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Jun 21, 2021Liked by Freddie deBoer

So these are the start of the posts that have finally got me to subscribe Freddie. Sorry for taking so long to get around to it. That and I really appreciate the weekly digest posts you put at the end of the week and linking to interview and podcasts that you have participated in. Substacks and podcasts are pretty much 90% of my go-to for information nowadays.

To give some background I was a budget analyst for the State of Maryland during the 2010s and had Education under my purview at some point. Maryland during differing years led the nation in things like graduation rates and students taking A.P. classes. What was interesting about Maryland, is that it has a city like Baltimore under its purview, where poverty is abound in certain districts which included classrooms that didn't have enough textbooks for students or even heating that worked properly during winter. It is also the state with Bethesda, whose students were among the wealthiest in the nation and whose parents worked mostly for the US Government, foreign embassies and students whose parents were researchers and doctors at NIH. Their schools had enough textbooks and heat in winter.

In Baltimore, I remember local administration could get pretty bad with corruption. Look at how many Baltimore mayors and city leaders are currently in jail, went to jail or are under investigation in the past decades. That is not a positive view for local administration of education funds or outcomes to help students. In my mind at the time, I was definitely for a national standards and more control of education from DOE partly because of this... and also the Flying Spaghetti Monster mania happening in the mid 2000s because some local board Kansas was trying to teach creationism in schools. So I applauded having standards like Common Core at the time. After reading Freddie and other education like-minded folks, I have changed my mind on this.

I remember Common Core being debated at this time in Maryland. So Common Core from what I remember during the monthly State Board meetings and legislative hearings...didn't really get a robust push back in any real sort of way. Most of the grumbling from citizens during public discussion came from "Crank Tea-party types" that were easily dismissed by the technocratic elites heading the State Board. There was also some grumbling from teachers that all they were doing was wasting lots of time teaching students to teach the test.

Which turned out to be true, lots of school administration folks pushed heavily for teachers to spend weeks teaching students how to succeed on the state tests. Why this was? Well, school funding was tied to how well schools did on these tests, graduation rates and if students went on to college. Whether students were ready to get on to college or even graduate high school kinda gets pushed to the side of the perverse incentive for school administration folks to get Mo Money.

Also, federal funding from DOE was threatened to not give money to states who didn't adopt these standards. Sort of like how states changed their drinking age to 21 because of pressures of trying to get federal highway funding.

Even with all these pressures from above, I can't really remember a single time someone tried to say that there is no correlation between quality standards and higher student achievement. I can rant about this for a while but, just like Baseball, Education has become quantitatively sexy to those in charge. I fucking hate it and what it has done, but technocrats like their numbers so I do not foresee this changing anytime soon. And these same elites in charge will do everything they can to fudge numbers, lower standards, and push students out of the way for the money. Anyway I'll write later in the week about where I think money for schools does lots of good. School construction funding (GREAT!)

Innovation or any Ed-tech grants (GARBAGE!)

One last thing, I don't know if you have written about this Freddie but Maryland just applauded this year that "The administration is thrilled we can finally state that, as of today, every public high school in Maryland has either an assigned school resource officer or coverage coordinated with local law enforcement. " I'd be happy to see you write about whether having police officers in every school is a good thing.

Have a good Monday!

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"A more radical proposal might include assigning school board seats to people who opt-in to a lottery which chooses the board. Provisions could be made to ensure that the composition of the lottery is reasonably representative of the appropriate municipality. These board members could be strictly term limited to a single term of two or four years. It might seem dramatic to assign seats of such importance randomly, but then again this is precisely what we do for juries, which is rightly seen as a sacred and important duty."

I've had family (misguidedly, IMO) run against the local caucus in school board elections. Predictably, they got nowhere — worse than nowhere, in a sense, since the caucus ran a moderately-successful rumor campaign damaging their and their loved ones' reputations. You've mentioned charter-school lotteries leave room for shenanigans. How would school-board lotteries avoid shenanigans in lotteries? My family's experience may not be common (or perhaps it is) but does make it hard to trust that lotteries wouldn't be rigged in favor of local insiders.

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I will be closely following your pieces on education. I am out of my depth on this topic, something I've been shameless about, until I had my daughter. This year she will be entering kindergarten, and I'm terrified because I know so little about education in general, and the public education system in America in particular. I didn't understand anything about even my own education, though my schooling was pretty unfraught, and the k-12 portion wasn't in the US. The whole education machine is a mystery to me. I don't know how any of it operates, from the macro to the micro level. I don't know what works, what doesn't, and who is doing it which way and why, and what topics are perpetually galvanizing. I don't know what forces exert most influence on the system, who operates in good faith, and who's got a narrow axe to grind, and who's downright corrupt. It a classic case of not knowing what I don't know, and imagining that's an endless, overwhelming universe I will never master.

