Restore Reason

Of the People, By the People, For the People

We Are the Ones Failing

The AZ Department of Education released AzMERIT test scores to districts this week and results show 1,400 third-graders did not meet the “Move On When Reading” (MOWR) cut score required by ARS 15-701. The law requires all third graders in Arizona to read proficiently at grade level or be retained, with three exceptions. The exceptions pertain to English Language Learners, students under evaluation for a special education (SPED) referral or severe reading impairment, and those on Individual Education Plans (IEP.) The law also provides for remedial strategies and once a student demonstrates reading proficiency via a district-administered assessment, they can be promoted to the next grade.

Although MOWR was signed into law in 2010 and enacted by the Legislature in 2012 with the appropriation of approx. $40 million annually, it wasn’t until the 2013-14 school year that the retention was implemented. That year, close to 650 third-graders were eligible to be retained, but less than one percent were. During the 2014-15 school year, data from the new AzMERIT was not expected to be available until after the start of the next school year, so no third-graders were held back.

There can be no doubt that the ability to read, the earlier the better, is critical for a student’s success. Studies show that children who cannot read at grade level by the start of fourth grade are four times less likely to graduate on time. Third graders who live in a poor family for at least a year are six and a half times less likely to graduate on time and have much higher risk for dropping out. “While it is an urban myth that prison population projections are based on the number of third graders that cannot read” –  high school dropouts were 63 times more likely to see the inside of prison walls than college graduates.

Social promotion, or “the practice of promoting a child to the next grade level regardless of skill mastery in the belief that it will promote self-esteem”, has numerous problems of its own. Among them are the potential for ill-educated students, providing parents a false sense of confidence, setting the bar low, and creating a false sense of accomplishment. While social promotion can help ensure students don’t drop out, the stark reality is that they’ll likely be no more prepared for a post-secondary education than if they had.

Retention of students though, is also very problematic. According to the National Association of School Psychologists (NASP), as many as 15 percent of U.S. students repeat a grade each year, and 30 to 50 percent of students are retained at least once before ninth grade. Nineteen empirical studies from the 1990s compared retained students with those promoted. The results showed grade retention negatively impacted all areas of achievement, from reading to math and language, and socio-emotional adjustments such as peer relationships, self-esteem, problem behaviors, and attendance.

So, it is critical for students to be able to read by the third grade, social promotion is the wrong solution, and retention should be the very last resort. What then is the answer? As is often the case with complex problems, we pretty much know what we need to do, we just don’t either want to do it, or don’t have the political will to do it. New America, a centrist nonprofit think tank and civic enterprise, says the solution requires “a comprehensive approach to literacy including attention to a wide range of factors, including teacher preparation and professional development; early identification of struggling students and intervention to support their success; comprehensive and shared assessments; language-rich and engaging reading curricula; provision of pre-K and full-day kindergarten; and school-community-family partnerships.”

The school-community-family partnerships are every bit as important as the rest of the approach since we know literacy and language gaps start well before kindergarten.  Research has shown that children in families receiving public assistance hear as many as 30 million fewer words prior to entering kindergarten than their wealthier peers, putting them at an early disadvantage. Unfortunately, only 42 percent of four-year-olds and 15 percent of three-year-olds are served by public pre-K programs, including SPED and the federal Head Start program. Additionally, the quality of these programs varies significantly with most states requiring just a high school diploma for teachers of infants and toddlers.

New America published a report in 2015 called “From Crawling to Walking” which ranked states on birth to third-grade policies supporting strong readers. The report looked at seven policy areas influencing children’s literacy development: educators; standards, assessment and data; equitable funding; pre-K access and quality; full-day kindergarten access and quality; dual language learner supports; and third-grade reading laws. They then ranked states into three categories based on their progress toward achieving 65 policy indicators. Arizona was categorized in the “crawling” level, at 43rd in the nation. Some of the reasons were no requirement for specialized preparation in early childhood education (ECE) for administrators and ECE educators, pre-K programs not required to screen for dual language learners, and unfunded full-day kindergarten. This last item must carry much of the responsibility for Arizona’s 43rd ranking. In 2004, the state passed legislation creating funding for full-day kindergarten to increase availability, but in 2010, the Legislature eliminated the funding. This forced school districts to adapt by charging parents tuition for kindergarten, raising local property taxes, increasing class sizes, or reducing other areas of their budgets.

Unfortunately just like everything else today, it seems that early childhood education has been politicized beyond the ability to effectively solve the problem. The Republican Party’s platform committee recently added language that opposes public prekindergarten. Of the decision, one of the members of the committee said the party opposes pre-K because it “inserts the state in the family relationship in the very early stages of a child’s life.” This goes right to the heart of the Conservative belief that parents are responsible for what ails a child and they alone have responsibility to fix it. Democrats want proper funding and support to get the job done even if the parents don’t do it.

The primary argument against retention is that in most cases it doesn’t prove motivational to the student. There are multiple reasons for this but in the end, the failure to read at grade-level isn’t primarily the student’s fault. Sure they must accept some of the responsibility, but teachers, school administrators, parents, and district and state officials all share a large part of the responsibility.

A kindergarten teacher I know recently said: “It seems that they [the state] are leaving the school districts responsible for the fallout, without offering solutions, support, or resources. It’s like it’s your problem, now deal with it and let us hold you accountable if you don’t.” One of my Facebook friends phrased it another way: They starve the horse, and when he can’t pull the loaded wagon up the hill, they beat him to death and then pin the blame on him.

Ultimately, what makes the failure of the 1,400 students not meeting the cut score on AzMERIT so unacceptable is that we collectively know what to do to help them. No, the solutions aren’t simple, easy or cheap to implement, but let’s please not pretend we don’t know what they are. These kids may have “failed” the test, but we are failing them.

