Uncommon Sense

August 28, 2013

Are Bill Gates Ideas “Better” Than Yours? You Betcha!

A while back I wrote a post “Bill Gte’s Ideas Are Better than Yours” and lately I have been writing a lot about the corporate hostile takeover of public education, the centerpiece of which are the Common Core State (sic) Standards. Well, guess you bought and piad for the CCSS? You gotta read this if you care at all about public education: A Brief Audit of Bill Gates’ Common Core Spending.

August 27, 2013

The Role of Public Education in the Success or Failure of the U.S.

You are probably aware that the idea of a modern democratic state began with the foundation of the U.S.A. Prior to that, countries were ruled by monarchies or occasionally by oligarchies. A pillar of our experiment (and if you do not think it is an experiment, an experiment that can fail, you have not had your eyes open for the last forty years) was an equally novel idea—compulsory public education.

If, in the mid-18th Century when the U.S. was founded, there was a single country that thought it a good idea to educate all of its citizens, I am not aware of it. And this was not something that sprang out of the minds of the Founding Fathers and was implemented by fiat. Progress toward “compulsory” education was slow. Yes, there was and is a compulsion. (I can’t wait until the Tea Party gets wind of this. If they think compulsory health insurance is the work of the Devil, when they figure out that public education, including Evolution instruction, is compulsory, hoo boy!) You and your children were and are required to attend school until you reach a certain level of accomplishment or a certain age.

Our entire economy is dependent on having an “educated” workforce. Janitors, who were often illiterate in the not too distant past, are now required to read MSDS’s (Material Safety Data Sheets) that describe the hazards of the chemicals with which they clean their work sites. These are not written at a fourth grade level, folks. We think nothing of this ability of our janitors to read . . . now.

Setting aside the utility of this process (education has been proven over and over to be a boon for the economy) consider that we are currently reversing this trend without any kind of national debate or plan of action developed by and through the people.

In the mid-1800’s a large number of “land grant” colleges sprung up (particularly in the West) focused on training engineers, scientists, teachers, and other practical “middling” sorts. The elite universities of the East found this appalling that “Universities” would be teaching practical arts, to the extent that a Bachelor of Arts diploma was consider superior to a Bachelor of Science diploma (as some still do today). In the West, it is not surprising that the Bachelor of Science degree was considered superior (hey, it had higher requirements).

But the egalitarian nature of education was not at all complete until even a college education was available to most criticizes. When I entered college in 1964, my home state of California was opening a new community (two-year) college once a week for almost six months. Currently there are over 100 community colleges (often called junior colleges) in California, and virtually every citizen is within a reasonable commute distance to one of these colleges. They are not only in geographical reach but they used to be within financial reach, also. That has been the historical trend in our little experiment. More and more education to the point where most young people today assume they will be going to college as a good and necessary thing.

So, is our historic experiment in democracy and educating our citizenry at risk? I think so.

Setting aside the utility of this process (education has been proven over and over to be a boon for the economy) consider that we are currently reversing this trend without any kind of national debate or plan of action developed by and through the people. We are reversing this trend by increasing the cost of higher education at a pace that outstrips most anything else (even health care now). Simultaneously we have passed a law that disallows student debt from being discharged through bankruptcy. (Now who would sponsor such a bill against the will of politically weak students? I’ll ask the Church Lady. Church Lady? “Could it be . . . the Republicans?!” Got it in one, C.L.) The net effect is that total student debt exceeds total credit card debt in this country. (Think about that for a moment.)

Simultaneously, in the “Red States,” that is states in which Republicans control the state governments, and even in others there is a systematic starving of the public schools. The public school budgets get cut, schools get closed, while the states forgive business taxes unnecessarily and also fork over monies to private charters to run schools, which their own testing schemes show are no better than the public schools they replace. The apparent reason for these efforts is simply to extract profits from the public coffers. There seems to be no educational agenda behind these efforts (smokescreens and hidden agendas, but no real educational agendas).

So, is our historic experiment in democracy and educating our citizenry at risk? I think so. If you look at countries which are doing it right, for example Finland, when a college education became as necessary as a high school education used to be, they made a college education essentially free (as it was here when I took my degrees). They also gave perks to the best and brightest students to encourage them to go into teaching. We are going the other direction and there will be a price to pay. The monied interests are making sure that they do not pay that price, that “others” will. And do you know who that will be?

Church Lady?
“Aw shit, it’s us!”
Nailed it again, C.L.

August 25, 2013

A Speedy and Public Trial, I Promise?

Filed under: History,The Law — Steve Ruis @ 10:03 am
Tags: , , ,

You may recall the Fort Hood Massacre in which a Army officer decided to try to kill as many soldiers as he could. After shooting and killing dozens of soldiers he was brought down by return fire and captured alive. Now, since these events were witnessed by all kinds of people, what we have here is called an “open and shut” case, a “piece of cake.”

So why has it taken since November 2009 until now to get a verdict? Four effing years? On an open and shut case?

The Sixth Amendment to the Constitution promises:
“In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the State and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the Assistance of Counsel for his defence.”

It seems that any high profile trial now takes forever. The actual “trial” in this case took 17 days, so what happened for the other 1400 odd days? Sheesh.

August 23, 2013

Introducing the MACE Manifesto

This being my 400th post, I thought I ought to do something special, so for the third time (I think) I am reblogging something. Below you will find a chapter of the “MACE Manifesto,” a rant on public education by a group of teachers and teachers’ union officials who have had it up to here and have decided to tell it like it is, like it really is. MACE stands for “Metro Association of Classroom Educators” which is a union in Fayetteville, GA. Recognize that Georgia is a non-collective bargaining state, which makes union work really difficult, so these guys are dedicated. Check them out and read other parts of the Manifesto at www.theteachersadvocate.com.

