Should Teenage Trick or Treaters Go to Jail?

For 20 years, I lived in a subdivision in the heart of the school district where I was teaching. Halloween was a big deal—we’d get a couple hundred trick-or-treaters if the weather was nice. Many of them were my middle school students, or former students, now in high school. I bought a lot of candy. The good stuff.

I’d put speakers in an open window, and a spooky music playlist on my iPod (remember iPods?)—pieces that were part of my annual spooky-music lesson plan. The kid who asked ‘Is that Night on Bald Mountain?’ would get an extra piece of candy. And the boys who came for candy, left and switched costumes on the street, then came back—twice—got another piece both times and props for ingenuity.

I would dress up. This was easy—same costume every year—because my 8th grade students performed a Halloween-themed concert, and I was always the Wicked Witch of the Band Room.  It’s a perfect time of year for students with two years’ worth of playing experience to prepare a fun program, stretching their musical skills and knowledge.wickedwitch3

The students dressed in costumes. This was a hard sell for some of them, but they were assured that ‘costume’ could mean something very simple—perennially, there were boys in shoulder pads and football jersey, toting their euphoniums into the gym to play Danse Macabre.

My principals, over the decade we did this concert, were supportive—all school leaders love events that bring hundreds of happy parents into the building, especially when small children are welcome.

One principal was open to all students dressing in non-violent costumes when October 31 was a school day. This did not go down well with a subset of the faculty, who felt middle schoolers were too old for such nonsense and that costumes would be a major distraction to learning.

Are your students typically focused and quiet on Halloween? she asked. Well, no. So let’s let them be kids a little longer. Endorse a little good, clean fun in a safe space.

She was right. Halloween, once a neighborhood-based candy grab for little tots, has turned into a major commercial boondoggle with pop-up stores, sexy whatever costumes and a lot of serial-zombie blood and gore.

Telling seventh graders that they’re too old for all the fun and have to stay in the house and do their math homework isn’t likely to change their minds about anything. And just try to keep your HS sophomore home if their friends are out creating minor-league mayhem. Better they should be in their own neighborhoods, toting pillowcases full of loot, or at parties where there’s a parent upstairs.

So how old is too old?

Chesapeake, Virginia says 13 is the age when trick-or-treaters should be fined or sent to jail, for up to six months. No, really. And if you’re out at 8:05 p.m., it’s a misdemeanor.

I don’t know who made up these rules in Chesapeake, but good luck enforcing them.

And pass me another fun-sized Snickers.


Tired of Democratic Infighting? How Much of it is Sexism?

So—Elizabeth Warren released her very progressive K-12 Education Plan yesterday. As soon as it was released, I got a text with a link to the plan, which I read, top to bottom. Just as I have read the other K-12 education plans.

I get texts about all of Warren’s plans, as soon as they’re developed. I assume this is because I donated to Warren. Actually, I have donated to six candidates this year (those tiny little donations that candidates claim they treasure). One of them has dropped out, but I gave money to two men and four women. Warren is not my preferred candidate—although she’s certainly in my top three. She just seems to be the one with the target on her back. Or, more likely, her head.

I get plenty of email and texts from all of these candidates, some more than others. I delete the money requests, but I read the plans. Because I am interested in what candidates see as political priorities.

Not that any of them, individually, has the political muscle to leverage a full-blown transformation of public education, a totally free national health program, tuition-less college and cancelling student debt. I am a mature, well-informed citizen who pays attention to politics. I’ve known better than to vote for the candidate with the most tempting promises since the 1970s.

That doesn’t mean that policy briefs don’t matter. They certainly do. But could we please stop doing line-by-line comparisons of campaign platforms, looking for miniscule differences? Let’s look for the highlights, the goals and principles of good governance– and more important, the smarts and stamina of who endorsed them.

The fight for what we really get (or don’t get) comes later. Much later. The issues and sub-issues will be hammered out, one by one, in the 2021 Congress. And it would be a shame if we weren’t on the same page then, when it really does matter. Anybody notice how the make-up of Congress is shaping the news these days? Let’s put some attention there.

I was working on another—probably better—blog this morning. I took a break to look at the ongoing conversation on social media. And it was beyond discouraging.

