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Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Let's Hear It For Teachers In Red, and a State Budget In the Black

Posted By on Wed, Mar 7, 2018 at 10:23 AM

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Today teachers all over Arizona are wearing red to spotlight low teacher pay—and the shortage of teachers which is exactly what you'd expect in a state with some of the lowest salaries and largest class sizes in the country. Teachers are asking the rest of us to wear red in solidarity.

You know, red and black go really good together. Arizona can say yes to the demands of teachers wearing red and still keep the state budget in the black. How do we manage it? The first step is to make a commitment to increase the state budget so we can afford to fund schools, social programs and infrastructure adequately. The next step is to ask, "What's the best way to do it?"

We have plenty of options to choose from. Close tax loopholes for corporations and other special interests. Renew the Prop. 301 sales tax for education, with a penny added to the total. Stop the stupid, goddamn tax cuts for corporations and the wealthy. Increase taxes on the wealthiest among us so they pay their fair share.

I'm not suggesting which are the best ways to increase state revenue. That's the next step, after we agree to take the "red and black" challenge.

However, I do have two suggestions for things we need to do if we hope to add needed money to the state coffers. Give voters the opportunity to repeal Proposition 108 from 1992 which requires a two-thirds majority in the legislature to pass any new taxes. And vote out politicians who say "No new taxes, period."

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Monday, March 5, 2018

Let's Hear It For the Parkland Students. And Their Teachers. And Their School

Posted By on Mon, Mar 5, 2018 at 5:04 PM

COURTESY OF WIKIMEDIA.COM
  • Courtesy of wikimedia.com
I felt like a nervous coach watching his gymnasts perform on the balance beam as I listened to the students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High talking with the press. They're going to lose their balance. They're going to fall on their faces. They're going to humiliate themselves in front of a national audience. I almost couldn't watch. I was ready to turn the channel if things got too bad.

With relief and a strange feeling of pride, I watched these young people remain amazingly poised and well spoken under the most difficult of circumstances. Sure, some of them stumbled a bit, spoke awkwardly now and then, lost the thread of what they were saying. But that happens to lots of non-professionals when they have a camera stuck in their faces and are asked to bare their emotions at the same time they have to talk about complex issues. The Parkland students haven't just held it together. They've shone. They've pointed the way for the rest of us.

I'm an old high school teacher. I know what kids that age can do. But these folks exceeded my expectations.

The students deserve all the credit in the world, but we should reserve a little extra credit for their schools and teachers as well. The students have been educated in the skills they demonstrated to the nation.

Take David Hogg, a young man who seemed so self confident and practiced, it made sense he was singled out by the right wingnuts as a "crisis actor" flown into the school by the anti-gun crowd to pretend he was a student. He's the student director of the school's broadcast journalism program, WMSD-TV. While he was hiding inside a closet with other students during the shooting, he was interviewing them. Other staffers for the student newspaper were also reporting the story while it was in progress, taking photos and videos during the ordeal.

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Friday, March 2, 2018

A Look At Poverty and Education, Chickens and Eggs

Posted By on Fri, Mar 2, 2018 at 8:27 AM

COURTESY OF FLICKR.COM
  • Courtesy of flickr.com
Last week I wrote a post about Bill Gates who, after spending hundreds of millions of dollars trying to improve education with minimal success, has begun to learn how much he still has to learn about education. And to his credit, he's beginning to look at poverty as an underlying problem with lots of moving parts, education being one of them.

Toward the end of that post I wrote a few sentences, almost a throwaway, about the relation between education and poverty.
"Education is not an effective way to fix the country's problems related to poverty when it's working by itself. But lessening the burdens of poverty is the best way there is to improve student achievement, and it's even more effective when schools improve as well."
Let me pick up that idea and expand on it.

If we're looking at schools as a primary engine to lift children out of poverty, we're looking in the wrong place. Education is necessary to facilitate greater economic mobility, but it's far from sufficient.

You hear a lot of people say, "Failing schools are the problem." If we just fix our schools, they say — improve the curriculum, get rid of bad teachers, create charters, privatize schools — that's the best way to lift children out of poverty. But it isn't. What it is, is the best way to delay dealing with the root causes of poverty.

Trying to address poverty by improving schools is the rough equivalent of seeing a problem, then creating a committee to study it.

Here's how study committees often work. A group of very serious people get together and spend a few years kicking a topic around. They gather information, call in experts, look at the problem from a number of angles. Then the group publishes a very serious report long after the heat which was the reason the committee was set up has cooled. The report is analyzed and critiqued by some other very serious people, then it's shelved. That's it. No action, no results. Study committees are the place where ideas go to die.

