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Friday, July 21, 2017

A Few Thoughts on the New AzMERIT Scores

Posted By on Fri, Jul 21, 2017 at 5:30 PM

COURTESY OF PHOTOSPIN
  • Courtesy of PhotoSpin
We've been given a first look at the new AzMERIT results from the tests students took in spring. They haven't been broken down in granular detail, but we know how students scored at each grade level in math and language arts. The numbers look reasonably good. Basically, they're a little better than they were the year before. No question, up is better than down, but does that mean Arizona students have improved in math and language arts? It's not an easy question to answer. Let me throw out a few ideas without trying to arrive at any solid conclusions.

This is the third year the state has given students the AzMERIT test as a replacement for AIMS, and that means it's the second year teachers have been able to teach to the new test. The first year, teachers didn't have much of an idea what the test was like, so when it came to test prep, they were like generals fighting the last war. They had been teaching to the AIMS test for years, and they didn't know how to change their strategies to help their students with AzMERIT. The second year they knew more about how the new test was structured and what kind of questions the students would be asked, so they made an effort at tailoring their test prep to the task. The third year, with the previous year's experience under their belts, they refined their test prep technique a bit more. Which begs the question: do this year's higher scores reflect an improvement in students' achievement or their teachers' test prep proficiency?

Whenever students are taught how to take a specific test, the results are thrown into doubt. Are students learning the concepts behind the test questions, or have they simply become more adept at answering the questions? Our obsession with yearly results on high stakes tests means the results people value so highly don't mean much. Worse, the tests distort students' educational experience by making teachers focus on narrow sections of the curriculum at the expense of equally important areas which aren't on the test. You can't blame teachers for spending an inordinate amount of time on what will be tested, even when they know their overemphasis on the tested material does their students a disservice. Their individual evaluations and the state grades their schools receive hang in the balance. The scores are too damn important to let giving their students a comprehensive education get in the way.

If we want to monitor students to get a sense of how they're doing on their basic math and language skills, a better way is to test student achievement every few years in selected grades — and separate the scores from funding and school grades.

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Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Dr. Word Says: Trump Tries His Hand at Poetry

Posted By on Wed, Jul 19, 2017 at 4:41 PM

trump_poet.jpg

Squeezing a message into a 140 character tweet sometimes results in what might be referred to as poetic compression, but rarely does the product qualify as poetry. More commonly, the compressed phrase is awkward, even confused. However, sometimes one finds a gem. Take as an example the last sentence in a recent tweet by Donald J. Trump.

"The Dems scream death" is a pithy, well-turned phrase, combining both the act of screaming the word "death" and the scream which can accompany death. Those words are followed immediately by the phrase "as OCare dies," repeating the death image while simultaneously referencing the Republican assertion that Obamacare is in a death spiral. The word "OCare" has an antique, almost Elizabethan quality which adds to the poetic resonance of the passage. A rich, complex interplay of words and images is contained in those seven deceptively simple words.

Did Trump intend the sentence to have a poetic ring, or was his phrasing borne of the necessity of keeping the message to 140 characters, which happens to be the exact length of the tweet? One might as well ask, is an especially evocative Haiku beautiful because the poet intended it to be so, or is the beauty of the poem an accident caused by the constraints of the seventeen syllable, five-seven-five form? Since I readily grant the author of a splendid haiku credit for the work, who am I to deny our president similar credit for the felicity of his phrasing?

Now, let's take this analysis a step further and look at the rhythmic form of the eight syllables. The line, it turns out, is written in perfect iambic tetrameter—four iambic feet.

An iamb contains two syllables, the first unstressed, the second stressed. A well known example of a poem written entirely in iambic tetrameter is Joyce Kilmer's Trees. Here is the opening couplet of the poem.
I think that I shall never see
A poem lovely as a tree. 


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Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Flake Loves Him Some Cruzcare

Posted By on Tue, Jul 18, 2017 at 4:11 PM

COURTESY OF WIKIMEDIA.ORG
  • Courtesy of wikimedia.org
Trumpcare is dead, or in a coma, and Sen. Ted Cruz's amendment to the bill was one of the nails in its coffin (or the rubber mallet to its head if you prefer the coma analogy). But our Senator Jeff Flake, who usually plays a moderate in the media, decided to embrace Cruzcare in his attempt to court Arizona's right wing in the run-up to the primary. On a radio talk show he joined Cruz to voice his support for the most hated man in the Senate, his new bff. I didn't have to search for the talk show segment. Flake is so proud of it, he put it at the top of his latest constituent email. It landed in my inbox hours before two more Republican senators stated they wouldn't vote for the most recent version of Trumpcare which included the Cruz amendment, ending its chance of passing in its current form.

