Sunday, August 27, 2023

Rise of the microschool: Small, student-centered learning spaces take off

Interesting piece on "microschools," that represent, as stated herein, a "middle ground between public school or homeschooling." These are smaller versions of public and private schools that I do think are ripe for partnerships with school districts with support going both directions.

Our Academia Cuauhtli Saturday school is a small school that differs from all the examples provided below in that it is partnered with the Austin Independent School District to provide a culture-rich curriculum to largely immigrant youth in the district's dual language program. Although this may change in the future, we only offer classes on Saturdays during the regular year. However, through the formal partnership and our sharing of our co-constructed curriculum district-wide together with the professional development opportunities with teachers we have conducted over the years, we are able to impact classrooms far beyond our "escuelita," our term of endearment for our little school.

What we all share is a critique of the high-stakes-testing educational landscape to which both public and charter schools are ensconced. We should never give up on our critique or advocacy for less mental testing. In the meantime, escuelitas are the way to go.

-Angela Valenzuela

Rise of the microschool: Small, student-centered learning spaces take off

By Jackie Valley Staff writer | Christian Science Monitor

August 14, 2023|  HENDERSON, NEV.; AND DENVER

In the back room of a Jewish temple, the kids are running the show.

It’s just after 6 p.m. on a Thursday, and the learners at Life Skills Academy have invited their parents to take a seat. Board games and video games – made by the older children – await the visitors, who, for the next hour, will try them out.

As her classmate gives the go-ahead, 7-year-old Freya Rollinson leads her father and younger brother to a corner. Her exuberant giggles punctuate the directions she’s trying to explain. She says the goal of the game, which features square blocks designated as creatures such as a dog, snake, and unicorn, is to “try not to get tricked.”

“What made you pick all these?” her father, Piers Rollinson, asks.

“My mind,” she replies.

Her answer speaks to the very nature of this learning environment. By Nevada law, Life Skills Academy can’t call itself a school, but education is its mission, albeit in an atypical format. The Montessori-inspired microschool, which rents space at the Jewish temple, served 13 children from age 5 through fifth grade during its inaugural 2022-23 academic year.

But don’t call them students. Here, they’re “learners” who chart their own educational journey through critical thinking and project-based learning. They even make up the classroom rules. The two teachers, known as “learning guides,” take a supporting role in the background.

“We’re building a civil society from scratch,” says James Lomax, founder and director of Life Skills Academy, which is part of the Acton Academy network of microschools. “They, over the course of that first six weeks, make the rules that they live by.”

Most passersby wouldn’t know this place exists. And, in some ways, that’s symbolic of the entire microschooling movement. Tiny learning environments – reminiscent of the one-room schoolhouse – are sprouting in churches, temples, commercial spaces, and even houses across the United States. They’re in bustling cities, rural communities, and suburban enclaves.

Oftentimes, they’re created by parents or teachers who wanted something for their children or students that couldn’t be readily found in traditional schools. But it was the pandemic that thrust this model into the limelight, as families scrambled to make remote learning work. So-called learning pods came into vogue, with kids clustered around kitchen tables, working elbow to elbow with neighborhood pals, relatives, or family friends. The city of North Las Vegas even temporarily ran its own microschools in recreation centers during the pandemic.

Some saw this approach as a Band-Aid solution to a difficult situation. For others, it was just the beginning.

“For lots of people, schools just got too big,” says Michael McShane, director of national research at EdChoice. “They felt like they were a number. They did not feel like they knew the other people in their community.”

Ask a dozen microschool leaders to describe their schools, and you’ll likely receive a dozen slightly different responses:
Montessori-inspired, nature-focused, project-based, faith-oriented, child-led, or some combination of other attributes. They may exist independently, as part of a provider network, or in partnership with another entity such as an employer or a faith organization. Their schedules vary, too. Some follow a typical academic calendar, while others operate year-round, and some allow students to attend part time.

