Installation of Metal Detectors Supported Because Kids Are Shooting Each Other Off Campus with Guns… but Guns Aren’t the Problem?

October 17, 2018 Leave a comment

I read with a mix of astonishment, bewilderment, and frustration that Duval County FL is going to spend $2.5 million to install walk through metal detectors and provide hand wands in each of its high schools. This decision was characterized as one that appeared to

“…reverse a long-held position held by Duval County Schools’ previous leaders, including former Superintendent Nikolai Vitti, who were reluctant to take that measure in part because of cost and a belief that relationships between students and school staff were better options for unearthing weapons in school.

Based on some news reports, it was unclear who made the decision. But reported it was announced by Micheal Edwards, director of the district’s police force… which is unsurprising to me since police are more likely to believe in the power of preventative screening that the value of relationships between students and school staff. The school board chair weighed in as well:

Ten of the 30 Duval County public school students who died last year were victims of gun violence, School Board Chairwoman Paula Wright said last month. From January to mid-September, 21 Jacksonville youths were injured by guns, more than in most Florida cities, she added.

So… because many students who attend schools were injured outside of school the Board, the district police chief, and the newly appointed Superintendent are all in on screening each and every child each and every day at each and every entrance to each and every high school. And anyone who has operated a school would realize that the reported cost $2.5 million for the equipment, which includes better surveillance cameras, is just the beginning. Whoever mans these devices will need to be paid and their use will clearly need to be extended to after school activities, sports events, and plays and band performances… which means more personnel costs.

But wait! Maybe more staff will not need to be added! Why? Because:

School administrators will operate the metal detectors and wands, Edwards said, because Florida law gives more leeway for administrators to search student bags than police would have.

When I read these reports it makes me wonder what kind of individuals will be drawn to assuming administrative positions in the future…. and how those administrators, who spend their mornings and evenings monitoring the front doors will ever be able to find the time to develop the kinds of relationships that provide support children need. I am certain that the former Superintendent, Mr. Vitti, is shaking his head as well….


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Students Across the Nation Fight for #FreeCollege4All

October 17, 2018 Leave a comment

As these students fight for #FreeCollege4All they also need to be ready to fight for #MoreTaxes4All… even Bernie Sanders acknowledges that the trade off for lower student debt will be higher taxes… and until folks who see #FreeCollege4All acknowledge that reality as part of their campaign they will come across as naive or disingenuous.

Source: Students Across the Nation Fight for #FreeCollege4All

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Three Research Studies Prove the Obvious: Attendance, Family Income, and Retention Policies Matter

October 17, 2018 Leave a comment

Over the past three weeks I have read three research reports that prove three seemingly self evident facts: attendance; family income; and retention policies all matter.

A recent study by the Economic Policy Institute proved that Woody Allen was right when he said that 80% of success is showing up. Here’s the synopsis of the research findings of Emma Garcia and Elaine Weiss:

Our analysis also confirms prior research that missing school hurts academic performance:Among eighth-graders, those who missed school three or more days in the month before being tested scored between 0.3 and 0.6 standard deviations lower (depending on the number of days missed) on the 2015 NAEP mathematics test than those who did not miss any school days.

And whether you go to a public school or a private school matters a LOT less than your mother and father’s income, as Robin Young’s interview with University of Virginia researcher Robert Pianta revealed. Here’s a synopsis of the study as rendered by Mr. Pianta:

…if you just simply look at private school versus public school — don’t consider any other factor in the kids’ history — you see huge benefits to being in private school. They’re about a standard deviation of like 15 points higher on test scores, they’re more motivated and the like. And then as soon as you put into the equation that you’re using to predict, as soon as you put in family income, those differences disappear — and they never reappear again, no matter how many other variables that you put in.

“So the idea basically being, that it’s what’s happening in kids’ families and the kinds of conditions that they’re able to purchase for their kids and the circumstances that they’re able to provide for their kids over the long haul that really matter in adding up to the kinds of things that we assessed in ninth grade.”

As I’ve cited frequently in this blog, the State of Pennsylvania found a correlation between father’s income and test scores in the 1970s and that ending has been replicated ever since then. This inconvenient fact has not stopped “reformers” from using test scores as a bludgeon to “prove” that schools serving low income children are “failing”.