It’s Complicated

To my post on Blog for Arizona yesterday, former AZ Superintendent of Public Instruction, John Huppenthal posted the following comment:

“The 170,000 charter school students save taxpayers over 290 million dollars per year. The Peoria school district is projected to grow substantially over the next decade. With charter schools, they will not grow as much. They have enormous advantages, both financially and organizationally, over charter schools and if they can keep improving, they will actually be able [to] suck these students back into their school system from charter schools. I actually see this effect in the Chandler Unified school system. As Chandler has improved from 38% excellent rating to 75% excellent rating you can see certain charter school[s] dying on the vine. Meanwhile, public schools nationally have dropped from 36% excellent rating to 24%. Wrong direction. Competition and great leadership were both necessary for Chandler to get to where it is. We will see if Peoria is also the racehorse that responds to the challenge.”

As far as Huppenthal’s blog comments go, this is one of the more coherent ones and the statistics he cites made me want to dig in. Let’s look at a few: 

1.  170,000 charter school students – True. There are 170K or so charter school students in AZ – 170,700 at 556 schools during the 20015-16 school year to be exact.

2.  Charters save taxpayers over 290 million dollars per year – Misleading. According to the Joint Legislative Budget Committee in an overview prepared 6/22/2015, charter schools cost the state $1,232 per pupil more in Basic State Aid funding than district schools in FY 2014. Of course, that’s where it really starts to get interesting because district and charter schools each receive funding the other doesn’t. For example, districts can seek overrides and bonds and School Facilities Board funding for construction, emergency deficiency corrections and building renewal (of which there have been zero dollars for over the last three years.) Charter schools on the other hand, get “additional assistance” monies from the state general fund to compensate, and have much more flexibility in spending these monies. Charters can also get AZ Charter School Incentive Program funds to start new locations and charter land and buildings become capital assets of the charter holder regardless of whether taxpayer dollars were used to acquire said land or buildings. New this year, Governor Ducey included $100 million in the 2017 budget for the creation of an Arizona Public School Achievement District (PSAD) that will use taxpayer dollars to reduce bond borrowing costs for charter expansion or new builds. Unlike the funding provided through private investors (such as the Phoenix Industrial Development Authority enables), taxpayers are on the hook for PSAD monies if the charter holder defaults and I suspect (as with any charter bonds) the loan is ultimately repaid with taxpayer dollars.

For the actual numbers, I went to the 2014-15 AZ Superintendent’s Report, which shows that total revenues for districts exceeded those for charters by $1,278 per pupil. Given the students enrolled in each at that time, that amounts to a total amount of almost $206 million less spent on charters, not $290 million. But, only 86.57% of the total revenues for districts came from various in-state sources whereas 91.18% of charter’s revenues did. This means that in strictly “state” dollars, the district schools only cost the state $776 more per pupil for a total “savings” by charters of $125 million last year. Of course, I didn’t yet mention the $800 more per student in “small school funding” charters can get through legal, but creative accounting of their multiple locations. Oh by the way, it is also important to note that one reason district schools get more federal dollars than charters is because they educate significantly more special needs students, which are more expensive to educate and for which, districts almost never receive sufficient funds (from any source) to cover the costs.  (If I got all of this wrong, someone please correct me! I find it hard to believe charters save any substantial money over districts, maybe there’s funding I’m not counting.

Rather than focusing on who spends more though, shouldn’t we really be focusing on who uses the money more effectively? A report written this year by the Grand Canyon Institute, shows charters spend twice the amount ($1,403 vice $628 per pupil in 2014/15) on purely administrative costs than their district counterparts resulting in less money getting into the classroom. In fact, if the seven largest charter holders spent the same on administrative costs as districts, the state would save $54 million per year. BASIS Inc. alone, with 8,730 students, spent 30 times more on general administration than the six largest districts combined (225,000 students.)

3.  They have enormous advantages, both financially and organizationally – False.  If anything, charters have the advantage. From the beginning, Arizona’s charter laws were designed to free charter schools from most regulations and reporting requirements. They aren’t required for example, to follow the same procurement procedures as districts, which allows them to avoid getting competitive bids on major purchases. This lack of accountability/transparency has raised concerns about charter holders “double-dipping” for profit by procuring goods and services with their own companies. In addition, charter teachers aren’t required to be certified, nor are charters required to meet the minimum facilities standards set by the School Facilities Board (SFB) nor the requirement to provide transportation to school for their students. They also don’t have the same requirements for accountability and transparency with no locally elected governing boards and no requirement to be included in the annual AZ Auditor General’s (AG) School District Spending reports. The fact the AG does not compile, analyze spending, or make their review available to the public contributes to the overall lack of accountability we see with Arizona charter schools.

As for the improvement in Chandler “excellent” ratings or the national “excellent” ratings, I looked at the Arizona’s A-F accountability system and AIMS scores, the AzMerit scores, and the NAEP assessment, but was unable to verify the data. With regard to Huppenthal’s assertion that  “competition” was necessary for Chandler to improve, I don’t buy it. After all, Arizona has had “competition” between district schools since 1994 when “open enrollment” was first approved.  And, I find it offensive that he refers to Peoria as a racehorse that needs to “rise to the challenge.” As an “A” district they are one of the top 45 districts and charters in the state. I think they have more than already “risen to the challenge.” Besides, the education of Arizona’s children isn’t some sort of sports competition. It is important work critical to the successes of our communities, our state and our nation. The professional educators in our district schools get that, while some of the state’s charter holders laugh all the way to the bank.

When is a charter school a bad idea?

Hint: the answer is not,  “never.” It is a bad idea, according to education blogger Peter Green, “when charters disrupt and displace [district] public schools.” I would add that often, these district schools are the hubs of their communities so charters contribute to disrupting these communities as well.

