If only we threatened public schools more!

It was education policy this week in Public Policy.  A nice reminder that so much of American education “reform” is based on vague notions of “running education like a business” and ignoring the fact that the dozens of nations that out-perform us do nothing of the sort.  Educating K-12 is very little like running a business.  Anyway, as further evidence, the latest proposal from (one of the most odious legislators) from here in NC gets an appropriately scathing review from Rob Schofield:

For the most recent example of this apparently irresistible tendency, check out the proposal in the North Carolina Senate to “bill” local schools for the cost of remediation courses that students take in Community College. As NC Policy Watch reporter Sarah Ovaska reported this morning, one of the bill’s key sponsors, Senator Tom Apodaca, thinks this will make a difference:

The desire, Apodaca said, is to make sure the state’s K-12 system is turning out graduates ready to jump into the higher levels of education.

“We’re sending a message to our schools that we want quality coming out,” Apodaca said.

You got that? The premise of the law — as with so many other conservative education proposals in recent years — is that North Carolina can wring better results out of its public schools through sheer force. Rather than addressing poverty, providing universal pre-K, lowering class sizes or investing the money that it would really take to hire the teachers and counselors and other professionals who could perform the miracle of preparing millions of kids for the insanely competitive 21st Century economy (half of whom come from families too poor to afford lunch), the Senate would propose to get better K-12 grads by threatening to take away more money from their schools… [emphasis mine]

After that, who knows where such an innovative idea might lead? Maybe North Carolina could enact a law that forces prisons to pay for the cost of recidivism or perhaps one that cuts the environmental protection budget each time there’s a coal ash spill. How about a law that docks legislators’ pay for poor state job growth? Yeah, that’s the ticket!

The in-all-seriousness bottom line: North Carolina is never going to make any progress in improving its public education system through a threat-based “big stick” model. The only real, long-term solution is to abandon such “divide and conquer” policies based on blame, recognize the complexity of situations like the issue of college remediation and move forward with the understanding that we are all responsible for educating our children and all in the public education business together.

Now, I don’t actually think this absurd idea will become law (but who knows with this legislature), but the fact that this passes as education reform for one of the state’s more powerful legislators is scary enough and shows that the guys running this state either 1) don’t have a clue as to how to actually improve education, or 2) don’t actually care.  Sadly, I fear it’s both.

Quick hits

Sorry to be a day late.  Went to the ACC tournament three days in a row and it really threw me off.  Anyway.

1) Forget critical thinking and fancy software, the key to success is Microsoft Excel.

2) Despite the fact that we have way too many people in prison, it was harder than I expected to cut the prison population 50% with this very cool interactive feature.

3) The evidence for the success of Obamacare just keeps accumulating.  The latest budget estimates look great.

4) Mentally ill black man with a knife, watch out.  But it’s an amazing what a white guy with a gun can get away with in a police confrontation.

5) Some evidence from the US Senate that the tide is turning on more sensible marijuana legislation.

6) Found this video on addiction featuring a kiwi bird really, really compelling.

7) I loved this essay on the awesomeness of Pi, for yesterday’s Pi day.

8) Did North Georgia fire a professor just for being rude?

9) You remember that awful USDA animal research facility in Nebraska.  Looks like there’s going to be some more oversight now.  Yeah, journalism!

10) Either computers are really good at writing poetry, or poetry is just too easy to imitate.  Interesting either way.

11) The state of New York has decided that any school in the bottom 5% is “failing” no matter what.  If you actually know math, you realize that’s nuts.  Might as well decide no schools will be below average.

12) Forget asteroids, apparently it’s the massive solar flares that may ruin things for all of us.

13) Pretty fascinated by this treatment to literally freeze your scalp to help prevent hair loss from chemo.

14) Some nice evidence on how welfare really matters.

15) Most people (including me) are not that impressed by the new Apple Watch.  Tim Lee points out that the first PC’s and smartphones received skeptical reviews.  (Of course, I’m sure that skepticism proved apt for many a product).

16) Loved Jon Stewart on the OU racist fraternity.  But especially on how Fox News somehow felt that even this they had to defend.

17) We should probably do a lot more to actually ensure that police know the laws they are supposed to be enforcing.

18) Really liked Amy Davidson’s take on Tom Cotton’s Iran letter.

19) What Obama got wrong in his Selma speech:

But he’s wrong if he thinks Ferguson doesn’t represent a larger “endemic” problem that is “sanctioned by law and custom.”

