‘Outrageous. Unacceptable.’: Indiana Teachers Shot ‘Execution-Style’ With Pellets in School Shooting Drill

March 23, 2019 Leave a comment

What if our voters chose to operate our schools and our government based on the premise that we want to develop trust in each other instead of fearing one another?

Source: ‘Outrageous. Unacceptable.’: Indiana Teachers Shot ‘Execution-Style’ With Pellets in School Shooting Drill

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School Safety Drills Mandated in Indiana Public Schools vs. Assault Weapon Bans in New Zealand

March 22, 2019 Leave a comment

I read a post on Facebook this morning that sent me to Google to do some research. The post described an active shooter drill in Indiana that strained credulity, but proved to be based on facts. Here’s the account of the “active shooter drill” as reported in Education Week:

In an active-shooter training, Indiana elementary teachers were asked to kneel down and face a classroom wall before being shot, execution-style, with plastic pellets by local law enforcement.

Terrified teachers were screaming during the exercise, which left them with welts and bruises, according to the Indiana State Teachers Association, which testified about the experience to lawmakers this week. State legislators are considering a school-safety bill that, among other things, would require schools to conduct at least one active-shooter drill each school year. The bill has already passed the state House, and is now being considered by the Senate.

While union leaders support the bill, they want safeguards put in place so that teachers and students are not inadvertently harmed during active-shooter trainings.

Indiana already mandates on “man-made occurrence” drill pre semester, but some districts can opt out and substitute fire drills based on a 2018 report from Fox News.

According to the Indiana Department of Education (DOE), districts are required to conduct one “man-made occurrence drill” each semester. Those drills could include bomb treats, knife threats, or active shooter training. It’s up to each district to decide which of the drills they choose per semester.

Some districts do more than one drill each semester. The state allows schools to substitute a monthly fire drill for an active shooter or lock down drill, if they choose.

And to help organize and review these drills, Indiana requires that each district have a school safety officer who is “...responsible for developing and implementing preparedness plans.”

But this preparedness is not limited to schools:

Indiana State Police (ISP) troopers often go into businesses and offices to teach active shooter training. Sgt. Trent Smith said mass shootings bring an increase in local organizations wanting to learn tools to keep people safe.

ISP teaches the “run, hide, fight,” approach to an active shooter. Sgt. Smith said even with plans and procedures, sometimes tragedies can happen…

Sgt. Smith said that such preparation is necessary because people who are intent on committing mass murders plan carefully, which means fastidious prevention plans are necessary, as are the need to report suspicious behavior:

“These people are very well versed in what they’re doing, their plan. They know what the response time is going to be. They know where the large groups of people are going to be. They know they have a limited amount of time to do as much damage as possible,” Sgt. Smith said.

To prevent a tragedy, Sgt. Smith said sometimes the best procedure is prevention. He says it’s important to speak up and be vocal if you see something suspicious.

“We don’t want to be the agency that’s responding to it, we want to be the agency that’s out there trying to prevent this tragedy before anything like this ever happens,” Sgt. Smith said.

There was a horrific mass murder committed in New Zealand over the weekend. Their Prime Minister and legislators acted quickly and decisively in response to the shooting, imposing an immediate ban on assault weapons.

Our country to this point would prefer to allow “these people” who commit mass murders who “are very well versed in what they’re doing” to plan ahead by acquiring whatever weapons they need to do as much damage as possible in the limited amount of time they have. What if we took away the opportunity for them to get those weapons instead of mandating drills in schools and offering preparation plans to businesses and offices? What if we decided that we’d rather ban assault weapons than subject students and teachers to “man-made occurrence” drills, drills that require elementary children to cower in corners while their teachers are subjected to “realistic” drills? And in Indiana’s case, what if they mandated a counselor in each elementary school instead of mandating drills that allow local law enforcement officials to shoot teachers with pellet guns?

But the overarching questions are these:

What if we spent scarce dollars for schools on helping disengaged students instead of “safety officers”, surveillance cameras, and facial recognition software to identify potential intruders?

What if we forbid the acquisition of weapons designed to kill people instead of encouraging children and citizens to report suspicious behavior to the police?

What if we operated our democracy based on loving our neighbors instead of fearing “these people” who are very well versed in planning mass shootings?

