Vouchers: a Love Story

Have You Heard kicks off season 2 with a look at all things voucher-y. Jack Schneider and I talk about the history of school vouchers, the movement’s strange bedfellows, and why the public has remained remarkably skeptical towards vouchers. We mix it up with school choice superfan Travis Pillow over who is really using vouchers in states like Indiana, Maryland and Wisconsin. And I use an, um, unusual descriptor to describe the results of Louisiana’s voucher program. Let me know what you think!

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Why I’m Saying Farewell to EduShyster

It’s time for me to wave goodbye to the man with the outstretched hand…

Since I started this blog back in 2012, I’ve gotten occasional complaints that the name EduShyster is anti-semitic. When one of these arrived last week, I started to compose what has become my standard response: that whole books have been written on this topic, and that historians have traced the etymology of the word back to its very first appearance in 1843, in a New York newspaper crusading against political and legal corruption. And then I stopped. As any English teacher worth her salt can explain, meaning and context go hand in hand. Our current context is that anti-semitism has roared back with a vengeance and has taken up residence in the highest office in the land. Even the slightest possibility that I might be lumped in with that kind of hate is too much. Now is the time to speak up against all kinds of intolerance, and so I’m taking this opportunity to wish EduShyster farewell.

If you’ve followed the evolution of my blog, you know that I started out as an anonymous commentator, taking aim at all things education *rephorm.* Snark was my weapon, along with wine by the boxful—a sort of metaphor for the volume of intoxicants necessitated by the edupreneurial schemes and scams that I spent my days untangling. Along the way, the blog morphed into something more serious. There was so much I didn’t understand, and so I sought out people who knew things and used my blog as a way to make complex ideas more accessible. I also discovered that my curious nature—OK, nosy—translated into a reporting skill I didn’t know I had. I’ve now raised money from readers and traveled to Chicago, New Orleans and Michigan, talking to anyone who will talk to me, and producing actual journalism. Who knew??? Last year I launched a story-driven podcast series called Have You Heard that sought to *disrupt* the debate over the future of public education by passing the mic to parents and students whose voices are too often missing from the conversation.

Now it’s time for another change. As of 2/08/2017, the blog formerly known as EduShyster is the Have You Heard blog. Rolls off the tongue, right? While the man with the hand will still be making occasional appearances, this next iteration of my writing and podcasting will be unmistakably mine. I’ll be doing more long reported pieces, like this one, this one, this one, and this one. At the top of my list is a skeptical look at the latest edu-frenzy to sweep across Massachusetts: the empowerment zone. And believe it or not, after devoting some 10,000 words to our new Secretary of Education, I still have more to add—like what was really behind the shade that Eli Broad threw at Betsy DeVos. Season 2.0 of the Have You Heard podcast will sound different too. I’ve joined forces with Jack Schneider, who you may know on Twitter as @edu_historian. Our biweekly talk show on education in the time of Trump starts this week. (Note: you can subscribe on iTunes—just search for Have You Heard under news and politics).

Before I go there is one thing I could really use your help with. Now that I’m officially consigning @EduShyster to the dustbin of history, I need a new Twitter handle. If you have a suggestion send it to jenniferberkshire@gmail.com.

Thanks for reading. I don’t know about you, but I’ve got some work to do…

Jennifer

 

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That Old School Spirit

I talk to Calvin College alumna Sara Moslener about why her letter in opposition to Betsy DeVos has struck such a chord among Calvin Knights (and Calvinites…)

Image result for calvin college mascotEduShyster: Your open letter to students and alumni of Calvin College, opposing the confirmation of fellow alumna Betsy DeVos as Secretary of Education, has now been signed by nearly 2,800 Calvin Knights. What prompted you to write the letter, and did you have any idea that it would provoke this kind of response?

Sara Moslener: Like a lot of people I’ve been feeling an urgency about becoming more directly involved in politics. To me that meant sending a letter to my two Senators here in Michigan about Betsy DeVos and her lack of concern with federal regulations, something she’s demonstrated in her previous work and at her confirmation hearing. Without those federal regulations, there’s no assurance that students with different kinds of learning needs will be served, which ends up reinforcing a social hierarchy. After I wrote the letter, I thought that maybe some other Calvin College graduates might like to sign it, and that if I could get 30, 40 or even 50 people to sign, well, that would really say something. By Monday night there were almost 1,000 signatures. Then the Calvin College newspaper got a hold of it and current students started signing on. Continue reading →

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Betsy DeVos’ Alternative Facts

From Common Core to Neurocore, the right candidate for Trumpian times…

Image result for neurocore brain trainingAfter Betsy DeVos’ rocky confirmation hearing performance, she quickly became fodder for memes and late-night comic commentary. But what ya’ll are missing is that DeVos herself is in on the joke. As she prepares to take her spot in the *highest IQ cabinet ever assembled,* she’s the only cabinet member who has a real stake in raising your IQ—by 12 points. DeVos knows that in this, the age of alternative facts, no one gives a hoot about the difference between *proficiency* and *growth.* The testimonial is where it’s at. So Neurocore, the biofeedback company that she won’t be giving up on, has no research behind it. Who cares??? Neurocore changed Charles C’s brain and changed his life, and it helped football player Kirk Cousins take his game to the next level. If the plural of anecdote is data, then the plural of testimonial is franchises. To the brain rooms, reader, we’ve got qEEG data to collect and a national expansion to plan. Continue reading →

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The Red Queen

The ultimate target of Betsy DeVos’ agenda isn’t teachers unions, or even the *education establishment.* It’s the Democratic Party…

Image result for vintage playing cards red queenBy the measures that are supposed to matter, Betsy DeVos’ experiment in disrupting public education in Michigan has been a colossal failure. In its 2016 report on the state of the state’s schools, Education Trust Midwest painted a picture of an education system in freefall. *Michigan is witnessing systematic decline across the K-12 spectrum…White, black, brown, higher-income, low-income—it doesn’t matter who they are or where they live.* But as I heard repeatedly during the week I recently spent crisscrossing the state, speaking with dozens of Michiganders, including state and local officials, the radical experiment that’s playing out here has little to do with education, and even less to do with kids. The real goal of the DeVos family is to crush the state’s teachers unions as a means of undermining the Democratic party, weakening Michigan’s democratic structures along the way. And on this front, our likely next Secretary of Education has enjoyed measurable, even dazzling success.

This story goes back a long ways, so settle in. We could start in the 1840’s, when the first Dutch settlers began to arrive in Western Michigan, or in 1970, when the DeVoses made their first attempt to amend the state constitution so as to allow for public funding for private, religious schools. Another obvious starting point is 1993, when then Governor John Engler called the public schools in Michigan an *educational gulag* and a *monopoly of mediocrity,* lobbing the first fusillade in a war against the state’s teachers that has never ceased. For the sake of brevity, though, I’ll fast forward to the mid-oughts, when Betsy’s husband Dick DeVos ran for governor. It was the fourth time that the DeVoses had brought their crusade to give the market and the Maker more sway over the state’s schools to the voters, and each time Mitten staters had delivered a resounding *no thanks* in response. And so the DeVoses pivoted. If they couldn’t convince voters to enact their favored policies, they’d purchase the legislature instead. Continue reading →

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