Monday, August 19, 2019

A [Fill in the Blank] as the Democratic Presidential Candidate? I Guess Democrats Just Want to Lose.

Posted By on Mon, Aug 19, 2019 at 12:00 PM

  • Courtesy of BigStock

It was 2007. Three Democrats were in the running to be the party's presidential candidate. Hillary Clinton was at the top of the polls. Barack Obama, a newcomer to the national stage, was rising. And then there was the white guy who was bringing up the rear.

Cue the realists.

"Are you kidding me? The Democrats are thinking of running a . . . [arms raised in exasperation followed by an "I can't believe what idiots they are!" snort of derision] a woman or a black guy for president? Do Democrats have a death wish?"

Followed by the calm voice of reason.

"Look, we've got this young, good looking, all-American white guy with a big, winning smile, a wife who's a cancer survivor and four made-for-TV children. He's a safe bet. It's supposed to be the Democrats' turn after eight years of Bush. C'mon, let's not blow it!"

That safe white guy was John Edwards. John Edwards, who began an affair in 2006 and learned the woman was pregnant in May 2007. He denied press reports of the affair, then he denied he was the father of the woman's child. He withdrew from the race in early 2008 and later admitted everything.

John Edwards, the great, white male hope.

The black guy with three funny-sounding names became the Democratic candidate. Oh sure, it looked like he was popular, he was doing well in the polls. Lots of white Democrats said they would vote for him. But when it comes time to cast their secret ballots, we were warned, they will vote with their secret, racist hearts. Bye bye Barack Obama. Hello President John McCain. Because, let's face facts, AMERICA IS NOT READY TO ELECT A BLACK PRESIDENT!

Except the voters elected Barack Hussein Obama. And four years later they elected him again.

The moral of the story is . . . Actually, the story has two morals. First, there is no such thing as a safe bet in politics. Second, there is no such thing as a "Can't Win" candidate.

It's 2019 and lots of very serious people are warning that the country isn't ready for a woman president, even though Hillary Clinton got 3 million more votes than Trump, and Trump needed every bit of help he got from Russia's trolls and Comey's pronouncements about Hillary's emails to squeak out a victory in three battleground states and win in the electoral college.

And voters aren't ready for someone too far to the left because, even though voters want Obamacare expanded and they agree that the rich have too much money and guns are too easy to buy, they won't vote for someone Trump calls a socialist.

And another black candidate can't win because, well, just because.

That leaves the great, white, moderate male hope, Joe Biden, even though he's showing signs of weakness and may lack the mental and physical stamina to go the distance. If not him, we have a few other moderate white guys with less than one percent in the polls.

Biden may have what it takes to win. I honestly don't know and neither does anyone else, about Biden or any of the other candidates who are in the running. We have two-and-a-half consecutive terms of Can't-Win presidents under our belts. Any pundit who believes it's possible to rate the electability of the Democratic candidates is a fool.

So I have an idea. Let's have Democrats vote for the candidate they really like in the primaries. Then let's pick the man/woman, Black/White/Asian, lefty/moderate who triumphs to be the candidate who goes head to head with Trump in the general.

I'm willing to take my chances with the voters. Chances are all we've got. There's no such thing as a sure thing.

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Friday, August 16, 2019

Interview With TUSD Board Member Leila Counts

Posted By on Fri, Aug 16, 2019 at 10:34 AM

  • Leila Counts
Leila Counts is the newest member of the TUSD Governing Board.

In recent years, the five member board has generally divided into two camps, voting 3-2 on contentious issues. The majority has shifted back and forth from election to election.

Prior to Counts’ election, Michael Hicks, whom she replaced, tended to vote with Mark Stegeman and Rachel Sedgwick. Many people expected Counts to ally herself firmly with Adelita Grijalva and Kristel Foster. However, her first vote on the board concerned how long the president's term should be, and Counts voted along with Stegeman and Sedgwick to create two half year terms with Stegeman serving the first term, rather than having one person lead the board for the entire year. Her decision upset many educational progressives who felt betrayed by her vote.

I interviewed Ms. Counts recently. Here is our conversation, edited for clarity.

In your first minutes on the TUSD board, you walked into something of a buzzsaw when it came to choosing the board president. Do you think you made the right decision?

As I stated when this thing first exploded, I was put in a very hard position. What I heard from thousands of voters when I knocked on 20,000 doors over the summer was, number one, fix our schools, and number two, fix the dysfunction on the board. Everybody is sick and tired of the fighting. Everyone is ashamed of the behavior on that board.

As a parent, I would watch those board meetings and was appalled by the divisiveness and very unprofessional behavior. That was a large reason why I decided to run.

Keeping the practice of six month terms for the president and clerk is not ideal, but it shows we are willing to share power, that this board does not belong to one side or the other. It belongs to the people. We are a public board, and we are going to work together for our students and our community.