In other words, there is no one-size-fits-all definition for microschools. But, in general, they’re intentionally small learning environments. They often serve fewer than 30 students total and operate as learning centers to support home-schooled students or as accredited or unaccredited private schools. Their exact designations differ based on state laws.

“What I love about microschools is that [they’re] kind of providing this middle ground between public school or home schooling,” says Dalena Wallace, founder and president of Wichita Innovative Schools and Educators, a support network for alternative education models.

The National Microschooling Center launched in August 2022 to support this patchwork quilt of tiny learning communities dotting the American landscape. For a sector analysis released in April, the center examined 100 microschools that exist in 34 states, as well as 100 prospective microschools preparing to open. Though it’s difficult, if not impossible, to pinpoint the exact number of students attending microschools, researchers say it’s likely between 1.1 million and 2.1 million. On the low end, that would mean microschools serve an estimated 2% of school-age children in the U.S.

“I don’t expect that it’s ever going to displace public school systems,” says Don Soifer, CEO of the National Microschooling Center, which is based in Las Vegas. “But it really wouldn’t surprise me if you were to get much closer to a 10% market share.”

Saturday, August 26, 2023

"Teach for America (TFA) Choking on Its Own Failure," by Steven Singer

Terrifying quote in this piece by Steven Singer posted by the Network for Public Education: "We're missing almost a million teachers"  An important detail is that TFA initially justified its existence on the notion that it could address the teacher shortage crisis. Worse yet, "Teach for America (TFA) was a solution to a problem it helped create."

My main takeaway is that TFA has been injurious and disastrous over the long term to de-professionalize the teaching profession, on the one hand, and to create pathways, on the other, for those that use TFA as a launching pad to careers as self-proclaimed "education experts" that subsequently result in their "high paying policy positions at think tanks and government." 

If you read this piece closely, TFA's de facto involvement in the privatization starts to feel like a scam. It's at the very least a neoliberal agenda that has the same people and organizations like TFA taking money from the high-stakes testing industry and school privatizers to draft education policy that aligns with their approach that is so destructive of democracy, beginning with the teaching profession itself. Quote from within:

"The whole point of this scam is to serve the needs of the privatization movement.

Investors want to change public education into a cash cow. They want to alter the rules so that corporations running districts as charter or voucher schools can cut services for children and use the extra cash for profits."

Firing veteran teachers is a disgusting tactic of the privatizers, too.

Many of us saw this early on and have been critical of their approach for quite some time now. Sadly, this was predictable.

-Angela Valenzuela

Steven Singer: Teach for America Choking on Its Own Failure

Steven Singer reminds us that TFA was early in its claims that there was a teacher exodus, and they could fix it. Turns out they weren’t the saviors of the profession.

Teach for America (TFA) was a solution to a problem it helped create. 

Educators have been leaving the profession for decades due to poor salary, poor working conditions, heavy expectations and lack of tools or respect.

So Wendy Kopp, when in Princeton, created a program to fast track non-education majors into the classroom where they would teach for a few years and then enter the private sector as “experts” to drive public policy. 

These college graduates would take a five week crash course in education and commit to at least two years in the classroom thereby filling any vacant teaching positions.

Surprise! It didn’t work

In fact, it made things worse. Apparently deprofessionalizing education isn’t an incentive to dive into the field.

That isn’t to say everyone who went through the program became a bad teacher. But the few good and committed educators that did come through the program could have done so even more successfully by graduating with a degree in education.

Now the organization created in 1990 is expecting its lowest enrollment in 15 years. TFA anticipates placing slightly less than 2,000 teachers in schools across the country this fall. That’s two-thirds of the number of first-year teachers TFA placed in schools in fall 2019, and just one-third of the number it sent into the field at its height in 2013.

