Class Warfare Blog

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 Amazon.com 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)

https://gadflyonthewallblog.wordpress.com/2017/04/08/standardized-testing-creates-captive-markets/

March 31, 2017

Finding Jesus … Holy Shit: Follow-up

CNN blurb for the series: Finding Jesus discovers fascinating new insights into the historical Jesus, utilizing the latest scientific techniques and archaeological research.

I recently posted regarding watching an episode of a CNN series called “Finding Jesus: Faith, Fact, Forgery.” In this episode (S1, E9) the title of which is “The Childhood Home of Jesus” we were led to consider whether said home had actually been found. The sole line of evidence for this “discovery” was a reference in a 7th C. document about Nazareth which referred to two churches, one of which was still in existence, the other was lost. The other was reputedly built upon the ruins of Jesus’ family home!

An archeologist, Ken Dark, had been invited to view the ruins beneath the Sisters of Nazareth Convent which was in a building “said to be built upon the ruins of a church.” The examination of the catacombs under that building did indicate a former church being there but also there were “walls” within the walls indicating that the church might have been built upon the ruins of a house!

So the question got asked for the first time: “Was this the childhood home of Jesus of Nazareth?”

The motivation for the asking of this question is clear right off of the bat as a Jesuit cleric admits that if it were that house, then Jesus was not a fictional character, that “He led a real life.”

Whoa, quite a bit of validation there, I would say.

Let’s stop to consider if such an identification is possible. What they managed to prove so far is that a 7th C. document about Nazareth claimed a church was built upon what were claimed to be the ruins of Jesus’ family home. The authenticity of that document wasn’t claimed to have been corroborated, nor was any other documentation provided. But, what if a chain of documents leading back to the appropriate time were found, that could be authenticated, identified the site as that home, the home of an artisan named Joseph. Since that name was quite common, how could one verify one had the right one? Documents would not have included the names of spouses and children surely. There could have been two people with the same name, ten years apart, or twenty, or thirty that occupied the house. How would you know which was which?

If they found a message carved into the stone of the house’s original foundation that said : “This is the home of Yahushua bar Joseph.” Would that prove anything? The answer is always “no” because of the perfidy of human beings. If someone built a church on the foundation left of a house and that church got into financial trouble, could you not imagine someone carving that message into the stone, weathering it a bit, and then announcing the miracle of miracles, the discovery of Jesus’ childhood home, and reap a large number of new members to support that church.

Could you honestly say that a chain of documents could not be forged? (Such a chain is useless in any case as such documents were not made, let alone kept.)

My point is that the entire question is dishonest.

There is no possibility of identifying any common building from that long ago. Large, ornate public buildings might be identified from written descriptions. Other buildings might be identified from their structures as being a forge or a stable for horses or barracks for soldiers, but the home of a fairly ordinary person? Zero chance.

So, you have to ask yourself what the purpose of such a TV show is. What possible “new insights into the historical Jesus, utilizing the latest scientific techniques and archaeological research” could be had from such a bogus search? Apparently the purpose of the show is to make money off of gullible consumers of such shows. There is no scientific purpose, nor is there an historical, or archaeological, purpose for such a speculation.

It is the equivalent of going to the possible site of Goliath and David’s epic possible individual combat and picking up a stone asking: “Is this the stone that David used to slay the warrior Goliath?” Or could it have been ancient aliens?

March 6, 2017

All Kids Need to Learn is Great Teacher … Right?

Filed under: Education,Morality,Politics,Science — Steve Ruis @ 9:14 am
Tags:

I strongly recommend you read the article this post is based on (here). It was published in The Guardian (U.K.), translated from a Dutch source.

We have been told by conservatives and Neoliberals that the only thing kids need to learn is a great teacher, well that and a charter school, or a voucher system. All of these claims are not only bogus but they mask their true purpose and that is to extract private profits out of public coffers and, secondarily, to disenfranchise teachers unions and teachers, who tend to be and vote liberal.

For many years educational researchers have been arguing that the real cause of the bulk of the performance gap between groups of students is poverty. That if you were to fix poverty, then the education system would work for all (and it is working well, maybe not as well as we would like, but well).

