American Truths (Updated)

If we are going to have a country at all, there are some things we should agree on. There are some self-evident truths about America and the world that ought to be delineated and canonized* so that when opposition to those agreed upon truths "rear their ugly heads" we can be confident they will be corrected.

We, alone and with others, have corrected some in the past, and they have been accepted to such a point that to favor or posit them now would seem ridiculous. They are truths. American truths. Things we as Americans hold true. Not coincidentally, most of the world does as well.

Some of these American truths have made their way out of American wars, social upheaval, advances in science and technology, archaeology, and paleontology, physics, law and life. Some of the most accepted I will list here, then we will see which ones are now loudly and frighteningly under attack.

Self-Evident American Truths:
  • Slavery was immoral
  • The earth is round
  • Women should vote
  • So should black people
  • Blacks and whites should be able to marry
  • The universe is really old
  • Hitler was very, very bad
  • It's good the Union prevailed in the Civil War
  • Nazis are assholes
  • There is no difference in potential between races
  • Communism failed
  • Medicare is Socialized Medicine
  • VA is Government Run Health Care
  • Private health insurance provides no social good (since it can be done cheaper by the government)
  • The rich are getting richer
  • Evolution is theory, like gravity, and they are both real
  • The poor are getting poorer
  • We owe China like, a lot of money
  • Poor people in America die of hunger and lack of health care
  • You don't heckle the POTUS in the Chamber
  • Gay parents are like your parents--warts and all
Okay. You right-wingers may argue with a couple, but you'd be wrong, so shut up. Indeed, that is the point here. There are things on this list that are being challenged, and it needs to stop. Stupidity ought to be unAmerican.

Anyone comparing our President to Hitler should get arrested. Or at least beat up by a progressive. A big, gay, progressive. There is nothing Obama is proposing that is in any way similar to Hitler or Hitler's policies. Hitler, you see, was a fucking psychopath and murdered millions of people, many because they were Jewish. He was nothing like Obama, who seems pretty stable. And Obama is a Democrat, not a Nazi. Google it. Hitler was bad, America fought him in WWII, we defeated him with the help of some of our greatest generals and soldiers, the whole country sacrificed and rationed, and no American president should have to tolerate being compared to Hitler. That's an American Truth. Assholes.

Insurance companies exist to make money, not provide health care. Anyone who says otherwise (not that anyone has) is wrong, or stupid, or lying. Medicare proves that a government run "single payer" can be far more efficient delivering the commerce of health care than insurance companies, something like 30% operating cost versus 4% or something astounding like that. Anyone who can't see that insurance companies have to charge more so they can pay for commercials, and planes, and bonuses, and CONGRESSMEN, and hookers (okay, maybe not hookers. NOT!!) are just blind, or stupid, or get their money via an insurance company. It's an American, capitalist truth!

The universe is old, and Earth is too. It's in the billions, not the thousands. We are related to monkeys. And fish.

*Update: I've had a good response from this post, though there's a quibble.  The quibbler (who I love) doesn't like the word "canonized" because it is too Catholic. I agree, so here are some options: declared, adjudged, held, lauded, extolled, exalted, glorified, and last, proclaimed.  Those were from Synonym.com.

Feel free to add your own in comments.

Obama's Foes Are Filled With Unmitigated, Dangerous Hate

As a Jewish-atheist-human I find the Nazi insignia very hateful. So hateful that I think it should be classified as hate speech.

Since we can't arrest these morons for stupidity, maybe we can arrest them for a hate crime?

These racist, homophobic, born-again idiots who think Obama is a communist and a fascist and a traitor, all at the same time, need to be reined in, and fast.

Where are the Republican grown-ups? Is that an oxymoron?

h/t Sully the Stoner

What Were We Thinking?

My friend Tracy turned me on to this: Hippie-redneck Joe Bageant lays the blame for our predicament right at our feet. I think he is right.
The Entertainment Value of Snuffing Grandma

A nation of children roots for the Mafia

By Joe Bageant

Every day I get letters asking me to weigh in on the healthcare fracas. As if a redneck writer armed with a keyboard, a pack of smokes and all the misinformation and vitriol available on the Internet could contribute anything to the crap storm already in progress. Besides that, my unreasoned but noisy take on this issue is often about as welcome as a fart in a spacesuit. None of which has ever stopped me from making a fool of myself in the past. So here goes.

