Archive for January, 2021

Until We Forgive Trump His “Election Steal” Will Dominate the News… and Biden’s Agenda Will Flounder… Time to Move On

January 31, 2021 Comments off

Pasted below is an op ed piece I wrote for our local newspaper. It does not pertain directly to education, but I contend that until we put Donald Trump’s efforts to manipulate public opinion behind us we will never get to debate the far more substantive agenda put forth by the Biden administration. With that overarching introduction, here’s the op ed piece:

I was heartened by President Biden’s speech calling for unity. However, I fear that unity will be elusive as long as we keep rehashing the lies President Trump told, particularly  the Big Lie that led to the unlawful invasion of the Capitol on January 6. I believe that if Joe Biden wants to unify our nation, he should give a national address along these lines:

My Fellow Americans,

Ten days ago, I stood on the steps of the Capitol and took the oath of office to serve as President. I swore that to the best of my ability I would preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States. After taking that solemn oath I gave a speech in which I committed my whole soul to the task of “Bringing America together, uniting our people, uniting our nation” and I asked you to join me to help make this possible.

Two weeks before that ceremony, a small group of fellow Americans unlawfully entered the Capitol. Some of them vandalized the building and broke into locked offices, some stole items, and a handful threatened the lives of elected officials. Five lives were lost during this upheaval. All of those who marched on the Capitol did so in response to the baseless lie my predecessor repeated. He encouraged his supporters to gather in Washington to disrupt action by Congress to complete the process of certifying the election results. In doing so, he placed his desire to retain power over the truth and over the good of this nation.

For the past several days I’ve been pondering the question on how to bring justice to those who subverted the peaceful transfer of power without subverting my overarching goal of unity. After prayerful deliberation and discussion with my trusted advisors, I have come to the conclusion that the best way forward is to pardon my predecessor, Donald J. Trump. Let me explain my reasoning for this decision. The Department of Justice defines a pardon as  “…an expression of the President’s forgiveness (that is) ordinarily granted in recognition of the applicant’s acceptance of responsibility for the crime… It does not signify innocence.”

To date, my predecessor has not accepted any responsibility for his actions. Based on his history in business and in the office of President, I do not expect him to do so.

To date my predecessor not been convicted of any crime, though the Senate has scheduled a trial to determine his guilt or innocence. In November, though, he was tried by the public at the ballot box where he was defeated in an election that was conducted fairly and legally. Whether the Senate finds him guilty or innocent of the charges set forth by the House of Representatives, the public has rendered its verdict: I am the 46th President of the United States.

My pardon of Donald J. Trump does not signify his innocence. He repeatedly made false and divisive statements throughout his term of office, the most egregious being his lies regarding the legitimacy of the election results. On January 6 he repeated those lies to a crowd he encouraged to gather, a crowd he exhorted to disrupt Congress on his behalf. Because of his lies regarding the 2020 election, Mr. Trump is responsible for the deaths, damage, and menacing of elected officials that followed his speech. And even before his actions on January 6, Mr. Trump attempted to subvert and obstruct the certification of the results of the 2020 Presidential by threatening and publicly humiliating election officials in several states. This pardon in no way acquits Mr. Trump of his reckless lies or irresponsible conduct.

I also want to be clear that this pardon is limited only to those charges brought against him in House Resolution #24. The pardon does not apply to any charges brought against him in the future, charges brought in other courts, or other pending legal charges.

I grant this pardon with the expectation that debates about the validity of the election are settled and will cease. I realize that the lies my predecessor circulated were repeated and supported by many Senators and members of the House of Representatives, and the repetition of those lies deepened the divisions of this country. In two years, the voters will render their verdict on those House members and several some of the Senators who repeated or supported the lies of my predecessor. Between then and now, I expect all those elected to Congress will engage in truthful, civil, and productive debates, debates that will inform the public of their thinking and improve the well-being of everyone in this country.

Finally, and most importantly, I want to be clear that this pardon is an expression of my forgiveness of Donald J. Trump. In forgiving him, I am not accepting his beliefs or condoning his conduct. I am forgiving Donald J. Trump to free myself of the anger and resentment which would otherwise cloud my thinking as I strive to bring our nation together. I urge those of you who support unity over division to do the same. For the good of the nation, I ask you to let go of any anger and resentment you hold for the former President and any anger and resentment you feel for each other. The sooner we let go of our anger and resentment and the sooner our nation puts Mr. Trump’s divisive lies behind us, the sooner our nation will heal. I thank you for your support for my efforts to preserve, protect, and support the Constitution and to help restore the UNITED States of America.

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The Rubber is Hitting the Road for NYC Mayoral Candidates as they Weigh in on Testing Reforms, Desegregation Plans

January 30, 2021 Comments off

Eliza Shapiro’s recent NYTimes article describes the NYC mayoral candidates “positions” on testing reforms and it’s ugly result— desegregation. I put the word “positions” in quotes because, as Ms. Shapiro notes in her article, several of the candidates have taken no real position on the issue at all, instead falling back on anodyne platitudes or sidestepping the issue altogether. As the concluding paragraphs of her article indicates, there is a very good reason for this reluctance to stake out a position:

….Christina Greer, a professor of political science at Fordham University, …expects the candidates to remain vague to avoid offending voters.

“A lot of liberals like integration in theory, as long as it doesn’t touch their children at all,” she said. “For a lot of politicians, integration is a no-win.

Integration is a “no win” first and foremost because the “winners” in the current system of sifting out winners and losers— affluent white parents and Asian parents from all socio-economic levels—  want to preserve the status quo for fear that a change might put their higher status based on test-taking skills and parental persistence and wherewithal put their children at a decided advantage. Whenever an educational leader of politician advocates a change to the status quo these influential parents squawk and the proposed change is sidelined.