If there’s one takeaway from Ferguson—and the takeaways are legion—it is that the law is stacked against ordinary citizens. That police are largely shielded from liability when a life is taken. That the Supreme Court has a tendency to give law enforcement the benefit of the doubt. That prosecutors can use and abuse the grand jury processto fit their needs. That the bar for bringing a civil rights prosecution against a cop is almost insurmountable. That constitutional rights, in the face of state violence and oppression, are anything but enforceable.

20) NC Republicans like to brag about the huge tax cut they provided.  Yes, the state is taking in less dollars, but many taxpayers, especially elderly with significant medical expenses are paying more.  But hey, at least rich people can get more luxury options on their new Mercedes now.

Myths of Education

EdNC is a new non-profit focusing on Education policy in NC and from what I’ve seen so far, they’re doing really good work (I follow on FB).  Anyway, I really liked this 5 myths of the education budget as a couple of things that have always really bugged me, especially the “North Carolina Education Lottery.”  Back when the lottery was passed, a huge part of the pitch was that it would be important to funding education (as if money were not fungible).  From my perspective, it’s actually done real harm to support for education funding as there’s a widespread sentiment of the sort, “but don’t we have the lottery to fund education?”  As if:

Myth #3 – The NC Education Lottery should be able to solve all of North Carolina’s public school funding troubles.What do you think? In 2014, the lottery’s total revenue was $1.84 billion (which was used for prizes, operations, and education). Of that total, $489.1 million was distributed to education programs (49 percent for teachers, 22 percent for school construction/renovation, 17 percent for pre-school, 10 percent for scholarships/financial aid, and 2 percent for digital learning. Per legislation, school districts must use lottery money only for these specific spending categories). Also, while the amount of funding is substantial for classroom teachers and construction, it is important to note that the total lottery funds going to support public schools accounted for only 3.8 percent of the total $8.3 billion (FY 2013-14) annual state funding for K-12 public education.  [emphasis mine]

Also like their take on that traditional conservative bugaboo– too much bureaucracy and administration:

Myth #5 – There would be plenty of money for schools if North Carolina just cut out the education bureaucracy.What do you think? This idea sounds good because, let’s face it, who wants to advocate for more bureaucracy? In truth, public schools have a low percentage of bureaucracy or administration. In fact, if North Carolina eliminated the entire Department of Public Instruction, all local central office staff leading local school districts, all principals and assistant principals, this would total approximately 6 percent of all public school funding and would leave teachers to handle all administrative tasks for themselves, from payroll to school scheduling, purchasing and transporting students to and from school and more.   [emphasis mine]

I don’t doubt there’s some bureaucracy to be streamlined, but, as in most cases, this is a red herring for what really needs to be addressed to improve public education.

Quick hits (part II)

Sorry for the lateness on part II– busy weekend.

1) Really enjoyed this Rob Christensen column on how we need to consider historical political figures in their context.  Former NC Governor Charles Aycock is getting thrown under the bus for basically the same racial positions as Abraham Lincoln.

2) Connor Friedersdorf’s take on Ferguson is terrific.  He points out that, truly, the racist emails really were the least of it:

Establishing these glaring perverse incentives—effectively compromising the city’s criminal-justice system to increase revenue—is enough to disgrace Ferguson’s leaders all on its own, whether one regards them as civic imbeciles or moral cretins…

Little wonder that black people in Ferguson took to the streets after the killing of Michael Brown. Sooner or later, some event was bound to push them over the edge into protest, and even if Officer Wilson acted totally unobjectionably in that encounter, it wouldn’t change the fact that the general lack of confidence expressed in municipal and police leadership was well-founded. A DOJ investigation was long overdue, and so are major reforms. The full DOJ report can be found here.

3) Free Range parents responsible for “unsubstantiated child neglect” (whatever that means) in Maryland.  There’s so many unfortunate, dysfunctional families out there.  Wouldn’t it be great if CPS focused there resources on them that happy families who are not paralyzed by irrational fear of their kids being kidnapped?

4) Sad, compelling story of a former UNC football player who is now homeless and sure seems to be suffering from CTE.

5) I actually don’t understand why we can’t do a lot more along the lines of this awesome Australian project that generates electricity from the tides.

6) I love the circus because of all the awesomeness from the humans, but hate that elephants have to suffer at the same time.  So pleased that Ringling is dropping the elephants from the circus.