There ain't any healthcare debate going on, Bubba. What is going on are mob negotiations about insurance, and which mob gets the biggest chunk of the dough, be it our taxpayer dough or the geet that isn't in ole Jim's impoverished purse. The hoo-ha is about the insurance racket, not the delivery of healthcare to human beings. It's simply another form of extorting the people regarding a fundamental need -- health.

Unfortunately, the people have been mesmerized by our theater state's purposefully distracting and dramatic media productions for so long they've been mutated toward helplessness. Consequently, they are incapable of asking themselves a simple question: If insurance corporation profits are one third of the cost of healthcare, and all insurance corporations do is deliver our money to healthcare providers for us (or actually, do everything in their power to keep the money for themselves), why do we need insurance companies at all? Answer: Because Wall Street gets a big piece of the action. And nobody messes with the Wall Street Mob (as the bailout extortion money proved). Better (and worse) presidents have tried. Some made a genuine effort to push it through Congress. Others expressed the desire publicly, but after getting privately muscled by the healthcare industry, decided to back off from the idea. For instance:

* Franklin Roosevelt wanted universal healthcare.
* Harry Truman wanted universal healthcare.
* Dwight Eisenhower wanted universal healthcare.
* Richard Nixon wanted universal healthcare.
* Lyndon Johnson wanted universal healthcare.
* Bill Clinton wanted -- well we can't definitely say because he made sure that if the issue blew up on him, which it did, Hillary would be left holding the turd. Is it any wonder that woman gets so snappy at the slightest provocation? First getting left to hold the bag on healthcare, then the spots on that blue dress.

So why did American liberals believe Obama would bring home the healthcare bacon? Because they live in an ideological cupcake land. It's a big neighborhood, a very special place where "Your vote is important," and "by electing the right candidate, you can change our beloved nation." Most of America lives in that neighborhood, even though they've never personally met. It's a place where the shrubbery and flowerbeds of such things as "values" and "hope" bloom. Hope that our desires coupled with the efforts of a good and decent president can affect "change." Evidently these voters never heard the old adage, "Hope in one hand and piss in the other, and see which one fills up first."


UC Against Privatization Of Public Education, Plan Walkout

UC Faculty Walkout - September 24
In solidarity with students and staff
In defense of public education in California

Under the cover of the summer months, UC administration has pushed through a program of tuition hikes, enrollment cuts, layoffs, furloughs, and increased class sizes that harms students and jeopardizes the livelihoods of the most vulnerable university employees. These decisions fundamentally compromise the mission of the University of California. They are complicit with the privatization of public education, and they have been made in a manner that flouts the principle of shared governance at the core of the UC faculty's capacity to guide the future of the University in accordance with its mission.

On September 24, in solidarity with UC staff and students, faculty throughout the University of California system will walk out in defense of public education.

Please indicate your support using the signature form at the top of this page.

Organizational questions: ucfacultywalkout@gmail.com

Join the Facebook group.

Follow updates on our blog.
Teachers next? Yes we can?

h/t Schools Matter

Friday Cartoon Fun: September 11 Remembered Edition

Obama's Education Speech: Reactions

Obama’s Back-to-School speech deserves commentary on many points. Here I am going to simply mention some telling assumptions that are laced through the presentation.

The President, of course, gets some points for talking about how students must accept responsibility for their own achievement. Though fundamental, this is hardly new. The elephant in the room is – achievement… for what? What is the real purpose of an education – a public education – in America 2009?

1) Obama talks about getting a good job as a major goal of going to school: “You want to be a doctor, or a teacher, or a police officer? You want to be a nurse or an architect, a lawyer or a member of our military? You are going to need a good education for every single one of those careers”.

The idea that America today is full of good jobs, waiting for each year’s crop of graduates has been exploded many times. Here’s one from Gerald Bracey, for years a harsh critic of the notion that America’s schools are failing:

From On Education, Obama Blows It, by Gerald Bracey:
I have not the expertise to address the merits of President Obama’s speech to Congress on the issues of the economy. I do claim some expertise on education. He blew it.

