Wednesday, October 9, 2019

The Star Gets It Right About Pima County Standardized Test Scores

Posted By on Wed, Oct 9, 2019 at 2:41 PM


Since my last post was a rant about some misleading headlines in Tuesday's Star, let me begin this post by saying, the headline for this Star article is right on the money.
Pima County students lag rest of Arizona in passing standardized math tests
Here's what I like about it.

First, it focuses on Pima County, not TUSD. Star headlines and stories about standardized test scores often focus on TUSD's scores, which are always lower than most other districts in the area. Knocking TUSD sells papers, which is the only reason I can figure that the Star is so fond of going for the district's jugular. But not this time.

Second, by saying the Pima County scores are lower than the state average in math, the headline implies that county schools equalled the rest of the state in English, which you learn in the story is true. I even like the word "lag," which suggests that the math scores trail the rest of the state, but not by much. That's true as well. Statewide, 42 percent of students passed the math test. In Pima County, it was 40 percent.

A good headline is a good headline is a good headline. Let me raise my glass and toast its creators.

The story is even better than the headline. When the Star's annual standardized test stories come out, I often find myself shaking my head and muttering, "Comparing district test scores means nothing unless you factor in family incomes." Then I sit down and write a post picking the article apart.

But as I read this article, I found myself nodding "Yes." After the first three paragraphs summarizing the county scores, the reporter launches into a discussion of why the districts' scores break down the way they do.

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Tuesday, October 8, 2019

The Star's Creative Headline Writing Team Was Hard At Work In Tuesday's Print Edition

Posted By on Tue, Oct 8, 2019 at 2:07 PM

  • Courtesy of BigStock

A headline sitting atop an op-ed in the Star's Tuesday print edition jumped out at me this morning.
What's worse? Schiff's parody or GOP's fantasies?
Did the column's author really find Schiff's parody of Trump's call with Ukraine's President Zelensky bad, then try to figure out whether or not it was worse than the GOP's fantasies?

Absolutely not. The author praises Schiff's use of parody and calls the Republican outrage   "overwrought," "disingenuous" and "easily dismissible."

That's the ease conveyed by two headlines I found elsewhere.
Impeachment and the death of parody
We should mourn parody’s demise
You'll find the first version on the Star's website.

What the Star's Creative Headline Writing Team wrote is a classic example of false equivalency. "I guess both Schiff and the Republicans were acting badly," it implies. If Crisp wrote that, fine, but it's nowhere to be found in his column.

In 2010 I posted regularly about the Star's tendency to rewrite headlines to make them more conservative-friendly. I even conducted a poll where readers could choose the worst Star headline of the year. For years after that, I rarely spotted a blatantly misleading headline. Until recently, that is. In September I caught at least three of them in the print edition.

If it sounds like I'm nitpicking, I'm not. Headlines are the first thing people read — for many stories the only thing they read. When the heads don't accurately reflect the content of the story, readers get an incorrect sense of the story. Even if people read beyond the headline, those words in big, boldface type have an effect on how they understand the actual story.

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Friday, October 4, 2019

T.H.R.E.A.T. Watch: Ducey Descends To the Depths Of Trumpism

Posted By on Fri, Oct 4, 2019 at 8:52 AM


“It’s time for Judge Wake to retire. He’s an embarrassment to the legal community.”

“There are third-year law students . . . that can write a more coherent opinion than the one that he put forward.”

“He stopped being a judge and started being a politician."

“This is an activist judge."

It sounds like something from one of Trump's 3 a.m. tweet storms, but it's not. Those quotes came from our generally mild-mannered, soft-spoken Governor Ducey. That scares the hell out of me. It means the take-no-prisoners Republican strategy outlined by Newt Gingrich, honed to a razor's edge by the Tea Party and wielded like a bludgeon by Trump will not end when our current president leaves, or is driven out of office. Trump's diseased style, his politics of personal annihilation, has metastasized. It has spread over the Republican body politic. Mild-mannered Doug Ducey is the latest politician to be infected.

The reason others have adopted Trump's style is, it works. Trump has managed to neutralize or destroy his enemies and make others too fearful to challenge him. Why shouldn't Ducey and other Republicans around the country give it a try? And if it works once and there are no negative consequences, why not try it again?

Who is this politically motivated, activist judge who is an embarrassment to the legal community? He is Neil Wake, appointed by George W. Bush with recommendations from then-Senators John Kyl and John McCain. As a private lawyer, he helped Arizona's Republicans argue their case for redistricting. As a judge, he has made a variety of decisions, some favorable to Republicans, some to Democrats.

Wake is a down-the-middle judge with Republican leanings. But Ducey wasn't satisfied to say, "I disagree with Wake's recent decision," or even "Wake made a terrible decision." In Trumpian fashion, Ducey attacked the man's competence and character because of one unfavorable call. That's all it takes.

