Helen Keller and her instructor Annie Sullivan explain how Keller learned to speak in this 1930 Vitaphone newsreel. -via the Presurferh/t neatorama
The Threat Level Remains Unchanged
Former Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge has a book coming out in which he says the Bush administration politicized the terror alert system — Tom Ridge: I Fought Against Raising Security Threat Level On The Eve Of 2004 Election. Everyone is very excited about this revelation.
But this isn’t really news, is it? Didn’t Ridge say more or less the same thing in 2005:The Bush administration periodically put the USA on high alert for terrorist attacks even though then-Homeland Security chief Tom Ridge argued there was only flimsy evidence to justify raising the threat level, Ridge now says.And Ridge did it anyway one way or another. He sat there and allowed the national security apparatus to be abused for political gain. He made the country less safe by allowing false alarms. He gave the terrorists free victories they didn’t even have to work for. And then he and Cheney trashed Howard Dean and anyone else daring to say it was the unprincipled slimy political move it turns out to be.
Once upon a time we had a concept of “disgrace”. People with money, power, office, social position, actually cared about whether they acted dishonorably, because if they did they wouldn’t get invited to corporate boards and dinner parties. People would cross the street to show their disdain. Now we give them book contracts, TV deals, visiting professorships, and they get interviewed as experts by the media.
Maybe it’s time to bring the notion of respectability back. If we won’t have public justice to sort out truth from fiction, no special prosecutors until after the statute of limitations has run, maybe instead we need a quiet form of the private personal justice we can manage based on the facts on the public record. Shun Ridge. Shun Yoo. Shun Rove. Shun Gonzales. Shun all the torturers and torture enablers, and shun the perverters of law and justice. Don’t ever put anything their way. Don’t give them a visiting gig. Don’t invite them on TV. Don’t buy their books. And make it contagious. Make them professional lepers. Make the people who give them treats sorry they did it.
But it won’t happen. Not because there’s always the risk that social shunning gets out hand, brings out the worst in some people who then punish the innocent, for all that these are real and demonstrated dangers not to be taken lightly. No, it won’t happen because the people who put those unprincipled traitors to law and decency in power and who then coined it thanks to their connivance at kleptocracy hope to do it again and again and again. And that means that even used and dishonored tools need to be kept on financial life support so as not to discourage their successors.
Angry? I’m beyond angry. I’m tired of angry.
Nixon was a piker. He kept cash in a safe. These guys moved it by the airplane load.
The recently-crowned head of international financial embarrassment AIG, Robert Benmosche, has launched a campaign to “restore morale” to his beleaguered employees, who are apparently a) cracking under the strain of public anger and b) having performance anxiety that may be linked to a fear that they will never again be allowed to make obscene and undeserved bonuses, so long as the taxpayer is writing their checks.
This is very sad, no doubt, and must be a terrible burden for anyone working on Wall Street to have to bear. So into the breach steps Benmosche, who became CEO of the firm last month. His new public mantra is that what happened to AIG isn’t the fault of AIG, but rather the fault of the government regulators who allowed AIG to destroy itself and iceberg the hull of the American economy. This is how he put it:“It’s time the people in Congress stopped talking about you as the problem, because you’re the solution,” he said. “It’s not your fault, it’s their fault, it’s the regulators’ fault.”
The NHS and the F-22h/t LG&M
Some back of the envelope calculations:
* US public health care spending per capita: ~$3200
* UK public health care spending per capita: ~$2200
* Difference between US and UK: ~$1000
* Number of people in United States: ~300,000,000
* Number of people multiplied by difference in public health care spending between US and UK: ~$300,000,000,000
* Cost of an F-22 Raptor: $150,000,000
* Number of F-22 Raptors we could buy following wholesale adoption of NHS: ~2000
* Number of F-22 Raptors that the Air Force has wanted in its most soaring flights of fancy: ~650
* Number that we have right now: ~187
* Difference between the number that the USAF wanted and the number we have: ~460
* Amount of money we'd have left over after buying the USAF, say, 500 F-22s: $225,000,000,000
What needs to be addressed is not the legal question but the message that the gun-toters are sending.
