Wednesday, May 25, 2011
Tuesday, May 24, 2011
Friday, May 20, 2011
Noyes is one of 103 public schools here that have had erasure rates that surpassed D.C. averages at least once since 2008. That's more than half of D.C. schools.
Thursday, May 19, 2011
Tuesday, May 17, 2011
Monday, May 16, 2011
Wednesday, May 11, 2011
- Expanding charter schools that are often run by for-profit companies – Call me crazy but I’m in favor of kids receiving a good education. And I’ve definitely seen charter schools that provide a better education than most public schools. There is a reason charters have such a large share of the students in DC. Yes, just like some public schools are good and some are bad, some charters are good and some are bad. The good news is failing charter schools can be shut down easily, or at least should be. In terms of the charter-traditional debate…who cares? Whoever serves the students the best works for me. As for the for-profit companies running the schools; I say if you can provide a high quality education to a bunch of kids, it is free for the kids, you don’t require a private school style application and you can make money from it, more power to you. Way to be the best kind of capitalist there is. And if you try and fail then the city or district or state who hired you should do the right thing and fire you.
- Increasing the use of standardized tests that are sold to schools by private firms – You mean like the SAT? Or the AP tests? Or the ACT? Or IB? Or the LSAT? Or the MCAT? Did I miss something here? I’ve already said a little bit about how I feel about standardized tests. But the private profit thing…I never realized that engaging in business was such a bad thing. Michelle Rhee didn’t invent standardized tests or testing companies. Her issues of choice aren’t even the issues keeping those companies in the black. Look at the suburbs, look at the best schools in the country including the private ones and tell me if standardized testing plays a major role there. There are absolutely companies taking advantage of a huge market for testing and making a big profit. Once again, I’m pretty sure that is a side effect of capitalism. And pretending that standardized tests are evil extensions of profiteering corporations seems a little…I’m not even sure what. People are entitled to their beliefs. But try getting into the Ivy League without a good SAT score. I’m pretty sure Harvard arrived on the scene before Kaplan. Those standardized tests aren’t just a money maker for companies. They are the currency that our education system uses for just about everything and everything isn’t all bad, not all good either, but not all bad.
- Supporting the use of public money for use as private school tuition – Now here is an example of something I don’t agree with. But I can see why people would be in favor of school vouchers. In fact, there has been a lot of debate here in DC on this very topic. There are pretty good arguments on both sides. In my mind one of the reasons vouchers aren’t a great solution is because if they were scaled up enough to impact a lot of students it would just shift the same problems we see in public schools to private schools but with less oversight. Plus, last time I checked, the current research on vouchers is a little wishy-washy. I don’t think it would ever lead to “privatizing public schools” on the level of actually threatening public schools as we know them. But strictly speaking school vouchers could be considered a form of privatizing public schools. I just don’t see it as one of the long term consequences of vouchers.
Monday, May 9, 2011
Thursday, May 5, 2011
The essential part about standardized tests are that by their very nature they are not especially difficult. They are geared towards standards that most children should be passing with ease. They are a blunt instrument that measures whether children are achieving even the most basic skills required to progress in our society. Students not passing standardized tests is unacceptable because generally speaking that means you can't read and we are failing.
Yglesias' post mentions how high the functional illiteracy rate is in Detroit. DC also suffers from a shockingly high functional illiteracy rate. Students who are not functionally literate cannot pass standardized tests, including the math portions. I would venture a guess that not doing well on standardized tests correlates highly with not going to college and diminished earning power throughout life. Because that's what happens when someone can't read and it is a tragedy.
When people throw standardized tests under the bus they cite low expectations, not encouraging students to be creative, being unfair to children who just aren't great test takers. All those are probably legitimate to a certain extent. But if we were all doing our jobs they would be irrelevant. Standardized tests are only a big deal because of the extent to which we fail at educating our students. When people talk about standardized testing not really measuring anything they are talking from the perspective of someone who is worried about the difference between the 60th percentile and the 90th. What standardized tests and NCLB are actually useful for is finding out where the 0-30 percentile is and targeting those children as the ones who need to learn to read right now or be damned to a life without options.