Case in point is a new charter school (Legacy Traditional School) being built in Glendale, Arizona. Scheduled to open in time for the 2016/17 school year, the new campus will serve 1,200 K-8 students at the northeast corner of 67th Avenue and Thunderbird Road. Sounds good, right? Problem is, this school is being built within the boundaries of the Peoria Unified School District, within two miles of 10 of their “A” or “B” rated elementary schools (50 percent of PUSD’s schools are rated “A”, another 25 percent are rated “B.)  When PUSD has the capacity to serve the 1,200 students Legacy hopes to eventually attract, why is this school necessary, or even in the best interest of this community?When the charter school concept was first embraced back in 1988, it was as “a new kind of public school where teachers could experiment with fresh and innovative ways of reaching students.” In Cologne, Germany, Albert Shanker visited a public school where teachers made the critical decisions about what and how to teach and the school had students with a broad mix of abilities, family incomes, and ethnicity. He said charter schools could “reinvigorate the twin promises of American public education: to promote social mobility for working-class children and social cohesion among America’s increasingly diverse populations.” Shanker also believed charter schools should be unionized because of the critical role he believed unions played in democratic societies.

Unfortunately, today’s charter schools are an entirely different animal than Shanker envisioned. They are more autocratic (empowering management versus teachers) and more segregated (by race and income) than ever and only about 12 percent of charters provide their teachers union representation. No wonder an “astounding 24 percent of charter school teachers leave their school each year, double the rate of turnover in traditional public schools.”

They are now seen as “a vehicle for infusing competition and market forces into public education.” Whether intentionally or not, charters have served to re-segregate education to a level not seen since the 1960s. A side benefit for the corporate reformers was also no doubt, the weakening of teacher unions and therefore less democracy in our schools and communities. All this eventually brought us to where we are today. Instead of charter schools augmenting and serving as “laboratory partners to public schools”, they are now in direct competition for students and the dollars they bring. Make no mistake, today’s charters – whether they are for-profit or non-profit – are as much about making a profit, as they are about educating children.

What suffers from this “competition” mindset is the collaboration between schools, overall efficient and effective use of available education funding, the richness of the educational experience that truly diverse schools can bring, and the strong school climate vibrant teacher voices can bring. This diversity isn’t just valuable for our students of color, but for their white counterparts as well. Those students who’ve experienced more diversity will be more successful in the ever-increasingly global economy.

So, here we are. A brand new charter school is under construction, right in the middle of 10 excellent district schools with plenty of capacity. As Legacy Traditional School is a non-profit entity, I suspect the school is funded with a bond issued by the Phoenix Industrial Development Authority (quasi-private so the taxpayer is not on the hook.) Nonetheless, the Legacy charter will compete directly with PUSD for what are already too few maintenance and operation dollars. As for other for-profit charters, they’ll likely turn to SB 1531 signed into law during this year’s legislative session which, provides $100 million to provide collateral for lower interest rates on charter school project loans. When those charters default, Arizona taxpayers will get the bill. (Don’t even get me started on how the $100 million could have helped our district schools.) In either case, said Tracey Benson, of the Arizona School Boards Association, charter schools added will “build corporate assets – those held by privately operated charter schools – versus community assets – our local district public schools that add value to our cities and neighborhoods.”

I’m not a charter “hater”, I’ve seen some that serve a special niche and provide a valuable alternative. What I do hate is the narrative that charters are superior to district public education, that they ensure disadvantaged students have access to a “high-quality choice”, and that they save the state money…because that narrative is largely false. At the end of the day, over 80 percent of Arizona’s students attend district public schools and that should be our first priority for funding and support.

 

 

 

 

 

America Worst

On this Fourth of July, I find myself thinking about the future of our country and this year’s Presidential election. I won’t be worried if Hillary Clinton is elected; I believe she is uniquely qualified to lead our nation and will hit the ground running. As for the GOP presumptive nominee, Trump’s “America First” plan is better described as “America Worst.” He brags he will “make America great again, but his xenophobic, racist, isolationistic plan to do that will accomplish nothing of the sort and instead, exposes the worst about America. The dog-whistle phrases he repeats incessantly harken a return to a sort of white supremacy; a return to the “Father Knows Best” “good old days” as viewed by his supporters. What Trump and his supporters either don’t get, or don’t care to get, is that today’s global economy will never allow America to be both isolationistic and “great.”

One person who does “get it” is Secretary of Education John King. In a recent speech to the National PTA Convention in Orlando, Florida, he explained that in today’s working world, your boss may not look like you, your office-mate may not worship like you, your project teammates may not speak the same language as you, and your customer may not live on the same continent as you. “Today” he said, “cross-cultural literacy is another way of saying competitive advantage.” In other words, “diversity is no longer a luxury”, it is what will enable us to compete.

At the National School Boards Association Advocacy Institute last month, I was privileged to hear Secretary King in person. An orphan at age 12 and a product of New York City public schools, Secretary King knows first-hand what a difference opportunity can make. He was an impressive speaker and is obviously a passionate egalitarian, particularly when it comes to opportunities for our students. As articulated in a The Atlantic interview, “[diversity is] not just about trying to expand opportunities for low-income students, but really about our values as a country and to improve education outcomes for all students.”

Unlike Trump, Secretary King acknowledges the truth, that we can’t cut off America’s interaction with the rest of the world.  In fact, I’m fairly certain Trump doesn’t intend to pull all his overseas business ventures back — not his golf course and resort in Scotland, nor his seven hotels and as many Trump Towers all over the world; nor his clothing line manufacturing in China, Bangladesh, and Mexico. When questioned about why his shirts and ties were made in China, Trump said he’d love to make them here, but it costs too much. That’s right Donald, to maximize profits, you’ve gotta go where the labor is dirt cheap, the hell with unemployed American workers!