This is not about the politics of populism. It's about the politics of the jackboot. It's not about an opposition that has every right to free expression. It's about an angry minority engaging in intimidation backed by the threat of violence.
There is a philosophical issue here that gets buried under the fear that so many politicians and media-types have of seeming to be out of touch with the so-called American heartland.
The simple fact is that an armed citizenry is not the basis for our freedoms. Our freedoms rest on a moral consensus, enshrined in law, that in a democratic republic we work out our differences through reasoned, and sometimes raucous, argument. Free elections and open debate are not rooted in violence or the threat of violence. They are precisely the alternative to violence, and guns have no place in them.
On the contrary, violence and the threat of violence have always been used by those who wanted to bypass democratic procedures and the rule of law. Lynching was the act of those who refused to let the legal system do its work. Guns were used on election days in the Deep South during and after Reconstruction to intimidate black voters and take control of state governments.
A few more data: Trust us: Globetrekker will cover these data before the press corps does! Today, we add spending figures for Italy and France (click here). Each system is highly regarded:
Total spending on health care, per person, 2007:
United States: $7290
United Kingdom: $2992
Those data are simply astounding. The “press” doesn’t seem to have heard.
Espionage in the Learning Cell
Four high-definition closed circuit television cameras and microphones have been installed in the classrooms of each of hundreds of British schools and the authorities do not deny that they are determined to expand this surveillance on a massive scale.
They claim that the footage, of which the principal is in charge, is used primarily for the purpose of teacher training but that collateral benefits include the inhibiting of bullying and students’ false allegations against teachers.
The phrase “teacher training” is widely viewed as code for teachers’ forced acquiescence to principals’ micromanagement with the sovereign right of the principal to fire, without challenge, any teacher deemed noncompliant or incompetent for reasons that they need not articulate.
It has already proven a potent constraint on freedom of expression, intellectual risk-taking, flexibility of technique and style and much else that is essential to the viability of the profession. Obviously there can be no significant scope for academic judgment, originality and interpretation of results when teachers are straightjacketed by morbid scrutiny.
Given the prevailing instinct of self-preservation and the shriek of bills that need to be paid, teachers are likely to choose to play it safe rather than get booted from their profession. Even the mavericks and gadflies, who often are among the most dynamic teachers who leave the most cherished and indelible impression on kids, are spooked by the glare of Big Brother gone wild.
And robbing kids of their privacy rights is inexcusable. Leading them to take that theft for granted as an administrative privilege is despicable.
The wicked aim of these cameras and microphones is disguised by the benign sounding reasons that officials give for installing them. They claim that the cameras are there to record “best practices” for producing dramatic improvement in behavior, concentration and productivity.
Sound familiar? Jargon lends itself to transplantation across the seas.
The cameras at first were ensconced above school entrances and exits as intruder alerts. But quickly their potential as devices of intrigue and intimidation was appreciated by the educational authorities. Some schools, such as Harrop Fold in Salford, England, unblushingly avow that their cameras are positioned for only one reason: to monitor teachers.
And guess what! The British counterparts to our reactionary self-dubbed “reformers” crow that ever since the cameras have been engaged, students’ standardized test scores rose astronomically. They say it’s no coincidence.
What’s no coincidence is that the proponents of these invasive lenses happen to also be fiercely anti-union. Not surprisingly they also insist that teachers feel “supported” by the spying. Of course they don’t call it spying. (They too, like Tweed, have an Office of Gibberish and Jive.) It’s no stretch to suspect that they would also claim that teachers both in Britain and America would feel more “supported” if they were disburdened of albatrosses such as equal pay and buffers to employer abuse.
It’s the same cyanide-laced speech. Only the accent is different.
Mary Bousted, the general secretary of Britain’s Association of Teachers and Lecturers, isn’t fooled by the deceptions. She realizes, for instances, that the cameras were not, as claimed, deployed to stop students from making false allegations against teachers. (That blood sport is a global pandemic.)
