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Archive for August, 2019

Michael Reagan’s Alternative Universe Where Prop 13 Never Happened

August 26, 2019 Comments off

I get two local newspapers, the reliably liberal Valley News published in Hanover, NH and the reliably conservative Caledonian Record published in St. Johnsbury, VT. Last Friday’s Caledonian Record featured an op ed article by Michael Reagan, Ronald Reagan’s son. Michael Reagan clearly despises Democrats who, he claims, turned the sunny California his father created into “…a social, fiscal and economic s-hole.” How did this happen?

…the California Dream has been transformed into the California Nightmare by Democrats and their liberal ways. Now the Golden State is famous for high taxes, over-spending, failed education policies, overgenerous social welfare programs, a huge homeless population and bad environmental and energy rules.

There’s one fact Mr. Reagan conveniently overlooked in his analysis of California’s woes: Proposition 13 created most of the “failed education policies” in the state and also resulted in taxes being shifted from local property tax to various state taxes— the “high taxes” Mr. Reagan cites.

And there’s another fact the Vermont newspaper failed to mention: California’s tax burden ranks 11th in the nation… and Vermont’s tax burden ranks 4th.

And here’s another fact that is overlooked: California ranks 18th in terms of social benefits. Vermont’s ranking? First.

And here’s a final inconvenient fact: California experienced a population growth of 6.5% while Vermont had a growth of .21%. So… people are not fleeing California’s onerous taxes, bad environmental and energy rules. Nor are homeless people and welfare recipients seeking out Vermont’s generous benefit package.

“We Don’t Have to Live Like This”: March for Our Lives Unveils Sweeping Plan to Address Gun Violence and Strengthen Democracy

August 24, 2019 Comments off

We don’t have to live in a nation where teachers are spending one day per year participating in “active shooter drills” so that everyone can have access to military grade weapons and ammunition designed to ensure maximum harm. This spirit and soul sucking experience is happening across the country, reinforcing to teachers that school shootings are a commonplace event and that many of their students and/or community members are stocking up armaments and preparing for an invasion of the school, reinforcing that they and their students should be willing to sacrifice their freedom and privacy in the name of “safety”.

This needs to stop quickly before it becomes a part of every school’s DNA… and the best way to stop it is to endorse the kind of legislative package being promoted by the March of Our Lives.

And for anyone who opposes the ideas advanced by this group, I await your explanation on why someone on our national no-fly list can buy weapons… why we restrict ammunition for shooting birds but not ammunition for military grade weapons designed to kill humans… why someone whose mental condition might make them unfit for military duty can buy any kind of weapon they wish… why weapons that require hours of training for use in the military are available to anyone to use in civilian life without any training. The NRA has “convinced” legislators and many of their members that ANY restriction to access to weapons and ammunition is an irreversible “slippery slope” that will ultimately lead to the confiscation of all weapons from everyone. I have never read of or heard of any such proposal from even the most progressive politicians.

We now take our shoes off to get on board airplanes, have seatbelt installed in every car and mandated in virtually every state of the union, can no longer buy lawn darts, wrestle with caps on over-the-counter medications, and require licenses for everything from cars to fishing to hairdressing… and WE have to live in fear because the NRA is afraid of a “slippery slope”? Something is very wrong with this picture. We don’t have to live like this!

Source: “We Don’t Have to Live Like This”: March for Our Lives Unveils Sweeping Plan to Address Gun Violence and Strengthen Democracy

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What Do You DO When an Algorithm Discriminates Based on Race? In the Trump Administration You Protect the Algorithm

August 23, 2019 Comments off

The NYTImes’ Emily Badger wrote an article on the new, subtle method of housing discrimination: algorithms. In her recent Upshot article titled “Who’s to Blame When Algorithms Discriminate” she describes how bankers and real estate agents use algorithms to reinforce segregated housing patterns and deny African Americans an equal opportunity to get decent housing. The way HUD pushed back against these in the past was to develop rules that made it more difficult to claim innocence when “disparate impact” occurred. She writes:

Federal law prohibits not just outright discrimination, but also certain policies and decisions that have a “disparate impact” on groups protected by civil rights laws. It may be illegal, in other words, to design a rental app that has the effect of excluding minorities, even if no one meant to discriminate against them…

Housing discrimination today is largely a matter of such cases: ones where there is no racist actor, no paper trail of intent to discriminate, but where troubling disparities emerge between different classes of people… 

“People don’t just say the things they used to say,” said Myron Orfield, a law professor at the University of Minnesota who directs the Institute on Metropolitan Opportunity there.

But some statistical patterns speak just as loudly.

“A black household that makes $167,000 is less likely to qualify for a prime loan than a white household that makes $40,000,” Mr. Orfield said, citing analysis of public mortgage data by the institute. “That looks funny. What the banks say in these cases is, ‘It’s the credit histories, and our models explain the differences.’ But you can’t look at those models. They’re proprietary.”