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The Real College Admissions Scandal

March 21, 2019 1 comment

This article raises an interesting question: what if someone sued a college for not accepting them based on that school’s willingness to accept less qualified legacies? Would THAT be deemed constitutionally acceptable?

Source: The Real College Admissions Scandal

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Twitter Feed on Tests Offers Multiple Rationales for Abandoning High Stakes SHSAT

March 21, 2019 1 comment

As readers of this blog realize, NYC uses a single test, the SHSAT, to determine who qualifies for the “elite eight” high schools in the city. Students above a cut score are eligible for these schools, students below that cut score are not. My eighth grade grandson just went through this process and scored high enough to qualify for one of the “sub-elite” high schools— which was the one that he had at the top of his list— but not high enough for one of the elite schools, at least one of which was on his prioritized list.

My daughter who shares my antipathy for the use of a single exam as the sole basis for admissions to ANY school posted this Twitter Feed from Ida Bae Wells on Facebook this morning. Reading through this feed will offer far more insights than I could possibly provide. It is clear that Ms. Wells’ Twitter followers are also unalterably opposed to the way “elite” schools select the “best” students.

Techno-Autocrats Already Control 1/3 of Globe… and US is Ripe for Picking

March 20, 2019 Leave a comment

Axios writer Steve LeVine’s recent article, “A Paradise of the Age of Techno-Autocrats”, offers a chilling account of how China is using a combination of omnipresent surveillance cameras and AI to monitor citizens they deem to be “deviant” from the norm. But, as his article notes, this combination of AI and surveillance data is not limited to China: it is spreading to other authoritarian regimes across the globe… and to the United States.

So far, the use of this technology in the United States is dispersed… but it is trending in the wrong direction. LeVine’s overview describes how “benevolent” uses of facial recognition technology can quickly be translated into malevolent ends, as has occurred in China:

The big picture: Lisa-Marie Neudert, a researcher with Oxford University’s Computational Propaganda Project, said researchers are working on powerful AI technologies with enormous potential “for good.” But they also can have malicious uses — facial recognition employed for police purposes at a football stadium can also be used to repress the Uighur people of western China.

“When these technologies become weaponized, they can be used for surveillance, manipulation and self-generating propaganda,” Neudert tells Axios.

  • Critics say that facial recognition systems deployed by China and passed on by Beijing to other autocratic states increasingly resemble Orwellian tactics.

  • But “persuasion architectures via surveillance-based micro-targeting are already deployed in the United States,” Zeynep Tufekci, a professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, tells Axios.

  • Mostly that has been for use in advertising, such as at Facebook. “But we’ve already seen it used for politics and more,” Tufekci said.

As noted often in this blog, the hardening of schools is raising a generation of children who are increasingly comfortable with surveillance technology and data collection. District Administration, a journal for school administrators, reported that “according to the National Center for Education Statistics, more than 80 percent of public schools—and more than 94 percent of high schools—in the U.S. used security cameras to monitor students during the 2015-2016 school year, nearly doubling the number of schools using cameras a decade earlier.” And surveillance cameras are not the only way authoritarian monitoring is being witnessed by students. According to data from a survey conducted by the National Center for Education Statistics, armed officers were present at least once a week in 43 percent of all public schools during the 2015-16 school year, compared with 31 percent of schools a decade before.

The trend over the past several decades toward “data-driven decision making” is based on the premise that teachers can target academic deficiencies of students by examining data generated by standardized tests– not only the annual summative tests administered by the States to determine “school success” but also periodic on-line formative tests used to determine if a child is making progress. This “benevolent” use of instructional databases to help teachers make decisions regarding an individual students academic progress is relatively innocuous in terms of its potential misuse outside of schools. But the newer forms of data collection, touted as a means of addressing the unique needs of students who have “behavioral challenges”, could have some chilling effects. Saint John’s University, for example, touts 7 apps that can be used to catalog and collect data on student misconduct as part of its Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA) Therapy. The goal of ABA therapy, “to collect objective data based on responses made by the child and analyze the data to determine if behavioral improvements are being made” is high-minded. But what assurance is there that data collected on a student’s behavior will not be used to perpetually pigeonhole a child as a “problem” in the future.

