Happy (sort of) Anniversary

Five years ago today, I wrote and published my first-ever blog post. It was titled, “Don’t Believe the Pundits, Traditional Public Education Works.”

Since then, I’ve written over 230 posts which garnered over 16,300 views. I hope I’ve enlightened a few folks about the war against public education, and am grateful for all those who read my words and took time to comment. Our efforts are stronger when we stand together!

What I’m not grateful for, is the fact that nothing much has come out of the AZ Legislature in the last five years to make the situation better for our district schools.  I wrote then about how education tax credits siphon funding away from our district schools. The caps for corporate tax credits have grown from about $56.6 million in 2013 to $94 million in 2018, and the President of the AZ Senate, Steven Yarbrough (who has enriched himself through his School Tuition Organization or STO), is proposing legislative changes that will grow the program even more.

I also wrote about Empowerment Scholarship Accounts (ESAs) or vouchers. I discussed how they redistribute state revenue and that most of the students receiving these vouchers, would have attended private schools without taxpayer help. That is still true today, but instead of 302 students accessing the program five years ago at a cost to the state of $5.2 million, there were 4,102 in 2017 at a cost of $37 million. Moreover, in 2017, more than 75 percent of the money pulled out of public schools for vouchers, came from districts with an A or B rating, not from schools that are failing.

Yes, there are pockets of excellence in our charter schools, I wrote, but “by and large, they have no significant performance advantage over traditional public schools.” That is still the case, and we continue to see examples of fraudulent management of charter schools throughout the state.

I ended the post with, “Just imagine what our schools could be if our efforts were properly focused and funded.” Well, I’m still imagining, but in the meantime, I’m fighting and I plan to die empty fighting for this incredible cause.

I believe the promise of truly public education, that which takes all comers, is totally transparent and accountable and is governed by locally-elected school board members, is critical to the survival and success of our great democratic republic. It is what built the world’s strongest middle class, and it will be what saves us from ourselves if we will only let it.

That’s the saddest part of all…the wounds we’ve inflicted on our district schools, are largely self-inflicted. By the pro-privatization lawmakers we continue to elect, and through the apathy of those who don’t even bother to vote. We CAN and we MUST do better. Those who have no voice, are counting on us.

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What IS glaringly obvious…

After I became an Arizona school board member and public education advocate, I was routinely asked, “doesn’t the Legislature understand what they are doing to our public schools?” I would respond with, “of course they do, it is all part of their plan.” That was five years ago and although we are still fighting the same battles, some things have changed.

Today, many more people understand that the privatization of America’s system of public education is actually the end game. The public is more “woke” than ever to the privatizers’ pursuit of profit and power via the $500B+ K-12 education market in the United States. Of course, the privatizers don’t refer to it that way. Rather, as reported in the Washington Post, they couch their war on public education as a benign attempt to improve the system. As Stacy Hock, a major Koch donor and co-founder of Texans for Educational Opportunity, said, “The lowest hanging fruit for policy change in the United States today is K-12, I think this is the area that is most glaringly obvious.”

What is glaringly obvious to me is that this fight isn’t just about a “policy change” and it definitely isn’t about improvement for all students. It is also glaringly obvious, that Arizona’s Governor Doug Ducey is chief water carrier for the movement with Koch donors seeing the state “as ground zero in their push.” Ducey’s been a member of the Koch network since 2011, the same year the Empowerment Scholarship Account (ESA) program (or vouchers) was passed in Arizona. Pushed by the Goldwater Institute, it was the first of its kind in the country. The AZ Legislature has increased the scope of the program every year since, and in 2017, with significant Koch network investment, Ducey was able to sign into law, a full expansion of the program.

It is also obvious to anyone willing to face facts, that vouchers are not the panacea to anemic academic outcomes. On EducationNext.org, Robert Pondiscio writes, “If shares in the education reform movement could be purchased in the stock market, neutral analysts would grade them ‘underperform’ and probably ‘sell.’ We’ve seen gains in student outcomes particularly among disadvantaged subgroups. But those gains have been mostly in math and almost entirely in the younger grades. The ‘historic’ rate of high school graduation is frothy at best, fraudulent at worst. It is not possible to look at the big indicators of K–12 performance over the last few decades—NAEP, PISA, SAT, and ACT scores—and claim that ed reform at large has been a success. The payoff is simply not there.”

