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Columbia Heights School Board: Hala Asamarai

by gregladen on November 24, 2015 · 0 comments

2355690Full disclosure. I don’t know Dr. Hala Asamarai, but my wife knows her very well. They taught together at Columbia Heights when Hala was just starting out as a student teacher. They worked together for quite some time and have remained friends and colleagues since. Amanda has a very high opinion of Hala, and that’s a very good starting point.
Hala Asamarai is running for the Columbia Heights School Board in a special election that will be held on December 1st, and I’m asking you to support her.
You will recall that a while back a Columbia Heights school board member made inappropriate remarks about Muslims. The board voted on his removal, but that vote has to be unanimous. One of the offending member’s buddies did not vote in favor of his removal, so the board continued with status quo. Later, under increasing pressure, both of these members resigned.
Let me tell you a little story that I should probably not relate publicly, but screw it. Years ago I was at an event in Columbia Heights. The event happened to be attended by a very large proportion of people who were not, shall we say, the typical white resident that Columbia Heights, as a city, formerly consisted primarily of. There were people who had immigrated from countries all around the world to find their way, eventually, to Columbia Heights.
A man at the gathering was talking to another guy, and I happened to overhear. He made mention of the presence of all these people from outside, and noted that, “I suppose we have to get used to this.”
That was actually a fairly positive remark. It was better than, say, white supremacists showing up in North Minneapolis and shooting a bunch of Blacks Lives Matters protestors and supporters. It was better than making a straight on anti-Muslim remark. Could have been worse. On the other hand, the remark, in context, indicated resignation over something undesirable. It was not welcoming. At best, it was less than unwelcoming as it could have been.


Time to change our comparative focus on education

by Dan Burns on November 24, 2015 · 0 comments

teachersAnd an additional item.

We conclude that the most important lessons U.S. policymakers can learn about improving education emerge from examining why some U.S. states have made large gains in math and reading and achieve high average test scores. The lessons embedded in how these states increased student achievement in the past two decades are much more relevant to improving student outcomes in other U.S. states than looking to high-scoring countries with social, political, and educational histories that differ markedly from the U.S. experience. No matter how great the differences among U.S. states’ social and educational conditions, they are far smaller than the differences between the United States as a whole and, say, Finland, Poland, Korea, or Singapore. As such, this report starts the process of delving into the rich data available on student academic performance in U.S. states over the past 20 years—and shows that the many major state successes should be our main guide for improving U.S. education.
(Economic Policy Institute)



TFA buys school board seats in Richfield

by Dan Burns on November 5, 2015 · 2 comments

abanschoolThis is not about going after idealistic young people who give Teach for America a try. But the fact is that the organization is being used to undermine and corporatize public education, and that makes this bad news.


That’s one word to describe the campaign finance report for Teach for America–Twin Cities employee Crystal Brakke. Brakke is one of nine candidates gunning for three open seats on the Richfield, Minnesota school board, and if she wins, she will have heavy hitters like venture capitalist and TFA board member Arthur Rock to thank…
In 2014, the free-flowing money from the likes of Rock, Michael Bloomberg, and charter school champion and Oxycontin heir Jonathan Sackler was not enough to tip Minneapolis’ board into a solidly pro-reform camp. One candidate whose campaign benefited from the money, Don Samuels, won, while the other candidate, Iris Altamirano, did not.
Now, the big money is back, for a very local school board race, and TFA is the tie that binds all of this together…
To Brakke’s credit, she has been a Richfield resident for years. And, she’s not in this alone. Another fellow TFA alum, Paula Cole, is also running for a spot on Richfield’s school board.
(Bright Light Small City)

Brakke and Cole both won.
Comment below fold.


clown carThere was an odd moment during the last Republican debate. Just one? Well, this one was mostly missed, though it jumped out to me. John Kasich said, “I was on Morning Joe at a town hall, and a young student stood up and said, ‘Can I still be idealistic?'” It was odd because, first, does any real person talk like that? Maybe so, but the second oddity is Kasich trying to appeal to young voters, because that hasn’t exactly been his strength lately.
During a recent town hall at the University of Richmond, Kasich had students behind him where they could appear on camera, but getting him to take a student’s question was evidently a lower priority. When finally he called on a student, before she could ask her question, he decided to anticipate her question by saying “I’m sorry, I don’t have any Taylor Swift concert tickets.” Sure, because what else might a young adult be interested in? No need to take my word for it that she felt patronized. Take hers.

