Uncommon Sense

January 31, 2014

The One Percent Speaks Out!

Lately we have heard form some members of the one percent, which is somewhat surprising in that they, like mice, tend to prefer to remain hidden from plain view. The most recent examples of one percenters who just couldn’t remain silent were complaining about their bad press. One messenger warned the Pope that he had better not carry his anti-greed screed too far, otherwise donations could just have a way of falling off. (And we know what comes next: “Eh, padre, youse gotta nice church here; it would be a shame if sumpin’ were to happen to it.) The other was complaining that populist class warfare like is being espoused by populists can lead to another Kristallnacht (presumably he is referring to the possible breakage of his wine goblets, certainly a one percenter wouldn’t pull a Nazi reference out of his ass—er, what . . . oh, that was a Nazi reference, uh, okay).

Apparently some of the one percent are getting a little nervous about their bad press and, of course, the thin-skinned are the first to speak out, but playing the “Class Warfare Card” is just too much.

Name me a one percenter who hasn’t donated money to a politician with a message to keep his taxes low (raising ours is okay). Name one who hasn’t tacitly or explicitly worked to disenfranchise worker’s unions in the last twenty years. Name one who hasn’t donated money to conservative think tanks or conservative PACs who have been carrying their political water for them. Name one who has gone out of his way to not suppress working people’s wages.

In other words, the “One Percent” have been waging class war for the past 35 years and when people finally woke up and began to take notice, they scream “Class War! Class War!” while pointing to the people whose economic interests they have just soundly trounced in their secret class war.

I have a message for them: keep sweating. We will not let up until you are back in your place. We will let you keep your toys but if you continue trying to hold onto the obscene amount of power you have accrued through your class war, don’t blame me when somebody approaches you and comments “ Eh, youse gotta a nice thing going there, it’d be a shame if . . . ”

January 29, 2014

Republicans Conflicted Over American Exceptionalism

Republicans react angrily to any suggestion that the U.S. of A. isn’t exceptional, isn’t Number 1 in any ranking system. During the Health Care Debate, Republicans insisted that our health care system was #1 in the world, when fact-based rankings had it listed closer to #19. More recently, Republicans are upset that American students score so poorly on international tests, blaming teachers for doing a poor job of teaching our young and when they run out of steam on blaming teachers, they blame students for being lazy. (The GOP is also directly attacking teacher’s unions and working to saddle students with massive amounts of debt to stifle the political activities of both, so they are at least being consistent.)

Setting aside the facts that the U.S. never does particularly well on international tests (I remember one such scandal a while back in which the U.S. was way down the ranks in math, yet a team of young U.S. students won the global Math Olympiad the same year.) and that the U.S. does poorly on such tests for the same reasons that many U.S. states do poorly on national tests (hint: poverty and heterogeneous populations) one has to be surprised that Republicans are also pushing strongly to make it more possible to teach creationism in our schools. Republican governors across the land are getting laws passed creating charter schools which need not conform to existing education laws, many of those charter schools being church-affiliated schools which go on to teach creationism and that “Evolution is a lie straight from the pit of Hell!” (Sorry I could resist quoting the Republican Member from Georgia sitting on the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee.) Now that ought to help those international science test scores: all of our students looking for the multiple choice response: “God did it.”

American exceptionalism is a ridiculous notion, but if one accepts it, it certainly is based upon a solid core of scientific and technological learning. Whining about the decay of American exceptionalism when the GOP is actively undermining the education system that helped create it is a major problem for Republicans.

January 28, 2014

Reality vs. Wall Street: Wall Street Wins!

Filed under: Economics — Steve Ruis @ 12:31 pm
Tags: , ,

Apple reported record sales of 51 million iPhones during the last quarter, up from 47.8 million in the same period last year. The company sold 26 million iPads, also a record. Apple also reported a profit of $13.07bn, virtually identical to the $13.08bn profit of the previous period. Revenue grew 5.7% to $57.59bn from $54.51bn in the same period. So, of course, you know what happened: Apple’s stock price was driven down. The reason: Wall Street analysts “expected more.”

I ask again, why do fallible predictions, made by fallible people count for more than reality? I also ask, why do people pay so much attention to the stock markets when they have no more reality behind them than do video games?

January 24, 2014

How Did We Get Into This Mess?