None of that matters to the privatizers though, because in the end, it isn’t the kids they are focused on. “Tom Jenney, the senior legislative advisor for the Arizona chapter of Americans for Prosperity, says “We believe in competition. That’s the most important thing. … Competition is the only reason why, frankly, anything in the world improves without monumental effort and luck.”

I find that viewpoint incredibly cynical. What about those who do a good job because of pride in a job well done? Also, competition pits individuals and groups against each other and, it produces winners and losers…is that what we want for our children?

The Washington Post article also claimed, “Teacher unions, worried that this will undermine the public system, collected enough signatures to put the law on hold and create a ballot proposition to let voters decide in November whether to expand vouchers.” That claim comes from either sloppy or totally biased and purposefully misleading reporting. First of all, as a “right to work” state, Arizona has no statewide collective bargaining unit for our teachers. Secondly, Save Our Schools Arizona, the grassroots organization who collected the signatures, is not a union, but rather, a dedicated group of mom’s who ignited an army of volunteers tired of out-of-state monied interests forcing on Arizonans legislation we don’t want. “SOS Arizona enlisted about 2,500 people to help with its referendum. They ended up paying about six people to collect signatures, but the rest of its base was a patchwork of volunteers.”

Those gathering at a recent Koch brothers’ meeting outside Palm Springs, CA, are definitely not grassroots volunteers, but rather, those monied interests referred to earlier. Governor Ducey was also there, touting Arizona’s 2017 voucher expansion as further reaching than anything that’s been tried in other states. Now though he warned, that achievement is under attack with Prop. 305 set to go to be on the ballot in November”, saying that under Arizona law, if advocates lose at the ballot box, they will not be able to legislate on the topic in the future. “This is a very real fight in my state,” Ducey said. “I didn’t run for governor to play small ball. I think this is an important idea.” Ducey also introduced the headmaster of Capital Prep Charter Schools, who has been traveling Arizona to speak in support of the law. “The teacher unions are unencumbered by the truth,” he told the Koch donors. “It is a distant relative that is never invited to dinner.”

Maybe it takes one “unencumbered by the truth” to try to manufacture the same in others. What seems apparent though, is that it is much easier for Ducey and his gang to blame “teachers’ unions for “working to deny parents school choice options” than it would be to acknowledge that a group of concerned mom’s are the ones fighting for our public schools to ensure ALL children have equitable opportunity. Seems to me that if vouchers and school choice were really the end all/be all, the privatizers wouldn’t have to work so hard to convince us of that. Problem is, they are working really hard and they are throwing an awful lot of money into their effort.

Which brings me to my constant mantra of late. I received several concerned emails and phone calls from people who had read the Washington Post article and wondered what they could do to combat the incoming Koch network onslaught. My answer is simple. If we want to save our system of public education, that system which helped build the strongest middle class in the world, we simply must elect more lawmakers who care about that system and the children it serves. And, we must start right here in Arizona. If you care about our public district schools and the one million children in them, you must learn which candidates share your concern and will fight for the full accountability, transparency, and locally elected governance that district school boards provide. And remember, that although “they” have the money, we have the many. We can fight back, but we must do it together, and we must do it now.

 

The Women’s March to Elected Office

Cross-posted from skyislandscriber.com

In Shutdown, Schmutdown – ‘GRAB ’EM BY THE MIDTERMS’ is the bigger story, I wrote on Tuesday that “The biggest news of the weekend and yesterday was the shutdown, the details of the Senate-initiated bill that the House passed and that Trump signed.”

Then I featured New Yorker John Cassidy’s alternative take on the biggest story.

But New Yorker’s John Cassidy has another take on the news – on something he sees as a lot bigger and under-reported story – the Women’s Marches.The Women’s Marches Could Have More Lasting Consequences Than the Government Shutdown.

John Nichols (The Nation) concurs and tells us that the big Story This Month Was Not the Government Shutdown. It’s the grassroots activism that could end Republican control of Congress.

