Sunday, September 28, 2014

Sunday Reading

Stopping Mass Killings — Tom Junod in Esquire says that everything we know about them is wrong.

NOBODY KNOWS who he is and nobody knows who he was. When he was a young man—a boy, really—his anonymity fueled his desperation, and for a short time his desperation made him known. He didn’t become famous the way other desperate and aggrieved young men have, but he made himself well-known enough to think that when he came home after eight and a half years in prison, there might be cameras waiting for him on his front lawn and people interested in asking him questions. There weren’t. There was just his family and the rest of his life.

So Trunk—a nickname he acquired when he went away—has returned to where he started out. He couldn’t be more unknown. He couldn’t be more anonymous. On the days he goes to college, he takes a bus. He walks a half hour to the bus stop, no matter the weather. He walks in the heat, he walks in the cold, he walks in the rain, he walks in the snow. The bus ride takes another forty-five minutes, and when he gets to the school, it’s also an anonymous affair—a small college attached to a state system and situated a long way from any major highway. He doesn’t care; he works hard at his studies and his academic record is immaculate. He has ambitions. He has friends. He does not mind being anonymous or feeling alone, because he feels accepted and has accepted himself. “The last year and a half, everything is as it’s supposed to be,” he says. “I have zero feelings of societal frustration.”

Trunk does, however, think often of the person who is out there right now feeling the way he used to feel. The person with a grievance. The person with a plan. The person with a gun—hell, an arsenal. The person we feel powerless against, because we don’t know who he is. All we know is what he—or she—is going to do.

Can he or she—they—be stopped before they become what we in America call “mass shooters”? We are so convinced they can’t be that we don’t even know if anyone is trying to stop them. Can they be understood? We are so convinced the evil they represent is inexplicable that we don’t try to explicate it. Mass shootings have become by now American rituals—blood sacrifices, propitiations to our angry American gods, made all the more terrible by our apparent acceptance of them. They have become a feature of American life, and we know very well what follows each one: the shock, the horror, the demonization of the guilty, the prayers for the innocent, the calls for action, the finger-pointing, the paralysis, and finally the forgetting. We know that they change everything only so that everything may remain unchanged.

But we are wrong about that. Mass shootings are not unstoppable, and there are people trying to stop them. They are not even inexplicable, because every time Trunk hears of one he understands why it happened and who did it. We have come to believe that mass shooters can’t be stopped because we never know who they are until they make themselves known. But Trunk was almost one of them once. He was a heartbeat away. And what he understands is that shooters want to be known, not through the infamy of a massacre, but before they have to go through with it. They want to be known as much as he, years later, wants to remain unknown, walking to the bus stop in the rain.

Unaccountable — Pedro Noguera in The Nation looks at the lack of transparency in charter schools.

Advocates of charter schools frequently make the argument that by providing parents with “choice,” the educational system—public schools and charter schools alike—will be forced to improve through greater accountability. As the New York City Department of Education has insisted, charter schools “offer an important opportunity to promote educational innovation and excellence [and] bring new leaders, resources, and ideas into public education.” Michelle Rhee, the former Washington, DC, schools chancellor (and ex-CEO of StudentsFirst, a market-based school-reform organization), seemingly agrees, stating that “accountability has to sit everywhere in the system. The children have to be held accountable for what they’re doing every day; the parents, teachers, school administrators, all the way up.” Education Secretary Arne Duncan, supportive of many charter-school initiatives, has spoken on how we “need to be willing to hold low-performing charters accountable.”

The problem here is that charter schools are frequently not accountable. Indeed, they are stunningly opaque, more black boxes than transparent laboratories for education. According to a 2013 study by the Center for Research on Educational Outcomes at Stanford University, only 29 percent of charter schools outperformed public schools with similar students in math, while 31 percent performed worse. Most charter schools, in fact, obtained results that were no better than traditional public schools. So what was that 29 percent doing right? And what went so wrong with the failing 31 percent? There are a few reasons why it’s nearly impossible to find out.

To begin with, unlike public schools, which are required by law to show how they use public resources, most charters lack financial transparency. Many of the most successful charter schools pay higher salaries to teachers and administrators and offer students a longer school day and year. A recent study of the highly acclaimed charter-school chain KIPP (Knowledge Is Power Program) found that “KIPP receives an estimated $6,500 more per pupil in revenues from public or private sources” compared to local school districts. The study could only document an additional $457 in spending per pupil, however, because KIPP does not disclose how it uses money received from private sources. The additional spending appears to be made possible by supplemental funding from organizations like the Walton Family Foundation (run by the founders of Walmart), which has been a major donor to charter schools across the country. According to its website, the Walton foundation supports charters because “we invest in organizations and programs that empower parents to choose among high-performing schools and insert competition into public education.” However, unlike public schools, charter schools are not required to disclose how such funds are raised and used.

Transparency is especially important with for-profit charter schools to prevent fraud and the misuse of public funds. The Pennsylvania auditor general found that the state’s largest charter operator had pocketed $1.2 million in “improper lease-reimbursement payments.” In Philadelphia, where dozens of public schools have been closed due to budget shortfalls, the 2013 state budget projected spending $729 million on charter networks, despite several reports of scandals involving their operators. In New York City, Eva Moskowitz has emerged as a national spokeswoman for the charter movement; she earns over $500,000 a year—more than double what the city’s public-schools chancellor makes, even though Moskowitz is responsible for only a fraction of the number of students.

[…]

Transparency will not put an end to charter schools or eliminate the threat they pose to traditional public education. However, we could begin to address these inequities by fostering a level of public accountability that currently does not exist. Moreover, if charter schools are to serve as the engines of innovation envisioned by their earliest advocates, we must also determine whether the ones that obtain the best results do so because of truly novel and innovative approaches to teaching and learning, or simply because they have more money and fewer disadvantaged students. Finally, if it is true that some charter schools have genuinely found more effective ways to serve children, then they should be encouraged to collaborate—rather than compete—with traditional public schools.

Despite the considerable momentum that charter schools have gained in terms of growth, it is important to keep in mind that around 85 percent of American children attend traditional public schools. In most parts of the country, these schools continue to be our most accessible and stable institutions—a vital part of the social safety net for poor children, whose numbers have grown dramatically since the 2008 recession. Charter schools, on the other hand, were never intended to serve all children. So if the charter-school movement is going to serve as a means of revitalizing—not undermining—public education, greater transparency and collaboration with public schools must be required.

Never Too Late — Andy Borowitz on the GOP attack on the Clintons’ granddaughter.

WASHINGTON (The Borowitz Report) — A Republican Super PAC defended the broadcast, on Saturday morning, of an attack ad highly critical of Hillary Clinton’s newborn granddaughter, Charlotte, who was born on Friday.

The ad raises several serious questions about the newborn, at one point accusing her of being “related to Benghazi.”

In criticizing a one-day-old infant, the ad is believed to be the earliest political attack ad on record.

“Charlotte Clinton Mezvinsky is fair game,” a spokesman for the Americans Concerned About Charlotte Super PAC said. “We have to assume that she is the presumptive Democratic nominee in 2052.”

