Monday, December 11, 2017

The Latest U.S. International Reading Scores Are Flat

Posted By on Mon, Dec 11, 2017 at 9:21 AM

A sampling of fourth graders in countries around the world took the Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS) test in reading in 2016. If you want to see the numbers broken down into all kinds of subunits, here they are. But the bottom line is, U.S. scores are flat. Actually, they dropped back to 2001 levels after going up a few points—not a whole lot, just a few points—on the 2006 and 2011 tests. Twelve countries outperformed us. You can find the top twelve list at the end of the post. Another fifteen differed by a few points, but the difference isn't statistically significant.

So, we're back on the same square we were sitting on when our barrage of high stakes testing began in 2001 with No Child Left Behind. All that testing, all that test prepping, all that time taken away from other subjects, open-ended discussions and the chance for children to be children out on the playground, and we're back on the same square we started on. It's possible the whole Common Core thing brought down the small gains we made from 2001 to 2011, but that's a tough one to assess, especially with such the small upward bump. The important takeaway for me is, testing was supposed to prod teachers to teach better and administrators to administer better, and the differences would show up in the test scores. After fifteen years, that looks like a false promise.

So, do we scale back testing to a more reasonable level—say, take a snapshot at a few grade levels every few years rather than testing every student at every grade every damn year? Sounds like a good idea to me. Unfortunately, it's not likely in the short term. The educational/industrial complex makes all kinds of money from selling tests and materials related to testing, and it's not likely to give up its cash cow without a fight.

The Top Twelve: Here are the top twelve scoring countries, starting from the top and working down: Russian Federation, Singapore, Hong Kong CHN, Ireland, Finland, Poland, Northern Ireland GBR, Norway, Chinese Taipei CHN, England GBR, Latvia, Sweden.

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Thursday, December 7, 2017

It's Going to Be an Education Election in Arizona

Posted By on Thu, Dec 7, 2017 at 1:00 PM

Since I write about education, I try to see everything written about schools and schooling that pertains to Arizona. (You can too. It's easy! Just create a Google alert: Arizona + Education. You'll have dozens of links emailed to you every day.) So I might be overstating things when I say the major focus of Arizona's 2018 elections will be education, but not by much. Unless Arizona Republicans can distract the white electorate by making them fear everyone who doesn't look like them—Trump figured out how to do it, and I'd say he's just following Arizona's lead—schools are going to play big in the minds of voters. And that gives Democrats an opportunity to close the numbers gap between Democratic and Republican voters and pull out a few narrow wins in close races. Education is a Democrat-friendly issue, especially in a state like Arizona where Republicans have starved the schools for years.

Doug Ducey may talk about education even more than he talks about the economy. He knows he has to get in front of a losing political issue so it doesn't spin out of control. Voters put K-12 education at the top of their list of priorities A majority have said they're willing to spend a few extra bucks to raise the amount we spend on students and teacher salaries. And they know Republicans are responsible for our bottom-of-the-barrel per-student funding.

So what does Ducey do in response? He dubs himself the "education governor" and demonstrates his commitment to our children by sprinkling a little budget money over a few high-profile education programs, then acts like he's Santa Claus. Every time he visits a school, he makes sure the story, accompanied by a picture of him surrounded by children, makes it into the local media. And he's full of promises about all the money schools are going to get in the next budget. He tends to be short on the details of his intended largesse, like how much he plans to spend and where he plans to spend it, but he wants everyone to know he cares. Especially when facts give the lie to his promises.

Ducey was furious recently when a report showed the state's spending on education is down since the recession. Taking a page out of the Trump playbook, Ducey complained it was "a false report by a left-wing public interest group." Except that it's true. Even the governor's press aide Daniel Scarpinato had to admit we're spending less per student than in 2008. Then he quickly added, “We think we’ll be back at 2008 at some point." At some point. No idea when.

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Tuesday, December 5, 2017

The New, New Jim Crow

Posted By on Tue, Dec 5, 2017 at 5:21 PM

  • Courtesy of BigStock
For me, the three most important books I've read in the past few years are The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander, Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates and The Hemingses of Monticello: An American Family by Annette Gordon-Reed. I won't say they are the best books I've read, though the Coates book may qualify. He's arguably our country's most influential public intellectual as well as a brilliant stylist, and this short book brought him to the attention of an audience beyond the readers of his magazine articles. I call them the most important books for me because they shook me out of my complacency about racial progress.