The Obama administration wrote rules that placed the onus for proving non-discrimination on the loaner or renter. Unsurprisingly, the Trump administration is taking a different view:

The Department of Housing and Urban Development published a proposed rule on Monday significantly raising the bar for housing discrimination claims that rely on such evidence…

By raising the bar for such claims, the new rule would make it harder to hold banks accountable if their underwriting algorithms repeatedly deny mortgages to seemingly qualified black families, or if city zoning laws that make no mention of race still have the effect of racially segregating neighborhoods.

Fair housing advocates see these new rules as onerous and undercutting the Fair Housing Act of 1968 and the guidelines that have been in place since then.

“The problem that we have is that more and more, industry players are relying on artificial intelligence,” said Lisa Rice, the president of the National Fair Housing Alliance. “They’re relying on machine learning. They’re relying on algorithmic-based systems for more and more of the functions of the housing market.”

Online ads for rental housing are targeted in ways that mean, for example, that African-American would-be tenants may never see them. Decisions are based on credit scores that perceive families who use payday lenders — who are more likely to be African-American — as having no credit at all.

“We’re just learning what the impacts are of these things,” said Greta Byrum, co-director of the Digital Equity Laboratory at the New School. “That’s why we’re seeing this battle to set policy precedent. HUD I think is trying to get ahead of what everyone is seeing on the horizon now as a big fight to set policy around algorithms.”

In the end the losers in this are the children whose parents want to move into a neighborhood or community where schools are better and services are more robust… but whose parents may never see ads for houses in those neighborhoods due to their online profile and the algorithms used based on that profile… and having banks and renters wash their hands of the problem by claiming: ‘It’s the credit histories, and our models explain the differences.’ But you can’t look at those models. They’re proprietary.” They may be proprietary… but they are also racist if they result in disparate treatment and they should be thrown out if that is the case. We can’t claim to be a fair and just society where everyone has an equal opportunity if we let propriety software deny access to good housing, good schools, and good neighborhoods. But from the Trump administration’s perspective, this is not a software bug… it’s a software feature.

Flaws in Friedman’s Economic Theory on Shareholder Primacy Laid Bare

August 22, 2019 Comments off

This Atlantic article debunks the notion that corporations will behave in the public interest without regulations. Until voters understand that government regulations are beneficial to their self-interest we will continue to operate under Ayn Rand’s premise that selfishness is a virtue– a premise that is demonstrably false.

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Milliken v. Bradley Decision Undercut Brown v. Board of Education, Stopped Racial AND “Social” Desegregation

August 20, 2019 Comments off

Everyone who ever studied the history of public education in our nation and the history of race in our country has heard of the Brown v. Board of Education decision that not only called for the segregation of schools “with all deliberate speed” but also called for the end of the “separate but equal” provisions that legally permitted the continuation of segregation. But most readers— and this blogger— have overlooked the impact of Milliken v. Bradley, a subsequent Supreme Court decision in 1974 that let hundreds of northern districts off the hook by allowing de facto segregation to remain in place. Jon Hale brings this 45-year old decision to forefront in a recent article in The National Interest:

…the racial makeup of today’s schools actually owes itself to a series of other court decisions – including one issued 45 years ago on July 25, 1974. The Milliken v. Bradley decision sanctioned a form of segregation that has allowed suburbs to escape being included in court-ordered desegregation and busing plans with nearby cities.

The Milliken decision recognized “de facto” segregation – segregation that occurs as a result of circumstances, not law. This allowed schools in the North to maintain racially separate schools at the same time southern schools were being ordered by the courts to desegregate. By giving suburbs a pass from large mandated desegregation attempts, it built a figurative wall around white flight enclaves, essentially shielding them from the “crisis” of urban education.

The decision ruled that social segregation was permissible and therefore exempt from court-ordered, “forced” desegregation plans. That is, the court said, if segregation occurred because of certain “unknowable factors” such as economic changes and racial fears – not a law – then it’s legal.

In reading this article I was struck by the breadth of the decision made on this case, which dealt with a plan to bus students from Detroit to contiguous suburban schools to promote racial segregation. But the ruling went even further, determining that social segregation was permissible. As a result of this decision, the boundaries of school districts, which in most states match the borders of towns, townships, or counties, were impermeable. This meant the building a “…figurative wall around white flight enclaves” not only shielded those enclaves RACIALLY, it shielded them SOCIALLY, not just from the “crisis” of urban education but also from the crisis of funding inequities.

Mr. Hale concludes his article with this paragraphs:

Milliken put forth the convenient narrative that segregation in the North was natural and therefore permissible. It also freed northern school districts from being forced to participate in large-scale solutions to segregation and unequal education outside their boundaries.

I believe continuing to ignore Milliken covers up the ongoing segregation of America’s schools today and the nation’s collective, ongoing failure to improve public education in the spirit of Brown.