Cruz calls his plan the "consumer freedom amendment." It means insurance companies can go back to providing the kind of subprime, low cost health care packages forbidden by Obamacare. So, for example, if Senator McCain had purchased one of the "consumer freedom" insurance options, he might only have coverage for high cost care, like his recent surgery. People are estimating that his total bill, if he had to pay it, comes to about $70,000. His "consumer freedom" insurance would say he's covered for hospitalization, but when he opens his bill, he may discover hospitalization coverage is for the room and board portion of his hospital stay but not the cost of the surgery and doctors' visits. And he might also find that his coverage will be canceled at the end of the year, which couldn't happen under Obamacare, leaving him without insurance and nowhere to go for affordable coverage. That's what Cruz and Flake call "freedom."

Flake's email also spotlighted a News 12 story on his Cruzcare stand. I'll bet he loves the first sentence of the segment.
"Is Arizona Senator Jeff Flake backing the most conservative Obamacare repeal plan?"

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Thursday, July 13, 2017

Flake Takes a Turn To the Right

Posted By on Thu, Jul 13, 2017 at 6:45 PM

COURTESY OF WIKIMEDIA.ORG
  • Courtesy of wikimedia.org
No politician wants to read words like these, on fivethirtyeight.com.
Republican Sen. Jeff Flake of Arizona is unpopular — really unpopular. According to a poll about all 100 senators released Tuesday by Morning Consult, just 37 percent of registered voters in Arizona approve of their junior senator, compared with 45 percent who disapprove. That gives Flake a net approval rating of -8 percentage points, the worst of any senator.
On Morning Consult, the headline of an article reads, Only One Senator Up for Re-Election in 2018 Has Underwater Approval Rating. Flake's picture is above the headline. Ouch.

Compared to most politicians, Flake usually come off as a reasonably honest, forthright guy with a conscience—a conservative with moderate tendencies. He even got Trump riled up enough that our commander in chief said he'll spend millions of dollars to primary out Flake—which is a plus for the senator in my book. But now, faced with his worst-in-the-nation numbers, Flake has thrown moderation and forthrightness to the winds. He's tacking as far right as he can to fight off certain primary opposition. After that, he figures, he can flip over his political Etch-A-Sketch, give it a shake and put on his "sensible Republican" mantle for the general election.

The first big test for Republican senators is the upcoming health care legislation. Flake decided to throw in with far-right Senator Ted Cruz and support the "Consumer Freedom Option" he developed. Basically, Cruz says if insurance companies have one option that's in line with the Obamacare rules, they should be able to create as many low cost, low coverage options as they like. Remember the subprime loan disaster? This is subprime health insurance. Consumers are sold insurance on the cheap, then when they need it, they find it's all promises and no coverage. The plan is so bad, even insurance companies don't like it. They know healthy people will flock to the low cost, low coverage insurance, and the Obamacare-compliant options will be chosen mostly by people in the greatest need of care—in other words, people with preexisting conditions. The cost of those plans will skyrocket, making them unaffordable to the people who need them most.

Flake brushes off the concern that people with preexisting conditions won't be able to afford coverage with the most confused, convoluted statement I've heard from this generally plain-speaking guy.

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Wednesday, July 12, 2017

There's Election Integrity, and Then There's Election Integrity

Posted By on Wed, Jul 12, 2017 at 5:02 PM

WIKIMEDIA
  • Wikimedia
The press is calling it the Voter Fraud panel, though it would more accurate to call it the Voter Suppression panel. But the real name of the committee headed by Vice President Mike Pence and anti-immigration, pro-voter suppression Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach is the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity.

Note to Pence and Kobach: The term "election integrity" is already taken. But that never stopped Republicans, who are masters at appropriating other people's language. Remember when "fake news" referred to patently false stories amplified on the internet to create confusion and disinformation during the campaign? Trump made the term his own, changing its meaning to any news he doesn't like that comes from the mainstream media. Remember when "No child left behind" was a term coined by Marian Wright Edelman, the first African American woman admitted to the Mississippi bar, who worked for the NAACP Legal Defense Fund and founded the Children's Defense Fund in 1973, who honestly believed no child should be left behind, not only in school, but everywhere in society? Maybe you don't, but that's who coined and used the term until George Bush kidnapped it to use for his 2001 education legislation which should have been called "No test left behind."