… for all the tumult over the shutdown, a more significant story was taking place far from the Beltway—in communities where the resistance has been gaining strength and focus before a midterm election that could hold the president and his allies to account. Case in point: Wisconsin. While Trump lost the popular vote by 2.9 million nationwide, narrow wins in Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, and Michigan gave him the Electoral College. Trump’s Wisconsin win was powered by votes from the western and northern regions of the state—places like the 10th State Senate District, which has historically elected Republicans and where Trump ran 17 points ahead of Hillary Clinton. But in a special election on January 16, medical examiner and small-town school-board member Patty Schachtner swept to victory in a result that saw a 37 percent swing to the Democrats. In 2016, the outgoing Republican had won the gerrymandered district by 26 points; Schachtner prevailed by 11. “President Donald Trump—along with Speaker Paul Ryan and Gov. Scott Walker who support and prop him up—are toxically unpopular and divisive,” the state Democratic Party declared in a press release.

This reaction to Trumpism isn’t limited to Wisconsin. Noting that Schachtner was the 34th Democrat to flip a Republican state legislative seat since Trump took office, statehouse-watcher Carolyn Fiddler observed: “Democrats are still winning Republican seats! Even when Republicans run in ‘safe’ and extremely gerrymandered districts and spend boatloads more money than the Democrat!”

More often than not, these Democratic winners have been women (22 of 34). This made the Wisconsin win a perfect setup for the massive Women’s Marches across the country, which filled the streets with millions of Americans— 600,000 in Los Angeles, 300,000 in Chicago, 200,000 in New York, 50,000 in Denver—who channeled the anger and frustration of 2017 into a mighty cry for change. The marches highlighted #MeToo activism and the “Time’s Up” initiative to combat sexual harassment, along with a new “Power to the Polls” message. Echoing the “Don’t Just March, Run” calls by groups like Emily’s List—which counts more than 26,000 women planning to seek federal, state, or local office—many of this year’s marchers were candidates themselves. Trump isn’t on the ballot in 2018, but the women who have been his most ardent and effective critics will be. As former Maine state legislator Diane Russell, who is mounting a progressive bid for her state’s governorship, announced: “We march—to elected office.”

This appears to me to be a vanguard of an national about-face, a repudiation of Trumpism, and a Democratic wave in 2018. The numbers Nichols reports indicate my view is not just wishful thinking.

Linda Lyon Responds (Again) to the Same Reader

Fighting against the success of our public school students is unpatriotic!

Diane Ravitch's blog

Linda Lyon, retired Air Force Colonel and President of the Arizona School Boards Association, responds again to our reader Charles, who tried to convince her of the virtues of privatization.

She writes:

“Dear Charles,

You’ve obviously given a lot of thought to your position on school privatization. At 666 words, you covered a lot of ground. I do though, agree with some of your points.

Yes, children can be educated in a diversity of environments and yes, some rich liberals send their children to exclusive private schools. So do, rich conservatives. I believe that anyone has the right to send their child to any school they want, (provided the education is adequate), as long as they pay for it. When my tax dollars are paying for it, I want full accountability, transparency and to know the return on investment. Yes, legislation could be enacted to provide more accountability and transparency…

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Linda Lyon Responds to a Reader about Fiscal Responsibility and Public Schools

If you want to advocate for privatization of our public schools, how’s about you look at how it benefits ALL American children vs. just disparaging the “government-run” schools!

Diane Ravitch's blog

Linda Lyon, a retired Air Force colonel and president of the Arizona School Boards Association, responds to a reader who supports school choice, charters, vouchers, and home schooling.

She writes:

”Yes Charles, you are correct that the military industrial complex does provide a valuable service to our military mission. There are many functions that are not a core competency of the military (such as building airplanes) that have made sense to be outsourced. But, outsourcing the defense of our nation is not one of those functions. Where we’ve done that, as with Blackwater, it has not ended well.

“Of course education is “built” on a mix of public and private. After all, our public district schools don’t publish their own textbooks, or build their own buses or computers. But, as with the military, the core mission of our districts — to educate ALL our children, should not be outsourced. I…

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Linda Lyon: Why Our Public Schools Matter

If you believe in REAL fiscal responsibility, where we get what we pay for, watch this quick video about school privatization and then share it far and wide.