But I digress. The point I really wanted to make is that isolationism and segregation are two sides of the same coin. Just as pulling back and hiding within our own borders would hamper our business opportunities, our influence and our standing in the world, so does segregating our students by socio-economic and ethnicity hamper their abilities to function and succeed in the world. King calls it “being prepared for the diverse context in which we live and work.” After all, no matter how badly some wish our nation would return to a more homogenous (read “white”) population, it’s just not going to happen. Already, a full half of all K-12 students in the United States are “of color” and in Arizona, the Latin@ students in our schools are no longer a minority, but a majority. Not only does each of these children deserve the equal opportunity to succeed, but their white and/or more affluent peers need to learn how to relate to and co-exist with this majority.

The bottom line is that sticking our heads in the sand, sequestering our children with others just like them, constructing walls and closing borders is not a long-term strategy, it is kicking the can down the road. I suspect Trump actually understands this, but despite his claims that he is not a politician, he sure knows how to pander to his supporters. No matter how many times, or how loudly he touts it though, sticking our collective heads in the sand is not the way to make “America Great Again.”

We must remember what got us here in the first place: our democratic system of governance; our sense of fair play; and free, quality public education mandated for all.” These things don’t come cheap, but pI believe they are the reason the United States has been a beacon of opportunity for much of our existence. That’s why I believe America still is great with the caveat that we have much to fix if we want to stay that way. I also believe as citizens of this great country, we all have a duty to participate in the fixes. That participation can take many forms, but it cannot fall to just a few. Without the vast majority of us showing real concern and dedicated commitment to the common good, our UNITED States will not stay great. Without recognizing the potential in every child and promoting equal opportunity for them all, our nation will never be all that it can. A beacon of opportunity and an example of what’s possible when a people have control of their collective destiny.

Shining City on the Hill?

Yesterday, I was sitting on an American Airlines flight reflecting on my trip to our Nation’s Capitol. I was there to learn more about changes in federal laws impacting education, to network with other school board members from across the country and to advocate our members of Congress.

I had lived in D.C. twice previously, both times assigned there by the U.S. Air Force. This time though, I looked through a brand new lens. During my 22-year military career, I (appropriately) saw myself as a servant of the people. When I stood outside the White House grounds viewing the world’s most powerful leader’s residence, I felt a different call to duty. At that moment, I was reminded of our responsibility to ensure the right person sits in the Oval Office and is held accountable by each of us. Too much is at stake – from representing us to the rest of the world to controlling the launch of nuclear weapons. Not only do we have the right to vote, but a sacred duty to do so. Not primarily in our own interests, or to further our own ideology, but to ensure a more perfect union, a safer world, and a lasting legacy for all of our children.

To me, our visits to Capitol Hill highlighted the representative nature of our form of governance. At any given office we visited, there were often three groups in queue to advocate or lobby for their cause or industry. Sometimes those meetings were with the actual gracious lawmaker (as with Congresswoman Ann Kirkpatrick), but other times, we were relegated to a young staffer (as with Congressman Paul Gosar.) Either way, we and many others funneled through to influence and seek favors. But, since there will never be enough resources to accommodate all requests (many from opposite ends of the spectrum), winners and losers are assured and conflict is the natural by-product.

There were too, those visiting their nation’s Capitol to see democracy in action. Many of them school children with bar coded tour labels stuck to the front of their matching school logoed t-shirts. There was a man with a bullhorn whose message I didn’t quite get, but he was intent on exercising his first amendment rights even if no one cared to listen. I also noticed the youth that defines so many of those who live and work in the city. It occurred to me that although the average age of those in the U.S. Senate is 61 years old, the daily grind of running our country is in the hands of those with enough energy to meet the challenge.

So, what’s my takeaway? Am I more or less hopeful for the future? Guess I have to say I’m still somewhere in between. Spending time with fellow school board members – “volunteer” elected officials from around the country who had made the trip to D.C. to fight for their students – made be optimistic. Hearing their stories of the on-going war against public education in their states highlighted the hard fight still ahead. The countless young people everywhere I looked, made me optimistic. But, so were there signs everywhere that the world is becoming more dangerous by the minute with bollards, fences, metal detectors and armed law enforcement officers around every corner. Going to see the Senate in session, only to find them departed by the time I worked my way through all the security checkpoints, reminded me of a quote from Benjamin Franklin: “Those who sacrifice liberty for security deserve neither.”

The one thing I know for sure after my visit is that our democracy is sacred and must be safeguarded. President-Elect John F. Kennedy quoted John Winthrop in 1961 when he said: “We must always consider that we shall be as a city upon a hill – the eyes of all people are upon us.” I don’t think it is too extreme a stretch to say this year’s presidential election could decide whether that shine returns to its original luster, or is forever tarnished. It really is up to each of us, let’s hope we are up to the challenge.

A Must Read: The Great American Bathroom Controversy

Quote of the Day: “Have people who identify and look and dress and act like women, forced to go into a men’s room. Have people who identify and look and act and dress like men forced to go into a ladies room. Are you nuts?” Rep. Alan Grayson speaking to Congress about the recent North Carolina law.

Climate change. Crumbling infrastructure. Dark money in politics. Health care costs. Immigration policy. Foreign policies toward China, Russia, and the Middle East. Transgender use of bathrooms.

Yes, these are all pressing issues. That is, all but one.

I’ve blogged about this in the past, marveling at how the party of Lincoln has evolved from Boardroom Republicans to Bedroom Republicans to Bathroom Republicans. And they have found a new class of citizen to discriminate against.