The whole controversy would have been averted if there were across the board respect for the law. But in Britain, as here, there are often no sanctions against management when its violations are actual official policies.
An agreement between the teachers unions, their employers and the government explicitly restricts the monitoring of teachers to three hours in any school year! That fact ought to render moot any argument for the moral equivalence of mandating cameras as opposed to banning them.
But the law these days is a chameleon that is at the disposal of management for placement in any environment it has created and decided is suitable. Unless you’re one of them, be indignant at your own peril.
Some of the crazy trends in education originated here and spread to Britain and many of the mad vogues that we are saddled with here were conceived over there. Clearly our nations share one sibling: Big Brother.
Dear President Obama,h/t Swimming Freestyle
I understand you’re thinking of dumping your “public option” because of all the demagoguery by Sarah Palin and Dick Armey and Newt Gingrich and their crowd on right-wing radio and Fox. Fine. Good idea, in fact.
Instead, let’s make it simple. Please let us buy into Medicare.
It would be so easy. You don’t have to reinvent the wheel with this so-called “public option” that’s a whole new program from the ground up. Medicare already exists. It works. Some people will like it, others won’t – just like the Post Office versus FedEx analogy you’re so comfortable with.
Just pass a simple bill – it could probably be just a few lines, like when Medicare was expanded to include disabled people – that says that any American citizen can buy into the program at a rate to be set by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) which reflects the actual cost for us to buy into it.
So it’s revenue neutral!
To make it available to people of low income, raise the rates slightly for all currently non-eligible people (like me - under 65) to cover the cost of below-200%-of-poverty people. Revenue neutral again.
Most of us will do damn near anything to get out from under the thumbs of the multi-millionaire CEOs who are running our current insurance programs. Sign me up!
This lets you blow up all the rumors about death panels and grandma and everything else: everybody knows what Medicare is. Those who scorn it can go with Blue Cross. Those who like it can buy into it. Simplicity itself.
Of course, we’d like a few fixes, like letting Medicare negotiate drug prices and filling some of the holes Republicans and AARP and the big insurance lobbyists have drilled into Medicare so people have to buy “supplemental” insurance, but that can wait for the second round. Let’s get this done first.
Simple stuff. Medicare for anybody who wants it. Private health insurance for those who don’t. Easy message. Even Max Baucus and Chuck Grassley can understand it. Sarah Palin can buy into it, or ignore it. No death panels, no granny plugs, nothing. Just a few sentences.
Replace the “you must be disabled or 65” with “here’s what it’ll cost if you want to buy in, and here’s the sliding scale of subsidies we’ll give you if you’re poor, paid for by everybody else who’s buying in.” (You could roll back the Reagan tax cuts and make it all free, but that’s another rant.)
We elected you because we expected you to have the courage of your convictions. Here’s how. Not the “single payer Medicare for all” that many of us would prefer, but a simple, “Medicare for anybody who wants to buy in.”
The Public Option's Last Stand, and the Public's
I would have preferred a single payer system like Medicare, but became convinced earlier this year that a public, Medicare-like optional plan was just about as much as was politically possible. Now the White House is stepping back even from the public option, with the President saying it's "not the entirety of health care reform," the White House spokesman saying the President could be "satisfied" without it, and Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius saying that a public insurance plan is "not the essential element."
Without a public, Medicare-like option, health care reform is a bandaid for a system in critical condition. There's no way to push private insurers to become more efficient and provide better value to Americans without being forced to compete with a public option. And there's no way to get overall health-care costs down without a public option that has the authority and scale to negotiate lower costs with pharmaceutical companies, doctors, hospitals, and other providers -- thereby opening the way for private insurers to do the same.
It's been clear from the start that the private insurers and other parts of the medical-industrial complex have hated the idea of the public option, for precisely these reasons. A public option would cut deeply into their current profits. That's why they've been willing to spend a fortune on lobbyists, threaten and intimidate legislators and ordinary Americans, and even rattle Obama's cage to the point where the Administration is about to give up on it.