Diane Ravitch's blog

Linda Lyon is the president of the Arizona School Boards Association. She is a retired officer in the U.S. Air Force. She served her country in the military and continues to serve it by her participation in defense of public schools.

Colonel Lyon made this stirring video about democracy and public education. It is short and powerful. Please watch and share with your friends via Twitter, Facebook, and other social media. Show it to your PTA, the school board, the town council, the League of Women Voters, and every other group committed to strengthening the common good.

This video was sponsored by the Network for Public Education and produced, directed, and edited by Michael Elliott, a professional cinematigher

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‘How broke that brain?’ Understanding President Trump’s mental health – what his exam did not tell us

Cross-posted from skyislandscriber.com

Ever since Trump got on the list of presidential candidates (and I think long before) there have been questions about his mental fitness for the job he now holds. For example, SNL revisits Trump’s cognitive test results and asks, ‘How broke that brain?’

“There’s been questions about the president’s mental fitness, and the White House has, of course, pushed back on that,” says a reporter, played by Kate McKinnon. “Since you’ve examined him personally, my question is: How broke that brain?”

The rest of this post is less barbed. To start, in it’s email summary over the weekend, wired.com succinctly reported on the cognitive assessment part of Trump’s recent physical exam.

It was only under mounting public pressure that the White House allowed Rear Admiral Ronny Jackson to publicize the details of his examination of Trump, and those results haven’t clarified much for those hungry for a better sense of the president’s physical and cognitive fitness. … although Trump passed his physician’s cognitive assessment with flying colors, his ability to differentiate a lion from an elephant probably doesn’t say much about his appetite for consuming the vast amounts of information necessary to make complex policy decisions.

And there is another angle, The test that Trump passed does not measure personality characteristics, such as narcissism. Let me explain.

What is NOT wrong with Trump

First let’s look at the cognitive test he was given. Here’s the information from a Canadian site, globalnews.ca: Donald Trump aced the Montreal Cognitive Assessment: here’s what the test looks like.

Developed in Montreal in 1996, it was designed to measure “mild cognitive dysfunction” according to the Canadian Partnership for Stroke Recovery.

The MoCA test Trump took includes exercises to the likes of remembering a list of spoken words; listening to a list of random numbers and repeating them backward; naming as many words that begin with, say, the letter F as possible within a minute; accurately drawing a cube; and describing concrete ways that two objects – like a train and a bicycle – are alike.

According to administration and scoring instructions, the MoCA exam is a rapid screening test and assesses different cognitive functions like attention, concentration, language and conceptual thinking.

The test itself take about 10 minutes and the total possible score is 30 points. A score of 26 or above is considered normal. Trump scored a perfect 30, according to Jackson.

In general, patients with good or average memory forget one of the five words and can still be within the normal range, said Dr. James Mastrianni, an expert in memory disorders and other neurodegenerative conditions at the University of Chicago Medicine.

“It’s a screening assessment that we use routinely in the clinics to determine whether someone has some degree of cognitive impairment or not,” he said.

“If they score poorly on that assessment, then usually there is more detailed evaluation that follows. But if they score well that usually indicates there is pretty good cognitive function. They are essentially intact,” Mastrianni added.

The standard version of the test is “pretty good” but “not definitive” said Dr. Ronald Petersen, an Alzheimer’s disease expert at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. Petersen said he could not comment specifically on the president’s cognitive health.

You can take the test here. However:

The test does not assess the president’s psychiatric fitness and the president did not undergo a psychiatric evaluation, according to his doctor.

Steve Benen (MSNBC/MaddowBlog) reports on Trump’s misplaced boast about passing a cognitive test.

… as long as Trump is talking about this, it’s probably taking a moment to understand what his high score is all about.

“If you look at the test, it’s pretty hard to see how you could not score a 30,” a Washington Post piece explained yesterday, adding, “Yes, Trump passed with flying colors, as any adult with normal cognitive function probably would.”

We’re talking about an exam, known as MoCA, that’s used to identify evidence of dementia, mental deterioration, and neurodegenerative diseases. Those who take it may be asked, for example, to draw a clock or describe the similarities between oranges and bananas.