Here's how educational "reforms" which are supposed to help children rise out of poverty usually work. The "reforms" are put in place with fanfare and high hopes, but no one expects to see results right away. It takes a number of years for children to work their way though the educational system before we can measure whether the "reforms" yielded any results. Five years, ten years, twenty years down the line, researchers plow through piles of data and try to measure the effects. Depending on how researchers parse the data and which variables they emphasize, they find students gained or lost a little ground due to the changes. The needle rarely moves very far one way or another in terms of student achievement or improving students' economic mobility.

So we begin anew with another round of "reforms" which are supposed to fix our "failing schools" and move children out of poverty. We wait a number of years, study the results and start over again. Rinse and repeat, ad infinitum.

No Child Left Behind. Charter schools. Vouchers. Blended learning. Common Core. Changes in methods for teaching reading and math. Education innovations come, educational innovations go, they work a little, they don't work at all. If poverty and economic mobility rates budge in the interim, it has far more to to with outside economic and social forces than with what's going on in schools.

Who are the most enthusiastic proponents of those study committees? They tend to be people who want to keep things exactly as they are, people who benefit from the status quo. They measure the success of the committee by how little happens to address the problem it was created to study.

So who benefits most from maintaining that fixing our "failing schools" is the best way to lift children out of poverty, effectively kicking the can down the road a decade or two? I'll give my answer at the end of the post.

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Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Big Bucks Conservative Donors Beyond the Koch Brothers

Posted By on Tue, Feb 27, 2018 at 3:45 PM

COURTESY OF BIGSTOCK
  • Courtesy of BigStock
It's a conservative three-fer. Cut into financial support for Democrats. Lower the pay for state government workers. Encounter less resistance when you attack "government schools." All by weakening the power of public employee unions.

That's why a case currently in front of the U.S. Supreme Court, Janus vs. Afscme, is such a big deal, and why conservatives have been funding the cause behind the case for years.

Janus vs. Afscme would take away the ability of public employee unions to make non-union members pay a "fair share" fee. Twenty-two states currently have that requirement, which makes their public employee unions strong as a bargaining force for state employees and a political force during election time. The rest, like Arizona, don't have "fair share," making the unions weaker on both fronts. I don't plan to discuss the merits of the case, though like most people whose politics lean left, I very much hope the Supreme Court rules against Janus. The discussion here is about money in politics, specifically the money of one Richard Uihlein.

I had never heard of Uihlein until I read an article a few days ago saying he was one of the largest donors behind the current effort to get rid of the "fair share" fee. So I did a google search on the guy. One article I found calls him "The Koch of conservative politics in Illinois." Another wants you to "Meet the Illinoisan Trying to Buy a Wisconsin Senate Seat." Another article lists "10 super-rich people [who] dominate giving to super PACs active in midterm elections for Congress." For the 2018 elections, Uihlein is at the top of the list with $19.5 million so far, and we're at the beginning of the funding cycle.

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Thursday, February 22, 2018

Kids Nowadays. They're Awful(ly Wonderful)!

Posted By on Thu, Feb 22, 2018 at 4:48 PM

COURTESY OF WIKIMEDIA.COM
  • Courtesy of wikimedia.com
How many times in the past have I complained about "Kids nowadays," how lazy and self-centered and ignorant they are? Not like my generation!

The answer is, never that I can recall. I can't remember old-manning teenagers about the good ol' days, ever.

Matter of fact, when a discussion in one of my high school English classes led to a moment when it looked like it was time for me to Tut-tut my students, I'd often say, "You know, right about now, I'm supposed to tell you what's wrong with your generation, how young people used to be polite and mind their parents and turn in their homework and join in marches for civil rights and protest the Vietnam war back in my day. But it's kind of hard for me to old-man you when my generation's slogan was 'Sex, Drugs and Rock 'n Roll.'"

Maybe as a teacher I wasn't supposed to say that. Setting a bad example and all. Except it's true. Children of the 60s have plenty to be red-faced about when we think about some of the things we said and did. And as for the 50s, well, we 60s college students were the ones who condemned our formative years for their lock-step conformity, racism and sexism. It would have been beyond hypocritical for me to praise the "Father Knows Best" era.

To my last day in the classroom, I maintained the students I had in the final years of my career were as good as, maybe even a little better than, my first students 30-plus years earlier.

The kids are all right. Always have been — acknowledging the obviously stupid, irrational, dangerous behavior which is part of growing up (also part of being a grown up, as this grown-up can attest). All the way back to the youth of ancient Athens running wild in the agora and, according to the leaders of the city-state, having their minds corrupted by that rabble rouser Socrates, the kids have been all right. When youth do truly awful, vicious, violent things, they're likely mirroring the society they live in.