It’s also a “no win” because the solutions all cost money— directly or indirectly. The notion of increasing the number of gifted programs so that EVERY school can offer one would add to the budget and– presumably– diminish the value of the “gifted” tag parents value… a tag that increases their child’s ability to secure a seat in a competitive college.

The indirect cost would be the impact on real estate premiums. Parents who own homes in neighborhoods where their children are zoned into “high performing” schools— which are predominantly white or Asian— would see their homes lose value if children were assigned to schools randomly instead of by neighborhood. What’s the point in moving into a neighborhood whose school is “high performing” if that school is no longer exclusively housing children from the nearby high-priced homes or if the schools accepts children from a nearby housing project or homeless shelter?

And should the Democrats running for mayor stray too far afield in trying to address resegregation, it is likely a “moderate” Republican will enter the fray and prevail by offering some kind of platitudinous solution that won’t increase taxes and will effectively maintain the status quo. That Republican candidate might wrap their “integration” plan into the language of “choice” and “merit”.

And here’s the bad news for candidates: the issue is NOT going to go away!

An influential activist movement led by city students is accelerating pressure on the candidates to make clear how integration would fit into their plans to reshape New York’s public school system, the nation’s largest. And a national reckoning over racism has forced the candidates to square the city’s self-image as a progressive bastion with its unequal school system.

So… what IS the solution? I think the complete elimination of any testing for “gifted and talented” students would be an essential first step accompanied by an expansion of the community schools initiative Mayor de Blasio launched. In place of any gifted and talented programs at the PreK-8 level I would provide robust enrichment programs in and after school and open to all children. For the time being, I would avoid any spat over the eight “elite” schools whose existence and entrance are governed by the State. Instead, I would focus on spending more on all high schools and offering something akin to the Flexible Pathways program offered to good effect in Vermont. This work-study program offers a means for students to get academic credit for jobs they get in their communities, which has the effect of linking schools with the workplaces in their communities while dignifying the work done by those who lack a college degree. A program of that kind sends many messages to students: there are many jobs that do not require a college degree that pay well; you don’t need a college degree to have dignity; and not everything that schools promote as “important” are important in the workplace; and workplace skills are best taught in the real world workplace.

This outline is not perfect… but it is a preferable place to start than the status quo. Here’s hoping some unorthodox candidate like Andrew Yang is working now on some unorthodox solution that will move the school segregation debate away from test-driven “giftedness” as the only way forward.

Elite Colleges and State Flagship Universities Drop SAT, ACT and Their Applications Soar and Transformative Change Might be Possible

January 30, 2021 Comments off

Washington Post writer Nick Anderson reports that applications to elite colleges and the flagship state universities are soaring because they have dropped the requirement that applicants submit their standardized test scores. He writes:

The pandemic has given huge — and in some places, decisive — momentum to a movement to reduce or even eliminate the use of admissions testing at highly competitive colleges and universities.

That, in turn, has lured more applicants to the upper tier of the market.

U-Va. and Harvard were among a large bloc of schools that temporarily suspended their requirements for SAT or ACT scores because the public health emergency prevented many college-bound students from taking the exams.

While the length hiatus on the submission of test scores varies from school to school, the impact on application rates is unquestionable… and given the need for these colleges to quickly sift through a higher pile of applications the most likely data point admissions offices will use is the GPA, making the grades students earn in high school even more important.

While the increased number of applicants to top tier colleges is heartening, there was some bad news in the applicant pool this year:

There was also a 2% dip in applicants with enough financial need to receive fee waivers, and a 3% drop in those who would be among the first in their families to go to college.

Jenny Rickard, president and chief executive of the Common App, said she was “very concerned” about those declines.

As one who worked in school districts with a large number of students who would qualify for financial aid and be the first in their families to attend college, this is not surprising. In those districts guidance counselors often spent lots of time and energy encouraging students in that demographic to apply and persuading parents that enrolling in college was not a “waste of money”. This was a bigger problem in the late 1970s when male students could often get relatively high paying jobs “working in the woods” in Maine and working in factories in the suburban Philadelphia district where I worked. At that time, many of the families were still uncomfortable with the notion of their daughters pursuing post-secondary education for anything other than nursing and teaching… a belief that was diminishing somewhat by the late 1980s.

Mr. Anderson quotes the heads of the SAT and ACT as being unconcerned:

The College Board, which owns the SAT, said it supports “flexibility in admissions during the pandemic.” The rival ACT takes much the same position.

“I think a lot of schools are going to stay test-optional,” said ACT chief executive Janet Godwin. But she said research shows that “higher ed still does see value in scores for a whole bunch of reasons.”

Testing, she said, helps colleges connect with potential applicants and vice versa. She said she worries that many students might miss out on opportunities if they don’t take an admission test. Access and equity, she said, are “the driving force behind everything we do.” About a quarter million students are registered for the ACT’s next test date on Feb. 6.

Their brave faces might be a front given the SATs decision to abandon several so-called achievement tests and the long term prognosis that indicates an increasing skepticism about the value of the test scores a predictors of success in college.

Mr. Anderson DIDN’T interview one organization that will clearly be at a loss: the US News and World Report whose ratings are deeply rooted in SAT scores. If both the reliance of standardized tests and the rating systems based on those test scores disappear, it will help transform education in a way that could be revolutionary. With no means of sorting and selecting based on a single test, schools will have to fall back on examining the strengths and weaknesses of each student as an individual…. and with the recent use of computer technology to “personalize” education we could see an end to the divisive practices that result from using test scores to sort and select. THAT would be a real transformation for the better.