This Guardian article brought up some new information that applies to this “argument.” (I hesitate to use the word argument to an issue in which one side is simply taking stances with little to no evidence to back them up, maybe disagreement is better.)

Here is a sample of that article:

“It all started when I accidently stumbled on a paper by a few American psychologists. They had travelled 8,000 miles, to India, to carry out an experiment with sugar cane farmers. These farmers collect about 60% of their annual income all at once, right after the harvest. This means they are relatively poor one part of the year and rich the other. The researchers asked the farmers to do an IQ test before and after the harvest. What they discovered blew my mind. The farmers scored much worse on the tests before the harvest. The effects of living in poverty, it turns out, correspond to losing 14 points of IQ. That’s comparable to losing a night’s sleep, or the effects of alcoholism.”

The effects of poverty are substantial and show up quickly. These are not some effects that take decades of poverty to occur.

“A few months later I discussed the theory with Eldar Shafir, a professor of behavioural science and public policy at Princeton University and one of the authors of this study. The reason, put simply: it’s the context, stupid. People behave differently when they perceive a thing to be scarce. What that thing is doesn’t much matter; whether it’s time, money or food, it all contributes to a ‘scarcity mentality’. This narrows your focus to your immediate deficiency. The long-term perspective goes out of the window. Poor people aren’t making dumb decisions because they are dumb, but because they’re living in a context in which anyone would make dumb decisions.”

So, the drop in IQ stems from an evolutionary principle: if you want to survive, you must focus your attention on what you need to do so. If you are very, very thirsty, you can only think about finding water, etc. (Maybe this is another reason conservatives are against these findings; because evolution?)

So, what if people didn’t have the option of being poor by providing a universal basic income? Neoliberals respond to this idea with the claim that the poor will still make stupid decisions; they will fritter away any money we give them, so it is a waste of money. But, what if this had been tried? What really happened? Well it has been tried  … on people just like us up in Canada. (And is being repeated in Scandinavian experiments right now.)

“The experiment had started in Dauphin, a town north-west of Winnipeg, in 1974. Everybody was guaranteed a basic income ensuring that no one fell below the poverty line. And for four years, all went well. But then a conservative government was voted into power. The new Canadian cabinet saw little point in the expensive experiment. So when it became clear there was no money left for an analysis of the results, the researchers decided to pack their files away. In 2,000 boxes.

“When Forget (a researcher) found them, 30 years later, no one knew what, if anything, the experiment had demonstrated. For three years she subjected the data to all manner of statistical analysis. And no matter what she tried, the results were the same every time. The experiment – the longest and best of its kind – had been a resounding success.

Forget discovered that the people in Dauphin had not only become richer, but also smarter and healthier. The school performance of children improved substantially. The hospitalisation rate decreased by as much as 8.5%. Domestic violence was also down, as were mental health complaints. And people didn’t quit their jobs – the only ones who worked a little less were new mothers and students, who stayed in school longer.”

Wow! Just because a universal income worked there doesn’t mean it will work everywhere but it seems to address the problems effectively and is “feasible.” The author concluded with this:

“The costs of child poverty in the US are estimated at $500bn (£410bn) each year, in terms of higher healthcare spending, less education and more crime. It’s an incredible waste of potential. It would cost just $175bn, a quarter of the country’s current military budget, to do what Dauphin did long ago: eradicate poverty.”

I might add that the scales are never loaded correctly in these arguments. The Neoliberals are always loading the costs on one side of the balance and then decrying “We can’t afford it!” These are the same people who talk about the costs of environment regulations but never look at the benefits.

The $175 billion needed to implement this policy in the U.S. is chump change compared to the costs of not doing it. Consider that the U.S. government recently ponied up over 2 trillion dollars to bail out large financial institutions because of their patent malfeasance. We do not have to raid the Defense Department (I am not opposed but Neoliberals are), we can just get the money from the same place that 2 trillion dollars came from. Think about it like this: you get a $500 billion return for only $175 billion. That’s a hell of a discount.

The final point the author makes is “Poverty is not a lack of character. Poverty is a lack of cash.” This is a problem for conservatives because their ideology insists that poverty is a character flaw.

And … just stop with the “all kids need to learn is great teacher” bullshit, please!

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