And I’ve laid out the facts about transgendered people.. Here’s the short of it.

So the facts are these. Gender identity is a product of both biological and social factors. It is formed very early in life, and once formed, it is difficult, if not impossible, to change. Transgendered individuals are found in virtually every society on this planet and some societies even identify transgendered persons as a unique gender.

So Republican governors are full of s#!t when they claim that this is a “local” issue. It is not. It is a global fact.

Once again I have to ask: how in the hell did America manage to put use of gender-appropriate bathrooms on the same level as all the other issues facing our country. I’ll stick my (childhood) Lutheran neck out and claim that there is no biblical support for any of that discriminatory policy. Continuing, what kind of family values condone discrimination against someone unlike yourself? And I’ve already stuck my experimental scientist neck out on the matter of the facts (above); three-year olds do not make a conscious choice to be transgendered. Below is a lot more.

A couple of days ago Rep. Alan Grayson (D, Florida), candidate for US Senate, addressed the House of Representatives about what he calls the Great American BathRoom Controversy.

Following is the full text, in italics, of Grayson’s remarks (from an email message dated May14th, 2016). Grayson’s remarks are the most cutting and impassioned that I’ve seen on this sorry topic. It’s a long speech, but please read on. I wind up at the end with an update with a local theme from this morning’s Daily Star.

“I rise today to address the Great American bathroom controversy. This is a picture, on my right, of someone who may or may not be recognizable to many Americans today. I’ll say her name; the name may be more recognizable to some. Her name is Christine Jorgensen. y or may not be recognizable to many Americans today.

Christine was born in 1926; she grew up in the Bronx like I did. She went to Columbus High School, near the public housing where I grew up in the Bronx. In fact, my father taught history at Christopher Columbus High School. I don’t know whether he taught Christine or not. But it is possible.

In 1945, Christine was drafted and served in the U.S. military. Now that may be a puzzle to some of you listening to me right now, who say, ‘I didn’t realize that women were drafted in the 1940’s.’ Well, at that time, Christine’s name was George. George Jorgensen. That’s the name she was born with. She was, in fact — on her birth certificate — male. Something she struggled with greatly all through the time she was growing up, being a male. Something she struggled with, being in the military.

And then after leaving the military service in 1951, she heard about the possibility of changing her gender, so she went to Denmark and underwent three or more surgeries, plus a very substantial amount of estrogen treatments; she came back to the United States, and then forever thereafter, after 1953, was known as Christine Jorgensen. Christine Jorgensen was “out,” she was well known in America as someone who was transgender.

I knew about her story when I was growing up in the 1960’s and 1970’s. She made no effort to hide it. She didn’t feel any shame about it. She was proud of the fact that she’d been able to take advantage of what medicine had to offer, and live the life that she felt she would have been able to have, if at the beginning, she had had the proper gender.

She had some degree of fame. Republican Vice President Spiro Agnew referred to her once in a speech to mock one of his opponents. She performed both as a singer and as an actress all through the 1950’s, through the entire 1960’s, and well into the 1970’s. She was the most famous transgendered person in America, probably to this day.

Now, I have to tell you, I don’t know exactly where she went when she “had to go.” I don’t know exactly whether she went into a men’s room or ladies room, but here’s the interesting thing: Even though this was something new under the sun, even though America never had to address this issue before, no one ever even bothered to ask. I don’t remember anybody saying, ‘Christine Jorgensen, she ought to go to the men’s room, she was born a male.’ Or for that matter, ‘Christine Jorgensen, she identifies as a female, she should go to the ladies room.’ Isn’t it odd that America in the 1950’s seems to have shown a lot more maturity than America is showing today, with our great bathroom controversy right now — where the cisgender people of America try to dictate to the transgender people of America where they can go to the bathroom. Or at least, frankly, the more bigoted among us.

We had a law pass recently in North Carolina. I’m going to go out on a limb and say it passed almost exclusively with cisgendered Republican votes. They tried to dictate to which bathroom Christine Jorgensen would have to go, if she were alive today and had to relieve herself. And amazingly enough, they decided in their ‘wisdom’, that Christine Jorgensen, if she were alive today, like all other transgender brothers and sisters, Christine Jorgensen would have to go to the bathroom she didn’t identify as, but instead, the bathroom on her birth certificate.

This is particularly ironic. There was one form of discrimination that Christine Jorgensen did face in her lifetime. She was not allowed to get married. Not allowed to get married to a man because her birth certificate said that she was a male, and she was not issued a marriage license on account of the fact that a male was trying to marry a male.

My goodness! Here in America, just in the past 12 months or so, we finally managed to solve that problem, and Christine Jorgensen could get married today to her lover. Now we have a whole new problem. Now, thanks to Republicans, bigots in North Carolina, we have a law that would require Christine Jorgensen to go to the men’s room.

Think about that. Think about that.

In fact, the natural consequence of that law is what I’m about to show you right here.

Here Grayson includes a photo of two women using urinals in a men’s bathroom.

So you folks in North Carolina who are obsessed with where the transgender people go to the bathroom, this is the result you’ve come up with.

People who self-identify as women, people who look like women, people who act like women, they somehow are being driven into the men’s room. And the same thing is true of transgender people who identify as men. You’re going to force people who look like men, act like men, you’re going to force them into a ladies room.

My God, what’s wrong with you? That doesn’t make any sense at all.

More follows the break.

Read more…

Biggs is a Neanderthal

In directing public school districts to let students use bathrooms and locker rooms consistent with their gender identity, President Obama’s administration recognized the need to provide top-down cover for a group of people that are routinely subjected to severe discrimination. They also recognized that assuring the civil rights (the right to receive equal treatment and ensure one’s ability to participate in civil life without discrimination or repression) of a minority couldn’t be left to the majority. That’s why Diane Douglas is wrong when she says “Every local community across Arizona is unique, and I know that the people who live in those communities should be making the decisions when it comes to this and many other education issues.” How well did “leaving it to communities” work for Black people in the deep South during the Jim Crow days?