I have written extensively on the class war that was waged (and is still being waged) by the wealthy and their minions that resulted in the extreme wealth and income gaps we now have. Part of the problem has come from flat out misconceptions that fostered more greed than was strictly necessary. To help understand this I recommend to you this post from the author of “Econned” Yves Smith: The Myth of Maximizing Shareholder Value.

January 23, 2014

A GOP Inconsistency? . . . Not Really

A number of people have noticed that the GOP is waging war on poor people by cutting the budget for food stamps (but not subsidies for rich farmers), cutting back on housing support, and trying to cut Social Security and Medicare (while at the same time tripping over themselves to do favors for rich people). Those commenters have also noticed that the GOP is the most religious of the political parties, religious in a Christian sense, often evangelical and that the GOP’s actions seem to be in conflict with the message of Christianity, their actions showing a lacking of Christian charity, for example.

What these people are missing is that the GOP’s actions against the poor are in total concert with the philosophies of Christian hierarchs, since virtually the beginning of that religion as a formal entity. (Why do you think so many were shocked (shocked, I tell you) when the current Pope spoke out against rich people and greed? When was the last time you heard such a comment from a Divine?) When have any of the churches stood up for the poor against the rich? Do you remember how much support the various churches in the U.S. provided our labor movement? Uh, that would be zero. Standing up for working people and poor people is not something the churches do. Oh, they will collect food and clothing during emergencies, but actually work to improve the lives of the poor against the rich? Not in the game plan. More than a few churches in the southern states gave up their pulpits to Southern Commissioners to tell their parishioners how much slavery was part of God’s plan, in support of the secessionists who eventually got their wish in the form of our Civil War. (Since the milk of human kindness required certain things back then, black people had to be declared “nonhuman” or “subhuman,” no problem!)

Ever since churchmen invented the “divine rights of kings,” they have been in the pocket of royalty or rich merchants. The church has opposed the practice of medicine as being contrary to God’s will. Sure, the churches treated some of the ill and infirm … with prayers and nostrums. The Catholic Church forbade their monks to practice medicine. The churches opposed practical matters to improve public health through better hygiene. The church opposed educating the masses. In all ways the Christian Churches have advocated a slave philosophy for ordinary people (yours is not to reason why; yours is to be happy with your station it life; your reward will come in the next life . . . if you are obedient in this one; . . . ). The post-Roman period in Europe was dominated by virtual Church rule; that’s why we call it the Dark Ages.

So the current actions of the GOP against the poor, and women, are in keeping with the history and traditions of their most religious members. No contradiction here, move along, nothing to see, nothing at all.

January 20, 2014

Republicans Spin Tales (Again) and Show Their True Colors

In their latest round of fantasy writing Republicans are claiming that providing unemployment insurance payments and food stamps is rewarding bad behavior and creating dependency. This is part of an overall morality play in which the poor are blamed for their own station in life as being lazy, not getting good educations, making poor decisions, doing drugs (We need to drug test food stamp recipients!) while the well-off, nay the Rich!, are so because they are industrious, made good decisions, got good educations, and I am sure, were trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean, and reverent. (For those not getting the reference, the last bit is the Boy Scout Law).

Of course, Republicans do not feel any responsibility for supporting their ridiculous claims with any evidence, like when Florida decided to drug test those getting unemployment insurance and found that their drug use was at a lower rate than in the general population as well as at a lower rate than Florida’s Republican politicians.

So, is there any evidence in support of the Republican’s claim that giving support to poor or temporarily disadvantaged people is a bad thing? Interestingly enough there was a recent large scale study on just such a thing. As reported by Moises Velasquez-Manoff in the N.Y. Times: “In 1996, the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians in North Carolina’s Great Smoky Mountains opened a casino, and Jane Costello, an epidemiologist at Duke University Medical School, saw an opportunity. The tribe elected to distribute a proportion of the profits equally among its 8,000 members. Professor Costello wondered whether the extra money would change psychiatric outcomes among poor Cherokee families.

“When the casino opened, Professor Costello had already been following 1,420 rural children in the area, a quarter of whom were Cherokee, for four years. That gave her a solid baseline measure. Roughly one-fifth of the rural non-Indians in her study lived in poverty, compared with more than half of the Cherokee. By 2001, when casino profits amounted to $6,000 per person yearly, the number of Cherokee living below the poverty line had declined by half.

“The poorest children tended to have the greatest risk of psychiatric disorders, including emotional and behavioral problems. But just four years after the supplements began, Professor Costello observed marked improvements among those who moved out of poverty. The frequency of behavioral problems declined by 40 percent, nearly reaching the risk of children who had never been poor. Already well-off Cherokee children, on the other hand, showed no improvement. The supplements seemed to benefit the poorest children most dramatically.