Are standardized tests a panacea? Like everything in education the answer is no. But it is naive to think they don't play an important role and that they don't provide a legitimate benchmark in our lowest performing schools. Nothing drives me crazy like someone telling me a school with 30% proficiency is actually a good school despite the test scores. Maybe that school is moving in the right direction but until everyone can read well enough to move the proficiency into the 80s or 90s it isn't a good school. Think about going into a school and picking four children at random. How heartbreaking would it be if one of them couldn't read? What about if two couldn't read? What about three? What if it was in high school?
Tuesday, May 3, 2011
Before today 99% of my experience with political hearings came from DC Council and DC Public Schools. Today I went to Attorney General Eric Holder’s oversight hearing with the House Judiciary Committee. I was there to show some solidarity with my fellow online poker players who now don’t have a game to play. And yes, the Poker Player Alliance gave me a t-shirt for showing up.
I mention the t-shirt because once upon a time I attended Michelle Rhee’s oversight hearing with DC Council and there were people wearing t-shirts, protesting some of her decisions. Back then I honestly didn’t pay too much attention to the t-shirt wearers. I already knew their stance, had already heard their voices and already knew they weren’t going to get what they wanted. But they showed up in their t-shirts to make a statement, to be seen, to show that they were united, just as I did today. Of course, the House Judiciary made us take our t-shirts off, no protests, even silent ones, during committee hearings apparently.
Truth be told even before I went I knew the hearing would not change anything in my life, not poker or anything else. But it was something to do, an action to take. And it was very interesting seeing something I’d only experienced in support of the person giving testimony and never as an audience member who wasn’t well versed in all the issues. I thought about the prep work Eric Holder had put in, recognized the dodges, the bristles at personal barbs made by grandstanding politicians (honest grandstanding and not), and the desire to explain and make clear the nuances of some issues and decisions that are far more complicated and difficult than they may appear at first glance.
The big takeaway was a takeaway I already knew. Hearings don’t solve problems or answer questions. Just like the t-shirt wearers from my past, I was powerless at this hearing. My issue was one of twenty that were discussed. The venue was wrong for creating change. The tactics used by myself and my t-shirt wearing new friends were wrong if our intention was to actually do something. The politicians who did bring up our issues weren’t briefed well enough to ask the questions in the right way. Eric Holder was not especially knowledgeable about the poker issue because his priorities rightfully lie elsewhere.
In terms of advocacy we had failed, a blip on the radar of everyone in the room except the youngest of interns excited to see politics up close. In terms of our own psychology I suppose we had probably won because we had done something, we had shown up, fought the good fight albeit quietly and without our t-shirts on.
The thing is I felt very similarly to how I felt about many advocates during my days in public education. I truly appreciated the information, the reality check, the feedback and even sometimes the thank you’s. I always felt good when I got to help someone. But what I grew tired of, what wore me down even as I worked really hard to keep my faith, was empty gestures and empty criticism. I wanted to scream at people that if they spent as much time thinking about solutions and helping me, and my colleagues, do things the right way as they did yelling at me and complaining about how everything I did was wrong, we might actually get somewhere. Especially because so many times I was screwing up and I did need to change something or improve something and I needed someone to help me do it. But legitimate voices were easily drowned out and it became hard for me to tell the difference between a problem I needed to jump in and solve and a problem that wasn’t a problem at all.
The really hard part is just about everyone’s heart is in the right place. Everyone is pushing their agenda because they think it is important. But with so much noise it is easy to forget that showing up at a hearing in coordinated t-shirts is not a victory, it is not an end, it is not anything except showing up. If you are pushing real solutions and pushing those solutions in a meaningful and thoughtful way, in a way where even your worst adversaries are able to listen, then you are a true activist, making the world a better place. Anything else and you are just as much a part of the recurring mess that you are trying to clean up as anyone else is. It doesn’t make you a bad person. It just means the world isn’t getting fixed.
Monday, May 2, 2011
- the Department of Justice violated both legal precedent and legislative intent through their interpretation and enforcement of US gambling law.
- the DoJ's actions are essentially without checks.
- the political climate surrounding online poker tends to be one based on dishonest assessments of issues and shameless pandering to people's fears.
- the intentions of the DoJ remain unclear but they failed to solve any of the problems mentioned as reasons to ban online poker
- the online poker mess has cost the US government billions of dollars over the past five years in lost tax revenue, licensing fees and trade concessions