Tuesday, March 20, 2018

AEI: Voiding the Choice Warrantee

The American Enterprise Institute has a new report  that calls into question one of the foundational fallacies of the entire reform movement. Think of it as the latest entry in the Reformster Apostasy movement.

Do Impacts on Test Scores Even Matter? Lessons from Long-Run Outcomes in School Choice Research asks some important questions. We know they are important questions because some of us have been asking and answering them for twenty years.

Here are the key points as AEI lists them:

For the past 20 years, almost every major education reform has rested on a common assumption: Standardized test scores are an accurate and appropriate measure of success and failure.

This study is a meta-analysis on the effect that school choice has on educational attainment and shows that, at least for school choice programs, there is a weak relationship between impacts on test scores and later attainment outcomes.

Policymakers need to be much more humble in what they believe that test scores tell them about the performance of schools of choice: Test scores should not automatically occupy a privileged place over parental demand and satisfaction as short-term measures of school choice success or failure.

Yup. That's just about it. The entire reformster movement is based on the premise that Big Standardized Test results are a reliable proxy for educational achievement. They are not. They never have been, and some of us have been saying so all along. Read Daniel Koretz's book The Testing Charade: Pretending To Make Schools Better for a detailed look at how this has all gone wrong, but the short answer is that when you use narrow unvalidated badly designed tests to measure things they were never meant to measure, you end up with junk.

AEI is not the first reform outfit to question the BS Tests' value. Jay Greene was beating this drum a year and a half ago:

But what if changing test scores does not regularly correspond with changing life outcomes?  What if schools can do things to change scores without actually changing lives?  What evidence do we actually have to support the assumption that changing test scores is a reliable indicator of changing later life outcomes?

Greene concluded that tests had no real connection to student later-in-life outcomes and were therefor not a useful tool for policy direction. Again, he was saying what teachers and other education professionals had been saying since the invention of dirt, but to no avail.

In fact, if you are of a Certain Age, you may well remember the authentic assessment movement, which declared that the only way to measure any student knowledge and skill was by having the student demonstrate something as close to the actual skill in question. IOW, if you want to see if the student can write an essay, have her write an essay. Authentic assessment frowned on multiple choice testing, because it involves a task that is not anything like any real skill we're trying to teach. But ed reform and the cult of testing swept the authentic assessment movement away.

Really, AEI's third paragraph of findings is weak sauce. "Policymakers should be much more humble" about test scores? No, they should be apologetic and remorseful that they ever foisted this tool on education and demanded it be attached to stern consequences, because in doing so the wrought a great deal of damage on US education. "Test scores should not automatically occupy a privileged place..."? No, test scores should automatically occupy a highly unprivileged place. They should be treated as junk unless and until someone can convincingly argue otherwise.

But I am reading into this report a wholesale rejection of the BS Test as a measure of student, teacher, or school success, and that's not really what AEI is here to do. This paper is focused on school choice programs, and it sets out to void the warrantee on school choice as a policy.

Choice fans, up to and including education secretary Betsy DeVos, have pitched choice in terms of its positive effects on educational achievement. As DeVos claimed, the presence of choice will not even create choice schools that outperform public schools, but the public schools themselves will have their performance elevated. The reality, of course, is that it simply doesn't happen.The research continues to mount that vouchers, choice, charters-- none of them significantly move the needle on school achievement. And "educational achievement" and "school achievement" all really only mean one thing-- test scores.

Choice was going to guarantee higher test scores. They have had years and years to raise test scores. They have failed. If charters and choice were going to usher in an era of test score awesomeness, we'd be there by now. We aren't.

So what's a reformster to do?

Simple. Announce that test scores don't really matter. That's this report.

There are several ways to read this report, depending on your level of cynicism. Take your pick.

Hardly cynical at all. Reformsters have finally realized what education professionals have known all along-- that the BS Tests are a lousy measure of educational achievement. They, like others before them,  may be late to enlightenment, but at least they got there, so let's welcome them and their newly-illuminated light epiphanic light bulbs.

Kind of Cynical. Reformsters are realizing that the BS Tests are hurting the efforts to market choice, and so they are trying to shed the test as a measure of choice success because it clearly isn't working and they need reduce the damage to the choice brand being done.