Look, I get that many people are uneasy with the whole transgender issue. I managed Wingspan, (Arizona’s LGBT Community Center), for over a year and had more exposure than most to the transgender community. We had transgender people on staff (a couple of them were transitioning during the time I worked there) and we supported the Southern Arizona Gender Alliance (SAGA.) If I am totally honest, I still struggle with totally embracing this community. But, I have great respect for what transgender people go through just to be themselves. And I know beyond a shadow of a doubt, that no one would put themselves through the ridicule, discrimination and pain of transitioning unless they felt they had no other option. My bottom line is that I accept transgender people and respect their right to live freely and safely as equal members of our society.

Arizona Senate President Andy Biggs obviously doesn’t feel the same way. He said the Administration’s directive “has no place in the value system that we seek to instill in our children from their earliest age” and that “the rules and norms of modern society may change, but biology will not”. With this statement, Biggs demonstrates what a complete Neanderthal he is. First of all, the definition of biology is that it is a natural science concerned with the study of life and living organisms, including their structure, function, growth, EVOLUTION, distribution, identification and taxonomy. Biology, as the study of life and living organisms, is not static, but constantly changing. I read once that 100 species per day go extinct and that in 2011, scientists discovered nearly 20,000 new species. Obviously, biology DOES change and more importantly, the more we learn, the more our understanding of it changes.

Secondly, we can’t really “instill” gender identity in our children. We can try to get them to conform to “social expectations that may accompany a given gender role” “but this can exacerbate the disconnect transgender children feel. I have met very young children who absolutely know they weren’t born into the correct gender. The lucky ones have supportive parents who help them pave their own path. Those not so fortunate have a much tougher road to hoe, one that more often than not leads to multiple suicide attempts (if the first try doesn’t succeed.) The American Psychological Association corroborates that transgender children are more likely to experience harassment and violence in school and other group programs than other children. Transgender adults are at increased risk for stress, isolation, anxiety, depression, poor self-esteem and suicide. In fact, transgender people have an extremely high rate of suicide attempts, 41 percent versus a national average of 1.6 percent.

In addition, there are biological causes for the “gender dysphoria” or “gender identity disorder”(GID) many transgender people experience. “Evidence suggests that people who identify with a gender different from the one they were assigned at birth, may do so not just due to psychological or behavioral causes, but also biological ones related to their genetics, the makeup of their brains, or prenatal exposure to hormones.” Genetic variation, hormones, and difference in brain functioning and brain structures provide evidence for the biological cause of   In fact, twin studies indicate GID is 62% inheritable. (NOTE: gender identity has nothing to do with sexual preference and a transgender person may or may not have had any surgeries to bring their body in “conformance” with their gender identity.)

Ever notice how if Arizona lawmakers and administrators don’t want to deal with an issue, and it doesn’t detract from the ability of one of their supporters to make profit, it becomes something that should be dealt with at the local level? Just look at Douglas’ comment on AZCentral.com that she has“full confidence that government at its least and lowest level is most answerable to constituents on these matters.” Yet time and again t found these same people have found local government is incapable of making decisions about “life-altering” matters such as the use of plastic shopping bags, the admission of guns on school property, and the rights of pet shops to sell puppy mill dogs; all of which had significant lobbyist support for state lawmaker intervention.

As with any struggle for civil rights, this one will be tumultuous. The best approach is for communities to learn about the issue and have open discussions about the way forward. It cannot though, be left to individual communities to determine the “rightness” of the equality sought. That’s why the President’s directive is important. It is a validation of the “immortal declaration” in the Declaration of Independence that states: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, and that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness. It really is that simple.

 

 

Prop 123 deal was hard-fought

In a recent AZ Daily Star op-ed, former educator and school board member Jim Christ compared the Old Testament story of Esau trading his inheritance for a bowl of lentil soup as an example of a “beyond foolish” bargain, to Prop. 123. If Esau was starving and did not know where his next meal would come from, it might not have been such a foolish bargain.

Arizona ranks 50th in the nation on adjusted per pupil expenditure ($4,047 less than, or 31 percent below, the national average.) Even if Prop 123 passes, it won’t move us out of our current place in education funding, that’s how far behind we are. Our state also ranks 49th for median teacher’s salaries, so it should be no surprise that 49 percent of our teachers report frozen salaries as the top reason for leaving. We have a huge teacher shortage not because we don’t have enough certified teachers in the state, but because they can’t feed their families on a teacher’s salary.

Christ also said the Arizona Education Association (AEA) and the Arizona School Boards Association (ASBA)“caved in” to coercion by Gov. Ducey and Senate President Andy Biggs. That is an incredibly simplistic view of both a lengthy court battle and complicated negotiations. The truth is, had the AEA and ASBA and other plaintiffs not held the lawsuit defendants “feet to the fire”, they likely would never have agreed to pay anything. After all, even though the inflation funding mandate was found in 2013 to be voter protected by the Arizona Supreme Court, and Superior Court Judge Cooper ordered a reset of the base level, no court has ordered a payment of the back pay. The plaintiffs negotiated hard to get 70 percent of the total amount owed. They also drove 1) inflation funding preserved in perpetuity, 2) no strings attached to the use of the money and 3) the ability for districts to carryover the funds to FY 2016/2017 (important since the monies will reach districts as soon as June 2016), all of which are significant to districts’ successes.

