Class Warfare Blog

June 24, 2017

Call Them Scum and See them Flock to Your State!

Who said “ye shall reap what ye sow?” (That particular phrase is not in the Bible, but equivalent phrases are, many times.)

Republicans have been beating on teachers for years, calling them “pigs at the public trough,” and undermining their collective bargaining rights, as well as blaming them for all of the ills of our public schools. (The last complaint is like blaming auto workers for the bad designs of General Motors cars in the late twentieth century.)

The law of unintended consequences applies, though, and Nevada, a leading Republican bastion, is facing a 22% shortage (!), that’s one in five, in qualified teachers in their schools (see here). Who needs ‘em, you ask? Ask the kids in classes that have one of the bodies plugged into place in their stead. The qualifications for teachers were not established by teachers, they were established by democratically-elected school boards and democratically-elect law makers to set minimum standards of competence for teachers. What does it say when your schools boast of having one of five teachers not up to minimum standards?

But then, many in the GOP are in favor of doing away with democratically-elected school boards anyway. Replace them with corporate boards. They are much more responsible to their communities needs.

Missing in all of this is the reason the GOP and their conservative backers have gone after unions: basically teachers tend to vote democratic and had the temerity to form unions which not only work for better benefits and rights for teachers, but also advocate for students. Them students should learn to sit down and shut up and be happy with whatever paycheck they end up with.

Too much democracy is not a good thing. This is also why GOP state governments are disempowered local jurisdictions (cities, counties, etc.) wholesale.

This is not “alt-right” stuff but alternate universe stuff. Sheesh!

We Don’ Need No Regyoolayshuns … Education Edition

Check out “Multi-state investigation alleges Akron-area charter school founder bilked millions from parents, students, taxpayers” (Akron Beacon Journal/

The “pro choice” education lobby seems to be more of a “pro-corruption” advocacy group as more and more of these scams are popping up. Politicians, paid for by the scammers, insist no public oversight is needed. After all it is just money we are giving them, and the responsibility to teach our children. Nothing to see here, move along.

May 22, 2017

High School Graduation Rates Going Up? Maybe . . .

Filed under: Education — Steve Ruis @ 7:49 am
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The Brookings Institution published a piece on high school graduation rates. According to that piece, studies show high school graduation rates had been higher in the 1970s, for example, but from 1990 to 2007 they had been “stable” in the 71%–75% range, but since then have crept up to 82%. Their point was that the statistics, while being soft, were also unexplained; we don’t know why they declined and we don’t know why they have increased lately.

I don’t know either, but I’d be willing to bet a dollar that the cause is that high school students aren’t leaving high school because they got a good job as much as they used to. The years 2007-2008 were pivotal. That is when the Great Recession began. Since then young people have witnessed the impact of the shitty job market and the wage suppression efforts of the plutocrats’ effects on their parents. The economic uncertainty of those parents trickled down to their children, no matter how hard they tried to shield them from it. So, the pressure to “stay in school” was higher and the opportunities to take a “good job” in lieu of graduating were many fewer. Both could increase the high school graduation rate.

Congratulations economy destroying capitalists!

I graduated high school in 1964 and at that time, not everyone went to college. You didn’t even consider it unless you had B average grades. Many of my classmates went off into the world of work right away. It was “normal.” Now, it seems that the only path forward recommended to high school students is college. Trade apprentice programs, the military, technical schools, all of the alternatives available when I was young seem to be no longer in favor. Granted, community colleges offer certificates in cosmetology and welding and auto mechanics, filling the “trade school” gap somewhat, but children are actively discouraged from going into trades for the most part.

So, apparently my generation has effed up the economy of this country sufficiently that while we were unable to use the “scared straight” approach to stop drug use, we apparently have done a good job of scaring youths straight to high school graduation.

May 18, 2017

GOP Gives Lie to Their “Small Government” Goal

The GOP has clamored for smaller government, mostly at the federal level, for many decades. “Big Government” was a term said only as a slur. In particular, the GOP has advocated that the federal Department of Education should be dispensed with as education was the responsibility of the states. (I do not argue with that point.)

But, well, times have changed. In particular, the GOP is in power and positioned to do almost anything they want to do. So what do we get? According to a press release from the American Association of School Administrators:
“Alexandria, Va. – May 17, 2017 – Legislation pending in Congress would create new opportunities for corporations and successful investors to earn huge profits by transferring public funding to private schools, according to a report released today by AASA, The School Superintendents Association, and the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy.
“The legislation—the Educational Opportunities Act—would put two new federal voucher tax shelters within reach for many more Americans and lead to an explosion in funding for private schools. It would also keep in place an existing federal loophole that permits savvy taxpayers to benefit from ‘double dipping’ practices, where they receive a federal deduction and state tax credit on the same donation to a private school entity. At present, high-income taxpayers in nine of the 17 states offering voucher tax credits can turn a profit using this technique.

So, apparently, federal meddling in the state’s business of educating the next generations is now okay now, because … money.

