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College Board’s Two Key AP Courses COULD Put Democracy on the Right Track

February 13, 2019 Leave a comment

As readers of this blog may hove noted, I often disagree with NYTimes columnist Thomas Friedman, who reliably supports neoliberal ideas about “school reform” and often reinforces the ideas set forth by Anand Giridharadas’ MarketWorld proponents. But I found myself nodding in agreement with his column today that supported the College Board’s assertion that two AP courses are needed to set a better course for democracy: Coding and the US Constitution.

The coding course focuses not on a specific computer language. Instead it focussed on the self-actualization that is possible when one learns how to DEVELOP uses for the computer as opposed having the computer dictate uses to students. Here’s the pitch the College Board used to attract a larger and more diverse enrollment in AP Computer Science:

What is it that you’d like to do in the world? Music? Art? Science? Business? Great! Then come build an app in the furtherance of that interest and learn the principles of computer science, not just coding, (College Board President David) Coleman said. “Learn to be a shaper of your environment, not just a victim of it.”

Both Mr. Friedman and College Board President David Coleman view the AP US Constitution course s being essential for future success. Why?

Every student needs to understand that, as Coleman put it, “our country was argued into existence — and that is the first thing that binds us — but also has some of the tensions that divide us. So we thought, ‘What can we do to help replace the jeering with productive conversation?’”

It had to start in high school, said (Stefanie) Sanford, (the College Board chief of global policy), who is leading the “two codes” initiative. “Think of how much more ready you are to participate in college and society with an understanding of the five freedoms that the First Amendment protects — of speech, assembly, petition, press and religion. The First Amendment lays the foundation for a mature community of conversation and ideas — built on the right and even obligation to speak up and, when needed, to protest, but not to interrupt and prevent others from speaking.”

This becomes particularly important, she noted, “when technology and democracy are thought of as in conflict, but are actually both essential” and need to work in tandem.

I completely agree with Mr. Friedman’s thinking about the essential need for informed citizens of the future to have a deep and fundamental understanding of both coding AND the constitution. In tandem they offer an opportunity to develop both convergent and divergent thinking and, most importantly, provide the skill sets students need to function in a democracy.

And while I generally oppose high stakes tests, I DO think that requiring all students to pass two AP tests like these would improve the pool of voters substantially. So here’s the question: which state will sign on first to make this happen?

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A Shortfall in Gambling Profits Dedicated for the Funding of NH Kindergartens Put Public Education Advocates in a Box

February 12, 2019 Leave a comment

Concord Monitor reporter Ethan DeWitt wrote an article the appeared in today’s Valley News indicating that there is a serious revenue in the gambling revenues that could result in a shortfall of funding for Kindergarten’s across the state.

The game pulled in $8.3 million in sales in its first few months – Fiscal Year 2018 – and is projected to garner just under $15 million in Fiscal Year 2019, which ends in June, according to figures provided by the Lottery Commission on Monday.

But after expenses and prize payouts, those numbers diminish to $1.5 million of net profits in its first year, and $2.3 million in its second, according to the commission. That’s the money that ultimately makes it into the state coffers for kindergarten.

Those profits — exacerbated by several rejections of keno in major cities and towns — are far below the estimated $11 million needed to provide the minimum additional adequacy under the keno bill. The shortfalls mean the state will be picking up the tab for the rest, and that school districts are unlikely to get more than the minimum.

The consequences appear to be innocuous… but the Governor is concerned enough that he sent an email to all Superintendents alerting them budget only $1100 per student— the minimum amount allowed by law– as they prepare their budgets. Moreover, given New Hampshire’s notorious inability to raise any supplemental revenue and their past practice in fulfilling funding promises it would not surprise me if the State did not keep its commitment to meet the minimum figure.