Apparently fewer people than ever don’t want to train for four to five years to become lifelong teachers – and neither do they want to be lightly trained for a few years as TFA recruits, either – even if that means they can pass themselves off as education experts afterwards and get high paying policy positions at think tanks and government.

On the one hand, this is good news.

Watering down what it means to be a teacher is even less popular than actually being an educator. 

On the other hand, we have a major crisis that few people are prepared to handle. 

The US is losing teachers at an alarming rate. 

After decades of neglect only made worse by the Covid-19 pandemic, we’re missing almost a million teachers.

Nationwide, we only have about 3.2 million teachers left!

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there are 567,000 fewer educators in our public schools today than there were before the pandemic. And that’s on top of already losing 250,000 school employees during the recession of 2008-09 most of whom were never replaced. All while enrollment increased by 800,000 students.

Meanwhile, finding replacements has been difficult. Across the country, an average of one educator is hired for every two jobs available.

Not only are teachers paid 20% less than other college-educated workers with similar experience, but a 2020 survey found that 67% of teachers have or had a second job to make ends meet.

It’s no wonder then that few college students want to enter the profession. 

Over the past decade, there’s been a major decline in enrollment in bachelor’s degree programs in education.

Beginning in 2011, enrollment in such programs and new education certifications in Pennsylvania — my home state— started to decline. Today, only about a third as many students are enrolled in teacher prep programs in the Commonwealth as there were 10 years ago. And state records show new certifications are down by two-thirds over that period.

To put that more concretely, a decade ago roughly 20,000 new teachers entered the workforce each year in the Commonwealth, while last year only 6,000 did so, according to the state Department of Education (PDE).

But don’t look to most of the so-called experts to solve the problem. A great deal of them are former TFA recruits! 

Through programs like TFA’s Capitol Hill Fellows Program, alumni are placed in full-time, paid staff positions with legislators so they can “gain insights into the legislative process by working in a Congressional office” and work “on projects that impact education and opportunities for youth.”

Why do so many lawmakers hire them? Because they don’t cost anything.

Their salaries are paid in full by TFA through a fund established by Arthur Rock, a California tech billionaire who hands the organization bags of cash to pay these educational aides’ salaries. From 2006 to 2008, alone, Rock – who also sits on TFA’s board – contributed $16.5 million for this purpose.

This isn’t about helping lawmakers understand the issues. It’s about framing the issues to meet the policy initiatives of the elite and wealthy donors.

It’s about selling school privatization, high stakes testing and ed-tech solutions.

As US Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-New York) said on a call with Justice Democrats:

“I don’t think people who are taking money from pharmaceutical companies should be drafting health care legislation. I don’t think people who are taking money from oil and gas companies should be drafting our climate legislation.”

I’d like to add the following: people taking money from the testing and school privatization industry shouldn’t be drafting education policy. People who worked as temps in order to give themselves a veneer of credibility should not be treated the same as bona fide experts who dedicate their lives to kids in the classroom. 

The whole point of this scam is to serve the needs of the privatization movement.

Investors want to change public education into a cash cow. They want to alter the rules so that corporations running districts as charter or voucher schools can cut services for children and use the extra cash for profits.

And that starts with teachers.

If we allow privatizers to replace well-prepared and trained teachers with lightly trained temps, we can reduce the salaries we pay instructors. We delegitimize the profession. We redefine the job “teacher.” It’s no longer a highly-trained professional. It’s something anyone can do from off the street – thus we can pay poverty wages. 

And the savings from cutting salaries can all go into our corporate pockets!

This kind of flim-flam would never be allowed with our present crop of highly trained professionals because many of them belong to labor unions. We have to give them the boot so we can exterminate their unions and thus provide easy pickings for the profiteers.

This helps explain why so many plans to address the teacher exodus are focused almost exclusively on recruiting new hires while completely ignoring the much larger numbers of experienced teachers looking for the exits.


