Category Archives: consortiumnews.com

>Taking On The Teachers

>Consortiumnews.com 3/23/11
by Lawrence Davidson

Editor’s Note: The American Right has fully embraced Ronald Reagan’s mantra that “government is the problem” – and that dogma is being applied in a wide variety of ways, including a nationwide assault on the pay and job security of public school teachers.

Republican-controlled state legislatures and Republican governors are in the forefront of this campaign, advancing under the cover of parents’ concerns about their kids’ schooling and behind the idea that standardized tests can be a cure-all. In this guest essay, Lawrence Davidson challenges the assumptions behind this effort:

The Florida state legislature has passed Bill 736, and Gov. Rick Scott has signed it. So this effort to “reform” teaching practices in the Florida public schools is now law.

But reform them how? According to the Miami Herald, the bill will eventually “tie teacher pay to student test scores, eliminate so-called tenure for new hires as of July 1 [all subsequent hires will get only yearly contracts] and end layoffs based on seniority.”

It was, of course, a Republican-sponsored bill and that had the Democrats looking for flaws. It did not take them long to spot an obvious one.

According to the Florida House Minority leader Ron Saunders, D-Key West, “if you are basing a teacher’s pay on test scores, there’s going to be a natural incentive for the teachers to teach to the test, instead of, maybe, expanding other areas of interest.”

The Republican response to this concern was to dismiss it as a false issue. According to Rep. Eric Fresen, R-Miami, who sponsored the bill, “As long as the students are learning, I don’t think there’s a problem with that.”

The state of Florida is actually rather late in coming to this. The bill largely mimics the still-extent Bush administration policy known as “No Child Left Behind” which came into existence in 2003 and was overhauled by the Obama Administration in 2010.

As the Florida legislation suggests, this approach relies on assessment based on standardized tests and has made a lot of money for companies who put such tests together.

There are number of assumptions that lay behind all these efforts and here are some of them:

1. The American public school system is performing poorly.

2. This is the fault of bad teachers.

3. Getting rid of the tenure system will get rid of bad teachers.

4. Using standardized tests will allow you to measure necessary levels of learning for specific ages.

5. Having instituted such tests, the attainment of adequate scores means that both the student has successfully learned and the teacher has successfully taught.

It just so happens that all of these assumptions are problematic. Let’s take them one by one.

1. Is the American public school system performing poorly? Well, yes and no. There are plenty of supposedly scary statistics out there that show that the majority of public school students are not fully proficient in a number of academic areas, given a definition of proficiency set by standardized tests.

For instance, the U.S. Department of Education reports that, as of 2009, 17 percent of 12th graders are proficient in math and 18 percent are proficient in Science (let’s keep these percentages in mind), and that “in comparison to 1992, reading scores were lower in 2009.”

However, these statistics beg the question of what criteria is being used to determine proficiency? Or, if you will, just what does it mean to be educated?

Historically (and here I mean from the dawn of civilization onward), the notion of educational proficiency has always been tied to making a living. In other words, either through apprenticeship or formal schooling, what most children have learned over the ages is what their economic environments required of them.

Applied to our own time this means that, for all students in all schools, there are two curricula. Whether you want to be a lawyer or an auto mechanic, the primary curriculum is vocational and the second one is, shall we say, elective.

This elective category may or may not include independent critical thinking which, in any case, is a pursuit that is often disapproved of by local school boards.

By the time American kids are in junior high school, they usually know the difference between what is vocationally valuable and what is not, and most gear their learning efforts to what they believe are their future career interests.

That means vocational learning will most often trump elective learning. It also means that it is not the school per se, or the teachers, that are actually setting the criteria for learning. It is the economy and the student’s local culture.

So, if the economy demands reading and writing abilities at the level of business memos and technical reports, that is the proficiency, on average, that you will get. On average, all learning beyond that, regardless of the courses taken, will be seen by the student as elective and will be absorbed (or not) depending on personal interest.

Ask yourself how many American students want to – or will be required to – know anything beyond basic math in their future workplace? Seventeen percent sounds like a roughly accurate number. How many are going to want to – or have to know – much science? Eighteen percent sounds about right.

Thirty years ago, computer savvy was not a job-related skill. Schools largely ignored it and relatively few people had real proficiency in this area. Today, the situation is reversed. So you see for most students, and their schools, useful knowledge is deemed to be employment knowledge.

Actually, almost all American schools, even the “failing” ones, deliver employment knowledge. You might think that this claim is off-base, but it really is not.

High-end public schools cater to students, most of whom by virtue of their cultural background, have professional career expectations. And that is the educational preparation they get. Just so, low-end schools (admittedly underfunded) cater to students, most of whom have very different expectations, and they are educated accordingly.

I am not claiming this is a good thing, only that this is the way it works. If you want to change it, you have to change culturally driven expectations and the structural nature of the economy.

