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Texas Attorney Offers Cold Hard Facts: Underfunding Creates Conditions that Contribute to School Shootings

May 31, 2018 Comments off

In an op ed that appears in today’s TribTalk section of the Texas Tribune, attorney George S. Christian presents some cold hard facts on school funding and funding for health care that should give pause to his fellow Texans. In the op ed Mr. Christian cites the following factors that contribute to schools NOT being the “safe and nurturing places they should be”:

  • Declining state financial support of public schools has seriously undermined their ability to provide adequate counseling to students and school employees.
  • (Y)ears of state budget cuts have adversely affected our ability to identify and treat people with mental illnesses
  • Underfunding of public schools: “We cannot hope to sustain the Texas Miracle and build a peaceful, open and secure society free of fear if we do not possess a first-class and well-financed K-16 education system.”
  • Underfunding of teacher salaries: “If we want high-quality professional work, and most agree that we do, we have to pay a professional rate for it.”
  • (A) depressingly high rate of poverty, well above the national average, with even higher rates for children.

Mr. Christian elaborates on each of these points, and concludes with this, which echoes the title of his op ed piece, which is “Safety in Public Schools Shouldn’t Be A Partisan Concern”:

Churchill knew that if you don’t give people the hard facts, they won’t understand what job has to be done. Let’s face the hard facts together, and together surmount them. Let’s turn away from the divisive political discourse that pits Texan against Texan, group against group, party against party, the state against local communities, and change the political discourse. Elections matter, but people matter much more.

But here’s a hard fact Mr. Christian overlooks: it’s POSSIBLE that for some politicians elections matter a lot more than children, and for some voters low taxes matter more than anything… and in both cases selfishness overrules altruism.

 

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Jay Matthews Analysis of Special Education Based on Flawed Premise: NAEP Tests Are “Gold Standard”

May 31, 2018 Comments off

Yesterday’s local newspaper, the Valley News, reprinted a Washington Post article by Jay Matthews that asserted that special education as it is currently conceived in failing. In the article Mr. Matthews draws on the opinions and findings of Kalman R. “Buzzy” Hettleman who has served two terms on the Baltimore City school board and been deputy mayor of Baltimore and Maryland state secretary of human resources. Assuming that Mr. Hettleman’s political experience gives his perspective credence, Mr. Matthews writes:

Hettleman does not believe that most students in special education are truly disabled. Fewer than 20 percent, he says, have clearly defined conditions, such as Down syndrome, severe autism, or visual and hearing impairments. The rest, he says, are struggling learners, especially in reading. Their difficulties were sadly not identified and addressed in the crucial early grades.

So as a last resort, he says, they “are dumped into special education. Reading experts estimate that, in the absence of timely interventions, between 50 and 75 percent of struggling readers wind up unnecessarily in special education.”

The notion that schools over-identify Learning Disabled students is not completely off base, nor is the idea that their difficulties were not identified and addressed in early grades. But the underlying cause of all of this pressure to “dump students” into special education is our continued belief that the rate of learning is constant and linked to age… a belief that is reinforced by our reliance on standardized tests that “measure” performance based on that premise.

(Mr. Hettleman) says school officials are reluctant to be candid about how far behind special-education students are. The gold standard of education statistics, the National Assessment of Educational Progress, reported in 2017 that only 11 percent of fourth-graders and 7 percent of eighth-graders in special education were proficient in reading. The parents he has worked with and the ones I know often aren’t told those scores.

“Rather, school systems conceal actual performance through grade inflation; social promotion from grade to grade, though the student is not close to meeting grade-level standards; bogus graduation diplomas; and other means,” he says.

The so called “gold standard” Mr. Matthews and most education writers and policy makers revere is based on the premise that age-based grade cohorts are the only way to group children and their “progress” is best measured by standardized multiple choice tests.

The best way to address the “struggling learners” who are allegedly not identified in the early grade levels it to recognize that not all children who are five years old have the same skill sets and give children the time they need to develop those skill sets. Let time be the variable and learning be constant….