I'm an old white guy who lived through the Civil Rights Movement in the 50's and 60's and believed I had seen a gradual but significant improvement in the lives of African Americans since then. I mean, look at the increase in the number of prominent black professionals over the past few decades, who are prevalent enough they are thought of more as "professionals who are black" than people for whom "black" is the defining adjective. And Obama? What better proof of how far we've come as a country! But the history traced by these three books from the early days of our nation to the Obama presidency — and with Coates' latest article, The First White President, the early days of the Trump presidency — helped me understand that while it's increasingly possible for exceptional black men and women to reach the social level of less exceptional whites by working three times as hard, social and economic progress has not made its way to the rest of the black population. There are plenty of explanations ranging from reasonable to racist, but one which deserves more prominence than it receives is, simply, the white power structure stood in the way of black advancement.

As I began reading The New Jim Crow, my initial reaction was to think its basic thesis was overstated. But when the author, a lawyer who is the former director of the Racial Justice Project for the ACLU of Northern California, admitted in her introduction that she too would have scoffed at the validity of her argument if she had heard it before she began her own research, I decided to give the book a careful read. I'm glad I did. Her basic thesis, which has become more accepted and widespread since she wrote the book, is that after civil rights legislation undermined the foundation of segregationist Jim Crow laws, which were a racist response to the progress made during the post-Civil War Reconstruction, new laws and enforcement practices were put in place which disproportionately target blacks, disrupting communities and disenfranchising thousands of individuals. She refers specifically to the War on Drugs which began a few years after the passage of civil rights legislation, law enforcement which targeted blacks for drug and other legal offenses more forcefully than others, and a legal system with its outsized penalties for minor offenses, all of which led to mass incarceration, affecting black people and communities more negatively than any other group. That is what she refers to as "the new Jim Crow."

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Friday, December 1, 2017

Ed Sec Betsy DeVos on School Choice, College Costs

Posted By on Fri, Dec 1, 2017 at 5:00 PM

  • Courtesy of staticflickr.com
Trump's Ed Sec Betsy DeVos has a School Choice hammer, so every education issue looks like a nail. And being a Trump cabinet member, the hammer is paramount, facts are optional. DeVos's latest assertion: Our poor scores on international tests are because we don't have enough school choice. Countries which have embraced choice are outperforming the U.S., she claims.

Her evidence? She didn't give any, nor did her Education Department.

She can't be talking about Chile. It adopted a universal voucher system, and that hasn't gone well. She can't mean Sweden, which went to a school choice model complete with vouchers and saw its international test scores drop. She certainly can't be referring to Finland, the only European country whose international test scores regularly equal or surpass those of Asian countries. Finland doesn't have anything like charter schools, and their few private schools follow the same curriculum as public schools. Meanwhile back in the U.S. of A., some of our highest scoring states, like Massachusetts and Connecticut, aren't exactly poster children for school choice. They have charter schools but no voucher systems to speak of.

If school choice is the answer, Ms. DeVos, please tell us, what is the question?

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A Conversation with Bruce Bartlett, Part 2: "Trump Is Unquestionably the Most Incompetent, Most Inept, Most Ignorant President We've Ever Had in Our History"

Posted By on Fri, Dec 1, 2017 at 4:49 PM

Bruce Bartlett served as an advisor in the Reagan Administration and in the Department of the Treasury in the George H. Bush Administration. He later worked at the National Center for Policy Analysis and is now a newspaper columnist and a New York Times bestselling author whose books include The New American Economy: The Failure of Reaganomics and The New Way Forward. In October, he released a new book, The Truth Matters: A Citizen's Guide to Separating Facts From Lies and Stopping Fake News in Its Tracks. This interview, which has been lightly edited, is taken from an upcoming appearance on the radio version of Zona Politics with Jim Nintzel, which will air at 5 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 3, on community radio KXCI, 91.3 FM. Read the first part of this interview here.

What did you make of the healthcare debate this year?

Once Trump said that called, in effect, his own party's bluff by saying, "I'm not going to sign a bill to repeal Obamacare, unless we have something immediately available to replace it." See, the Republicans never intended to replace Obamacare with anything. They were just lying year, after year, after year saying, "We've got a bill to replace Obamacare and it will be 100 times better. We're just going to keep it secret until we have the votes to enact it," or something. But nobody told Trump that this was the plan, you see. He actually thought they had something. So when he said, "I want a replacement," their bluff was called and it immediately became apparent that the emperor was wearing no clothes. There was nothing there and that pretty much led to the result that we saw. Although, again, Republicans are very, very focused and they're still going to try to get the mandate repealed in this tax bill. The mandate is absolutely essential to making Obamacare work, so if they knock that pillar out from under it, it may well collapse and they will achieve their goal.

What was your assessment of the Affordable Care Act?

