STEM Education Severs the Arts from the Sciences

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What’s the most effective way to dumb down a nation?

 

 

Focus on How without Why.

 

 

That’s really the biggest problem with the pedagogical fad of STEM education.

 

 

There’s nothing objectively wrong with teaching science, technology, engineering and math – the disciplines that make up STEM.

 

 

In many cases, doing so is essential to a well-rounded education.

 

 

But therein lies the problem – you can’t have a well-rounded education if you purposely leave out some of the most vital aspects of knowledge.

 

 

Where’s the art? Where’s the literature? Where’s the social studies, government, citizenship, drawing, painting, music – heck! Where’s the philosophical understanding of life, itself?

 

 

STEM initiatives often involve creating two tiers of school subjects. You have the serious disciplines that will earn you respect and a job. And you have the soft, mamby pamby humanities that are no good to anyone.

 

 

The problem is one of focus not content.

 

 

Corporate-minded bureaucrats who know nothing of human psychology, child development or education look solely at standardized test scores and get hysterical.

 

 

The U.S. is falling behind other nations – especially in science and math, they say. So we must do whatever we can to bring those test scores up, Up, UP!

 

 

Yet they have never bothered to see that our student test scores have never been at the top of the pack for all the decades we’ve been making international comparisons.

 

 

We started contrasting multiple choice assessment results for 13-year-olds in a dozen countries back in 1964. And ever since, America has always been right in the middle.

 

Yet for those five decades we’ve dominated the world in science, technology, research and innovation.

 

 

In that time we sent the first people to the moon, mapped the human genome, and invented the Internet – all while getting middling test scores.

 

 

In short, standardized assessments are a fantastically unreliable indicator of national success, just as they are poor indicators of individual learning.

 

 

We’ve never been a nation content with picking our answers from four options – A,B,C,D. We blaze new paths!

 

 

But number obsessed fools have convinced a public blinded by sports statistics that these tests mean our kids are deficient. And the only cure is to put on blinders and focus almost exclusively on those subjects most featured on the tests.

 

Even reading and writing are only valuable if they let us guess what a normalized reader is supposed to comprehend from a given passage and if they allow us to express ourselves in the most rudimentary and generic ways.

 

 

This is exactly what they do in countries with the highest test scores – countries that are LESS innovative than the U.S.

 

 

Asian countries from Singapore to South Korea to India are not blind to this irony. While we are trying to imitate them, they are trying to imitate the kind of broad liberal arts education in which we used to pride ourselves.

 

“Many painters learn by having fun,” said Jack Ma, founder of one of China’s biggest Internet companies Alibaba.

 

“Many works of art and literature are the products of having fun. So, our entrepreneurs need to learn how to have fun, too.”

 

Ma worries that his country is not as innovative as those in the West because China’s educational system focuses too much on the basics and does not foster a student’s complete intelligence, allowing him or her to experiment and enjoy the learning process.

 

In other words, no matter how good you are at math and science, you still need to know how to learn, think and express yourself.

 

To be fair, these criticisms of STEM are not new.

 

Even global pundits like Fareed Zakaria have made similar arguments.

 

The result has been a hasty addition – change STEM to STEAM by adding in the arts.

 

Unfortunately, this hasn’t always worked out for the best.

 

Most of the time, the arts component is either an after thought or merely a sweetener to get students interested in beginning the journey – a journey that is all STEM all the time.

 

There is still an education hierarchy with the sciences and math at the top and the humanities and social studies at the bottom.

 

This is extremely unfortunate and will cause long-term detrimental effects to our society.

 

For instance, we pride ourselves in being democratically ruled. Political power does not come from authority, it comes from the consent of the governed.

 

This requires a public that knows how to do more than just add and subtract. Voters need to understand the mechanisms of government so they grasp their rights. They need a knowledge of history so they don’t repeat the mistakes of the past. They need to grasp human psychology, anthropology, and sociology to understand how people work in groups and individually.

 

Moreover, as human beings, they need the humanities. People have thoughts and feelings. They need to know how to express those thoughts and feelings and not just by writing a five-paragraph essay. They need to be able to create works of art. They need to be able to write a story or poem. They need to be able to manipulate images. They need to understand and create music.

 

Without these things, it can be difficult to become fully actualized people.

 

That used to be the goal of education. Provide students with the tools to become the best version of themselves.

 

But this focus on STEM and STEAM only endeavors to make them the best cogs the workforce needs.

 

We have relinquished our commitment to students and replaced it with a commitment to business and industry.

 

The idea is that schools owe the job market workers. That could not be further from the truth. We owe our students the tools that will help them live the best lives. And employment is only one small facet of that goal.

 

I’m not saying we shouldn’t teach math and science. We should – we MUST. But those can’t be prioritized over and above other essential human endeavors.

 

We need to fund and encourage a broad liberal arts education for all students. As they get older and move on to post-secondary studies including industrial arts they will inevitably specialize in areas that they find most interesting.

 

But until then, it is our job to give them every opportunity to learn – not to mold them into future wage slaves or boost national pride with arbitrary and meaningless test scores.


 

Like this post? I’ve written a book, “Gadfly on the Wall: A Public School Teacher Speaks Out on Racism and Reform,” now available from Garn Press. Ten percent of the proceeds go to the Badass Teachers Association. Check it out!

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The Only Way to Survive Trump is Together

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There are days when I feel like a broken man.