In hindsight I would do the same thing. I’ve become the balancer and referee sometimes. It’s not a position I like, but I’m OK with taking on that responsibility, because it’s needed. We need to work together if we hope to get anything done.

Mark Stegeman served the first half year term as president, then the office transferred to Adelita Grijalva. Was it a good transition?

Yes, it happened very smoothly. I nominated Adelita, and she accepted the nomination. I’m happy she’s our president now.

What do you see as your role on the board?

I think I bring balance. I really try to come at our issues with a balance of my head and my heart and look at things objectively, then try to make the best decisions I can independently.

Continue reading »

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Tuesday, August 13, 2019

T.H.R.E.A.T. Watch: Scaramucci In The Coal Mine

Posted By on Tue, Aug 13, 2019 at 4:41 PM


Time for another episode of T.H.R.E.A.T (Trump Human Rights Erosion And Termination) Watch.

Anthony Scaramucci, one time Trump sycophant who lost his White House Communications Director job after 11 days because he was trying to out-Trump Trump, is not someone I normally take seriously. He's self-important, pompous, preening and generally obnoxious. But given the toxic political environment we live in, anyone who plays the role of canary in the coal mine is worth paying attention to.

Scaramucci tweeted out this warning Sunday.
No matter how loyal you try to be, Scaramucci warns, "Eventually he turns on everyone and soon it will be you and then the entire country."

It's Scaramucci's version of the famous lines:
First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a socialist.

Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a trade unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

Continue reading »

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Tuesday, August 6, 2019

The Star's Creative Headline Writing Team Is At It Again: Trump Edition

Posted By on Tue, Aug 6, 2019 at 11:27 AM

  • Courtesy of BigStock

I had no intention of posting today, and certainly not about another front page Star headline after writing about a misleading front page headline Monday. But then again, I had no idea I would encounter this headline when I opened the morning paper:
Trump vows 'urgent resolve' after weekend's mass killings
It's atop an Associated Press story about the speech Trump read from a teleprompter Monday in response to the country's two most recent mass killings. The AP story covers what Trump said, but it also notes that this and similar statements he has made in the past fly in the face of his lack of action on gun regulations and his intention to put what he calls the "invasion" of our southern border at the center of his campaign, stirring up hatred and division to drive his supporters to the polls.

The Star headline, unlike the AP article, assumes that Trump's statement in his speech, "We vow to act with urgent resolve," actually means something, that if he said it, we can take the man at his word.

As the old saying goes, or kinda goes: Fool the media once, shame on you. Fool the media a thousand times, beginning way back when you said your father loaned you a million dollars which you paid back with interest when he actually gave you $400 million and bailed your ass out time and time again, shame on the media.

Before I wrote this post, I checked to see if the Star just took the headline from its AP feed, at which time the blame goes to the news agency. Nope. I googled the story. In dozens of news outlets, the headline is a variant of "Trump vows action after the shootings, but gives few details." The last phrase, "but gives few details," adds the necessary skepticism to Trump's "vow." The Star headline traffics in blind faith.

It was definitely a Star exclusive. And, I should add, a print edition exclusive. On the Star's own website the headline reads, "Trump vows urgent action after the shootings, offers few details."

That's twice in two days some creative headline writer at the Star took a reasonably accurate headline and screwed it up, both times on the paper's big front page story. On Monday, a perfectly good headline had already been written for the online version, but it was changed for the worse. Today, a perfectly good AP headline which virtually every other news outlet used or altered slightly was changed to the point that it misrepresented the contents of the article.

Maybe I shouldn't worry. After all, I'm a big supporter of the Star, which I think is a quality local paper with many first rate journalists. I start every day with a cup of coffee in my hand and the Star on my lap. Maybe this is just a one-off — actually a two-off — and it won't happen again.

I certainly hope so. If the Star continues to indulge in this kind of headline writing, the paper and the community will be worse for it.

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Monday, August 5, 2019

Does The Star Dislike Public Schools, Or Does It Just Act That Way To Sell Papers?

Posted By on Mon, Aug 5, 2019 at 3:07 PM


I usually read education articles written for the Star the day before they make it into the paper, courtesy of my Google Alerts which link me to stories about Arizona education the minute they go live. So on Sunday I read an online version of a story about teacher shortages decreasing in Pima County which was written for Monday's paper. I was happy to read that local districts are doing better with teacher recruitment this year.

When I opened my paper this morning, there the story was on the front page, word for word. Except for one thing. The headline was rewritten to take away any impression that our teacher shortage situation had improved.

Because in the Star, if education bleeds, it leads, even if the editors have to bloody it up a bit. "Ain't it awful?" stories about public education make the front page. They sell papers.