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This Just In: AZ Governor Believes in God AND Evolution! The AZ State Superintendent Only Believes in God…

May 30, 2018 Comments off

The state of Arizona is currently engaged in a “debate” that one might have believed was resolved decades ago. As reported in the Arizona Capitol Times, In reviewing the state stands for science, Diane Douglas, the State Superintendent of Schools, has modified the word “evolution” with the phrase “theory of evolution”, eliminated “…multiple references to evolution entirely from existing high school science standards, replacing them with terms like “biological diversity” and phrases like “how traits within populations change over time,” and eliminated any references to the Big Bang theory altogether. The article by Howard Fischer goes on to say:

Douglas has admitted she supports the teaching of “intelligent design,” a concept that life forms have developed in such a complex way to essentially require planning by a higher power, presumably a diety.

But she has insisted that her personal beliefs have nothing to do with the changes. And Douglas pointed out that her proposed standards make no specific mention of intelligent design.

The Governor of Arizona, though, has a different perspective. While he believes in God, he also believes in evolution and, like most thoughtful and spiritual individuals, sees that they can readily coexist. The public was invited to weigh in on the changes proposed to the science standards in Arizona, and they weighed in to such an extent that the web page crashed. Prior to the crash, though, public sentiment opposed the direction Ms. Douglas wanted to head.

So what will students in Arizona learn in their science curriculum going forward?

It will… be up to Douglas and her senior staff to decide whether to rescind any of the changes she wants to make or keep them as is when she forwards the plan to the state Board of Education, which will make the final call.

While Ducey has no formal say over the final standards, his views could make a difference. That is because he appoints all but one of the members of the state Board of Education who do have the last word, with the lone exception being Douglas herself.

Stay tuned… the Scopes trial redux might be on the horizon…

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“Take a Knee” Controversy Revisited… And Our “Culture of Liberty” Takes a Hit

May 29, 2018 Comments off

Last week the NFL owners announced a new rule: players would either stand during the national anthem or remain in the locker room when the anthem was played. Those teams who failed to do would be subject to fines. In announcing this new policy, the league hoped to end the controversy over the political protests that emerged over the past two years, whereby players knelt on the sidelines to show their support for minorities who were profiled by police and, in many well-publicized incidents, lost their lives in confrontations that resulted from the profiling. The force of the protests had fizzled by the end of the 2016 season, but took on new life when the President of the United States called attention to the issue in 2017. Throughout the 2017 season different teams handled the matter in different ways and many fans viewed the protests and the specific players who participated as “unpatriotic”. Predictably, the protests at the professional level had an impact at ALL levels of athletics, including at high schools where students picked up the ideas.

In earlier posts I’ve advanced the argument that the protests should be supported like ALL free speech should be supported. I was heartened to see that at least one libertarian conservative writer, David French of the National Review, took a similar stance in a NYTimes op ed piece last week. In the essay, Mr. French noted that his conservative colleagues rightfully called out the liberals who were squelching free speech on campuses, in corporations, and in the public forum. He wondered how these same writers and pundits could turn around and support the efforts to squelch the free speech of African American athletes in the name of finding a “middle ground” on the issue of kneeling during the national anthem:

This isn’t a “middle ground,” as the N.F.L. claims. It’s not a compromise. It’s corporate censorship backed up with a promise of corporate punishment. It’s every bit as oppressive as the campus or corporate attacks on expression that conservatives rightly decry.

But this is different, they say. This isn’t about politics. It’s about the flag.

I agree. It is different. Because it’s about the flag, the censorship is even worse.

One of the most compelling expressions of America’s constitutional values is contained in Justice Robert Jackson’s 1943 majority opinion in West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette. At the height of World War II, two sisters, both Jehovah’s Witnesses, challenged the state’s mandate that they salute the flag in school. America was locked in a struggle for its very existence. The outcome was in doubt. National unity was essential.

But even in the darkest days of war, the court wrote liberating words that echo in legal history: “If there is any fixed star in our constitutional constellation, it is that no official, high or petty, can prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters of opinion or force citizens to confess by word or act their faith therein.”

In our polarized times, I’ve adopted a simple standard, a civil liberties corollary to the golden rule: Fight for the rights of others that you would like to exercise yourself. Do you want corporations obliterating speech the state can’t touch? Do you want the price of participation in public debate to include the fear of lost livelihoods? Then, by all means, support the N.F.L. Cheer Silicon Valley’s terminations. Join the boycotts and shame campaigns. Watch this country’s culture of liberty wither in front of your eyes.

As noted in countless other posts on this blog, I despair at how our schools are now training children to live under a totalitarian regime in the name of retaining the “rights” of gun advocates to purchase whatever weapons they wish to possess. I would hope that those who seek the liberty to own whatever weapons they desire would support those who seek the liberty to speak their minds openly about racism.