The White House wonders why there hasn't been more support for universal health care coming from progressives, grass-roots Democrats, and Independents. I'll tell you why. It's because the White House has never made an explicit commitment to a public option.
Senator Kent Conrad's ersatz public option -- his regional "cooperatives" -- won't have the scale or authority to do what a public option would do. That's why some Republicans say they could buy it. What's Conrad's response? "The fact of the matter is there are not the votes in the United States Senate for a public option. There never have been," he tells "FOX News Sunday." Conrad is wrong. If Obama tells Senate Democrats he will not sign a healthcare reform bill without a public option, there will be enough votes in the United States Senate for a public option.
I urge you to make it absolutely clear to everyone you know, everyone who cares about universal health care and what it will mean to our country, that the bill must contain a real public option. Tell that to your representatives in Congress. Tell that to the White House. If you are receiving piles of emails from the Obama email system asking you to click in favor of health care, do not do so unless or until you know it has a clear public option. Do not send money unless or until the White House makes clear its support for a public option.
This isn't just Obama's test. It's our test.
Childishly simpleDid it strike you? NCLB, school reform, teaching to the test, blah, blah, blah? Kids need time and space to play, invent, discover, assimilate input and stimuli, and the freedom to do these things at will. All the reforms Obama, Bush and Duncan (not to mention Gates, Broad, Klein, Rhee, ....) want to have placed in schools diminish the possibility of the freedom to discover.
Alison Gopnik, author of The Philosophical Baby on why children are “useless on purpose.”
Why do children exist at all? It doesn’t make tremendous evolutionary sense to have these creatures that can’t even keep themselves alive and require an enormous investment of time on the part of adults. That period of dependence is longer for us than it is for any other species, and historically that period has become longer and longer.
The evolutionary answer seems to be that there is a tradeoff between the ability to learn and imagine — which is our great evolutionary advantage as a species — and our ability to apply what we’ve learned and put it to use. So one of the ideas in the book is that children are like the R&D department of the human species. They’re the ones who are always learning about the world. But if you’re always learning, imagining, and finding out, you need a kind of freedom that you don’t have if you’re actually making things happen in the world. And when you’re making things happen, it helps if those actions are based on all of the things you have learned and imagined. The way that evolution seems to have solved this problem is by giving us this period of childhood where we don’t have to do anything, where we are completely useless. We’re free to explore the physical world, as well as possible worlds through imaginative play. And when we’re adults, we can use that information to actually change the world. [emphasis mine]
School is becoming so MBA'ed to death, so businessified, that we have lost its purpose in the fray. A school is a place for education (which includes teaching and learning, from students and teachers). It is not a place for severe regimentation and linear focus. Why do some of you hate kids? Because you can't stand the way they are so all-over-the-place with their interests, desires, favorites, worsts. They change, almost hourly. This is their purpose. Kids discover, learn, and process information at blazing speeds. Obama and Duncan seem satisfied with slowing them down.
Every teacher should do preliminary work as a camp counselor. School should be more like camp!
Replacing No Child Left Behind
August 13, 2009
by Richard Rothstein
While promoting health-care reform this summer in Green Bay, Wis., President Barack Obama took questions from the audience. One had nothing to do with health, but is on the minds of parents and teachers everywhere: How do we move the focus in education “away from single-day testing and test-driven outcomes?” There was applause.
Mr. Obama responded by saying that if all we are doing is giving standardized tests and teaching to them, “that’s not improving our education system.” (Again, the audience applauded.) He repeated an aphorism he’d heard in rural Illinois: “Just weighing a pig doesn’t fatten it.” (Yet more applause.)
The president then said that we need standardized testing, but that we can’t hold schools or teachers accountable for scores alone. We also must look at the quality of students’ ongoing work, and observe teachers in their classrooms to make valid judgments about their effectiveness.