Supremely Cynical. Reformsters always knew that the BS Test was a sham and a fraud, but it was useful for a while, just as Common Core was in its day. But just as Common Core was jettisoned as a strategic argument when it was no longer useful, the BS Test will now be tossed aside like a used-up Handi Wipe. The goal of free market corporate reformsters has always been to crack open the vast funding egg of public education and make it accessible to free marketeers with their education-flavored business models. Reformsters would have said that choice clears up your complexion and gives you a free pony if they thought it would sell the market based business model of schooling, and they'll continue to say-- or stop saying-- anything as long as it helps break up public ed and makes the pieces available for corporate use.

Bottom line. Having failed to raise BS Test scores, some reformsters would now like to promote the entirely correct idea that BS Tests are terrible measures of school success, and so, hey, let's judge choice programs some other way. I would add, hey, let's judge ALL schools some other way, because BS Testing is the single most toxic legacy of modern ed reform.

Monday, March 19, 2018

OH: Computers Are Grading Essays

No sooner had I vigorously mocked the idea of using computers to grade essays, then this came across my desk:

CLEVELAND, Ohio - Computers are grading your child's state tests.

No, not just all those fill-in-the bubble multiple choice questions. The longer answers and essays too.

According to State Superintendent Paolo DeMaria and state testing official Brian Roget (because "state testing official" is now  job-- that's where we are now), about 75% of Ohio's BS Tests are being fully graded by computers.

This is a dumb idea.

"The motivation is to be as effective and efficient and accurate in grading all these things," DeMaria told the board. He said that advances in AI are making this new process more consistent and fair - along with saving time and, in the long run, money.

If you think writing can be graded effectively and efficiently and accurately by a computer, then you don't know much about assessing writing. The saving money part is the only honest part of this.

But all the kids are doing it, Mom. American Institutes for Research (AIR-- which is not a research institute at all, but a test manufacturer) is doing it in Ohio, but Pearson and McGraw-Hill and ETS are all doing it, too, so you know it's cool.

DeMaria said that the research is really "compelling," which is another word for "not actually proving anything," and he also claims that even college professors are using Artificial Intelligence to grade papers. He does not share which colleges, exactly, are harboring these titans of educational malpractice. Would be interesting to know. Meanwhile, Les Perelman at MIT has made a whole second career out of repeatedly demonstrating that these essay grading computers are incompetent boobs.

The shift from human scorers is usually a little controversial, which may be why Ohio just didn't tell anyone it was happening. It came to light only after, the article notes wryly, "irregularities" were noticed in grades. Oddly enough, that constitutes a decent blind test of the software-- folks could tell it was doing something wrong even when they didn't know that software was doing the grading.

Some Ohio board members think the shift is just fine, though one picked an unfortunate choice of example:

"As a society, we're on the cusp of self-driving vehicles and we're arguing about whether or not AI can grade a third grade test?" asked recently-appointed board member James Shephard. "I think there just needs to be some perspective here."

I feel certain that as Shephard spoke, he was unaware that a self-driving vehicle just killed a pedestrian in Arizona.

The actual hiccup that called attention to the shift from meat widget grading was a large number of third grade reading tests that came back with a score of zero. That was apparently because they quoted too much of the passage they were responding to, though they are supposed to cite specific evidence from the text. It's the kind of thing that a live human could probably figure out, but since computer software does not actually understand what it is "reading," -- well, zeros. On a test that will determine whether or not the student can advance to fourth grade (because Ohio has that stupid rule, too).
I don't understand a word you just said, but you fail!

The state has offered some direction (30% is the tipping point for how much must be "original") so that now we have the opening shot in what is sure to be a long volley of rules entitled "How to write essays that don't displease the computer." Surely an admirable pedagogical goal for any writing program.

The state reported that of the thousand tests submitted for checking, only one was rescored. This fits with a standard defense of computer grading-- "When we have humans score the essays, the scores are pretty much the same as the computer's." This defense does not move me, because the humans have their hands and brains tied, strapped to the same algorithm that the computer uses. Of course a human gets the same score, if you force that human to approach the essay just as stupidly as the computer does. And computers are stupid-- they will do exactly as they're told, never understanding a single word of their instructions.