 

And it is Donald Trump who has broken me.

 

Not his political victories. Not the failures of his opposition.

 

But the very fact that this piece of shit is President of the United States – that fact sits on my brain like an insect I can’t swat.

 

On those days my belief in this country wavers and disappears.

 

 

Oh, I’ve always recognized its faults, how our reality hardly ever lived up to our ideals. But I also thought that the United States was populated by mostly good people who knew right from wrong.

 

To run this country we wouldn’t choose an obvious conman, a racist and sexist, a person of low IQ, a man with little to no experience, a reality TV star. We wouldn’t let him pick the next Supreme Court justices. We wouldn’t give him the power to pardon whomever he likes. We wouldn’t give him the ability to write almost whatever he wants into law through signing statements. And we certainly wouldn’t give him the nuclear codes.

 

But we did.

 

We did all of that.

 

Or we allowed it to happen by ignoring a broken electoral system that overturns the popular vote with frightening regularity.

 

So there he sits in the Oval Office – when he isn’t on vacation at Mar-a-Lago – like a smear of feces on the American flag.

 

Therapists call this feeling “Trump Anxiety Disorder” and I have it. Boy! Do I have it!

 

The D.C. Counseling and Psychotherapy Center has identified it as a “collective politically induced anxiety among patients.”

 

Apparently, Trump’s name comes up frequently in sessions with mental health professionals. Patients say they feel on edge because of the President’s ill-chosen, childish and undiplomatic words, fear of his bad decision making, and anxiety over his xenophobic and prejudicial policies.

 

Trump Anxiety Disorder is not yet an official diagnosis, but symptoms seem to include lack of sleep, a feeling of losing control and helplessness in an unpredictable political scene, along with endless negative headlines and excessive time spent on social media.

 

Elisabeth LaMotte, a therapist at the Washington, DC, center, said, “There is a fear of the world ending. It’s very disorienting and constantly unsettling.”

 

I’m not sure I fear that Armageddon is close at hand, but I certainly feel like the world I thought I knew is unraveling.

 

Fox News was quick to frame this story as a joke – those silly “libtards” are losing their minds over Trump. But it’s not just people on the left who suffer from the disorder, says LaMotte.

 

Many Trump supporters feel isolated from friends and family who don’t blindly follow their diminutive Furor. I guess it’s hard to pal around with someone who thinks it’s completely justified to separate children from their parents and lock them up in cages – unless you think the same thing.

 

Even the American Psychological Association (APA) has recorded a rise in anxiety since the 2016 election that increases depending on how political a person is regardless of affiliation.

 

The APA also noted that electronic news consumption increases that risk.

 

In my own case, my symptoms manifested physically on Election Day, itself.

 

I literally had a heart attack in 2016 after casting my ballot. And I had another one a short while later.

 

The first one may have had something to do with depression over the political options.

 

I didn’t know Trump would win. I thought the chances of it were infinitesimal. But I didn’t want Hillary Clinton, either.

 

I wanted Bernie Sanders, and since I thought the Democratic National Convention stacked the deck against him (and therefore voters) in the primaries, I voted for Jill Stein.

 

In the months since, I’ve run that decision over in my mind a million times.

 

Was I right? Was I wrong? Could I have given Trump the margin of victory with my one stupid vote?

 

When I examine all the information I had at the time, it still makes sense.

 

The media was telling us that there was no way Trump could win. Clinton was going to come storming into the White House and continue or worsen the neoliberal policies of Barack Obama.

 

As a school teacher, I was concerned that she would continue to wage war on public education – she would continue to boost charter schools and standardized testing while shrugging at funding inequity, increased segregation and the school-to-prison pipeline.

 

It’s not that I didn’t realize Trump would be worse. It’s that I didn’t think Clinton would be that much better.

 

But had she won, I don’t think I would be suffering the same anxiety.

 

We would have a sane and sensible leader who wouldn’t do anything much to make things better, but certainly wouldn’t be plunging us into an abyss. She wouldn’t betray every single American value while blatantly using her office for personal gain and gaslighting anyone who had the temerity to point out what was happening in plain sight.

 

So maybe some of it is guilt in my case.

 

Maybe I caused all this chaos. But I’ve looked at the numbers and that doesn’t add up.

 

Even if my position as a blogger who criticized Clinton (and Trump) convinced thousands of voters to cast ballots like I did, I could not have significantly affected the outcome.

 

But on those days of doubt and depression, I still feel guilty.

 

This is not the world I want to live in.

 

Things would be different if I thought there were any real hope of change.

 

Sure Trump may be defeated. If there’s a blue wave in the midterms, the orange one may be impeached. Or he may find it increasingly difficult to continue his corruption and be ousted in 2020.

 

But long term I don’t see much changing.

 

The Democrats are almost as corrupt as the Republicans.

 

Don’t give me this false equivalency crap. I’m not saying they’re the same. The Democrats are unequivocally better. But with the exception of social issues, their policies are almost the same as Republicans. The only difference is timeframe.

 

Republicans will destroy the world tomorrow. Democrats will destroy it next week.

 

And the system is just not set up to offer any challenge to the duopoly.

 

I desperately want to believe that insurgent progressives like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Zephyr Teachout will somehow wrest control of the Democrats and steer the party back to real populist goals, but on most days it’s hard to keep that hope alive.

 

On those days it seems like the rich and powerful own our government and will never allow us to take it back no matter how many of us try to vote, no matter how often we take to the streets, no matter what we do.