This approach undermines the basis of the federal No Child Left Behind Act, which now holds schools accountable only for math and reading scores. But recent Washington policy talk seems mostly concerned with improving the accuracy of math and reading tests. One common panacea offered is to compare scores of the same students from one year to the next, rather than comparing students in the same grade in successive years.
Yet even if the statistical technology for such “value added” growth models could be developed (a big “if,” given student mobility, the unreliability of a single test, and the nonrandom assignment of students to teachers), this “improvement” would not address the more fundamental issue the president raised: There’s more to good education than math and reading scores.
Last year, candidate Obama elaborated this theme. He said that No Child Left Behind was “intended to raise standards in local schools.” But what happened, he said, was that, “because it relied on just a single standardized test, schools felt pressured to just teach to the test.” In many districts, Mr. Obama maintained, teachers and principals have decided that if they are to bring their students up to the proficient level, “all they can do is just study math and reading every day, all day long. They’ve eliminated recess, they’ve eliminated art and music.”
“So part of the solution,” Mr. Obama concluded, “is changing No Child Left Behind, so that the assessment is one that takes into account all the factors that go into a good education.”
Reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, of which NCLB is the current version, has stalled because too few policymakers have considered how to implement the balanced approach that Mr. Obama has consistently invoked. Instead, mention of reauthorization paralyzes lawmakers, who fear public reaction to more testing, more narrowing of curriculum, and unrealistic expectations that schools can raise disadvantaged children’s achievement simply by pressing them to prepare better for tests.
Soon after the president’s Green Bay speech, the Broader, Bolder Approach to Education campaign issued recommendations about how this vision—holding schools accountable for a balanced set of learning goals—could be put into practice. The policy proposals were drafted by a diverse committee that included, among others, former assistant secretaries of education in the Bush I, Clinton, and Bush II administrations.
The BBA report insists that designing better accountability will require experimentation. States will need highly trained inspectors who look at test data, but also visit schools to review students’ written work, observe teaching quality, evaluate student behavior and the school climate, and determine whether schools provide appropriate social supports for children, by coordinating with health and social service providers and striving to ensure that appropriate early-childhood and after-school programs are available.
Along with requiring states to develop qualitative school evaluation systems, reauthorization should also expand the National Assessment of Educational Progress, a federal test given to a sample of U.S. students. At present, these samples are only large enough to provide state-by-state results in reading and math. A recent arts assessment, for example, surveyed so few students that we can’t know how arts education compares between states, or the extent to which disadvantaged children in the various states are getting shortchanged in the arts. Congress should increase the sample sizes to determine how states and their subgroups compare in the arts, history, sciences, physical fitness, and work skills.
In its early years, NAEP reported on such varied school outcomes. Since the 1970s, however, the focus has been on getting more sophisticated math and reading measurements, reinforcing schools’ incentives to ignore other knowledge and skills.
As part of his embrace of common standards, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan has pledged to give states $350 million of economic-stimulus money to improve the quality of math and reading tests. We all want better math and reading assessments. But we should also invest in better tests of history, sciences, and the arts, and develop tools to evaluate student behavior, judge a school’s disciplinary climate, see whether students know how to cooperate, and measure whether schools are enhancing physical fitness and appropriate health choices and habits.
The federal government should hold all schools accountable for such a balanced approach—especially if the president wants continued applause when answering questions about education improvement.
This piece was originally published in the Aug. 12 issue of Education Week
John Merrow interviews Herb Kohl, and the answer to the first question seems to say it all:
JM: What’s your quick impression of Arne Duncan’s “Race to the Top” plans, which include what sounds like serious competition for dollars—and that means winners and losers? Is this political courage, or is it more federal encroachment on public education?h/t: Smalltalk
HK: Arne Duncan, on the official Department of Education website said, “For states, school districts, nonprofits, unions, and businesses, Race to the Top is the equivalent of education reform’s moon shot.” I thoroughly agree with him. Remember we went to the moon, not to improve science or the quality of life in our country, but to face down the Soviet Union. We spent a lot of money doing it, got little return, and never went back. I believe Duncan’s analogy should be taken seriously.