He accepted the same garbage that the propagandists, fear mongers such as Lou Gerstner, Bill Gates, Roy Romer, Bob Wise, Craig Barrett and many others—God help us, Arne Duncan?--have been spewing for years.

Obama said, ”Right now, three quarters of the fastest-growing occupations require more than a high school diploma, and yet just over half of our citizens have that level of education. Scary, huh? Not really. This statistic was a favorite of ex secretary of education of education Margaret Spellings, about whom we can all express a sigh of relief that the operative word is, “ex.”

If you look at the Bureau of Labor Statistics stats on job projections, it is almost true (but not really) that what Obama said is right. But there are two hugely compromising factors that make this statistic much less fearsome that it first appears:

1. The definition of “more than a high school diploma” is a weasel phrase, an incredibly slippery statistic. It does not mean a B. A., an Associates Degree, nor even a year of on-the-job training. The BLS projects that the overwhelming majority of jobs to be created between now and 2016 will require “short term on the job training.” That’s one week to three months.

2. The “fastest-growing occupations” account for very few jobs. For every systems engineer, we need about 15 sales people on the floor at Wal-Mart (and we have three newly minted scientists and engineers for every new job in those fields). The huge job numbers in this country are accounted for by retail sales, janitors, maids, food workers, waiters, truck drivers, home care assistants (low paid folk who come to take care those of us who are getting up in years), and similar low-trained, low-paid occupations. Note that I did not say these people are “low-skilled.” As Barbara Ehrenreich showed after she spent two years working in “low-skilled” jobs, there really is no such thing (see her Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America).


For artists everywhere, especially Lu, Josh, Robin, and Pat, my four favorite artists.

From the lovely Brazen.


Thursday Bonus Cartoon Fun: What A Dick Edition

Thursday Cartoon Fun: A Nation Of Morons Edition

Get Schooled (It's A Commercial For Kids)

So, this screengrab is from the Get Schooled site and it clearly blames teachers for poor student outcomes, right there in the first paragraph. This is how Obama has decided to fix education -- blame the teachers.

He then says teachers need to help you be successful and reach your potential. That's a great idea!! Why hadn't anyone ever thought of that before! It's so, you know, no excuses! Just make your teacher make you successful and reach your potential! And if they don't, we'll fire 'em, shut down the school, and make you kids stay longer! Of course, the TFA teacher will only stay 2 years, because they end up hating it. But, hey, they are motivated in the beginning!

And in paragraph 3 he seals the deal; he actually says "Some...teachers...don't make the grade..."

So, kids, if you don't do well, you can now blame your teacher, says your president.

You kids should ask your president what he plans to do to eliminate poverty, because you and I know that when you don't eat, or when you have to take care of your brothers and sisters because your mom has 3 jobs and can't make it home, it makes school just a bit less important than your survival.

Tell your president, and governor, and representatives that you want the government to focus on reducing poverty, the actual reason for the achievement gap. Tell them you want universal healthcare. Tell them you want your little sister to go to a good pre-k program where she can get the basics to be ready for kindergarten, where in these NCLB times, kindergartners will be tested.

Everyone knows many parents need to do much more, and we know most of the problems kids have come from outside school. We know this, it has been researched, yet we don't seem to believe it. Or if we believe it, we have decided there is nothing we can do about it. So we have moved on--moved on to teachers and schools (not school administrators though. Hmmmm?)

We also know that real, single payer health care is the only way to reduce health care costs and increase coverage. We know this, but we refuse to do it.

There are lots of things we seem to know, but don't do. It's the What's The Matter With Kansas problem; people acting against their own self-interest.

Those who blame the teachers instead of policy makers and administrators, or who blame Lindy Englund instead of Rummy and Cheney, or who blame the polar bear and not the idiot zoo-goer who wanted the picture up close, are dooming us to a society more fractured and stratified than it is now. Unfortunately, it seems the majority (or maybe it's just those in power?) hold themselves blameless, therefore, education, and society, are doomed. Doomed, I tell ya!

We are being held by the gaping jaws of a polar bear and wondering why we are bleeding.