 

We live in a world of shit.

 

And none of it will ever change for the better.

 

I don’t want to feel this way.

 

I still want to believe that the moral arc of the universe is long but it bends toward justice.

 

But on most days that feels like an illusion.

 

Is that a mental disorder? Or do I finally see the world for the way it is?

 

I have no answers.

 

Perhaps this article has no point.

 

I only offer it as a mark of solidarity.

 

If you’re feeling this way, you are not alone.

 

There are many more out there like you.

 

I don’t know how we get through this or even if we can. But this much seems certain.

 

If we are to survive, the only way is together.

 

So I send out this missive of hope and fear with all my love and a big virtual hug.

 

Be kind to each other. We’re all we’ve got.


 

For a peak at my views on more positive days, see HERE and HERE.


 

Like this post? I’ve written a book, “Gadfly on the Wall: A Public School Teacher Speaks Out on Racism and Reform,” now available from Garn Press. Ten percent of the proceeds go to the Badass Teachers Association. Check it out!

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Wannabe Terrorist Attempts to Flood Our Schools & Public Spaces With 3D Printed Guns to Make Common Sense Restrictions Moot

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In the United States, we literally have more guns than people.

 

Yet we’re trying really hard to make even more available with the touch of a button.

 

It’s not enough that our right to kill is better protected than our right to live, we need to make it EASIER to commit murder. In the land of the drive-by shooting, slaughter needs to be as convenient as ordering a pizza.

 

Cody Wilson, a wannabe terrorist who apparently believes John Wayne westerns are documentaries, claims to have invented the first gun that can be made almost completely on a 3D printer. And he wants to post the plans on-line so anyone with access to the device can make one.

 

He was stopped by a U.S. District judge in Seattle who temporarily banned the plans from publication on the Internet this week following a last-minute lawsuit filed by seven state attorneys general.

 

They argued that 3D-printed firearms would be invisible to metal detectors and could bypass gun restrictions recently adopted after a string of school shootings in some states.

 

The issue will go back to court on August 10, when the sides will discuss whether a preliminary injunction is needed.

 

The whole matter was almost settled in 2013 when the Obama administration originally stopped Wilson from putting his plans online with a lawsuit. After years of back and forth, the federal case against the virtual arms merchant seemed like a slam dunk. Then Donald Trump came into office and not only stopped the suit but paid Wilson $40,000 in damages.

 

So the question remains – why would any sane human being want to post a do-it-yourself gun kit on the Internet where any criminal, psychotic or violent fanatic could easily access it?

 

Wilson says he’s not in it for financial gain. He wants to make a political point – to flood the world with so many cheap, untraceable guns that the idea of passing any kind of regulations on them would be impossible.

 

No, really.

 

As he told Wired:

 

“All this Parkland stuff, the students, all these dreams of ‘common sense gun reforms’? No. The Internet will serve guns, the gun is downloadable. No amount of petitions or die-ins or anything else can change that.”

 

Not only that, but the owner and founder of Defense Distributed, an Austin, Texas, based start up that pretends to be a nonprofit organization, says he is prepared to kill police and federal agents if the courts don’t continue seeing things his way.

 

In the same Wired interview, he says he wasn’t expecting support from the Trump administration. He expected Hillary Clinton would win the White House in 2016 and that she would continue to oppose his 3D printed firearms.

 

As Wired reported:

 

“If that happened, as Wilson tells it, he was ready to launch his [3D printed gun] repository, regardless of the outcome of his lawsuit, and then defend it in an armed standoff. “I’d call a militia out to defend the server, Bundy-style,” Wilson says calmly, in the first overt mention of planned armed violence I’ve ever heard him make. “Our only option was to build an infrastructure where we had one final suicidal mission, where we dumped everything into the Internet,” Wilson says.”

 

So let’s be clear about one thing – the guy pushing for 3D printed firearms is literally a terrorist imitator.

 

He is an American extremist. He is to us as Osama bin Laden is to mainstream Muslims.

 

Or at least he wants to be that.

 

While we’re rounding up brown people and separating them from their children without any workable plan to reunite them on this or that side of the border, we have a US citizen making terroristic threats with the means to carry them out and he’s walking around free.

 

Oh, but he’s a privileged white dude, so no harm no foul.

 

If Wilson’s little plastic death dealers do become widely available on-line, they won’t immediately make a huge difference.

 

It’s hard to make a 3D-printed gun. You need an expensive, top-of-the-line 3D printer and some knowledge of how to work it. And even then the result is a shoddy firearm at best. It may only fire a few bullets before falling apart.

 

A shooter would have to work extra hard to accomplish his goal with Wilson’s design. It would be much easier to use one of the billions of firearms already available – and much more deadly.

 

But it wouldn’t take much to make a 3D-printed gun more dangerous.

 

To comply with federal law, Wilson’s design requires a metal firing pin, which he claims would set off a metal detector. However, it may be relatively easy to bypass that metal part to make his design truly concealable from such devices.

 

Moreover, technology is always advancing – 3D printers will probably be able to create stronger and more deadly firearms in time. With these sorts of designs readily available, it is easy to imagine a school shooter accessing a device in a tech or computer lab and creating a weapon of mass destruction. He wouldn’t set off any alarms because he wouldn’t have the gun when he entered the building. He’d make it in school.

 

Some shrug at these dangers saying that they’re inevitable.