7) Enjoyed this story on the fastest American female teenager ever and on what it takes to succeed long term as a competitive runner.

8) A Republican congressman thinks illegal immigrants are committing a murder a day.  Shockingly, he’s wrong.

9) I could totally go for Daylight Savings time year round.  Mornings I’m always hanging out inside anyway.  Give me more light in the evening.

10) John Cassidy on why the Federal Reserve needs defending.

11) A debate on Colorado on whether IUD’s are contraception or abortion.  Seriously?!  Good to know Republicans are against a method of birth control that dramatically cuts teen pregnancies and actual abortions.

12) It pains me to learn (from Krugman, no less) that my favorite food is apparently, quite Republican.  That won’t stop me!

13) An Economist friend of mine wrote this interesting Op-Ed about replacing a gas tax with a vehicle miles tax.  It will never happen, of course, but that doesn’t mean it’s not a good idea.

14) With the political debate about net neutrality, it’s worth being reminded that the government invented the internet.

15) Charter schools may have their place, but they are certainly no panacea for our education problems.  And their lesser accountability (by design) is clearly bringing with it a host of problems.

16) Last word– Ta-Nehisi Coates is, of course, terrific in writing about the Ferguson report.

Quick hits (part I)

1) Of course the NRA is utterly lacking in decency.  And not surprisingly, they are not so good at logic (or empathy) either.

2) Oh, this Radley Balko column made me so, so mad.  A cop beats somebody up and the rest of them lie about it under oath.  Fortunately for the victim, it was caught on video.  At last check, no punishment for any of the malefactors in uniform.

3) It appears that in North Carolina, it is now legal for a lobbyist to provide a politician with a prostitute.  Seriously.

4) Oklahoma’s new AP courses (the satire version).

5) I had no idea the Mona Lisa had once been stolen (I learned this from a wrong answer on Trivia Crack).  Led me to this fascinating story of how that theft is what led the Mona Lisa to be so famous.

6) A former federal prosecutor on just how easy it is for prosecutors to abuse their power.

7) Vox on what firefighters are up to now that there are so many fewer fires.

8) I loved the SNL sketch on ISIS.  Those people so offended need to get over it.

9) How Kareem Abdul Jabbar re-invented himself as a really tall public intellectual.

10) So, maybe presidential democracy doesn’t doom America.  Maybe.

11) Given my picky eating, I only first tried Indian food a few years ago.  Love it!  The science behind what makes it so good.

12) Enjoyed this take down of Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech.

13) Nine rules for all interactions between Coyote and Road Runner.

14) Tiny and remote Sweet Briar College is shutting down.  I certainly feel bad for the faculty and students, but how in the world is a college with just 500 students in the middle-of-nowhere supposed to survive?  Also, what’s the opposite of an economy of scale, because universities that small have always struck me as monstrously inefficient.

15) Got a good laugh out of this creative (and effective) attempt to distract free throw shooters.

16) I so want this new camera!  (And for that matter,  my Canon S100 has been missing for about a month).

17) Damn, the culture regarding women in general and rape in particular is just do damn deplorable in India.

18) So, you want to cut the prison population in half?  Have at it with this cool interactive feature.

GOP against Higher Education

I’ve read a lot of good commentary on Scott Walker and other Republicans’ attacks on higher education.  This in Pacific Standard is definitely my favorite.  I like that he also hits NC’s own Pat McCrory:

Wisconsin is, of course, not the only state where executives are deriding bachelor’s degrees and the liberal arts. Shortly after taking office in 2013, North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory leveled harsh words at the “educational elite,” mocking women’s and gender studies (“If you want to take gender studies that’s fine, go to a private school and take it”) and, what is more curious, the teaching of Swahili: “What are we teaching these courses for if they are not going to help get a job?”

One must suppose McCrory has little interest in the techno-minerals that the West excavates with such glee from Swahili-speaking countries. The governor’s cell phone or laptop probably contains coltan from mines in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The job-creators at the multinationals that mine those minerals probably employed someone who spoke the local dialect. Is it elitist to mention all of this? I think not.

If McCrory and Walker wish to eliminate any college course that does not lead directly to employment, that’s one thing; but perhaps they should consider who they’re serving by cutting funding to—and openly scoffing at—the study of language, international relations, and identity questions that, like it or not, will become the purview of the next president—even a President Walker.

