oversight for the recipients of the voucher money.

And here's something I find mysterious about voucher programs and their supporters. Medicare/aid, Pell Grants, and food stamps are all program that conservatives have worked (and are still working) to roll back or kill, because "entitlements" are bad. I have always wondered-- why don't these same conservatives see vouchers as an entitlement for sending the children of Those People to a private school? I suspect the answer is, in part, because the vouchers proposed are never enough to make top schools affordable to the poor. More importantly, hospitals, colleges and supermarkets cannot refuse to serve certain customers because of race, religion and sexual orientation (well, mostly, so far) whereas nothing in a voucher program says that private and charter schools have to accept anybody they don't feel like accepting.

Health care is also a lousy comparison for Houchens' purposes because we've put the health care market in the hands of the insurance companies, and now we have one of the most expensively mediocre systems in the world. What works really well? A single payer system that more closely resembles our public education system.

But most notably, none of the programs that Houchens brings up is designed to serve all citizens of the country. In effect, these are programs designed to plug the holes in a private free market approach to goods like health care and food. Public education, on the other hand, is in place of a free market, precisely so that we can insure that all citizens are served and represented. Vouchers do not offer to plug holes in a free market system, but propose to create a free market system by dumping the public tax dollars into the free market. Vouchers don't plug holes-- they create them, by defunding the public system that will be the last resort of the educational hot potatoes who can't find a private or charter school to accept them.

Houchens wants to argue that there is no draining or diverting with a voucher system any more "than we 'drain money' from Hospital A when a Medicare patient has a procedure at Hospital B." But that is a false analogy, implying that a public school and a private school are equal entities on equal footing, like to equal competing hospitals (the analogy also fails because there are few markets left that actually have competing hospitals, but that's another discussion). They are not. The public school is a public entity fully and only funded by public tax dollars, while the private school is a private entity funded by a variety of sources (ditto the charter). Voucher fans counter that by saying that public schools are not "entitled" to those funds, but that's beside the point-- those funds were collected from the taxpayers for the purpose of funding an institution that would educate all students. What voucher fans propose is the equivalent of collecting money from everyone on the block in order to throw a barbecue for all the neighbors, then announcing that you gave half of it to the Smith's so they could cook a steak dinner for themselves. Of course the money has been diverted from its original purpose.

Later in the piece Houchens will argue that there is no financial damage to the public system because a measley 1-1.5% of the students will use the vouchers. But if that's true, why bother. If the vouchers really aren't going to help much of anyone, then why have them. Are these STCs going to rescue scads of poor students, or are they going to have a piddly effect and "rescue" hardly anyone at all. It can't be both.

Then Houchans tries to argue that ESA systems actually save money, which is simply unvarnished baloney. The theory is that you fill the accounts with money from private and corporate donors which pays for the education of certain students, and therefor the public system doesn't have to bear that cost. This is true only if Kentucky proposes to give contributors exactly zero deductions or credits for their contributions, which does not appear to be the case. So HugeCorp gives a thousand dollars to the STCs, and it doesn't pay that thousand dollars in school taxes. This is not a savings to the school, particularly in the face of fixed costs and costs of scale that do not change with the loss of a few students (the buildings stay the same size, the buses run the same, and you probably can't even get by with a smaller staff).

This doesn't save the school a cent, but it cuts the school's revenue considerably.

Houchans' conclusion sums up his many-holed argument:

I believe we need to make bigger investments in education, but whether our policy makers do that or not is not a reason to deny low-income families the dignity of a choice in who educates their children. We either believe that we should have policy mechanisms that give parents education options, or we believe that local government schools should have an exclusive franchise on education delivery for low- and middle income families.

Houchans line about "dignity" would carry a lot more weight if a choice system promised to preserve that dignity by, say, requiring all private and charter schools to accept any students who apply, and meeting their educational needs, no matter how expensive or inconvenient those needs might be. And his line about bigger investments might carry more weight if he addressed the central falsehood of choice policy, the lie that we can run multiple school systems with the same money we previously used to run just one.

Education is the only industry anywhere with folks suggesting, "Since we're having trouble financing the facilities we have, the next logical step is to open more facilities and create excess capacity."

I'll make my usual offer. If some policy maven or politician wants to stand up and say, "I believe that charter and choice systems are so important that I will call for a tax increase to properly fund them," I will applaud that person and drop some of my objections to school choice. And if they want to further add, "And I will require those choice schools to accept any and all applicants, and to have a governance model that allows all taxpayers a say, and to be required to meet accountability and oversight measures put in place by the state," I will drop most of my objections.