The humans-do-it-too defense of computer grading ignores another problem of this system-- audience. Perhaps on the first go round you'll get authentic writing that's an actual measure of something real. But what we already know from stupid human scoring of BS Tests is that teachers and students will adapt their writing to fit the algorithm. Blathering on and on redundantly and repetitiously may be bad writing any other time, but when it comes to tests, filling up the page pleases the algorithm. The algorithm also likes big words, so use those (it does not matter if you use them correctly or not). These may seem like dumb examples, but my own school has had success gaming the system with these rules and rules like them.

And this is worse. I've heard legitimate arguments from teachers who say the computer's ability to sift through superficial details can be on part of a larger, meat-widget based evaluation system, and I can almost buy that, but that's not what Ohio is doing-- they are handing the whole evaluation over to the software.

What do you suppose will happen when students realize that the computer will not care if they illustrate a point by referring to John F. Kennedy's noble actions to save the Kaiser during the Civil War? What do you suppose will happen when students realize that they are literally writing for no human audience at all? How will they write for an algorithm that can only analyze the most superficial aspects of their writing, with no concern or even ability to understand what they are actually saying?

This is like preparing a school band to perform and then having them play for an empty auditorium. It's like having an artist do her best painting and then hanging it in a closet. Even worse, actually-- this is like having those endeavors judged on how shiny they are, still unseen and unheard by human eyes and ears.

Ohio was offered a choice between doing something cheap and doing something right, and they went with cheap. This is not okay. Shame on you, Ohio.

What's the Teacher Role in a Tech Classroom

This story is a few months old, but still worth a look.

Back in January, Hechinger ran a report about a panel discussion at the NY Edtech Week global innovation festival back a month earlier. It's a reminder once again of how divorced ed tech can be from actual education in actual schools. But writer Tara Garcia Mathewson is still pretty excited:

Computers, laptops and other digital devices have become commonplace in most schools nationwide, changing the way students get instruction and complete assignments. Computers have also digitized student records and taken a whole host of school processes to the cloud. This has created new risks and led to the founding of new departments focused on the safety and security of all this data. It has also created new efficiencies for schools.

Well, that observation about keeping all this data safe is certainly timely, but the argument about efficiencies seems as timeless as a Shakespeare play.

Phil Dunn, the IT guy for Greenwich Public Schools says, basically, that newer IT makes his job as the IT guy easier. That is... unsurprising?

Mathewson also deploys a construction that I scold my students for frequently:

New technologies are coming out all the time. Some make life better and easier for the people who use them. Some make life different, but not necessarily better. And there are definitely the technologies — designed for the classroom and elsewhere — that make life, or learning, worse.

So some tech makes things better, some makes it worse, and some makes it different? That just about covers all the possibilities, right?

But it takes a guy whose job is pushing ed tech to really really demonstrate just how clueless some edtech people are about the ed part. Chris Rush is a co-founder and chief program officer of New Classrooms, one more "non-profit" group that is pushing product like crazy. They are all in on "personalized learning" ("Teach To One" math is their product) and adaptive software and you'll be unsusprised to discover they are supported to the tune of over-a-million-dollars each by Bezos, Gates, Dell, Chan-Zuckerberg and something called New Profit, Inc, a "national nonprofit venture philanthropy fund (and fans of Pay For Success, aka Social Impact Bonds)." Here in part is what New Classrooms has to say about their approach:

Our performance-based tasks don’t fit neatly into any single pedagogical practice. Because students work for an extended period of time on real-world challenges, there are some shades of project-based learning.

A key difference is that they are closely connected to specific skills and exit slips that are part of each student’s personalized curriculum, making it less open-ended than traditional project-based learning. In either case, the goal is the same: for students to acquire deeper knowledge.

The teacher’s role in this kind of learning experience is multifaceted, using a combination of techniques: planning, direct instruction, facilitating, challenging, and cheerleading.

So, teaching, only with computer-aligned educational jargon attached. Does New Classrooms know what it's doing? Well, back at the panel discussion, Rush had a few things to say:

Teachers spend a significant amount of time scoring papers rather than spending time with students

Wait! What? Does Rush imagine that in a traditional classroom, teachers say, "Okay, you students just do some stuff, but I'm going to be sitting at my desk grading things." Seriously? Because my wife, the fourth grade teacher who most daysdoesn't even have enough non-student-interaction time to allow her to pee, would disagree.