“When Professor Costello published her first study, in 2003, the field of mental health remained on the fence over whether poverty caused psychiatric problems, or psychiatric problems led to poverty. So she was surprised by the results. Even she hadn’t expected the cash to make much difference. “The expectation is that social interventions have relatively small effects,” she told me. “This one had quite large effects.”

“She and her colleagues kept following the children. Minor crimes committed by Cherokee youth declined. On-time high school graduation rates improved. And by 2006, when the supplements had grown to about $9,000 yearly per member, Professor Costello could make another observation: The earlier the supplements arrived in a child’s life, the better that child’s mental health in early adulthood.

“She’d started her study with three cohorts, ages 9, 11 and 13. When she caught up with them as 19- and 21-year-olds living on their own, she found that those who were youngest when the supplements began had benefited most. They were roughly one-third less likely to develop substance abuse and psychiatric problems in adulthood, compared with the oldest group of Cherokee children and with neighboring rural whites of the same age.

“Cherokee children in the older cohorts, who were already 14 or 16 when the supplements began, on the other hand, didn’t show any improvements relative to rural whites. The extra cash evidently came too late to alter these older teenagers’ already-established trajectories.

“What precisely did the income change? Ongoing interviews with both parents and children suggested one variable in particular. The money, which amounted to between one-third and one-quarter of poor families’ income at one point, seemed to improve parenting quality.”

Mr. Velasquez-Manoff also noted “A parallel study at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill also highlights the insidious effect of poverty on parenting. The Family Life Project, now in its 11th year, has followed nearly 1,300 mostly poor rural children in North Carolina and Pennsylvania from birth. Scientists quantify maternal education, income and neighborhood safety, among other factors. The stressors work cumulatively, they’ve found. The more they bear down as a whole, the more parental nurturing and support, as measured by observers, declines.

So, “family values” Republicans are not only making up totally incorrect fairy tales to justify their specious policies regarding the poor, they are doing so by undermining the very family values they say they support. Words like despicable, scum-sucking, and two-faced come to mind, but I will be generous and simple call them corrupt politicians selling their souls for money and power.

January 18, 2014

Climate Confusion: There is No Debate!

In an opinion piece in today’s New York Times (If You See Something, Say Something), Michael E. Mann, the director of the Earth System Science Center at Pennsylvania State University and the author of “The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars: Dispatches from the Front Lines stated: “The overwhelming consensus among climate scientists is that human-caused climate change is happening. Yet a fringe minority of our populace clings to an irrational rejection of well-established science. This virulent strain of anti-science infects the halls of Congress, the pages of leading newspapers and what we see on TV, leading to the appearance of a debate where none should exist.”

So far so good, but he then goes on to state:
“Until the public fully understands the danger of our present trajectory, those debates are likely to continue to founder.” (He goes on to encourage scientists to engage in the “debate.”)

Arrrrghhh! There is no debate. The public understands.

“This is the only problem—it is called corruption.”

The core of the problem is that Washington politicians and many state politicians have been paid large sums of money to take positions in opposition to the reality of climate change. And you don’t have to discuss the merits of solutions if you don’t recognize there is a problem—stalemate! The Fox (sic) News Channel reinforces those ideas because it has received large amounts of money for doing so. No reputable news organization opposes the science of climate change.

This is the only problem—it is called corruption, political corruption. It’s base is that we allow corporations that are regulated by government to give money to those politicians regulating them, even when they are not running for office. From then on it is the Golden Rule (Them’s that has the gold makes the rules!)

January 17, 2014

The Comprehension Problem of the Times’ Mr. Brooks

In an editorial in the New York Times today, Mr. David Brooks, one of the more palatable conservative commenters, took on income inequality. The editorial, entitled “The Inequality Problem,” addressed how we are going about addressing the problem the wrong way. Here’s a quote:

In the first place, to frame the issue as income inequality is to lump together different issues that are not especially related. What we call “inequality” is caused by two different constellations of problems.

At the top end, there is the growing wealth of the top 5 percent of workers. This is linked to things like perverse compensation schemes on Wall Street, assortative mating (highly educated people are more likely to marry each other and pass down their advantages to their children) and the superstar effect (in an Internet economy, a few superstars in each industry can reap global gains while the average performers cannot).