Doonesbury — Watch this space.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Clear History

Right-wing school board members in Jefferson County, Colorado, a suburb of Denver, went revisionist on the history curriculum.  That did not go over well with the students.  Via ThinkProgress:

According to the curricula proposal, students would only be taught lessons depicting American heritage in a positive light, and effectively ban any material that could lead to dissent. Under the proposed policy, a review committee would regularly read instructional text and course syllabi to ensure that educational materials do not stray from subject matter that complies with the policy.

But students involved in the walkout contend that censored coursework actually contradicts American history and ideals. Many of them brought signs about the patriotic nature of protest, and waved American flags as they walked.

Arvada High School senior Tyrone G. Parks disagreed with the school board, and argued that protest is a crucial aspect of American history, “and everything that we’ve done is what allowed us to be at this point today. And if you take that from us, you take away everything that America was built off of.” Tori Leu, a Ralston Valley High School student, shared a similar sentiment. “I don’t think my education should be censored. We should be able to know what happened in our past.”

It looks like the students have already learned a little history: that only repressive regimes re-write history.  It’s also just a bit ironic that it’s the right-wingers who always accuse the left of trying to brainwash the students with their political agenda.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Sunday Reading

Warhawks Hawking War — Those pro-war pundits on cable TV have an agenda: their bank accounts.  Lee Fang reports in The Nation.

If you read enough news and watch enough cable television about the threat of the Islamic State, the radical Sunni Muslim militia group better known simply as ISIS, you will inevitably encounter a parade of retired generals demanding an increased US military presence in the region. They will say that our government should deploy, as retired General Anthony Zinni demanded, up to 10,000 American boots on the ground to battle ISIS. Or as in retired General Jack Keane’s case, they will make more vague demands, such as for “offensive” air strikes and the deployment of more military advisers to the region.

But what you won’t learn from media coverage of ISIS is that many of these former Pentagon officials have skin in the game as paid directors and advisers to some of the largest military contractors in the world. Ramping up America’s military presence in Iraq and directly entering the war in Syria, along with greater military spending more broadly, is a debatable solution to a complex political and sectarian conflict. But those goals do unquestionably benefit one player in this saga: America’s defense industry.

Keane is a great example of this phenomenon. His think tank, the Institute for the Study of War (ISW), which he oversees along with neoconservative partisans Liz Cheney and William Kristol, has provided the data on ISIS used for multiple stories by The New York Times, the BBC and other leading outlets.

Keane has appeared on Fox News at least nine times over the last two months to promote the idea that the best way to stop ISIS is through military action—in particular, through air strikes deep into ISIS-held territory. In one of the only congressional hearings about ISIS over the summer, Keane was there to testify and call for more American military engagement. On Wednesday evening, Keane declared President Obama’s speech on defeating ISIS insufficient, arguing that a bolder strategy is necessary. “I truly believe we need to put special operation forces in there,” he told host Megyn Kelly.

Left unsaid during his media appearances (and left unmentioned on his congressional witness disclosure form) are Keane’s other gigs: as special adviser to Academi, the contractor formerly known as Blackwater; as a board member to tank and aircraft manufacturer General Dynamics; a “venture partner” to SCP Partners, an investment firm that partners with defense contractors, including XVionics, an “operations management decision support system” company used in Air Force drone training; and as president of his own consulting firm, GSI LLC.

To portray Keane as simply a think tank leader and a former military official, as the media have done, obscures a fairly lucrative career in the contracting world. For the General Dynamics role alone, Keane has been paid a six-figure salary in cash and stock options since he joined the firm in 2004; last year, General Dynamics paid him $258,006.

The Truth About Standardized Tests: They Don’t Work — Robert Hach in Salon on the bane of teaching to the test.

In recent years, I have begun each semester by asking my first-year composition students two questions, one theoretical and the other practical. First, the theoretical question: What is the purpose of testing? Then the practical question: What happens to the information they study for a test after students have taken the test. My students’ answers to both questions typically achieve virtual unanimity. The purpose of testing, they say, is to find out how much students have “learned,” which is to say, how much they “know.” After they take the test, these same students testify, they forget virtually all of the information they “learned” for the test.

In the subsequent discussion, I ask them what their answers to these questions suggest about their experience in the public school system (only a tiny minority of Miami Dade College students having attended private schools). Did the tests they took achieve the purpose of revealing how much they had learned, how much they know, about the subjects on which they were tested? If they passed those tests (as they must have in that they had been allowed to continue their education) and yet had forgotten the information about the subjects on which they were tested, can they legitimately say that they “learned” that information, and as a result, that they now “know” it? And if they didn’t learn it and, as a result, don’t know it, what was the outcome of their public education?

The answer is surely not that public school students don’t learn anything. They do, after all, learn how to take tests. As standardized testing has swallowed up public education in the U.S. in the twenty-first century, its ravenous hunger intensifying yearly since the federal mandate inaugurated by President Bush’s No Child Left Behind and perpetuated by President Obama’s Race to the Top, students have largely become test-takers. As a result, their minds have been increasingly downsized to the mental equivalent of shrunken heads (trophies of the class warfare waged by the corporate interests who profit so handsomely from standardized testing).

Of course, students have always had to take tests. But tests (i.e., multiple-choice, true-false, fill-in-the-blank) used to be simply one of the tools in the educational tool box. And the least effective tool when it came to assessing student learning. Tests were also the refuge of teachers who lacked the skills or the motivation, first, to engage students’ interest in their subjects, opening their understanding and inspiring their imagination, and, second, to formulate meaningful ways to measure their students’ learning. All teachers had to test their students, but for good teachers (of which there have always been many) testing was, at best, a necessary evil.

The limits of public education must be acknowledged if the most is to be made of it. One teacher per 20 (to 40 or more) students necessarily limits what teachers can accomplish in the best of systems. The educational ideal of the Socratic dialogue assumes an ongoing interaction, whatever the subject may be, between a teacher and a few students, who avail themselves of equal opportunity to question and challenge their teacher, who questions and challenges each student. And the teacher is able to continually assess the students’ understanding of the subject matter based on what those students ask and answer. The classroom setting, by contrast, is an artificial learning environment that threatens to squelch curiosity by the sterility of its structure, and the teacher-to-student ratio typically precludes the kind of interactive dynamic that makes learning natural and lively. The best public school teachers have always found ways to mitigate and compensate for the limitations of the public school setting, but those limitations, nonetheless, remain. (And, as a result, education “reformers” can always point to inadequacies and shortcomings, to whatever degree inescapable—and to whatever degree typically exaggerated by would-be reformers—when they have an innovation to push.) Testing has always seemed necessary to assess the learning of students whose numbers make it impossible for teachers to know them well enough to measure individually their knowledge of subjects.

The Last Carousel Craftsmen — The past lives on, going in circles.  Bourree Lam in The Atlantic reports.

What do you think of when you hear the word “carousel”? Is it 1920s Paris with its glittering lights, music-box tunes, beautiful vintage horses, going round and round near Sacre-Coeur Basilica in Montmartre? That’s what I used to see, largely due to the 2001 movie Amélie. But recently, I’ve been thinking of a very different place when I think about carousels. And that place is much closer to home: Ohio.

