Archive for May, 2014

Intellectual Disability and VAM

May 28, 2014 Comments off

I read with interest today’s editorial in the NYTimes regarding the Supreme Court’s 5-4 decision to deny the execution of a murderer because of the inexact legal definition of a defendant’s “diminished capacity” to reason. It seems that FLA law defined “diminished capacity” based solely on one test score: IQ. Writing the majority opinion Justice Kennedy opined:

…the state’s “rigid rule” violated the Constitution because it “disregards established medical practice” by taking a test score as the final word on a defendant’s intellectual capacity, and by refusing to consider the imprecision inherent in such tests.

“Intellectual disability is a condition, not a number,” Justice Kennedy wrote. His opinion relied heavily on the consensus of mental-health professionals that a diagnosis of intellectual disability depends on both “significantly subaverage” intellectual functioning and major deficits in adaptive behaviors like self-care and interpersonal skills. I.Q. is, they say, an approximate measure of intellectual function, and people can be disabled even if they score above 70. Florida, Justice Kennedy noted, did not cite a “single medical professional” who supported the strict cutoff.

So… when the day comes that a teacher sues a State over VAM, will the state be able to “…cite a single professional statistician” who can attest to the “precision inherent” in the tests? If the highest court in the law recognizes that IQ tests are inherently imprecise, how can the advocates of VAM hope to make their use of standardized tests stand up in court?

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Teaching History… and Democracy

May 24, 2014 Comments off

Timothy Egan’s column in yesterday’s paper, Lost in the Past, describes the rampant ignorance about history among today’s politicians, voters, and students. After citing the citizenry’s lack of knowledge about fundamental historical facts like the cause of the Civil War and it’s placement in the 19th century, he turns to Ken Burns and his co-author David Duncan for an explanation:

Burns said it’s because many schools no longer stress “civics,” or some variation of it. Why? Students complain that it’s boring, or the standards are too demanding. Civics, said Burns, is “the operating system” for citizenry; if you know how government is constructed, it’s no longer a complicated muddle, but a beautiful design.

Duncan said that Americans tended to be “ahistorical” — that is, we choose to forget the context of our past, perhaps as a way for a fractious nation of immigrants to get along. Right after the Civil War, the South was allowed to promote the inaccurate narrative of “the Lost Cause” — all about states’ rights and Northern aggression. In fact, slavery was enshrined into the very first article of the Confederate Constitution; it was the casus belli, and the founding construct of the rebel republic. That history may hurt, but without proper understanding of it, you can’t understand contemporary American life and politics.

He also mentioned how immigrants may know more about history than fifth-generation natives. To pass a citizenship test, they are required to learn things about the glory and infamy, the power and abuses — the operating system — of this democracy. It’s not too onerous to ask the same thing of 18-year-olds across the land. You can’t fix stupid, as the comic line goes; but you don’t have to teach it.

After reading these explanations, I was compelled to offer my own:

Public schools do not foster democracy or welcome it in any way… Teaching and testing “civics” while imposing a “no excuses” environment on students will not result in an engaged citizenry even if it improves the basic knowledge of history…. If we hope to increase participation in our democratic process we need schools to operate openly and democratically and we need to demonstrate to students that their voice matters and will be heard… As it stands now the voters in our country behave like the students in our schools: they acquiesce to whatever rules the leaders set for them so long as they can be entertained and allowed some degree of freedom on the weekend.

Conformity and compliance are an implicit part of the “beautiful design” of school… but not part of the “beautiful design” of a democracy. We need to encourage free speech and the questioning of authority in our schools if we hope to restore an operational democracy in our country.

The Eurocrats and the “Reformers”

May 23, 2014 Comments off

Crisis of the Eurocrats” , Paul Krugman’s column in today’s NYTimes and was struck by the parallels between the education reform movement and the movement to place Europe under a single currency. If one substitutes “the Common Core” for the Euro, the principles of “school reform” for the principles of “austerity”, and “the privatizers” for  “Europe’s elite” the narrative is identical.  Like “the European elite”, today’s privatizers “disguise ideology as expertise” and prevent the argument that “what it wants to do must be done”… and like the austerity movement there is no evidence whatsoever that what passes for “reform” will do anything to improve education for children… and like the austerity movement, the beneficiaries are the economic elite who are now making a profit at the expense of taxpayers. It’s eerie how the narratives dovetail.