Arianna Fights For Kids

Arianna Huffington understands that what ails education is what ails society--poverty, the original gateway calamity.
The Story That Made Me Tear Up My Prepared Speech at a Big Education Conference

I was scheduled to give a speech at the Get Schooled conference on education reform yesterday, sponsored by the Gates Foundation and Viacom. My speech had been perfectly trimmed to fit the allotted time, and already loaded in the teleprompter.

Then I read Erik Eckholm's moving story in the New York Times on the surge of homeless schoolchildren caused by the epidemic of home foreclosures. The story was accompanied by a photo that haunted me.

It showed 9-year-old Charity Crowell, of Asheville, North Carolina whose family's home had been foreclosed on. As recounted by Eckholm, Charity had picked out the green and purple outfit she would wear on the first day of school, while vowing to bring her grades back up from the Cs she got last spring when her parents lost their jobs and car and the family was evicted and forced to move into a series of friends' houses and then a motel -- and now a trailer, from which they are also facing eviction.

I've already been thinking a lot about the human cost of the millions of foreclosures taking place across America. But after I read this article, I dug deeper into the impact of foreclosures on schoolchildren. And I wanted to communicate the sense of urgency I felt to the thousand people gathered at the conference, including Bill and Melinda Gates, Deputy Secretary of Education Tony Miller, New York City School Chancellor Joel Klein, and Stephen Colbert, who emceed the event. So I decided to scrap my planned speech and talk about the crisis.

We don't have the current numbers of homeless school children. The latest national data we have is from last spring, when there were over one million schoolchildren who were homeless. But since last spring, two million more jobs have been lost, and home foreclosures have continued to rise at an epidemic pace. How many of the million homes that have received foreclosure filings in the last six months included school age children?

We have anecdotal evidence from school districts like San Antonio, which has enrolled 1,000 homeless students in the first two weeks of school -- double the amount as at the same point last year.

We live in a country that, one year ago this month, came together with a sense of national emergency, and bailed out banks that were "too big to fail."

Shouldn't we also be living in a country that can come together right now and bail out schoolchildren that are too small to be allowed to fail before they have been allowed to succeed?

"I couldn't go to sleep," 9-year-old Charity said of her last semester. "I was worried about all the stuff." As a result, she often fell asleep in class.


"Insurance Exchange"? WTF?

Someone explain what an "Insurance Exchange" is, seeing as how Obama will apparently tout it this evening...
Now, if you’re one of the tens of millions of Americans who don’t currently have health insurance, the second part of this plan will finally offer you quality, affordable choices. If you lose your job or change your job, you will be able to get coverage. If you strike out on your own and start a small business, you will be able to get coverage. We will do this by creating a new insurance exchange – a marketplace where individuals and small businesses will be able to shop for health insurance at competitive prices. Insurance companies will have an incentive to participate in this exchange because it lets them compete for millions of new customers. As one big group, these customers will have greater leverage to bargain with the insurance companies for better prices and quality coverage. This is how large companies and government employees get affordable insurance. It’s how everyone in this Congress gets affordable insurance. And it’s time to give every American the same opportunity that we’ve given ourselves.

Matt Taibbi: Where Are The Crazy Police?

Matt Taibbi exposes yet another horror:
Goldman Sachs has developed a tradable index of life settlements, enabling investors to bet on whether people will live longer than expected or die sooner than planned. The index is similar to tradable stock market indices that allow investors to bet on the overall direction of the market without buying stocks.

Spokesmen for Credit Suisse and Goldman Sachs declined to comment.

via NYTimes.com.
In reference to the above, Taibbi wonders:
But even beyond that… what the fuck??? This feels like financial innovation as practiced by Josef Mengele meets the Zucker Brothers; not just evil, but wacky evil. I don’t even want to think about what happens when Goldman Sachs suddenly has a large financial stake in the premature deaths of a bunch of old people. Where are the crazy police? Where is the crack federal crazy squad with the big butterfly net? I don’t know about betting on anyone’s life expectancy, but I think I’d like to bet on whether or not this idea ends well.

Professor Reich Explains The Public Option


Quote Of The Day: Matt Taibbi

Without a public option, any effort at health care reform will be as meaningful as a manicure for a gunshot victim.

