Archive for April, 2017

Gary Rubinstein: The 4th Best High School in New York State Doesn’t Exist

April 30, 2017 Comments off

One would hope that this would bring about the demise of US News and World Report’s rankings… but, alas, Americans love a horse race… 

Source: Gary Rubinstein: The 4th Best High School in New York State Doesn’t Exist

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Neither Cuomo’s “Free Tuition” Excelsior Program Nor “Choice” Address Inequity… and Both Reinforce the Status Quo

April 30, 2017 Comments off

I read two different articles this morning on NYS Governor Cuomo’s vaunted Excelsior program which offers “Free Tuition” to State colleges. Both articles acknowledged one flaw in the program: it does nothing to help children raised in poverty.

Lisa Foderaro’s NYTimes article focuses on the impact of the recently passed legislation on students who are weighing their decision on which college to attend in the coming year and the impact on public college admissions administrators who are waiting to see if their 2017 Freshman classes are larger. In the body of the article, Ms. Foderaro offers this synopsis of the Excelsior program with my emphasis added:

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo has made Excelsior the centerpiece of his middle-class agenda, saying it will “make college accessible to thousands of working and middle class students” who might otherwise not be able to afford to attend. The program’s passage was hailed by Hillary Clinton, among others, for opening up college opportunities, but critics have complained that it does little to ease the college burden for the state’s poorest students. (By 2019, the income cap for the scholarship will rise to $125,000.)

Some have argued that the tens of millions of dollars allotted for the program this year should be used instead to help low-income students pay for room and board, which is generally not covered by existing state and federal financial-aid programs. Others faulted the scholarship’s stringent eligibility requirements, including full-time enrollment and the need to stay in the state after graduation. Still others worried that the program would siphon students from New York’s private colleges, putting their financial viability in jeopardy.

The Christiansen Institute’s Newsletter article featured an by Alana Dunagan critiquing the Excelsior program, which focussed on the impediment the program imposes on those, like the Christiansen Institute, who seek to change the current paradigm for college. In the body of her essay, Ms. Dunagan offers this scathing analysis of the impact of Excelsior on students raised in poverty:

The Excelsior Scholarship has been criticized for not doing enough to help students. It only covers tuition—not fees or living expenses, which together are estimated at $15,180 at SUNY and $14,135 at CUNY. It only covers full-time enrollment—not part-time enrollment, which excludes over a third of current CUNY students. Taken together, these two factors mean that most working adults will likely be shut out of the program, even though the Excelsior Scholarship has no official age requirements. The policy is also regressive: it is a last-dollar program which will direct funds to middle- and upper-middle-class families, rather than helping poor and working-class students defray more of the full cost of attendance. As free college advocate Sara Goldrick-Rab said, regarding Cuomo’s new initiative, “No other free college program is less about making college affordable.”

As one who sees the need to provide access to post-secondary education those who need it most, it is evident that the Excelsior program is NOT the way forward. Like the “choice” plans offered by reformers and especially the reform plan offered by Betsy DeVos, Excelsior directs relatively scarce public funds to institutions that middle class parents are already voluntarily funding out of their pockets instead of directing those funds to children who’s parents do not have the wherewithal to fund the first dollar for post-secondary schools or “schools of choice”.

And as Ms. Dunagan emphasizes in her essay, the Excelsior program keeps a failing model for college on life-support, thereby crowding out opportunities for innovative approaches to schooling to emerge.

But what the Excelsior Scholarship program does do, and does well, is distract students, parents, and taxpayers from the broken business model of the state’s higher education system. “Free college” is in this case a shell game. Although it may reduce the cost of college for middle-class families, it by no means makes it free—and the costs of the program are likely to be shouldered by the same middle-class taxpayers who it benefits. But the underlying issue still remains: it’s not just tuition that is unaffordable, it is the cost—ever rising—of college itself. As we’ve written before, “free college” may score votes, but it doesn’t solve problems

Cuomo may have papered over the state’s higher education problems for the moment, but in doing so, he is likely to make them worse in the long run. The program will undoubtedly force some of the state’s private schools to close, but it is no boon for public schools either. Subsidizing more students attending a system that is bleeding money will have costs far higher than the Excelsior Scholarship’s $163 million price tag. Over the long term, higher education policy needs to move away from subsidy programs that let more students afford college. The key is redesigning college to be affordable.