Just looking at tests and teachers won’t do it. To achieve this sort of change means a lot of social rearrangement and revenue shifting. Historically, the U.S. has never been willing to do these things.

2. And that brings us to our second assumption. If you are not satisfied with the status quo in education, but are not willing to acknowledge where the real problems lie, you might be tempted to find a scapegoat.

So, it all becomes the fault of bad teachers.

First of all it should be determined what is meant by bad teaching. Do we define it by poor student scores on a standardized test? Or do we define it as the failure or inability to make a good faith effort to address the required material?

It should be kept in mind that you can have the first without the second. I would be very suspicious of the first definition because of the reasons given above. So let use the second definition. Given that meaning, are there bad teachers in our public school system? Yes there are.

But it is highly doubtful if, in terms of percentage, they number any more than bad administrators, bad bank managers, bad lawyers, bad doctors, and even bad Florida state politicians, etc.

Nor is it true that, allegedly unlike the other categories, teachers are “insulated from accountability.” Almost every public school teacher in the country is under contract.

One assumes that failure to teach competently is a breach of a teacher’s contract. Just as in all other contractually governed employment settings, it is the administrator’s (the principal’s) job to document the situation and fire the worker who is not doing his or her job…..

Finish reading this essay by Lawrence Davidson >>> here

5 Comments

Filed under consortiumnews.com, economics of education, Florida, Gov. Rich Scott, Lawrence Davidson, Miami Herald, no child left behind, public education, Ronald Reagan, student culture, teacher tenure, Teachers

>Tea Party Thuggery as Election Nears

>By Michael Winship
Posted at Consortiumnews.com
October 20, 2010

ConsortiumNews Editor’s Note: Sadly but predictably, the two years of economic pain and the anger over the first African-American president are combining for a particularly nasty election as Tea Partiers see, within their grasp, their goal of “taking our country back.”

The 2009 phenomenon of armed protesters threatening to unleash violence against Washington over health-care reform has morphed into Tea Party candidates surrounding themselves with thugs determined to silence reporters and intimidate opposition voters, as Michael Winship notes in this guest essay:

One of the most memorable moments in television coverage of American politics came during the Democratic National Convention in Chicago in 1968.

Out on the streets, anti-Vietnam war demonstrations were attacked viciously by law enforcement officials in what later was described in an official report as “a police riot.”

Inside the convention hall, tightly controlled by the political machine of the city’s notorious Mayor Richard J. Daley, CBS correspondent Dan Rather was attempting to interview a delegate from Georgia who was being removed from the floor by men in suits without ID badges.

One of them slugged Rather in the stomach, knocking him to the ground. As the reporter struggled to get his breath back, from the anchor booth, Walter Cronkite exclaimed, “I think we’ve got a bunch of thugs here, Dan!”

It was an uncharacteristic outburst from America’s Most Respected Newsman, indicative of just how terrible the violence was both inside and out and how shocking it was for a journalist to be so blatantly attacked while on the air by operatives acting on behalf of politicians.

As appalling as that 1968 assault was, thuggery is nothing new in politics; it transcends time, ideology and party.

But what’s even more disturbing in 2010 is how much of the public, especially many of those who count themselves among the conservative adherents of the Tea Party, is willing to ignore bullying behavior – and even applaud it – as long as the candidate in question hews to their point of view.

Here in New York State, of course, we have Republican gubernatorial candidate Carl Paladino, who combines the boyish charm of J. Edgar Hoover with the sunny quirkiness of Pol Pot.

So extreme are Paladino’s views, so volatile his temper, that even Rupert Murdoch’s right wing New York Post has endorsed Democrat Andrew Cuomo, which is a bit like the Vatican newspaper L’Osservatore Romano dissing the Pope and singing the praises of Lutherans.

Doubtless this is in part because Crazy Carl, as he is affectionately known to many, almost came to blows with the Post’s state political editor, the redoubtable Fred Dicker, shouting “I’ll take you out, buddy!” at Dicker.

The journalist had asked Paladino for evidence to back up allegations the candidate was making against Cuomo. Paladino claimed the paper was harassing his out-of-wedlock daughter.

The Post had to admit that Paladino is “long on anger and short on answers… undisciplined, unfocused and untrustworthy — that is, fundamentally unqualified for the office he seeks.”

Okay, Paladino will lose, but in other parts of the country, Tea Party-supported candidates with a similar bullying, threatening attitude, or who seem to surround themselves with such people, are more likely to win.

Republican Allen West, endorsed by Sarah Palin and John Boehner, is leading in his race against incumbent Democratic Representative Ron Klein in South Florida’s 22nd Congressional District.