I’m glad Trump was able to do well on the test, but let’s be clear: we’re talking about being able to clear a very low bar for an adult in a position of enormous responsibility. The idea of a president bragging, even jokingly, about getting 30 out of 30 on the exam is comparable to a president boasting about knowing the alphabet.

So here’s the dangling question.

Trump’s score is not evidence of a towering intellect. On the contrary, as New York’s Jon Chait put it, “[W]hile Trump’s behavior may not be medical symptoms of a debilitating mental disease, it is clear evidence of a mind that’s totally unfit for the presidency. What excuse does he have for his behavior?”

The MoCA is diagnostic of mental deterioration as explained in this Washington Post article: Why you may be misunderstanding the mental test that Trump passed with flying colors.

Studies have shown that this test can be used to spot problems with the brain’s executive functioning even before other signs of mental decline are apparent. There are questions about the proper scoring method and about the extent to which educational differences may be apparent, but, generally, there’s a reason that the test is included.

The point is not that the test is easy. The point is that an inability to complete aspects of the test reveals different types of mental decline. The clock test is about executive brain function: memory, planning ahead. The different parts of the MoCA are labeled according to what they test, with the clock test falling under “visuospatial/executive.” Questions about the current year and date are under “orientation.” The request to identify a drawing of a camel is under “naming.” In the test’s scoring instructions, it explains what is covered: “attention and concentration, executive functions, memory, language, visuoconstructional skills, conceptual thinking, calculations and orientation.”

Hang onto that list of cognitive functions. I’ll return to it in a moment. Phillip Bump, the Post author, continues:

Yes, Trump passed with flying colors, as any adult with normal cognitive function probably would. And that’s the point. There’s every indication from Tuesday’s report that Trump maintains normal cognitive function. That he passed the test is just like you successfully singing the alphabet song. Sure, it’s easy — unless you have that can’t-say-H disease. Here, the MoCA test is easy — unless you have the sort of impairment that Trump was said to have suffered by any number of public critics.

You’re supposed to get 30 out of 30 — and when you don’t, that’s when the doctors learn something.

Bump updates his post.

The original post above was meant to explain to readers why the seemingly easy nature of the test was not a reason that Trump’s passing it should be pooh-poohed. After all, the lingering question was one of Trump’s cognitive abilities and whether or not he was affected by the early stages of mental decline, perhaps in the form of dementia. Mocking as easy a test meant to detect that particular thing is as dumb as mocking someone for passing a blood test.

But the flip side of this is that this is not a test you should brag about — any more than you should brag about passing a blood test. [No one] should see Trump’s perfect score on the test as indicating anything other than “this person’s brain is not showing obvious signs of deterioration.”

What IS wrong with Trump

OK, so Trump is not gorked. His brain is not the neurological equivalent of Swiss cheese. What then is wrong with this guy?

At the psychological level, here is my nomination: Narcissistic Personality Disorder: Rethinking What We Know.

… Persons with NPD are aggressive and boastful, overrate their performance, and blame others for their setbacks; current editions of DSM portray them as arrogant, entitled, exploitative, embedded in fantasies of grandeur, self-centered, and charming but emotionally unavailable …

Prototypical persons with NPD present with many interpersonal problems … Romantic relationships are typically shallow, and narcissistic persons build and maintain them with difficulty. Conflicts at work are the rule rather than the exception, as are problems with commitment when faced with negative feedback.

Feelings of grandiosity and fantasies of power and success are certainly important but are not the core theme in a narcissistic stream of consciousness …

NPD manifests as anger triggered by feelings of social rejection and tendencies to derogate those who give negative feedback. Persons with NPD often feel hampered in pursuing goals and blame others for being inept, incompetent, or hostile. States in which the self-image is extremely negative are important but are so hard to bear that fighting with others and blaming them for any personal flaws is a more suitable defensive maneuver. …

In persons with NPD, self-experience patterns coalesce into self-other relational schemas: the dominant motives are concerns with social rank/antagonism, and the need to be admired and recognized by others as being special; the dominant image is of an “other” person unwilling to provide attention. The main schema is the “self” who desires to be recognized or admired and the “other” who is dominant and critical. In one schema, the self reacts with overt antagonism or by resorting to a metaphorical ivory tower. Another prominent schema is the self that needs attention while the other rejects and again criticizes the self, which, in turn, steers the self to compulsive self-soothing and denial of attachment needs. In general, such persons spend much time ruminating about issues of antagonism/social rank and avoid forming or thinking about attachments, thus concealing their vulnerable self. Empirical support has been found for the possibility that patients with NPD or narcissistic traits tend to seek self-enhancement, to overreact when they perceive others are setting limits, and to self-soothe.