 

Even if we stop Wilson, these sorts of designs will eventually be available in some form on-line. That’s the double-edged sword of mass media – all information is available including easy ways to kill a large number of people.

 

However, I think this is a cop-out.

 

For instance, the Internet and computer technology make it fairly easy to mass produce currency as well as firearms. In fact, it’s theoretically much easier.

 

Yet we don’t see a major influx of counterfeit bills. The reason? Business and industry have collaborated with government to make sure this doesn’t happen.

 

Programs like Adobe Photoshop include software that restrict the printing of your own money. We could do the same with future 3D printers. We could recall those already in service and retrofit them with such code.

 

Oh, sure not everyone will comply. There will always be someone who breaks through the safety net. But if all we can do is greatly reduce the spread of 3D-printed firearms, that doesn’t make it futile.

 

There is a mountain of research proving that the more firearms you have in a country, the greater the number of firearm deaths.

 

We should be working to restrict guns to responsible people.

 

But the Wilson’s of the world don’t want to allow us that choice.

 

They want to force us all to live in a world where guns are even more pernicious than they are today.

 

Will we let them?

 

Human beings have such potential, but we seem determined to kill ourselves.

 

If intelligent aliens came to Earth today and landed in the USA, what would they think of us?

 

Would they see what we might become or would they only see a pitiful animal struggling to put itself out of its own misery?


 

Like this post? I’ve written a book, “Gadfly on the Wall: A Public School Teacher Speaks Out on Racism and Reform,” now available from Garn Press. Ten percent of the proceeds go to the Badass Teachers Association. Check it out!

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Resistance to High Stakes Testing Persists as Media Celebrates Its End

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There has never been more opposition to high stakes standardized testing.

 

Yet the corporate controlled media is pretending that the resistance is over.

 

Parents are refusing to let their kids take these tests at the same or even greater numbers than ever.

 

Fewer states require high stakes tests as graduation exams and/or use them to evaluate their teachers. Across the nation, states are cutting the size of standardized tests or eliminating them altogether. And more state legislatures passed laws explicitly allowing parents to opt their children out of the tests.

 

Yet Education Week published an article a few days ago called “Anti-Test Movement Slows to a Crawl.”

 

I think we have different definitions of “Slows” and “Crawl.”

 

That may not be surprising since we also seem to have different definitions of “Anti-Test.”

 

The Opt Out Movement is not “Anti-Test.” It is anti-high stakes standardized test.

 

It is against the federal government forcing states to use corporate written, corporate graded and corporate remediated standardized assessments.

 

It is against the federal government requiring each state to participate in a corporate boondoggle that not only wastes billions of tax dollars that could be better spent to educate children but also unfairly assesses their academic progress and feeds the push to privatize public schools.

 

Most people against high stakes standardized testing, however, have no problem with authentic teacher-created assessments.

 

Calling these folks “Anti-Test” is like labeling those pushing for stricter gun regulations “Anti-Gun” or smearing those protesting government corruption as “Anti-Government.”

 

And that’s just the title!

 

The author Alyson Klein further misdirects readers by conflating opt out rates and test resistance.

 

She implied that the only measure of opposition was the percentage of students who opt out. However, as noted above, there are multiple measures of resistance.

 

 

Moreover, few states advertise their opt out rates. Especially after the movement began, states made that information harder to come by to dissuade more people from joining it.

 

Of those states where information is available, Klein puts the most negative possible spin on the facts in order to make her point – a point that it seems to me is not at all justified.

 

For instance, Klein writes:

 

“At least some of the steam has gone out of the opt-out movement in states such as New Jersey and New York, considered hotbeds of anti-testing fervor.”

 

Really?

 

In New York, Opt out numbers remained at approximately 20% – the same as they have for the past three years.

 

And New York is one of our most densely populated states. That percentage represents more than 225,000 parents across the Empire State who refused to let their children take the tests despite threats from many administrators and district officials for doing so.

 

 

In New Jersey, opt out rates were marginally lower this year than last year. They went from 7% to 5%. But once again New Jersey is a populous state. That percentage represents about 68,500 students.

 

In addition, this is after massive opt outs three years ago that forced the state to change its federally mandated assessment. Testing boycotts pushed the state education association to get rid of four PARCC assessments and allow students who fail the remaining two tests to take an alternative assessment. And this is in a state where there is no law explicitly allowing parents to opt out of the tests.

 

I don’t know if I’d call that running out of steam.

 

Moreover, opt out rates have increased in other states for which we have data. For instance, test refusal is on the rise in heartland states like Minnesota.

 

And it nearly doubled in Utah over the past two years to about 6%. In some schools in the Beehive State, rates are much higher. According to the Salt Lake Tribune, 1 in 5 students in the Park City school district refused to take the tests.

 

 

Though my own state of Pennsylvania has been mum on last year’s opt outs, from my own personal experience as a teacher in suburban Pittsburgh, I never had more students boycott our federally mandated standardized test than I did last year.

 

There were so many they had to be quarantined in a special room.

 

Moreover, an increasing number of parents ask me about the issue, express concern and wonder about their rights.

 

So even when examining just the rate of opt out, I don’t see any reason to assume the movement is slowing down.

 

On the contrary, it is picking up steam with multiple victories.

 

As recently as 2012, half of all U.S. states required high school exit exams in order for students to graduate. Today that number has dropped to 12. The reason? Exit exams don’t raise student achievement – they raise the dropout rate. At least that’s what The National Research Council of the National Academy of Sciences tells us.

