“Epic” Reactions to Recent Posts and NAEP’s Constructive Pressure to “Lift the Mask”

Weekend greetings, CharterFolk.

An extremely busy week. Just trying to stay on top of my other work, while finding enough time to get a second post off this week.

I start offering thanks for the many favorable comments that readers threw my way about our last column riffing on Hamilton.

  • My favorite edition yet.”
  • Gave me chills …
  • Epic!

Epic even! That’s a first …

Though it’s not the first time I’ve gone Broadway on you.

These are the dangers of reading one who has both an MBA and an MFA. Lots of show tunes and two-by-two metrices.

From Thunderbolts and Mountaintops –
How We Smash Through the 2×2

I could have a field day writing about charter school facilities advocacy challenges using this one …

And don’t even get me started on …

(Do you hear the people sing … for better public education?)

Maybe the favorite piece of feedback I’ve gotten from readers during our first year and a half I received last week from people in …

… yup, Oklahoma.

Apparently there are some diehard readers of CharterFolk there (who knew?), some of whom happen to be state legislators, and one of them liked one of the bill ideas surfaced in Cherry-Picking vs Orchard-Harvesting – Do We Have the Courage to Frame the Big Picture? (that school districts should have to get their licenses to operate renewed every five years by a third party in the same way that charter schools do) so much that he’s going to run such a bill in the state legislature next year.

Oh what a beautiful morning it was to get that feedback!


On the more serious side, I also got a very thoughtful response from a reader who knows a lot more about the newspaper industry than me and who thought that my “Why So Many Editorial Boards are Missing in Action” column was a cheap shot. She said in the modern era, papers are routinely altering headlines for web optimization purposes and to ascribe some nefarious intent to the LA Times decision to change their editorial headline encourages CharterFolk readers to believe in a conspiracy theory about unions and newspapers that simply doesn’t exist. And the real reason that newspapers across the country may be “missing in action” on issues including public education is that their capacity has been hollowed out due to economic forces that have besieged their industry, leaving them few staff to go into issues at depth.

As to her first point, she was clearly right. I don’t think that newspapers are literally changing material at the direction of, or under the pressure of, teacher unions, and it’s not wise to promote such thinking amongst us all. Nor was it even the main point that I wanted to make. It’s not that newspapers are consciously telling a story that is inaccurate. It’s that, despite their proximity to their own city’s public education system, they have no idea what’s really going on. And that’s a function of the fact that 1) they have to rely on the Establishment itself to get information and 2) the rest of us are so afraid of Establishment forces that we don’t surface the criticisms we know to be true about our local schools. Criticism accepted.

On her second point, though, that a lack of capacity explains newspapers’ “missing in action-ness,” I’m not as convinced. A lot of the people serving on editorial boards have been doing it for a very long time, and while their organizations’ capacity may be lower than in the past, it still doesn’t explain why, over decades of looking at their cities’ schools, they couldn’t have seen problems if they simply would have adopted a more critical eye.

After my column The Huge Opportunity to Make Progress on Red Lines in Blue States Now, wherein I pointed out that LA Unified’s so-called “Choice” programs are actually anything but true choice as we advocate for it in charterland, a reader sent me this screenshot:

It’s the criteria that the El Segundo Unified School District, the district just south and west and adjacent to Los Angeles Unified, uses to allow students to transfer to their school district. Unfortunately, the district has closed their permit window until January, so I can’t provide a link to the information above. But that’s no real problem. Other districts keep the criteria publicly posted all year. Here is the criteria from South Pasadena, which is the district just north and east and adjacent to Los Angeles Unified.

El Segundo proudly claims that 23% of their student body comes from inter-district transfers, and I’m sure that significant numbers of students are leaving LAUSD for other in-area school districts like South Pasadena.

And who are the students that are getting out?

Those who pass criteria that we know screen out kids by race and class.

I don’t think that it is too much to ask for a paper like the LA Times to have developed a modicum of understanding about these things happening north, south, east and west in its region for decades. If they had, then when they wrote this editorial …

… they would have had a deeper level of knowledge about what 27,000 students likely left (the most affluent and privileged) and where they might have gone, (at least some to area school districts that use selective admissions criteria that screen out kids by race and class), such that maybe they would have known enough not to deem the mass exodus from LA Unified a “good thing.”

And rather than dedicating editorial space to the supposed “cherry picking” problems of charter school admissions that defenders of the status quo constantly attempt to direct the editorial board’s attention to, they would have the critical eye needed to see the orchard-harvesting of unfair admissions travesties that are happening across all of public education in their own backyard. And they would have the conviction needed to ask UTLA and CTA, “if you really care so much about these admissions issues, rather than attacking schools whose problems are minuscule in comparison and over which by design you have less influence, why aren’t you doing something about the gargantuan problems in admissions happening in schools over which you have direct control?”

I’ll keep pushing our world to step up to speak our truth more full-throatedly in the years ahead, but as I do I’ll also keep pushing places like the LA Times to step up too.

Finally, today, I wanted to turn attention to what I think is the most important education story to have surfaced this week.

The latest NAEP results are nothing short of sobering.

This is one where the LA Times Editorial Board was not missing in action.

But, generally, what I find most striking about the results is how un-striking most of the mainstream media has found this announcement. Many major publications didn’t even bother to cover the fact that, for the first time in the history of NAEP we have seen results moving in the wrong direction, and that was before the pandemic hit. The 74 did a good job covering it.

Maybe some of the best discussion is being moderated by Andy Rotherham over at Eduwonk.

And Michael Petrilli is right when he calls NAEP results a Rorschach test – people seeing the results as justifying whatever their point of view is on public education.

I can be as guilty of Rorschach projecting as anyone else. Today, I’ll attempt to refrain except to make one point, which is that NAEP matters. The data that comes from assessments like NAEP matter. We may disagree about what the data mean. The data may not allow us to understand why performance trends are occurring within our public schools, but at least they make clear what some of those important trends are.

It is my contention that something is fundamentally amiss in our nation’s public schools, and these data clearly confirm that view. It is also my contention that one of the Establishment’s three main strategies for protecting itself is to erase from the landscape any meaningful information about school performance. Their efforts to roll back testing and public reporting of results, as the folks at FutureEd have documented as well as anyone …

… have been largely successful and constitute one of the biggest policy shifts that have been implemented in our nation’s schools over the past decade.

In an environment where sentiment has turned so decidedly anti-testing, NAEP skipped its 2016 administration …

… creating the largest gap in NAEP administrations since the 1970’s.

Imagine if the 2019 round had been cancelled too and the first time we had seen a NAEP administration had been on the other side of the Covid crisis. We wouldn’t have known that there had been a drop off in performance pre-pandemic, which I’m sure would have led many to assume that the historic drop off we are sure to see post-covid was nearly all pandemic-related. The truth, unfortunately, is more sobering than that. Not only is our public education system presented with unprecedented challenge that is affecting results, but the way we have chosen to operate our schools is making problems even worse.

At some point, this fever is going to break. At some point, it will become clear how reckless it has been to decide to put the performance of our public education system behind a mask.

It is inarguable that the ways we have attempted to look at our public schools in the past weren’t the smartest way to do so. But the idea of giving up on them altogether, or creating eight-year intervals between which we get glimpses of some of the most important trends happening in our society today is simply reckless. The quest to be able to discern between the approaches that actually drive improved learning in our nation’s schools and what are nothing more than mere phantoms is as important as it has ever been .

This last NAEP reporting, for the first time in quite a while, put constructive pressure on to lift the mask. For that reason, it’s a breath of critically needed fresh air.