I do not agree with all of the approaches the Christiansen Institution advocates (i.e. their overselling of on-line learning), but I do agree that we are wasting millions on post-secondary education that could be better spent on funding community service “gap years” and/or job training programs for careers that are vital but do not require a formal degree. Excelsior reinforces a bad model of post-secondary education in the same way that standardized testing reinforces the factory model of schooling that is imprinted in our minds…. and like the “choice” model it subverts the need for change.  

The Administrator Behind the Metal Detector Accepts The Necessity of His Role

April 30, 2017 Comments off

“The Man Behind the Metal Detector”, a NYTimes op ed article by Boston public school administrator Adam Stumacher, describes Mr. Stumacher’s conflicts about his role as the school’s gatekeeper and inspector of book-bags and knapsacks. These paragraphs describe his unsettling thoughts as he performs his daily task, comparing his students’ experiences to those he had growing up in rural New Hampshire:

The reality for my students is different. They have been followed through stores, had people roll up their car windows or cross the street when they approach. So perhaps they are unsurprised by the metal detectors.

I try to tell myself none of this is within my control. I think of our school’s work to design courses around diverse texts, hire teachers who reflect our students’ cultures and connect kids with opportunities like internships — how we welcome all students with the promise that we will not rest until they achieve their potential.

But I see how their body language shifts when they walk through metal detectors, some wrapping their arms around themselves and others throwing their heads back in defiance. I see how they fixate on their phone screens or scarves, anything to avoid meeting my gaze. In that moment, there is no denying I am part of the machine.

As one who taught in urban public schools and worked as an administrator in a blue collar suburban district just outside of a city, I am not surprised that Mr. Stumacher is conflicted about his role. Indeed, I imagine anyone who, like me, grew up in a small college town where most of my associations were with churched classmates whose parents expected them to go to college, is often conflicted when they are forced into the role of “enforcer”. Most teachers are drawn to professions in public education because they believe they can make a difference in the lives of children through connections, not because they want to impose their will. So Mr. Stumacher’s conflicts about serving as a de facto policeman are not surprising. What would have been more interesting is to read about the process the administrative team went through to make the decision to put the metal detectors in school to start with, a decision that they had to realize would change the entire dynamic of entry to school each and every day and change Mr. Shumacher’s role. The article offers this as an explanation:

There are metal detectors at the entrance of nearly every public high school in Boston — I imagine it’s the same in most major cities. Last year, when I started working at this school as part of a new administration, we were determined not to use them. We made it until October, when a student brought a knife to school. He was a gentle kid, a ninth grader, and he said he’d brought the knife only because some guys in his neighborhood were harassing him on the way to school and he needed to protect himself. But our first job is to keep the school safe, and so we asked the district for metal detectors, which arrived before 7 the next morning. I had never seen anything arrive so promptly from the district. Textbook orders take months.

This brought to mind my first year as an administrator in 1975 when I heard through the student grapevine that a student had a knife rolled up in a towel in his gym bag. Like the student in Mr. Shumacher’s essay, he was “a gentle kid” who didn’t stemlike the kind of student who would be prone to violence. Nevertheless, I called the student to the office where I confronted him. When he denied the allegation, I asked if I could accompany him to his locker to retrieve his gym bag so he could show me it’s contents. When I asked him to unroll his towel, he looked at me guiltily, and slowly unrolled the towel where there was a large knife. Like the student in Mr. Shumacher’s essay, he said he’d brought the knife only because some guys in his neighborhood were harassing him on the way to school and he needed to protect himself. We called his parents in for a conference, suspended him from school for three days for possession of a weapon (the notion of In School Suspension had not been introduced at that time), and alerted the police and local community leaders of the sense of threat the student felt. The idea of metal detectors was not on our radar in 1975 because in that era one could freely walk through airports, freely enter the US House and Senate Building, and freely enter any public space without having to walk through a metal detector or screening device monitored by a uniformed guard.

My questions to those who see metal detectors as the only option is this: we built “the machine” that Mr. Shumacher is a part of. Why can’t we take it apart and build it a different way? Why can’t we begin with the premise that our money is better spent building cohesive neighborhoods than  building and staffing metal protectors? Why aren’t we operating out of a caring attitude instead of a fearful one?

Drugs in Graphing Calculators and Teddy Bears? The DEA Wants Parents to Be Wary!