That may seem like an odd choice, but, as it turns out, there are only two dedicated full-service carousel building companies in America, and they are both located in Ohio: Carousel Works in Mansfield and Carousels And Carvings in Marion.

“We’ve got ourselves a little cottage industry going here,” said Todd Goings of Carousel and Carvings. “[Carousel Works and Carousel and Carvings] are the only ones [where] the owners of the company are the carvers working in the shop.”

While there are other carvers (both hobbyists and professionals), and shops that cast fiberglass or metal carousel replications, along with many companies that sell all kinds of amusement rides—these two companies in Ohio appear to be the only ones taking carousels from design to finish and carving them from wood the old-fashioned way.

Art Ritchie and Dan Jones of Carousel Works first came to Ohio in the late 1980s to build a carousel for the Carousel District in Mansfield. Since then, they’ve sold 58 carousels and restored dozens.

Ritchie began carving in 1973, making anything from furniture to signs. Back then, he recalls, he would carve anything that had a payday. One day, a customer came by and asked him for a quote for a carousel horse. He estimated that it would cost about $1,800. “He couldn’t get his pocketbook out fast enough,” Ritchie remembers.

He didn’t know it then, but Ritchie was then at the leading edge of a revival of interest in carousels in America. Whether it’s nostalgia for childhood or a general interest in all things from the turn of the century, carousel fever has been growing steadily since the 1980s. This wasn’t always the case, as American carousel history has really had its ups and downs.

Steam-powered carousels date back to the turn of the century, the period that carousel enthusiasts now refer to as the “golden age” of American carousel-making. The big names from that era: Charles Looff and Charles Carmel of Coney Island, Gustav Dentzel in Philadelphia, and a handful of other master carvers—immigrants from France, Russia, and Germany but whose work defined the classic American carousel style. All in all, there are nine notable workshops from that time whose carousels are today considered collectables.

Doonesbury — 30% happy.

Friday, May 9, 2014

Short Takes

Ukraine — Rebels in the east are going ahead with the referendum on autonomy.

Oklahoma grants a six-month stay of execution for the next condemned man.

The CBO announced the budget had a surplus of $114 billion in April.

The Justice and Education Departments issued guidelines to ensure children of undocumented immigrants get into public schools.

Bear kills oil sands worker in Alberta.

All good things… The Tigers’ streak ends as Houston wins 6-2.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Friday, February 14, 2014

Super

I normally don’t write about my place of work, but this is worth noting.

Riding a cresting wave of accolades, Miami-Dade Superintendent Alberto Carvalho has been named the country’s top schools chief.

The School Superintendents Association announced in Nashville Thursday that Carvalho had won the 2014 National Superintendent of the Year. Carvalho, who attended the event with two school board members, said he was “humbled and honored” and as he accepted his award his first thoughts were of his father.

The award, given to one of the country’s 49 state superintendents of the year, is likely to further ever-present speculation about whether Carvalho will seek public office or a job on a bigger stage. But Carvalho said in an interview Thursday evening that he remains as focused as ever on working for the 350,000 students of Miami-Dade County.

“I love Miami-Dade and I am absolutely dedicated to this journey that we began five-and-a-half years ago,” he said. “What’s left to be done is much greater than what we’ve accomplished. The work is not done, nor am I.”

Carvalho said the award, which comes with no formal responsibilities, is an affirmation of the work of teachers, the school board and his staff and reflects the progress Miami-Dade’s schools have made since he took over in 2008. During the time, the district was facing massive budget cuts and the school board had just parted ways with Rudy Crew, with whom relations had soured. Crew, ironically, had been named National Superintendent of the Year in 2008.

Since then, Dade’s schools have boosted their graduation rates to their highest point, and test scores have steadily risen. In 2012, the district won the Broad Prize, the country’s highest award for urban school districts. The district has also won awards for marked improvement in Advanced Placement participation and performance.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Добро пожаловать в Америкy*

“Gay propaganda” is illegal in Russia, which has a lot of folks up in arms about the Olympics in Sochi.  But it’s also illegal in nine states in the good ol’ U.S.A.

Back in the United States, nine states impose limitations on how educators can talk about homosexuality in ways that mirror Russia’s law.

The states are: Alabama, Arizona, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Texas, and Utah.

In recent years, lawmakers in both Missouri and Tennessee have attempted to advance “Don’t Say Gay” laws that would prohibit any discussion of homosexuality in schools whatsoever, but none have passed into law.

As for the laws that are on the books, they seem to largely be outdated both in terms of the constitutionality of state laws and research on HIV transmission. Not only do they blatantly stigmatize the LGBT community, but they clearly censor information that would help gay students make safer decisions in their own sex lives.

*Welcome to America.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

The World Is Flat

A Virginia lawmaker would like to make it so that science teachers in Virginia would be free to teach that the world is flat, that Jesus rode a dinosaur, and that you can turn lead into gold.

A new bill, up for consideration this year in the Virginia General Assembly, would give Virginia’s public school teachers permission to teach about the “scientific strengths and scientific weaknesses” of “scientific theories” like evolution and global climate change. The bill is part of a national trend of legislative proposals, led by creationist organizations like the Discovery Institute and climate-change deniers such as the Heartland Institute.

Virginia State Delegate Richard “Dickie” Bell (R) pre-filed House Bill 207 over the holidays for consideration by the House of Delegates when it reconvenes this week. His proposal would require Virginia elementary and secondary schools to teach about “scientific controversies” in science classes.

[…]

Whether Bell and educators acknowledge it or not, scientists have identified climate change as a major threat to the the Hampton Roads area in southeast Virginia. The populous area, along the Atlantic coast, is already experiencing growing problems from rising sea levels. The National Journal reported last February that, “the economic impact of these forces will be profound; some estimates run as high as $25 billion.”

The sea levels aren’t rising; the land is sinking.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Sunday Reading

Fools’ Paradise — Matt Taibbi in Rolling Stone on the Republicans’ declaration of war on themselves.

The news came in the Wall Street Journal, where the Chamber of Commerce disclosed that it will be teaming up with Republican establishment leaders to spend $50 million in an effort to stem the tide of “fools” who have overwhelmed Republican ballots in recent seasons. Check out the language Chamber strategist Scott Reed used in announcing the new campaign:

Our No. 1 focus is to make sure, when it comes to the Senate, that we have no loser candidates… That will be our mantra: No fools on our ticket.

The blunt choice of words is no accident. All year long, as they’ve crept closer and closer to having to face the reality of a Ted Cruz presidential candidacy in 2016 (with Cruz maybe picking recently-redeemed Duck Dynasty star Phil Robertson as his more moderate running mate?), the Beltway’s Republican kingmakers have drifted into ever more alarmist language about the need to change course.

It’s been a transparent effort to reassure industry donors that the party’s future isn’t a bottomless pit of brainless Bachmanns and Cruzes and Santorums, all convinced our Harvard-educated president is a sleeper-cell Arab and that Satan is a literal being intent on conquering Nebraska with U.N. troops.