According to the National Education Association (NEA), it is teachers who are quitting that is driving a significant part of the current educator shortage. More teachers quit the job than those who retire, are laid off, are transferred to other locations, go on disability or die. And this has remained true almost every year for the last decade with few exceptions. 

To put it another way, you can’t stop a ship from sinking if you don’t plug up the leak first!

But experienced teachers always have been the biggest obstacle to privatizing public schools and expanding standardized testing.

That’s why replacing them with new educators has been one of the highest priorities of corporate education reform.

After all, it’s much harder to try to indoctrinate seasoned educators with propaganda that goes against everything they learned to be true about their students and profession in a lifetime of classroom practice than to encourage those with no practical experience to just drink the Kool-Aid.

So it should come as no surprise that supply side policymakers are using the current teacher exodus as an excuse to remake the profession in their own image.

As Rahm Emanuel, Chief of Staff to President Barack Obama (Later Chicago Mayor) said:

“You never let a serious crisis go to waste. And what I mean by that [is] it’s an opportunity to do things you think you could not do before.”

If our policymakers really want to solve the problem, we’d spend at least as much time keeping the experienced teachers we have as trying to get new ones to join their ranks.

Research shows that teacher experience matters.

“The common refrain that teaching experience does not matter after the first few years in the classroom is no longer supported by the preponderance of the research,” Tara Kini and Anne Podolsky write in Does Teaching Experience Increase Teacher Effectiveness?

“We find that teaching experience is, on average, positively associated with student achievement gains throughout a teacher’s career.”

Their analysis is based on 30 studies published over the past 15 years and concludes:

1) Experienced teachers on average are more effective in raising student achievement (both test scores and classroom grades) than less experienced ones.

2) Teachers do better as they gain experience. Researchers have long documented that teachers improve dramatically during their first few years on the job. However, teachers make even further gains in subsequent years.

3) Experienced teachers also reduce student absences, encourage students to read for recreational purposes outside of the classroom, serve as mentors for young teachers and help to create and maintain a strong school community.

The road to keeping experienced teachers isn’t exactly mysterious.

First, there must be an increase in salary. Teacher pay must at least be adequate including the expectation that as educators gain experience, their salaries will rise in line with what college graduates earn in comparable professions. This is not happening now.

In addition, something must be done to improve teachers working conditions. Lack of proper support and supportive administrators is one of the main reasons experienced teachers leave a building or the profession. 

And perhaps most obviously, politicians have to stop scapegoating educators for all of society’s problems and even for all of the problems of the school system. Teachers don’t get to make policy. They are rarely even allowed a voice, but they are blamed for everything that happens in and around education.

If we want teachers to work with socially disadvantaged students, they must be provided with the institutional supports needed to be effective and steadily advance their skills.

But this requires making education a priority and not a political football.

To do that, you would need to stop bankrolling organizations like TFA. 

However, the billionaires funding school privatization and the standardized testing industry would never allow it. 

So unlike our public schools, as fewer and fewer applicants come to TFA, there will always be money to keep it afloat.

Those who are causing the teacher exodus will never be the ones to fix it.

You can view the post at this link :

Friday, August 25, 2023

Happy "Martha P. Cotera Day"—August 25, 2023, in Austin, Texas!

Not sure if folks remember, but today is Martha P. Cotera Day here in Austin, Texas. Feel free to read my blogpost on this day back in 2018 when it passed and was celebrated by the Austin City Council together with a gathering of friends and admirers at an honorific event for Martha. Such a beautiful evening.

Martha is my dear friend and colleague and I love her to pieces. She enjoys the admiration of many women and men, as well as scholars and writers, locally and nationwide. After all, she's a chingona! If you don't know what that means, you will know a lot more if you listen to the Fembeat videos below.