Let me be clear. Teachers do not spend time scoring papers instead of spending time with students. They spend time scoring papers instead of eating or peeing or interacting with their own children at home or instead of sleeping.

Also, leaving notes, explanations, thoughts, responses, and reactions written out on a piece of student work is, in fact, a form of interacting with students.

Automating not only multiple-choice test scoring but the grading of essays and project work would give teachers more time to focus on the student interaction that they’re uniquely capable of.

Automating multiple-choice test scoring is fine but A) good teachers know that multiple-choice tests are the lowest form of assessment and B) they take very little time to score anyway, which is why some teachers use them even when we know better.

Also, and I wan to make sure I'm really clear about this--

Computers are not capable of assessing writing. Computers are not capable of assessing writing. Computers are not capable of assessing writing. Computers are not capable of assessing writing. Computers are not capable of assessing writing. Computers are not capable of assessing writing. Computers are not capable of assessing writing. Computers are not capable of assessing writing. Computers are not capable of assessing writing. Computers are not capable of assessing writing. Computers are not capable of assessing writing. Computers are not capable of assessing writing. Computers are not capable of assessing writing. Computers are not capable of assessing writing. Computers are not capable of assessing writing. Computers are not capable of assessing writing. Computers are not capable of assessing writing. Computers are not capable of assessing writing. Computers are not capable of assessing writing. Computers are not capable of assessing writing. Computers are not capable of assessing writing. Computers are not capable of assessing writing. Computers are not capable of assessing writing. Computers are not capable of assessing writing. Computers are not capable of assessing writing. Computers are not capable of assessing writing. Computers are not capable of assessing writing. Computers are not capable of assessing writing. Computers are not capable of assessing writing. Computers are not capable of assessing writing. Computers are not capable of assessing writing. Computers are not capable of assessing writing. Computers are not capable of assessing writing. Computers are not capable of assessing writing. Computers are not capable of assessing writing. Computers are not capable of assessing writing.

I refer you to the work of Les Perelman for more specifics (here and here and here for starters). But to sum up my point-- computers are not capable of assessing writing.

Up next...

Jonathan Supovitz, director of the Consortium for Policy Research in Education at the University of Pennsylvania, talked about school improvement. Using a sports analogy, he said coaches don’t just look at the game summaries to consider how their players did. They look at videos of each play. Data systems in schools, though, skip straight to the summaries, Supovitz said. The play-by-play is missing.

Supovitz calls that missing data the "next frontier." I call it "what teachers already do."

But when the issue of what teachers will do comes up, the panel has more bosh to shovel. Rather than sidelining teachers, some panel members say that "teacher skills will just need to change." This is, indeed, the oldest ed tech pitch in the book.

Ed tech: We have invented a great new glass hammer for you to buy and use to build birdbaths.

Teacher: We are building great, solid houses for humans with power screwdrivers and wood screws.

Ed tech: Well, once you change your whole methodology, purpose and program, this hammer will be really useful.

What needs to change this time? Supovitz says "there will be a demand for teachers who are more sophisticated about looking at and responding to student performance data."

No problem, because that's what teachers do all day, every day. Except that by "more sophisticated" what he means is "Our system is not designed to give you the data you want and need, but to give you the data we decided to give you, so you're going to have to learn how to dig the data you actually need out of our reports." Gosh, thanks for all your help. I'm sure the company will also sell the professional development needed to "support this additional responsibility."

Put another way, ed tech sees a role for teacher, and that role is not so much "instructional leader" as "meat widget responsible for bridging the gap between the company has figured out how to do and what the students actually need." Ed Tech companies will provide all the glass hammers, and teachers can figure out how to use glass hammers and wood screws to build a solid house.

Sunday, March 18, 2018

ICYMI: St.Patrick's Day After Edition (3/18)

Here's a few choice tidbits for the week. Read and share!

School Choice Is a Lie That Harms Us All

From HuffPost. Zero punches pulled here.

Many Democrats Would Agree with Ideas in DeVos Clip

While everyone was hammering the awful 60 Minutes clips, Slate pointed out that many DeVos policy ideas have Dem Party faves for years.