But as it stands, that's not what folks like Houchans are calling for. ESA/STC systems propose a world where a private school that, for example, wants to teach that black folks are genetically inferior can collect tax dollars from black taxpayers, even as they refuse to teach black children, who must then be sent back to a public system that can now offer them far less because that system is now missing the resources that were diverted to the voucher school.

A public school system is not about an "exclusive franchise on educational delivery." It's about giving the taxpayers what they paid for-- a public system that accepts and teaches every single student, is governed by elected community representatives, and serves the community as a whole, both the present and the future. Calling it anything else is simply a diversion.

Sunday, February 18, 2018

ICYMI: Bad News Week Edition (2/18)

Your reading for this week. Remember to share and amplify.

A Democracy for Those Who've Never Known It

Jose Luis Vilson takes on the tough topic of democracy in schools-- or rather, the lack thereof.

As the COT Slow-Moving Train Wreck Continues, the Republican Blame Game Begins

ECOT was given years of access to Ohio taxpayer dollars, and didn't do much with it except make one guy rich. Now the gravy train has been stopped. Plunderbund takes a look at who's being set up to take the blame.

Inside the Virtual Schools Lobby

How the talking point of parent empowerment is leveraged to keep cyber-schools going, even when there isn't a shred of evidence that they work.

Why Amerca's Teacher Shortage Is Going To Get Worse

Yeah, we already know the answer, but here's the NY Post saying something about the issue. And they don't even like teachers.

The Regret Industry

Audrey Watters takes a look at the new cottage industry in reformer revelations- "Hey, I think I might have been wrong about something!"

The Skills Trap

Have You Heard talks to Mike Rose about the problems of narrowing education to a vocational focus.

Every Day We Fail To Take Action, We Choose This Fate

There are so many good pieces being written in the aftermath of the latest school shooting, but this one from Nancy Flanagan is particularly on point.

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Is Gates America's Dumbest Smart Guy?

If you glanced at EdWeek's Teacher Beat blog last week, you could be forgiven for thinking that Bill Gates had joined the growing list of tech "regrets" writers. It's a cool new writing genre in which some longtime techy reformster announces that he's had an epiphany and realized all by himself that there's something fundamentally ineffective, misguided and just plain wrong with the baloney he's been frying up lo these many years. We've gotten them from big names and small fish and they are marked by Columbus-style discover, a shitless Sherlockian highlighting of some Truth that unheeded educators have been pointing out for years.

Anyway, a cursory glance at the EdWeek piece "Teacher-Evaluation Efforts Haven't Shown Results, Say Bill and Melinda Gates" would suggest that Gates has had a similar epiphany.

He hasn't.

The EdWeek piece is referring to the Gatesian annual letter, their own little State of the Union address. This year it takes the form of answering ten "tough" questions, and among the pack we find a question about education, in which Gates reveals that he has another in the long series of Gates-style non-epiphanies.

The comments in the latter are an extension of a speech he delivered last fall, and that is an extension of his work in education so far. And when we look at Gates's history in education policy meddling, there are two things that jump out:

1) He is almost always wrong.

2) He never learns anything.

If we look at last fall's speech (both the pre-speech PR and the actual edited-down version he delivered), we can see that Gates knows he's supposed to be learning things, that a shift in direction and emphasis needs to look like a pivot based on a learning curve, and not just flailing off blindly in another direction because the previous flails didn't turn out like you hoped (against all evidence and advice) they would.

What looks on the surface like an admission of failure turns out to be an assignment of blame. Small schools, teacher evaluation, merit pay, and the ever-unloved Common Core have all been a bust, and yet somehow, their failure is never the result of a flawed design, a bad concept, or being flat-out wrong about the whole picture. What Gates invariably announces he's "learned" is that he was basically correct, but he underestimated just how unready people were to welcome his rightness, and he needs to tweak a few features.

So Tough Question #2 was "What do you have to show for the billions you’ve spent on U.S. education?" And his short answer is "A lot, but not as much as either of us would like."

This is classic Gates. "The Zune was a huge success, but we needed to tweak the matter of customers not wanting to buy them." "Mrs. Lincoln thought the play was a triumph, but we might need to tweak that last part a bit."

We made education the focus of our work in the United States because it is the key to a prosperous future, for individuals and the country. Unfortunately, although there’s been some progress over the past decade, America’s public schools are still falling short on important metrics, especially college completion.

It's a curious observation to come from America's richest college dropout. And it's a curious choice to make college completion a metric for measuring K-12 success, as if no other factors were involved in successful completion of college.

