Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Cutting Teacher Compensation and School Funding in Wisconsin

Posted By on Tue, Nov 21, 2017 at 3:27 PM

Does cutting the power of teacher unions, cutting teacher salaries and reducing tenure and seniority rights— all ingredients in the conservative recipe for educational success—make for better education? Let's take a look at Wisconsin, one of the country's experiments in conservative governance.

In 2011, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker signed a bill that reduced the bargaining rights of K-12 teachers as well as other government employees. It also prohibited payroll deductions for union dues. Teachers and other state employees could still bargain over their pay, but they couldn't bargain over other benefits, hours or conditions of employment. The amount the state contributed to health care and retirement plans decreased.

That same year, Wisconsin's K-12 spending was cut by seven percent. The idea was, teachers would absorb the cuts with their lowered compensation, so the children would get the same education at a lower cost, while lack of seniority, tenure and other teacher protections would allow the state to get rid of underperforming teachers.

How has it all worked out? In 2016, teacher compensation was down 12.6 percent. The decrease is mostly in the form of lowered benefits, but a salary cut is a salary cut. If teachers have to spend more of their pay on health care and retirement, that means their take-home pay takes a significant hit. The number of teachers moving from district to district increased, with more experienced teachers moving from lower income to higher income districts which could pay more. Rural districts were especially hard hit by the teacher drain, which led to an increase in the number of low-experience teachers.

In terms of test scores, in high income districts which made up for the loss of state funds with local revenues, student scores either remained stable or increased. Scores in lower income districts decreased.

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Monday, November 20, 2017

The 'Freedom Center's' High School Course Is On Shaky Ground at TUSD

Posted By on Mon, Nov 20, 2017 at 4:07 PM

  • Courtesy of BigStock
The Star's Hank Stephenson has a good front page article in the Sunday paper about the controversial high school course created by UA's Koch-funded "Freedom Center." It presents an overview of the course and the districts using it, with all sides getting a chance to have their say. I'm pleased to see the Star getting the story out to a wider audience, most of whom have never heard of the Center or the two year old high school course.

Which makes me wonder. Why didn't the Freedom Center publicize the high school course when it was first taught in 2016? A call to the Star undoubtedly would have earned the Center some positive press about itself and the course it created. So far as I can tell, my column in a recent issue of the Weekly was the first mention of the course in the local press. The mentions I've seen elsewhere are a glowing account on the website of the Templeton Foundation, which gave the Center a $2.9 million grant to create and disseminate the course, and a negative review of the course textbook on another site. Even Tucson Unified's board members knew nothing about the course's existence. I first heard about it a month ago from Betts Putnam-Hidalgo, who is a diligent district watchdog and a friend who I disagree with adamantly on some issues and agree with on others. She and some other people have been looking into the course for awhile.

Why is the Freedom Center so publicity shy? My guess is, it prefers to fly under the radar whenever possible. The Center is all about furthering its libertarian agenda in Arizona's universities and high schools. More public recognition could make it harder to maneuver.

The high school course was the subject of a half hour informational discussion at Tucson Unified's November 14 board meeting. Two main questions were raised. First, why was the course authorized by the district administration without the knowledge of the board? Second, now that the board knows of the course's existence, should it officially authorize the course and allow it to continue being taught in the district, or is the curriculum questionable enough that the district should discontinue the course at the end of the school year? The board plans to make some final decisions at its December 5 meeting. Stay tuned.

Meanwhile, I want to bring up another issue: the troubling origins of the course.

In my years as a high school teacher and an observer of the national public school scene, I can't remember hearing of a course which was created out of whole cloth by some agency outside the schools. It certainly isn't standard procedure for a university department—or in this case, a university "center"—to receive a multimillion dollar grant for the purpose of developing a brand new high school course, complete with curriculum, a new textbook written in house, and training provided by the Center for the people who will teach the course. Nothing is left to chance here. Every aspect of the course is a product of UA's Freedom Center.

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Sunday, November 19, 2017

Steve Bannon Beats the Drum Against Undocumented Immigrants in Tucson Appearance

Posted By on Sun, Nov 19, 2017 at 10:41 AM

Steve Bannon receiving the Brian Terry Courage in Journalism and Reporting Award. - DANYELLE KHMARA
  • Danyelle Khmara
  • Steve Bannon receiving the Brian Terry Courage in Journalism and Reporting Award.