May 5, 2017

Stop with the Throw Away Lines

Too often now I am seeing lazy writing (too often my own which then needs to be corrected, but that’s another story) in the form of “throw away lines:” President Trump is “good at real estate,” Bill Gates “knows computers,” etc. In truth, Mr. Trump, for example, is involved in real estate deals of a magnitude none of us will ever touch but so what? If you had been given as much startup money as he was, would you have done as well or better? How successful has he been? (You’ll have to consult someone other than Mr. Trump on that; maybe if you could see his tax returns….) What brought this to mind was a line in an article regarding the rage to extract profits from the K-12 education “market.” (Why For-Profit Education Fails by Jonathan A. Knee in the November issue of The Atlantic magazine). This was the line.

“Advocates of for-profit education often understandably emphasize the role that market forces play in improving quality and efficiency.”

Understandably? Market forces improve quality and efficiency? This is a bit generous. Mr. Gates is famous because he captured a rapidly expanding new market. His big idea? That you should pay substantial amounts for the software needed to make the software that you actually want to run on your computer work. (Reasonably, we should have expected that to be free with the price of a computer and upgraded for free). Then he made marginal improvements in his product and charged more and more for every “upgrade.” Some of these “improvements” actually made his product worse. Through hardball business tactics, though, he extracted billions of dollars from a captive market (it is very hard for the average computer user to pick up his marbles and go home; if one decides to scrap one’s “operating system,” one incurs a great deal of expense and no little commitment of time, so this is not something to be undertaken lightly … I know I have done it several times).

“The role that market forces play in improving quality and efficiency,” uh, maybe.

Also, there is no acknowledgement of how those “market forces” accomplish those “improvements” when they do occur. Generally they are accomplished by the crushing of opposing companies, costing their investors money and their workers jobs. Currently is “improving the quality and efficiency” of bookstores (and more). Ask any bookstore owner or worker how that is going.

Also, do any of these people consider whether it is appropriate to apply “market forces” to an endeavor in which we desire there to be no failures? Does anyone interview the parents and school kids involved when a charter school shuts down in mid year and those kids need to be placed into another school (with the money to educate them gone in the disaster)?

Has anyone suggested that the military be run this way? Or the education of doctors? (It is so expensive to educate doctors that great efforts are extended to select students who will succeed and then great efforts are made to help them do so.) Should we be applying the same standards to volunteer soldiers that we are recommending for teachers? (Wash 10% out every year and replace them with better ones!)

Stop with the “the role that market forces play in improving quality and efficiency” throw away statements, especially when they are not even close to being true.

May 3, 2017

The Ann Coulter Brouhaha

Filed under: Culture,Education,Politics — Steve Ruis @ 9:25 am
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I don’t get it. Ann Coulter is taking umbrage at being denied a speaker’s platform at the University of California’s Berkeley Campus. Commentators are going some what berserk over this as being part of a trend in which well-known conservatives are being shut out of liberal bastions, the universities. Issues of free speech are being bandied about.

In the case of Ms. Coulter I must ask:

  • Has she ever inventing something?
    • Has she ever discovered something?
    • Has she created ideas that are new?
    • Has she ever done anything important?
    • Does she have anything to offer but her own opinions?

Our universities are places in which we educate people, should not these invited speakers have done something, created something, or discovered something that would enable them to pass on their wisdom to newer generations? Is our only criterion an “invitation” from a campus club?

Is having provocative opinions now “enough” in the way of societal credentials to have a platform at a major university?

This Is Ridiculous!

Filed under: Education,Morality,Sports — Steve Ruis @ 9:23 am
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The University of Alabama has just given its football coach a three-year extension on his current contract with a price tag of $65,000,000 additional in salary. This is ridiculous.

If said coach worked as many hours as an average worker, this means he would be making $11,500 per hour, that’s right per hour.

This means that said coach would make more than the average worker in the U.S. makes in a year in one afternoon.

This is madness. This is not for some life-saving surgeon or freedom-ensuring lawyer, this is for an effing football coach, a coach of amateur football.

Do we need any more evidence that capitalism is broken?

April 25, 2017

International Test Scores … and Other Meaningless Drivers of Policy

In yet another piece by a think tank on education [(Brown Center Chalkboard) “What International Test Scores Reveal About American Education” by Louis Serino, April 7, 2017] we are treated to a fairly typical display of data showing “some progress” but still typically mediocre results. (We are America, for Christ’s sake; shouldn’t we be #1!)

At the end of the article comes the important segment, which many will not read far enough to partake of:

“Why Do These Scores Matter?

Rankings based on international assessments are simple to understand—but they can also mislead. While researchers often shy away from using rankings in serious statistical analyses of test scores, they can have a substantial impact on political rhetoric, and consequently, education policy. Media outlets often take these lists and use them in headlines or sound bites, providing little context and furthering educational policy discussion that can often be misleading. To get the most value from U.S. participation in PISA and TIMSS, policymakers—and the public—should closely analyze the trends on both tests with caution and context.”