And do realize, Dear Reader, that the hostile takeover of public education is just one more front in the Class War. The rich and powerful are trying to dictate to us how our children are to be educated, even when they know little to nothing about education, children, or teachers, but they do know what the like: docile drones who work for low wages and make no trouble.

* * *

The MACE Manifesto: Part Three – Exhaling Rants

We can’t neatly categorize everything, but if you pull up a chair and read some of our rants, you’ll recognize the ring of truth and you, even if you’re a good Baptist, will be saying, “Dammit, they’re right!” – Exhaling Rants

Chapter 35
Merit Pay for Teachers: More Bullshit from Bill Gates, Eli Broad, and Arne Duncan!
by John R. Alston Trotter, EdD, JD

I realized when I began thinking about writing this rant against merit pay for teachers that I had already written a number of articles on this in the past, articles which have different slants but sometimes overlap in a good way. So, instead of writing an entirely new rant, I’ll just give you some of the rants of the recent past.

This concept of merit pay or value-added evaluation or pay-for-performance or tying a teacher’s pay to how well a child does on a standardized test has been around for year. It is a sacred cow of leading educational interlopers, educational denizens, and philanthropic billionaire vultures (now this seems like a oxymoronic description, doesn’t it?) like Bill Gates and Eli Broad and their lap dog the the U. S. Department of Education, Arne Duncan. We understand both of these billionaires pumped some large sums of money into the Chicago Public School when Arne Duncan was the superintendent there. (How he ever became a superintendent is beyond me since he has never been an educator. But, maybe I can become the head of neurosurgery at Johns Hopkins University or perhaps head of Peat Marwick, even though I am not a medical doctor or an accountant. LOL!) I presume that Arne is smart enough to know that he more than likely will not be the Secretary of Education under another President and perhaps his inordinate loyalty to these billionaire interlopers will secure him future employment. Ah, but I am being too jaded in my outlook.

I know that Bill Gates seems to be getting a bit squeamish about tying teachers’ pay to just test scores, a position that he apparently previously held. He wrote an op-ed in the spring of 2013 in The Washington Post, stating that perhaps other factors besides the test scores of the students ought to be calculated into how a teacher is paid. Perhaps Bill’s been getting too much negative feedback from teachers for his own comfort zone. Now he needs to convince his wife Melinda about his apparent new epiphany. But, ole Arne is still operating under “The Charge of the Light Brigade” mentality because he just recently got into a pissing contest with Dr. John Barge, the State Superintendent of Georgia, over whether Georgia is moving fast enough in tying the Georgia teachers’ evaluations to student test scores. He threatened to withhold $10,000,000.00 Race to the Top funds from Georgia for this perceived desultory action – or lack of action. Georgia Governor Nathan Deal has gotten real pissy with Dr. Barge over this threat of losing ten million bucks with the State. Deal had already cut back lots of funding in the States’ budget to the Georgia Department of Education. This latest pissing contest has apparently caused Dr. Barge to thinking, Why not just run for Governor? He would certainly get the teachers’ votes, and the last time the teachers of Georgia got very pissed off at an incumbent governor was in 2000 when Governor Roy Barnes led the charge to do away with teachers’ due process rights in Georgia. Two years later when Barnes ran for re-election, the teachers were waiting with baited breath. They voted overwhelmingly for the very underfunded Republican challenger, Sonny Perdue, and he won.

This whole push for merit pay and for Common Core Curriculum is having great political reverberations. Again, this week, Governor Deal in Georgia announced a slow-down on implementing this curriculum in Georgia. His already-announced opponent, the Mayor of Dalton, Georgia, recently stated that it would have taken him only three seconds to reject Common Core Curriculum. Well, if you think that CCC is unpopular with teachers, just was to see how they react to a fallacious concept like merit pay for teachers in a public school setting.

Now for some of my rants about merit pay. . . .

Merit Pay for Teachers Does Not Work

Perhaps the Good Master would call them “a brood of vipers” [those educational interlopers pushing for merit pay]. I was talking to a teacher tonight who was crying and severely stressed-out by some lying and conniving administrators who appear to delight in making people’s (yes, teachers are real people) lives miserable. Our mission at MACE is to devour administrators (metaphorically, of course; this is not a terroristic threat) who abuse teachers. We don’t do spelling bees and give out tote bags nor do we try to act like we are important by aimlessly walking the halls of the Georgia Capitol. We don’t have time for such silliness.

What does Brother _________ propose to do with the kiss-up, weasling, and booger-eatin’ administrators who immediately label any teacher a “trouble-maker” when ANYTHING is questioned? These are the same administrators who would sell their own mothers “down the river” to ensure that they can hold on to their high-paying jobs and lifestyles. They use the evaluative process in a manipulative, punitive, and retributive manner. They do not tolerate anyone who deigns (1) to point out that some students are acting like hellions and that the teachers need administrative support in order to deal with these miscreant “students” (yes, “miscreant” because their behaviors often cross the line into criminality) or (2) to refuse to simply “go along to get along,” especially when issues of conscience are involved (like lying about student attendance in order to cook the books for No Child Left Behind or changing answers on students’ test sheets so that the Pharoah-Superintendents won’t terminate, demote, or transfer them).