The second one is specific to Martha to learn about her work and leadership at the local, state, and national level. She reflects on a storied career in community activism. Martha is a writer, historian, researcher, and is the first published Chicana Feminist in U.S. history. Martha doesn't stop, by the way, suggesting to me that activism keeps one young! 😊

Here is the second must-see video on Martha Cotera that where she gets interviewed. Listen to what they accomplished back in the day when they established the Raza Unida Party and developed a wonderfully progressive platform that they then intelligently pursued as young baby boomers breaking out of the fascist years of the 1950s.  Remember Red Scare and the House Committee on Un-American Activities

Her story encourages the view that raising consciousness not only never goes away, but that these efforts result in lasting impacts and legacies.

Enjoy! Que Viva La Raza! Que Viva Martha Cotera!!! 

Love you, Martha.

-Angela Valenzuela

Thursday, August 24, 2023

PragerU said it’s bringing conservative lessons to Texas schools. Not quite, officials say

All of this sounds not just surprising, but fishy. Me thinks that SOMEONE in Texas is suggesting to PragerU that they have a green light for coming into Texas, but no one seems to know about it, including members of the Texas State Board of Education. This is all part of the anti-CRT, far-right movement. 

Important detail. PragerU is not an accredited university. Districts should stick with Scholastic materials for students instead of whitewashed curriculum that PragerU puts out.

-Angela Valenzuela

PragerU said it’s bringing conservative lessons to Texas schools. Not quite, officials say

State officials said the controversial nonprofit has not been approved as an educational vendor.


7:33 PM on Aug 22, 2023 — Updated at 8:22 PM on Aug 22, 2023

PragerU announced this week that the conservative media outlet will expand its reach into Texas public schools, but state education officials said the controversial nonprofit has not been approved as a vendor.

PragerU bills itself as offering an alternative to the “dominant left-wing ideology in culture, media, and education.” It publishes videos that explain hot-button and historical issues in bitesize chunks, which have been criticized by some as whitewashing history and promoting misleading narratives.

Last month, Florida green-lighted teachers using PragerU videos as supplemental materials in their classrooms.

The nonprofit said in a news release Tuesday that Texas is the second state to “officially approve PragerU as an educational vendor.” But the announcement took several state education officials by surprise; State Board of Education members have not voted on it.

Board chair Keven Ellis said he had no knowledge of PragerU submitting instructional material for approval.

“No one from PragerU has presented to the State Board of Education or has contacted me, as chair of the State Board of Education, to discuss any working relationship,” he said in a statement. “The SBOE has not received any request from PragerU to be approved as an education vendor.”

The PragerU confusion comes amid bitter fights over the way students should be taught about race, sexuality and America’s complex history. Florida and Texas schools are often ground-zero for conservative efforts to influence public education.

Though Ellis and other members said they were not involved, State Board of Education member Julie Pickren was featured in the organization’s announcement video, titled “PragerU Kids is Now in Texas!

Pickren was elected last year as part of a wave of more conservative candidates. She was voted off a Houston-area school board after going to Washington during the Jan. 6 insurrection.

Texas State Board of Education moves further right with new Republican members

“We are definitely ready to welcome PragerU into the great state of Texas,” Pickren said in the video.

She did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment.

Asked about the confusion over approval, PragerU CEO Marissa Streit didn’t clear up questions. She said in a brief emailed statement: “Yes, we have been approved and it is our great pleasure and honor to serve multiple states including Texas, all the details are on our website.”

Asked to elaborate on who provided approval, she responded: “We provide supplementary, educational materials that teachers have the option to use. It is up to the schools and school districts if they use them. Just like school districts in Texas are able to use Scholastic, they can now use PragerU Kids materials.”

PragerU officials said late Tuesday that the nonprofit had spoken with Pickren about Texas schools using its educational materials and had approval as a vendor through the Texas Comptrollers office. The comptroller’s office is the state’s chief tax collector, accountant, revenue estimator and treasurer.

”The comptroller approves vendors for anything that is purchased by the state,” Ellis said Tuesday night. “That has no connection to being approved by the SBOE.”