What almost all of these pieces leave out is a simple question: are we comparing apples to hand grenades? “Apples to oranges” is the usual forn of this cliché but that form instills some similarity in that the comparison is at least fruit to fruit, which is too close of a match for what these articles do.

To compare “fruit to fruit” we might ask “Has the U.S. ever done well in these international tests?” The answer is No! We have never, ever, ever done really well on those tests. There are many reasons for this but let me point out that our school children scored fairly mediocre in international math testing one year, the same year in which our school children won the prestigious and highly competitive Math Olympics. Also, since about the 1960’s we have had these “mediocre international test scores” but still had a university system the envy of the world, and innovation that was the envy of the world, an economy … well, you know.

In comparing “fruit to fruit” why should we compare how we did with how well Singapore or Shanghai did? Are they countries of similar population? (Hint: They aren’t even countries!) We break up high school football championships into myriad categories by size of the schools, but we compare a 300 million population country (us) with Singapore (pop. 5 million)? We are also compared negatively with Finland, an actual country, but one which has a population the same as Singapore’s. Sheesh!

And, what about breakouts? When we separate out some U.S. states, we can’t help but notice that Massachusetts does as well as any country on the list, all by itself. That is not often noted because you can’t claim that “public education is an abject failure” when there are examples galore of it kicking ass. Now there would be policy recommendations you could get from that one breakout factoid, maybe “Massachusetts seems to be able to make public education work for American students, lets all do it like Massachusetts.” That would be a viable policy recommendation if … if what Massachusetts does didn’t counter the narratives of some of the current crop of education reformers.

Would the automobile industry accept all of the input from think tanks, political groups, privately-funded reform groups, were they to insert themselves into the business of making cars? I think those entities would be more or less politely told to go suck eggs.

I think it is time for the education reformers to be told to go suck eggs. They do not know what they are doing. They do not know how to really analyze the data. And they have no special perspective you couldn’t get from a hired bean counter. They need to just go away and return education to the people closest to it.



April 22, 2017

Through a Glass Darkly, Dirty and Distorted, Too

We are treated with a view of education from the privatizing crowd that is bizarre. They see a child sitting in front of a computer, learning their ABC’s and whatnot. They see robotic teachers teaching from scripts and then subjecting their charges to standardized tests. They see, well, profits mostly.

I am not as concerned that these people see this as “a good idea,” but that others, not “on the take” as it were, agree.

What this whole approach misses is that education is a social process. It doesn’t take place in a closet, but in a crowd. We do, though, have societal icons; one is of the lone wolf academic who studies on his/her own and does great things, such as portrayed in the movie “Good Will Hunting.” Because these are themes we enjoy seeing and hearing about (a little like winning the lottery: if it could happen to them, it might happen to me!), we see and hear about them a great deal (the lone scientist, the lone crime investigator, etc. against all odds blah, blah, blah). But they are not the norm.

Currently scientists are seeing that we tend to think better in groups, that no individual has all of the puzzle pieces but in communication with others, clusters of puzzle pieces get formed, and then clusters combine to make larger clusters.

It is not an accident that communication is a cornerstone of the scientific method. No, not the method that you were taught in school, that was a convenient fiction. You have to look between the lines. Just one person doesn’t have access to all of the facts. They also don’t have access to all of the imagination. Who creates the hypotheses, just individuals? And who creates the theories? Creationists seem to think Darwin created the entire theory of evolution. The truth of the matter is Darwin created a structural framework, that literally thousands and thousands of scientists have built, rebuilt and filled in. There are so many fingerprints on the theory of evolution now, that saying “Darwin was wrong” is irrelevant. The portion of the theory of evolution that is Darwin’s is but a small part of the whole now.

Education is not limited to human beings, but it is a social activity. While “students” can go away for a time and in solitude, consult educational technology (the most successful ed-tech so far is something called “books”), they must come back and interact with other human beings to clarify understandings, compare opinions, and justify arguments. Students are learning how to learn and participate and think in groups. They learn to write so other humans, not in their locality in either space and time, will understand them.

The problem with the voucher faddists, the charter school purveyors, and the ed-tech peddlers is that they think education is something that can be analyzed using a spreadsheet, with the most important column being “profit.” If you compare their approach with what is being done in, say, Finland, you will see what is wrong. In Finland, they are working to improve the ability of teachers and students to interact as directly as possible. Their classrooms have almost no “tech” in them. Children get out and play between classes because play is important, it is important to learning how to work with other human beings.

Everybody I know went to school. If they think about it for just a minute, they will recognize what I claim above is true. Which makes it even more shocking that so many of these “reforms” are being supported around the country. Are we that venal? Or are we that distracted (Oh, Facebook!)?

I do not know about you, but I have just deleted my Facebook account. The reason? No social ROI, just distraction, distraction, distraction.

April 11, 2017

If You Want to Understand Why American Education is Fucked Up—Read This

Filed under: Education,Politics — Steve Ruis @ 12:42 pm
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(Hint: Follow the Money)

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