Merit pay has never worked in public education because students are not inanimate objects floating down a conveyor belt in a factory. Students have various IQ levels, have different motivational levels, and definitely come from different home environments which make all the difference in the world. I worked in a public school system in Georgia which was the only school system in the State which actually practiced differentiated pay for teachers. This same school system was hailed in Time Magazine and Reader’s Digest as a forward-looking and progressive school system in Georgia because of “merit pay.” I was allowed to look at the teachers’ salaries at the school, and I can assure you that the salaries did NOT correlate to a teacher’s skill or dedication as a teacher but to the number of butts that his or her lips had puckered up to or whose spouse this teacher was attached to. It was all about politico-familial connections and/or butt-kissing. These factors determine who got the “best” group of kids and who got the “merit” pay. When you can control the input variables, then, and only then, perhaps will some form of “merit” pay work. Until then, it is just a sham and a farce. Teachers start rat-holing everything from teaching materials, lesson plans, and insightful ideas. Teachers become suspicious of each other and become very uncooperative. In fact, they begin to act like 2nd and 3rd year law students who are competitively angling to be hired (or, “enslaved”) by the silk stocking law firms.

Pay the Physician Only if the Patient Is Well or Pay the Lawyer Only if the Client is Acquitted?

This is the issue: The children are never randomly selected and scattered around evenly. The teacher who is teaching at Atlanta’s King Middle School is confronted with a much more difficult job than a teacher who is assigned to Gwinnett’s Trickum Middle School. Or, let’s stay in the same county…Fulton. The teacher at Fulton’s Haynes Bridge Middle School in Alpharetta has an easier time getting students to perform at a certain academic level than students at Fulton’s McNair Middle School. We don’t know all of the answers is the very significant achievement gap between white students and black students but we know that this gap exists and that the low scores in South Fulton is exacerbated by poor conduct among the students. The Fulton County School System is certainly a microcosm for the whole state – and perhaps the nation – on this issue.

In the Fulton County School System, the system is divided by north and south, with the Atlanta Public Schools sitting between the two distinctly different geographical areas of the Fulton County Schools, and the academic performance of the children in these two areas are vastly different. This school system stretches from north of Alpharetta to south of Palmetto — about 75 to 80 miles long. Very diverse, considering that North Fulton is overwhelmingly white and South Fulton is overwhelmingly black. In my job, I deal with teachers in both the north and the south. I have a fairly accurate, I think, perspective. Besides the income disparity being very great, I am sure that if anyone checked the formal educational levels of the parents of the children in both areas, the parents in the north would have higher educational levels to a statistically significant level. This is where the motivation of the students comes in play. If a student perceives that he or she comes from an educated culture, from a family which values formal education, then this student has more motivation to learn. The motivation to learn is the key.

The motivation to learn is a cultural phenomenon. I did not say “a racial phenomenon,” but “a cultural phenomenon.” The African American children, for example, who vacation at Martha’s Vineyard (as pointed in the book Our Kind of People, a revealing book about the “elite class” among African Americans in this country) do not struggle with motivation to learn. In fact, their motivation is to determine into which Ivy League school they will matriculate.

Where there is very little motivation to learn, there automatically is a concomitant amount of disciplinary problems associated with this lack of motivation. If teachers are not freed up to be creative instead of being forced to teach in a straight-jacket (so to speak), then this children will continue to disrupt the learning environments of those students who actually are motivated to learn. Those governors and other people who were and are in positions to dole out monies to teachers based on “performance of the students” never take into their calculations that children are not inanimate objects which were randomly (and thus uniformly) selected to float down some educational conveyor belt.

What if we paid physicians based on how their patients performed? One doctor is sent to the ghetto where health and nutrition takes a back seat to daily survival. But, this physician’s pay is tied to his patients’ blood pressure readings. His patients love ham-hock and fried chicken in their daily diets. But, his counterpart physician (both graduating from Johns Hopkins Medical School) has his practice in Athens, Georgia where most of his patients refuse to eat fried foods, much less fried chicken with all of that ugly chicken skin. They cook with extra virgin olive oil rather than pork lard. This Athenian physician’s patients have lower counts of blood pressure that the patients from the ghetto. Should this physician make more than the physician whose practice is in an area where the patients cannot afford to cook with extra virgin olive oil and are very lucky to be able to occasionally buy Wesson Corn Oil? You get the point, but guess what? Our politicians and vulture philanthropists don’t get the point…probably because they don’t want to get the point. It is so much easier, from a political standpoint, to just blame the teachers. ”We are only going to reward those teachers where the students perform.” Balderdash! We’re only going to pay the physicians if their patients have low blood pressure! We’re only going to pay the court-appointed lawyers if their get their clients are acquitted!

The motivation to learn is a cultural phenomenon, and if the motivation to learn is not there, all of the new curricula fads and gadgets will not mean anything. The best thing that the educrats can do is (1) free up the teacher so that the teacher can be creative in his or her attempts to reach these unmotivated students and (2) support the teacher when he or she is attempting to establish a structured and orderly classroom environment.

Again, Merit Pay Is Incurably Flawed!

Do advocates of Merit Pay think that we should pay lawyers only if the juries find their clients “not guilty”? What if the evidence against the client is overwhelming and the entire jury is fully convinced that the lawyer’s client is guilty, despite the admirable job of his lawyer? So, the “performance” of the client should determine the lawyer’s pay? This court-appointed lawyer (who had rather not represent this client in the first place) will get the lowest pay possible from the State because of Mikie’s (the client’s) “performance” in the Standardized Testing Courtroom. Hmm. It just doesn’t seem right. Why? Because it isn’t right.

What about the physician who is forced to take on a client who overeats each day (and eats all of the wrong food, by the way)? This patient also refuses to exercise. The patient is 120 pounds overweight and smokes three packs of unfiltered Camel cigarettes each day also. He takes no vitamins and drinks two pints of Vodka with a Walmart brand orange drink (full of high fructose corn syrup) each night while he watches TNT movies until four in the morning. He goes to the physician who really doesn’t like being his primary care physician because Bubba (the patient’s nick name) refuses to do anything that he suggests to him. Oh, by the way, Bubba is also diabetic, but he refuses to take his insulin. Well, it’s just too bad for the physician because he is going to get paid from the State based on Bubba’s health performance. Again, absurd.