At the bottom end, there is a growing class of people stuck on the margins, generation after generation. This is caused by high dropout rates, the disappearance of low-skill jobs, breakdown in family structures and so on.

So, according to Mr. Brooks, wealth is accumulating at the top because: (a) things like perverse compensation schemes on Wall Street, (b) rich people tend to marry other rich people, and (c) superstars can reap tremendous profits of scale having global audiences. Apparently Mr. Brooks is unaware that perverse compensation schemes in Wall Street have been around for quite a long time, but taxing their billion dollar incomes at a 15% level has not. Prior to President Reagan, these incomes would have been taxed at the 70% level on the top earnings (and hence would probably not exist).

Apparently Mr. Brooks is unaware that the “inequality problem” is a problem of the last 35 years or so, making the marrying argument more than a little ludicrous, as how much wealth accumulates in one generation from “rich people tend to marry rich people” and, gosh, weren’t they doing that before?

Apparently Mr. Brooks, is unaware that Babe Ruth in the twenties and Willie Mays in the sixties made salaries many times that of a successful businessman, as did many movie and rock stars (More!), and that “stars” certainly can earn a great deal, but the “new” rich tend to be business executives, not actors, sports figures, musicians, or entrepreneurs.

Apparently Mr. Brooks is unaware that the jobs shipped overseas by the corporations making record profits are the good-paying, union-backed jobs, not min wage jobs, that the economy has become a “service economy” because of this. That more jobs require less skill than before, so how much education does one need to provide a service?

And apparently Mr. Brooks hasn’t notice that if you are black, everything is much, much worse. Nope, no racism here. We aren’t cutting the social safety net and throwing even more people into poverty because the poor tend to be overpopulated by undeserving black people; nope, none of that; we are a post-racial society.

There is not some “invisible hand” of economics at work here, there is the deliberate distortion of the political realm by very wealthy people to change the rules: the rules of how the games are played (especially the tax rules) so that their wealth would grow and other’s wealth would shrink. It began with Mr. Reagan’s bold action of cutting the federal income top marginal tax rates (the rates paid only by the very well to do and only on their top earnings, we all pay the same up to that point) from 70% to below 40% at the same time raising “payroll taxes,” taxes that we all pay at the same rate but only up to a low limit, so as to make sure the rich pay no more than the poor. Then the rich were off and running with schemes that would continue their pay day and shrink everybody else’s.

And if raising the min. wage really won’t help the poor that much how about just recognizing the fact that the min. wage has been politically held down from the $18 per hour it would be today, if the wage had just kept up with the increased amounts of money being made by those employees for their employers (called “productivity”). If those workers were given the same share of the money made that they were getting back in 1968, they would be being paid almost $20 per hour today. And what “market force” was there that prevented that from happening? It had to be something magic that happened around 1980, because all wages were adjusted for productivity (by the markets) up to that point and then it just stopped. It couldn’t have been the undermining of unions in this country, could it? It couldn’t have been any of the other changes gotten through an orchestrated attack on the poor and middle class, now could it, Mr. Brooks? No, I guess not. A class war got us here, but a class war cannot get us back.

January 14, 2014

Can Business do Government Better?

Something said in a comment by Larry Beck on another topic on this blog tickled my thinking. Here it is: “The belief that a business can run things better than government is laughable when you realize thousands of businesses fail each year. It’s a myth that plutocrats have been selling us for centuries.” (You can read more of Larry (I do) at woodgatesview.wordpress.com.)

I think the various experiments with communism (although all have been distorted in one way or another) have given us the notion that, in all likelihood, business can do business better than government can do business, but can business do government better than government?

All of the evidence I have seen recently and historically says “no.”

Take charter schools as one example. When they became the point of the spear for the privatization of public school, I made the point (in this Blog, ahem) that something like half of all start-up businesses fail within the first five years, so what are we going to do with schools which up and close their doors? Diane Ravitch (well on her way to educational sainthood) commented about charter closures in Columbus, Ohio today “Nine of the 17 schools that closed in 2013 lasted only a few months this past fall. When they closed, more than 250 students had to find new schools. The state spent more than $1.6 million in taxpayer money to keep the nine schools open only from August through October or November.” (17! … in one city! Egad!) It would be bad enough if these schools were to close their doors over the summer, but when have businesses been able to program orderly closures?

As another example take Private Prisons. What have these companies given us: poor conditions for prisoners (prisoners don’t have paid lobbyists like the private prisons do), expanding prison populations (more prisoners = more profits), and political corruption galore (see the great American South West for myriad examples).