Betsy DeVos Visited an Underperforming School.

This is a great catch. When DeVos said she never intentionally visited an underperforming school, she wasn't being obtuse-- just precise. She did visit a failing school-- but not on purpose. It was supposed to be an example of charter excellence.

Worst Government Possible on Purpose

In which even the mainstream Rolling Stones can see the DeVos is a disaster

What DeVos Needs To Hear

A venture capitalist traveled to 200 schools to learn something. What he learned is that much reformster rhetoric is baloney.

The Truth about Charter Schools

A former charter teacher talks about how awful it was.

When the Charter Lobby Wants Your Turf

From Chicago-- what it looks like when charter boosters want a piece of your action.

Facts About New Jersey Charters, Part II

Mark Weber continues to excerpt his report with Julia Sass Rubin, looking this time at just how many students with special needs NJ charters really teach

Lessons from the West Virginia Teachers Strike

The Have You Heard podcast landed a mountain of WV teacher interviews. You will not find a better picture of what happened.

Why Public Schools?

Jeff Bryant looks at why public schools seem to be the origin of so much rebellion these days.

Saturday, March 17, 2018

Harvest Time in Dataland

If you have not already caught the story breaking today, you may want to take a moment and read about how Cambridge Analytica harvested a giant mountain of data from Facebook in order to help Trump win the election. And by giant mountain I mean, apparently, something like 50 million people.

There will be a bunch of noise about the "helped Trump win the election" part of this, but for the education angle, I'd like to focus on just a couple of things.

First, the how. The company got a bunch of people to take a personality test and have their personal data collected. Cambridge Analytica went ahead and used that "in" to hover up data from all their friends. This is a violation of Facebook rules, but fat lot of good that does anybody after the fact. Strands of data are interconnected all over the place-- someone picks up one strand and just starts pulling and heaven only knows where it ends. But it's worth noting that this was not a hack, exactly-- just a willingness to ignore the rules in pursuit of profit.

Also, every time you take one of those "Which condiment are you" or "We can guess your IQ by how you answer these questions about fish" quizzes, the main point is not the quiz-- it's the permissions you give to the quiz app creators without even noticing it.

Second, the who. Facebook is a giant pile of data, and that means that people will attack it for the same reason Willie Sutton supposedly robbed banks ("That's where the money is.") Facebook should have the biggest, baddest data vault in the world. They don't. And this is all important because Facebook is the point of origin for Summit schools, a data-grabbing charter system that now aims to scale up by putting their software in schools all across the country. Can parents expect a bundle of education software to have greater data protection than Facebook? Or will students who get involved in such edu-programs become vulnerable to anyone who wants to chase their data through legit or illegit means? I'm betting the second one.

And note-- Facebook knew the violations were happening, and they kept their corporate mouth shut and did nothing. Not exactly a data watchdog.

Third, the what. Cambridge Analytica didn't just use data for straight-up analysis on the order of "Do most people like lox on their bagels?" They crunched that data in order to generate behavioral profiles that would allow them to nudge and manipulate the behavior of millions of people. They used that data to try to throw the election for the President of the United States. The lesson is clear-- a whole bunch of data is worth a lot of power and money, and therefor provides ample motivation for bad actors to do bad things. Do you think the massive pile of students data gathered by educational software will work any differently?

Fourth, my ex-wife's junk mail. I can't say this hard enough-- on top of all the Big Brothery things we worry about Big Brother doing, we should also worry about Big Data's tendency to get things wrong. It takes not one, but a whole series of mistakes, to send my ex-wife's mail to my current address (particularly under her subsequent married names)-- but it still happens. And there isn't a thing anybody can do about it, because once a mistake (or twelve) makes it into the Great Data Swamp, there's nobody with the power to fish it out or fix it.

We have not even begun to wrestle with the practical, legal and ethical issues of Big Data running loose in society. We sure as hell aren't ready to deal with Big Data in the schoolhouse (which, I suspect, is precisely why Big Data is in a hurry to get there before we can really think about it). Every one of these data adventures is one more reminder of how not-ready-for-big-data-in-schools we really are, and how careful we should be before we let the Big Data harvester mow down fields of students.