Professor Reich Gives A History Lesson On Health Care Reform

The Lessons from History on Health Care Reform

With Congress returning from recess to consider health care legislation and the President set to deliver a major address on the subject to both houses of Congress tomorrow, a bit of history may be in order. An excellent starting place David Blumenthal's and James Marone's "The Heart of Power," which I reviewed for the New York Times this past weekend. Here are the major points:

Universal health care has bedeviled, eluded or defeated every president for the last 75 years. Franklin Roosevelt left it out of Social Security because he was afraid it would be too complicated and attract fierce resistance. Harry Truman fought like hell for it but ultimately lost. Dwight Eisenhower reshaped the public debate over it. John Kennedy was passionate about it. Lyndon Johnson scored the first and last major victory on the road toward achieving it. Richard Nixon devised the essential elements of all future designs for it. Jimmy Carter tried in vain to re-engineer it. The first George Bush toyed with it. Bill Clinton lost it and then never mentioned it again. George W. expanded it significantly, but only for retirees.

All the while, the ideal of universal care has revolved around two poles. In the 1930s, liberals imagined a universal right to health care tied to compulsory insurance, like Social Security. Johnson based Medicare on this idea, and it survives today as the “single-payer model” of universal health care, or “Medicare for all." The alternative proposal, starting with Eisenhower, was to create a market for health care based on private insurers and employers; he locked in the tax break for employee health benefits. Nixon came up with notions of prepaid, competing H.M.O.’s and urged a requirement that employers cover their employees. Everything since has been a variation on one or both of these competing visions. The plan now emerging from the White House and the Democratic Congress combines an aspect of the first (the public health care option) with several of the second (competing plans and an employer requirement to “pay or play”).

Devising a plan is easy compared with the politics of getting it enacted. Mere mention of national health insurance has always prompted a vigorous response from the ever-vigilant American Medical Association; in the 1930s, the editor of its journal equated national health care with “socialism, communism, inciting to revolution.” Bill Clinton’s plan was buried under an avalanche of hostility that included the now legendary ad featuring the couple Harry and Louise voicing their fears that the Clinton plan would substitute government for individual choice — “they choose, we lose.”

One lesson is that a new president must move quickly, before opponents have time to stoke public fears. After his 1964 landslide, Johnson warned his staff to push Medicare immediately because “every day while I’m in office, I’m going to lose votes. I’m going to alienate somebody. We’ve got to get this legislation fast.” George W. Bush started planning what became the Medicare drug benefit months before he was elected.

Clinton, by contrast, suffered from delay. Right after his election, national health insurance looked so likely that even some Republicans began lining up behind various plans. A year later, it was dead. In the interim, battles over Clinton’s budget and Nafta drained his political capital, gave his opponents ample time to rouse public concerns about government-sponsored health care and soured key allies like organized labor and the AARP.

Congress can be just as much of an obstacle: one lesson from history is that a president must set broad health reform goals and allow legislators to fill in the details, but be ready to knock heads together to forge a consensus. “I’m not trying to go into the details,” Johnson repeatedly said of his Medicare bill, yet he flattered, cajoled, intimidated and bluffed recalcitrant members until they agreed. “The only way to deal with Congress is continuously, incessantly and without interruption,” he quipped.

Carter, on the other hand, pored endlessly over his incipient health care plan, scribbling opinions in the margins about every detail, and dealt with Congress at arm’s length. And Clinton delivered a plan so vast and complex that even a Democratic Congress chose simply to ignore it. Republicans, meanwhile, decided that a defeat of Clinton’s health care bill would be seen as a repudiation of the new administration and might give them a shot at retaking the House and Senate.

Presidents who have been most successful in moving the country toward universal health coverage have disregarded or overruled their economic advisers. Plans to expand coverage have consistently drawn cautions or condemnations from economic teams in every administration, from Harry Truman’s down to George W. Bush’s. An exasperated Lyndon Johnson groused to Ted Kennedy that “the fools had to go to projecting” Medicare costs “down the road five or six years.” Such long-term projections meant political headaches. “The first thing, Senator Dick Russell comes running in, says, ‘My God, you’ve got a one billion dollar [estimate] for next year on health. Therefore I’m against any of it now.” Johnson rejected his advisers’ estimates and intentionally lowballed the cost. “I’ll spend the goddamn money.” An honest economic forecast would most likely have sunk Medicare.