State board member Aicha Davis, a Democrat representing Dallas, was taken aback by PragerU’s Tuesday announcement.

“I’m disappointed on so many levels,” she said. “I don’t want our students being exposed to some of this material that they offer.

“I don’t know what conversations Member Pickren has had with PragerU. I haven’t had any conversations and the board as a whole hasn’t had any conversations.”

Texas Freedom Network political director Carisa Lopez lambasted Pickren and PragerU for the way they rolled out the announcement and the content of the kids videos.

“These incendiary materials violate the religious freedom of Texas students and spread misinformation to young minds,” she said in a statement. “Our kids deserve to be taught the truth about history and climate change, and Board members should serve our children, not their own radical political agenda.”

PragerU — which is not an accredited university — posts popular five-minute videos that include titles like, “Why I Left the Left” and “Make Men Masculine Again.” Within the broader umbrella of videos is PragerU Kids.

Their educational materials offer “turnkey supplementary lesson plans” for students in kindergarten through 12th grade, according to Tuesday’s announcement.

Streit said in a recent video that she is “ecstatic” the organization is moving into schools.

“The left is trying to fight us, they’re trying to take us out of the schools,” she said, urging viewers to sign a petition to expand PragerU into classrooms.

In Texas, the State Board of Education votes to adopt instructional materials but it’s up to individual districts whether to use it. Local education leaders can ultimately choose materials that are approved by the SBOE or use ones that aren’t on the adopted list.

Individual districts could potentially choose to promote PragerU videos. Texas is home to more than 1,000 districts. There are dozens in Dallas, Collin, Denton and Tarrant counties.

After the Florida announcement, PragerU was met with backlash. Critics decried their videos as propaganda.

Davis said she was concerned about one video in which cartoon child characters travel back in time to meet Frederick Douglass, the famed abolitionist who was born enslaved.

The video begins with two siblings named Leo and Layla sitting on the couch, watching news about social justice protests on TV. The broadcast features newscasters talking about demands to abolish the police.

The children travel to 1852. “We’re trying to learn about activism and abolishing things. Can you help us?” Leo asks Douglass.

The animated Douglass explains to the children he is working to end slavery.

“Our Founding Fathers knew that slavery was evil and wrong. … They wanted it to end, but their first priority was getting all 13 colonies to unite as one country. The Southern colonies were dependent on slave labor and they wouldn’t have joined a union that had banned it,” Douglass says in the video.

“Are you OK with that?” Layla asks.

“I’m certainly not OK with slavery but the Founding Fathers made a compromise to achieve something great: the making of the United States,” Douglass responds.

Several of the Founding Fathers were slave owners.

What is PragerU

PragerU was founded more than a decade ago by conservative talk show host Dennis Prager. Its videos rack up millions of views.

Among the prominent conservatives who star in its five-minute clips are podcast host and writer Ben Shapiro, Turning Point USA founder Charlie Kirk and political commentator Candace Owens.

In its 2022 annual report, PragerU expands on goals for its student initiative.

“Arming parents and educators with the pro-America content they are craving — we are going toe-to-toe with massive youth media companies like PBS Kids and Disney,” it reads.

Asked about her favorite PragerU video, SBOE member Pickren said it was an explainer about the Ten Commandments.

“I can’t wait to bring that to the state of Texas,” she said.

The DMN Education Lab deepens the coverage and conversation about urgent education issues critical to the future of North Texas.

The DMN Education Lab is a community-funded journalism initiative, with support from Bobby and Lottye Lyle, Communities Foundation of Texas, The Dallas Foundation, Dallas Regional Chamber, Deedie Rose, Garrett and Cecilia Boone, The Meadows Foundation, The Murrell Foundation, Solutions Journalism Network, Southern Methodist University, Sydney Smith Hicks and the University of Texas at Dallas. The Dallas Morning News retains full editorial control of the Education Lab’s journalism.