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Educating the whole child

by Dan Burns on August 30, 2016 · 0 comments

abandonedYes, that’s something of a buzz-phrase, but it’s a worthy one. This is not utopian fantasy, though it is true that in many ways a lot of supporters of the most effective and best education currently still have little choice but to be preoccupied with holding our own vs. the despicable onslaughts of the deform movement.

Traits and skills such as critical thinking, creativity, problem solving, persistence, and self-control — which are often collectively called noncognitive skills, or social and emotional skills — are vitally important to children’s full development. They are linked to academic achievement, productivity and collegiality at work, positive health indicators, and civic participation, and are nurtured through life and school experiences. Developing these skills should thus be an explicit goal of public education.
(Economic Policy Institute)

Another development with a lot of potential is community schools. (Though, as always, fraught, if the wrong people get in charge and f*ck it all up.) They’ll require a lot of resources, though. So for that potential to really start to be realized, we’ll need big changes in who is holding public office and what their priorities are.

Using public schools as hubs, community schools bring together many partners to offer a range of supports and opportunities to children, youth, families and communities. Partners work to achieve these results: Children are ready to enter school; students attend school consistently; students are actively involved in learning and their community; families are increasingly involved with their children’s education; schools are engaged with families and communities; students succeed academically; students are healthy – physically, socially, and emotionally; students live and learn in a safe, supportive, and stable environment, and communities are desirable places to live.
(Coalition for Community Schools)


Back to all-too-often underfunded public school

by Dan Burns on August 18, 2016 · 0 comments

abandoned2Though I was good at school I didn’t like it much, and always got bummed out at this time of year. Decades later I still experience a residual echo of that, now and then. Anyway:

Indeed, back to school supply lists are likely longer than ever before due to the simple reason that schools increasingly don’t have the funds to pay for items on the list. And because of persistently inadequate budgets that continue to dog our schools, you can be sure the longer your shopping list, the worse the funding situation is throughout your child’s school system.
Not only are school stockrooms increasingly bare of supplies, but teachers aren’t being adequately paid, class sizes are ballooning, programs are being cut and school buildings increasingly forego required maintenance.
(Campaign for America’s Future)

Two more relevant items:


Why Schools Fail

by Mike Tikkanen on August 1, 2016 · 0 comments

imagesCAC74BJKAnother year of disappointing educators, children and parents (Star Tribune 7.28.16)
Don’t blame the teachers (it’s us). The once a straightforward concept of public schools has morphed into a complex institution unable to respond to the double whammy of a massively changed student body and the unprecedented un-building of support for public education (especially science).
Our student body has changed:


First, immigration and the challenges of language and culture have always turned out well. American education has successfully educated millions of immigrants. Yes, it’s a struggle, but it is what teachers do and they have always succeeded. My grandparents did not speak the language when they arrived – all of their children successfully finished a public school education.


Second and most critical, generally unknown and poorly understood even by those in the trenches of teaching, social work and justice. The rest of us (including legislators) are clueless. …READ MORE


kaineI did a multiple-take when I saw the title (“Tim Kaine Loves Public Schools. So Does His Wife Anne, Who is Virginia’s Secretary of Education”), and my skepticism has not wholly dissipated, but we are talking Diane Ravitch.

(Kaine) is also a steadfast supporter of public education, even though he graduated from a Jesuit high school. His own children attended primarily black schools in Richmond. His wife is now Secretary of Education for the Commonwealth of Virgina…
Better yet, Tim Kaine’s wife Anne is a long-time champion for children and for public schools. Reformers will not find an ally in her. She cares about children and has a deep commitment to improving their lives.
(Diane Ravitch)

Politically, is the Democratic Party acknowledging the anti-privatization backlash? More importantly, are they acknowledging it as a righteous thing? (Corporate Democrats certainly aren’t, but in the long run we don’t intend to give them much choice.) They’re obviously at least well aware of it. But follow-through is always the rub.