When this acceptance of monitoring and data mining is combined with a sense that technology offers a cheap solution to the complicated problems that face us as human beings we are setting ourselves up for a world where a centralized team of “techno-autocrats” can assume a dominant role. The access to the data collection currently occurring in schools is currently limited to school personnel. But it’s systematic collection makes it plausible that it could someday be used for repressive purposes… as could the data being collected on surveillance cameras, smart phones, and internet searches.

As one who read George Orwell’s writings, I find the trend of widespread data collection, the expansion of video surveillance, and use of facial recognition software unsettling. As Richard Kagan noted in the Axios article, our current trends in the use of technology indicate that “We may find ourselves back where we were circa 1914, when the only free, democratic space was in what Walter Lippmann called the ‘Atlantic Community’ — comprising the U.S. and Western Europe.”

I hope that as we contemplate “hardening” our schools even more that we will do everything possible to ensure that our students are not being raised in a democratic space.


A Trove of Articles on the Cheating Scandal

March 18, 2019 Leave a comment

Last week’s arrests of 33 parents who spent tens of thousands of dollars to hire a “consultant” to help them secure a place in one of the country’s elite colleges resulted in a flood of articles on college admissions. Each article could warrant a stand-alone blog post… but I am trying to scale back on the number and length of blog posts in hopes of devoting more time to writing op ed pieces and/or completing a book I started over a decade ago… but I cannot resist reacting to several of the articles. The articles I culled for reactions are outlined below:

In “College Admissions: Vulnerable, Exploitable, and to Many Americans, Broken“, Anemona Harticollis describes how the whole admissions process to college is, as the title indicates, “exploitable, arbitrary, broken“. Two quotes from  Jerome Karabel, a sociologist at the University of California, Berkeley, and a historian of college admissions stood out for me. The first:

“Elite colleges have become a status symbol with the legitimacy of meritocracy attached to them, because getting in sanctifies you as meritorious”

And the second one, in the concluding paragraphs:

Mr. Karabel, the sociologist, said that the bribery crisis simply reflected problems in broader society. “I think that as America has become more and more unequal, affluent parents have become desperate to pass on their privileges to their children and avoid downward mobility at all costs,” he said.

Fair access to education, the engine of upward mobility, he suggested, is the casualty.

And one statistic from the article also stood out:

…the admission rate for legacies at Harvard was 33.6 percent. The rate for the Class of 2022 as a whole was under 5 percent.

NY Times reporters Dana Goldstien and Jack Healy describe the consulting process itself in an article titled “Inside the Pricey, Totally Legal World of College Consultants”. As Superintendent who retired from SAU 70, an affluent district in NH that included Hanover High School, I witnessed this world which consisted of everything from retired educators offering advice to the parents of their nieces and nephews to retired guidance counselors earning supplementary income by helping parents navigate the complicated application process, to retirees offering SAT help to slick and costly consultants like those described in the article. And, as the article indicates, the whole enterprise of college admissions coaching is completely unregulated, which makes it particularly vulnerable to the kinds of scandals that emerged this past week. The one paragraph that jumped out for me was this one, that attributed the expansion of admissions consultants to the diminishment of counseling services at public schools:

The growth of private consulting has been driven, in part, by a shortage of guidance counselors in public schools. During the 2015 to 2016 school year, each public school counselor was responsible for an average of 470 students, according to the group.

When I was Principal in rural Maine we had one counselor for 750 high school and middle schoolers. Hanover High School, by contrast, has six counselors for 750 students. Based on the fact that 90+% of the students pursue higher education this is adequate… yet, as noted above, some parents nevertheless seek out additional help.

The scandal also brought forth some scandalous behavior on the part of “elite colleges”, as described in another NYTimes article by Ozan Jaquette and Karina Salazar. The scandalous behavior is captured in the title of the article, “Colleges Recruit at Richer, Whiter High Schools” and despite the data that supports the title the article appeared as an opinion piece.