And how about all those military contractors? Instead of having GIs peeling potatoes and typing memos, the idea was that civilian contractors could do these jobs better and at less cost. A recent study shows that the costs are several times higher than if they had been government positions, and that doesn’t include the money paid to the contracting companies that ended up in our politician’s pockets. (Basically we are paying them to bribe our politicians.)

Now some may raise the Postal Service as a counterexample to this trend, but that would be wrong. The Postal Service, for example, did not anticipate the overnight shipping boom, but then the guy who invented the system got a C– on the college paper outlining it, so nobody else saw it coming either. The PS did finally get into a position where it offered competitive services but by then the private sector had gotten a large share of that market, so it shares it with the PS. The current problems being experienced by the PS are not based upon market forces, or any other reasonable measure of the ability of this quasi-government organization to function. It is based upon the Congress’s insistent that it save up enough money to pay off any and all future pensions, something no private company in its right mind would do. By extracting billions of dollars out of the PS’s budget to meet this requirement, significant handicaps to efficient service have been put in place (and are fueling things like closing POs and eliminating Saturday delivery). And why would Congress do such a stupid thing? Because certain politicians are being paid by privatizers to do so. (Kill the government beast, feast on its corpse.)

Government has a certain set of conditions it operates under that business do not, namely that it cannot be allowed to fail at its tasks. If our Armed Forces fail at their tasks, we could be conquered by another country. So, can we afford to have a private army which during an invasion announces it is filing for bankruptcy protection? Can we afford school system that closes because they mismanaged their budgets? (This almost never happened before privatization efforts, because such failures reflected very poorly on politicians in charge.) Government, that is “the collective us,” acts on our own behalf when private companies cannot be trusted to perform a function without fail. The idea that “business can do government better” is just wrong, worse it is idiotic, yet it is part of the central core of the ideology of a major political party which is an indicator of how corrupt our politics are.

January 11, 2014

The War on Public Education is a War on Teachers

The current “reform” effort in public education, financed mostly by what has become known as the Billionaire Boy’s Club (that name was already taken in the 1980’s but currently it refers to the Gates Foundation, the Broad Foundation, etc.) is in favor of “market-based” reforms, especially using VAMs or “value-added measures” to determine teacher effectiveness. It goes like this: a teacher’s students are given a test at the beginning of a term. They are then given a test later in the term to see how much progress has been made and then a great deal of the teacher’s evaluation is based upon the score improvement. Teachers who raise test scores a lot are “good” teachers; teachers who raise them little or not at all are “bad” teachers . . . and bad teachers need to be fired. This all sounds realistic and even scientific . . . but, let’s see how this works in the real world.

As this idea is being imposed from outside of education circles (the foundations, the linkage (illegal linkage) of federal support to the schools to adoption of such practices, etc.) a number of obvious questions pop up: what is the current system it would it replace? How does it compare with other systems?

As one who is old enough to have been subject to the Viet Nam War draft, I remember the “intelligence test” required for all “recruits.” When insufficient numbers of young males were passing this test, a solution was easily found; they lowered the score considered passing. Then and more recently, school districts have found themselves frequently in a similar position: a new school term begins in just a few days and more than a few classes do not have teachers assigned because there were not enough teachers available. The solution . . . provisional credentials. Local school boards would grant what one hoped were reasonably well-qualified job candidates a “temporary teaching credential” and voila, a teacher had been found. The “provisional” aspect was that said credential holders were to meet the certification requirements in the next X years. I have not read any research on how many of these provisional credential holders were able to become fully qualified, but I heard stories of “teachers” whose Provisional Credential expired in one school district, so they migrated to another school district to receive another provisional credential. (Hey! Market forces, supply-and-demand, you know.)

“Public education is no different from our military services. A private cannot just be “fired” from the Army by a general. There are processes involved.”

There is also a presumption that “teacher tenure” is a guarantee of lifetime employment, which is untrue. Tenure refers to policies in place that guarantee teachers a process by which they can be fired and that any such termination needs to be based upon performance and not on the fact that the principal’s nephew needed a job. (It happened.) And this can appear strange to people in the private sector where they can be fired for almost any reason with no process. But the distinction is that in the private sector, the firer is the owner of the company and in the school systems, the “administrator” is just another employee like the teacher, with no economic stake in the “company.” I have never had a problem with a business owners hiring and firing at whim (within the laws applicable) but the public owns the school systems, and Boards of Education are elected to run them, and procedures are required to avoid abuses. In this, public education is no different from our military services. A private cannot just be “fired” from the Army by a general. There are processes involved.