Ralph Terry was shocked when he heard there would be protests over Steve Bannon being the keynote speaker and award recipient at the Brian Terry Foundation annual award dinner.

The Foundation chose Steve Bannon as keynote speaker and recipient of the Brian Terry Courage in Journalism and Reporting Award because of Breitbart’s reporting on “Operation Fast and Furious,” a botched U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms gunrunning investigation into the movement of guns to Mexican drug cartels during which U.S. officials lost track of the guns.

Brian Terry was a Border Patrol agent who was shot in 2010 while looking for members of a suspected drug cartel. A semi-automatic rifle recovered at the scene was tracked back to a gun lost during the Fast and Furious investigation.

The Foundation is not a political group, said Ralph, the foundation’s president and Brian’s uncle. He hadn’t thought about Bannon being called a white nationalist, but that he was “a key player in President Trump’s election,” Ralph said during an interview with the Tucson Weekly.

“It’s unfortunate when any group has to start putting labels on people—‘white nationalist,’ ‘Black Lives Matter.’ We all matter,” he said.

The Foundation raises money for the families of Border Patrol agents killed on duty and toward scholarships for people pursuing careers in law enforcement or criminal justice. It has awarded 40 scholarships, and Ralph says he hears from people that it changed their lives.

The Terry family had a hard time finding closure after Brian’s murder because the government was not forthcoming with information, Ralph said.

“Mr. Bannon kept right on top of that for us and kept it in the public eye, and we appreciate that,” he said. “To smear the Foundation because they may or may not agree with that person’s politics is below the line that I want to go.”

At the Starr Pass Marriott resort last night, there were a few protesters holding signs calling Bannon a Nazi, but shuttles whisked guests of the foundation right past them with little disturbance.

It took the family 18 months to get information about what happened to Brian, said former Congressman Ron Barber, who spoke at the Foundation’s first luncheon and presented a Congressional Badge of Bravery to the family. Barber said the Foundation does great work, but the choice to give Bannon an award is another matter.

“I do not support that Steve Bannon should receive an award or be at the event,” he said. “I, personally, would think he doesn’t deserve an award of any kind.”

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Thursday, November 16, 2017

Facebook-Free Friday

Posted By on Thu, Nov 16, 2017 at 3:18 PM

I enjoy Facebook. I really do. I find myself there every day I'm near a computer, usually many times a day. I very much enjoy watching the children of young families (and I'm of an age when most families are young) growing up. I also enjoy mixing it up with smart people who keep me and everyone else honest, until ad hominem attacks start flying, that is, at which time I leave the scene. I like putting my Range posts up so people who don't visit the Weekly site regularly can link to what I'm writing if they're interested. I can do without the "This is what I'm eating" and "This is what I look like an hour after the last time I showed you what I looked like" posts. I scroll past those quickly. No harm, no foul.

But Facebook is also a stinking cesspool of misinformation and propaganda. No matter your political or social viewpoint, you'll find posts designed to make you hate others who are on the other side of an issue, and even hate people who don't care about it quite as passionately as you do. Evil forces did everything they could to use Facebook to undermine our last elections, with the Russian government leading the way. Today we learned Britain's Brexit vote was most likely tainted by the same hands in the same way, which lots of us suspected already. And Zuckerberg & Co. aren't doing a whole lot to fix things.

There's not much I can do to change Facebook. I can protest by taking my page down and exiting the virtual gathering place entirely, but that wouldn't accomplish much of anything except rob me of a little bit of pleasure. So I've decided to make a token protest. I have declared every Friday will be Facebook-Free Friday. Nobody cares that I won't be hanging around Friday, least of all Mark Zuckerberg. But I have a feeling, if Zuckerberg saw his numbers drop dramatically Friday as part of a one-day-a-week boycott, he'd make an effort to fix the problems driving people away. He's no fool. He understands his empire is built on people showing up. If they decide to leave en masse, he's got nothing.

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Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Chris Bannon: 'We Are Coming For You!'

Posted By on Tue, Nov 14, 2017 at 1:33 PM

  • Courtesy of BigStock
In October Robin Hiller, executive director of Voices for Education, sent an email to her mailing list with the subject line, “Protest DeVos/Trump/McSally Monday.” The email asked people to attend a “Public Education Rally” in front of Rep. Martha McSally’s office Oct. 9.