We’ve learned a lot about what works in education, but the challenge has been to replicate the successes widely

No. What you have failed to learn is that in education, what works is not using "solutions" that are intended to replicate widely. The very moment you try to a scalable solution, a one size that will fit all, you take a bold step away from what actually works. Next he addresses graduation rate (did you know that it's the Gates people who figured out how to compute the rate correctly).

To help raise those graduation rates, we supported hundreds of new secondary schools. Many of them have better achievement and graduation rates than the ones they replaced or complemented.

SMH. First, "many" is a vague and unimpressive measurement. I believe Microsoft sold "many" Zunes, and yet there they sit, on the ash heap of musical history. Second, comparisons mean nothing if you aren't certain you're comparing similar student populations. If you're getting your results by swapping out your old students for "better" ones, you've accomplished nothing. Of course, that could be why Gates writes

One thing we learned is that it’s extremely hard to transform low-performing schools; overall they didn’t perform as well as newly created schools.

The letter also includes groaners like this one:

We also helped the education sector learn more about what makes a school highly effective. Strong leadership, proven instructional practices, a healthy school culture, and high expectations are all key.

Yes, you sure helped us out there. We look forward to future studies in which Gates helps us understand that water is wet and the fire burns. Seriously-- how can he possibly think we didn't already know this?

Next, he updates us on the Gates attempt to make teachers better.

We have also worked with districts across the country to help them improve the quality of teaching. This effort helped educators understand how to observe teachers, rate their performance fairly, and give them feedback they can act on. But we haven’t seen the large impact we had hoped for.

Now, if I order miracle hair grower on line and I use it, and my hair doesn't grow back, I might be inclined to question whether or not the hair grower was as miraculous as it claimed. If I had a great system for improving teachers, and I used it, and it didn't look like it worked, I might question whether my brilliant ideas were really brilliant or not. In short, I might wonder if I weren't, you know, wrong. But not Gates. He gives us the three measures for success-- good pilot, self-sustaining system, and spreading to other locations. Then he provides the excuses for why his teacher system failed all three.

The pilot feedback systems were handled differently in each place. Some places, like Memphis, maintained the system, but others didn't (do you suppose they stopped using it because it didn't work). And districts didn't produce enough investment or systemic change. And, Gates says, you have to build consensus among a wide range of people. And at this point, Bill Gates(or some intern) hands the keyboard over to Melinda Gates. And she leaps right in with both feet.

Everything we do in education begins as an idea that educators bring to us.

Nope. Not unless you were suffering from the delusion that David Coleman was an educator when he brought you the Common Core and convinced you to foist it on the rest of us. This statement is simply untrue.

We will work with networks of middle and high schools across the country to help them develop and implement their own strategies for overcoming the obstacles that keep students from succeeding. We will help these networks with the process: using key indicators of student success like grades and attendance to drive continuous learning and improvement. But the substance of the changes they make will depend on what local leaders and the available evidence say are most likely to be effective.

So, those of us who work in education will keep doing what we've always done and you will... help us, somehow? How, exactly? Exactly what educational expertise do you bring to the table, other than several years as self-appointed redesigners of America's education system. Which you've repeatedly failed at. And learned nothing about in the process.

What the letter notably does not address is the new Gatesian plan to double down on Common Core by adding what we've always said was an implied requirement of the standards-- a curriculum, aligned to that monstrous amateur-hour beast. On the one hand, the missing curriculum piece has always been one of the Core's major flaws- the focus on skills while ignoring content is just dumb. Reading is not a skill that exists in some vacuum. On the other hand, designing curriculum is hard, and involves debates that have been raging since the creation of dirt, and anything that Gates offers to the debate will be colored by the fact that, well, he doesn't know what he's talking about. If he hires someone like Pearson to do it for him, then we're into the issue of having a fox design the henhouse. And creating curriculum is generally a local thing-- why exactly do we need someone coming in to tell us how to do our jobs? The icing on top is that none of these issues will be aided by the sales line "Brought to you by the same people who brought you the Common Core."

It doesn't matter. Gates just plugs on, sure that he's right, and even when he's wrong, he's right and somebody else just messed things up.

Bill Gates is not part of the tech regrets wave. He's not a guy who is looking back at the reform techy ideas that he's pushed and suddenly realized that they are a house built on a foundation of sand with a frame carved out of baloney. He is not a guy thinking that maybe it's time for a major course correction rather than just tweaking some cosmetics while pursuing the same old line of bogus unicorns and empty fairy dust.

But he should be.