Election integrity activists have been fighting to assure that every vote is counted accurately for years. Tucson has been one of the centers of the fight since a group of people who believed the results of the 2006 RTA election had been flipped from a loss to a win started scrutinizing the county's voting and vote counting procedures. Whether the group's allegations are right or wrong, we've all benefited from their work to make Pima County elections far more tamper resistant than they were in the past. As they and others across the country have demonstrated, rigging an election to change the results isn't rocket science. It can be accomplished fairly easily by any number of actors starting in the polling booth and ending with the final vote count if no one is paying attention. I haven't seen any slam dunk evidence of a vote count being hacked, but there are lots of wisps of smoke in elections around the country. Given the political stakes, it's hard to believe no one has made an attempt to falsify the count to turn a loss into a win over the past few years.

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Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Koch Bros. and ALEC Shout From the Rooftops: "Stop Rooftop Solar!"

Posted By on Tue, Jul 11, 2017 at 10:36 AM

COURTESY OF BIGSTOCK
  • Courtesy of Bigstock
See if this paragraph from a recent article sounds familiar.
[Arizona] Utilities argue that rules allowing private solar customers to sell excess power back to the grid at the retail price — a practice known as net metering — can be unfair to homeowners who do not want or cannot afford their own solar installations.
It sounds like a statement straight from the Arizona Corporation Commission's argument to lower the amount of money rooftop solar owners get when they sell power to utilities, but it isn't. I added [Arizona] to a paragraph from an article in the Sunday New York Times: Rooftop Solar Dims Under Pressure From Utility Lobbyists. The article mentions Arizona, but it's about the nationwide push to make rooftop solar less attractive so utilities can continue to make money without competition from individual home owners. (Deep down, you knew our Corporation Commissioners aren't bright enough to come up with this on their own, right?)

How's the lobbying going? Apparently, quite well.
Their effort has met with considerable success, dimming the prospects for renewable energy across the United States.

Prodded in part by the utilities’ campaign, nearly every state in the country is engaged in a review of its solar energy policies. Since 2013, Hawaii, Nevada, Arizona, Maine and Indiana have decided to phase out net metering, crippling programs that spurred explosive growth in the rooftop solar market. (Nevada recently reversed its decision.)

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Monday, July 10, 2017

T.H.R.E.A.T. Watch: The Frog Pot Heats Up

Posted By on Mon, Jul 10, 2017 at 2:45 PM

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It's been awhile since my last T.H.R.E.A.T. (Trump Human Rights Erosion And Termination) Watch post. That's because things haven't deteriorated as rapidly as I feared in the areas that worry me most: the suppression of free speech, including suppression of the press, and the targeting of minority groups and immigrants. All kinds of other things have gone to hell, but the press has risen to the challenge and spoken truth to power instead of cowering behind weak condemnations and false equivalencies, and the courts have blunted Trump's assault on immigrants. Things could be much worse.

But we have to be wary of the "frogs in a pot of water" scenario where we don't notice a gradual increase in heat until we find ourselves up to our necks in boiling water. Over the past few weeks, I've felt a gradual, worrisome temperature increase, and it's not from the Tucson heat wave.

The media has not only been standing its ground against the assaults from Trump, it's been going the extra mile, doing what the press is supposed to do. It's been a watchdog, scrutinizing the daily outrages of the Trump administration and putting extra staff on investigative duty, trying to ferret out possible/probable wrongdoings by the Trump campaign and the possible/probable coverups of the wrongdoing now that he's president. Recently, however, Trump has stepped up his attacks on the media, which worries me because I've seen how quickly members of the press can go from brave to bullied when they're hit by a flood of negative pressure. Trump reached back to the haemophobic [fear of blood] attack he used against Megyn Kelly, this time targeting Morning Joe's Mika Brzezinski with a despicable tweet. Days later Trump retweeted a video of him putting a body slam on CNN. In a July 3 tweet, he predicted that the press will praise him at some point, tellingly using the verb "forced":
At some point the Fake News will be forced to discuss our great jobs numbers, strong economy, success with ISIS, the border & so much else!
"Forced." Trump would love to have the power to force the press to bend to his will. He hasn't figured out how to do it, but he's trying harder with each passing day. Whether he thinks the walls are closing in on him with the latest revelations in the Russia probe or he's just pissed, he's growing increasingly aggressive toward the press. Members of the media are standing their ground, but that can change.