The day before the rally, Hiller received the following email in reply.
Love em all !!!
Great Americans !!!!
You and big bird burned public education to the ground,
Made Americans morons again !
Fire all the teachers union employees and members.
Start over.
We are coming for you !
The sender’s name was Chris Bannon.

“At first I thought it was a joke,” Hiller said. “I looked at the name and wondered if it was someone pretending to be Steve Bannon but didn’t know his first name.” She forwarded the email to a friend who thought it sounded ominous, especially the threatening last line, “We are coming for you!”

Hiller took a closer look. She hadn’t heard of Chris Bannon, but she recognized his email address as belonging to the University of Arizona. She googled his name and found he was connected with UA’s Biosphere 2.

Chris’s brother Steve Bannon, one-time chief strategist for President Trump and current head of Breitbart News, had been acting CEO of Biosphere 2 in the 1990s. Later, Chris became general manager. His current title at the University of Arizona is Development Officer, Economic Development in the Life Sciences department.

According to Hiller, she contacted the head of Chris Bannon’s department at the university, who in turn contacted personnel. Next, she called the office of her city councilman, Steve Kozachik. His office contacted the Tucson police department, which said it would have a police presence at the Oct. 9 rally.

Before the rally began, a police car pulled up on the sidewalk 50 feet away and remained there. The rally went on without incident.

Hiller received a call from the university telling her that because Chris Bannon’s email came from a university address, the matter was sent to the personnel office, but she would not hear anything further about it. I sent Bannon two emails asking if he wanted to clarify anything about the email he sent to Hiller. He did not respond.

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Monday, November 13, 2017

Trusting Entrepreneurs to Improve Education: A Cautionary Tale

Posted By on Mon, Nov 13, 2017 at 5:01 PM

  • Courtesy of Pixabay
"Beware of all educational enterprises that require billionaire entrepreneurs." Henry David Thoreau wrote that, or almost wrote that. His actual words were, "Beware of all enterprises that require new clothes." I just updated it a bit.

Bill Gates has put many hundreds of millions of dollars into education improvement schemes, with minimal success. Now he's joining his billions with Mark Zuckerberg's billions to push personalized learning, which means more computers, more educational software and less interference from those unpredictable, unreliable humans known as teachers. Sounds like a sure-fire road to success, doesn't it?

Case in point. Max Ventilla is a serious-but-not-too-serious Yale grad in his thirties who favors jeans and t-shirts—the very picture of the modern major tech guru. He founded AltSchool in 2013, with the help of about $175 million in venture capital. Mark Zuckerberg was one of the venturers. Ventilla opened seven schools where he could try out the educational technology he's creating. His plan is to use "big data" to help schools tailor education to each student's individual needs. That means cameras monitoring every student down to facial expressions, infrared cameras keeping track of everything students touch, and, of course, microphones recording every word they say. It also means lots of screen time, monitored down to the keystroke, of course. Amass all the data, Ventilla believes, and the result will be vast reservoirs of information which can be sliced and diced to help us understand how students act and learn at the most intimate level. The Big Brother-like surveillance also means an immense treasure trove of data which can be used to tailor commercial pitches to students and their parents in the short and the long term, but that's not the purpose of the data collection—not the stated purpose anyway.

To send a student to one of the schools costs parents over $25,000 a year, which isn't much problem for a select group of folks in Palo Alto, San Francisco and New York where the schools are located. These students are on everyone's "most likely to succeed" list, so it's hard to understand what Ventilla thinks he'll learn about educating the other 99.9 percent of the population from this rarified collection of children.

Four years after opening, Ventilla is closing one school and consolidating others. Why? Not because the schools aren't working, according to AltSchool, or because it's running short of cash. It's a business decision. Ventilla says he wants to devote more of the company's energy to tapping into the growing demand for software promoting personalized learning.
"We're being realistic," Ventilla said. "In a few years time, when we raise our next round [of venture capital], we will have to show not only great success in the schools we run, but real progress in extending our platform to other schools."
Parents are upset about the sudden closures and the effects the dislocation will have on their children, but business is the business of business, not the negative impact of business decisions on former customers.