And here’s what I find despicable: the schools in communities who rejected the keno “opportunity” might find themselves at a point where they might feel compelled to support gambling so that they can get sufficient funds for their Kindergarten children. While this has been a de facto reality at the STATE level, the NH legislatures unwillingness to mandate a statewide gambling program pushed it down to the local level. When faced with revenue shortfalls due to the lack of Keno funds and angry voters whose taxes are increasing, school boards in towns who failed to adopt Keno might find themselves in an awkward position. But then in New Hampshire, where so called “sin-taxes” on alcohol, cigarettes, and gambling are the major source of revenue, voters who drink, smoke, and gamble are prized. Those who earn money, not so much.

 

Seattle Complaint About “Liberal Bias” Has One Flaw: It’s Based on Facts

February 4, 2019 Leave a comment

Dori Monson, a Seattle talk-radio host who describes himself as “right-leaning”, “center right”, and “libertarian“, recently wrote a post for KIRO radio’s website titled “Seattle Public Schools indoctrinate youth with Scholastic reader”. In this post Mr. Monson uses an email from a listener to describe the “indoctrination” as follows:

My daughter attends fourth grade in the Seattle School District. She has a weekly assignment to read the “Scholastic News” reader that is for reading comprehension. This week’s edition had a cover story titled, ‘Women in the House,’ about the increase of women being elected to Congress with some history of women’s suffrage. While I didn’t have any objections with the article for the most part, it’s the cover that I found troubling for several reasons. On the cover are five newly-elected women to Congress, including Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Rashida Tlaib, and Ilhan Omar.

This cover is the continual far-Left indoctrination by our public schools. First, there are no Republican Congresswomen on the cover. You also have the Socialist agenda being pushed with AOC. The most troubling, however, is that you have two outright anti-Semites represented with Tlaib and Omar, as well as AOC’s association with Al Sharpton and her membership with the Democratic Socialists of America, who support the Boycott, Divest, Sanctions movement against Israel.

This is how it begins, normalizing people like this by putting them on a cover linked to a story about women achieving.

So… based on one parent’s email Mr. Monson has come to the conclusion that Scholastic is perpetuating some kind of left-wing agenda. Funny… my memory of Scholastic from my teaching and administration days was that it was moderate to a fault and clearly driven by the profit motive… and Wikipedia’s section describing criticisms of Scholastic bears that memory out. Under the heading “Criticism”, Wikipedia offers this critique of Scholastic:

Scholastic has been criticized for inappropriately marketing to children. Also, Scholastic now requires parents to submit children’s names with birth dates to place online orders, creating controversy. A significant number of titles carried have strong media tie-ins and are considered relatively short in literary and artistic merit by some critics.[18] Consumer groups have also attacked Scholastic for selling too many toys and video games to children, rather than focusing on just books. In July, 2005, Scholastic determined that certain leases previously accounted for as operating leases should have been accounted for as capital leases. The cumulative effect, if recorded in the current year, would be material. As a result, it decided to restate its financial statements.

Nothing anywhere about promulgating “leftist propaganda”. Rather, Scholastics biggest problem seems to be violating privacy (in order to sell information on children) or— stated more bluntly— focussing too much on its shareholders!

Nevertheless, Mr. Monson determined that Scholastic was clearly biased and promoting a leftist agenda. But there is a problem with his analysis: in fact the number of female GOP congressmen declined in the 2019 class while the number of Democrats spiked: 
So

So was the report flagging five newly elected Democrats “biased” or factual? And was the decision to flag three of the most diverse members of the newly elected Congress “biased” or factual? Here’s a report from the Washington Post on the day after the election:

The women who ran this year were remarkably diverse — black, Latina, Native American. But noticeably absent on ballots were more Republican women.

“We need to go out and get our women engaged,” said Sarah Chamberlain, president and CEO of Republican Main Street Partnership. “We are being dwarfed by the Democrats. This is something we are going to focus on.”

Yes, I know, it’s the Washington Post a left-leaning publication if there ever was one… but they are quoting the president and CEO of Republican Main Street Partnership for goodness sakes.