It’s not so much that presidential economic advisers have been wrong — in fact, Medicare is well on its way to bankrupting the nation — but that they are typically in the business of thinking small and trying to minimize risk, while the herculean task of expanding health coverage entails great vision and large risk. Economic advice is important, but it’s only one source of wisdom.

Yet since Johnson, presidents have found it increasingly difficult to keep their economists at bay, mainly as a result of the growth of Washington’s economic policy infrastructure. Cost estimates and projections emanating from the White House’s Office of Management and Budget and the Congressional Budget Office, both created during the Nixon administration, have bound presidents within webs of technical arguments, arcane rules and budget limits. To date, Democratic presidents have felt more constrained by this apparatus than Republicans, perhaps because they have felt more of a need to prove their cost-cutting chops.

President Obama seems to have anticipated many of these lessons. He’s moved as quickly on the issue as this terrible economy has let him, and he has not been too rattled by naysaying economists (although the cost estimates of the Congressional Budget Office set him back). But although he outlined his goals but left most details to Congress, the lesson from history is that he may have waited too long to force a deal on that disorderly body (especially disorderly when Democrats are in charge). The question remains whether, in the weeks and months ahead, he can knock Congressional heads together to clinch it, and overcome those who inevitably feed public fears about a “government takeover” of health care and of budget-busting future expenditures. He needs to work fast, and be tough as nails.

But even if Obama fails, there is an art to losing, too — in a way that can tee up the issue for future presidents. Truman lost but nonetheless redefined the terms of debate, setting the stage for Medicare (which is why Johnson honored Truman when he signed it into law). Compare him with Clinton, who walked away from the wreckage of his health care plan and rarely mentioned the subject again. This allowed opponents to gain control over the spin and history, so that the Democrats’ signature cause slipped out of political sight for a decade.

Any history of the fight for universal care in America contains a subplot with a supporting actor who, although he never became president, is repeatedly heard from offstage — goading, pushing, threatening and pulling presidents of both parties toward universal coverage. Ted Kennedy first introduced his ambitious national health insurance proposal 40 years ago, and he never stopped promoting the cause. A deal he reached with President Nixon was the closest this country has ever come to universal care. Even before Kennedy’s death last month, his illness had tragically sidelined him just when his powerful voice was most needed. Yet when and if America ever achieves universal coverage, it will be due in no small measure to the tenacity and perseverance of this one remarkable man.

Obama's Education Speech (The One He Should Have Given)

In the largest study on charter schools to date (funded by the Walton Family of Wal-mart infamy), Stanford University found that students in more than 80 percent of charter schools either performed the same as or worse than students in traditional public schools on reading and math tests. Fully 37 percent of charter schools students did worse than students enrolled in local traditional public schools.

For Obama to truly earn the socialist moniker his right-wing antagonists have branded him with, this is the speech he would need to deliver to the children of America:
As another school year begins, I have chosen to address the nation's children because dramatic changes are needed if we are to ever attain a society fit for you to grow up in.

I have come to realize the hypocrisy of scolding America's youth for not taking more personal responsibility for their future when we don't ask the same of America's elite.

Today, I pledge to nationalize the banks that took hundreds of billions of dollars from your parents in the form of tax-payer bailouts and use the proceeds to provide a single-payer "Medicare for All" health system that can ensure students come to school healthy and ready to learn. Furthermore, I will withdraw all troops from Iraq and Afghanistan and with the money and morality saved from not killing people around the world, build the strongest public school system the world has ever seen.

Remember to always study hard--with all the new jobs I am creating in health care and education, we will soon need smart young people like you working to meet the needs of millions who previously were neglected.
h/t JH

School Reforms That Might Actually Work

A smarter education strategy

By Dennis Shirley and Andy Hargreaves | September 7, 2009

AS PRESIDENT OBAMA prepares to address the nation’s students via classroom TVs and streaming Internet tomorrow, all eyes are on America’s schools. After years of unprecedented federal involvement, educators and the public have grown weary of high-sounding reforms that never seem to achieve the desired results. But we can’t give up on our schools. As we watch students from other nations outperform the United States, it is more important than ever that the Obama administration get its education strategy right.