Champions of traditional public schools won a big victory at the Democratic Party’s final platform drafting session when they pushed the party to adopt new language criticizing charters that are privately run, unaccountable and often part of for-profit franchises.
In less than 10 minutes, charter critics presented and won near-unanimous approval for an amendment that said the party would only support “democratically governed” charters, referring to those run by elected school boards not appointed trustees. The amendment also added wording that charters “should not replace or destabilize traditional public schools,” which happens as taxpayer funds follow the students. And new language also criticized the schools for segregating districts, saying charters “must reflect their communities, and thus must accept and retain proportionate numbers of students of color, students with disabilities and English Language Learners in relation to their neighborhood public schools.”


school2Over the years my email address has found its way onto a lot of lists. I rarely unsubscribe because they’re one of my data streams, albeit not the most efficient one to say the least, for what’s going on. I’ve been getting a lot, lately, about what belongs in the Democratic Party platform. (I’m of the belief that when it comes to the actual presidential election, the platform means about as much as the VP pick. That is, not a whole lot. But it’s not meaningless, either.) #1 is a measure opposing the Trans-Pacific Partnership (a noble effort, but unsuccessful). A strong anti-fracking statement is probably second (ditto). Single-payer health care pops up now and then. And a handful of others have appeared.
I have yet to get one to the effect that the Dem platform needs to feature a really strong, unequivocal statement supporting public schools, everywhere and always, in the face of relentless deformer assaults. Here’s what‘s in the July 1 draft, and it apparently wasn‘t touched during final pre-convention negotiations a few days ago. The term I‘d apply is “boilerplate.”

We will ensure there are great Pre-K-12 schools in every zip code. Democrats are committed to the federal government continuing to play a critical role in working towards an America where a world-class education is available to every child. Democrats believe that a strong public education system is an anchor of our democracy, a propeller of the economy, and the vehicle through which we help all children achieve their dreams. Public education must engage students to be critical thinkers and civic participants while addressing the wellbeing of the whole child.

Which isn’t surprising. Those of us working against corporate takeovers of public education have been winning in some ways, but not in others. Not enough to where too many electeds are about to stand on principle, regardless of where the money is coming from. We’ll just have to keep at it.
Update: It turns out that some worthy changes were made.

Unfortunately, the amendment process in Orlando did not consider adding a progressive vision for public education to the platform, but many of the specifics in the document shifted to the left, thanks mostly to supporters of the Sanders campaign joining with Clinton supporters to press for progressive change…
One way you can tell how much the document has been improved is by noticing the angry objections to the changes coming from centrist “reformers.”
(Campaign for America’s Future)


You have to enjoy a sense of humor, and appreciate that fact is consistently stranger than fiction.


I recall the famous chair of the U of MN department of economics at the time, Walter Heller, opening one of his lectures with the line that all of the economists in the world laid end to end around the equator still could not reach a conclusion.  Well, as with the scientific consensus on global warming, it appears that an overwhelming preponderance of economists in the world likewise agree about the adverse results of Brexit.  And scientists agree (although they may differ on details) about the validity of the science of evolution.


The monument to ignorance, aka the Noah’s Ark theme park in Kentucky inappropriately funded by public $$$$ just opened…….wait for it…… severe storms and flooding.  One has to wonder, following the pseudo-logic of many Christians, if God was expressing his disapproval?


The Ark is part of the anti-science / pro-creationism propaganda circulated by Ken Ham’s Answers in Genesis  religious rubbish group.  The exhibit includes replicas of dinosaurs, two by two.