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Friday, November 10, 2017

A UA Prof Chimes In on the 'Freedom Center'

Posted By on Fri, Nov 10, 2017 at 8:00 AM

  • courtesy of Bigstock
The discussion continues. First I wrote a guest opinion in the Weekly's print edition about University of Arizona's Center for the Philosophy of Freedom, aka the Freedom Center, creating a high school course being taught in Tucson Unified and other local school districts. The next week, Michael McKenna, director of the Freedom Center, responded with a guest opinion of his own. I followed with a post about one small part of what McKenna's wrote, promising I would write more in the future.

In place of my post, here is a letter submitted to the Weekly by David N. Gibbs, Professor of History at the UA, which wasn't included in this week's print edition. It covers the main points I was planning to make and takes it a few steps further by linking the Center to state politics.
To the editor:

David Safier’s recent article brought to light disturbing connections between the Center for the Philosophy of Freedom, associated with the UA Philosophy Department, and a series of far right funders, including Charles Koch. Safier noted that the Freedom Center has produced a high school curriculum that contains a strong flavor of political indoctrination.

In a Guest Opinion, Freedom Center director Michael McKenna defends his program, but if read carefully, McKenna confirms much of Safier’s original article. Thus McKenna bristles at the notion that the Koch family has influenced the center – but he concedes that they provided $1.8 million in funding, a sizable sum for an academic unit, and have played a major role in funding the Philosophy Department’s graduate program. McKenna adds that the center has received funds from approximately twenty-four other sources, including such conservative stalwarts as the Kendrick family and the Templeton Foundation. Clearly, the Freedom Center has not been hurting for funds. McKenna bristles at the accusation that the Freedom Center’s high school textbook is tendentiously slanted in favor of the libertarian economics favored by their funders; but McKenna concedes that the text “is perhaps intellectually biased.” And yes, the textbook does “favor somewhat libertarian or more generally right-leaning views.” This is hardly a model of balance.

One might add that Republican legislators have provided additional funds for the Freedom Center, and also its counterpart in Tempe. According to the Arizona Republic (4/27/16), the two freedom centers have become “academic allies” for Governor Doug Ducey and his friends. Legislators of both parties acknowledge that the two freedom centers serve ideological purposes – or to quote Republican legislator Jay Lawrence, the state funding for the centers constitutes “'a wonderful opportunity' to fund conservative viewpoints.” And in the view of Democrat Eric Meyer, the centers constitute a “think tank that spews out propaganda.”

What is this ideological Freedom Center doing at a state university? Why is the UA administration allowing this to happen?

David N. Gibbs
Professor of History
University of Arizona

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Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Democrats Luckier Than Education in 2017 City-Wide Elections

Posted By on Wed, Nov 8, 2017 at 1:24 PM

Nadia Larsen and Ward 6 candidate Republican Mariano Rodriguez check out their selfies while waiting for the election results to come in. - DANYELLE KHMARA
  • Danyelle Khmara
  • Nadia Larsen and Ward 6 candidate Republican Mariano Rodriguez check out their selfies while waiting for the election results to come in.

Mariano Rodriguez had already left the room by the time a group of ladies sang “For He’s a Jolly Good Fellow” in his honor. The results were undeniable—he lost his race for City Council Ward 6.

“This has taught me a lot, and I’m not going to go away,” he said. “We’ll see what happens in the future.”

It may not seem surprising that a Republican, and Trump supporter to boot, would lose to Steve Kozachik, the only Democrat to unseat a sitting Democrat in as long as this Tucson Weekly scribe can remember (although Kozachik was a Republican when he managed that feat).

It doesn’t take reading the tea leaves to figure out that Tucson is a liberal city. But what may surprise some, especially those of us surrounded by libs and Dems, is that Trump supporters do exist in Tucson, and many of them were at Las Margaritas Restaurant, Tuesday night, praying (yes, literally praying) that Rodriguez would win. That he would represent them in the
all-Democrat city council. That through him, their voices would be heard.

Rodriguez was not alone in starting the night off hopeful, with his message of ending bureaucratic waste and championing the people—not unlike Trump’s massage that won him the presidency (though not in Tucson).

Nadia Larsen says Rodriguez is her Tucson Trump—and she loves Trump. She was out at the Tucson Republican fiesta the night Trump won the presidency, looking stunning with her sharp features, cropped bleach-blond hair and sparkling smile. And she was here tonight, fawning over Rodrigues, taking selfies and posing for the press.

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