I mean, I supported it because it was better than nothing, but just barely. I think the whole political strategy of the Obama Administration was very, very poor. They really played into the Republicans' hands. What I think Obama should have done is put out something much, much more aggressive that included a public option. I would even support single payer, knowing that it wasn't going to pass. But if he had put that out, it's inevitable, in my opinion, that Republicans would have turned to something like the Heritage Plan, which was implemented by Mitt Romney up in Massachusetts, which is very, very similar to Obamacare. Republicans would have put that forward as their alternative. Then you could have had a bipartisan compromise that would, I think, at the end of the day, look a lot like Obamacare, except that it would be bipartisan, and it would be stable, and would not be perpetually in danger of being abolished.

So you think the Obama Administration gave away too much at the start by just trying to start with the Heritage Foundation blueprint?

Yeah, but it's not entirely an Obama problem. I mean, I've worked at the White House and I know how they think. When presidents put forward proposals, they never build in anything to negotiate with, you see. They have this tendency to think, well, I'm going to send forward the perfect plan, and I'm going to make the assumption that it will be enacted exactly the way I proposed it. So they put in a lot of provisions in their legislation that cannot be compromised on, because they underpin other provisions, you see. Then they're always blindsided when Congress says, "Hey, we're going to start from scratch. We're going to do our own thing. We're going to rebuild this thing from the beginning." Then all the compromises and things in the proposal that all had to be there for it to work, all-of-the-sudden, that all falls to pieces and you're left with a mishmash. That's a lot of what happened with Obamacare.

Obama also had some conservative Democrats in the Senate he had to work around in order to get something through, as well.

That was less of a problem, frankly, than the fact that a lot of liberals, especially in the House, wanted something more aggressive. So, I think, Obama hurt himself, rhetorically, by appealing to them by trying to make Obamacare look more liberal than it actually was, in order to get those liberal votes, because once he had lost all Republican votes, he had to get every single Democrat to support it. Actually, it was those on the left that were the hard ones to get.

What is your assessment of the Trump Administration?

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Thursday, November 30, 2017

A Conversation with Author Bruce Bartlett, Part 1: Tax Bill Is "Dreadful Legislation"

Posted By on Thu, Nov 30, 2017 at 4:00 PM

Bruce Bartlett served as an advisor in the Reagan Administration and in the Department of the Treasury in the George H. Bush Administration. He later worked at the National Center for Policy Analysis and is now a newspaper columnist and a New York Times bestselling author whose books include The New American Economy: The Failure of Reaganomics, and The New Way Forward. In October, he released a new book The Truth Matters: A Citizen's Guide to Separating Facts From Lies and Stopping Fake News in Its Tracks. This interview is taken from an upcoming appearance on the radio version of Zona Politics with Jim Nintzel, which will air at 5 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 3, on community radio KXCI, 91.3 FM. The Range will feature more of this interview tomorrow.

Let's get right to what's happening in Washington. You are certainly not a fan of this GOP tax proposal that's moving forward this week.

No, I think its dreadful legislation, and the proof of that is that the Republicans are trying to rush this thing through in the dead of night without anybody knowing what the hell is in the legislation. If it's so great, they should be detailing it, all its various provisions, instead of keeping them secret. So I think this is just going to be very harmful to the economy if it passes. I've been saying I think it will have zero impact on growth, it might even reduce it. It's a replay of what was done in Kansas a few years ago, which was a disaster. I think the second the legislation is enacted, all these Republicans, who blithely increased the budget deficit and the debt by $1.5 trillion, will suddenly notice that the deficit is mysteriously and unexpectedly gotten $1.5 trillion bigger. They will insist that spending must be slashed. I think people really need to be aware that this is just phase one of a two part plan to, basically, downsize and decimate the government.

In particular, you think they are going to target the entitlement programs like Social Security and Medicare.

Well, they will have no choice because (A), they cannot raise taxes because they've all signed a tax pledge that prevents them from doing so and, besides, it's against their ideology anyway. And (B), defense will have to be exempted because that's what Republicans do, they exempt defense. If you take that out, you take out things like interest on the debt that can't be cut, all you're left with to get serious money is entitlement programs, Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid. Because there's not much left in the government that it does, that you can get hundreds and hundreds of billions of dollars of spending cuts out of.

You were actually there for the 1986 tax reform that was done during the Reagan Administration and that seemed to be a bipartisan project that really took a serious look at loopholes. How does what you're seeing this year differ from what you saw in 1986?

Well, there's no comparison whatsoever. The 1986 Act had, as its underlying premises, that it would be revenue neutral, so the cuts in tax rates were paid for dollar-for-dollar by base broadening, by getting rid of loopholes. And secondly, the legislation was distributionally neutral. That is, that no particular income class got more than any other class. It was pretty even across the board. This legislation has virtually no reforms of any kind in it. It's just random tax increases to pay for huge tax cuts for the wealthy that is going to greatly increase the national debt and lead, inevitably, to cuts in Medicare, and Medicaid, and Social Security.