The older members of the audience chuckled as my friends’ jaws dropped to the floor. It was astonishingly clear that Gov. Kasich did not come to Richmond for my vote.

While the lectures were condescending, the real issue was that Kasich chose not to listen to students in his forum. Most of the questions came from older members of the community, many vocalizing their support of Kasich before throwing him a softball question. Kasich barreled through a Planned Parenthood question, dismissing the young woman who posed it, and derided me when I had the audacity to raise my hand. Kasich came to Richmond to pander to retired Republicans. He could gain points by belittling me and my peers, so that’s what he did.
What continues to strike me is the hypocrisy of his condescension. He touted his ambitious energy as an 18-year-old man, but as soon as I, an 18-year-old woman, exhibited ambition, I became the target of his joke. The same passion that drove Kasich to speak with President Nixon drove me to ask the candidate a question I care deeply about.

This is the candidate touting that a student asked him a question about idealism? The reason Kasich would say that in the debate is obvious. He’s trying to signal to Republicans that he can address their problem with younger voters because they respond to him. Well, looks like “respond” can be negative as well as positive.


education2Of course so much damage has been done. In the image it’s pointed out what the real purpose of all of the standardized testing has been. So people apparently getting serious about reducing it is not a bad thing, though certainly the first thing that comes to mind is why it’s taken so long.

Minnesota prepared Monday to trim more standardized testing, echoing President Barack Obama’s weekend call to ensure that students aren’t spending too much time on exams.
The Legislature has made a raft of changes to public school testing in recent years, including eliminating high school exit exams in 2013 and capping testing time earlier this year. It’s been the subject of repeated calls to eliminate nearly two dozen different exams, work groups and stalled legislative proposals. And lawmakers aren’t done…

Their goal could be buoyed by the president’s announcement on Saturday. Sen. Charles Wiger, a Maplewood Democrat who chairs the Senate’s education committee, said it “re-energized” the need to chip away at testing, which he called a top priority for next year. Wiger said it gives him hope that the federal government would approve more waivers from the No Child Left Behind Act, the law that required standardized testing starting in third grade.

Sarah Lahm always has the greatest commentary on education issues in Minnesota.

There it is! The “sharing together more consistently” thing! Just a few days before Mickelsen’s piece comparing union supporters to fundamentalists hit the fan, Cunningham published a near replica, called “The Best Hope for Teachers Unions is…Reform.”
Cunningham’s pro-“get tough” reform piece appeared on both his Huffington Post site and on Education Post, in a coordinated campaign sort of way.
I’m not sure if the two were comparing notes, but Cunningham’s piece strongly resembles Mickelsen’s. Or maybe it’s the other way around. In any case, both pieces harp on remarkably similar (and familiar) points of view: charter schools are amazing, teachers unions are toxic and antiquated, and school choice is the yellow brick road to redemption.
(Bright Light Small City)


Who Pays and Who Plays?

by Dog Gone on October 16, 2015 · 0 comments

Ok, so it is more serious and not pure entertainment. We should be subsidizing academics, not sports.

But ask yourself the next logical question raised by this video – who is benefiting from this arrangement? Follow the money.

It is not the players who benefit; they don’t get paid, and are frequently injured, losing their scholarships after injury. It is clearly not the schools, students or ordinary tax payers who benefit; those are the people who pay the bill for this.

Sure a few superstars might go on to the major league sports teams, and make big bucks; but that is really the hook to attract athletes in the first place. It is not unfair to assert that college level sports operates as a farm team for the pros at the expense of most of the athletes – and students, and tax payers, and academic staff.

Watch the video above again; and then remember what you saw the next time you see a Republican whingeing on and on about Democrats who want to give ‘free stuff’ like debt relief to students, or eliminate tuition. Aren’t they REALLY just trying to keep rigging the playing field, keeping an unfair status quo in place?

Higher education is an investment in our future economy. It is the foundation for innovation. Higher education is essential to avoid structural unemployment (job sectors collapsing, or people unqualified to fill open jobs), as distinct from frictional unemployment (normal economically healthy job changes as people advance leaving old jobs, retire, etc.). An educated labor force is essential to a competitive economy. Free higher education to those qualified to receive it is smart, it is an investment with a future payback, a future return. It is not a give-away, it is not a bribe, it is not a gift.
But if we DO enact free tuition, or at the very least less student debt, maybe it is time for either a drastic refinancing of college athletics, or their elimination entirely – let the pros run their own farm teams and pay for them. Ditto their stadiums. Get out of the public pocket benefiting the private sector wealthy.