According to the story, Pima County districts still have 142 fewer teachers than they need. That's not good news. But also according to the story, that's down 19 percent from last year. That is good news. Our districts moved the needle. They're trending in the right direction.

The article itself is a long, well researched, well written piece by reporter Danyelle Khmara. No surprise there. She does her journalistic homework and it shows.

Then there are the two headlines, which most likely were not written by Khmara.

Whoever wrote the version for the online story captured the sense of the article accurately.
Pima County has fewer teacher vacancies this year, but it's still a problem for schools
As for the Monday headline? Not so much.
Teacher vacancies still an issue in Pima County despite raises
The original online headline says things are better this year, which is accurate.

The rewritten front page headline implies nothing has changed, it's the same old teacher vacancy problem, even though teachers got a raise. It makes it sound like nothing will satisfy those damn teachers. But that's not what the facts in the article say.

This headline change may sound like a minor detail, except that, as everyone who has studied journalism knows, people who take the time to read a headline often get no farther than the first paragraph before they move on. Most people who see the front page of the Star are going to think Pima County has the same teacher vacancy problem it had last year.

That rankles me. I wrote a series of posts recently about how attacking TUSD in particular and public education in general has turned into a blood sport. The Star had an opportunity to leave readers with a sense that things are a little better. Instead, it blasts out a headline saying things were bad before, and they're just as lousy now.

Continue reading »

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Friday, August 2, 2019

The Best Example Of a Desegregated School District May Be Headed For The History Books

Posted By on Fri, Aug 2, 2019 at 2:58 PM

  • Courtesy of BigStock

This is one of the saddest articles I've read recently. The daily stories about Trump and his minions keep me in a constant state of anger and anguish, but this is something different. It is an education story about a rare school desegregation success story which looks like it's about to come to an end.

The Jefferson County School District in Kentucky is one of the best examples of a desegregated urban school district in the country. It's actually one of the few examples. School desegregation efforts are not doing well these days, to put it mildly.

But according to a recent article, the school district has lost some of its community support for its desegregation efforts and is likely to become increasingly segregated. Worse, Kentucky's Department of Education is talking about "taking over the district." That's Conservative-speak for "Let's put blacks in black schools and whites in white schools where they belong."

Like I said, it's a sad article.

A few years ago I was part of a book group where we read and discussed recent books about education. Not surprisingly, the discussion often veered from the books we were reading to TUSD. At one point, the district's desegregation efforts became a topic of intense conversation. None of us thought the district's efforts have been a success, but we differed about the reasons for its failings.

I decided to do some research to find urban districts that have gotten desegregation right. My hope was, we could sift through the positive examples and compare them with the mixed — at best — desegregation efforts in TUSD. Maybe we could find some ideas for improving our desegreg efforts.

I took a deep dive into the internet and came up with hundreds of relevant items from newspapers, magazines and scholarly monographs discussing desegregation efforts, beginning with the 1954 Supreme Court's Brown v. Board of Education decision which made school segregation laws illegal, to the present. I created two folders on my computer desktop, one for the successes and one for the failures.

Soon, my deseg failure folder was stuffed to overflowing with examples of individual districts which made, at best, halfhearted attempts at integration and others where a short period of school integration was followed by a long slide into increasing segregation.

My success folder had a total of one example, the Jefferson County School District in Kentucky. It wasn't for lack of looking. It wasn't that I was making the perfect the enemy of reasonably good desegregation results. Other urban districts whose desegregation programs could be considered a success were nowhere to be found.

The Jefferson County school district was the subject of a long 2015 article delving into the complex history of its successful deseg efforts and the continual efforts by some people in the community to dismantle it.

One positive example is better than none, I guess. But the problem is, there is little for TUSD to learn from the Jefferson County success. There is zero chance it will be reproduced here.

The most important thing I learned from Jefferson County is, its desegregation efforts were only successful because the district has a program of mandatory busing which has continued long after most districts abandoned the practice. Requiring students to climb onto buses and travel long distances to attend faraway schools met with fierce resistance all over the country. It still leaves a bad taste in many people's mouths. Thanks to a 1974 Supreme Court ruling (Milliken v. Bradley), communities have been allowed to abandon their mandatory busing programs. The result is, schools have become increasingly segregated.

Love it or hate it, every indication is, mandatory busing is the single most effective way to desegregate schools.

Continue reading »

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Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Who Wins When People Trash TUSD?

Posted By on Tue, Jul 30, 2019 at 3:01 PM

Let's put aside arguments about who is most responsible for Tucson Unified School District's declining enrollment and poor test scores. By my lights, the district does a far better job with its students than it is given credit for, but I know others see it as a failing district which has brought its problems on itself.

Instead of arguing about the strengths and weaknesses of the district, let's consider a different question: Who benefits when TUSD is trashed incessantly? Who wins when TUSD loses?