What about the dentist who always fills Johnny’s cavities and patiently goes over dental hygiene with his new Medicaid patient. He shows Johnny how to brush and floss. He tells him how often he needs to brush and floss. He encourages him to stay off sweets. But, guess what? Johnny ignores all of his dentist’s advice. He eats what he wants. He refuses to brush and floss his teeth, and his teeth continue to deteriorate and some even have to be pulled. Well, well. Too bad for this dentist, right? His pay will be tied to how well Johnny’s teeth perform. Good grief.

Merit pay does seem ludicrous when you have no choice about the performance of those entrusted (mandated) to you. For this reason alone, Merit Pay does not work in the public schooling process. I will not even go into the way that the process will be used in a manipulative, retributive, and punitive manner. Only the kiss-ups will profit from such a flawed system. It will not improve education; it will further destroy the public schooling process.

Teachers Teach Students; They Don’t Learn Them!

Lawyers defend clients; they don’t acquit them. Physicians treat patients; they don’t heal them. Teachers teach students; they don’t learn them. The merit pay concept for education is incurably flawed because the assumption is that teachers actually “learn” students. It’s not even correct English. No, the motivation to learn is a social/cultural phenomenon. If a “student” brings little or no motivation to learn to the schooling process, then there is little that a teacher can do to make this “student” learn. Our clueless educrats and philanthropic vultures have never accepted this. In fact, I don’t even think that they understand this. They still think, metaphorically speaking, that the Earth is flat.

I am not talking about abilities; I am talking about motivation. Many “students” come to class each day without any book, pencil, notebook, etc., and they either stay disengaged (by sleeping or day-dreaming) or they play “cops and robbers” with their teachers, disrupting any viable chance for the students who want to learn to learn. We have proposed that these non-learners be sent to an official Non-Learning Center (NLC). We would actually call it the “Non-Learning Center.” The other students would dog them out, and this would be good! We have to learn to do what other countries do (and are quite successful at it): We need to use peer pressure to improve learning, not to deflate learning. This was done so naturally by American teachers of yesteryear, but we became “sensitive” to the “self-esteem” of our student-thugs, and now these thugs are destroying our schools. Hardly anyone will breathe this, but at MACE, we are just “crazy” enough to tell the truth. No, we would not even go through the pretense of sending instructional lessons to the students who are removed from the regular school environment because of their willful and wanton misconduct. Sending special instructional materials for these student-thugs is just a continual shifting of the responsibility for learning onto the backs of teachers instead of placing it where it needs to be placed…on the shoulders of the parents and their children. Teachers are at the school to teach, not to be police officers, psychiatrists, bouncers, et al. Teachers teach. Students learn or they don’t learn. But, teachers definitely do not “learn the students.”

Merit Pay Again, Jackasses, and the Same Histrionic Insults at Teachers (SH-T)!

Several times, I have been asked about my position on merit pay for teachers. Now the chic phrase used by the vulture philanthropists, Arne Duncan, and other educrats is “valued-added evaluations.” It’s all the same. It’s about tying a teacher’s pay to how well a child does on a paper and pencil test. What do I think of merit pay? It does not work in public education because kids are not inanimate objects floating down a conveyor belt. All are different. Plus, rogue administrators will simply give the worst students (yes, there are some students who are “worst,” despite the fixation on political correctness) to the teachers who refuse to kiss up and/or to have sex with them. How is this so far for bluntness? By the way, if you blog my name along with Arne Duncan’s name, you will see that my comment quoted in an article in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution “lit up the blogosphere,” as one observer noted. I just believe in being honest about what is going on in public education. I have written extensively on the woes of merit pay in public education. Arne Duncan was threatening the removal of the administrators and the teachers from schools which did not “improve” (as measured by standardized tests). I simply asked what Mr. Duncan was going to do with the most important people at these schools, the children? I said that many were lazy and unmotivated and undisciplined and that Duncan wanted move everyone want at these schools except the most important people, the children. I think that one gutsy reporter asked Mr. Duncan to respond to my question at a Rose Garden press conference with President Obama.

I have worked in the only Georgia school system in modern times which was on merit pay, and the pay correlated with butt kissing, pure and simple. I saw which teachers were getting merit pay, and it had nothing to do with “merit.” It is another control mechanism which will be severely abused by dishonest, amoral, angry, and abusive administrators. More rampant cheating will take place. But, it may help the State of Georgia balance the budget [receiving the Race to the Top “bribes”], and this is really what it is all about.

Teachers and Blueberries

Mac, I love the Blueberry Story. (If you have never heard this story, please do yourself a favor and read it. http://www.jamievollmer.com/blueberries.) In fact, I was just showing a colleague of mine a letter that I received from my father which is postmarked in November of 2002, and he included the Blueberry Story in this letter. I have had this letter on one of my stacks of papers in my office, intending to have it put on our website at MACE. You have indeed motivated me to post this story on TheTeachersAdvocate.Com. Thanks. It clearly and simply outlines the problem with trying to tie teachers’ salaries to the performance of students. I remember the rich kids from the Green Island Country Club being districted right past my father’s junior high (Daniel Jr. High in Columbus, Georgia) so that they could attend public school at Richard’s Jr. High on the other side of town with fellow rich kids. When the Assistant Superintendent would periodically ask my father why his school’s test scores were not as high as Richard’s test scores, my father, in his wise and intrepid way, would simply say, “Doc, you can’t win the Kentucky Derby with Jackasses.” He was not calling his students jackasses; he was simply stating that you can’t expect his school to have higher scores than Richards Jr. High School if you are shipping all of his rich kids to Richards. It is indisputable that test scores and socio-economic scores are positively correlated. Teachers would have to be financially stupid or financially independent to volunteer to teach in a poor school if their pay were going to be tied to the standardized test scores of their students. What will happen? More and more rookie teachers will be placed in the poor schools. They will not have tenure, and they will be encouraged (ever so subtly and sometimes not-so-subtly) to engage in systematic cheating.