Friday, March 16, 2018

Blowing (Up) Your Mind Trust

When I first wrote about Indianapolis's Mind Trust, it was because they were looking for New School Leaders on Twitter. When I started digging, what I discovered was not very heartening.

Mind Trust was launched in 2006 by David Harris, who voluntarily left the mayor's office to start it, and Bart Peterson, who would involuntarily leave the office of mayor the very next year.

Indiana had already started the charter school gravy train in 2001 by handing the reins of the Indianapolis school system to the mayor (that was Peterson) who promptly created an office for developing and launching charter schools (that was Harris). The Mind Trust was a next step, a way to work on what Harris called "stimulating supply." This meant connecting big money backers with charter entrepreneurs, pushing what the called "Opportunity Schools." Indianapolis became a reformster oasis, with generous donations to groups like Teacher for America, backed by folks like Education Reform Now (an arm of DFER) and Stand for Children.

The playbook by now is familiar-- declare public schools a terrible failure, take a bunch of money away from them, use it to plant baskets full of charter schools. Harris was a source of ridiculous commenst like "when you go to schools that have excellent test scores, they're not teaching to the test" and "when people say we're trying to privatize education, I really don't understand that." And then they proceeded to privatize the hell out of Indiana's school system.

Now Indiana has "Innovation Schools" which are schools operated on the Visionary CEO model, where one awesome guy gets to run a school unh9indered by all those dumb rules and things. Or as Mind Trust's Number 2 (soon to be Number 1) Brandon Brown:

We believe it’s critically important to have real, school level autonomy. We think it’s critical that you have an exceptional school leader in charge of that school

In other words, some Great Man of Vision who can hire and fire and pull policy out of his butt at will. The whole business is a hit with other reformsters:

“David Harris is one of the most thoughtful and pragmatic education leaders in the nation,” Neerav Kingsland, who leads K-12 education work for the Arnold Foundation, wrote in an email. “The partnership between Indianapolis Public Schools and The Mind Trust serves as a model of how school districts and non-profits can work together to get more kids into great schools.”

Kingsland is not just an Arnold Foundation guy-- he's also one of the architects of the post-Katrina mess in New Orleans. The mind of partnership is the kind you get when charter fans get control of a public school system so that stop resisting and actively cooperate with the charter attempt to gut them. The result-- almost half of Indianapolis students are in a charter school, and the public system is in trouble.

“I honestly think that if The Mind Trust … hadn’t been in Indianapolis over the past 10 or 11 years, that IPS would not be decimated and flailing like it is now,” said Chrissy Smith, a parent and member of the IPS Community Coalition, a local group that is critical of the current administration. “We would not see innovation schools coming in. We would not see the proliferation of charter schools.”

All of this matters because the Mind Trust is aiming to pursue the dream of all reform programs-- to scale up. Harris has been widely announced to be "stepping down," but that's not really accurate. As reformsters will, he is stepping up, ready to take the Mind Trust model national.

What will that actually mean? The Mind Trust model depends on

* piles of cash from the usual backers to help launch things
* new, friendly regulations
* and inside man or two who will get the public school system to roll over and let charter developers do as they wish
* visionary CEO style school leaders (with, obviously, no real education background)

That means the Mind Trust model will translate to some region better than others, plus there will be the added issue of established reformsters reacting to a new guy muscling in on their territory. Hard to say how this will fall out, but if you see David Harris headed for your neighborhood public school, it's time to be extra alert, because he is not there to help.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

10 Reasons To Support Public School

You may have missed the fact that this is National Public Schools Week, or you may have noticed it on Monday, but now it's Thursday and who can really remember these things for the entire week? And, of course, public schools do not have giant slick PR departments to create polished promotional materials for such a week. You might think that the United States Department of Education might make some noise-- any noise-- in support of public education, but over the past couple of decades, the department has moved from uninterested in public education over to openly hostile toward it.

Public education has become a political orphan in this country. So it's important to take the time to remember why US public education is actually a great thing. Here are some reasons.

1) Public schools are student-centered.

In many countries, public education is simply a system for telling children what they get to be when they grow up. Does Pat want to be a doctor, a lawyer or a civil engineer? Too bad-- the school system has determined that Pat should be an elevator repair person, and so that's what Pat gets to do.