Yes, there are contingencies that have been put in place to account for a severe downturn in the state economy, but the base level funding reset is protected regardless. As for the increased withdrawals from the state land trust, it is hardly the “plundering” Christ describes. Even after 10 years of increased withdrawals, the trust will still be worth a minimum of $6.1 billion, or $1.1 billion more than it is today. Would it have been worth more without the increase? Yes, but to what end? The money is for education and enough will be there in the future. Today’s 8th graders though, who have never been in fully funded classrooms, will have been shortchanged during their entire K-12 experience. This, because if Prop 123 fails, estimates are the lawsuit will continue at least 3-5 more years, without any guarantees of outcome. It is also noteworthy, that only 55-60 percent of the funding comes from the state land trust, the rest will be drawn from the state general fund.

We can wish the world was different, but the plain truth is GOP controls Arizona’s government and they have proven to not be supportive of locally controlled, community based, public education. They’ve also proven they are not inclined to either follow the rule of law, or the people’s wishes. In such an environment, I believe the inflation funding lawsuit plaintiffs (David to the state’s Goliath) did the best they could to aim their “rock” so it would produce the best result. If we want the world to be different, we must do more than wish for it to be so. We must ALL vote to elect pro-public education candidates who realize education is an investment, not an expense and that the best way to provide all students equity in opportunity is to ensure a well-funded, locally-controlled, fully accountable and transparent, truly “public” system of education.

 

“Someone to Shine Our Shoes”

In a recent article titled “Chartered Cruise” on knpr.org, the author Hugh Jackson wrote: “Today’s charter industry, much like Nevada’s voucher plan, reflects a chronic civic defeatism. Echoing the perverse social Darwinism of more than a century ago, faith in free-market education is surrender to pessimism. Society really isn’t incapable of providing a fair educational opportunity to every citizen. Some people are doomed to fail, that’s just the way it is, so best to segregate those with promise, the achievers, in separate schools. As for everyone else, well, too bad for them.” Of course, this attitude isn’t confined to only Nevada; I have a real life example of it right here in Arizona. Three or so years ago, an acquaintance of mine asked an Arizona Senator whether or not he supported public education. He replied, “of course I do, we need someone to shine our shoes.”

It’s bad enough the Senator thought this, let alone that he said it out loud to a public education advocate. That says as much about the voter contempt some of our lawmakers hold (especially when the voter is from a different party) as it does what they think of public education. As the primary water carrier for the American Legislative Exchange Council’s (ALEC), the Arizona Legislature has led the nation in efforts to offer school choice options. Proponents tout school choice as the way to help disadvantaged children, but truth is, they’ve already written these children off. Instead, school choice is really about resegregation (the highest we’ve seen since the mid 1960s) and profiteering.

The school choice and education privatization movement gives me great pause because:

  1. The vast majority of our students (85%) are attending significantly underfunded district schools;
  2. Taxpayer dollars are increasingly being siphoned off to profiteers with very little (if any) accountability and transparency;
  3. The claim of school choice proponents that school choice provides much better results, either isn’t backed up by facts, or is an oranges and pineapple comparison;
  4. Voucher and charter schools actually provide parents less choice than district schools.

Allow me to explain. By now, most Arizonans probably know our state is 48th in per pupil funding. Even if the $3.5 billion infusion from Prop 123 is approved by voters this month, it won’t move us from 48th place in overall per pupil funding. To move up just one notch (above Oklahoma), we’d have to give out districts twice that much. That’s how far behind Arizona is.

As for the lack of accountability and transparency in Arizona’s school choice programs, for-profit companies dominate the charter school movement.  These companies do not have school boards, let alone locally elected boards and are not required to disclose the details of their business operations. As for private schools that take Empowerment Scholarship Account (voucher) or Student Tuition Organization tax credit dollars, there is no way for taxpayers to determine funding efficacy. Private school students are not required to take state assessments nor provide any academic results. Neither are private schools required to disclose any information regarding their business operations.

Then, there’s the apple and oranges comparison. Irrespective of the law requiring charter schools to accept all students, it is a well documented fact that most manage to steer clear of special needs and English language learning students and that they manage to attrit (at incredibly high rates) students of color or those on the lower end of the socio-economic scale. Of course, when these students return to the district schools, it is often after the 100th day of the school year, when the average daily attendance has been calculated and the charter school has cemented the funding for the year for that student. The district school is forced to absorb that same student for the rest of the year with no compensation.

Finally, district schools are run by locally elected governing boards that are accountable to the community. School district residents have the right to be present at board meetings and have their voice heard. They also have a right to know how their tax money is spent. Charters and private schools are run by executive boards not accountable and often not responsive to parents. If you aren’t happy with the way they are being run, your only recourse is to withdraw your child.

The myth perpetuated by those bent on destroying pubic district education is that district schools are failing and that privatization in various forms is the answer. The reality says that school choice will never be the answer for the vast majority. The evidence also shows despite charters and private schools being much more selective of their students, most charters and almost all cyber charters do worse than their district schools. We don’t really know how private schools do since they aren’t required to provide any information about results.

The movement to privatize public education is straight from the GOP playbook on reducing government. As President Reagan said in his first inaugural address: “Government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem.” That might have been a good sound bite for the right, but I believe concentrated, unchecked power is the problem. Our system works best when we have a balance of power that ensures all sides are heard and produces compromises to come up with the best possible solution. It also works best when government provides for the public good and checks and balances are put in place to ensure efficiencies and effectiveness of both the public and private sectors where taxpayer dollars are involved. Those checks and balances are lacking in school choice options and taxpayers are paying the price. Examples abound of virtual (on-line) school scams, greedy charter school operators, and even illegal purchases with voucher dollars. No, district schools are not entirely immune from fraud, but at least they have locally elected school boards responsible to the taxpayer for oversight and the state conducts annual audits. Neither of these happens when taxpayer dollars fund school choice options.