Military gives Phoenix the boot

by Dan Burns on October 16, 2015 · 1 comment

abandoned2It turns out that the king of for-profits, the University of Phoenix, has been fleecing the military. You would sure hope, given corporate media’s near-deification of all things military, these days – except, of course, the VA, where c. media‘s “coverage“ is all about helping along the agenda of the greedhead privatizers – that people who haven’t been paying attention to the vile realities of for-profits might be moved to start doing so.

On (October 8), the Department of Defense announced that it would no longer allow service members to use their funds to attend the University of Phoenix, a for-profit college owned by the Apollo Education Group.
The University of Phoenix would also no longer be allowed to host recruitment events on military installations.
The DoD found that the university was using deceptive marketing practices and even using military symbols without the proper approval in order to recruit students.
This is a stunning turn of events for a college that receives the largest share of GI Bill money of any college in the country.
(Yahoo Finance/Business Insider)

A couple more, very worthwhile, education items, below the fold.

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Behold the dumbing down of America in the pandering of the right wing politicians looking for support from those who are less likely to be educated, or critical thinkers.


The grammar and spelling checker App, Grammarly, was used to evaluate the writing abilities of candidates for president in the 2016 election cycle.  The differences it showed between supporters of Democratic candidates and Republican candidates was striking and pronounced.


Let me stress, this was a politically neutral computer program, which should minimize bias. Think Progress, generally viewed as left leaning, should have used the Grammarly app themselves, as they made an error it would have corrected, in the first sentence.


WHY does this matter, you may be musing? Is this mere unimportant opportunity for snark? It matters because we think, we reason, and we persuade primarily in language.  There are deeper implications.


From Think Progress:


Bernie Sanders supporters might think you’re great, but Donald Trump supporters think your [sic] an idiot.

Grammar-wise, that’s at least what might be derived from a new analysis released Tuesday by the proofreading app Grammarly. By analyzing the spelling and grammar of comments on each presidential candidate’s Facebook page, the analysis found that Republican supporters made mistakes at nearly twice the rate of Democratic supporters.

To get their results, Grammarly went to each candidate’s Facebook page, taking comments that were at least 15 words long and expressed either positive or neutral feelings about the candidate. Then, researchers randomly selected at least 180 of those comments to analyze for each candidate.

The analysis — intended by Grammarly to be “a lighthearted look at how well the 2016 presidential candidates’ supporters write when they’re debating online” — found that, for every 100 words written, an average Democratic candidate supporter made 4.2 mistakes, while an average Republican candidate backer made 8.7 errors. It also asserted that Democratic supporters have larger vocabularies, using 300 unique words for every 1,000 words they use, compared to Republicans who only use only 245 unique words for every 1,000.

Politico back in mid-August analyzed Donald Trump as speaking like a 3rd grader.


Donald Trump isn’t a simpleton, he just talks like one. If you were to market Donald Trump’s vocabulary as a toy, it would resemble a small box of Lincoln Logs. Trump resists multisyllabic words and complex, writerly sentence constructions when speaking extemporaneously in a debate, at a news conference or in an interview. He prefers to link short, blocky words into other short, blocky words to create short, blocky sentences that he then stacks into short, blocky paragraphs.

The end result of Trump’s word choice is less the stripped-down prose style of Ernest Hemingway than it is a spontaneous reinvention of Ogden’s Basic English, the pared-down lexicon of 850 words selected by early 20th century linguist/philosopher C.K. Ogden as the bedrock of a new world language. In the August 6th Republican candidates debate, Trump answered the moderators’ questions with linguistic austerity. Run through the Flesch-Kincaid grade-level test, his text of responses score at the 4th-grade reading level. For Trump, that’s actually pretty advanced. All the other candidates rated higher, with Ted Cruz earning 9th-grade status. Ben Carson, Mike Huckabee, and Scott Walker scored at the 8th-grade level. John Kasich, the next-lowest after Trump, got a 5th-grade score.