Earlier this month, for instance, former House Majority Leader and cause-betraying Tea Party progenitor Dick Armey complained that Republicans have been getting whipped at the polls because “we had a lot of candidates quite frankly that did dumb things out there.” And way back in March of last year, Karl Rove himself, speaking on behalf of his Crossroads SuperPAC, told Fox News Sunday that “our goal is to avoid having stupid candidates.” Rove’s group is reportedly also involved in this new $50 million effort.

The Chamber’s announcement was met with howls of outrage from Tea Party-friendly voices, who naturally took immediate offense to the prospect of boycotting “fools” from the political process.

“Misguided,” said Chris Chocola, president of the Club for Growth. “Insane,” sneered conservative activist Cleta Mitchell.

Tom Borelli, senior fellow for Armey’s old FreedomWorks group, quite correctly complained that the Chamber and their Republican allies were trying to defy the conservative base by hijacking the party and keeping it in the pocket of big-money interests. “The tea party is about lowering costs,” Borelli explained to Newsmax. “[The Chamber will] want regulations to favor big business.”

There’s almost no end to the comedy of this story. First of all, there’s the sheer size of the endowment. Fifty million dollars is enough money to fund half a dozen or more Senate campaigns. That the big-business donors who traditionally have funded the Republican Party believe they need to make that kind of monster investment just to keep “fools” from getting on the ballot of a party they basically control is an incredible reflection of the state of things on that side of the political aisle.

Then, of course, there’s the irony. Men like Karl Rove and Dick Armey practically invented the politics of stupid. In fact, they practically invented the politics of winning millions of votes every time some oversexed cosmopolitan liberal of the Matt Damon/Sean Penn genus used words like “dumb” or “stupid” to describe the preoccupations of Middle America’s God-and-guns culture.

To see these same Beltway Svengalis trapped now in this crazy role reversal, denounced by the far right for being the same kind of condescending establishment snot-bags they themselves spent decades trying to find and campaign against – well, that’s just seriously funny.

The Nuns’ Story — Amy Davidson in The New Yorker on the fight against signing a form.

It is hard to describe the suit that a charity run by Colorado nuns has brought against the Affordable Care Act without wondering if one has been closed into a small room with reflecting walls. The Little Sisters of the Poor Home for the Aged, in Denver, has challenged the law’s contraceptive-coverage mandate; this might make more sense if the nuns did not already have a way around the mandate: they just have to fill out a form saying the home has a religious mission and objection to paying for contraceptives. The essence of their challenge is that, by saying so, they become complicit—because then others will make sure that their employees have coverage. (The insurance company pays for it, with some help from the government.) They asked for an emergency stay from the Supreme Court before the mandate was to go into effect on January 1st, after losing an appeal, writing in their filing,

Without an emergency injunction, Mother Provincial Loraine Marie Maguire has to decide between two courses of action: (a) sign and submit a self-certification form, thereby violating her religious beliefs; or (b) refuse to sign the form and pay ruinous fines.

At issue was “Mother Loraine’s religious belief that God does not want her to sign and tender the forms.” On New Year’s Eve, Justice Sonia Sotomayor, who deals with such requests for the Tenth Circuit, gave the nuns their stay. She said that the Department of Health and Human Services had until [last] Friday at 10 A.M. to file its response.

Is there any other form of health care around which one could build a suit based on the supposed taint of proximity? The suggestion here is that birth control has such a dirtiness to it that even the formal and financial separation of religious employers from the coverage—they don’t manage it, they don’t pay for it, even though their employees get it—is inadequate. (Purely religious institutions, like churches, have an even broader exemption.) They know about it—know, that is, that the women who work for them have choices that they would prefer they did not have. But they do have them; a Catholic charity can’t insist that the nurses or cleaning women who work for it don’t use contraceptives. (The home has sixty-seven employees.) What the religious-affiliated groups are insisting is that the women bear a heavier economic cost for the sake of their employers’ beliefs—even though the Church groups wouldn’t pay more either way.

In that sense, the suit embodies the irrationally passionate objections to not only Obamacare but also women’s access to contraceptives and, more broadly, reproductive rights. There is, perhaps, an argument to be made that the true irrationality is having a national scheme of health insurance built around employer-based plans, rather than, say, a single payer. But that’s what we’ve got, and what women who go out in the workforce and the world have to live with.

Other religious organizations have filed similar challenges; often, they argue that certain types of birth control, like Plan B, are really forms of abortion, though that’s not how they work scientifically. It’s also the case that women take certain kinds of birth-control pills for medical reasons that don’t have to do with preventing pregnancy—they are simply a prescription drug for which they would have to pay, essentially, an ideological tax. These suits are distinct from one brought by Hobby Lobby, a chain of craft stores, that the Supreme Court recently agreed to hear. Hobby Lobby is a secular company, and is asking for an exemption from buying plans that cover contraceptives because of the personal beliefs of its owners. (I wrote about the Hobby Lobby case in November.) But they share a presumption that there is something distinctly alarming about contraception, or at least about women not having to pay out of pocket for it. And yet the legal logic would seem to open the doors to a whole range of ideological objections to various medical treatments.

There are broader absurdities, too: can a private company also withhold taxes that will be used in ways that repel its owners? Does being exempt also mean being able to disrupt? The nuns’ petition said that to just fill out the form letting their insurer know they qualified so it could proceed was to “abandon their religious convictions and participate in the government’s system to distribute and subsidize contraception, sterilization, and abortion-inducing drugs and devices.” It is worth noting that, according to the filing, fully half of the funds the nuns use to run their home, according to their filing, come “from government payments (chiefly Medicaid and Medicare) for the care they provide to the needy elderly.”

It is a good guess that the litigation surrounding Obamacare will still be tangled when healthcare.gov, the Web site that seems to have put its worst, early days behind it, is an old and reliable machine. But people have begun to be covered now; these are the months when we will begin to see what it looks like, and what works badly or well, and what could be better. When does the goal of the debate around Obamacare become about a healthier nation with fewer bankruptcies caused by illnesses, rather than about sparing employers’ feelings about what women might be doing in their own homes and doctors’ offices?

Teaching Teachers — William Eger and Micheal Zuckerman in The Atlantic on the apprenticeship model of teacher education.

We don’t know exactly how much money was spent training Will in his first year of Teach for America, but we know it was a lot. We would guess the total sum is above $50,000, a figure that includes district training costs, school training costs, the money Teach for America spent, and Will’s master degree classes.

Although new teachers like Will are receiving tens of thousands of dollars worth of training, few are learning real skills that will help them become better teachers. According to a 2008 study, hundreds of millions of dollars are spent training roughly 200,000 new teachers each year, but there is still a shortage of teachers of “sufficient quality or quantity.” Teacher development programs show “little if any impact.” Education schools are languishing as an “industry of mediocrity.” Teacher turnover is high.

Our experiences—Will’s as a member of Teach for America in Philadelphia and an education master’s degree candidate at University of Pennsylvania, and Michael’s as a researcher and writer—confirm what these statistics suggest: that all the money we spend on new teacher training does little to boost the quality of our beginner teachers. Fortunately, there’s a better, less expensive way to train teachers: an apprenticeship model.