A retired Army lieutenant colonel, West resigned from the military, according to the progressive Web site ThinkProgress.org, “while facing a court martial over the brutal interrogation of an Iraqi man. …

“According to his own testimony during a military hearing, West watched four of his men beat the suspect, and West said he personally threatened to kill the man. According to military prosecutors, West followed up on his threat by taking the man outside and firing a 9mm pistol near his head, in order to make the man believe he would be shot.”

You can’t make this stuff up: Last week, NBC News reported that West has been communing with a notorious Florida motorcycle gang, the Outlaws, which the Justice Department alleges has criminal ties to arson, prostitution, drug running, murder and robbery.

And on Monday, West could be heard at a rally urging some bikers – also with Outlaw connections – to “escort” out a Klein staffer who was video-recording the event.

“Threats can be heard on the videotape,” said a reporter from NBC’s Miami affiliate. “West supporters forced him to get back into his car.”

The West campaign responded that “the latest attacks aimed at associating … Allen West with a criminal and racist gang are completely baseless and nothing short of a hatchet job.”

So what’s with the photograph of him glad-handing bikers who according to NBC brag about their association with the Outlaws? And why did West tell a supporter to back off when concern was expressed about “criminal organization members in leather” appearing at West’s campaign rallies?

Which brings us to Joe Miller, the Republican and Tea Party candidate for the United States Senate from Alaska.

On Sunday, at a Miller town hall, private security guards hired by the campaign – two of whom were moonlighting, active-duty military – took it upon themselves to detain a reporter pursuing Miller with questions, placed the reporter under citizen’s arrest and handcuffed him – then threatened to detain two other reporters who were taking pictures and asking what was going on.

The plainclothes rent-a-cops, complete with Secret Service-type earpieces and Men in Black-style neckties and business suits, come from an Anchorage-based outfit called DropZone Security, which also runs a bail bond service and an Army-Navy surplus store – with one of those anti-Obama “Joker” posters pasted to its window.

One-stop shopping for the vigilante militiaman in your life – kind of like that joke about the combination veterinarian-taxidermist: either way you get your dog back.

All of this would be funnier if not for the fact that this kind of hooliganism and casual trampling of First Amendment rights from people who claim to embrace the Constitution as holy writ is symptomatic of a deeper problem.

The anger of the electorate is understandable: politicians and politics as usual have given voters much about which to be mad; furious, in fact. But bullying is different. It comes from insecurity and fear, and lashes out with tactics of intimidation. To dismiss it as merely a secondary concern and say “I’ll take my chances” as long as the candidates in question agree with you is dangerous.

Scuffling with the press and others may seem minor, but it’s just the beginning. In states where there is early balloting, already there are allegations of voter harassment, primarily in minority neighborhoods.

The only way to fight back against bullies and thugs is to stand up and tell them to go to hell. To do otherwise is to give an inch and prepare to be taken for the proverbial mile. That way lies madness. And worse.

Michael Winship is senior writer at Public Affairs Television in New York City.

Leave a comment

Filed under bullies and thugs, Carl Paladino, consortiumnews.com, Joe Miller, John Boehner, NBC, New York State, Republicans, Sarah Palin, Tea Party, Tea Party candidate, Town Hall

>Don’t Forget the Bush History

>

Good column below that should remind people of what we are in for if the Republicans once gain control Washington – “Lest We Forget”

By Robert Parry-ConsortiumNews.com

According to almost all media accounts, American voters are on the verge of rewarding the Republican Party for its determined efforts to block Democratic job-creating efforts and President Obama’s other modest reforms.

Amazingly, Wall Street leaders – after getting salvaged by government intervention themselves – are calling for more Republicans in Congress to prevent government initiatives to help other Americans get back on their feet.

There is a strange consensus emerging that, for want of a better phrase, “gridlock is good.”

So, is the United States about to take yet another flyer with “Reagan-Bush-ism,” the “government is bad” ideology that has dominated the nation’s precipitous decline over the past three decades?

Has the Right’s media power left Americans so confused that they have forgotten how the country emerged from the Great Depression and built the great American middle class, with a combination of government infrastructure-building and private enterprise? Have the painful lessons of the George W. Bush administration been forgotten already?

Philosopher George Santayana famously said, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” But he surely didn’t think that the people of a modern nation would forget their own history in less than two years.

That was one of the reasons for publishing the book, Neck Deep: The Disastrous Presidency of George W. Bush, which I wrote with my sons, Sam and Nat, in the final years of Bush’s reign. As difficult as it may be to relive some of that history, it is important to remember – or it will be repeated.

Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories in the 1980s for the Associated Press and Newsweek. He founded Consortiumnews.com in 1995 as the Internet’s first investigative magazine. He saw it as a way to combine modern technology and old-fashioned journalism to counter the increasing triviality of the mainstream U.S. news media.