 

Another positive sign – seven states have stopped using value added measures (VAM) to judge teachers. This is the highly controversial practice of assessing educators based on their students test scores – a practice that has never been proven fair to teachers or effective in helping students learn. Six states have dropped this requirement altogether: Alaska, Arkansas, Kansas, Kentucky, North Carolina and Oklahoma. Connecticut still gathers the information but cannot use it in the teacher’s “summative rating.” And other states like New Mexico still use value added measures but have reduced the weight given to student test scores.

 

Moreover, let’s not forget how many states have slashed the size of the high stakes tests they’re giving to students. After the recent wave of opt outs and public outcry, state education departments have ensured that testing at least takes up less time. This includes New York, Maryland, New Mexico, California, Minnesota, Kentucky, Tennessee, Florida, Washington, Illinois, West Virginia, Hawaii, Oklahoma, Ohio, South Carolina, Pennsylvania and Texas. Some of this is because the PARCC test used in 21 states was slashed by 90 minutes.

 

And when it comes to opt out, two more states – Idaho and North Dakota – now have explicit laws on the books allowing parents to refuse the test for their children – in whole or in part. That brings the total number of states up to 10. It would have been 11, but Georgia Governor Nathan Deal, a Republican, vetoed an opt-out bill. The federal government still wants us to penalize these districts for non-participation in flagrant violation of its authority. But as more states respect parents’ rights on this matter, it will be increasingly difficult for the U.S. Department of Education to continue trampling them.

 

And speaking of the federal government, some states are taking advantage of the wiggle room in the federal law that governs K-12 education – the newly passed Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) – to allow students to avoid standardized testing entirely. Some states are implementation performance assessments instead. Kids can use a portfolio of classwork to demonstrate learning instead of getting a grade on a corporate-written standardized test. New Hampshire, for instance, has pioneered this approach with a program that now involves half the state’s districts.

 

These are not the signs of a movement that is slowing to a crawl.

 

It just makes sense that some of the rhetoric of the movement may have become less forceful with the enactment of the federal ESSA.

 

Many had hoped for a better law – one that did away with federally mandated testing altogether.

 

And that could still happen sooner than many think. Next year it will be time to reauthorize the law again.

 

It took Congress six years to reauthorize the federal education law last time. Perhaps our duly elected representatives can be coaxed into doing their jobs a bit quicker this time.

 

There is already some proposed legislation to make positive changes. Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) and Rep. Krysten Sinema (D-Ariz.) introduced legislation last year to replace annual assessments with grade-span tests. The United States is, after all, one of the only countries in the world – if not the only one – to require students be tested every year. These proposed changes are not nearly enough, but they’re a step in the right direction.

 

One of the biggest obstacles to abolishing federally mandated testing last time was that some of the oldest and most well funded civil rights organizations opposed it. Many of them get their money and support from the same billionaires who profit off of the standardized testing and privatization industries.

 

However, that support for testing was short lived. Already the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) has revoked it returning to a call for opposition to testing.

 

If our nation survives the many crises of the Donald Trump administration, there is no reason our future cannot be bright.

 

We have the support, we have the tools, we just need the chance to do right by our children.

 

And the pendulum is swinging back our way.


 

Like this post? I’ve written a book, “Gadfly on the Wall: A Public School Teacher Speaks Out on Racism and Reform,” now available from Garn Press. Ten percent of the proceeds go to the Badass Teachers Association. Check it out!

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Republicans, Democrats – Let’s Scrap Them Both!

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Political parties are a huge mistake.

 

Our founding fathers knew this.

 

Though it was their constant squabbling and political power struggles that gave way to the party system in the first place, they also were incredibly vocal about the errors they, themselves, were committing.

 

Thomas Jefferson and James Madison preferred state power that would protect southern interests including slave-holding. George Washington, John Adams and Alexander Hamilton favored federal authority that would benefit the north and manufacturing.

 

But in taking sides to protect their own power, they split into the very factions they knew would poison the newborn Republic.

 

At his farewell address in 1796, Washington put it this way:

 

“However [political parties] may now and then answer popular ends, they are likely in the course of time and things, to become potent engines, by which cunning, ambitious, and unprincipled men will be enabled to subvert the power of the people and to usurp for themselves the reins of government, destroying afterwards the very engines which have lifted them to unjust dominion.”

 

His successor, Adams wrote:

 

“There is nothing which I dread so much as a division of the republic into two great parties, each arranged under its leader, and concerting measures in opposition to each other. This, in my humble apprehension, is to be dreaded as the greatest political evil under our Constitution.”

 

In 1789, Jefferson put it more succinctly:

 

“If I could not go to heaven but with a party, I would not go there at all.”

 

So why do we today enshrine political parties in our system of government?

 

In short, it keeps the wealthy in power.

 

Nothing robs democracy of its populism so much as the party system.

 

Backward legislation and regressive court decisions equating money with speech only make this worse. But they are simply exacerbating a sickness that’s already there.

 

Political parties condense the world of advertising and commerce to that of government.

 

Political ideas are sorted and processed until they can become tasty sound bites – one accorded to one group and the corresponding response to another.

 

Federalism vs. States.

 

Taxation vs. Business

 

Guns vs. Regulations

 

It’s all bullshit.

 

No one really cares whether rules are made by an aggregation of the entire nation or merely an aggregation from each individual state. We only care that laws are fair and just.