In Georgia, we have had scads of legislative-sponsored educational programs with which to contend (Minimum Foundation, APEG, QBE, ITBS, GTEP, GTOI, GTDRI, CRCT, NCLB, AYP, A+ Foundation, and now Race to the Top). Race to the Flop is more like what is going to happen with the latest educational boondoggle coming from the banks of the Potomac. All of these programs are not worth SH_T. How do you like that acronym? Same Histrionic Insults at Teachers. SH_T. No one wants to address the Four Horsemen of Public Education: (1) Defiant & Disruptive Students; (2) Irate & Irresponsible Parents; (3) Angry & Abusive Administrators; and (4) Systematic Cheating. We often say this at MACE: You cannot have good learning conditions until you first have good teaching conditions. This is a fact, Jack.

Merit Pay: Red Herring & Piltdown Man

This idiotic value-added evaluation continues to drives good teachers out of public education, and it discourages talented young people from entering into to the profession of teaching (whatever is left of the “profession”). I can’t help but to think about the comment that my rather blunt but very funny father said while the family was sitting in the car at a gas station over 40 years ago: “There goes _____________ and ___________. They don’t have a brain between them.” He was looking at two elected officials walking together beside this service station. One was a State Senator (eighth grade education) and the other was one of his former high school students who was a big shot on the Metro City Council in Columbus. It’s these people who get into power and think that they know what is wrong with public education. But, none of them (including U. S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan) know their butts from deep center field!

What is wrong with public education today is not the teachers. It’s the students – their lack of motivation to learn and their often defiant and disruptive conduct – who are the problems…along with their irate and irresponsible parents. Folks, let’s get real: Most of the problems in public education are located in urban schools. Not all of the problems, but the lion’s share of them are simply urban school problems. But, our politicians and educrats do not have the nerve to hit head-on what the real problems are. They want to appear to be finding a solution to the problems but they are only compounding the problems and exacerbating the problems. Then, these numb-skulled and mean-spirited administrators carry out these truncated and benighted “plans” for improvement with what they think is all due alacrity like good Educational Nazis.

Merit pay has never worked in public education. It will never work. It is the politicians’ Red Herring and the philanthropic vultures’ Piltdown Man of Public Education. © Big Daddy Publishers, 2013.

August 22, 2013

Keeping Us Safe?

Throughout most of my life, basically covering the time period from the end of World War II to the present, the arc of American politics was toward greater participation, greater freedom from oppression, and a general expansion of our lives to be expressed without government intervention.

As a youth, I remember that women who had been divorced (gasp!) were talked about with lowered voices. If anyone in your family had a mental illness they were just not brought up. If your white daughter wanted to marry a black man, well the world all of a sudden got very, very strange. And I grew up in California (you know The Granola State, those who weren’t fruits and nuts were flakes).

But in the 1960’s we had major advances in civil rights. People took to the streets to oppose unjust wars. The Women’s Movement fought for and won rights for all women. I remember in the 1970’s that my wife and I were trying to build up her credit rating and we applied for a credit card in her name, without me as a co-signer and the card came back with my name on it with a “Mrs.” in front. Ordinary people couldn’t even own stock back then.

Even children were getting more rights, children got the right to sue their own parents, where before they were chattel, and they and everything they might earn were possessions of their parents.

It is easy to forget all of this or to not know of this because we all get used to the “new normal” very quickly.

But now, voting is being hindered, even suppressed when in my entire life all of the efforts were to get more people out to vote. Now, the Republicans are making up phony voter fraud cases as a justification. Then, each political party contested with the other to see who could do a better job of getting more people out to vote. Now, the contest is for one party (the Republicans, surprise, surprise) to see how many of the other party’s voters they can prevent from voting. Local police forces which used to wear blue uniforms and funky policeman’s caps now wear camouflage (camo in downtown Chicago?), wear combat helmets, carry assault rifles, and ride around in urban assault vehicles. Tac Squads are going out on zoning ordinance violations.

In New York and Philadelphia, if you are black or brown you can be shoved up against a wall and frisked for “walking while black” or “driving while brown” or “talking on your cell phone while black.” Even though the statistics show that 98% of these “Stop and Frisk” episodes results in no arrest or seizure of anything illegal, these thousands upon thousands of violations of due process are said to be keeping the residents of those cities “safe.” Finally a federal judge has called “bullshit” on those laws.

The Federal Government is collecting so much data on U.S. citizens that it is building one of the world’s largest server farms (those are big computers with vast amounts of storage attached) to hold all of the data they are “harvesting,” often illegally. The obscenely named Patriot Act (obscene because anyone opposing the Patriot Act is automatically not being patriotic) allows U.S. citizens to be incarcerated without writ, to be whisked off to foreign countries for interrogation, or to be assassinated without trial or court order. Oh, we can kill foreigners by the tens of thousands, too, apparently of the crime of “standing around while foreign.” Drone missiles aren’t quite the surgical instruments the military contractors said they were, but what the heck, they don’t even cost a million dollars a piece.

Why has their been this reversal of a historical trend of Americans being recognized as having more and more rights?