The short answer is, the winners are the enemies of public education. They have spent decades building a multi-billion dollar campaign to make terms like "failing schools" and "government schools" part of our vocabulary. They portray our public schools as a national disgrace, then figure out ways to move as many students as they can into charter and private schools. It began as a conservative, Republican-based effort, but an increasing number of progressives, and even people who consider themselves further to the left than garden variety progressives, have joined in.

It's not surprising to hear people on the political right singing in the anti-TUSD chorus. It's built into their anti-"Big Government,” anti-regulation DNA. If you want to shrink government to the size where it can be drowned in a bathtub as Grover Norquist, a man who never saw a tax or a government program he didn't hate, famously said, getting rid of all those nasty "government schools" makes perfect sense.

But when people on the political left join the chorus and sing, "TUSD is awful, let me count the ways," most of them don't realize that they're being played, that they’re singing a tune out of the conservative playbook. I can almost see the players on the right high-fiving each other every time someone on the left lends the anti-public school cause a helping hand.

Unfortunately, this phenomenon isn’t limited to Tucson. The anti-public school movement has been alarmingly successful at working its way into the national consciousness.

Let me go into more detail about the people who win when people trash our systems of public education.

The Demonizers, Privatizers and Profitizers

Demonize. Privatize. Profitize. Those are the three pillars of the “education reform” movement.

It begins with demonizing our system of public education. Before you can persuade parents of public school students to move their children to charter and private schools, you have to convince them their schools are so bad that anything would be better.

There's nothing new about people criticizing the ways we educate our children or suggesting ways we can improve the educational process. It's been going on as long as we have been a country. Way back in 1819, Washington Irving wrote the classic tale, The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, which featured a pompous, undereducated, incompetent schoolmaster named Ichabod Crane. The story lampoons him and the meager education provided in the one room schoolhouses of the day. Many of our greatest writers have continued Irving's tradition of depicting schools and teachers in less-than-flattering, and sometimes damning, lights. Journalists and educators regularly publish articles and essays describing the problems plaguing our schools and suggesting ways to improve them.

All with good reason. The process of educating young people will always be a flawed enterprise. Criticism and constructive suggestions for change are part of the continuing process of figuring out ways our schools can better serve our children.

But today’s “A pox on all your public schools” style of blanket demonization is a recent phenomenon. Its purpose is not to improve the schools. It is to weaken and eventually dismantle them.

If we’re looking for a moment when the demonization movement began in earnest, it would be the Reagan administration's 1983 publication, A Nation at Risk, which argues that the way we educate our children is so deficient, it threatens our nation’s survival. The pamphlet’s thesis is summed up in its most famous passage, which compares the failures of our schools to an attack by a foreign power.
“If an unfriendly foreign power had attempted to impose on America the mediocre educational performance that exists today, we might well have viewed it as an act of war. As it stands, we have allowed this to happen to ourselves. . . . We have, in effect, been committing an act of unthinking, unilateral educational disarmament.”
A Nation at Risk took the country by storm. It had people asking, is public education really so bad it poses a risk to our national security?

Yes, replied the demonizers. It really is that bad.

Continue reading »

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Wednesday, July 24, 2019

How much is Arizona spending to bail out private schools?

Posted By on Wed, Jul 24, 2019 at 9:07 AM


Tucson's Green Fields private school is closing. According to an article in the Star, the school's enrollment has fallen from 246 students in 2001 to as few as 105 in 2015. Green Fields is a K-12 school, so the 2015 enrollment numbers work out to an average of eight students per grade. No school can remain financially viable with so few students.

Understandably, students who were planning to attend this coming school year and their families are mourning the school's closing. Actually, though, closures like Green Fields' would be a far more regular occurrence in Arizona, except for one thing. You and I and all the state's taxpayers are helping the schools stay afloat by chipping in to pay students' tuition. Not all students, of course, but a substantial number. I'm not just talking about students from low income homes whose parents couldn't otherwise send their children to private school. High income families are using our money to help pay tuition costs as well.

How much are we chipping in? Last year, nearly $200 million which otherwise would have been in the state's coffers, money which could have been used to boost our shamefully low education budget, is paying for children to go to private schools.

$200 million a year is a whole lot of money. Far too much for my taste. I don't like the idea of using taxpayer money to prop up privately funded schools which can't cut it in the private sector. People on the right like to say, governments shouldn't be picking winners and losers in the marketplace by giving some of them subsidies, but somehow they're fine with using $200 million to help private schools survive.

OK, I'll admit, I don't like private school vouchers, period, and I especially don't like them when they run into hundreds of millions of dollars a year. But I want to try and be fair. If that $200 million means a lot more students are attending private schools, that might not be such a bad deal for taxpayers. After all, if those kids weren't in private schools, we would have to pay for their public educations.

So let's take a look at the kind of bang we're getting for our voucher bucks.

Continue reading »

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