The third study that proves what any school administrator could have told you involved the impact of holding middle school students back. As reported by Chalkbeat writer Matt Barnum, when Middle School aged youngsters are held back their probability of dropping out of school increases:

Being held back a grade in middle school, researchers found, substantially increased the chance that students dropped out of high school. In Louisiana, being retained in either fourth or eighth grade increased dropout rates by nearly 5 points. In New York City, the spike was startling: dropout rates were 10 points higher than similar students who weren’t held back.

The notion that all children learn at the same rate is preposterous on its face… anyone who has more than one child knows that each of them matured at a different rate and each learned to walk, talk, and read at different times in their lives. Yet the idea that everyone learns the same way and at the same rate persists and underlies the testing of our students who are bathed in age-based cohorts.

It is maddening that we spend time and energy proving what has already been well established… but I suppose until what has been well established in RESEARCH is well established in REALITY that we will continue to prove the self-evident.

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‘They’re Doing Us Like They Did New Orleans’: Anger at Trump Inaction as Hurricane Michael Leaves Millions Without Power and Basic Needs

October 16, 2018 Leave a comment

All of the public schools in one county are closed and, based on one report, several schools across the state are irreparable. Using the “New Orleans Miracle” as a template, what do you think will happen to schools destroyed by the hurricane?  My guess: they will ALL be closed and privatized…

Source: ‘They’re Doing Us Like They Did New Orleans’: Anger at Trump Inaction as Hurricane Michael Leaves Millions Without Power and Basic Needs

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The Competitive College’s Efforts to Diversify Backfire

October 15, 2018 Leave a comment

In 1996 when my younger daughter was a college senior applying to colleges I was living in Western Maryland in a county that was identified as being a part of Appalachia. My daughter was a strong student and by virtue of pursuing her natural interests, drama, distance running, and writing, she ended up with a “good resume” that enabled her to apply for a get accepted into two “elite” New England colleges: Brown and Amherst. Once accepted into these colleges, she attended their recruitment weekends where the admissions office tries to persuade its pool of accepted applicants to chose their school over others. At both of these colleges we heard the same message from the Admissions Office: they had waded through thousands of applicants and “created” an incoming Freshman Class that reflected a cross section of America that was heterogeneous geographically and culturally but all capable of succeeding in college. That ability of admissions officers to create such a heterogeneous cohort is now under fire.

The recent news that Harvard is being sued by Asian American students is the latest case of an elite institution being sued for “reverse discrimination” of one kind or another, and in “Elite College Admissions Are Broken” Atlantic writer Alia Wong contends that racial discrimination is only a symptom of a much deeper problem: the outsize demand for entry into these colleges is driven by the questionable motive of status-seeking… and colleges can’t really “fix” that problem. As Ms. Wong writes:

How do you stop Americans from associating, to borrow the words of the Harvard law professor and affirmative-action scholar Lani Guinier, “selectivity with excellence”? Universities—both elite and open-access, private and public—are heavily reliant on students’ tuition money and research-grant funding, and are thus forced to compete with each other to stay on top. And even they wanted to band together in an effort to fix the admissions system, those fixes would likely be prohibited by federal antitrust law, as The Atlantic’s Jeff Selingo has reported; many of the proposed solutions would require colleges to share information about applicants with each other and thus cooperate, violating laws pertaining to corporate competition. As one college-admissions expert concluded in a 2012 interview with Inside Higher Ed, students and colleges just keep “chasing each other around a round table.”

And when colleges have thousands of applicants, the ultimate decisions about whom to accept can turn on very arbitrary factors. Ms. Wong quotes college admissions “coach” Naomi Sternberg to illustrate this point:

“You can do everything ‘right’—have a 35 [out of 36 on the ACT]; have a lot of leadership, whatever that means; have all the things on some fictitious checklist of things you assumed you need to do—and you are just as likely or exceedingly not likely to get into insert-whatever-premium-university-here,” Steinberg says, stressing how arbitrary the process can be. “Admissions officers are thinking, ‘I need a red-headed, ambidextrous tennis-star-slash-tuba-player,’ and now they can’t take your application that was thoughtful and wonderful because of the directive that just came down. … They just need a student to fill that spot on the beautiful mosaic they’re creating.”

I recall hearing a variant of this from the Admissions Officer at Amherst when we were visiting there the first time to discuss whether my daughter might qualify for financial aid. He said that if the first oboe in the orchestra was scheduled to graduate an oboist would get in before a Valedictorian with high SAT scores, a response that, to me, was common sensical and reasonable.