Bill Nye correctly expressed the following rational, reasoned, and well-researched point of view as to the perils of the Ark Creationism pseudo-science on children:


“The influence is strong. I spoke with a lot of kids (and took a great
many selfies). Almost all of them do not accept that humans are causing
climate change — and that is the Answers In Genesis ministry’s fault.
Through its dioramas and signage, the organization promotes ideas that
are absolutely wrong scientifically, while suppressing critical thinking
in our students — which is in no one’s best interest, conservative or

While it is possible the low turnout reported at the Ark monument to ignorance is the fault of bad weather, it is also possible that the Ark is one giant “turkey” as these projects go.  Bill Nye the science guy, a well-regarded proponent of science education and deemed one of our more successful science communicators noted:


“On a hopeful note, the parking lots were largely empty, and the ark building is unfinished. We can hope it will close soon.”


On July 10th we celebrated, if celebrate is the correct word for it, the 90th anniversary of the Scopes “Monkey Trial” in Tennessee over the legal ban on the teaching of evolution.  Scopes was initially convicted (he DID teach evolution) but the conviction was overturned.  It is appalling that 90 years after the Scopes trial, we are still fighting the same battles with the anti-science Bible thumpers.


Sadly, as we see with the silly Ark in Kentucky, as well as continuing efforts by the crazy evangelical right to insert creationism into public spheres and into the public square (on the public nickle), not only in Tennessee but elsewhere I am appalled at the poor state of science literacy in a large segment of our political spectrum.


One has only to look at what is proffered as arguments against anthropogenic global warming (or to look at how often it is necessary to explain what anthropogenic means as a preface to holding a conversation) to appreciate the willful ignorance.


I am an unabashed science geek, a nerd; I spent a part of my last weekend binge watching a DVD from my local library on various scientific debates in paleoanthropology.  I particularly enjoyed the parts about how some sections of DNA respond differently to mutation that those which represent characteristics ‘under selection’.  While enjoying binge watching science, I couldn’t help but feel disconnected from so many people I know and interact with on a daily basis.


The DVD and accompanying brief book is part of the Great Courses series; this one was The Rise of Humans: Great Scientific Debates, presented by John Hawks of the University of WI, Madison.  While this particular presentation dates from 2011, and is therefore already out of date in a few respects, the combination of the sciences of Paleo-anthropology with molecular genetics.  The application of molecular genetics provided new understanding of when and how species diverged using fossil remains.


What struck me so strongly in the larger context of the anti-expert, anti-‘elite’, anti-science message which I viewed on right wing blogs in the context of dismissing the conclusions of economists about the outcomes of Brexit in the UK, and in attempting to discredit scientists working on global warming, was the notion that we can AND SHOULD ignore people who actually know things, who study things, and who do practical as well as theoretical work in their respective fields.


The DVD lecture by Dr. Hawks began with the scientific controversy over Ramapithecus, as to where it belonged and ‘when’ it belonged in the primate family tree.  Molecular genetics demonstrated that it was too old to be a direct human ancestor, but rather belonged elsewhere and further back in time than hominins (humans and those species closely related).  How the debate reflected the scientific process was as illuminating as the specifics of the debates.


In that context it is worth noting that the Pew Research Center study in 2014 and 2015 on Religion in Public Life found :

Roughly six-in-ten respondents in the 2014 Religious Landscape Study (62%) say humans have evolved over time, while about a third (34%) say humans have always existed in their present form, similar to other recent Pew Research surveys.
…Among those who believe that humans evolved, there is disagreement over whether this evolution has been due to natural processes or guided by a supreme being. A third of U.S. adults believe evolution has occurred due to natural processes, while a quarter say a supreme being guided evolution.
About two-thirds of Catholics (66%) and mainline Protestants (65%) believe humans evolved over time. By contrast, most Jehovah’s Witnesses (74%) and evangelical Protestants (57%) and about half of Mormons (52%) reject this view, saying human beings have always existed in their present form. Atheists (95%) and agnostics (96%) in the survey nearly universally say humans evolved over time, and most believe that evolution has occurred through natural processes. Majorities of Buddhists, Hindus and Jews also hold this view.
Overall, respondents with a college degree are more likely than those with less education to say humans evolved over time due to natural selection. However, the impact of education varies across religious groups. Members of mainline and historically black Protestant churches, Catholics and religious “nones” with a college degree all are more likely than their less well-educated counterparts to say humans evolved over time. But evangelical Protestants with a college degree are no more likely than those without a college degree to say humans have evolved.