This is awful stuff to read, on friends’ pages. It’s not because we have ‘too many’ Democratic candidates. It’s not about the flaws in Democratic party power-wielding. It’s not about who has strongest platform or policy ideas—because those are just…ideas. It’s because we’re back in boots-or-flipflops mode, obsessing over the polls, the public fights, the personalities. Some of us love the infighting, but it’s dangerous.


On the morning of November 9, 2016, as I was moping around, red-eyed and sleep-deprived, I said to my husband: I wonder when America will be ready for a woman president.

He thought I was over-simplifying what happened, that maybe America just didn’t want Hillary, not anywoman, to be president. He suggested it wasn’t incipient sexism underlying the most stunning loss since Dewey vs. Truman—just a lack of enthusiasm, or some other ephemeral reason—James Comey? The Russians?

But now that we have multiple outspoken, qualified women candidates, it feels like déjà vu—nobody wants to be perceived as sexist, but there it is. Let me go out on a limb here and say that I would very much like to have a woman in the White House before I die. Even if she’s pedantic or not perfect on health care or didn’t do well in one of the debates. It’s time.

I am about to return to that better blog, which actually is about a single topic, with a point to be made. Unlike this blog, which is nothing more than free-floating resentment. Sorry.

I think Warren’s K-12 plan is a good as it gets for any unrealistic grab-bag of Democratic dreams.  She promises to support unions. She talks about the folly of testing. She apparently understands how underfunding has harmed schools. Best of all, she provides a full-throated defense of genuinely public education. Have at it.


Hidden Messages Your School Sends to Students

Once, at a staff meeting, my principal shared a short video he’d seen at an administrators’ conference.  It was an effort, I think, to talk about important things at mandated staff meetings, rather than simple announcements. Although there was a lot of eye-rolling when he cued it up, I thought it was worthwhile, with some apt observations about schooling.

One of those was a suggestion that if we wanted to assess what was most important to us, we should look at the times when the normal academic schedule was disrupted, and the student body gathered for an all-school assembly.

At that point in the school year, we’d had five assemblies:

  • An assembly on the first day, where students were welcomed, then informed which teacher would be leading them to their first hour class and giving them schedules.
  • An annual ‘rules’ assembly for each grade, where the assistant principal went through all the rules in the student handbook.
  • An all-school assembly to introduce the annual fund-raiser, and a follow-up assembly, two weeks later, to reward all the students who sold enough sausage and cheese with an hour out of class to play in bouncy castles and batting cages.
  • A fall sports assembly to recognize athletic teams.

I mentioned this to my principal, who asked tartly if I thought that our school was all about schedules, rules, fund-raising and sports? Why else would we be having assemblies? And did I think that bringing this up to the staff would endear me to him or anyone else?

Actually, I didn’t think our school was focused on administrivia or making money. I thought our teachers, pretty much, were doing interesting things in their classrooms, and our students were offered a nice variety of meaningful activities and clubs.

During the time I taught there, we hosted Holocaust survivors, who sat on folding chairs in front of the bleachers, holding microphones, 800 silent students listening intently to their stories. We also had square dancing assemblies where everyone participated, concerts where band and choir students performed for their peers, and student drama productions. It was—still is—a good place to teach.

But the idea stuck in my head: What are the hidden messages in our conventional school practices?

I learned about the hidden curriculum while working on my masters degree, back in the 1970s, reading Michael Apple and Philip Jackson. It made perfect sense then. But it didn’t much impact my teaching or the hundreds of embedded habits that shaped practice in my building, from 55-minute periods to detentions to tracking.  School was school, and like most teachers, my M.O. was ‘go along to get along.’ It took a long time and a lot of courage to ever raise a question around Things We Always Do.

Why? Because teachers who rock the boat aren’t popular.

A colleague who asks about changing the grading system, or altering the discipline policy, will face a lot of resistance, even if those practices are harming students. It took my district years to pass a ‘no paddling’ policy, even after 95% of the staff had stopped physical punishments, knowing they were cruel and pointless.

I thought about that video when I read Alfie Kohn’s tweet this week:

The entrance area that greets visitors to a typical high school contains two things: evidence (in the form of trophies) that its students triumphed over students from other schools & plaques listing which of its students are better than others. Assignment (for administrators, teachers, and kids): Design a school lobby that reflects a commitment to collaboration and community rather than to sorting and triumphing.