 

No one really wants businesses to be taxed to death, nor do they want individuals to be unfairly burdened. They want a just system of taxation where everyone pays their fair share and supports an equitable distribution of the wealth.

 

No one really wants to unilaterally prohibit individual freedoms – including the freedom to own a gun. They want sane regulations so that killers and maniacs can’t as easily destroy innocent lives.

 

But political parties obscure these simple truths and sort us all into one of two teams. Yet both sides support the same unchangeable status quo.

 

As writer Gore Vidal put it:

 

“Officially we have two parties which are in fact wings of a common party of property with two right wings. Corporate wealth finances each. Since the property party controls every aspect of media they have had decades to create a false reality for a citizenry largely uneducated by public schools that teach conformity with an occasional advanced degree in consumerism.”

 

Part of this is due to our insistence that the party system be limited to two groups – Republicans and Democrats. We make it incredibly difficult – nearly impossible – for any third party candidate to appear on the ballot less than win a major election.

 

But increasing the party system would only minimize the damage. It wouldn’t stop it.

 

When issues are divided into political camps, they obscure basic similarities about voters.

 

Fairness and justice are not political. They are human.

 

By making them political, we obscure basic truths to convince subsections of the populace onto our side.

 

And these are rarely legitimate differences of opinion. They are often a matter of truth or falsity.

 

For instance, take trickle down economics. Either it is a fair and just distribution of wealth or it is not. Either it provides both rich and poor with a means of equitable economic advancement or it does not.

 

We have tried this policy for decades. There is a plethora of evidence that this system does not work. It unjustly favors the rich and starves the poor.

 

To understand this, one need not have an advanced degree in political science. A simple understanding of mathematics will suffice.

 

If there were no political parties, this would be self-evident. But the rich have used both parties to obscure this fact and make it a game of policy football. You support whichever team you’ve signed up for regardless of how doing so impacts you, personally.

 

It is the victory of tribalism over common sense.

 

The same goes for almost every issue facing the nation.

 

Should schools be public or private?

 

Should LGBT people be allowed the same rights as cis citizens?

 

Should we spend the majority of our federal budget on the military?

 

Should there be a path to citizenship for those wishing to immigrate?

 

Each and every one of these questions could be decided on facts. Instead evidence is hardly mentioned at all. We use the issues to elect the legislators who then can’t do anything about them for fear that action one way or another would upset the political power struggle against them.

 

Some economists suggest that the principle behind Democrats and Republicans, the principle behind liberals and conservatives, really comes down to economics.

 

It is an innate psychological reaction to scarcity and abundance.

 

In times of little food or resources, conservative tendencies are ascendant because they help us survive the lean times. However, in an era where there is enough for all, liberal tendencies flourish because they help the growing population thrive.

 

Even if this were true, it is a factual question of whether we live in times of abundance or scarcity.

 

In the 21st Century United States, we have more wealth than we have ever had. There is enough food for everyone. We grow more than we can eat and end up throwing much of it away. Yet a tremendous amount of us live in abject poverty. More than half of public school students live below the poverty line.

 

This is not because we live in a time of scarcity. We live in a time of abundance where we keep much of that surplus away from the majority in order to create a false sense of scarcity so that the richest among us can horde as much as they possibly can.

 

That is the ugly truth hidden behind the party system.

 

It is a truth that could not be maintained without the easy marketing and tribalism of political parties – Republicans, Democrats, Whigs, the Judean Peoples Front or the People’s Front of Judea.

 

Until we remove the stranglehold of political parties, until we set up a government that makes factionalism difficult, until we establish a government that welcomes candidates regardless of party – our politics will be forever immobilized by wealth, sectarianism and voter apathy.

 

This could mean holding nonpartisan primaries where all candidates irrespective of party who meet a certain signature threshold are welcome, followed by a general election of the two highest vote-getters. Or it could mean something radically different like not voting at all but filling government with ordinary citizens randomly drafted into public service.

 

The point is that we can do better than party politics.

 

If we’re to survive as a nation, we’ll need to find a more just way.

 

Or as Hamilton put it:

 

“Nothing could be more ill-judged than that intolerant spirit which has, at all times, characterized political parties.”


 

Like this post? I’ve written a book, “Gadfly on the Wall: A Public School Teacher Speaks Out on Racism and Reform,” now available from Garn Press. Ten percent of the proceeds go to the Badass Teachers Association. Check it out!

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Cyber School Kingpin Gets Slap on Wrist For Embezzling Millions from PA Students

nick-trombetta

 

Nick Trombetta stole millions of dollars from Pennsylvania’s children.

 

And he cheated the federal government out of hundreds of thousands in taxes.

 

Yet at Tuesday’s sentencing, he got little more than a slap on the wrist – a handful of years in jail and a few fines.

 

He’ll serve 20 months in prison, be on supervised release for three years, and payback the tax money he concealed.

 

As CEO and founder of PA Cyber, the biggest virtual charter school network in the state, he funneled $8 million into his own pocket.

 

Instead of that money going to educate kids, he used it to buy a Florida condominium, sprawling real estate and even a private jet.

 

He already took home between $127,000 and $141,000 a year in salary.

 

But it wasn’t enough.

 

He needed to support his extravagant lifestyle, buy a $933,000 condo in the Sunshine State, score a $300,000 twin jet plane, purchase $180,000 houses for his mother and girlfriend in Ohio, and horde a pile of cash.