Teacher apprenticeship can take many different forms, but at its core it means pairing a beginner teacher with an experienced “master teacher” who can both demonstrate effective teaching techniques—a good transition between a lesson and independent practice, for example—and then help the beginner adopt these techniques, reflect on them, and eventually forge his or her own unique style.

Will’s master’s degree classes at Penn are often interesting discussions on pedagogical theory, but they rarely relate to his teaching practice. Even his classes on math education focus only on the theory of teaching math to a broad range of ages, which doesn’t help Will with tomorrow’s lesson plan. These meditative sessions would benefit a veteran teacher far more than they do a novice one.

Though both Penn and Teach for America rightly stress coaching teachers in the classroom, neither Penn’s observer (who came six times in the first year) nor Teach for America’s (who comes once a month) has an intricate-enough knowledge of the nuances of Will’s classroom to be effective. They know, for example, that targeting questions is important, but don’t know the individual students’ needs (or even names) well enough to suggest which students to target. Though well intentioned and supportive, their feedback tends to center on abstractions like “vision” or policy issues like “the achievement gap.”

Virtually all beginner teachers, in our experience, meanwhile, agree that what they need more than abstract social and pedagogical lectures are tangible techniques and granular-level coaching. They need Band-Aids, not meditations on hematology.

Doonesbury — Four stars.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Your Tax Dollars At Work

Via ThinkProgress:

Not long after a federal appeals court denied Utah’s request to stay a court decision holding that the Constitution forbids marriage discrimination against same-sex couples, the state’s incoming attorney general announced that he would hire outside counsel to assist the state in defending its discriminatory marriage laws. Though the state has not yet announced who it will hire to stand up for its ability to exclude gay Americans from the Constitution’s promise of equality, it has announced how much it expects to spend — $2 million in taxpayer dollars — an amount that both Utah House Speaker Becky Lockhart (R) and Senate President Wayne Niederhauser (R) indicated that they are willing to appropriate.

Two million dollars is an absolutely staggering figure when you consider how much anti-gay lawmakers spent in a similar case defending marriage discrimination. In 2011, U.S. House Republicans hired former Solicitor General Paul Clement, arguably the most skilled appellate attorney arguing cases today, to defend the unconstitutional Defense of Marriage Act. Clement’s bill to the American taxpayers totaled $2.3 million, only slightly more than Utah now plans to spend, despite the fact that Clement handled the DOMA case at the trial, appellate and Supreme Court level, and that he handed multiple differentchallenges to DOMA in multiple appeals courts.

Two million bucks buys an awful lot of fear and loathing.  As opposed to spending it on public education.

HT to FC.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Sunday Reading

Stop Helping Them — Zerlina at Feministing would like journalists to stop enabling the Obamacare bashers.

If I see one more journalist symbolically log on to the Obamacare website, I’m going to scream. If you’re making faux calls into the call center, only to complain about the lack of hold music, as if that is what’s critically important here, you’re severely missing the point.

And even when you defend your negative reporting about the Obamacare website glitches, as The Washington Post‘s Ezra Klein did last night on MSNBC, having the privilege of analyzing the process from the perspective of someone who is already insured and not in need of coverage allows the core impact of the new program on the health and security of millions of Americans to be missed.

[…]

Obamacare is more than a website. More than half of the people I worked with on the Obama campaign in 2008 said health care reform was their reason for joining the campaign and working to elect a Democrat. Forty-seven million Americans, including me, were uninsured until now. When I finally was able to log into the site–after a few days and a few false starts–I was floored by the number of affordable options. When I scrolled through my list of choices–124 different plans to be exact–I realized that this is the reason Republicans hate the program so much: it will fundamentally change lives, including my own.

There are a few glaring omissions in the coverage of Obamacare’s shaky rollout. For the most part, those covering the problems are insured themselves and consequently greatly underestimate the patience of a chronically uninsured person who has been counting down the days until Obamacare began so they could have a little peace of mind that if they got sick they wouldn’t be staring down bankruptcy.

And while some young men may think they are invincible and don’t need health insurance, preventative care is not something that the majority of women can roll the dice with. Between recommended regular pap smears and appointments to access birth control, seeing a doctor is often a necessity. And, let’s be clear, thanks to Obamacare, young people can stay on their parents insurance until they are 26; By 27 young people, regardless of their gender, tend to be more responsible and much more risk averse.

The website problems are being fixed–the New York exchange that I am using to compare plans is working just fine as of this morning–and the Obama administration has promised to work on the glitches to ensure that Americans who will likely wait until the last minute to sign up will have a working website. Enrollment lasts until February 15th and the coverage begins January 1st. While the early website issues are frustrating, they by no means indicate that the program as a whole has failed.

And unless you are a journalist who has been chronically uninsured, your feigned frustration about website issues reeks of privilege. To me, a few website glitches are a lot less frustrating than having to use the same inhaler for over a year because I can’t afford to go the doctor. Perspective is everything.

Think of That — In The New Yorker, Gary Marcus evaluates the threat of artificial intelligence.

If the New York Timess latest article is to be believed, artificial intelligence is moving so fast it sometimes seems almost “magical.” Self-driving cars have arrived; Siri can listen to your voice and find the nearest movie theatre; and I.B.M. just set the “Jeopardy”-conquering Watson to work on medicine, initially training medical students, perhaps eventually helping in diagnosis. Scarcely a month goes by without the announcement of a new A.I. product or technique. Yet, some of the enthusiasm may be premature: as I’ve noted previously, we still haven’t produced machines with common sense, vision, natural language processing, or the ability to create other machines. Our efforts at directly simulating human brains remain primitive.

Still, at some level, the only real difference between enthusiasts and skeptics is a time frame. The futurist and inventor Ray Kurzweil thinks true, human-level A.I. will be here in less than two decades. My estimate is at least double that, especially given how little progress has been made in computing common sense; the challenges in building A.I., especially at the software level, are much harder than Kurzweil lets on.

But a century from now, nobody will much care about how long it took, only what happened next. It’s likely that machines will be smarter than us before the end of the century—not just at chess or trivia questions but at just about everything, from mathematics and engineering to science and medicine. There might be a few jobs left for entertainers, writers, and other creative types, but computers will eventually be able to program themselves, absorb vast quantities of new information, and reason in ways that we carbon-based units can only dimly imagine. And they will be able to do it every second of every day, without sleep or coffee breaks.

For some people, that future is a wonderful thing. Kurzweil has written about a rapturous singularity in which we merge with machines and upload our souls for immortality; Peter Diamandis has argued that advances in A.I. will be one key to ushering in a new era of “abundance,” with enough food, water, and consumer gadgets for all. Skeptics like Eric Brynjolfsson and I have worried about the consequences of A.I. and robotics for employment. But even if you put aside the sort of worries about what super-advanced A.I. might do to the labor market, there’s another concern, too: that powerful A.I. might threaten us more directly, by battling us for resources.

Most people see that sort of fear as silly science-fiction drivel—the stuff of “The Terminator” and “The Matrix.” To the extent that we plan for our medium-term future, we worry about asteroids, the decline of fossil fuels, and global warming, not robots. But a dark new book by James Barrat, “Our Final Invention: Artificial Intelligence and the End of the Human Era,” lays out a strong case for why we should be at least a little worried.

