Politics

Monday, February 20, 2017

T.H.R.E.A.T. Watch: Bless, Keep and Protect Our Free Press

Posted By on Mon, Feb 20, 2017 at 12:30 PM

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Since the election, I have feared the mainstream press would collapse under the weight of Trump's endless onslaught. Instead, it has dug in its heels and held its ground. It could have normalized our aberrant new political order, accepting the presidential campaign as a variation on a standard political theme, treating Trump's continual lies and outrages as the growing pains of an eccentric newbie trying to learn how to be president, acting like his agenda fits neatly under the headline, "Elections have consequences." But it hasn't. From the New York Times, to the Washington Post, to papers in other major cities, to the Associated Press which supplies most of the national stories in the Star, to principled conservative writers who are horrified at what they're witnessing, journalists have striven to show the reading public how unusual, how outlandish our present situation really is. CNN, to my surprise, has responded to constant Trumpian attacks by stepping up its coverage of the White House, and MSNBC, especially in its evening shows, has zeroed in on the day's events and spotlighted why we need to remain concerned and vigilant. Even Fox has spoken occasional truth to power.

In much of the daily news and in many magazines, truth telling is trumping Trumpism. Facts are still facts, and diligent, whip-smart investigative journalists are digging to see what facts they can uncover beneath the facts we already know. It's not a perfect process. It's flawed, messy and many-headed. But that's what unfettered journalism is all about, and it's what authoritarian leaders hate and fear, and do everything they can to suppress.

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Thursday, February 16, 2017

Death in the Arizona Borderlands

Posted By on Thu, Feb 16, 2017 at 5:06 PM

Since 2001, thousands of migrant have died in the desert of the U.S.-Mexico border. Activists, professionals and migrants talk about the continuing humanitarian crisis in the Arizona borderlands.


TUSD Board Meeting Scheduled For Tuesday, Feb. 21. Only One Item on the Agenda

Posted By on Thu, Feb 16, 2017 at 3:14 PM

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A special TUSD Board meeting is scheduled for Tuesday, Feb. 21, with only one agenda item: a discussion of the possible firing of Superintendent H.T. Sanchez and General Counsel Todd Jaeger. It's a bit more complicated than that—you can read the agenda here—but that's the gist of it.

The same item was on the February 14 agenda, submitted at the last minute by newly elected board member Rachael Sedgwick, but it was pulled before it was discussed in the open meeting. On Feb. 21, it is the agenda, period, unless other items are submitted. And Mark Stegeman has joined Rachael Sedgwick in requesting it.

After the last board meeting, I wrote that I wasn't sure if Sedgwick put in the earlier item on her own, but I suspected she did. This time, however, it's clear she has Stegeman with her, an experienced, thoughtful, strategic board member who knows how to dot his "i's" and cross his "t's." I expect the item will be discussed and voted on.

We'll see what happens. We could get a drip, drip, drip of information over the next few days, or not. I certainly wouldn't lay odds that Sanchez will have his job after the meeting; then again, I'm not a betting man. But you never know. These things have a habit of taking odd, unpredictable turns.

Stay tuned. I know I will.

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TUSD Sideshow

Posted By on Thu, Feb 16, 2017 at 11:00 AM

Tucson Unified School District's newest board member Rachael Sedgwick stirred controversy by adding an agenda item to Tuesday's regular TUSD Governing Board meeting.  The item, bringing Superintendent H.T. Sánchez's job into question, will be heard at a special meeting next Tuesday. - DANYELLE KHMARA
  • Danyelle Khmara
  • Tucson Unified School District's newest board member Rachael Sedgwick stirred controversy by adding an agenda item to Tuesday's regular TUSD Governing Board meeting. The item, bringing Superintendent H.T. Sánchez's job into question, will be heard at a special meeting next Tuesday.


The TUSD Superintendent’s job is still at risk, although discussion of it was absent from Tuesday night’s board meeting.

The crowd of more than a hundred people cheered at the beginning of Tucson Unified School District’s regular board meeting when the controversial item was removed from the agenda. For an hour and a half, one after the other, community members stood at the podium to thank Superintendent H.T. Sánchez and commend the work he’s doing with the district.

Nonetheless, a special meeting has been called for Tuesday, Feb. 21, where the question of Sánchez’s job will be back on the agenda, according to Rachael Sedgwick, the board’s newest member.