Charter School Workaround on Low Test Scorers: Place Them in a Private School!

May 28, 2018 Comments off

Yesterday Diane Ravitch posted about a publicly funded Florida charter school that had the chutzpah to open a private school for those students who were deemed likely to score poorly on the State accountability test. Here’s how Ms. Ravtich described the gambit:

“Several days before the Florida Standards Assessments began near the end of the school year, 13 third-grade students suddenly transferred from the Palm Harbor Academy charter school to a newly created private school on the same school campus, run by Palm Harbor Academy governing board chairman the Rev. Gillard Glover.

With one exception, all of those 13 students had one thing in common: They were at least one full grade behind grade level. Many of the children were multiple grades behind grade level. Another five students in other grades, all at least two grades behind grade level, were also transferred out of Palm Harbor and into the private school at around the same time.

“The students’ transfer to a private school meant that they didn’t take the state assessments required of public school students — and, therefore, didn’t drag down the school’s state scores and school grade. A failing school grade would have meant shuttering the school, School Board Attorney Kristin Gavin said, because the school got a D last year.

“The school district has portrayed the moving of the students as an attempt by Palm Harbor to skirt the school grade process, at a cost to the students: Those with disabilities who were moved were not being provided state-mandated support, district officials said, at the newly created private school, the Academy of Excellence.”

The article from the Palm Coast Observer included details on the other misdeeds of the school, which included their decision to hire a teacher who had been dismissed from a nearby public school for abusing children. It also included a more detailed recounting of the Palm Harbor Academy governing board chairman, the Rev. Gillard Glover. Reverend Glover claimed that the school administration was shifting the students to the newly created school because the parents sought the transfers and that the newly created private school had been in the works for over a year. But the public records did not substantiate this claim. The Palm Coast Observer also indicated there were other problems with the charter school:

Other issues included the district’s assessment that the school had repeated issues with students record keeping, and that its bus was regularly late, meaning that students were missing instructional time.

District staff who visited the school had on several occasions found tables of students still eating their breakfasts in the cafeteria at 9 a.m. or 10 a.m., Gavin said.

Time will tell if the Flagler School Board will close the school… but the politicians in Florida’s state house will be unlikely to do anything to ensure that parents are fully informed of the ability of charter schools to deliver the kind of education needed for their children to succeed.

A Sibling Spat Sends Chilling Portend of How Armed Parent Posses Could End Badly

May 27, 2018 Comments off

On a long car ride to school in Idaho, a brother and sister had an argument. The sister was still upset when she got to school and talked about the heated exchange with her friends. In a classic– and literal– example of the “telephone” game, her well-intentioned friends called police because they understood that the brother had a gun in his possession and was going to use it in school to harm his sister.

The school went into a lockdown… and roughly 20 local police officers showed up. But things then got complicated, because at the same time the law enforcement officers showed up, so did an armed band of parents. Here’s a description of the incident from a report by KSL.com:

Bannock County Sheriff Lorin Nielsen wants the public to know that arming yourself and responding to a school threat incident will likely put you in harm’s way and hinder law enforcement’s response.

The longtime sheriff made those statements after several armed Marsh Valley High School parents showed up at the school on Wednesday morning when word got out that the school had been placed on lockdown because of a student who authorities believed was possibly carrying a pistol and had allegedly attacked and threatened his sister, the Idaho State Journal reports.

The mother of the brother and sister says the incident was massively blown out of proportion and stemmed from a verbal rather than physical confrontation between her children on Wednesday morning as the two siblings drove to Marsh Valley High School, where they are both students. The mother said her son never possessed a firearm during the incident.

Nielsen said some of the parents who responded to the school after hearing about the lockdown were armed with AR-15 rifles. One parent who was carrying an unholstered pistol got to the school at the same time as the first sheriff’s deputies and state police and had a confrontation with a state trooper, the sheriff said.

Nielsen said encountering the armed parent at the school was very stressful for the trooper who stopped the man and told him to leave school grounds until law enforcement had the situation under control. Nielsen said the parent later profusely apologized to the trooper.

Nielsen, whose law enforcement career spans four decades, said he’s never seen armed parents respond to a lockdown before and he wants to make it clear that doing so is a very bad idea.