Even the “Your Money” section of the NYTimes offered some insights into the skewed admissions practices in an article by Ron Lieber describing how colleges are inclined to accept students who can afford to pay full tuition costs over those who need some kind of financial aid. The reason? Some schools “don’t have unlimited aid budgets and generally don’t want to overload families with debt” so they will show some degree of favoritism toward students who don’t need to draw against their scarce pool of scholarships. The thought provoking article illustrates how this conundrum is addressed in different ways by the colleges who use this “need-aware” policy.

The final NYTimes article that sheds indirect but glaring light on this admissions scandal describes “snow-plow” parents: those who strive to remove all obstacles from their children’s lives as they mature in the name of assuring their happiness and success. The result, as article by Clara Cain Miller and Jonah Engel Bromwich indicates, is that parents are robbing their children of adulthood. The link between this kind of parenting and the scandalous behavior that captured headlines is self-evident… but here it is summarized in two paragraphs:

Helicopter parenting, the practice of hovering anxiously near one’s children, monitoring their every activity, is so 20th century. Some affluent mothers and fathers now are more like snowplows: machines chugging ahead, clearing any obstacles in their child’s path to success, so they don’t have to encounter failure, frustration or lost opportunities.

Taken to its criminal extreme, that means bribing SAT proctors and paying off college coaches to get children in to elite colleges — and then going to great lengths to make sure they never face the humiliation of knowing how they got there.

And, as Miller and Bromwich report, the snowplowing begins early and often never leaves:

It starts early, when parents get on wait lists for elite preschools before their babies are born and try to make sure their toddlers are never compelled to do anything that may frustrate them. It gets more intense when school starts: running a forgotten assignment to school or calling a coach to request that their child make the team.

Later, it’s writing them an excuse if they procrastinate on schoolwork, paying a college counselor thousands of dollars to perfect their applications or calling their professors to argue about a grade.

Oh… and for some hard-core snowplowing parents it doesn’t end with college:

The problem is: Snowplowing is a parenting habit that’s hard to break.

“If you’re doing it in high school, you can’t stop at college,” Ms. Lythcott-Haims (the former dean of freshmen at Stanford and the author of “How to Raise an Adult: Break Free of the Overparenting Trap and Prepare Your Kid for Success”) said. “If you’re doing it in college, you can’t stop when it comes to the workplace. You have manufactured a role for yourself of always being there to handle things for your child, so it gets worse because your young adult is ill-equipped to manage the basic tasks of life.”

And once a young adult relies on their parents for making medical appointments, keeping track of their finances, and finding their way in the world it creates a helplessness that is hard to overcome.

ESSA and the “Death of the Compassionate Democracy”

March 18, 2019 Leave a comment

NYTimes columnist Margaret Renkyl offers a scary and scathing insight into the synergistic efforts of the religious right and pro-business libertarians to undermine democracy in Tennessee in the name of God and mammon. In so doing she describes how the notorious Koch brothers use the causes of the religious right to help advance their goals, which are described in Nancy Maclean’s book “Democracy in Chains: The Deep History of the Radical Right’s Stealth Plan for America”as follows:

According to Dr. MacLean, the Koch network’s goal — and the goal of all legislators in thrall to the Kochs’ PACs — is to weaken unions, suppress voter turnout, privatize public education, undercut climate science, roll back existing environmental protections, dismantle the social safety net and, of course, stack the courts with sympathetic judges.To enact that unpopular agenda, they’ve had to make common cause with the religious right.

And so we have a world where religious zealots who presumably believe in the teachings of Jesus are stripping poor people of medical coverage, relegating their children to substandard schools, and subjecting all of their fellow citizens to polluted air and water… all in the name increasing the bottom line of corporations.

Ms. Renkyl’s column is full of excellent insights, but it’s closing paragraph overlooks one reality that is most unsettling:

For all its often-empty swagger, the Tennessee General Assembly has made one thing very clear: If Americans don’t start paying closer attention to what’s happening in statehouses across the country, the republic may never recover.

The one reality that Ms. Renkyl overlooks is that Tennessee Senator Lamar Alexander, the champion of the bi-partisan disaster known as ESSA, has enabled states like Tennessee to set their own standards for education and, in so doing, effectively support the notion that STATES should be able to define curriculum standards… and if Ms. Renkyl doesn’t think that the Koch brothers are willing to throw science education standards, reading lists, and literacy under the bus in the name of free enterprise she is not paying attention herself.

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