At the Feb. 14 meeting, 20 people spoke in support of the superintendent and three in opposition.
Community member Brian Flagg said Sánchez is present at school events and people like him.

“He brings his family, he hangs out, and he talks to people until the last person leaves—and he does it in Spanish,” he said. “I think the guy’s got real popular support.”

On Tuesday, the board received more than 75 emails in support of the superintendent and two in opposition, according to Board members Adelita Grijalva and Kristel Foster. Supporters of Sánchez include Michael Varney, President of the Tucson Metro Chamber, and Mayor Jonathan Rothschild.
Sedgwick, who put the item on the agenda, would like to see Sánchez make some changes but says it’s apparent he’s not open to working with her.

“It’s really not about firing H.T.,” she said. “It's really is about exploring the different opportunities and giving him a choice.”

She would like to see the board create a performance plan to assess progress the superintendent makes with the district. In particular, Sedgwick is concerned with enrollment numbers, standardized testing scores, AP scores, graduation rates and drop-out rates.

Sedgwick also thinks Sánchez spends too much time at the Arizona Legislature.

“The superintendent’s job is really not to be lobbying the legislators in Phoenix,” she said. “I believe the superintendent does not visit the schools very often and that it means that we, as a district, have sort of lost sight about the reasons that TUSD exists.”

Sánchez could not be reached for a response.

Sedgwick says she has the backing of Board member Mark Stegeman and that Board President Michael Hicks is open to discussion.

Other board members think bringing the superintendent’s job into question right now distracts the board from more important things and opens them up to possible legal problems.

“What we’re doing here is a side-show circus,” Grijalva said. “If I’m a parent of a kindergartner or someone who’s coming from a charter school and looking for a middle or high school for my child, why would I pick TUSD? Because all I see in the headlines is this drama.”

Foster says terminating the superintendent with no backup plan is a dangerous decision, and putting that option suddenly on the agenda is not the way to solve a problem.

“We’re, right now, in the middle of a legislative session, trying to advocate on behalf of public education,” Foster said. “This shows absolutely no understanding of what we do as public officials that represent a school district.”

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

TUSD Superintendent Firing Update: Nothing To See Here, Folks (For Now).

Posted By on Wed, Feb 15, 2017 at 1:14 PM

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The agenda for TUSD's Tuesday board meeting included an action item to look at firing Superintendent H.T. Sanchez and General Counsel Todd Jaeger. The item was pulled from the agenda. No action. Nothing to see here folks. But this isn't the last time we'll witness an attempt to oust Sanchez. It was a preview of coming events.

I'm only going to indulge in a general discussion of the situation. There's so much heat and so little light on both sides of this battle, it's impossible for me to sort out fact from fiction or determine the difference between cause-and-effect and random incidents. The fighting is fierce, filled with leaks, rumors, accusations and strange bedfellows.

So, just a few comments.

I think Sanchez should stay. [Open The Comments Floodgates!] He's done a decent job as superintendent—admirable in some instances, less admirable in others. Based on my 30 year-plus career as a public school teacher and a student of education around the country, I have no reason to think another superintendent will do a significantly better job steering this difficult district filled with the kinds of problems facing most large, ethnically diverse urban areas. More likely, the district's loss of continuity would do more harm than good.

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Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Does TUSD Board Member Rachael Sedgwick Want to Fire Superintendent, General Counsel at the Tuesday Board Meeting?

Posted By on Tue, Feb 14, 2017 at 10:31 AM

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The agenda for Tuesday night's TUSD Board meeting includes this "Action Item" requested by new board member Rachael Sedgwick:
Discussion/Consideration/Action re Employment, Assignment, Appointment, Promotion, Demotion, Dismissal, Salaries, Disciplining or Resignation of a Public Officer:
- Superintendent
- General Counsel
The Superintendent is H.T. Sanchez. The General Counsel is Todd Jaeger.

Consider this post a heads up, not a discussion, because there too many questions and moving parts here for me to address them at this point. There could be far more to talk about Wednesday. If you recall, one of the major questions raised during the 2016 board election campaign was whether or not H.T. Sanchez was doing a competent job running the district, and if not, whether he should be fired. Sedgwick's action item addresses the question head on.