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Friday, September 27, 2019

There's No Difference Between Student Performance In Charters And District Schools. So Says the U.S. Department of Education

Posted By on Fri, Sep 27, 2019 at 1:56 PM


Betsy DeVos and her Department of Education are sure charters run rings around district schools when it comes to student performance.

How sure are they? Here's one of those exquisite moments of self parody, in case you missed it:

A top Department of Ed official came to Tucson recently as part of his national tour of successful schools. He visited TUSD's University High School, proclaiming its Blue Ribbon status is proof "that Arizona charter schools have done something really unique in the past decade."

Say what? UHS a charter school?

A Star reporter (I'm guessing it was Danyelle Khmara who wrote the story) corrected him, saying that University High is a public school. Undaunted, the official corrected the reporter: “No, University High School is a charter school,” he said, then mansplained (charter-splained?) that the reporter was laboring under a "misconception" about charters.

DeVos & Co. are strict adherents of the Trump doctrine: Never let facts get in the way of a good story. If the students are high achievers, it's a charter or a private school. Any questions?

So it might come as something of a surprise that a U.S. Department of Education document released this month, School Choice in the United States: 2019, concludes there is no discernible difference between the performance of students in charter and district schools. Here's the finding from the executive summary.
In 2017, at grades 4 and 8, no measurable differences in average reading and mathematics scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) were observed between students in traditional public and public charter schools.
The most recent results at the department's disposal are from 2017, and the NAEP is the closest we have to a gold standard in national standardized testing, so the study is using the best and most recent data available.

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Tuesday, September 24, 2019

Melania Trump. The New York Stock Exchange. "Be Best." The United Nations. I'm Trying To Weave The Threads Together

Posted By on Tue, Sep 24, 2019 at 12:07 PM

  • Courtesy of BigStock

I'm trying to figure out how to fit all the pieces into one coherent narrative.

I think I've got it: Total cluelessness.

Or maybe not. Maybe it's more than that.

"Be Best" is the unparse-able name of first lady Melania Trump's half-hearted effort to give some purpose to her stay in the White House other than her clothes (designer) and her posture (model-perfect). The wife of the Bully-In-Chief has made anti-bullying her signature issue.

Melania carried her "Be Best" crusade to The New York Stock Exchange. Because where better to celebrate the work she says she is doing for children?  According to a White House press release, there is no better place.
"The NYSE is a great example of the strength of our economic system, which allows programs to grow and to support children around the globe."
Accompanying Melania to the NYSE were ten children from the private United Nations International School, whose name includes both an institution and an idea her husband despises: the United Nations and Internationalism.

A group of parents at the school were enraged. They felt the school was being used for a photo op which implied an endorsement of Trump administration policies.

The White House thought otherwise. The children should feel honored to participate, according to the first lady's spokeswoman Stephanie Grisham (who is also the current White House press secretary).
"Mrs. Trump will be taking part in an iconic New York City tradition, and encouraging children to be best, through her initiative."
And so, to celebrate "Be Best," the United Nations International School children accompanied Melania on a tour of the stock exchange and participated in, as the White House press release put it, "the timeless tradition of ringing the Opening Bell in celebration of the well being of children, a pillar of her Be Best campaign."

Cluelessness On Parade, courtesy of the tone-deaf wife of our discordant president.

Or maybe something other than cluelessness is going on. Maybe underneath the NYSE-appropriate clothing Melania wore for the event, she was wearing a t-shirt emblazoned with the words she wore on her back when she flew to Texas to visit migrant children who were separated from their parents because of her husband's immigration policies: "I REALLY DON'T CARE, DO U?"

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Saturday, September 21, 2019

How To Improve Student Success At TUSD, Guaranteed

Posted By on Sat, Sep 21, 2019 at 10:06 AM

  • Courtesy of BigStock

Don't get me wrong. I think TUSD needs lots more money. To raise salaries. To lower class size. To buy new books, technology and other classroom supplies. To hire nurses, librarians, counselors and people who teach art and music. To fix the schools' crumbling infrastructure. To upgrade school buses.

All that is an important part of improving the education students receive, especially in Arizona's cash-starved schools. But if I were to do one thing to improve student success at TUSD, it wouldn't be boosting the district's budget. It would be improving the standards of living of students whose families are near the bottom of our socioeconomic ladder. Improve their quality of life outside school and school success will improve on its own. Standardized test scores, classroom attentiveness and attendance will rise. Incidents requiring discipline will fall.

It's a simple idea, really. If students' lives improve before they arrive at school in the morning and after they leave in the afternoon, they will come to school more prepared to learn. They'll become better students, even in overfull, undersupplied classrooms.

Reputable educational studies in schools around the world conclude that family income correlates directly with student achievement. As incomes rise, student achievement rises as well. If we raise the overall income of families at the bottom of the socioeconomic ladder— by "overall income," I'm referring to a host of goods and services which raise people's standard of living, not just money — their children's success in school will rise as well.