April 29, 2017 Comments off

In an article whose content would not be out of place in the Borowitz Report or The Onion, Christopher Ingraham’s Washington Post op ed piece describes a bizarre tweet from the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) that provides a link to a page entitled “Hiding Places” at, “a DEA resource for parents, educators and caregivers.”

And where does the DEA think your child be hiding drugs? In alarm clocks, graphing calculators, highlighters, shoes, candy wrappers, posters, heating vents, teddy bears, car interiors, and game consoles. As Ingraham writes:

The general take-home message of the page — and of the “getsmartaboutdrugs” website in general — is that seemingly innocuous objects and behaviors can be signs of a life-ruining drug habit. Candy wrappers, belt buckles, ski caps, glow sticks and pacifiers are all potential pieces of drug paraphernalia, according to the site.

Warning signs of teen drug use include “disinterest in school,” “lack of interest in clothing,” new friends, and “excessive attempts to be alone.”

The categories are so broad as to be practically meaningless, a reflection, in part, of the DEA’s worldview that drugs are everywhere and everyone is a potential criminal.

Ingraham takes a light-hearted approach to this, underscoring it’s preposterousness by noting that “Among teens, use of illicit drugs other than marijuana is near historic lows and marijuana use is flat or falling.” and concluding with this quip:

So parents, take heart: If your kid seems really into her graphing calculator, all it really means is that she’s well on her way to a career as a successful engineer.

I wish I found this to be humorous, but instead I see it as part of the insidious direction our government has taken us for decades, one that preys on our fears and suspicions instead of our faith in our fellow man.

Because we are fearful that isolated incidents of terrorism we are subjected to ever more invasive scrutiny in our travels. Because one terrorist used a shoe bomb we ALL remove our shoes to board planes. Because one terrorist used some kind of gel-like explosive we need to remove our shampoo from our carry on luggage. Because one individual used an underwear bomb we are now subject to body scans and on occasion pat downs. And in order to provide this security we have spent millions of dollars on security technology and millions annually on trained TSA personnel.

Because of isolated incidents of school shootings, we now lock the doors to our schools, provide surveillance cameras, and often provide police officers to monitor students. We also place strictures on the information students can access while they are under the supervision of schools and ask schools to assume responsibility for “bullying” communications that take place outside of school. And in order to provide this security we have spent millions of dollars on security equipment and millions annually on non-instructional staff in schools. Worse, we are effectively training our youth to be comfortable in a world where their every move is monitored and their communications might be limited.

Because of isolated incidents of armed robberies we provide 24/7 surveillance on many of our streets and because of isolated incidents of violence by police we are providing body-cams to ensure the safety of innocent citizens. And in order to provide these additional layers of security we have spent millions of dollars on equipment. Worse, we are reinforcing the notion that neither our fellow citizens nor the police can be trusted.

I look at the billions spent to promote fear and reinforce docility and contrast it with the relative pittance spent on mental health, addictions counseling, and the safety net programs and wonder where our country is headed. As one who read and valued George Orwell’s insights, I think I know.


Colorado Op Ed Writer Urges Christians to Stay in Public Schools Based on “The Golden Rule”

April 29, 2017 Comments off

When I read the title of Colorado Springs Gazette op ed contributor Andrea Ramirez’ article, “Should Christians Abandon Public Schools?”, I expected the response to be a resounding “yes”. Instead, Ms. Ramirez offers a thoughtful and scriptural based “no”, despite her stated admiration for James Dobson and her support for Betsy DeVos. Why? Because she is unsettled by the hypocrisy of an affirmative answer given our inequitable wealth:

As the spirit of Christ calls us to love our neighbors, not just our own families, public school withdrawal appears particularly off target.

Our neighbors with access and financial means may enjoy many options for education: home schooling, Christian or private education, and public or charter schools.

Other families, due to location or income, health or family constraints, find their local public school to be their sole educational option. And let us not forget, most of our neighbor’s children are attending public schools, a full 90 percent of our nation’s 55 million students.

As Christians we can “love our neighbors as ourselves” by ensuring excellent education options for all children, including students in poverty, disabled students, English language learners and military families.

As one who has studied the precepts of many religions, I cannot think of one that is not based on some variant of the Golden Rule. Religious scholar Karen Armstrong noted in an interview with Oprah Winfrey reported on by Huffington Post:

“Confucius was the first person to formulate the Golden Rule, as far as we know, 500 years before Christ. And his disciples said, ‘Which of your teachings can we put into practice all day and every day?’ And he said, ‘Never treat others as you would not like to be treated yourself.’”