The public part of the meeting will begin around 5:30pm in the Multipurpose Room, Duffy Community Center, 5145 E. 5th Street, though Sedgwick's action item may be taken up considerably later in the meeting. You can watch a livestream of the meeting here.

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Monday, February 13, 2017

Jerry Falwell Jr. to Head Trump's Higher Ed Deregulation Task Force. Expect a Big Boost for Liberty—Falwell's Liberty University, That Is.

Posted By on Mon, Feb 13, 2017 at 5:11 PM

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Lost in the uproar over our new Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos is another education-related appointment that needs no Senate confirmation. Trump plans to make Jerry Falwell Jr. head of his task force to deregulate higher education.

The Obama administration made some significant advances in draining the for-profit university swamp. Think Corinthian Colleges and ITT Tech, both of which went into bankruptcy when the Feds exposed them for the educational scams they were. Think University of Phoenix, which lost students and profitability when it was forced to mend its predatory recruiting practices. Trump and Falwell hope to fill the swamp back up, using federal dollars to fatten the alligators who profit by putting students into debt while giving them little in the way of education in return. "The goal," Falwell said, "is to pare [Obama-administration initiatives] back and give colleges and their accrediting agencies more leeway in governing their affairs."

Falwell is president of Liberty University. It's a nonprofit educational institution with a 14,000 student enrollment, so the brick-and-mortar university wasn't affected by Obama's crackdown on for-profits. But Liberty U. also has 65,000 online students, making it the second largest online college after University of Phoenix. Its online education is very profitable.
Most colleges now have a mix of residential and online students, but it’s almost unheard-of to have four times as many online students as residential students.

Because internet courses are cheap to deliver at scale, the online division is a big revenue driver for Liberty, which brought in $591 million in tuition in 2013, against $470 million in expenses. Liberty is essentially a medium-size nonprofit college that owns a huge for-profit college.
Putting Falwell in charge of deregulating the for-profit college sector is kind of like, oh, say, putting Goldman Sachs executives in charge of deregulating the financial sector. Meaning Trump deserves some credit, for being consistent. Henhouse, meet fox.

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Friday, February 10, 2017

Countries That Embraced Vouchers Made the Wrong School Choice

Posted By on Fri, Feb 10, 2017 at 4:32 PM

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Remember that statewide vote Arizona held on vouchers? No? I didn't think so, because no such vote ever took place. There's a reason for that. Every time voters in other states have been asked the question, they've voted against vouchers. Our Republican-led legislature created our two voucher-like programs on its own. The first program was the tax credit for donating to a School Tuition Organization, which then gives out money to pay for private school tuition. The more recent was the vouchers-on-steroids program, called Empowerment Scholarship Accounts in Arizona but usually referred to as Education Savings Accounts. Bit by bit, year by year, the lege has added more students to the ESA program. This year they're fast-tracking a bill that would make the vouchers available to every student in the state.

Remember the evidence showing that vouchers improve student achievement? No? I didn't think so, since most studies have concluded there is little measurable difference between the achievement of similar students in district schools, charter schools or private schools. And on a country-to-country comparison, voucher programs appear to have harmed the overall quality of education.

The most glaring difference between the public education and voucher models of education is a comparison of Finland and Sweden. In the 1970s, Finland put together a comprehensive program to improve its public education system. Today, Finland has the best scores on international tests in Europe, scores that rival Asian countries which get the most attention for their high scores. In the 1990s, Sweden began a voucher system. Its scores on the international tests have fallen significantly since then.

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Staff Pick

Something Something Theatre presents "What Every Girl Should Know" (2014) by Monica Byrne

Catholic reform school girls in 1914 discover Margaret Sanger and her message of freedom through birth control.… More

@ The Community Playhouse Thu., Feb. 9, 7:30-9:30 p.m., Fri., Feb. 10, 7:30-9:30 p.m., Sat., Feb. 11, 7:30-9:30 p.m., Sun., Feb. 12, 2-4 p.m., Fri., Feb. 17, 7:30-9:30 p.m., Sat., Feb. 18, 7:30-9:30 p.m., Sun., Feb. 19, 2-4 p.m., Fri., Feb. 24, 7:30-9:30 p.m., Sat., Feb. 25, 7:30-9:30 p.m. and Sun., Feb. 26, 2-4 p.m. 1881 N. Oracle Road.

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