It will come as no surprise to regular readers of this blog that I am left-leaning, progressive, and all in favor of diversity— which is to say I favor democracy! Here’s hoping there is a counter-alining voice to Mr. Monson somewhere on the airwaves.

Allowing Bible Study in Schools: Another Distraction to the REAL Issue Facing Public Schools

February 2, 2019 1 comment

Over the past week I have read countless articles about the issue of whether public schools should be allowed to offer Bible study. This article by Jeffery Solochek from the Tampa Bay Times gives a good run down of the recent coverage, which was widened even more when President Trump tweeted on the issue. Here’s the opening paragraphs from Mr. Solochek’s article:

When President Trump tweeted his praise for states looking to authorize Bible literacy courses in public schools, it wasn’t exactly a surprise that Florida would be in the mix, given its history. The state — along with Missouri, North Dakota, Indiana, Virginia and West Virginia — has a bill pending (HB 195) in the Legislature that would require high schools to offer an elective course on the Bible and religion.

An existing state law, approved in 2002, already gives school districts the option of providing courses that include the “objective study” of the Bible. The proposed law would require school districts to make those courses available, and students could decide whether to enroll.

The rationale for co-sponsor Rep. Brad Drake, a Fort Walton Beach Republican, is clear.

“A study of a book of creation by its creator is absolutely essential,” Drake said, suggesting the lessons of kindness and tolerance might help reduce other state problems, such as crime.

“So why not?” he asked. “It’s the book that prepares us for eternity, and there’s no other book that does that.”

From my perspective, “Why Not?” is the wrong question. The right question is “WHY???”

One response to that question is offered by Rachel Laser, CEO of Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, who sees the proposed legislation as part of “…a design to codify a Christian America“. Ms. Laser sees this bill as building on one introduced and passed last year that requires all public schools in Florida to post the words “In God We Trust” in a prominent place on campus…. a law that was also introduced and passed in several other states.

My response to that question is more malevolent. I see legislators introducing this kind of hot-button legislation as a way of diverting time, energy, and attention away from the real problem facing public schools: the need for more funding and more equitable funding. I am confident that if the local Superintendents who Brad Drake represents were asked to list their most important legislative priorities for the coming session that Bible studies would not even make the list. But then posting “In God We Trust” in schools was not on their list for 2018… Indeed, Mr. Solochek reported on the Superintendents priorities ten weeks ago:

Aiming to protect academic programs while meeting increased security demands, Florida’s school superintendents have created a legislative platform that focuses heavily on convincing lawmakers to put more money into the system.

Is Mr. Drake doing anything to address that issue? Are any Florida legislators doing so? Is President Trump trying to do anything to address that issue?

Florida Superintendents DO trust in God… but their trust in the legislature?

 

Foxconn’s Promised Jobs in Wisconsin Evaporate… and the Fingerprinting Begins

February 1, 2019 Comments off

Common Dreams reporter Jake Johnson has been tracking the Foxconn con job in Wisconsin for several months and his latest reports are scathing for those who advocate the use of federal, state and local funding to offer “economic incentives” to private corporations. As reported in this blog in August 2017, the State of Wisconsin, reportedly unable to find funds for schools during the prior year’s legislative session, DID manage to find $3,000,000,000 to entice the Taiwanese tech firm Foxconn to build a factory in their state, a factory that promised to bring 13,000 manufacturing jobs to the state. As the aphorism says, if something seems too goor to be true, it probably is… and Foxconn is proving to be no exception. Here’s the latest report from Jake Johnson:

As Reuters reported on Wednesday, the Taiwanese tech firm—which Walker lured to Wisconsin with over $4 billion in taxpayer subsidies—is now saying “it intends to hire mostly engineers and researchers rather than the manufacturing workforce the project originally promised.”

In an exclusive interview with Reuters, Louis Woo, a special assistant to Foxconn chairman Terry Gou, said the company is completely walking back its plan to build $10 billion factory in Wisconsin.

“In Wisconsin we’re not building a factory. You can’t use a factory to view our Wisconsin investment,”Woo said.