Trump’s low grade at the debates wasn’t a fluke. His comments from an August 11 news conference in Michigan earned only a 3rd-grade score.

Flattening the English language whenever he speaks without a script, Trump relies heavily on words such as “very” and “great,” and the pronouns “we” and “I,” which is his favorite word. As any news observer can observe, he lives to diminish his foes by calling them “losers,” “total losers,” “haters,” “dumb,” “idiots,” “morons,” “stupid,” “dummy” and “ disgusting.” He can’t open his mouth without bragging about getting the Clintons to attend his wedding, about how smart he is, the excellence of his real estate projects, the brilliance of his TV show, his generous donations to other political campaigns and so on. In a freakish way, Trump resembles that of Muhammad Ali at his prime—except the champ was always kidding (even when he was right) while Trump seems to believe his claims (and often is wrong). Or perhaps he is afflicted with binary vision disorder, which renders all within his eyeshot either great or rotten.

Politico goes on to note this is a feature, not a bug.  I would argue it works well for reaching his desired base audience.  Politico goes on to note that part of Trump’s success in business comes from his capacity to deceive.  I think we can conclude that is part of the strategy of every right wing candidate running this election cycle.  I would argue that it demonstrates the same appeal to emotional thinking that characterizes propaganda, in contrast to an appeal to rational, factual and logical thought.


I would go further and argue that this presents a distinct challenge to the function of representative government, when we let the emotional and ignorant drive the bus of government.  We do not function well as a nation when those who are anti-factual education, anti-intellectual achievement, and especially anti-science are setting the policies and funding priorities, and proposing failed ideology or superstitious religion as solutions to very real problems.


abandoned2This isn’t game-changing news (that’s an inappropriate word choice, what’s being done to public education in America is far from a “game”), all things considered.

Arne Duncan is stepping down. John King, former State Superintendent in New York, will take his place. In New York, King became extremely controversial because of his dogged support for the Common Core, for high-stakes testing, and for a badly flawed teacher evaluation system. King previously worked in “no excuses” charter schools.
(Diane Ravitch)

School policy ripped out of time and history: in many ways that is Arne Duncan’s gift to us — school policy focused on disparities in test scores instead of disparities in opportunity — a Department of Education obsessed with data-driven accountability for teachers, but for itself an obsession with “game-changing” innovation and inadequate attention to oversight — the substitution of the consultant-driven, win-lose methodology of philanthropy for formula-driven government policy — school policy that favors social innovation, one charter at a time. Such policies are definitely a break from the past. Whether they promise better opportunity for the mass of our nation’s children, and especially our poorest children, is a very different question…
If, as President Obama says, Arne Duncan has “brought our educational system, sometimes kicking and screaming, into the 21st century,” I hope we will stop to reconsider. Has our society decided to strive for innovation and to abandon universal provision of services and equality of opportunity as overarching goals? And have we become satisfied to blame the teachers in our poorest communities instead of ourselves for the vast injustices that appear at school in the guise of the achievement gaps?
(Jan Resseger)

Duncan has always had little, if any, real knowledge and understanding of education issues. (One seriously questions whether his soon-to-be-former boss does, either.) He’s basically one of those people, who are everywhere in D.C., who worm their way into power by being professional suck-ups. Larry Summers is another good example. Like tapeworms, they find their way in and expand and do ever more damage.
I have a couple more education items to share. First, there are those, generally affiliated with tech firms one way or another, who insist that all our schools really need are more devices. Utter nonsense.


abandoned2Here are several items about education, the first being of particular importance.

Progressive Democrats are right to hail the new populism in their party driving the debate about the nation’s economic policies and the atrocious inequality those policies have created. Heartened by the bold leadership of Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren and the huge crowds cheering on the presidential campaign of Bernie Sanders, progressives can truly feel their agenda is driving the national debate and propelling change.
So it’s beyond disappointing when progressive leaders in the Democratic Party who can knock an argument for economic populism out of the park continue to whiff on education populism…
Classroom teacher and popular edu-blogger Steven Singer wrote on his site, “This provision was an attempt to keep as many test and punish policies as possible … The Democrats seem to be committed to the notion that the only way to tell if a school is doing a good job is by reference to its test scores. High test scores — good school. Bad test scores — bad school. This is baloney!”

Fact is, no one has seriously tried appropriate financial investment to deal with the achievement gap.

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