The answer is the events of 9-11-2001. All of these things have happened “to keep us safe” from terrorists or the boogyman. (I am reminded of the man here in Chicago selling Elephant Repellent. A potential customer scoffed and said “There are no elephants in Chicago,” to which the sallesman said, “See, it is working.”)

Think of the billions upon billions of dollars spent frisking black men in N.Y. City. Think of the billions spent turning each town’s police force into a domestic army. Think of the money spent spying on completely innocent people. And all of these are justified by “we are keeping you safe” and some rather feeble hand waving.

They are not keeping us safe; in fact they are doing just the opposite. They are exposing us to grave risk because they are undermining the very principles that make us a free country. If those billions had been spent on educating our people? If some of those billions had been spent on fixing our infrastructure. If some of those billions had been spend on making a world class electricity grid that terrorists couldn’t attack with a teaspoon? If people were to be allowed to vote their conscious freely and have a decent job that would pay their bills, we would be a much stronger country and far safer.

“They” are not “keeping us safe.” Rich opportunists are just using whatever fear they can drum up (thank you Fox (sic) News) to create a state with passive citizens who suffer from outrage fatigue and do as they are told and if we do not we will get slapped around until we do. Wages are so low that most Americans live from paycheck to paycheck. What is keeping wages down? Anticompetitive practices by the 1%. They have bribed our officials to make the rules so that they are favored: that you can’t declare bankruptcy but they can, that you can’t be represented by a union, but they can, that you can’t sue as part of a class action, but they can.

In case you don’t remember approximately 25% of the Bush Tax Cut dollars that were not collected as taxes went to the 1%. In case you don’t remember, hedge fund managers, who create nothing real and little of value, got a law passed that has them taxed at 15% maximum when you are taxed at 15% minimum, and a dozen or so of them make a billion dollars a year. In case you don’t remember, one of the first acts of the Bush administration was to set aside new EPA regulations limited arsenic in your drinking water. You know the Bushies, strong science types who just knew that the entire science community and the World Health Organization were full of shit. Damn, a little arsenic can’t hurt you, well other than arsenic in drinking water causes cancer of the skin, lungs, bladder and prostate in humans and is also linked to diabetes, cardiovascular disease, anemia, and disorders of the immune, nervous and reproductive systems. You do know it has been used as rat poison, right? You did see “Arsenic and Old Lace” didn’t you? In case you can’t remember.

It is time to take to the streets and fight for our rights again. But watch out for the Tac Squads of your friendly, neighborhood police department.

August 21, 2013

It’s the Plan, Boss!

Haven’t posted in a bit as I have been tied up doing a training. Back in the saddle now.

In the current hostile takeover of public education efforts by corporate and monied interests, a great many claims have been made by the “reformers” about the “woeful situation of the public schools.” Virtually all of these claims are demonstrably false (many of their examples are not; in such a large enterprise you can find examples of anything). Consider this critique of ex-Florida Governor Jeb Bush’s public education claims: “Honesty is Such a Lonely Word…”: Jeb Bush Lacks Credibility (Again)

So, wild and misleading claims are made (The sky is falling, the sky is falling!) and “solutions” are offered. One such “solution” is the Common Core State (sic) Standards that have been eviscerated quite nicely by, of all people, a botanist, see: Common Core Standards are “Curriculum Upsidedownia”

The motive for these takeover efforts (vouchers, charter schools, teacher’s unions vilification, teacher vilifications, Teach for America, etc.)  is apparently to extract profits from the public purse while delivering public education. If one could explain to me how removing money from the educational system will improve quality, I would really appreciate it. (Please realize that this is not a competitive enterprise; we do not want winners and losers; we want all of our children to succeed, which makes education a cooperative/collaborative enterprise and profit motives do not work. As an example consider all of the scrap drives and volunteer efforts during WWII: if people agreed to participate only if they made money . . . we’d all be speaking German now.)

All of these efforts are based on misinformation, even disinformation, and what did the Founding Fathers provide us with to protect our democracy by making sure that we, the people, got enough good information to be able to make sound decisions? Ah, that would be the “Free Press.” It turns out, though that the press/news media aren’t “free” in that there are prices on almost every bit and the corporate interests have bought out most of these information sources and they clearly do not publish information that is not aligned with their goal of the corporations making even more money.

If you do not believe this is part of a plan, read the Powell Memorandum. Goggle it, download it, read it, read it again. President Reagan made sure his entire cabinet was aware of the Powell Memo. (Conservatives were so appreciative of Powell’s Memo, they gave him a Supreme Court seat. And these are the same people attacking tenure for teachers. Supreme Court Justices have tenure in spades.) In the Memo you will learn of their goals to geld the unions (Done!), control mass communications (Done!) and all the rest.

And, if for some reason, you don’t believe their efforts to effect the Powell Memo were successful, please consider that something on the order of 40% of Americans currently believe the federal budget deficit just keeps getting larger, when the deficit has shrunk faster than any previous time, including after World War II. This confusion is thanks to a Fox (sic) News and Republican Party misinformation campaign. (Gosh, do you think they are in cahoots?)

Wake up or get plowed under! The Barbarians are at the gates and unfortunately they are inside, keeping reality out.

August 14, 2013

Education Reform and State’s Rights: Are Conservatives Asleep at the Switch?

It is shocking how many conservatives are all in favor of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) and associated school curricula and testing programs. It was conservatives that got enacted into law* a provision that prevents the U.S. Department of Education from promoting a national curriculum or to for any schools to “be required to have academic content or student academic achievement standards approved or certified by the Federal Government.” Yet the DOE is doing just that by offering large sums of money to states if they will adopt the CCSS and jump through various other hoops.

The joke is that the “state” standards for each and every state are identical to all of the others. These are not state standards, but national standards. Such sophistry wouldn’t fool an eighth-grader.

