June 9, 2022

San Francisco And Schools…Plus Narratives And Reactionary Public School Takes And Missed Opportunities On Charter Regulations

By Bellwether

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New Bellwether playbook on widespread panic impact. Sorry, scroll to the bottom for that.

San Francisco recalled its DA earlier this week. Like the school board recalls we’re hearing again how this is actually all right wing funded and so forth. This. Is. San. Francisco.

For more reasoned takes, Nellie Bowles has a long look in The Atlantic that includes the linkage with education politics. Zaid Jilani on the same issue. The Nation also worth reading on the recall.

My own view is pretty straightforward. Chesa Boudin didn’t get in trouble because people are suddenly hostile to criminal justice reform or now think the system works fine or any of that. No, he got on the wrong side of voters because he seemed to deny or minimize what has happening right in front of them and took positions on some prosecutorial decisions and said some things that normal voters thought were just way too much or dismissive of real issues. He lost just about every minority-majority district in the city, it’s worth noting.

There is an obvious lesson there for the schools, too, around the various culture wars. If you take a dismissive attitude or caricature everyone opposed to whatever you’re doing, the politics aren’t going to work. Lesson there, too, for the Democrats.

Speaking of reactions. Something interesting happened on social media yesterday. Someone from the Heritage Foundation went up to the Hill to testify on gun violence. This person makes a lot of points, that most people will varyingly agree and disagree with because gun safety is actually a complicated issue and people really disagree about it! But at some point she seems to have indicated that some of what are considered school shootings in the media discourse, a reasonable person would not consider a mass school shooting or even a school shooting at all. This caused all proper thinking people to suddenly start talking about what dangerous hellscapes are public schools are because of guns.

But why? What does this accomplish? I get the politics of scaring suburban parents about guns and I get why advocates for reform to gun laws do it even if I think it’s largely counterproductive to reducing gun violence in this country. But why do public school advocates do it? Yes the country has a gun violence problem – and a really serious one for young people. And of course any shooting in a school or near one is awful, and episodes like Uvalde are too horrifying for words. But overall the more than 50 million kids in public schools are safe at school. This reactionary rush to present schools as dangerous places, or show you’re a straight talker with this business about how if you are telling kids they’re safe you are lying to them is insane.

Owning the political right by running down the public schools. Seems, uh, shortsighted as a strategy? There was a time, not long ago, where if someone started saying how dangerous schools are public school advocates would jump on them with the evidence that it’s not actually the case. Now the advocates are out there beating the drum. Look, what do I know, but ‘OK, sure, the pandemic was an academic disaster but wait until you hear how dangerous the schools are’ doesn’t seem like a winning message.

It’s symptom of how narrative style politics is making us all dumb. If you are a regular reader you know what’s coming…Julia Galef has a good book about this!

A colleague has a theory on this that it’s not about big issues and it’s not unknowing. Instead, it’s about personal career advancement instead. Signaling and all that. If that’s true it’s probably harder to unwind. But it’s still a good book (and, in fact, offers some ideas on that issue, too).

If you’re sick of me touting that book, good news, Todd Rose has a sort of new book in the same vein, you should read it!

On a different issue, Michael Powell has a deep dive in The Times on Penn swimmer Lia Thomas and women’s sports. I still think we need a commission to help thoughtfully think through the complicated issues surrounding transgender athletes and competitive sports.

Yesterday I wrote about broader questions around inclusion.

The Department of Education is sort of feebly fighting back on their proposed charter school regulation and also moving the goal posts on some things.

Are we really supposed to believe that reining in the part of the sector that overall best serves Black and Hispanic students is actually about diversity? Anyway, now the line is that a lot of money has gone to charters that closed or didn’t open.

Roughly 15% of the charter schools that received federal start-up funding either never opened or closed within a few years, according to a top U.S. Department of Education official, even though the schools received $174 million.

This is a problem. And it’s exactly the kind of thing a better written charter school regulation could address and why this whole episode is such a missed opportunity. Here’s the thing, though, that’s not all money that unscrupulous actors are just making off with. Sometimes schools don’t open or persist for legitimate reasons. There is a lot of slippage like this across most federal programs. And some of it is school districts that know they can get this money so they do and then lo and behold they decide to end their new program when the federal dollars end after three years. That’s a program integrity issue for sure but it doesn’t bolster the case for the specifics of this proposed legislation regulation (sorry updated) at all.

The role of school districts in chartering seems really unexamined overall – and might also occasion some hard questions about this regulation. But that’s not what any of this is about. It’s about politics. And per where we started, not very good politics it turns out. Here’s the kind of schools they’re going after by the way.

Widespread Panic.

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