The tweet rang my chimes. I once brought a First Division band festival plaque to the Athletic Director (who had the keys to the showcase) and asked if it could be displayed. He explained that no, the showcase–actually, all the showcases–were for athletic accomplishments. I should hang the band’s plaque on the band room wall. Those showcases, of course were not in the gym, the locker room or athletic department hallway. They were four of them in a main entrance to the school commons, and filled with ancient, often rusting, exemplars of Teams Gone By, people whose names nobody knew.

The not-so-hidden message there, of course, was Sports First, other student accomplishments not so much–a sentiment familiar to many debate coaches, drama club advisors, journalism sponsors, robotics volunteers and National Honor Societies.

I did hang the plaque on the wall of the band room, and added several more, over the years. When I left the job, my successor took them all down and mailed them to me in a cardboard box. So much for tradition and pride in the program.

Kohn’s challenge is right on the money: How can schools challenge their students to build strong communities that bring out the best in all students? How should this be reflected in the school environment?

‘Visibly Pregnant’ Is Not What Matters Most in National Conversation around Women in Teaching

Like most women of a certain age, I identified strongly with Elizabeth Warren’s story of being shown the door once ‘visibly pregnant’—not to mention the alternative certification that got her into a classroom, and her ultimate decision to leave teaching and go to law school, rather than hurdle the licensure barriers in returning to a special education position. Millions of us have stories about becoming parents while teaching, and a lot of them aren’t pretty.

And millions of us agree with Joan Walsh: The Warren story matters because it plays into the way we’ve all been socialized to see women as untrustworthy, which, honestly folks, is gonna make it hard to elect our first woman president. Precisely.

I am gratified that so many testified that yes, Virginia, women—up through and even past the 1980s—have experienced discrimination because they were pregnant or new mothers. Other first-world nations have vastly better maternity leave practices than the United States. The thought that we might soon have a high-level champion for bringing the United States into the 21st century, vis-à-vis equitable child-bearing/rearing policy, is encouraging, even thrilling.

Still, I don’t think Elizabeth Warren represents teaching any more than I thought Laura Bush was a bona fide literacy expert, or that Karen Pence is a reliable source for policy on human rights in education. Just because you’ve been in a K-12 classroom for a short stint doesn’t make you a valid spokesperson for core issues in public education. (Are you listening, Teach for America?)

I tend to agree with my friend Ken Jackson, Professor and Associate Dean at Wayne State University in Detroit, who wrote:

Our national blind spot: the story is not whether Warren was or was not treated fairly by the school principal in 1971 when she was “visibly pregnant.” The story is that–at that time–American classrooms were stocked with people of Warren’s intellect, charisma, and ability. Most were women. That massive labor force has long since moved out of classroom teaching. It isn’t coming back. And American education is running on fumes.

Warren – amidst this trip down memory lane – seems to have little sense of this either. The irony? If by chance she does become President, the crisis in classroom teaching will hit hardest on her watch. People have been fleeing and avoiding the profession since the 80s. The last crop of talented, serious teachers is heading into the last phase of their careers. It really is that simple.

I asked Ken why he thought Warren did not recognize this impending crisis, and he mentioned her uninspiring pledge to make a teacher Secretary of Education. On that issue, I agree with him—perhaps surprisingly, because I think I am a strong advocate for teachers. Which teacher Warren would name as Secretary of Education? I have met plenty of teachers, including award-winning, exemplary classroom practitioners, whose skill sets do not include the policy-crafting expertise, let alone the stomach, to deftly manage bull-headed legislators.

Not that our most recent EdSecs have been paragons of skill and integrity in improving public education, of course.

I once spent an afternoon with a teacher who’d earned multiple pedagogical awards. He came directly out of a high school classroom onto Arne Duncan’s staff, tapped by his Congressman. He told me he’d been excited to get the job, thinking he could make a difference, represent teachers at the proverbial table, share key insights into what schools needed to thrive.

He said shreds of that belief lasted for perhaps six weeks. Lately, he’d found himself thinking that teachers were naïve, even whiny. Still, he got up every morning, put on a suit and tie and went to work. He was considering running for office, because that’s where the power levers were.