Yet, it's being presented as a once in a generation opportunity to do that kind of similar tax reform as 1986. That's really a fig leaf that they're placing on top of this.

I would say it's just a lie. It's just a flat-out lie.

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Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Tucsonans Travel to D.C. To Argue Against the Republican Tax Bill

Posted By on Wed, Nov 29, 2017 at 4:50 PM

  • In the Senate Finance Committee Meeting Room
Eight Tucsonans gathered in Washington, D.C. Tuesday to try and persuade Senators John McCain and Jeff Flake to vote against the tax bill working its way through Congress. One version of the bill passed the House. Senate Republican leaders are wheeling and dealing with on-the-fence Republicans, all but two of whom are needed to pass the bill. As I write this, as many as eight senators, including Flake and McCain, haven't made a firm commitment.

Alma Hernandez, senior organizer of Arizonans United for Health Care, brought five people with her from Tucson, many of whom were visiting D.C. for the first time. Joan and I, who were already in D.C., joined them. In the group were teachers, graduate students, retirees, a small business owner and a public defender. Our day was organized by the Center for American Progress, who set up the events, shepherded the group through the labyrinthine corridors of power and arranged for us to attend the CNN Town Hall on the tax bill Tuesday evening.

Neither Flake nor McCain were available to meet with the group, so we met with staffers. Individuals shared their stories. Julie Simmons, a cancer survivor and small business owner, said that her personal health insurance and her ability to provide insurance for her employees depends on the existence of the Affordable Care Act, which will take a serious hit if the tax bill passes and the individual mandate is eliminated. Tony Zinman also survived cancer and understands the huge expenses which can be associated with combating the disease. As a public defender, he works with many Tucsonans on the margins of society who depend on the kind of social services which could be endangered by the budget cuts which would inevitably follow the Republican tax cuts. Ellen Stark and Alma Hernandez, both in graduate school, spoke of the student loans they need to complete their degrees. They worried that eliminating the graduate student tuition waiver would make it more difficult for students and discourage potential students from entering degree programs in the future. Hernandez said Latinas like her are underrepresented in her graduate school program, and increasing students' debt burdens would make the situation that much worse. Sunni Lopez and other teachers complained that low salaries were already driving teachers from classrooms. Eliminating the $250 tax deduction for purchasing classroom supplies would make it even harder for teachers to make ends meet.

Many in the group expressed admiration for courageous stands both senators have taken. McCain is famous for bucking his party leadership. Though Flake has voted with Trump consistently, he has demonstrated moral courage in recent statements about the many troubling aspects of Trump's presidency. The group expressed hope the Arizona senators would recognize the fatal flaws in the tax bill and vote No.

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Tuesday, November 28, 2017

$59 Million Can Focus the Mind, Even If You're Facebook

Posted By on Tue, Nov 28, 2017 at 3:59 PM

Facebook is facing the possibility of a $59 million fine if it allows hate speech to remain on its site for more than a week. Not here. In Germany. As a result, the company is adding 500 new contractors to the 700 it already hired to review posts for illegal content.

I did the money math. Give 1,200 workers something like $60,000 in salary and benefits, and it costs Facebook $72 million. Get fined twice and it costs $118 million, and you still haven't dealt with the problem. The new German hires are a no-brainer for Zuckerman & Co.

The situation in Germany doesn't translate easily to the U.S. We have First Amendment protections they don't have in Germany, and given the anonymous interference in our elections, hate speech on Facebook is far from our biggest worry. But the point is, if Facebook can ramp up diligence on its site for fear of losing money in another country, it can do the same kind of thing here because it's the right thing to do—or because it fears people will get pissed enough at the company that they'll take their posts and find a new home at another internet social provider.

At the end of the year, Facebook is planning to roll out a new tool here which will let users find out if they liked or followed Russia-based content over the past few years. The move is a hint of what the company can do if it wants to, but it's not nearly enough. The listing will only show if you had contact with the ads or posts. It won't show the content. Better would be to create pages filled with the actual posts divided by topic so everyone can get a sense of the kind of disinformation they were subjected to. That should be doable. And it still isn't enough if the company doesn't use what it has learned to prevent a similar proliferation of propaganda during the 2018 election cycle. Times a-wastin'. We're already well into the next election cycle.

C'mon, Mark, you're an immensely talented guy surrounded by some of the best cyber talent in the country. Do it right this time. Don't Zuck it up.

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