Wednesday, October 23, 2019

The Koch Network's New K-12 Pose: "Let's All Be Friends!"

Posted By on Wed, Oct 23, 2019 at 3:36 PM

  • Courtesy of Creative Commons

The Koch Network — formerly known as the Koch Brothers until David Koch died in August — is looking for a new way to ease into K-12 education.

Let's not fight, the Koch Network says. Why can't we all just get along?

Welcome to the Network's new, conciliatory educational brand.

This kumbaya moment comes from an 800 ton gorilla which spends hundreds of millions of dollars so it can sit anywhere it wants. The Network has bought seats at the table in congress, state legislatures, universities and school boards across the nation. We have our own outpost at UA, The Freedom Center, purchased and overseen by some of the Network's high rolling contributors.

The Network has only made half-hearted attempts at moving into the world of K-12 education, so it hasn't had much of an impact thus far. Now it has begun to put more money and energy behind its efforts.

In June, the Koch Network created a new group, yes. every kid., whose purpose, according to one of its spokespeople, is to "move away from the 'us versus them' framing in K-12" and work together across political and educational lines.

It's strange to hear these folks claim they want to make friends with the same educators the Kochs have worked against from their earliest days as political activists. Back in 1980 when David Koch was the vice presidential candidate for the Libertarian Party, the brothers weren't interested in getting along with the education community. The Libertarian Party's platform called for an end to free public education.
"We advocate the complete separation of education and State. . . . Government ownership, operation, regulation, and subsidy of schools and colleges should be ended."
The Kochs haven't strayed far from their privatization goals in the decades since. It's still vouchers first and charter schools second. They believe publicly funded and governed schools will lose out in a head-to-head competition with free enterprise-based education. The traditional school system, they hope, will simply wither away.

So why is the Network saying it wants to play nice all of a sudden? It's because the political winds in education have begun to shift away from privatization.

Until recently, the privatization/"education reform" movement looked like it was winning the education wars. Charters have grown steadily, and an increasing number of states have adopted voucher programs. Even Democrats looked like they were coming on board. They seemed to agree with the "reformers" that our public schools are failing and we need something new — certainly more charter schools, and maybe private school vouchers as well — to offer children an alternative to their local schools. The privatization movement even had a Democratic champion in the White House. President Obama was acting like the Education-reformer-in-chief.

It looked like smooth sailing toward privatization. Then something went wrong.

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Thursday, October 17, 2019

Democrat Kathy Hoffman Is Arizona Republicans' Enemy Number One

Posted By on Thu, Oct 17, 2019 at 3:01 PM


National Republicans have demonized Nancy Pelosi as the "San Francisco Liberal" face of the Democratic party for years. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Maxine Waters are their latest demons of choice. The names change, but the song remains the same.

Arizona Republicans have found themselves a Democratic ogre: Superintendent of Public Instruction Kathy Hoffman. They have launched a steady string of assaults against her, claiming she is trying to destroy the state's system of vouchers while she sexualizes school children by encouraging comprehensive sex education in schools.

There are a few reasons Arizona Republicans chose Kathy Hoffman as their Democratic bête noire.

Hoffman holds state office. That makes her visible statewide, and it also makes her especially dangerous to Republicans' stranglehold on state government. She and Secretary of State Katie Hobbs are the first Democrats to hold Arizona state office since former Attorney General Terry Goddard left in 2011. Currently, Republicans only hold a slim two seat majority in the House, meaning if a single Democrat wins a Republican seat, the House is tied. A two seat Democratic swing in the Senate would tie that body as well. The threat of Arizona becoming a purple state, of Democrats having a say in what goes on, is real. Republicans hope they can hurt Democratic candidates by painting Hoffman as the dangerously radical face of the Democratic party.

Hoffman is also a threat because she is the top educator in a state where education is one of the major battlegrounds. Think RedforEd. Think the attempts by Democrats to make charter schools more transparent and accountable. Think the Republicans' recent, unsuccessful attempt to increase the number of private school vouchers. With Hoffman at the Department of Education helm, Republicans will face resistance in furthering their privatization/"education reform" agenda.

Arizona's education policies are more than a local issue. The education wars are raging nationwide, and Arizona is the tip of the privatization spear. That's why Arizona Republicans are getting a major assist from one of the country's big money conservative education organizations, the American Federation For Children, which, not coincidentally, was founded by Trump's Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos.

The first major attack on Hoffman was the charge that she wanted to rob Navajo children of a good education. Ten children on the Navajo Reservation have been using Arizona voucher money to attend a private school on the other side of the New Mexico border even though the money isn't supposed to be spent for out-of-state schools. Hoffman's staff noticed the problem and said the students would no longer be able to attend the school using Arizona voucher money.

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Wednesday, October 16, 2019

A Blogger's Credo

Posted By on Wed, Oct 16, 2019 at 9:13 AM

  • Courtesy of BigStock

After 12 years and thousands of posts, I have found my bloggers' credo, or more correctly, it found me. A rhyming couplet, revised just a bit from the 467-year-old original.
Post o'er Land and Ocean day or night:
They also serve who only sit and write.
Works for me.

(Thanks, and apologies, to John Milton.)

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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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