And that’s the key point here. There is a serious need to protect what’s good in public education—and there’s a lot—and invest in a reimagined future for schools. If that sounds like wishy-washy BS, it’s because we’ve lost faith in the power of our once-strong public institutions. We need leaders who will explicitly commit to our common goals and values, grab power assertively, and use it for public good.

That’s a big difference from appointing a teacher Secretary of Education. Or ginning up pointless arguments about whether or not a principal pushed a good teacher out of the classroom, 40 years ago, a story generated by  Jacobin staff writer Meagan Day, a Bernie Sanders supporter.

Still—as Jack Schneider says: We should take care to note the way that gender continues to shape the nature of credibility. Do we believe women the way we believe men? The way we respond to this present controversy will tell us something about how far we’ve come, or about how far we have yet to go.

There are serious issues to be hashed through around public education—the diminishing talent pipeline and gender inequity are only two. I disagree with Ken’s thinking that we’ve seen the last crop of talented and serious teachers—I know too many young teachers who have persisted, driven by a deep desire to be excellent—but we genuinely could be in the process of losing one of the foundational cornerstones of American democracy: public schools.

Even if Warren were to be elected, a latent lack of trust in female leaders won’t go away. Our only choice is to keep electing women and keep pushing them to be fearless in seeking power and change.  Photo credit.

Blinded by ‘Science’

At a moment when half of our elected officials are resisting Political Science as means of preserving democracy, or Climate Science as a resource for, say, saving the planet, it must be reassuring to some that the Education field, at least, seems to be pursuing Science these days. Aggressively.

Science standards this and scientific method that and exponential STEM everywhere. Because jobs.

Except—that’s not really the case. Currently, the top ten job opportunities in STEM fields are all in the T part of STEM, and there’s actually not much call for biochemists (and not a lot of money to be made, either). In fact, there are 10 times as many graduates in the life sciences as there are jobs. You can teach, of course, but—the party line is that a STEM degree will take you away from pedestrian careers like teaching into the glamorous world of lab coats and bubbling test tubes.

And speaking of…the ‘science of reading’ has bubbled up, again. If you’ve been paying attention, you’ll know that mainstream media is now eagerly printing pieces claiming that we have known all along, for decades, how to teach reading—that it’s ‘settled science.’ For some reason, these articles claim, benighted teachers everywhere have either not adopted this one sure-fire method, or more likely, their university training did not include scientific reading pedagogy.

Those teachers! Those colleges! When will they accept Science and teach all children to read the same way?

More than enough digital ink has been squandered on the Reading Wars (and accompanying smackdowns of the hard-won expertise of veteran early childhood teachers with actual students)—but this focus on Science is a new twist. No more book whisperers, personal literacy journeys or other soft terms of art. Bring on the scientific worksheets!

Insistent nudging of reading teachers toward Science pales in comparison to Ulrich Boser’s recent headline in the Education Post: It’s Time to Help Teachers Discover the Science Behind How Kids Learn.  Boser, according to his bio, is a Senior Fellow, a Founder, a Founding Director, an author and Not a Teacher.

I seldom read anything on Education Post but was drawn to the title, and Boser’s opening statement:  We recently surveyed around 200 K-12 educators from across the U.S. to discover their beliefs about learning. The results were not good—and say a lot about the nation’s system of training educators. 

Whoa. The nation’s teachers and those who train them, cut down in one sweep, by Science.

Now, I’m no scientist but it seems like the thoughts of 200 (out of nearly 4 million) teachers, captured by a survey, might not be the most valid and reliable evidence, but hey– I learned to read via the look-say method, so what do I know?

I went to Ed School in the 1970s, and back then, we all took classes on learning theory and educational psychology—the science behind how kids learn. I don’t remember a great deal—they were always textbook/lecture/test courses (there’s some irony in that).

But I remember covering Plato, Bruner, Vygotsky, Piaget, all the biggies. We learned about Skinner and behaviorism—operant conditioning was all the rage in the 1970s classroom—but that never worked as it was supposed to in my classroom.

I would venture to guess that most experienced teachers remember fragments of learning theory, adapted and applied to what has actually happened in their daily practice. They know, for example, that there is a sweet spot in learning—what Vygotsky called the zone of proximal development—where new learning is both achievable and challenging. I personally know that prior learning—the gestalt–matters a great deal. I learned this when I began teaching beginning band to kids who’d never had elementary music and couldn’t match pitches or keep a steady beat.