“Do not self-deploy to assist us,” Nielsen said. “We believed we had a kid who had just injured his sister and who had a gun. This wasn’t a test. We believed there was the possibility of an active shooter.”

The sheriff said that the armed parents who “self-deployed” to Marsh Valley High School because of Wednesday morning’s lockdown could have been arrested for interfering with law enforcement officers but weren’t.

He added that armed members of the public responding to school threat incidents put themselves in a very dangerous position because officers could think they’re active shooters and open fire on them.

Besides the pistol-toting parent who had the confrontation with the trooper, the other armed parents who showed up at Marsh Valley High School were stopped at the perimeter set up by deputies and state police around the school. Nielsen said members of the school’s janitorial staff also used school vehicles to block the entrances to the school’s parking lot to make sure no armed parents could get into the building, where law enforcement officers were trying to sort out what was going on.

It isn’t difficult to imagine a nightmare scenario where police and armed parents get into a fire-fight, with the police believing the parent is the “shooter”. Or worse, the parent entering the building with an assault weapon and a fire-fight ensuring where innocent victims are caught in a cross fire.

Two last thoughts:

First, the custodial staff who put themselves in harms way to seal off the school deserve accolades from the sheriff and apologies from the gun toting parents. By keeping armed parents away from the school they saved lives.

And second, it’s time for school districts across the country where gun laws are lax and stand-you-ground legislation is in place to revise their safety plans. Step one during a lock down needs to be deploying someone on the staff to seal off the entry ways so that armed parents don’t get confused for “active shooters” and draw fire from the police in the school or en route to the school.

Self-deployment is the price we pay for our current interpretation of the second amendment. I suppose an ad hoc gathering of armed parents passes in this day and age as a well regulated militia.

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NYT’s David Leonardt Continues to Promote “Failing Public Schools” Meme, Misses Opportunity to Support Free College for All

May 26, 2018 Comments off

Yesterday’s NYTimes David Leonardt’s column described “A New Dropout Crisis“: the accelerating rate of dropouts in college. How bad is the problem?

About a decade ago, the number of college dropouts exceeded the number of K-12 dropouts, and the two have continued to move in opposite directions since then. And if you focus only on high-school dropouts — excluding people, many of whom are immigrants, who dropped out earlier and never reached high school — there are now about twice as many college dropouts as high-school dropouts.

And why is this happening? Here’s Leonardt’s synopsis:

There are multiple causes of the college-dropout boom. K-12 schools certainly deserve a substantial amount of blame, because they produce too many ill-prepared students. But colleges — and policymakers — deserve a lot of blame, as well. For years, higher education paid far too little attention to results. That’s starting to change, as Tina Rosenberg has described in several Times Op-Eds, but there is still an enormous amount of work to do.

Alas, Mr. Leonardt overlooks the source of the highest dropout rates: for profit colleges! As Christina Cauterucci wrote in Slate in September 2017, these colleges prey on the most vulnerable population– single moms and first generation students who struggled in high school– promising them high paying jobs if they take out student loans and attend their school. The promise is far too often hollow and baseless. Ms. Cauterucci offers these sad results:

The average six-year graduation rate among for-profit colleges is 23 percent, compared to 59 percent at public institutions and 66 percent at private nonprofit schools. And because for-profit degrees usually cost far more than comparable degrees from community colleges and public universities, students who attend for-profit schools are more likely to have to take out loans to afford their education. They are also far more likely to default on those loans than those who attended nonprofit or public institutions, in part because the economic benefits conferred upon those with other college degrees don’t transfer to graduates from for-profit schools.

59% and 66% rates are problematic to be sure, but 23% is scandalous… but unsurprising given that for-profit colleges are not competitive in who they accept which means that students with weak academic backgrounds can enroll with impunity.

If post-secondary schooling was free to all, it would greatly benefit PK-16 systems because publicly funded institutions could create seamless mechanisms that would allow students to proceed at a rate of speed that matches the mastery of the content. Instead of setting an arbitrary benchmark of 12 years to master the material needed to enter post-secondary schools they could provide course offerings that would prepare students for the rigors of college and thus lower the drop out rate.

But… if post-secondary schooling was free to all it would require higher taxes, eliminate the “opportunity” for profiteers to capitalize on the neediest students, and “expand the government”… all of which are deemed to be bad from the perspective of too many of our political leaders… and, sadly, our voters….