Barrat’s core argument, which he borrows from the A.I. researcher Steve Omohundro, is that the drive for self-preservation and resource acquisition may be inherent in all goal-driven systems of a certain degree of intelligence. In Omohundro’s words, “if it is smart enough, a robot that is designed to play chess might also want to be build a spaceship,” in order to obtain more resources for whatever goals it might have. A purely rational artificial intelligence, Barrat writes, might expand “its idea of self-preservation … to include proactive attacks on future threats,” including, presumably, people who might be loathe to surrender their resources to the machine. Barrat worries that “without meticulous, countervailing instructions, a self-aware, self-improving, goal-seeking system will go to lengths we’d deem ridiculous to fulfill its goals,” even, perhaps, commandeering all the world’s energy in order to maximize whatever calculation it happened to be interested in.

Fading Fast — Charlie Pierce on the future of Republican Savior Marco Rubio.

His strength is failing. The shrink-wrap is winning. And Marco Rubio (R-Flashinthepan) continues to flail around like a scarecrow in a windstorm. When our adventure began, young Marco was going to be the smiling face of the rebranding of the Republican party, which was going to habla the daylights out of the ol’ espanol because it finally had concluded that it wasn’t going to win an national election even if it did get the votes of everyone who owns the complete Murder, She Wrote on Blu-Ray. Of course, then Rubio made the mistake of believing that the party was serious about this whole rebranding business, proposed an immigration reform plan that made a little bit of sense, and then found his standing in the party sinking into Middle Earth. Ever since, he has done everything to romance the base save dress up as Angela Lansbury.

Witness recently, as he announces, in his Young Statesman’s voice, that his signature issue is as dead as Kelsey’s nuts because the president has declined to destroy the signature accomplishment of his administration the way that Marco Rubio would like him to do it, because the president’s duty is to help stop the crazy people in the Republican party from being so mean to Marco Rubio, Transformative American Political Figure.

Sen. Marco Rubio gave a downcast assessment Sunday about Congress passing immigration reform, arguing that fellow Republicans are leery about dealing with President Obama on the issue since he would not negotiate fairly during the recent fiscal crisis. “Immigration reform is going to be a lot harder to accomplish than it was three weeks ago,” Rubio, R-Fla., who helped pass the Senate legislation handed to the Republican-controlled House, told “Fox News Sunday.”

If there is a more pathetic figure in American politics today, I don’t know who it is. He’s crossing the yard again. Does he see the rake? Are you kidding?

Whap.

Religious Teachings — Charter schools are being infected with faith-based curricula.  Jonny Scaramanga reports in Salon.

When Joshua Bass, an engineer, sent his son to iSchool High, a Houston charter school, he was expecting a solid college preparation, including the chance to study some college courses before leaving high school. Instead, the Basses were shocked when their son came home from the taxpayer-funded school with apparently religiously motivated anti-science books.

One of these books blamed Darwin’s theory of evolution for the Holocaust:

[Hitler] has written that the Aryan (German) race would be the leader in all human progress. To accomplish that goal, all “lower races” should either be enslaved or eliminated. Apparently the theory of evolution and its “survival of the fittest” philosophy had taken root in Hitler’s warped mind.

For Joshua, attacks on science in the classroom were unacceptable. Joshua began to research ResponsiveEd, the curriculum used at iSchool High. It emerged that ResponsiveEd was founded by Donald R. Howard, former owner of ACE (Accelerated Christian Education). ACE is a fundamentalist curriculum that teaches young-Earth creationism as fact. Last year it hit headlines because one of its high school science books taught that the Loch Ness Monster was real, and that this was evidence against evolution.

ResponsiveEd is the latest in a long line of concerns raised over the religious affiliations of charter schools. Civil libertarians have raised concerns over Jewish schools converting to charter status. In 2010, more than 20 percent of Texas charter schools reportedly had a religious affiliation. And ResponsiveEd aims to expand further.

After Howard left ACE in the 1990s, he founded Eagle Project charter schools, which became Responsive Education Solutions, or ResponsiveEd, in 2007. ACE’s selling point was that it integrated Bible lessons into every academic subject. ResponsiveEd planned to do the same, but without the explicitly religious basis. Howard told the Wall Street Journal in 1998: “Take the Ten Commandments ­– you can rework those as a success principle by rewording them. We will call it truth, we will call it principles, we will call it values. We will not call it religion.” But in Joshua Bass’ mind, at iSchool High, his son was taught religion in class.

Charter schools receive public funding but operate privately. While promoting creationist science is deemed unconstitutional in public schools, ResponsiveEd charter schools appear able to challenge mainstream science in the classroom.

ResponsiveEd says it has 60 schools in Texas, with an extended charter to open 20 more by 2014. It also has facilities in Arkansas, and plans to open in Indiana. Amazingly, it isn’t the only charter school curriculum based on Accelerated Christian Education’s format.

Paradigm Accelerated Curriculum (PAC) was founded by former ACE vice president Ronald E. Johnson. Where ACE is an “individualized, accelerated” curriculum based on the “five laws of learning,” PAC is an “accelerated individualized” curriculum based on the “six principles of learning.” Like ACE and ResponsiveEd, it questions the theory of evolution and presents the “catastrophist theory” of Noah’s Ark as a credible rival explanation. Like ResponsiveEd, PAC teaches that the theory of evolution influenced Hitler to create the Third Reich.

Doonesbury — Pay to play.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Sunday Reading

Hard Fall – Charlie Pierce on the future of Mitch McConnell.

Friendless and alone, the Minority Leader of the Senate wanders a cold, abandoned road. At the last minute, he helped broker a deal that saved the United States government from a deliberate act of fiscal arson. In the immediate aftermath, he was praised — even by liberals — for his sensibility and for putting country ahead of his own political prospects. Now, though, he has a well-financed challenger on his right in a primary, and a well-regarded challenger (a bit) to his left in the general election, and the flying monkeys are descending on him from as far away as the lower Arctic.

(Note: I do not believe that Princess Dumbass Of The Northwoods is going to do anything except holler into her Facebook macheen because anything else would require work, and we know how she feels about that as a concept.)

What’s a fella to do anyway, he thinks, as he hears a faint rustling in the underbrush and the call of distant predatory birds. What’s a fella to do?

The easy thing to do is to conclude that McConnell reckoned that the threat to him in the general election is greater than the one presented by the monkeyhouse, so he decided to become a big enough RINO squish to keep the economy alive. But, right now, he’s the most interesting galoot in legislative politics. He’s got to maintain his status as a big RINO squish for the rest of the year. He’s somehow got to deploy the whole arsenal of institutional scorn and good-ol-boyz disregard to marginalize the likes of Tailgunner Ted Cruz. He’s also got to stay true to the essential Republican truth that this whole brawl has been about tactics and not about the fundamental ideas that led the party over the cliff in the first place. He’s not going to see the light on stimulus spending or using the tax code to try and do something about income inequality. He’s going to mean the same thing when he says “entitlement reform” now that he did a year ago. He’s just not going to burn down the house in order to get what he wants.