Boser makes a lot of claims, beginning with the ever-popular ‘Teachers (97% of them, he says) believe in learning styles but they don’t exist! So there!’ You have to ask yourself this question: If it is true that 97% of teachers believe there is some prima facie validity to learning styles, based on their lying eyes, what exactly are they missing?

He provides lots of statistics-based examples of teachers’ intellectual failures and misunderstandings, then Boser hits us with this:  The overall picture suggests that teachers have weak overall knowledge about learning principles. Out of 17 questions related to learning myths and research-supported teaching strategies, respondents performed only slightly better than chance. Respondents got 8.34 questions correct on average—random guessing would give an average response rate of 6.63.

Boser doesn’t have to spell it out any more plainly. Teachers be dumb.

Having set up a giant straw man of an entire professions’ scientific ignorance, Ulrich Boser tells us what we can do about this dire situation. You guessed it—we can get teachers some professional help. Or, as Boser memorably says: How can we create a learning engineering agenda?

Just so happens that he’s the Founding Director of The Learning Agency (‘Part consultancy, part service provider, part communications firm, the Learning Agency’s difference is the science of expertise’). Also: he did a TED talk.

What about the professional development that teachers routinely get, provided by their schools? Isn’t that supposed to be research-based?  Teachers in Boser’s survey claimed they got their updated knowledge about teaching from workshops, conferences, school-mandated professional development and colleagues, which sounds about right to me.

Boser, however, feels that ‘leading teacher training materials’ featured an ‘astounding lack of science’ and working collaboratively with colleagues merely leads to ‘anecdotal’ sharing, not (yup) ‘hard science.’

I once worked with a second-career teacher who had been a chemist in a large, multinational corporation for 25 years, but wanted to get out of the rat race and be a teacher (his words) at the end of his work life. He did a year-long, night-courses teacher certification program at a four-year university, and a semester of student teaching, for the tradeoff of more satisfying work at a lower salary. He wanted to ‘give back.’

He had no trouble getting a job teaching Chemistry in a suburban school. The principal was thrilled to get a real, live chemist with applied scientific expertise. I was his e-mentor.

When he arrived at school in August, he was shocked to find that he’d been assigned four hours of Chemistry and one hour of AP Chemistry. They were two different courses! Twice as much preparation—and by the way, school was starting, and nobody had given him any lesson plans. I told him to be prepared to create his own lesson plans. Another shock.

We’d never do anything like this at Big Multinational, he said. Why would every teacher create new lesson plans? That wasn’t efficient.

Because, I said, you haven’t met your students yet. You don’t know what they know or what they need now. You’ll be tailoring and tinkering with your plans all year long—and ask the other Chemistry teacher for advice before you start writing.

Would all teachers benefit from a more scientific approach to teaching and learning? Or should they just go on collaborating, sharing ideas with colleagues and field-testing their own methods and strategies, building a practice around their own observations?

Ask a teacher.


Who Cares about Knowledge—or the Public Good?

I have to start with a confession: I am a PhD dropout.

After 31 years of teaching mostly secondary Instrumental Music, with brief forays into 7th grade math, English as a Second Language, a Gifted Student pull-out program, and random K-12 music courses (which I was actually qualified to teach), I decided to pursue a PhD in Education Policy when I retired.

I wanted to study education policy intensively. I was tired of being the object of education policy and wanted to be a partner in creating that policy.

I wanted to learn everything I could about where the power levers were and figure out how we found ourselves—a wealthy, democratic society which generated the unique idea of a free, high-quality common school for all children—in a such a muddle.

Why I didn’t finish my terminal degree is a subject for a later column–but I genuinely loved all the coursework, especially digging deep into the purposes and history of public education. The single most impressive researcher and thinker I read was David Labaree. His piece, ‘Public Goods, Private Goods: The American Struggle Over Educational Goals’ made more sense to me than any of the hundreds of books, chapters, monographs and articles I read, reviewed and analyzed in white papers.  From the abstract:

This article explores three alternative goals for American education that have been at the root of educational conflicts over the years: democratic equality (schools should focus on preparing citizens), social efficiency (they should focus on training workers) and social mobility (they should prepare individuals to compete for social positions). These goals represent, respectively, the educational perspective of the citizen, the taxpayer and the consumer. Whereas the first two look on education as a public good, the third sees it as a private good… [T]he growing domination of the social mobility goal has reshaped education into a commodity for the purposes of status attainment and has elevated the pursuit of credentials over the acquisition of knowledge.
American Educational Research Journal,                                                                                        Spring, 1997, Vol. 34, No. 1, pp. 39-81.