Leave a comment

Filed under Conservative Republicans, consortiumnews.com, George Bush, gridlock, President Obama, Ronald Reagan, Wall Street

>The Tea Partiers’ Historical Fictions

>I found this article at Consortiumnews.com, it puts into perspective the historical differnce between todays “Tea Party” movement and what the “Sons of Liberty” patriots of 1773 were trying to accomplish when they throw 90,000 pounds of tea into Boston Harbor:

By Jada Thacker-

Like all “good Americans,” today’s Tea Partiers believe the destruction of the tea was a patriotic act in noble defiance of an unfair tax by a tyrannical government. This, however, is not exactly true, nor was that act of protest much of a precedent for today’s political disruptions.

Beyond the fact that both Tea Parties – then and now – were organized as hell-raising events, this is where the similarity ends.

Current Tea Partiers protest government, which they swear by-God threatens the existence of the private enterprise system they hold dear. The Tea Partiers of old, on the other hand, were not protesting an existential threat to private enterprise so much as an economic threat posed by one.

It was not government tea they threw overboard, after all. It happened to belong to a private enterprise known as the British East India Company.

The Tea Act imposed by the English parliament in 1773 did not make tea less affordable, nor did it even raise a new tax. It merely extended a three-penny tea duty, imposed six years previously as part of the Townshend Duties.

When these taxes, excepting that on tea, were repealed, colonists continued to boycott English tea, buying smuggled Dutch tea instead. What the Tea Act did do, however, was to endow the East India Company with a legal monopoly on the colonial tea trade.

By allowing the East India Company to bypass English middlemen, its tea, even with the three-penny tax, would now be cheaper than the Dutch tea, and it would be legal. By some accounts, it even tasted better.

The colonists were not being forced to buy English tea. Indeed, they had been boycotting it for years. And certainly it would be a stretch to claim that an unsold heap of tea posed a threat to anybody’s liberty.

Why then would anyone risk destroying the valuable cargo of a politically well-connected business entity? Was this a manifestation of political idealism? Or was it actually a preemptive economic strike against a private enterprise – a transnational corporation, in fact – that had the audacity to try to make a buck at the expense of American smugglers?

This is hardly textbook-heroic stuff.

Maybe that is why the term “Boston Tea Party” did not enter the American lexicon until 1834 – three generations after the act of vandalism it was invented to glorify.

Now, nine generations having passed since the festive “Tea Party” label was invented, modern Americans can safely imagine – without a single good reason to do so – that the destruction of the tea was somehow patriotic.

This is the fictive legacy that today’s Tea Partiers rush to embrace, while failing utterly to grasp the significance of what happened that winter night in Boston Harbor.

By passing the Tea Act, the English government was not attempting “to socialize” the British Empire “with tax and regulatory policies,” which, Tea Partiers now insist, is the ulterior motive behind the actions of the Obama administration toward the U.S. economy.

On the contrary, parliament essentially was acting as an agent on the behalf of a privately-owned corporation by endowing it with a trade monopoly in disregard of the interests of its American subjects. Certainly the obvious analogy cannot be hard to draw in these days of taxpayer-funded bailouts of privately-owned corporations.

But by clamoring that “government is the problem,” Tea Partiers remain deaf to the crucial message that government is only a mechanism that can be put to use by those who control it…..

…To this, the modern Tea Party-goer replies: “Government is the problem.” And they wave their “Don’t Tread on Me” flags, depicting their own government as their oppressor, not a foreign empire and its mercantile entities, like the East India Company.

They demand that the American people re-embrace the Republic of the sacred Founders – having forgotten that the original Republic embraced chattel slavery, indentured servitude, debtor prisons, and the disenfranchisement of the majority of the population.

They insist Americans peruse the Federalist Papers that parsed out the intent of our constitutionally-limited government – having forgotten it was the Federalist Party of Washington, Hamilton and Adams that not only objected to the Bill of Rights, but passed the first law in United States history making free speech illegal.

They fancy themselves as tax protesters in the tradition of the Patriot Fathers – having forgotten it was the “Father of Our Country,” George Washington, who not only signed the first unfair tax bill into law, but who personally rode at the head of an armed multitude bent on hanging any and all Americans who dared protest paying whatever tax their new “limited government” demanded.

Today’s Tea Partiers may flatter themselves as constituting the last of the true-blue patriots, protectors of Natural Law, defenders of the Faith, lovers of Liberty, and the last best hope of man on Earth. But they are not. And neither were the guys who dumped the tea into Boston Harbor.

The Tea Party-goers are instead perverse and pathetic caricatures of King Lud. Having no stocking frames to wreck, these American Luddites are tilting at government windmills, as if mindlessly vandalizing the mechanisms of power would stop the wind from blowing.

You can read the full article >>>Here

Leave a comment

Filed under Boston Harbor, consortiumnews.com, East India Company, founding fathers, George Washington, Industrial revolution, Luddites, Sons of Liberty, Tea Party, tea tax