 

What does a man like that deserve for stealing from the most vulnerable among us – kids just asking for an education?

 

At very least, you’d think the judge would throw the book at him.

 

But no.

 

Because he took a plea deal, he got a mere 20 months in federal prison.

 

That’s less than two years in jail for defrauding tens of thousands of students and multiple districts across the Commonwealth.

 

In addition, once he serves his time he’ll be on probation for 3 years.

 

And even though there is no mystery about the amount of money he defrauded from the Internal Revenue Service by shifting his income to the tax returns of others – $437,632, to be exact – the amount he’ll have to pay back in restitution is yet to be determined.

 

One would think that’s easy math. You stole $437,632, you need to pay back at least that amount – with interest!

 

And what of the $8 million? Though I can’t find a single explicit reference to what happened to it in the media, it is implied that the money was recovered and returned to Pa Cyber.

 

Yet there seems to be no discussion of a financial penalty for embezzling all that money. If my checking account dips below a certain balance, I’m penalized. If I don’t pay the minimum on my credit cards, I’m charged an additional fee. Yet this chucklehead pilfers $8 million and won’t be docked a dime!? Just paying it back is good enough!?

 

But what makes this sentence even more infuriating to me is the paltry jail time Trombetta will serve.

 

The judge actually gave him 17 months LESS than the minimum federal guidelines for this kind of case! He should at least be serving 37 to 46 months – 3 to 4 years!

 

Nonviolent drug charges often lead to sentences much longer than that!

 

For instance, in 2010, Kevin Smith was arrested for drug possession. He was locked up in a New Orleans jail for almost 8 years (2,832 days) without ever going to trial!

 

But then again, most of these nonviolent drug charges are against people of color. And Trombetta is white.

 

So is Neal Prence, a former certified accountant who pleaded guilty to helping Trombetta hide his ill-gotten gains.

 

Prence will serve a year and a day in prison and pay back $50,000 in restitution.

 

It’s a good thing he didn’t have any drugs on him.

 

And that he didn’t have a tan.

 

This is what we talk about when we talk about white privilege.

 

And speaking of that, compare this crime with the sentences given to the Atlanta teachers who were convicted of cheating on standardized tests a few years back.

 

These were mostly women and people of color.

 

Tamara Cotman, Sharon Davis-Williams and Michael Pitts received the harshest sentences.

They each got three years in prison, seven years probation, $10,000 in fines and 2,000 hours of community service.

 

So in America, cheating on standardized tests gets you a harder sentence than embezzling a fortune from school kids.

 

I’m not saying what the Atlanta teachers and administrators did was right, but their crime pales in comparison to Trombetta’s.

 

Think about it.

 

Atlanta city schools have suffered under decades of financial neglect. The kids – many of whom are students of color – receive fewer resources, have more narrowed curriculum and are forced to live under the yoke of generational poverty.

 

Yet their teachers were told to increase test scores with little to no help, and if they didn’t, they’d be fired.

 

I can’t imagine why they tried to cheat a system as fair as that.

 

It’s like being mugged at gunpoint and then the judge convicts you of giving your robber a wooden nickel.

 

The worst part of all of this is that we haven’t learned anything from either case.

 

High stakes standardized testing has become entrenched in our public schools by the newly passed federal law – the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA).

 

And though Trombetta resigned from his post as CEO of PA Cyber in September 2013, cyber charters are as popular as ever.

 

These are publicly funded but privately run schools that provide all or most instruction on-line. Think Trump University for tweens and teenagers.

 

You can’t turn on the TV without a commercial for a cyber charter school showing up. You can’t drive through a poor neighborhood without a billboard advertising a virtual charter. They even have ads on the buggies at the grocery store!

 

Yet these schools have a demonstrated track record of failure even when compared to  brick-and-mortar charter schools. And when you compare them to traditional public schools, it’s like comparing a piece of chewed up gum on the bottom of your shoe to a prime cut of filet mignon.

 

A 2016 study found that cyber charters provide 180 days less of math instruction than traditional public schools.

 

Keep in mind there are only 180 days of school in Pennsylvania!

 

That means cyber charters provide less math instruction than not going to school at all.

 

When it comes to reading, the same study found cyber charters provide 72 days less instruction than traditional public schools.

 

That’s like skipping 40% of the school year!

 

And this isn’t just at one or two cyber charters. Researchers noted that 88 percent of cyber charter schools produce weaker academic growth than similar brick and mortar schools.

 

They concluded that these schools have an “overwhelming negative impact” on students.

 

AND THAT’S ALL LEGAL!

 

In Pennsylvania, nearly 35,100 of the 1.7 million children attending public schools are enrolled in cyber-charter schools. With more than 11,000 students, PA Cyber is by far the largest of the state’s 16 such schools.

 

 

If Trombetta had just stiffed Pennsylvania’s students that much, he wouldn’t have been in any trouble with the law.

 

However, he got even greedier than that!

 

He needed more, More, MORE!

 

Justice – such as it is in this case – was a long time coming.

 

Trombetta was first indicted back in 2013 – five years ago.

 

 

He was facing 11 counts of mail fraud, theft or bribery, conspiracy and tax offenses related to his involvement in entities that did business with Pa. Cyber. He pleaded guilty to tax conspiracy almost two years ago, acknowledging that he siphoned off $8 million from The Pennsylvania Cyber Charter School.