Remember that list of cognitive functions? “attention and concentration, executive functions, memory, language, visuoconstructional skills, conceptual thinking, calculations and orientation.” I challenge you to find any mention of any of these functions in the passages quoted above on narcism. Similarly, I challenge you to find any mention of the characteristics of someone with NPD in this list of cognitive functions.

So: what the MoCA tells us about Trump’s mental function totally misses what is really wrong with him. In my opinion, the descriptors for NPD apply to Trump. To confirm that hypothesis, we would have to have Trump undergo a comprehensive psychiatric workup – and that is as likely to happen as the release of his tax records.

What this Narcissistic president costs America

Leonard Pitts Jr. reviews Trump’s accomplishments: One year later Trump continues race to the bottom

And here we are, one year later.

If you are groping for markers by which to measure how profoundly we have been changed since Inauguration Day, here’s one you might want to consider:

In January of 1998, reports surfaced of a sexual affair between President Bill Clinton and a 24-year-old White House intern. It would mushroom into the biggest story of the year.

In January of 2018, reports surfaced of an alleged payoff by lawyers for the present president to silence a porn star from talking about their alleged sexual affair. It wasn’t even the biggest story of the day.

You’d be hard-pressed to find a more visceral illustration of how our sensibilities have been bludgeoned into submission in the last year. Surprises no longer surprise. Shocks no longer shock. We have bumped up against the limits of human bandwidth and find ourselves unable to take it all in.

One simply cannot keep up with, much less respond with proper outrage to, all of this guy’s scandals, bungles, blame-shifting, name-calling and missteps, his sundry acts of mendacity, misanthropy, perversity and idiocy. It’s like trying to fill a teacup from Niagara Falls. It’s like trying to read the internet.

One year later, we’ve seen a procession of feuds that would impress a Hatfield, a McCoy or a ’90s rapper, running beefs with Mitch Connell, Elizabeth Warren, Bob Corker, Jeff Flake, Jeff Sessions, Dick Durbin, Colin Kaepernick, James Comey, Joe Scarborough, Mika Brzezinski, CNN, The New York Times and reality, to name just a few.

One year later, the man who promised to “work so hard” for the American people is setting new standards for presidential laziness, a short workday, hours of television and endless golf.

One year later, the man who bragged of having “the best words” has pundits parsing the difference between “s-house” and “s-hole” as descriptors of Africa, El Salvador and Haiti.

One year later, the man who asked African-Americans “what the hell” they had to lose by voting for him, is praised by tiki-torch-wielding white supremacists — “very fine people,” he says — and his name is chanted as a racist taunt by white mobs.

One year later, we live in a state of perpetual nuclear standoff, a Cuban Missile Crisis that never ends.

But hey, at least the stock market is doing well. It did well under President Obama, too, but nobody seems to remember that.

Not that a bull market mitigates — or even addresses — the sense of ongoing upheaval, of constant chaos, that have become our new American norm. This guy is flat-out exhausting.

Give him this much, though. He has banished apathy, made fools of those people who once declared with pontifical certitude that we should “blow up” the system and said voting didn’t matter because there was no difference between the parties. More, he’s galvanized a powerful resistance that has claimed upset victories from Alabama to Wisconsin and left Gumby-spined Republicans looking over their shoulders. That resistance might even save this country, assuming the guy leaves us anything to save.

All this better fits the president as suffering from a personality disorder, not one experiencing cognitive deficits. Pitts concludes:

If that sounds bleak, well, that’s where we stand. Indeed, one year later, both our despair and our hope are encompassed in the same five syllables.

One down. Three to go.