As Reuters notes, FoxConn “initially said it expected to employ about 5,200 people by the end of 2020; a company source said that figure now looks likely to be closer to 1,000 workers. It is unclear when the full 13,000 workers will be hired. But Woo, in the interview, said about three-quarters of Foxconn’s eventual jobs will be in R&D and design—what he described as ‘knowledge’ positions—rather than blue-collar manufacturing jobs.”

Oops! No factory??? No jobs for working class voters who supported Mr. Trump’s and Mr. Walker’s union busting? Unsurprisingly, the GOP leadership in the state is blaming this on Tony Evers, the recently elected governor who, they allege, scared Foxconn away by trying to renegotiate with them. The unfortunate truth of the matter for the GOP is that Foxconn’s latest announcement is a follow up to an earlier announcement they made in early November, before Mr. Evers even took office.

Jake Johnson concludes his article with this quote from President Trump, who came to the groundbreaking ceremony in Wisconsin when Foxconn announced their plans:

“I’m thrilled to be here in the Badger State with the hardworking men and women of Foxconn working with you,” Trump declared during the event. “Moments ago, we broke ground on a plant that will provide jobs for much more than 13,000 Wisconsin workers. Really something. Really something.”

Will Mr. Trump come to the funeral to bury the $3,000,000,000 for the 13,000 jobs that are unlikely to ever materialize… $3,000,000,000 that could have gone into the Wisconsin economy had the Governor “found” the money to pay teachers in the state?

Oregon Legislators Mull “Too Young to Test” Legislation… But Luddite Parents Across the Country COULD Undercut Effectiveness of Tests Altogether

January 28, 2019 Comments off

Some Oregon legislators have had enough high stakes testing… and to ensure that it does not spread any further than it already has they’ve introduced a “Too Young to Test” bill that will forbid the use of standardized tests in the early grades. But there may be a way to end all testing according to a Eugene Weekly Op Ed piece by Roscoe Caron and Larry Lewin, retired Eugene School District middle school teachers, and Pat and Jan Eck, retired elementary educators.

Oregonians have an opportunity to change things in a good way. We have the chance to say “No” to the developmentally inappropriate and harmful practice of testing-sorting-tracking little children.

We can say “No” to the drive to minimize their other important qualities, such as creativity, divergent thinking and problem-solving.

One way to change things is for all of us to tell our legislators to support the “Too Young to Test” bill (HB 2318) that has been introduced by Rep. John Lively (D- Springfield). It would prohibit the state government and local districts from standardized testing children from pre-kindergarten through grade 2.

It is modeled on legislation in New York, New Jersey and Illinois. It would allow teachers to make their own professional decisions about which assessments to administer.

The second way is for parents to “Just Say No” to every form of standardized testing that they can.

This is where the ultimate power is: If parents say “no more” — by opting their children out — the testing juggernaut will begin to collapse. We could then join much of the rest of the world in giving a few well-constructed, classroom-based assessments, and save our kids from harm, save our teachers and principals from dispirited burnout and save taxpayers tens of millions of dollars a year.

It struck me as I read the second option— a complete bail out of testing— that parents who opt out of standardized tests are the modern day version of the Luddites. Here’s a description of the Luddite movement from Wikipedia:

The Luddites were a secret oath-based organization of English textile workers in the 19th century, where a radical faction destroyed textile machinery as a form of protest. The group was protesting the use of machinery in a “fraudulent and deceitful manner” to get around standard labour practices.

I see a clear analogy between the opposition to standardized testing and the opposition to textile machinery. Luddites did not oppose “technology”, they opposed the erosion of skills that accompanied the spread of technology. Wikipedia continues:

Luddites feared that the time spent learning the skills of their craft would go to waste, as machines would replace their role in the industry.

The standardized testing “machinery” undercuts the “standard labor practices” of teacher-craftsmen in the same way that textile machinery was a means of undercutting the “standard labor practices” of making stockings by hand… and the use of machine scored standardized tests as a substitute for the hand-crafted tests of teachers IS letting the craft of teaching go to waste.