Frankly, I don’t care what happens to him. McConnell is as guilty as anyone of using the Power Of Teh Krazee to increased the political power of his party. If it rounds upon him now, that’s a kind of rough justice. But, more than anyone else, he painted a bulls-eye on himself this week. He will have a most interesting future.

Tough Job — Liz Riggs at The Atlantic examines why teachers quit.

Richard Ingersoll taught high-school social studies and algebra in both public and private schools for nearly six years before leaving the profession and getting a Ph.D. in sociology. Now a professor in the University of Pennsylvania’s education school, he’s spent his career in higher ed searching for answers to one of teaching’s most significant problems: teacher turnover.

Teaching, Ingersoll says, “was originally built as this temporary line of work for women before they got their real job—which was raising families, or temporary for men until they moved out of the classroom and became administrators. That was sort of the historical set-up.”

Ingersoll extrapolated and then later confirmed that anywhere between 40 and 50 percent of teachers will leave the classroom within their first five years (that includes the nine and a half percent that leave before the end of their first year.) Certainly, all professions have turnover, and some shuffling out the door is good for bringing in young blood and fresh faces. But, turnover in teaching is about four percent higher than other professions.

Approximately 15.7 percent of teachers leave their posts every year, and 40 percent of teachers who pursue undergraduate degrees in teaching never even enter the classroom at all. With teacher effectiveness a top priority of the education reform movement, the question remains: Why are all these teachers leaving—or not even entering the classroom in the first place?

“One of the big reasons I quit was sort of intangible,” Ingersoll says. “But it’s very real: It’s just a lack of respect,” he says. “Teachers in schools do not call the shots. They have very little say. They’re told what to do; it’s a very disempowered line of work.”

Other teachers—especially the younger ones—are also leaving the classroom for seemingly nebulous reasons. I spoke with nearly a dozen public and private school teachers and former teachers around the country. (I used pseudonyms  for the teachers throughout this piece so that they could speak freely.) Many of them cited “personal reasons,” ranging from individual stress levels to work-life balance struggles.

“We are held up to a really high standard for everything,” says Emma, a 26-year-old former teacher at a public school in Kansas who now works for a music education non-profit. “It stems from this sense that teachers aren’t real people, and the only thing that came close to [making me stay] was the kids.”

Reading List — Now that he’s done with Green Eggs and Ham, Andy Borowitz tells us what Ted Cruz will read next.

WASHINGTON (The Borowitz Report)—Now that the government shutdown is over, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) plans to read the Affordable Care Act, he told reporters today.

“It’s definitely been on my must-read list for a while now,” Sen. Cruz said of the law often referred to as Obamacare. “Things have just been so hectic around here lately, I couldn’t get to it.”

The Texas Senator said that he started reading the law this morning and observed, “So far, it’s pretty dry.”

“It’s not a page-turner, that’s for sure,” he said. “But it’s caused so much controversy, it must have some pretty juicy stuff in it. I’ll keep reading it and see what I find.”

Sen. Cruz said that when he finishes reading the Affordable Care Act, he plans to read the United States Constitution.

“People kept bringing it up the last few weeks,” he said. “So I’m kind of curious to see what all the fuss is about.”

Doonesbury — Visiting team.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Scott Bails On Common Core

From the Miami Herald:

TALLAHASSEE After a summer of polarizing public debate, Gov. Rick Scott on Monday ordered the state education department to withdraw from a national consortium creating tests around the new Common Core State Standards.

Scott was facing mounting pressure from Tea Party groups to both jettison the national standards and pull out of a multi-state consortium developing exams that will replace the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Tests in 2014-15.

His decision represents something of a compromise.

The governor did not dismiss the benchmarks, which are already being taught in schools statewide. But he signed an executive order ending Florida’s relationship with the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, or PARCC, and raising Tea Party-inspired concerns about federal overreach.

“Unfortunately, PARCC has become a primary entry point for the involvement of the federal government into many of these state and local decisions,” Scott wrote in a follow-up letter to U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan. “The federal government, however, has no constitutional authority to involve itself in the state-level decisions on academic standards and assessments.”

This won’t mean much to people outside of the education racket, but it’s a big deal for two reasons.

The first is mentioned in the article: Gov. Scott is following the paranoid Tea Party line that anything from the federal government is inherently evil unless it’s FEMA relief, and second, running away from Common Core — a plan designed by governors outside of Washington, by the way — will not improve the education of Florida children.

The reason for the cave-in to the Tea Party is simple; they’re his base and he’s running for re-election next year.  The second is a little more complicated, but suffice it to say that for all the issues that come with standardized tests and goals, there should be at least a benchmark for students who want to compete for jobs, careers, and colleges in states outside of their own, and having a foundation of comparison is one part of it.

Apparently it’s more important to Rick Scott that he keep his current job than for the kids of Florida to find a good one.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Career Choice

I have three degrees in theatre: undergrad, masters, and doctorate.  Early on I had planned on a career in theatre, then changed to teaching when it became obvious that I was not the next Ray Liotta or Arthur Miller.  I went on to writing and teaching, and now work in education, although not in theatre.

I’ve never regretted my choice, and while I may not have the career I envisioned forty years ago when I was a senior in college, I think that all those years were worth it and even applicable to what I do now, which is mid-level administration for a school district.

I’m not alone.  Brian at Change Agent has a comprehensive list of why having a theatre degree trumps a business degree.  It’s somewhat tongue-in-cheek, but a lot of it is true.

There IS no weakness in having a theatre background. There is only strength. Here are just a few skills that a theatre degree gave me that have served me enormously well in business:

  1. You have advanced critical thinking and problem solving skills: taking a script and translating it into a finished production is a colossal exercise in critical thinking. You have to make tremendous inferences and intellectual leaps, and you have to have a keen eye for subtle clues. (believe it or not, this is a skill that very few people have as finely honed as the theatre people I know. That’s why I listed it #1).
  2. You’re calm in a crisis: You’ve been on stage when somebody dropped a line and you had to improvise to keep the show moving with a smile on your face, in front of everyone. Your mic died in the middle of a big solo musical number. You just sang louder and didn’t skip a beat.
  3. You understand deadlines and respect them: Opening Night is non-negotiable. Enough said.
  4. You have an eye on audience perception: You know what will sell tickets and what will not. This is a very transferrable skill, and lots of theatre people underestimate this, because they think of theatre as an ART, and not as a BUSINESS. I frequently say (even to MBA-types) that theatre was absolutely the best business education I could have gotten. While the business majors were buried in their books and discussing theory, we were actually SELLING a PRODUCT to the PUBLIC. Most business majors can get through undergrad (and some MBA programs, even) without ever selling anything. Theater departments are frequently the only academic departments on campus who actually sell anything to the public. Interesting, isn’t it?
  5. You’re courageous: If you can sing “Oklahoma!” in front of 1,200 people, you can do anything.
  6. You’re resourceful: You’ve probably produced “The Fantasticks” in a small town on a $900 budget. You know how to get a lot of value from minimal resources.
  7. You’re a team player: You know that there are truly no small roles, only small actors. The show would fail without everyone giving their best, and even a brilliant performance by a star can be undermined by a poor supporting cast. We work together in theatre and (mostly) leave our egos at the stage door. We truly collaborate.
  8. You’re versatile: You can probably sing, act, dance. But you can also run a sewing machine. And a table saw. And you’ve probably rewired a lighting fixture. You’ve done a sound check. You’re good with a paintbrush. You’re not afraid to get your hands dirty for the benefit of the show. In short, you know how to acquire new skills quickly.
  9. You’re flexible: you’ve worked with some directors who inspired you. Others left you flat, but you did the work anyway. Same goes with your fellow actors, designers and stagehands… some were amazing and supportive, others were horrible and demoralizing to work with (we won’t name names). You have worked with them all. And learned a little something from every one of them.