It should be clear by now, I'm not talking only about TUSD. I'm talking about the way the country approaches the task of improving student success in school. Instead of focusing on "failing schools," we need to shift the conversation to the ways society fails our children during the hours they aren't in school.

But there's an obvious problem. It's not easy, or cheap, to improve the lives of people at the bottom of the socioeconomic ladder. It's a heavy lift. It costs a lot of money, the majority of which will come from the uber-wealthy. Our response to the economic inequality which has grown worse over the past half century will have to change radically. And the automatic privilege granted to whites, especially those with means, will have to be replaced by a more equitable way of dealing with economic and racial disparities.

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Thursday, September 12, 2019

Some Thoughts On The TUSD Family Life Curriculum Conflict

Posted By on Thu, Sep 12, 2019 at 12:02 PM


I've been out of town recently, so I haven't been personally involved in any of the board meetings or other events connected with the proposed Family Life Curriculum. With that in mind, here are some thoughts and discussion topics, from a bit of a distance.

1. I strongly support the new Family Life Curriculum. The changes are long overdue. Children and young adults need medically accurate information about sex, safe sex and the scope of human sexuality. The idea that keeping students ignorant will assure that they will become happily heterosexual adults who will abstain from sex until marriage — which I guess is the ideal for most people who oppose the curriculum — is both absurd and destructive.

I can't say that I support every word and every concept in the curriculum. I'm not an expert in the field, so I don't pretend to understand all the fine points. That being said . . .

2. It is an exercise in futility to try and fine tune the language and instructions in the Family Life Curriculum. Teachers will read through the curriculum and get some in service training, then they will teach the material, each in their own way. The only portions that need to be written with precision are the curricular commandments: the Thou Shalts and Thou Shalt Nots.

If a curriculum states "Thou shalt not teach any form of birth control other than abstinence," that has an absolute, direct effect on the way teachers approach sex education in their classrooms. If it says, on the other hand, "Thou shalt teach about many forms of birth control including abstinence, while making sure to point out that abstinence is the only 100 percent effective method," that is an important directive which teachers must follow.

Likewise, if teachers are told, "Thou shalt teach a certain topic in 4th grade" and "Thou shalt not teach another topic until 7th grade," those are absolute instructions which are supposed to be followed to the letter.

Beyond the commandments, a curriculum is a series of guidelines. Take it from a teacher who spent 30-plus years kinda following the district curriculum while spreading his own special sauce on all his lessons. It's up to the individual teachers to decide exactly how they will approach the topics mapped out in the curriculum.

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Monday, September 9, 2019

Don't Be Too Hard On Kelli Ward. It's a GOP Family Tradition

Posted By on Mon, Sep 9, 2019 at 2:11 PM

  • Kelli Ward. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
Arizona GOP Chair Kelli Ward made national news for her promise that Republicans will "stop gun-grabber Mark Kelly dead in his tracks."

Any Arizonan with a head and a heart remembers the horrific 2011 shooting at a Gabby Giffords "Congress on your corner" event and knows Mark Kelly, who is running for Senate, is Giffords' husband. Ol' Chemtrail Kelli apparently has neither head nor heart. She certainly has no reservations about using gun violence imagery in a fundraising email as a way of rallying the troops voters in the battle against the Democratic enemy, Mark Kelly.

But in Ward's defense, she didn't invent the idea of "targeting" Democrats with gun-laced appeals for money and votes. It's a longstanding Republican family tradition.

Sarah Palin's SARAHPAC posted a graphic in 2010 stating, "20 House Democrats from districts we carried in 2008 voted for the health care bill. IT'S TIME TO TAKE A STAND." Each district is marked with a gunsight's crosshairs.

After the Giffords shooting, Palin was criticized for the graphic. She tried to turn the blame back onto Democrats, claiming she was the victim of a "blood libel," a term that refers to the antisemitic myth during the Middle Ages that Jews killed Christian children and used their blood for ceremonial purposes. Palin's mind-bogglingly stupid and insensitive misuse of the term, compounded with her clownish campaign for vice president, assured the Republican party that absurdities can pay political dividends. Hail to the current Nonsequitur-In-Chief.

A "No Satirist Could Top the Real Thing" Note: In Sarah Palin's 2015 book, "Sweet Freedom: A Devotional," she has a chapter titled, LOCKED AND LOADED FOR BATTLE. After a biblical quote about facing adversity, she writes,
 The Bible promises trials for followers of Christ, so we’re wise to prepare for battle now. A soldier doesn’t begin his training after he’s called into battle; he’s been sacrificing and preparing for months and years before his boots hit the battlefield. So, how do we put on our armor for a spiritual battle? By studying and memorizing God’s Word. It forms a protective shield over our souls, warding off enemy attacks.
Onward Christian soldiers, marching locked and loaded.

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