Weekend To-Do List
Stuff to ponder, read, hear, and watch
1. Abbott Elementary Takes on Charters
READ/LISTEN: Jessica Winter took to the pages of the New Yorker to applaud the popular ABC show Abbott Elementary’s takedown of charter schools:
Strikingly, a recent multi-episode arc presented to a mass audience an artful, sustained, and hilarious polemic against the privatization of public schools—specifically, against the influence of charter schools, which receive public financing but are privately run. Charter schools are a pet cause of a number of prominent billionaires, yet, according to some polling, most Americans don’t really know what they are. "Abbott Elementary" has been telling them.
Hilarious! The New Yorker piece — and the Abbott Elementary show — get a lot wrong about charters, and Chris Stewart and I recently devoted a segment of the Citizen Stewart Show to dissecting those claims. Listen here.
2. Bezos Bets on Montessori
READ: Frederick Hess wrote a short piece in Forbes about Jeff Bezos’ Montessori pre-school initiative:
Five years ago, Amazon founder Jeff Bezos pledged $2 billion to back two new initiatives: one to aid homeless families and the other an effort to launch a network of Montessori preschools for low-income families. . . . Now, five years later, the Bezos Academy is getting rolling, providing tuition-free, year-round Montessori preschools for children aged 3 to 5. In an era of industrial-sized, universal pre-K proposals, the venture—directed by Mike George, Amazon's former vice president for Echo and Alexa, the Bezos Academy—represents an intriguingly entrepreneurial approach. The Bezos Academy currently operates eight preschools, all in Washington state. Later this month, it will open four new sites in Florida and Texas, with another four slated to open in April. The goal for year-end 2023 is 18 to 20 preschools, serving around 1,000 children in total.
What a neoliberal hack – investing millions in helping homeless and low-income kids to get a better education. He must be playing the long game, training them now to eventually become mindless Amazon serfs. Disgusting.
In all seriousness, it’s notable that Bezos opted to start from scratch instead of working with an existing provider. Kudos to him. And Jeff, if you’re reading this, at some point those kids will have to graduate into other schools, so you should check out our high school model and give me a ring.
3. New York Charter Expansion and High Dosage Tutoring in Trouble
READ: New York legislators this week rejected Hochul’s plan to lift the charter school cap. Via Reema Amin and Alex Zimmerman in Chalkbeat:
New York’s state legislature formally rejected on Tuesday Gov. Kathy Hochul’s proposal to allow more charter schools to open in New York City, an indication of the uphill battle ahead for proponents of expanding the sector.
In their official responses to Hochul’s January budget proposal, both the state Senate and Assembly called to remove the governor’s charter school proposal to allow New York City to open more than 100 new charter schools.
The rejection does not mean Hochul’s proposal is dead, since lawmakers will now negotiate with the governor’s office over the final budget, which is due April 1. However, the unified disapproval from both houses shows there is little support for her idea.
The legislature also voted down an expansion of tutoring programs:
Separately, both chambers also rejected Hochul’s proposal to fund and require high-impact tutoring in schools by setting aside $250 million in Foundation Aid – the main formula used to provide state funding for New York school districts.
Research has found that students perform better in school when they’re tutored frequently in small groups. Hochul framed the proposal — meant for children in grades 3-8 — as a solution for pandemic-fueled academic recovery, after some New York students saw steep drops in math and reading scores on national tests last year.
This is the same legislature that voted to reduce class size, a mega-expensive proposition with limited data on its effectiveness.
4. Khan Academy + ChatGPT
TWEET: Earlier this week, ChatGPT announced its newest and most potent version: GPT-4. At the same time, Khan Academy announced it’d been given early access to GPT-4 to power a new tutoring program called KhanAmigo.
5. Arkansas Passes Major Education Legislation
TWEET/LISTEN: Arkansas just passed a sweeping piece of education legislation, which we discussed on this Tuesday’s Lost Debate show. Friend of LD Toren Ballard from Mississippi First pointed out via Twitter just how far behind Mississippi is now:
We sat down with Toren in January on the Lost Debate Show about Mississippi’s dire teacher shortage. Listen here.