Conservatives would argue that moving a species represented by the fossil record to a different organizational position in understanding evolution would completely discredit all studies and conclusions in the sciences of evolution.  It does not.  Understanding how scientific debate and new science research result in some changes — but also result in confirmation of other findings — is an important part of science literacy that is antithetical to what passes as reasoning about science information on the right.  Sadly that is apparently missing, or is deliberately denied and ignored on the right in what appears to be willful ignorance.


Rather the right consistently engages in magical thinking, in extreme confirmation bias, and in denial of anything that does not comfortably fit their world view, which is appalling intellectual dishonesty and folly for determining policy decisions for the nation and the world.  Instead we have 56% of Republicans in Congress (more on some days) denying man-made global warming, evolution, and basic macro-economics.  Only a handful of states do not have climate deniers in their delegations to the House or Senate.  Are these politicians expressed beliefs sincere?  Nah, I would argue they don’t care one way or the other what the truth is, they just find it profitable to pander to ignorance.  Because those same voters are for smaller government – even though there is no evidence that smaller government serves the country or the citizens well, nor is there objective evidence that our government has been too large.  And those same voters will act passionately but not rationally on regressive cultural attitudes regarding minorities — be it equal treatment of women, of the LGBT, or ethnic minorities.


With promotion of ignorance, with the promotion of propaganda which can be defined as meeting the two criteria of being factually false, AND promoting emotional response rather than critical thinking,  the right has developed a rank and file that is easily deceived and even more easily manipulated into voting for bad decisions, bad policy, and destructive attitudes that are actively harmful to significant sectors of our nation.  Too often as with Brexit, as with Global Warming, and as with promoting anti-science Creationism, there is also self-destructive voting.



Student-loans-can-be-a-challengeSome good news, to a point. I couldn’t find good data on what’s been happening with students at the closing schools. Specifically, whether their credits are transferring and their loans are being forgiven.

State data show 14 campuses of for-profit schools in the state have closed since 2012.
Enrollment has fallen by almost half at for-profit/career schools since 2010, according to state data.
Adding to for-profit college woes, the U.S. Department of Education staff recommended in June that the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools should no longer be recognized as an accreditor.
If that happens, 21 Minnesota schools will have a year and a half to find a new accreditor. If the schools don’t find one, they’ll no longer be allowed to give out degrees…
According to a study from the Office of Higher Education, in 2014, for-profit bachelor degree recipients had a median loan debt of around $48,000. That’s compared with about $28,000 for non-profits and around $25,000 for state schools.

Even $25K is $25K too much. Education is a right, not something that should start people on lifetimes of debt servitude. And of course the rich man wants to push even harder:

Income-sharing agreements (ISAs) may be the future of student lending, but they’re rooted in ideas that date back more than half a century. In 1955, economist and father of libertarianism Milton Friedman proposed that investors might “‘buy’ a share in an individual’s earning prospects,” underwriting schooling and training “on [the] condition that he agree to pay the lender a specified fraction of his future earnings.” With that founding principle, ISAs turn students into assets deemed high- or low-yield based on estimated career profitability and the graduating college’s track record in producing high earners. That means a Dartmouth business school senior is likely to get investors salivating in a way a puppetry major from the University of Connecticut would not.

Comment below fold.

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school2I had not been aware of this aspect of the Every Student Succeeds Act.