There is democracy, and there is democratic fantasy. The seemingly populist notion that a governor with little geopolitical education is somehow morequalified to direct America on the world stage is little more than inverse snobbery and a mess of false equivalencies…

That cognitive reversal is part of the larger bait-and-switch in conservative critiques of higher education. The script: College is overrated; let us therefore cut funds; colleges thereby become worse, proving that they were terrible to begin with. The slash-and-burn won’t mean the death of the American university so much as its reversion to a domain for the rich.

 

Quick hits (part II)

Hmmm, this version is not so mega.  I apologize for the lack of numerical balance in this weekend’s quick hits.

1) There’s a new strongest material in the world (besting spider silk)– the microscopic teeth of bottom-dwelling sea snails.  Cool!

2) Oklahoma legislators– we don’t need no stinkin’ AP History!  And Steve Benen places it into a broader context of GOP assaults on public education.

3) Yes, unions go too far at times, but their decline has surely been a big part of our growth in inequality.  Nice column from Kristof.

“All the focus on labor’s flaws can distract us from the bigger picture,” Rosenfeld writes. “For generations now the labor movement has stood as the most prominent and effective voice for economic justice.”

I’m as appalled as anyone by silly work rules and $400,000 stagehands, or teachers’ unions shielding the incompetent. But unions also lobby for programs like universal prekindergarten that help create broad-based prosperity. They are pushing for a higher national minimum wage, even though that would directly benefit mostly nonunionized workers.

I’ve also changed my mind because, in recent years, the worst abuses by far haven’t been in the union shop but in the corporate suite. One of the things you learn as a journalist is that when there’s no accountability, we humans are capable of tremendous avarice and venality. That’s true of union bosses — and of corporate tycoons. Unions, even flawed ones, can provide checks and balances for flawed corporations.

Many Americans think unions drag down the economy over all, but scholars disagree. American auto unions are often mentioned, but Germany’s car workers have a strong union, and so do Toyota’s in Japan and Kia’s in South Korea.

4) Government by consent of the governed?  Maybe not so much in Greensboro, NC.

5) A really interesting take on how decriminalization of drugs can be a bad thing.  Really eye-opening.  Of course, if we could end this totally evil modern debtor’s prison thing we’ve got going, decriminalization wouldn’t’ be a bad thing.

6) Ideology and the closing of centers in the UNC system.  Yes, of course it’s political no matter how much the Board of Governors protests otherwise.  A response from Gene Nichol, one of the key figures in all this.

7) Love this collection of humorous flyers.

8) Given that Marilyn Vos Savant supposedly has the world’s highest IQ, it’s really kind of sad that she’s best known for solving logic problems in the Sunday Parade supplement (I know her as the person who married my dad’s first cousin’s ex-husband).  That said, the sexist vitriol she received on the Monty Hall problem is really kind of amazing.  Oh, and no matter what, I just cannot entirely wrap my head around this problem.

9) I remember reading something about this wrongful police shooting in Fairfax, VA (where I was born and raised) a while back, but the lack of news coverage is really pretty amazing.  On the bright side, it’s not just non-white guys who are victims of overzealous police who are then not held accountable.

10) Love Adam Gopnik on Republican candidate evasions on whether they believe in evolution.  It’s pretty short, you should read it all.  But since you won’t:

What the question means, and why it matters, is plain: Do you have the courage to embrace an inarguable and obvious truth when it might cost you something to do so? A politician who fails this test is not high-minded or neutral; he or she is just craven, and shouldn’t be trusted with power. This catechism’s purpose—perhaps unfair in its form, but essential in its signal—is to ask, Do you stand with reason and evidence sufficiently to anger people among your allies who don’t?

11) This Jamelle Bouie piece about the Republican attempts to appeal Obamacare and what it means has sat in my queue for its own post for too long. So here’s my favorite part:

The consequences of the proposal are straightforward: By ending Obamacare in its entirety and placing limits on Medicaid, it would eliminate insurance for millions of Americans and make it harder for middle- and working-class people to purchase coverage. And while it’s described as a plan to save money, the truth is that it accomplishes this by reducing care for the poor and raising costs on everyone else.

In other words, this isn’t a plan to achieve universal coverage. That’s simply not a Republican goal, and it’s part of the reason it has proven politically difficult to craft an alternative. We don’t think everyone should have health insurance just isn’t an appealing message.

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