6. Congress, Biden Move Against TikTok
READ: Earlier this week, key members of congress called on Biden to take on TikTok. Via Gavin Bade in Politico:
On Tuesday, Senate Intelligence Committee Chair Mark Warner introduced legislation that would grant the Biden administration new powers to regulate the popular Chinese video-sharing platform and other foreign-owned apps — just the latest in a series of bills lawmakers in both parties are pushing to clamp down on what they see as a digital threat. . . The new legislation — co-sponsored by eleven other lawmakers, including six Democrats — underscores rising bipartisan impatience with Biden’s efforts to contain TikTok and deal with broader digital threats from China.
Biden responded yesterday by demanding TikTok’s Chinese owners spin off their share or face a US ban.
7. Democrats’ Asian Voter Problem
READ: Ruy Teixeira wrote a long and alarming piece in The Liberal Patriot about the Democrats’ growing struggles with Asian voters, a trend primarily driven by education policy:
It is difficult to overestimate how important education is to Asian voters, who see it as the key tool for upward mobility—a tool that even the poorest Asian parents can take advantage of. But Democrats are becoming increasingly associated with an approach to schooling that seems anti-meritocratic, oriented away from standardized tests, gifted and talented programs and test-in elite schools—all areas where Asian children have excelled. In New York City, Democrat Bill de Blasio’s 2018 proposal to do away with the rigorous test that governed admission to the city’s elite high schools in the name of "equity" became a defining issue in the Asian community.
It does not seem mysterious that Asian voters might react negatively to this approach. In fact, it would be somewhat baffling if they didn’t. Yet Democrats do seem to have great difficulty admitting the nature of the problem they now face with burgeoning numbers of these voters.
I’ve written and podded about this issue recently. Read and/or listen here. (Side note: we plan to launch a podcast devoted to issues within Asian American communities in the U.S. (a broad subject, I admit). If you or anyone you know is interested in getting involved, let me know.)
8. The Illusion of a Frictionless Existence
READ/LISTEN: Kat Rosenfeld over at Persuasion wrote about how our society has eliminated many everyday annoyances, which could have the unintended effect of creating the most risk-averse generation in history:
Scratch the surface of this new Zoomer temperance movement, and one notices that it’s not just substances from which they’re abstaining. Today’s teens are less sexually active than any generation before them. They also drive less—just 25 percent of 16-year-olds in 2020 had a license, as compared with 50 percent in 1983—and work less, with the share of teens participating in the labor force having declined 17 percentage points since 2000. . . This is where today’s teenagers and young adults differ. Gen Z is not just remaining ensconced for longer in the protective cocoon of adolescence, reliant on their parents for everything from health insurance to transportation to conflict mediation; they also appear to be far less interested in ever leaving the cocoon at all, having persuaded themselves that independence is too fraught with danger to be worth it.
Rikki Schlott (a genuine card-carrying member of Gen-Z) and I discussed some of these trends on a recent Lost Debate episode. Listen here.
9. Americans Trust Biden More Than the GOP on Education?
READ: A constellation of progressive interest groups commissioned a poll that found that, among other things, Americans trust Biden and Democrats more on education issues than Republicans
What’s fascinating about this poll is that when it lists the two parties’ different priorities on education, the Democratic list is varied and substantive while the Republican list is littered with culture war issues:
Now, I’ve been as hard on the Republicans for their fixation on wedge issues and identity politics in schools, but the list provided here could have at least included some of the more substantive positions of Republicans, like the expansion of Education Savings Accounts. It reads like a poll that pre-baked the conclusions it wanted to reach. It’s a missed opportunity for a party struggling to maintain its historic dominance on education issues while barreling towards a national election against opponents who have a lot to say on the topic.
10. Youngkin: Ban ChatGPT
READ/LISTEN: Virginia Governor Glenn Youngkin called on school districts to ban ChatGPT. On Tuesday’s episode of the Lost Debate, we discussed recent developments in ChatGPT and K-12 education, including the trend of districts and states issuing these bans. Listen here.