What makes even more sense to me is the need for competitive colleges to preserve space for low income students who are attending colleges for the first time. In order to accomplish this, many elite colleges instituted a “holistic” approach to admissions— though, as Ms. Wong notes, their motives were not necessarily high-minded:

In the early 20th century, the country’s handful of elite universities began to request essays, teacher recommendations, and other information regarding candidates’ “background” and “character” beyond an entrance-exam score in their effort to surreptitiously restrict the number of Jewish students on campus. But the scope and purpose of this “holistic” approach to evaluating students has evolved since then, and today in its most genuine form evaluates each applicant through the lens of her context—her interests and personality, yes, but also her race and parents’ educational background, for example, and the ways in which that identity may have hindered her opportunities. These days, elite colleges tend to “laud it as a legally viable method to reduce inequality and promote college access,”according to a 2017 University of Michigan policy brief co-authored by the higher-education professor Michael Bastedo. Holistic admissions can be very effective at achieving those goals: A recent study by Bastedo and several co-researchers published in the Journal of Higher Education that analyzed higher-education institutions across the U.S. found that those that use holistic admissions are far more likely than those that don’t to enroll low-income students. 

But “holistic” approaches defy objective standardization and are thus suspect in the minds of those who believe anything “subjective” is suspect.

As readers of this blog realize, this valuing of standardized “objective” scoring is not limited to those who challenge college admissions standards: it is clearly a part of the ranking systems used by US News and World Report… and the rankings imposed on public education by NCLB, RTTT, and now ESSA. If we ever hope to restore the ideal of our entire nation as a “beautiful mosaic” instead of a shark tank we need to re-think the entire college application process… by making college available to any student who wants to attend at any time in their life.

Humanist Entrepreneur Offers Four Ways to Change the Dominant Paradigm

October 15, 2018 Leave a comment

The Evonomics blog offers weekly articles that offer thought provoking insights into how our economy could evolve into one that serves all consumers and citizens more effectively. This week’s blog offered a post that was an acceptance speech by “serial entrepreneur” Nick Hanauer. And the award he was receiving? The 2018 Harvard and MIT Humanist of the Year. 

His speech was full of pithy quotes about the failed Homo Economicus model that has dominated Western thinking for the past several decades. In the speech, Mr. Hanauer described the flaws of the current economic paradigm and his belief that our perspectives on how the market really works:

I believe (we have) a fundamentally flawed understanding of how market capitalism works, grounded in the dubious assumption that human beings are “homo economicus”:  perfectly selfish, perfectly rational, and relentlessly self-maximizing. It is this behavioral model upon which all the other models of orthodox economics are built. And it is nonsense.

The last 40 years of research across multiple scientific disciplines has proven, with certainty, that homo economicus does not exist. Outside of economic models, this is simply not how real humans behave. Rather, Homo sapiens have evolved to be other-regarding, reciprocal, heuristic, and intuitive moral creatures. We can be selfish, yes—even cruel. But it is our highly evolved prosocial nature—our innate facility for cooperation, not competition—that has enabled our species to dominate the planet, and to build such an extraordinary—and extraordinarily complex—quality of life. Pro-sociality is our economic super power.

In effect, Mr. Hanauer is arguing that that the Ayn Rand philosophy of economics– the so-called “Virtue of Selfishness”– proposed by Milton Friedman that is explicitly endorsed by the Conservatives and implicitly endorsed by the neo-liberals is wrong. Instead of adopting the “Greed is Good” credo we should instead adopt a pro-social credo based on the Golden Rule. If we did use the prosocial approach, here’s what Mr. Hanauer sees as the result… and it is full of great quotes, which are flagged in italicized red:

Properly viewed through this prosocial economic lens, we see clearly that it is our humanity, not the absence of it, that is the source of our prosperity.

But of course, in working to change the way we think about the economy, my ultimate goal is to change the way we act within it. And to this end, I’d like to close by offering four simple heuristics to guide your own actions and activism:

Heuristic number one: Capitalism is self-organizing, but not self-regulating.

The notion of market capitalism as a Pareto-optimal closed, equilibrium system is—to use the technical term—bullshit. Throughout the world, the most broadly prosperous capitalist economies are also the most highly regulated and highly taxed. To be clear: Government investment and intervention is not a necessary evil. It is just plain necessary.