The original intent of charter schools was to provide teachers greater flexibility to experiment with new ways to educate students. Charters were not meant to compete with or replace district schools, but rather complement them. Now, charters and vouchers have become a way for state legislatures to deflect their responsibility to provide a quality public education for all. When funding follows the child, it becomes the parent’s responsibility to ensure a quality education. School choice also allows our lawmakers to obfuscate the real problem, poverty and all the challenges it brings to our district schools.  Of course, the focus on school choice creates demand which causes funding loss in districts, making it harder for them to excel and reinforces the message that they are failing. The truth is, that despite significant funding shortfalls, severe teacher shortages and crumbling infrastructure, our district schools continue to do well. It makes one wonder what miracles could be achieved if they received the funding and support currently being siphoned off to charters and private schools.

The one thing I know for sure is that until we elect new pro-public education candidates, nothing is going to change. We will continue to see efforts to take the brakes off vouchers, create laws more favorable to charter schools, and attempts to de-professionalize the teaching profession. We have the power to create change; the only question that remains is do we have the will? Prop 123 has raised the level of attention to the challenges of our district schools. Many have been vocal on both sides of the issue. Let’s come together on May 19th at 4 pm for a Pro-Public Education Rally to tell our Legislature that enough is enough, we are done with them short-changing our kids and our state’s future! #ItStartsNow #YouPlusOne #RememberInNovember

Our Nation Hangs in the Balance

Nine months ago, it was virtually impossible to imagine Donald Trump as the apparent nominee of any political party in the United States, let alone that of a major one. Yet here we are. And although I understand the seething sentiments behind his rise, I am still incredulous that his “shtick” has actually worked.

I recently had a conversation with my Dad about whom he was going to vote for in the primary. When he told me Trump, it took me back a little, but then I delved a little deeper. My Dad was a Green Beret and still lives, eats, and breathes his military service. When I asked him what he thought about Trump saying he would “force the U.S. military to commit war crimes”, he responded with “oh he’s just spouting off.”

This statement made me realize that there really is no making sense of those who vote for Trump. They like how he speaks his mind, but then when he goes overboard, they chalk it up to Trump being Trump (boys will be boys.) They like his toughness, so much so that those who have been abused at campaign rallies actually draw the ire of Trump supporters. They eat up the nonsense he spouts off because they want to believe America can return to a “simpler” timed.

At 84 years of age, my Dad has a solidly middle-class quality of life that is much better than he could have envisioned as a young man. Despite that, I suspect he longs for the “good old days” portrayed in Leave it to Beaver and the Andy Griffith show. Yes, life was simpler then and the American Dream was very much alive (at least for some people.) The truth is though, no matter who gets elected President, America will never be going back to those days. Our country is less homogenous and more complex than ever and that trend will only continue.

On MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” this morning, the director, Rob Reiner, said of Trump: “The words that have been flung out from his mouth are insane. If he was not a celebrity, if Donald Trump was not a celebrity, the words that come out of his mouth, you’d see a guy in a park, a lunatic in a park on a soapbox, and you’d walk right by him. But the fact that he is a celebrity, all of a sudden, we’re all interested.” (I actually think it also has to do with him being very wealthy.)

Then, when one of the show’s regulars, Willie Geist, basically asked how Reiner explains all the millions and millions of people who like what they hear from Trump and are voting for him? Reiner said “Well, there are a lot of people who are racist.”

Much has been made of the shocked reaction of the hosts and regulars to Reiner’s comment because after all, any reasonable person could easily conclude not only are some of Trump’s supporters racist, but that he himself is both a racist and a mysogynist. Trump is the one who said:

He also by the way, was the only presidential candidate endorsed by David Duke of the KKK.

The real shocker is that any thinking person would be remotely surprised that Trump is referred to as a racist, and I applaud Rob Reiner for saying what others haven’t. Reiner should “know one if he sees one” after all, he played Archie Bunker’s “Meathead” son-in-law on “All in the Family” for seven years. Come to think of it, Archie Bunker’s world is probably a place many of Trump’s supporters would like to revisit. Communities were less diverse, women didn’t work outside the home and deferred to their husbands, and political correctness wasn’t even a term yet.

The really depressing thing for me about the Trump candidacy is not the candidate himself; he’s just one delusional narcissist. What most has me down about the Trump phenomena is how many people have bought into his bullshit hook, line and sinker. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that all Trump supporters are bad people. Many of them are probably just people who have been dealt some hard knocks in life and are tired of things not getting better. It is scary though that even if Trump loses, his supporters will still be around and they’ll likely be even more angry and vocal. This will pose a problem for the next president to deal with. We certainly don’t need a country more polarized than it is now.

In the final analysis though, those who truly believe Trump is the answer are probably on the fringe. Most of us know that no president has the power to fix all that ails us and ultimately we need a steady hand at the helm. Who shows up to vote though, will determine what the future holds. It brings to mind the Thomas Jefferson quote “We in America do not have government by the majority. We have government by the majority who participate.”

I’m advocating that for the November elections, you commit to voting and that you get one new voter to the polls. I’m calling it #YouPlusOne. The future of our nation likely hangs in the balance.

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GUEST TEACHERS USA

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©mayor5 2016, All Rights Reserved

Christian Thomas Golden

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I don't break news, I fix it.

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A blog to inform, inquire, and communicate

austin vivid photography

heather schramm-lifestyle photographer

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Educare- Latin, "To draw out that which lies within." Now- the only time we have. Thoughts on education by Bill Boyle. Thoughts expressed here are my own.

School Matters

K-12 education in Indiana

moderndaychris

an education reform blog

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A blog focused on education policy and social justice

The Baggage Handler

I made the impossible easy in both worlds!

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