But in our system, Pat gets to chart a course and the public school system is obliged to help Pat steer in that direction. Our system is not created to whip up a batch of employees for businesses, and it's not set up to tell Pat what the future is supposed to hold. It is set up to allow, aid and support Pat in making Pat's own choices.

2) Public schools are publically owned and operated.

The local taxpayers fund schools and elect the people who will run them. The taxpayers own the buildings and pay the salaries of the people who work in them. That means that public schools, unlike any other private business, cannot be gutted and squeezed for profit at the expense of a long, sustainable life (like, say, Toys R Us). That also means that the taxpayers get to ask any questions they like and know anything they want to know about how their money is being spent.

3) Public schools are enduring community institutions.

While some charters and private schools may just close down on a moment's notice, public schools are an enduring part of their community, remaining even if it's not profitable for them to stay open. In many communities, public schools are one of the most stable institutions.

And people believe in them. Yes, people grouse and complain, and yes people want their school taxes to be roughly $1.50. But when it's time to do something to help children. to improve their lives, to make them better able to cope with one problem or another, who do we always turn to? Public schools. Even when public schools fail an entire community, we don't hear demands like "Well, just release our children from any requirement to go to school at all." No-- people demand that they get the public schools they are supposed to have.

4) Public schools are responsible for all students, no matter what.

A public school system cannot pick and choose its students. It has a responsibility, both moral and legal, to provide an education to every student, even the ones who are difficult or expensive to teach.  It's easier to educate just some students, to pick and choose the ones you'd like to work with, the ones that barely need you at all. But to educate every single child is a far bolder and broader mission-- and it's the one we've given to public schools.

5) Public schools are the last great salad.

So much of current society is sorted and gated, with people making sure they associate only with the people they want to associate. There is certainly plenty of sorting of neighborhoods and communities that is manifested in community schools-- but public schools still feature the kind of mixing and interaction that we no longer see anywhere else in our country.

6) Public schools are a glorious mess.

Because public schools represent and respond to the interests of so many different people, those schools are messy. Many varied programs, teachers, activities, and classes all exist under one roof. It can seem unfocused and scatter-shot, but that's the beauty of it; the alternative is a regimented, orderly approach that squelches variety and outliers, and that approach benefits nobody.

7) Public schools are remarkably efficient.

Strapped for resources, public school systems must make every dollar count. There are no $500 toilet seats in public school restrooms, no $250 pencils in classrooms, and few districts that run twelve different buildings where one will do.

8) Public schools are staffed by trained professionals who devote their lives to the work.

It sucks that teachers aren't paid like rock stars, but we can say this-- nobody is in teaching just for the money, glory and fame. Nobody is hating the classroom but thinking, "Well, I still need to make enough money for a second Lexus." Public school teachers are neither martyrs nor saints, but they are in the classroom because they want to be there.

9) Public schools help create citizens

That's no small thing. s noted above, many educational systems simply aspire to create functional employees-- and that's it. A little vocational training, and out the door you go. But for democracy (or a republic style version thereof) to survive and flourish, you need a nation of educated people.

10) The promise of public education

By now, you have already talked back to this piece, telling your screen about all the exceptions you can think of, all the ways that public schools failed at the eight traits I listed above. And you're right-- public schools have failed in many ways over the decades, from the failure of institutional racism to the failure to fully embrace every single child. In our large and varied history, we have fallen short many times.

But here's the thin. You can only fall short of a goal if you have a goal. US public schools aspire to do great things, which means every day of every year, we are trying to rise and advance, to improve and grow. In this, we are truly American-- this country started by setting high standards and goals for itself, and it has spent centuries trying to live up to them. But if our goals were simply "I want to make myself rich" or "I want to have power over Those People" then we would have no hope of improving. If public schools set goals like "Just try to turn a profit this quarter" or "Get high scores on that one test" then we would have no hope, no prospect for greatness ever.

Our dream is to provide every single child with the support and knowledge and skills and education that will allow each to pursue the life they dream of, to become more fully themselves, to understand what it means to be human in the world. We do not always live up to that dream, but US public schools have lifted up millions upon millions of students, elevated communities, raised up a country.

So take a moment this week to honor and acknowledge National Pubic Schools Week. And if you have two moments, use one to send a message to your elected representatives, asking them to acknowledge this week as well.