Which leads us to heuristic number two: True capitalism is not shareholder capitalism.

The neoliberal claim that the sole purpose of the corporation is to enrich shareholders is the most egregious grift in contemporary life. Corporations are granted limited liability in exchange for improving the common good. Thus, the true purpose of the corporation is to build great products for customers, provide good jobs for employees, provide a fair return to shareholders and to make their communities stronger—in coequal measure.

Heuristic Three: Capitalism is effective, but not efficient.

Schumpeter’s “perennial gale of creative destruction” has proven extraordinarily effective at raising our aggregate standard of living, but it can also be extraordinarily wasteful, cruel, and unequal—unequal to the point that it threatens to destroy capitalism itself. If our economy and our democracy are to survive the ever-quickening pace of technological change, we must use every tool available to close “the innovation gap” between our economic institutions and our civic institutions.

And finally, heuristic number four: True capitalists are moral capitalists.

Being rapacious doesn’t make you a capitalist. It makes you an asshole and a sociopath. In an economy dependent on complex trust networks to facilitate the cooperative tasks from which prosperity emerges, and when prosperity itself is understood—not as money but as solutions to human problems—true capitalists understand that every economic act is an explicitly moral choice—and they act accordingly.

Mr. Hanauer concluded his speech with this hopeful and uplifting note:

And so, to all the aspiring business and technology leaders in the audience today, I want to challenge you to adopt an alternative credo, far more ambitious—and more humanist—than Google’s “Don’t be evil”: “Be good.” Or maybe, “Always do the right thing.”

And when you do the right thing, do it with confidence that if it is the right thing to do for your customers, for your employees, for your community, and for the planet—then it is also the right thing to do for your shareholders.

I hope the audience heard Mr. Hanauer’s plea and adopts his recommended credo… but I fear that doing right by the shareholders will be a hard paradigm to overcome.

The Free Market in Public Schools is Creating— or Reinforcing the Existence of “School Deserts”

October 14, 2018 Leave a comment

Andrea Gabor, the Bloomberg chair of business journalism at Baruch College of the City University of New York, recently wrote an op ed article for that concisely describes the way privatizers undermined the original intent of charter schools and expropriated the laws passed to enhance them to their own ends. Diane Ravitch quoted from the article extensively in a post yesterday, which included these two paragraphs:

“Now the charter industry is reaching an inflection point. Business backers are pushing to expand charter schools at an unprecedented rate, doubling down on the idea that free markets are the best approach to improving K-12 education. At the same time, critics — some from within the charter movement — are shining a spotlight on the industry’s failures and distortions…

That faith in markets isn’t supported by the evidence, however. Studies show that, on average, charter schools and traditional public schools produce similar results. But freedom from regulation is associated not with success but with especially high failure rates; charter-school performance tends to be weakest in states with the laxest rules for ensuring education quality.

From the efficiency minded business perspective, the charters ARE succeeding by the only metric that counts in the corporate world: they are making money AND they are operating efficiently in the sense that they are delivering the the same results for a lower cost. Given that reality, why would a taxpayer protest against privatization? After all, if their taxes remain stable and the results stay the same why would they complain? . Haven’t they been paying more for the same results for decades?

Moreover, why would any free marketeer be concerned if the parents of children raised in impoverished neighborhoods don’t have the same choice of schools as the parents of children raised in affluence? The answer is they aren’t concerned at all! The privatizers realize that too many parents in affluent communities believe that parents in impoverished communities have the same opportunities as they do. But that is clearly NOT the case. Do the parents of children raised in impoverished neighborhoods have the same choice of supermarkets as the parents of children raised in affluence? Do they have the same choice of gas stations? Of department stores? Of stores that sell clothing? And… is the unregulated “market” responding to this inequality?

The market IS working in the privatization of public schools… and the ultimate result will be the creation— or more accurately— the reinforcement of “schooling deserts” that mirror the “food deserts” that currently exist in impoverished neighborhoods. In the meantime, the privateers will not have to worry about an uprising from the upper middle class parents who are safely ensconced in their well-heeled public schools governed by elected school boards… nor will they have to worry about an uprising from politicians as long as they get the same results without increasing taxes.

As long as the argument is about getting the most possible from as little taxation as possible, the privatizers will prevail. Instead of supporting candidates who want to reinvent government to resemble business we should look to candidates who want to restore the equal opportunities for all, even if it means spending more money and having more government regulation.