Conservatives and conservative money is greasing the skids for a federal system of education. I can’t tell whether the conservatives don’t know this or whether it is just another part of their plan to discredit public education in this country.

The campaign to undermine public education in the U.S. is well over 30 years old. It began with efforts to reduce funding to public schools and colleges, resulting in the fees charged to students to skyrocket and now total student educational debt exceeds total credit card debt! The drum beat that “in the future more and more jobs will require college degrees continues, even though all of the data from the last twenty years says exactly the opposite. Rather than encouraging students to go into trades (becoming carpenters, electricians, plumbers, welders, etc.) and ending up in solid well-paid jobs, everyone is being told they have to go to college. At the same time, business are crying that they have millions of jobs available that no one is applying for. The job shortages in the trades are being used as ammunition to get more green card workers admitted to the country who will work for lower wages and will make less fuss because if they lose their green card (which can happen if they were, say, fired) they must leave the country. Again this puts further downward pressure on wages in the trades.

In politics if you want to know what is going on, the rule is “follow the money.” Possibly the money corporations have to make gutting public education trumps the “state’s rights” argument that conservatives usual throw up.

(a) GENERAL PROHIBITION- Nothing in this Act shall be construed to authorize an officer or employee of the Federal Government to mandate, direct, or control a State, local educational agency, or school’s curriculum, program of instruction, or allocation of State or local resources, or mandate a State or any subdivision thereof to spend any funds or incur any costs not paid for under this Act.
(b) PROHIBITION ON ENDORSEMENT OF CURRICULUM- Notwithstanding any other prohibition of Federal law, no funds provided to the Department under this Act may be used by the Department to endorse, approve, or sanction any curriculum designed to be used in an elementary school or secondary school.
(1) IN GENERAL- Notwithstanding any other provision of Federal law, no State shall be required to have academic content or student academic achievement standards approved or certified by the Federal Government, in order to receive assistance under this Act.

One More Time!

Now that Bill Gates, through his foundation, has decided he knows exactly what is needed to remake public education (funding charter schools with no accountability to the public, funding the Common Core Curriculum, a national top-down curriculum forbidden by law, etc.), I want to say “I told you so.” Gates misguided efforts as an educational reformer are just part and parcel of a plutocratic system where the uber-rich get their say and you don’t. Here is part of a post from June 2010.

Bill Gates’ Ideas are Better than Yours
. . .
My main point here is that the Republican’s guiding principle that “taxpayers will spend their money more wisely than government” should apply to businesses, too. My example is Bill Gates. Bill Gates donated 100 billion (that’s Billion, not Million) dollars to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which he runs with his wife. So, where did he get 100 billion dollars to donate? Everyone knows the story, so I won’t repeat it here. The point to be made is that Bill doesn’t need 100 billion dollars that he “earned” to live on. Not to pay his electrical bill, nor his cable bill, nor any other mundane expense. He has enough other money to cover his living expenses lavishly until he dies with some set aside for his kids. So the $100 billion dollars, well, he didn’t really need it.

He accumulated $100 billion dollars he didn’t need . . . how? (I know I am leading you by the hand, but stick with me, okay?) He generated $100 billion he did not need, even to be wealthy, by charging his customers more than he really needed to. If you bought a copy of Microsoft Windows ever (I have a copy of Windows 1.0 in my collection!), you were overcharged. Every copy ever sold was priced way too high. (Bill Gates isn’t the only person to make more money than he could possibly spend from Microsoft. Let’s see, there is Paul Allen, and. . . .) So, what are the consequences? The consequences are that Bill Gates’ ideas are better than yours. He has $100 billion dollars to invest in any idea he thinks is a good one. My ideas don’t count for much, because I don’t have money to invest in them and the task of finding investors is daunting—they all want to make money and Bill’s ideas, the ones he is investing in, aren’t to make money but to make the world a better place but then, so are many of mine.

For those of you who think I am picking on Bill and Melinda, because they are doing such good things for hungry people, for poor people, etc. I say, “So?” (Thanks, Dick Cheney!) According to the Republicans, you and I would do a better job of spending that money than Bill and Melinda are doing. The Gate’s programs are the equivalent of “do gooder” government programs that we also have had no say in supporting. Like the government, Bill and Microsoft took too much money out of our pockets to support programs that we had no say in. And many of these Gates Foundation programs are for people in other countries. Egad, they are the equivalent of foreign aid!

Okay, I will stop picking on Bill and Melinda, a nice if somewhat dorky couple. Let’s look at the dark side. Other “business persons” have accumulated way more money than they could possibly spend and they are using their funds for not so “positive” purposes. Rich conservatives have endowed Washington think tanks from which cushy jobs are offered to disgraced Republicans. Also from these think tanks much questionable “reports” and “research” flows.

Companies in the health insurance field paid $609,000 dollars a day for the first six months of 2009, trying to make sure that any health care reform that was drafted didn’t hurt their bottom lines. Could you scrape up $609,000? Could you scrape up another $609,000 for tomorrow? Where can you get such amounts of money? Where did they get such sums? This is money that was outside of the huge profits paid to shareholders and monies paid to cover overhead and to pay claims, mind you. Do you think, maybe, it was from charging way more for their services than they actually needed?

These are examples of individuals and companies accumulating such vast amounts of money that what they think counts for far more than any one, any hundred, or any million of us think. Our representatives in Congress vote with their corporate sponsors, no matter what their constituents think, and they aren’t even smart enough to cover that fact up.

Allowing huge piles of money to be in the hands of so few people and corporations is anti-democratic. In fact, disparity between the rich and the rest of us in income and property and total wealth are all at all-time highs. If this continues, there will be no democracy, no “one man, one vote.”