But what I really want to do is direct.

Friday, August 2, 2013

Grading On A Curve — Ctd.

And he’s outta here…

Tony Bennett resigned Thursday as Florida education commissioner following two days of controversy over school grades in his home state of Indiana.

He made the announcement at a news conference in Tallahassee late Thursday morning.

“The decision to resign is mine and mine alone, because I believe that when this discussion turns to an adult, we lose the discussion about making life better for children,” Bennett said.

Coming to Florida from the Hoosier state last January, Bennett had faced mounting calls for his resignation in the wake of revelations, first reported by The Associated Press, that he interceded on behalf of an Indiana charter school run by a prominent Republican Party donor. On Thursday, he called those reports “malicious and unfounded.”

Yes, of course he blames the media and politics.  No one ever admits to wrong-doing unless they’re in an orange jumpsuit flanked by an attorney.

The Florida Department of Education has had a revolving door of leaders during Scott’s 31 months in office. Including Bennett, there have been three different education commissions and two interim education commissioners.

Bennett, a nationally recognized education reformer, came on board after losing reelection in Indiana.

His tenure encountered some early bumps in June, when superintendents leaned on him to institute a “safety net” to prevent school grades from dropping dramatically. Bennett had some misgivings, but ultimately conceded.

There’s more security in being the head coach of the Dolphins.

The problem is that being Florida Commissioner of Education is seen as a political appointment, not administrative.  Which is ironic because most politicians — especially those on the right — all talk about leaving education up to local school boards.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Grading On A Curve

Can money buy you a better school grade?

Former Indiana and current Florida schools chief Tony Bennett built his national star by promising to hold “failing” schools accountable. But when it appeared an Indianapolis charter school run by a prominent Republican donor might receive a poor grade, Bennett’s education team frantically overhauled his signature “A-F” school grading system to improve the school’s marks.

Emails obtained by The Associated Press show Bennett and his staff scrambled last fall to ensure influential donor Christel DeHaan’s school received an “A,” despite poor test scores in algebra that initially earned it a “C.”

“They need to understand that anything less than an A for Christel House compromises all of our accountability work,” Bennett wrote in a Sept. 12 email to then-chief of staff Heather Neal, who is now Gov. Mike Pence’s chief lobbyist.

The emails, which also show Bennett discussed with staff the legality of changing just DeHaan’s grade, raise unsettling questions about the validity of a grading system that has broad implications. Indiana uses the A-F grades to determine which schools get taken over by the state and whether students seeking state-funded vouchers to attend private school need to first spend a year in public school. They also help determine how much state funding schools receive.

A low grade also can detract from a neighborhood and drive homebuyers elsewhere.

As the article notes, Mr. Bennett, who lost his job in the November election in Indiana where the commissioner of education is an elective post, was snapped up by Rick Scott here in Florida, where he’s overseeing an overhaul of the state’s school grading system.

Get out your checkbooks.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

The Uneducated

Today’s entry in unbashedly stupid and out-there wingnuttery from an elected official (yes, I know, there is always so much to choose from):

A Republican lawmaker in Utah outlined a proposal last week to abolish compulsory education in the state.

State Sen. Aaron Osmond (R) argued that certain “parents act as if the responsibility to educate, and even care for their child, is primarily the responsibility of the public school system.”

“As a result, our teachers and schools have been forced to become surrogate parents, expected to do everything from behavioral counseling, to providing adequate nutrition, to teaching sex education, as well as ensuring full college and career readiness,” he wrote in a post on the state senate’s blog.

Osmond told the Deseret News that he wants the public to view education as an opportunity rather than a requirement.

“Let’s let them choose it, let’s not force them to do it,” Osmond said.

The only other people I can think of that can make an argument against compulsory education are between the ages of seven and twelve, and their argument boils down to “I don’t wanna!”

Now comes along this ignoramus wrapped in the faux-libertarian mantra of “let the parents decide.”  Well, you know, the parents did decide.  About the same time they decided that knowledge and social interaction was more important than graffiti-inspired theories about parental surrogacy and sex education.

Over a hundred and fifty years ago, this country decided that children needed to go to school and that it was so important the government would fund it at no cost to the parents or child.  The last state to enact a compulsory education law was Mississippi in 1917.  In other words, a state where it was still illegal for just about anyone but a white man to vote had the foresight to teach the next generations.

The problem isn’t that we have compulsory education in this country.  It’s that we don’t have enough of it for some people.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Good Report Card

This is very good news.

The nation’s 9-year-olds and 13-year-olds are posting better scores in math and reading tests than their counterparts did 40 years ago, and the achievement gap between white students and those of color still persists but is narrowing, according to new federal government data released Thursday.

The scores, collected regularly since the 1970s from federal tests administered to public and private school students age 9, 13, and 17, paint a picture of steady student achievement that contradicts the popular notion that U.S. educational progress has stalled.

“When you break out the data over the long term and ask who is improving, the answer is . . . everyone,” said Kati Haycock, president of the Education Trust, a nonprofit organization that works to close the achievement gap between poor and privileged children. “And the good news, given where they started, is that black and Latino children have racked up some of the biggest gains of all.”

Imagine how much better they could do if they had good facilities to work in, if salaries for teachers and support staff were competitive with the private sector to keep them in the jobs, and the Jesus-freaks would stop trying to replace science with mythology.

HT to LGM.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Science Warrior

Bill Nye, the Science Guy, is on a mission.

He takes on those who would demand that the public schools teach alternative theories of evolution and the origins of the earth — most famously, in a video clip from the site BigThink.com that has been viewed some five million times. In it, he flatly tells adult viewers that “if you want to deny evolution and live in your world — in your world that’s completely inconsistent with everything we observe in the universe — that’s fine. But don’t make your kids do it, because we need them. We need scientifically literate voters and taxpayers for the future.”

In any given week, you’re likely to see Mr. Nye, 57, somewhere on television, calmly countering the arguments made by people like Marc Morano, the former Republican Senate staff member whose industry-funded organization, climatedepot.com, disputes the increasingly well-understood connection between rising levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide and warming. In an exchange several months ago on “Piers Morgan Tonight” on CNN, Mr. Morano denied that warming is occurring, and scoffed that Mr. Nye’s arguments were “the level of your daily horoscope.”

Mr. Nye quietly rebutted his opponent with the gravity of scientific consensus. “This will be the hottest two decades in recorded history,” he said. “I’ve got to disagree with you.”

That reminds me of the old joke: Never insult a scientist; he may hand you a hot retort.  [Rimshot.]