Charter schools, pay-for-performance for teachers, alternative routes into teaching, and closing failing schools are the policy mix the administration is pushing. Most of its education ideas differ little from those of prior administrations. The ideas aren’t new, and the evidence driving policy is just as questionable as ever.

Obama and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan are rushing headlong down a path that in many ways replicates for schools the same market-based principles that have left our economy a shambles. We know that inventing new finance models created a hollow prosperity for a few.

Likewise, we cannot create a separate underclass of public schools that charters leave behind. Financial rewards for a few teachers won’t raise quality among all of them. And shutting failing schools, like property foreclosures, fails to address the underlying problems.

There are better ways. We have seen this firsthand in our studies of high-achieving school systems around the world.

Finland’s schools lead the world on the Program for International Student Achievement tests. When its unemployment rate hit almost 20 percent in 1992, Finland reinvented itself to become the world’s most economically competitive country. Its strategy? Education.

Unlike US policies urging us to “lower the barriers’’ to let just about anyone teach, Finland has made teaching such a prestigious occupation that only 10 percent of applicants to Finland’s teacher education programs are admitted. Their system isn’t expensive - teachers are paid at the median rate for comparable nations. But there are good working conditions in all schools and a very different social ethic: Finns support “collective responsibility,’’ not narrow “accountability,’’ for improving schools. Strong schools don’t compete against weak ones, but help them instead. The result? Finland has the world’s smallest achievement gap between students based on their social class background.

Or consider a nation with an urban mix similar to the United States. The London borough of Tower Hamlets climbed from the worst-achieving district in England to the top half in the last decade. In Tower Hamlets - where more than half of the students are immigrants - our recent study found educational leaders have built ties with local community groups, particularly imams from the mosques that serve the district’s large Bangladeshi population. They reversed high truancy rates and brought the community inside the schools to serve as classroom aides, translators, and social service providers. Schools set their own improvement targets together, rather than reacting to ones from outside; and when one school sank into failure, all the others rallied round to help.

Finally, consider the Canadian province of Alberta - the second highest performer on the PISA tests after Finland. The Alberta Initiative for School Improvement, created by the government with the teachers union, receives 2 percent of the provincial education budget and has engaged 90 percent of all schools in the province in designing their own local innovations and solutions to educational problems.

We’ve found in Finland, Tower Hamlets, and Alberta paths not taken in US education today. There is nothing in the new administration’s policies that provides incentives for strong schools to help struggling ones, least of all where charter schools are concerned. Pay-for-performance schemes offer market incentives that motivate a few teachers rather than providing the mission and conditions that energize all of them. There are proven ways to lift underperforming schools rather than simply shutting them down.

It isn’t too late for this administration to reconsider its plan. In almost all his policies, Obama has proven to be a man of the world. But in education, we seem to be re-treading outworn paths from the past. Why not choose the bolder paths not yet taken in our educational system’s much-hailed “race to the top’’ and join those schools at the top of the world already?

Dennis Shirley and Andy Hargreaves are professors in the Lynch School of Education at Boston College and authors of “The Fourth Way: The Inspiring Future for Educational Change.’’
h/t Schools Matter


After School I Get To Go To School!

Here's another brilliant example of grown-ups ruining people's childhoods. Ever notice that it is grown-ups who ruin things and almost never kids? Kids deserve better than a bunch of grown-ups. Seriously!
Stimulus Funds: Test-prep/Centralized Curriculum vs. Nothing

When the economy collapsed and education funding dried up, schools had to take the federal stimulus money (with major strings attached) or face cutting major school programs.

When the banking industry collapsed - due to Wall Street greed, deregulation, and market fundamentalism - banks were rewarded literally trillions of dollars with very few restrictions placed upon them.

Remind me again - who is supposed to be accountable here?

From the Santa Fe New Mexican:
Stimulus cash spurs after-care program changes for Santa Fe schools
Under new program rules, parents can't pick up children until 5:30 p.m.; lessons required

By Anne Constable | The New Mexican


Parents of students who registered for the after-school program at E.J. Martinez Elementary School were told last week that they would not be allowed to pick up their children until 5:30 p.m., even if they themselves get off work earlier than that.