And the “spirit of Brown”, that all children should have an equal opportunity to attend a public school that offers them an education that will prepare them for the future on the same footing as everyone in their age cohort, was killed when five justices appointed by Richard Nixon supported the narrative of Justice Potter, who concluded in his written decision that segregation in Detroit was “caused by unknown and perhaps unknowable factors such as in-migration, birth rates, economic changes, or cumulative acts of private racial fears.” Red-lining, block-busting, and other banking and real estate sales “techniques” were hardly “unknown and perhaps unknowable factors” and the disparity in housing prices that emerged from these practices are hardly “unknown and perhaps unknowable factors”… but they persist today and are the root cause of the exacerbation of racial and economic segregation that persists as well.

Red States Didn’t Cut As Many Services as Feared… but the Bipartisan Desire for Charter Schools Has Transformed the Debate on Public Schools

August 19, 2019 Comments off

Today’s NYTimes features an op ed article by Matt Grossmann, director of the Institute for Public Policy and Social Research at Michigan State University, that suggests that the GOP has not made as many adverse inroads into public services as Democrats and progressives feared. Mr. Grossman provides compelling data on the limited ability of conservatives to impose their full  agenda at the state level, in large measure because they have to provide balanced budgets. But he misses one big point: the bi-partisan support for charter schools has transformed the debate on public education. After recounting the challenges State GOP legislators faced in trying to cut popular programs, Mr. Grossman offers this summary of the successes the GOP experienced:

Surprisingly, the biggest Republican state success stories came in partnership with Democrats. After decades of tough-on-crime policies, conservative groups joined with liberal foundations to reform criminal justice in several states. Taking advantage of federal action by Presidents Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and (especially) Barack Obama, conservative legislators helped greatly expand charter schools. Early childhood education and alternative energy promotion also expanded nationwide, largely on a bipartisan basis.

Mr. Grossman overlooked a very significant shift that appears to have taken place as a result of the Democrats adopting the neoliberal idea that public schools should be operated independently of local school boards.

The bi-patrisan support for charter schools means the debate between those seeking governance of public education by locally ELECTED officials as opposed to governance by private UNELECTED boards is over. The debate is now about whether parents’ decisions about where their child attends school should be made as citizens seeking options for government funded services (i.e. charter “schools-of-choice” vs. traditional schools “assigned by the government”) or made as consumers able to choose from a wide array of products (i.e. vouchers). In short, the debate is no longer between attending the “government school” that is funded with state and/or local taxes or choosing from an array of charters approved by the local and/or State Board. The debate is now between choice and vouchers… allowing parents to take their “school tax allocation” and applying to whatever school they wish to attend— on line, nearby, or distant. It appears that there is bi-partisan support for the abandonment of the governance model that has been in place for decades whereby local communities fund schools overseen by elected school boards that their local resident children must attend. Mr. Grossman may not see this as consequential. As a retired public school administrator I do.

Introducing a Valuable Skill for All the Wrong Reasons: When Economic Development Trumps Child Development

August 18, 2019 Comments off

I read with interest a recent NYTimes article by Dana Goldstein about the effort underway in Wyoming to move away from an economy based on diminishing low skill jobs related to extraction toward an economy based more on technology. The rationale for preparing students for a high tech world, though, seems flawed on two scores.

First, by making “economic development” the basis for mandating a course the State Education Department is explicitly linking schools to jobs– which is a fools errand in an age where jobs change far more rapidly than school curricula. Had the schools in the early 1960s tried to adapt their curricula to the emerging technology markets they would have never thought that computers would be available in the homes of the children they were teaching when they became adults and could not have possibly taught a computer language that would be applicable today. When I taught computers in the early 1970s we taught BASIC and used punch cards, the “state of the art” technology at the time— a language that is now as useless as Olde English and a process that seems prehistoric in an era of cloud data collections.

Second is the reality that the skills students need now to succeed in life are the same as the skills needed when I was in school— and they are the “soft skills” that schools avoid because they are not easy to define, harder yet to teach, and do not lend themselves to the “rigorous” (i.e. standardized test-based) measurement that provides a means of sorting students into groups. These life skills are also ones that cannot be replaced by a robot: they cannot be reduced to algorithms for they rely on human interactions.

And the idea of compelling schools to shoe-horn these new subjects into an already stuffed curriculum faces one other daunting challenge: money. As Ms. Goldstein reports:

…low taxes are an orthodoxy in Wyoming, and the Legislature did not dedicate any new dollars to the plan. That has left schools reliant on limited state, federal and philanthropic funds — and on individual educators… to bear the burden of introducing an entirely new subject.

Predictably, affluent schools, schools with wealthy benefactors looking out for them, and schools who obtain grants from philanthropists are doing well at meeting this fiscal challenge and, consequently, presumably preparing their children for a better world.

And just as predictably, the hopes of politicians to attack jobs that will entice students to remain in their home state seem likely to be dashed as well:

Wyoming educators say that despite the rhetoric of politicians and tech giants, they are teaching computer science to enrich their students, not to enrich the state.

“Our job is not to contain our kids in Wyoming,” said Craig Dougherty, the Sheridan superintendent. “They need to compete globally.”

And those who stay? They might benefit more from learning some of those soft skills and using their creative and interpersonal talents to develop businesses that cannot be outsourced. But since those skills are taught to measure… the kids are learning nothing of value.