 

He has been free on bond all this time.

 

His sister, Elaine Trombetta, agreed to cooperate with prosecution, according to federal court filings. She pleaded guilty in October 2013 to filing a false individual income tax return on her brother’s behalf and has yet to be sentenced.

 

It was only yesterday that her brother – the kingpin of this conspiracy – was ultimately sentenced.

 

Finally, he’ll have to face up to what he did.

 

Finally, he’ll have to pay for what he’s done.

 

Just don’t blink or you’ll miss it.


 

Like this post? I’ve written a book, “Gadfly on the Wall: A Public School Teacher Speaks Out on Racism and Reform,” now available from Garn Press. Ten percent of the proceeds go to the Badass Teachers Association. Check it out!

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Wealth – Not Enrollment in Private School – Increases Student Achievement, According to New Study

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Students enrolled in private schools often get good grades and high test scores.

 

And there’s a reason for that – they’re from wealthier families.

 

A new peer-reviewed study from Professors Richard C. Pianta and Arya Ansari of the University of Virginia found that once you take family income out of the equation, there are absolutely zero benefits of going to a private school. The majority of the advantage comes from simply having money and all that comes with it – physical, emotional, and mental well-being, living in a stable and secure environment, knowing where your next meal will come from, etc.

 

The study published in July 2018 attempts to correct for selection bias – the factors that contribute to a student choosing private school rather than the benefits of the school, itself.

 

The study’s abstract puts it this way:

 

“Results from this investigation revealed that in unadjusted models, children with a history of enrollment in private schools performed better on nearly all outcomes assessed in adolescence. However, by simply controlling for the sociodemographic characteristics that selected children and families into these schools, all of the advantages of private school education were eliminated. There was also no evidence to suggest that low-income children or children enrolled in urban schools benefited more from private school enrollment.”

 

This has major policy implications.

 

Corporate school reformers from Barack Obama to Donald Trump, from Arne Duncan to Betsy DeVos, from Cory Booker to Charles and David Koch, have proposed increasing privatized school options to help students struggling in public schools.

 

Whether it be increasing charter schools or vouchers to attend private and parochial schools, the implication is the same – such measures will not help students achieve.

 

We need programs aimed at poverty, itself, not at replacing public schools with private alternatives.

 

According to the abstract:

 

“By and large, the evidence on the impact of school voucher programs casts doubt on any clear conclusion that private schools are superior in producing student performance…

 

“In sum, we find no evidence for policies that would support widespread enrollment in private schools, as a group, as a solution for achievement gaps associated with income or race. In most discussions of such gaps and educational opportunities, it is assumed that poor children attend poor quality schools and that their families, given resources and flexibility, could choose among the existing supply of private schools to select and then enroll their children in a school that is more effective and a better match for their student’s needs. It is not at all clear that this logic holds in the real world of a limited supply of effective schools (both private and public) and the indication that once one accounts for family background, the existing supply of heterogeneous private schools (from which parents select) does not result in a superior education (even for higher income students).”

 

Researchers repeatedly noted that this study was not simply a snapshot of student performance. It is unique because of how long and how in depth students were observed.

 

The study looks at student outcomes at multiple intervals giving it a much longer time frame and much greater detail than other similar investigations. Researchers examined wide ranging family backgrounds and contextual processes to reduce selection bias.

 

Participants were recruited in 1991 from ten different cities: Little Rock, Arkansas; Irvine, California; Lawrence, Kansas; Boston, Massachusetts; Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; Charlottesville, Virginia; Seattle, Washington; Hickory and Morganton, North Carolina; and Madison, Wisconsin. They were followed for 15 years and had to complete a month long home visit. In addition, they submitted to both annual interviews and home, school, and neighborhood observations.

 

The final analytic sample consisted of 1,097 children – 24% of whom were children of color, 15% had single mothers, and 10% had mothers without a high school diploma.

 

Moreover, student academic achievement wasn’t the only factor examined.

 

Researchers also assessed students social adjustment, attitudes, motivation, and risky behavior. This is significant because they noted that no other study of private schools to date has examined factors beyond academics. Also, there is a general assumption that private school has a positive effect on these nonacademic factors – an assumption for which the study could find no evidence.

 

From the abstract:

 

“In short, despite the frequent and pronounced arguments in favor of the use of vouchers or other mechanisms to support enrollment in private schools as a solution for vulnerable children and families attending local or neighborhood schools, the present study found no evidence that private schools, net of family background (particularly income), are more effective for promoting student success.”

 

One reason behind these results may be the startling variation in “the nature and quality of private school classrooms.” There is no consistency between what you’ll get from one private school to the next.

 

The x-factor appears to be family income and all that comes with it.

 

We see this again and again in education. For instance, standardized test scores, themselves, are highly correlated with parental wealth. Kids from wealthier families get better test scores than those from poorer families regardless of whether they attend public, charter or private schools.

 

It’s time our policymakers stop ignoring the effect of income inequality on our nations students.

 

If we really want to help our children, the solution is not increased privatization. It is increased funding and support for anti-poverty programs, teachers and a robust public school system.


 

Like this post? I’ve written a book, “Gadfly on the Wall: A Public School Teacher Speaks Out on Racism and Reform,” now available from Garn Press. Ten percent of the proceeds go to the Badass Teachers Association. Check it out!

WANT A SIGNED COPY?

Click here to order one directly from me to your door!

 

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