Written over 20 years ago, before No Child Left Behind, before the monolithic Common Core State (sic) Standards, just as charter schools and whiz-bang classroom technologies were getting a toehold in the national imagination, Labaree provides a durable analysis of what we could lose (democratic equality) and what we could gain (the hot pursuit of credentials over the acquisition of knowledge) if we weren’t careful.

I re-read the piece every year or so, and damned if it isn’t still accurately evaluating our educational choices and outcomes. We don’t hear, anymore, about the melting pot, the rich townie and the poor farm boy rubbing elbows for the greater civic good of genuine opportunity. And when an articulate bartender, also seeking opportunity, gets elected to Congress, there’s a target on her back.

Today, we watch educators hold teach-ins at the southern border, as children are separated from their parents and put in cages. Hollywood celebrities buy test scores and slots in the most prestigious universities.  Social studies are the ugly stepchild in our STEM-focused, credential-driven world.

Labaree was prescient: Who cares about knowledge—or the public good?

Evidently, some (admirable) people do—and they also care about civic engagement and strengthening democracy. There is a movement to revise the traditional three-branches-of-government Civics curriculum by engaging students in the real work of democracy. From Andrea Gabor:

Civics fell victim to the narrowing of curricula under both Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama, and to the standardized testing regimen that focused on math, science and English. Worried about economic competition from China, neither Democrats nor Republicans anticipated the recent populist and authoritarian threat to Western democracies that civics education is meant to forestall. The reality is, schools need to do both: prepare students for a global economy and to be engaged citizens in a democracy.

The day after a successful student-led Climate Strike is a great time to be discussing this—and Gabor runs down a list of other projects, large and small, where students have provided action leadership, in addition to traditional ‘school’ tasks, like presentations and papers.

A telling fact: educators driving this project have fears about our now-embedded belief that only tests can reveal student learning. This headline says it all: Could Testing Wreck Civics Education?

It’s a thrilling idea, though, at the intersection of political power and scholarship: Students, encouraged by their Civics teachers, use their new-found knowledge and passion to address issues that have been mired in legislative concrete and acrimony for decades.

Labaree is still writing, bemoaning our love affair with easily imposed standardization and structures rather than investing in the potential of individual children:

Erratic funding, poorly prepared teachers, high turnover, dated textbooks – all of these may impede the socially efficient outcomes of education, but they do not prevent reformers from putting in place the central structure of social efficiency in the school system: a tracked curriculum organized around the idea of education for work. 

This is the central rationale around what education policy has become: Education is work training (and all that implies—compliance, duty, relinquishing power in exchange for a wage, and basic, replicable skills replacing human judgment and creativity). Those who have purchased the right credentials will have other options.

Andrea Gabor slips this into her piece quietly, but it’s the central point here: neither Democrats nor Republicans anticipated the recent populist and authoritarian threat to Western democracies. Once education has been devoted entirely to sustaining the economy, it’s no longer a threat to those currently in power.


Why Don’t Democratic Presidential Candidates Talk about Charter Schools?

I was chatting with a group of women last month about the presidential race. All of these women identify as Democrats, and all of them are eager to off-load the current resident of the White House.  We meet monthly, to discuss a current topic, and lately, have closed our gathering by checking in with our current favorites among the candidates. Cory Booker’s name came up.

There was admiration for his smooth, polished presence and rhetoric at debates and on news shows. He was doing well in the debates—and maybe could stand up to Trump, make him look foolish. I interrupted the happy talk: His record on education is terrible. He’s an avowed charter school supporter who nearly destroyed the Newark Public Schools. He’s a big fan of school choice, even vouchers.

I looked around the table at a lot of blank faces. One voice spoke up: So? Why is that so bad?