So, if you think I am some kind of closet socialist, coming out, think again. This country figured out how to keep the wealthy in line. A line that allowed them every luxury a mind could dream of, just not enough wealth to buy the Congress or small countries. If you want to see what America looks like in such a system, look at the 1960s. The changes of the New Deal and from the stresses of WWII under Franklin Roosevelt’s presidency, given a little time to take effect through the 1950s, produced a balanced country where the rich were rich and the poor were poor but the rich didn’t run things entirely to their betterment. The middle class was large and robust and were the primary customers for American businesses, and if we could recreate such a balanced condition, business would boom (again) and poor people would be less poor and the middle class folks wouldn’t be huddling in fear of bankruptcy.

We did it before, we can do it again. Join the fight . . . or die poor.


August 13, 2013

New York Schools Testing Abomination

I have been writing about education lately and some of you are asking what this has to do with Class Warfare. Simply, the monied interests and corporations have bought our political process and bought our judges (enough of them) that they now have enough energy (and money) to open up a new front in the war: public education. They want it privitized. They want the governmenent out of public education, because profit-making, private companies can do such a better job. (Where they get these notions is beyond me as there is no proof of this.) The first place to make money is in test creation and administration and billions of dollars is scheduled to be spent. New York’s experience will be typical.

* * * * *

It has been widely reported that New York State has introduced new tests to measure how students are doing against the “Common Core” curriculum and that the results were abysmal to say the least. The average number of students deemed “proficient” was in the low 30’s percent. And this is a state which prides itself on having some of the best public schools in the nation.

The comments from state officials and even the U.S. Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, were along the lines of “ah ha, I thought so” and “see, teachers have been lying to parents about their children’s proficiency.”

This, of course, is utter nonsense and is part of the corporate hostile takeover of public education. The strategy, apparently, is to bad mouth the system, bad mouth teachers, bad mouth teacher’s unions, and then set up systems that “prove” that public schools are dismal so that corporate “saviors” can swoop in and make large profits “fixing” the problem. Setting aside the data that show that the corporate efforts so far are proving at best to be no better than current schools, this can be shown to be the sham it is by some very simple logic.

In other words, the grades given out by teachers, without the Common Core curriculum etc., were hugely
better judges of whether students were college ready than the test the “reformers” used to establish the
standards that showed New York students doing so poorly.

Regarding the New York State tests, they were supposed to point to students being “college ready.” Obviously fourth graders aren’t college ready but they could be determined to be “on track” to being “college ready.” That’s the way the test’s pass/fail standards were set up. The interesting thing is that the movers and shakers behind this project used the scores of students on the Scholastic Aptitude Test, er Scholastic Assessment Test, uh, now just called the SAT standing for whatever. Here’s the problem: research has found that high school GPA (grade point average) is three to five times more important in predicting college graduation than an SAT score. In other words, the grades given out by teachers (unionized teachers!), without the Common Core curriculum etc., were better judges of whether students were college ready than the test the “reformers” used to establish the standards that showed New York students doing so poorly at becoming college ready.

So, why are these “reformers” using poorly predictive numbers to establish standards to guide the teaching of our youth. The only answer is because they want public schools to be seen as “failing” so that the corporations and foundations (the Gates Foundation, the Walton Foundation, etc.) which wrote the Common Core Curriculum can start to cash in.

Again, I ask: are we this gullible? If we are, we deserve what we get, but do your children deserve to be treated as corporate chips in a financial flimflam game?

August 12, 2013

Climate Change, A Scientific Conspiracy?

According to conservatives who get their information from Fox (sic) News, Climate Change is a global conspiracy of scientists, apparently to ensure they get a continuous flow of grant funds to study something that doesn’t exist. If that sounds incredibly stupid, let me explain why.

Let’s start with a small test. Question 1: Name a global scientific conspiracy or a continental one, or even one confined to a single country for that matter. All you need is one.

Okay, time is up. What did you come up with? Nada, zip, zilch? I suspect so because such a thing has never happened and it never will. The reason is simple. Such a thing could not happen because of scientific arrogance. (Trust me on this, I am a scientist.) Most scientists think their competitors, that is the other people in their field, are mental midgets whose limited capacity to think scientifically has probably been further impaired by taking too many drugs. None of the others can hold a candle to this individual. And if a conspiracy were to be considered, it would have to me (no me, No, Me!) who puts it together as those others are obviously ill-equipped to do so. And they all think like that.

Such a thing as a global scientific conspiracy has never happened and it never will.
The reason is simple. Such a thing could not happen because of scientific arrogance.
(Trust me on this, I am a scientist.)”

Scientists can only agree when there are no alternatives left. Only when the data have become completely iron-clad will there be any consensus and, even then, a few scientists will nurse their pet (though wrong) theories over in a corner somewhere. (Think of the discussions (aka wars) surrounding Climate Change for the last 40 years.) Consider what happens when any scientist publishes anything novel (and publishing is required). In phase one the knives come out. The ideas are attacked. The scientist is attacked. The sanity of the funding agency behind the research is questioned.

These are people who don’t “like people” in the first place and like competitors to their own glory much, much less. Most of them, had they any people skills at all, would have gone into a field where they could have made some real money.

I once saw an open letter in the Journal Physics Today from one Nobel Prize winning physicist to another Nobel Prize winning physicist acknowledging that he had lost a $10 bet. The bet was that the second physicist wouldn’t hold a good position any time in the previous decade. And these guys were considered “friends.”

So, is Climate Change the first global scientific conspiracy, involving the cooperation and ego sublimation of thousands of scientists? Only an idiot who has never met a real scientist could believe this. And only the anti-scientific idiots at Fox (sic) News could come up with such a vacuous idea.

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