It is interesting that VAMs have been used in the private sector and mostly failed to achieve any of the promised results. So, what kinds of things do they actually do in the private sector to increase the quality of their workforces?

Let’s take Wall Street as an example. During the recent scandalous melt down, government bailout funds were taken and then given as large bonuses to the Wall Street traders who were a part of the problem that brought the world’s economies to their knees. There was considerable outrage at these actions. The defense was that if those bonuses hadn’t been paid, the traders would have up and moved to another firm, a significant loss of intellectual capital to their firms. Do you “buy” this argument? (Doesn’t matter; they do.) So, to keep quality employees, you must pay them well is the lesson.

Almost nowhere is there a business that is run as these folks want to run public education. Take highly educated employees, underpay them, and then just fire those who are less competent and hire replacements. This is bizarre. Teachers go into the teaching profession knowing that the profession is underpaid (my salary as a chemistry professor was roughly half what people made in my profession with my credentials). The tradeoffs for the low salary were a lower number of work days, relatively good pensions, and job security (most teachers are at least competent, so few get fired, although some did at my workplaces). How many people are going to go into a profession that requires a graduate college education but offers poor pay, a weak pension, and poor job security? Is that the way commercial interests do it?

How did Silicon Valley attract its highly qualified workers? Let’s see: good or high salaries, many fringe benefits (some lavish), attractive workplaces, stock options, hmm. VAMs, not so much, with one big exception: Microsoft Corporation. Bill Gates was fond of a policy that resulted in the bottom X% of employees being fired every year. (Now that Mr. Gates is no longer involved in the day-to-day operations of his company, that policy has been scrapped.) And Mr. Gates, through his foundation, is the primary advocate of applying VAMs to teacher evaluations. Hmmm.

So, of course, all of this was tested out, right? Right? Wrong. In fact, it is quite sure that the previous studies on teacher evaluations weren’t even read before embarking upon this jihad. Business owners don’t have to justify their whims (unless they cost the company lots of money and then they need to justify themselves to stockholders if they are publically financed), they just implement them.

So, why is this being done? Speculating on the motives of the “reformers” is probably specious but conservatives have two dependable memes: they hate unions and they intensely dislike opposition to their plans. Teachers are often unionized (when it is allowed) and teachers often support progressive candidates (with their feet and their money), two very strong reasons to paint them as “undesirable actors” in the political arena. Even if these weren’t explicit reasons to justify undermining them and their unions, they certainly support the efforts of the “reformers.”

“In the longer term, the teaching profession will attract only people who are interested in such working conditions (low pay, poor pension, testing to determine your job security, so, no job security) so ask yourself: will the general quality of teaching be improved over time by the imposition of such conditions?”

So, we see: attacks on tenure (to be replaced by short-term contracts), attacks on teacher pensions (more so in states that mismanaged teacher’s retirement funding), insistence on “merit pay” (for people not motivated primarily by money?), and attacks on teacher’s unions (They oppose innovation! You would too, if they were after your job. And it is just not true, teachers support innovation if it benefits students.)

Let’s set aside these “motives.” Let’s look at how the system will be affected if there is wide-spread adoption of these techniques. Districts will spend a lot more money on test purchase and administration. Districts will fire more “substandard teachers” (hopefully not by making math errors like Michele Rhee’s old system did) and have to train new ones, and the consequences are? (Certainly classrooms with teachers with “provisional credentials” a la Teach for America teachers.) The reformers say that since teachers will be better, students will be better taught and will learn more and we will all benefit. I say . . . wait a minute. Teachers are not blindly selfless, they will respond to these new conditions. They will focus more and more on their students passing the tests or scoring better on the tests. And what will happen to subjects that are not amenable to “bubble in” testing (music, sports, dance, painting, acting)? What will happen to nuances of learning? What will happen to subtleties? (Bye-bye.) In the longer term, the teaching profession will attract only people who are interested in such working conditions (low pay, poor pension, testing to determine your job security, so, no job security) so ask yourself: will the general quality of teaching be improved over time by the imposition of such conditions?

The sad thing is who has been left out of this discussion: students, who embody our future. Do we ever ask them what they want? I certainly think that they would prefer to not be treated as “throughput” in some industrialized system. Let’s ask them what they want. It is their future as well as ours.

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