The Wikipedia entry goes on to note that the Luddite movement was grassroots, emerging over time as a result of economic hardships:

The Luddite movement emerged during the harsh economic climate of the Napoleonic Wars, which saw a rise of difficult working conditions in the new textile factories. Luddites objected primarily to the rising popularity of automated textile equipment, threatening the jobs and livelihoods of skilled workers as this technology allowed them to be replaced by cheaper and less skilled workers.[20] The movement began in Arnold, Nottingham on 11 March 1811 and spread rapidly throughout England over the following two years.[21][22] Handloom weavers burned mills and pieces of factory machinery. Textile workers destroyed industrial equipment during the late 18th century,[20] prompting acts such as the Protection of Stocking Frames, etc. Act 1788.

We haven’t gotten to the point of having organizations burn boxes of standardized test scoring sheets or vandalizing the various computer centers where high-stakes tests are scored. But in many respects, the recent decision of the Regents to punish schools where parents opt out of tests is analogous to the Protection of Stocking Frames Act of 1788.

History has not been kind to Luddites. Their movement ended badly as profiteers eventually replaced hand crafted stockings with those made by machine and the craft of stocking making has gone to waste. But more and more people are coming to the conclusion that machinery of all kinds reduces the humanity of all… and that awareness is at the root of the movement to address climate change. MAYBE the teachers, parents, and grandparents who oppose the displacement of teacher judgment by standardized tests can join with workers whose work has been displaced by technology and develop a vision for a different kind of economy.

 

Elizabeth Warren’s Taxes on Ultra-Millionaire’s Wealth is a Good Start… but Not Enough

January 25, 2019 Comments off

Common Dreams writer Julia Conley wrote a post yesterday outlining Elizabeth Warren’s proposal to levy higher taxes on “ultra-millionaires”. Here’s her synopsis of the proposal:

Two economists who are advising Warren, Emmanuel Saez and Gabriel Zucman of University of California at Berkeley, announced to the Washington Post that the senator is proposing an annual tax of two percent for assets over $50 million, as well as a three percent tax for assets above $1 billion. The proposal, the economists estimate, would raise $2.75 trillion over 10 years and would affect just .1 percent of American households—raising the percentage at which their wealth is taxed to just 4.3 percent from 3.2 percent.

The “Ultra-Millionaire Tax” would apply to “all household assets…including residences, closely held businesses, assets held in trust, retirement assets, assets held by minor children, and personal property with a value of $50,000 or more,” according to a paper by the economists.

If I am reading this in Peoria or Dubuque I am not at all unsettled…. though based on some comments by Common Dreams it appears that there was a misunderstanding that the proposed taxes on “…personal property with a value of $50,000 or more” would apply to everyone and not just those who have assets over $50,000,000. Most taxpayers will look at this proposal and see that it has no impact on them and, therefore, be willing to endorse it.

From my perspective, this is a good start… but not nearly enough. Taxing only the ultra-rich is another way of dividing us. I hope that some candidate will advocate SLIGHTLY higher tax rates for the top 20% of wage earners and an even higher tax rate for the top 5%. Governments at all levels are starved of revenues and, consequently, are unable to perform effectively. Moreover, if we want to solve the projected shortfall for social security we should eliminate the maximum taxable limit so that those earning more than $128,400/year contribute… another campaign pledge I hope a candidate will advance. If we want better services from our governments and a secure future for social security more than the top .1% will need to dig a little deeper into their pockets.

Finally, someone running for national office needs to make it clear that the change to the tax code which limits deductions for state and local taxes to $10,000 needs to be overturned. This provision effectively penalizes residents of states and localities that make an effort to provide better government funded services to their citizens. It is THIS provision that in the long run will undercut government services like schools, police, and fire services and make them all private fee-for-service enterprises. I hope that Democrats seeking to replace our current President will make it clear that this provision of the tax code needs to be repealed.