“I think that all the faiths have come to tell us this. That this is what works. By looking into your heart and discovering what gives you pain – and then refusing to ever inflict that pain on someone else — somehow, you achieve new capacities of mind and heart.”

“Once you (practice the Golden Rule), everything falls into place. I think the fact that every single one of the world’s faiths has developed this ethos of the Golden Rule separately from one another, independently, and said, ‘This is what brings us to Nirvana, or to God’ — they did it because it worked.”

Those who argue that our nation was founded on Christian principles are right to the extent that our forefathers believed in the straightforward logic and practicality of the “Golden Rule”. But because they clearly sought a UNITED States of America they wanted a nation completely disentangled from religion. To a man, they had witnessed how religious prejudice and politics failed the nations they fled from and in creating a new country sought to avoid those kinds of conflicts. We should learn from the religious persecution that drove migrants to our country and led us to separate church and state… and, heed Ms. Ramirez’ words:

Jesus serves as the clearest model for how Christians should live and love in our world. He served all he encountered, loving those in his community, serving those on the margins.

May we follow his lead as we serve those in our communities.

Steven Singer: No, Mr. Trump, You Can’t Curb the Federal Role While Imposing Vouchers

April 28, 2017 Comments off

Blogger Steven Singer notes one obvious example of the hypocrisy in Mr. Trump’s Executive Order to limit “Federal Overreach” in public education. Like his predecessors the President wants to mandate a direction that is contrary to public opinion but wildly popular with the business community… but unlike them he doesn’t pretend to care about the rights of students or protecting children raised in poverty. 

Source: Steven Singer: No, Mr. Trump, You Can’t Curb the Federal Role While Imposing Vouchers

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Heartland Institute’s Efforts to Sow Doubts Places Climate Change Instruction in Public Schools in Peril

April 28, 2017 Comments off

Yesterday’s NYTimes featured an op ed piece by Curt Stager, a professor of natural sciences at Paul Smith’s College in Upstate NY describing the full court press by the Heartland Institute to inject doubt in the minds of public school science teachers regarding the science behind climate change. He writes:

The Heartland Institute, a conservative think tank known for attacking climate science, has been mailing a slim, glossy book to public school teachers throughout the United States. The institute says it plans to send out as many as 200,000 copies, until virtually every science educator in America has one.

The book, “Why Scientists Disagree About Global Warming,” presents the false premise that the evidence for human-driven climate change is deeply flawed. To understand where the Heartland Institute is coming from, consider a recent comment by its president, Joseph Bast, who called global warming “another fake crisis” for Democrats “to hype to scare voters and raise campaign dollars.”

Stager describes the slick presentation of the materials, which were mailed “…in an envelope bearing the headline of a New York Times article about an investigation into Exxon Mobil for possibly lying about climate change”, in an effort to get climate change realists to read more. A self-professed late adopter to the position that man is the cause of changes in the climate, Stager notes with a hint of dismay that many science teachers are still open to the idea that there is not a consensus on the issue:

Unfortunately, many teachers seem unaware of this (consensus among scientists). A survey of 1,500 American science teachers published last year in the journal Science found 30 percent of those surveyed said they emphasized in their classes that recent global warming “is likely due to natural causes.” Less than half also correctly identified the degree of consensus among climate scientists that human activities are the primary cause of global warming.

They may therefore be vulnerable to suggestions that they should “teach the controversy” for the sake of balance, particularly in places like Tennessee and Louisiana, where state law permits the teaching of alternative interpretations of evolution and climate change in public schools. The Heartland Institute is now exploiting this opportunity to influence the next generation on a national scale.

Knowing Heartland’s funders and the power of ALEC, I wouldn’t be surprised to find that this outreach to teachers is matched by an outreach to school board members at all levels and/or potential candidates for school boards. I would not be surprised to see statehouses passing legislation mandating a “balanced approach” to climate change… nor would I be surprised to see local and State Boards of education passing policies that mandate “balance”.

And here’s what is especially frustrating: climate change realists don’t have the financial wherewithal to fight back against the climate change propagandists, who are underwritten by Big Oil… and the fight to teach the truth about climate change is especially difficult when the Executive Branch is populated with climate change deniers.

All of this means that unless grassroots activists push back, Heartland’s supporters will succeed in their effort to influence the next generation on a national scale… particularly given the sacrifices that will be necessary to address the impact of climate change.

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