Reading, writing, arithmetic—and grit and gratitude? A growing number of students and schools may start receiving grades for the two Gs, plus other so-called noncognitive traits, thanks to a recent update to the federal Elementary and Secondary Education Act. The new law requires states to include at least one nonacademic factor in their school evaluations. This year nine California school districts started including progress in social and emotional learning (SEL), as reported by students on questionnaires, in rating their schools. Other districts are considering following suit…
“You can’t make high-stakes decisions based on measurements that can actually be wrong in the wrong direction,” Yeager says. “You reward the people who are the worst and punish the people who are the best.” A growing body of research shows how noncognitive abilities help children become happy, successful adults, Duckworth adds, but it is a misstep to then include them in school-accountability systems—now or maybe ever. “I just don’t think carrots and sticks have been so effective in character development in the past,” she says, “and I don’t expect them to be all that helpful in the future.”
(Scientific American Mind)

I do recall, when I was in fifth and sixth grade in a small-town public school in the early 1970s, report cards included grades on “courtesy” and such. You got C, S, or U, for commendable, satisfactory, or unsatisfactory. I don’t think people paid those “grades” a lot of mind. But there was no risk that the school would be shut down and replaced with a for-profit charter because of them.
I certainly suspect that this is at least partly meant as yet another congressional gift to the school deformers. They and their allies in corporate media can hypocritically rant about how public schools, specifically their teachers, are “failing” at teaching “grit.”
Comment below fold.

{ 1 comment }


The early summer edition of Democratic Visions features mostly segments that we had recorded in April and May but just couldn’t fit into our spring line-ups.  Each program must come in a bit south of 30 minutes for airing on various cable systems.


30 minutes is an eternity in the tweet and text world and the issues considered on this particular edition have been ruminated about hundreds of times by others in our increasingly fractured universe of new and old media. But proposed copper pit mining in Northern Minnesota, high student loan debts, Trump, Ventura, Reagan and the under informed are here being considered by our ruminators:   DFL elders Tim O’Brien and blogger Steve Timmer and The Theater of Public Policy’s chief  interrogator Tane Danger and political analyst Bob Meek.   These are local guys here provided with a Charlie Rose type TV venue, albeit just a public access studio nested alongside an art gallery within the Bloomington Civic Center  – that is tended to by non-paid volunteers.


Tucked in at the 8’/30″ mark of the program is an initiative of our ongoing mission to restore political humor to Minnesota television.  Our good friend Doug Lind has re-purposed some dusty political jokes.  We recorded him testing his musty slap shots out on a group of Eden Prairie High School millenials at the the “DFL Comedy Club.” We think the joint is located somewhere in Hopkins (a safe zone for progressives) but it could also be out in Carver County which is not a safe zone for the informed or liberal. Enjoy.

Seven years of Democtratic Visions programs and segments are archived on its YouTube Channel.


Democratic Visions On cableTV


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Bloomington – BCAT Channel 16 — Tuesdays at 2:00 p.m. & 10:00 p.m.; Fridays at 9:30 p.m.; Saturdays at 7:30 a.m. & 2:30 p.m.


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Democratic  Visions is hand made by unpaid volunteers from Edina, Eden Prairie, Minnetonka, Hopkins and Bloomington.  Our program is not financially supported or endorsed by any political party, political action committee or special interest group.


It’s still tough for many new graduates

by Dan Burns on June 10, 2016 · 0 comments

graduatesThe purpose of this is mostly to pass along a recent EPI report, for anyone who is interested.

Young high school and college graduates were hit hard in the Great Recession. While young graduates’ economic prospects have brightened in recent years, they still face elevated unemployment rates and stagnant wages. Many groups—including young graduates of color, as well as young high school graduates entering the workforce—face particularly difficult economic realities…
The vast majority (65.8 percent) of people age 24–29 do not have a college degree. Access to good jobs for these individuals is especially critical, as stable employment allows them to build a career or pay for further schooling.
(Economic Policy Institute)

The fundamental problem is that in the last 35 years, give or take, real access to opportunity and resources has become concentrated in fewer and fewer hands. Namely, those of the parasitical plutocrat/warmongering class. Changing that is going to take a while.
Young people understanding what the real problem is, is part of that. Fortunately, it seems as though many do. They need to show up and vote, every time.