And then I realized. These women—lovely, principled, left-leaning women—haven’t been fighting the education policy wars for years. One has a grandchild in a charter school.  They want good schools for all kids, but they’re agnostic about alternate school governance. Even a local charter founder spending 41 months in federal prison for tax evasion, having improperly handling millions of public dollars in his quest to establish a lucrative charter chain, didn’t really have much of an impact. That school remains open, drawing over 1000 students from local public districts.

Me? I believe charter schools have done untold damage to public education, and I’ve had twenty years to observe the public money/private management ideology establish itself in Michigan. First, a scattering of alternative-idea boutique schools, another ‘choice’ for picky parents. Then they go after the low-hanging fruit, the schools in deep poverty—and then the healthier districts.  There is now agreement with an idea once unthinkable in America: corporations have a “right” to advertise and sell education, using our tax dollars.

So—no, I cannot be agnostic. In the end, I’d like to see charter schools go away, one at a time, forever, because mountains of evidence have proven that they’re ripe for fraud and malpractice, and because there are far better public-school options, in every city and neighborhood. I think that’s preferable to trying to extinguish or ban charter schools outright—although ending all federal financial support for charters is Step One. That will necessitate a new Secretary of Education. The rest will mean changing hearts and minds—a long, slow process.

Which is why I’m not surprised that most Democratic candidates have not made bold proclamations about charter schools. In the Democratic debate Thursday night, Andrew Yang—a long-time, vocal charter supporter– was the first candidate to field a question about charter schools, a barbed inquiry that also incorporated Yang’s negative comments about teacher unions.

Yang dissembled with a series of talking points all viewers are likely to agree with—we need to pay teachers more and stop focusing on standardized tests, blah blah. When the question was tossed to Booker, he—surprise!—did the same, burying his long-time pro-charter viewpoints under a flurry of unsubstantiated claims of amazing, transformative success in Newark—his own personal fake news.

Aside from Julien Castro’s remark that charter schools were not better than public schools, a truth that a fair segment of America does not recognize, having been subject to media campaigns saying just the opposite, the rest of the candidates steered clear of the charter question. Lots of them said the right stuff about education, from pre-school and HBCUs, to teacher pay and college loans. But even Bernie Sanders, whose comprehensive platform is openly anti-charter, was mum on charters.

I know why we’re not hearing a lot about charters. Approximately six percent of American schoolchildren attend charter schools. It’s not just Betsy DeVos who’s cheerleading for charters—the Obama administration was charter-friendly. Charter school parents are voters. Charter school policies are made at the state level, and unlike Donald Trump, most Democratic candidates seem to have a clear grasp of the idea that they can’t shut down charter schools, en masse, with a stroke of their Sharpie, should they become President.

For many progressive-side parents, charter schools are a fringe issue. They might live in a state where there aren’t enough charters to change the public-school ecology. Or—they know a family that’s happy with their charter school. Or they’re laboring under the decades-old illusion that schools are locally controlled, and nothing will ever happen to destabilize their public school system.

Asked why they send their children to a charter school, parents in my town talked about things like the young, enthusiastic teachers, the brand-new building, and—uniforms.

Charter teachers are young because there’s a great deal of turnover there; spanking new graduates often can’t get jobs in public schools because staff and programs are being cut, so they turn to charters for employment. That impressive new charter building is entangled in financial malfeasance (with my tax money).  And why aren’t parents more interested in the curriculum, programming and school climate, rather than plaid jumpers and polo shirts? Who knows.

Our citizenry is trained in consumerism—promoting education as just another choice to be made was easy, like FedEx or Blackwater instead of the USPS or the US military. Got a problem with the local public school? Don’t invest your time and money in fixing what’s already there. Pick a new school! It’s the American way.

Education is my issue, but charters are a mere slice of a bigger pie. It was gratifying to simply hear candidates talk about education on the stage. Here’s what I would like to hear from a candidate:

Let’s invest more in fully public education—the kind that’s community-based and has elected oversight. Let’s acknowledge the places where it has crumbled and rebuild them, instead of abandoning them. Let’s work toward more economically and ethnically diverse schools, making them places where building an informed citizenry and developing individual talents—not test scores—are our highest goals.

Did I try to change the minds of my friends? Yes, of course. I told them that Cory Booker palled around with Betsy DeVos. They’re long-time Michiganders, and that was all it took.