Trump's ban on people traveling to the U.S. from six predominantly Muslim countries has finally begun, though in a limited form. The courts have said he can only keep people out who don't have a "bona fide relationship" with someone in the U.S., so his administration is using the most restrictive and punitive definition of "bona fide relationship" it can, excluding, among others, grandparents, aunts and uncles. People from the six banned countries tend to have strong extended family ties which go well beyond the nuclear family. The Trump administration's limits on what is considered a bona fide relationship are culturally insensitive and insulting, which, I imagine, is the point. And a future Supreme Court ruling favorable to a complete travel ban for those six countries is always a possibility, given the conservative makeup of the court.

Meanwhile, undocumented immigrants in this country are feeling an escalation of the pressure being put on them and their families. Detentions, arrests and deportations are becoming increasingly frequent and arbitrary, even for people who have been here for years and haven't done anything to make them likely targets for deportation. Picking your child up from school, driving in a car and going to the courthouse all put undocumented people at increasing risk. Even picking up a child from a detention center can lead to arrest. And at any time, a knock on the door can be the signal that a family member will be taken into custody, tearing a family apart. It's not simply the number of people being picked up. It's the randomness of the events. One purpose of terrorism is to make people feel unsafe. "At any moment, without warning, I could be next." Random roundups of undocumented immigrants, and stopping of people who look to the immigration police like they could "illegals," are designed to strike terror in the hearts of communities where undocumented immigrants live.

Things could be worse, but things definitely aren't good. The damage Trump has wrought on the nation has been slowed by the courts, the media and his low approval ratings. But no question, it's getting hotter out here.

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Friday, July 7, 2017

Tucson Restaurateurs Victimized in Home Burglary

Posted By on Fri, Jul 7, 2017 at 11:00 AM

Harmesh and Raksha Bhatti with Tucson Mayor Rothschild during India Oven's 20th Anniversary celebration in 2014. - ARC PHOTOGRAPHY VIA FACEBOOK
  • ARC Photography via Facebook
  • Harmesh and Raksha Bhatti with Tucson Mayor Rothschild during India Oven's 20th Anniversary celebration in 2014.

Consider visiting a restaurant that is as warm, familiar and familial as a friend’s kitchen. Imagine the walls, lined with family photos, and the smell of cumin, coriander and chilies lingering over good company.

Since 1993, Tucson’s India Oven (2727 N. Campbell Ave.) has proudly served up a taste of Indian home cooking. Harmesh and Raksha Bhatti, the proprietors of this longtime Tucson-staple, find their second home inconspicuously nestled in a Campbell mini mall. The restaurateurs, as much as the restaurant itself, attract patrons from across the valley to experience the welcoming warmth of India Oven.

For 24 years, the Bhattis, as dedicated proprietors to their business, arrive some hours before the restaurant’s opening, and stay hours after close. On one such day two weeks ago, the Bhattis returned from a full day of work to find their home ransacked and burgled.

“We had been working here all day,” Raksha said. “We no go home until very late, sometime like 10:30 p.m., and to see our home like that…very sad. They took everything.”

It would seem the burglars left no stone unturned. Tears well in Raksha’s eyes, as she explains the totality of the burglar’s damage. Generations of jewelry, all gone; the delicate gold bands that linked Raksha to the communal memory of her parents, as well to the memories of her wedding day and granddaughter’s birth, all lost. A 65-inch, flat screen television Raksha bought for Harmesh on Thanksgiving: gone. Computers housing files and photos, as well as cameras used to document the many journeys of the Bhatti family: gone.

In addition to the many family heirlooms and memories lost to the burglary, the Bhatti’s home was also destroyed.

“They smashed up the whole couch and throw our clothes across house,” Raksha said. “They smashed up everything: all my paperwork… everything. It is very scary.”

Though Tucson police responded to the scene, no leads have been determined. Additionally, the Bhatti’s home was uninsured during the time of the accident.

“Our people do not think about it that way,” Raksha said. “I have little idea how to take insurance, I never thought we’d need it. We work 24 year in this place. We think America is good… We never think something like this could happen in our community.”

The Bhattis now set out to rebuild their home. Though the police have yet to catch the culprits of this crime, Raksha remains hopeful that good will prevail.

“At least I have this business,” Raksha said. “We will build again. It is no easy for me, but we will build again with community help.”


Editor's Note: This story has been updated.

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