"It's asinine to say if I can pick my kids up earlier than 5:30 p.m., I get penalized. That's nuts," said Valerie Ingram, whose children are enrolled in the school's after-care program. "I'll see them for maybe two hours before they go to sleep."

Maria Rael, a math teacher at E.J. Martinez who runs the program, was calling parents last week to let them know about the change. But even she was not happy about it. "I'm not crazy about the 5:30 thing. I wish it could be more flexible," she said.

Because the district is funding the after-care program at E.J. — and six other schools — with federal stimulus dollars, it is required to offer 90 minutes of uninterrupted academic instruction.

Instead of arts and crafts, the occasional movie and other low-key fun, students will be getting another set of lessons in math and English at the end of the day.

"It doesn't mean the activities have to be dry and horrible," Rael said. "I'm a math teacher and I'm always trying to find ways to make math fun."

But one mother who arrived at the school Wednesday around 5 p.m. said, "I think it's a long school day as it is, and I should be able to pick up my children."

She suggested that if structured time is required, it should start earlier and finish earlier.

The district is now considering this and other options, Superintendent Bobbie Gutierrez confirmed.

Initially, the district settled on 4 to 5:30 p.m. for the instructional time to allow kids a break for a snack and running around outside after school ends.

Gutierrez said officials are working on "creating flexibility within the system," while still abiding by federal rules.

If it weren't for federal stimulus money, Santa Fe Public Schools might have been forced to cut the after-care completely. Earlier this year the district was facing a $4.5 million budget shortfall for the new school year.

Now many families are assured of getting the services — and for free. But, as Gutierrez admitted, there are "so many strings attached."

In addition to the required academic instruction, the schools must keep careful attendance records and sign-in logs, employ research-based curricula and submit lesson plans to authorities. And because the money is reserved for children in low-income, Title I schools, students at Wood Gormley, who used to come to E.J. Martinez for after-care, must now go to a fee-paying YMCA program at Atalaya.

Rael said that the district believes that if the schools can demonstrate that giving children direct instruction in smaller groups after school improves test results, "It might not be so hard to come up with money to fund after-school programs."

She added, "We almost lost our program altogether," because of funding issues. And, "A lot of children would (have ended) up going home (to an empty house), and that doesn't make sense."

The E.J. Martinez program has room for 65 children. Many families pre-registered at the end of the last school year, although some were reconsidering when they heard about the restrictions.

But the program is still popular with kids. Sofia Zambrano, a lively fourth-grader in her second year of after-care, thought it was "a great place to be." "I'm going to try to improve my organizing," she declared, adding that she missed school during the summer — "even the boys." Sounding older than her years, Sofia said, "The teachers really teach a lot. I love how they care for us and how much effort they put in everything."

The district is using about $635,000 in federal funds — stimulus dollars as well as Title I funds for low-income schools — on after-care programs for students from 10 schools. In addition to E.J. Martinez, the programs are at Ramirez Thomas, Gonzales, Salazar and Kearny elementary schools and De Vargas Middle School. Students from Alvord, Carlos Gilbert and Larragoite go to Gonzales Community School while Kearny Elementary School students go to Nava for after-care.

The E.J. Martinez program is paid for with $85,324 in federal funds (including $31,824 in stimulus dollars) and LANL Foundation grant money.

The after-care program costs about $1,200 per child per year, which includes teacher pay.

Previously, parents whose children received free and reduced-price lunches paid $20 a week for the program and $5 a week for each extra child. Other parents paid $40 for the first child and $5 for the second.

Families are still paying fees for after-school care offered by other providers at other schools.

Because the district asked only for half of its stimulus money this year, federal funds could be available for these programs next year if they don't have to be diverted to cover other operating costs. That might depend on how much the Legislature appropriates for education, Gutierrez said.
h/t KL

Obama Gives A Good Speech

It is a good speech. It's fire-in-the-belly stuff, and it's what he should have been doing for the last few months. Better late than never.

I still support him, I am just so very disappointed. If we can pull off real health care reform I will not relax; I will work harder, being newly invigorated. It's a big if!

Monday Bonus Carrtoon Fun: Happy Labor Day Edition

Monday Cartoon Fun: Happy Labor Day Edition

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