Unfulfilled Promises: Obama's Education Initiatives
Educators endured the Bush administration's harsh criticism of public schools and fervently prayed that the new administration would develop a reform agenda that moved away from condemnation, criticism and privatization. Giddy hopes were raised with Obama’s pre-election promises that "No Child Left Behind" (NCLB) would be less test-based, less federally dictated and properly funded.
Eclipsed by health care, the economy, and two wars, education policy has received little national attention. Meanwhile, NCLB remains the law of the land even though deeply unpopular across the political spectrum. House education chairman and NCLB architect George Miller (D-CA), pronounced the law the most hated brand in the nation. Consequently, it has become "the law that shall not be named." Unfortunately, rather than fulfilling campaign promises, Obama and education secretary Arne Duncan, have piled on more federal impositions. Historian Diane Ravitch, an education official in the first Bush administration, said Obama has given George W. Bush a third term on education.
Mike Petrilli of the conservative Fordham Institute labeled the Obama initiatives, "NCLB2: The Carrot that Feels Like a Stick." To receive funds, the administration has asked for "assurances" that the stimulus money will be used to advance its agenda. "Assurances" means more mandates on schools. What prompted Petrilli's comment was the requirement that states wanting discretionary money must adopt policies facilitating the of use test scores in teacher evaluations.
The Bush parallel is perhaps most discouraging due to the unfulfilled campaign promise to adequately fund NCLB. Once the temporary bump of stimulus money is gone, funds for economically deprived children are actually reduced. Historically underfunded special education is stagnant. When the money runs out, Vermont and other states that raided the stimulus money to balance the books will face fiscal crises far greater than today’s troubles.
In language startlingly similar to Bush's former secretary, Rod Paige, the administration says they have put "unprecedented funds" behind their initiatives. In their "Race to the Top," they have set aside $4 billion in discretionary spending, which sounds like a lot of money. As a percentage of total education spending, however, it is less than one percent. With over 70 different state-level studies showing that addressing the needs of our neediest children would cost 40% to 60% more per student, that's a very small tail wagging a very big dog.
What are the innovations being hawked by Obama and Duncan? Oddly, they are mostly carry-overs from Republican administrations. A center-piece is to ask states to lift caps on minimally regulated, free-market charter schools. Less regulation caused serious damage to the economy and the research consensus fails to support its growth in the education sector. The federal government's own studies do not show charters as promising reform avenues. Some major studies actually show charter schools producing lower test scores. For example, a 14 state study out of a Stanford research center reported that 17% of charters did better than public schools, while 37% did worse. The reason that charters do no better, and frequently do worse, than public schools is that they do not provide the promised innovations, have higher turnover and less qualified staff. Also clearly emerging from the findings is that charter schools segregate by wealth and race. It is troublesome that our leaders who promised to be "evidence-based" have not based their initiatives on the evidence.
Another administration idea is to eliminate local school boards in favor of mayoral control of schools. The idea is that a strong leader, given sufficient power, will turn schools around. But since there is little positive evidence supporting this idea, and since it has the disadvantage of eliminating democratically elected governance, it is immensely controversial. In Chicago, where education secretary Arne Duncan was the mayoral appointed "CEO" (rather than superintendent), the Commercial Club's study concluded that any improvements registered were due to changes in the state test and even these gains dissipated by high school.
Parents, citizens and educators get it. They look at their local school and know that basic skills are being taught, children learn to work with each other, and that education is a far broader and richer thing than test scores. They know, too, that meaningful reform requires dedication and investment, not quick-fix, bumper-sticker solutions. Unfortunately the new administration seems to have learned little from the past, buying into the educational equivalent of get-rich-quick schemes whose primary support comes from pseudo-research propagated by ideological think tanks. That is not what candidate Obama promised.
William J. Mathis is managing director of the Education and the Public Interest Center at the University of Colorado at Boulder. He resides in Goshen, VT.