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Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Israel, the U.S. and Guns

Posted By on Wed, Feb 21, 2018 at 4:10 PM

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In Israel you can buy 50 bullets a year. That's it. And only if you're a licensed gun owner. That number jumps to 100 bullets if you're also a security guard.

Of the 8.5 million people in Israel (the number doesn't include the 5 million Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza), about 135,000 of them have gun licenses — more like 100,000 if you remove the security guards. Most of the licenses are for 9 mm pistols.

So why is our "Second Amendment above all else" crowd implying Israel is a model for rampant gun ownership in the U.S.?

Mike Huckabee and Wayne LaPierre have claimed in the past few days that the security guards Israel places in front of schools are the reason the country doesn't have the kind of shootings we do. People in Israel beg to differ. They say the guards are there to protect against the very real threat of terrorism. The country doesn't suffer from the kind of regular, random, out-of-nowhere shootings we have in this country, in schools or elsewhere. One reason is, they have far stricter gun laws.

An article in the New York Times describes Israel's gun laws. Anyone who scoffs and shouts "FAKE NEWS" because the article is in the Times is an idiot. Do your own research and see if the Times reporting bears out. I did, for a column I wrote in the Northwest Explorer in 2012 following the horrific Sandy Hook school shooting. The situation hasn't changed significantly since then.

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Friday, February 16, 2018

The Education of Bill Gates

Posted By on Fri, Feb 16, 2018 at 4:09 PM

COURTESY OF WIKIMEDIA
  • Courtesy of wikimedia
Bill Gates made billions and billions of dollars in the field of computer technology, helping to transform the world in the process. He's an innovator. He's a disrupter. He's the savviest of savvy businessmen. He's been successful beyond anyone's wildest dreams of success or avarice.

So Gates thought, why not put his entrepreneurial genius and hundreds of millions of dollars a year to work innovating and disrupting and transforming the field of education? How hard can it be?

Pretty hard, he discovered.

Gates has been pouring money into his educational experiments in this country since 2000. Overall, I'd give his efforts a grade of C. Not much help, no grave harm. I'd give what he's learned about education a B. He now understands he doesn't know as much about education as he thought he did.

Bill and Melinda Gates released their annual letter answering The 10 Toughest Questions We Get. Question #2 is, "What do you have to show for the billions you’ve spent on U.S. education?" Their answer employs the couple's usual upbeat tone, but the efforts they describe are less than encouraging, especially given that, "Our foundation spends about $500 million a year in the United States, most of it on education."

A few telling excerpts from their answer:
"One thing we learned is that it’s extremely hard to transform low-performing schools."

"We have also worked with districts across the country to help them improve the quality of teaching. . . . But we haven’t seen the large impact we had hoped for."

"How did our teacher effectiveness work do on these three tests? Its effect on students’ learning was mixed."

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Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Trump's Education Budget Proposal

Posted By on Wed, Feb 14, 2018 at 2:28 PM

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Trump's budget proposal isn't just being called DOA—Dead On Arrival. It's being called DBIA—Dead Before It Arrived—since the congressional budget deal he signed means some of his proposals were outdated before they were printed.

But nothing Trump proposes, or says, or does, no matter how ridiculous or mendacious, can be considered dead so long as congressional Republicans buckle and bend the knee whenever it's time to show some independence. They're like a character in The Sopranos saying, "Sure I hang around with Tony Soprano sometimes, but I'm my own man. I know when to say no." Uh huh. Sure you do.

So let's look at Trump's DOA, or DBIA, proposals for the education budget, because everything that comes from his mouth or his tweets or his office matters, to the shame of his weak-kneed enablers.

Trump proposes to cut about 5 percent, or $3.6 billion, from education spending.

First, the education budget losers. Here are programs which would end.
• $2 billion for teaching training and class size reduction efforts. Gone.
• $1.2 billion for after-school programs. Gone.
• $400 million for districts to use for a variety of purposes including health-related programs and improving access to technology. Gone.
• $340 million to help get low-income and first-in-their-family students prepare for college. Gone.
• $250 million for states to develop preschool programs in low income areas. Gone.
• $190 million for grants supporting reading programs. Gone.
• $140 million for educational research programs. Gone.
• $73 million for pairing academic programs with health and related services. Gone.

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Staff Pick

8th Annual Comedy for Charity: Laugh ‘til It Hurts

Comedians: Jason Love, David Fitzsimmons, Henry Barajas, Nancy Stanley, Elliot Glicksman, Linda Ray, and Suzie Sexton. Beneficiaries:… More

@ Fox Tucson Theatre Sun., April 22, 6-8:15 p.m. 17 W. Congress St.

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