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School Boards deserve a lot of scrutiny. All members aren't there for the kids. Many see school board as a stepping stone to bigger political opportunity.

The variation of recompense is incredible. Many members receive no pay.

The Florida legislature will have a ballot issue about this in 2022.


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Very excited for this education series. I'm a new teacher recently out of a year-long certification program, and even at my highly-rated teaching school, the amount of time we spent on nuts & bolts/dollars & cents analysis of how schools literally work from school boards to the Department of Ed was woefully small, almost all of it devoted to telling young progressive twentysomethings canned histories about standardized testing and the racial achievement gap that they already knew.

My folks were school admins so I've seen some of how the funding sausage gets made, but I know an awful lot of young teachers who still seem to think that local property taxes are the first and final way that large urban districts get money, while the Dept of Ed and all its billions winked out of existence as soon as Betsy DeVos wasn't around to yell about.

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Despite our completely different political stances (I’m a small-l libertarian), I agree with your perspective on many issues and am grateful for your education (and other) work. But how is it that the word “union” does not appear anywhere within this post about the balance of power in K-12 education?

In our most recent home, Seattle, the superintendent, parents and the school board were powerless in the face of the teachers union to reopen schools. It was only an ultimatum from the governor that opened schools (2.5 hours, 4 days a week) in mid April. Even now, unions in other nearby cities are hedging about next year. I have never been a fan of public sector unions but now that I see their power and how they wield it, I loathe them.

We are looking for a new home and high on the list of criteria is a place with a toothless or nonexistent teachers union. We will not allow our children’s education to exist at their whim.

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Really interesting and informative, as usual. Freddie- let’s say a billionaire came to you and said he wanted to spend heavily on education, with a focus on the most disadvantaged students, what would you recommend that he do?

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Hey Freddie, a couple small but important corrections: the National guard are an organization controlled by state governors, and are therefore not really the Federal government interfering in local education. That interference initially came from the Supreme Court itself, which is a big part of their whole self-appointed role. Additionally, the Arkansas National Guard kept the Little Rock 9 OUT of the white schools at the order of Governor Orval Faubus. The response which you're misremembering is when Eisenhower sent in the 101st Airborne AKA the Screaming Eagles in to force the issue, and it was those guys who guarded the black students in their newly desegregated school. You're not totally wrong here because Eisenhower did federalize the National Guard in that instance but it was to take it out of Governor Faubus' hands as a tool to retain segregation. If you want to learn more about it I recommend Carlotta Walls' extremely boring autobiography. She manages to make Democrats blowing up her house with Dynamite seem dull but she's a very clear reporter of the facts.

None of this touches your main point in that paragraph but in a post about local vs federal power distributions it's important to be accurate about who had the power and how it was used.

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Was there supposed to be a link for "the profound bipartisan failure of NCLB"? I know very little about this stuff and only read these posts because of the "If Freddie writes something, read it" maxim. But that struck me as interesting. I remember it being a big deal when it was implemented and I know I haven't heard about it in a long time but I don't know anything else about what happened. And that sounds like a really interesting thing if a big, bipartisan initiative belly flopped. I'd love to read more about it.

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School Boards--some members get paid, many do not. Members of the Los Angeles Board of Education—the second-largest school district in the nation—receive the highest annual salary. Beginning in September 2017, board members with no outside employment were eligible to receive $125,000 per year, and members with outside employment were eligible to receive an annual salary of $50,000....

Some are appointed; some are elected.


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Would love to see you get into what the heck is wrong with places like Rochester, NY. That's my hometown and the RCSD is completely messed up.

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>"Disturbingly, if you care about a robust democracy with checks and balances established through ideological competition, these organizations are overwhelming drawn from the same political backgrounds: they tend to be billionaire-funded, espouse the use of economic and business principles in schooling, and have a corporate mentality that prefers loose regulation and centralized control."

I think this is a good point, but I'm not convinced democratically accountable groups would be better. Robust democracy with checks and balances established through ideological competition probably leads to a lot of parts of the country having lesson plans about creationism, no?

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In terms of international competitiveness the mediocre performance of US schools is probably at least partially offset by immigration from abroad. The number of native born US students majoring in engineering has been declining for decades. From what I understand the shortfall has been made up by international students. And of course in fields like tech immigrants make up a substantial portion of the work force.

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I'd love to hear an analysis of vouchers. I can see how they would be disruptive to the current system, but it seems in the long term they would fix a lot of the corruption and other problems with control.

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I think it's very premature to call Common Core a failure -- it seems like it's still very young and lots of teachers and students and parents are still getting used to it. My kids were in middle school and high school when it was introduced so they didn't get many of the benefits, but it seemed to me to be a deeper way of teaching than what I learned in K-12. It was very much trying to get kids to understand the concepts of why things work the way they do in math, and pushed more critical thinking and perspective shifting in reading comprehension. It was destined to be a rocky roll out, but I hope we don't abandon the curriculum.

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