When is Insurance for Dependents a Bad Idea?

In a recent social media discussion about the adoption of Alaska HB23, “Creating a fund in the Department of Public Safety; providing for payment of certain medical insurance premiums for surviving dependents of certain peace officers or firefighters who die in the line of duty; relating to contributions from permanent fund dividends to the peace officer and firefighter survivors’ fund; and providing for an effective date”, Andy Holman (past Anchorage Education Association President and presently Anchorage School Board Member) stated, “Way too long coming.” While I am typically a fan of Representative Andrew Josephson (the bill’s primary sponsor), this bill was and will continue to prove to be, a mistake.

The Bureau of Labor Statistic’s “Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries” tells us that there are as many job related teacher deaths as there are job related fire department deaths [OK, I will come clean about the appropriate consideration of the BLS data below]. Does that mean that Andrew will soon be fast-tracking a similar bill for teachers? Somehow I think not.

One can dramatize the situation as much as one wishes, but where there are as many occupational fatalities among teachers as among firefighters, the actuarial impact on their families is THE SAME. In fact, in many schools teachers DO walk towards the fire, as it were, but I don’t think we should be ensuring health care coverage because of the nature of the job someone is doing (even if we misperceive the dangers inherent in that job because we are emotionally involved), but because it is the right thing to do.

But we should back up a bit and ask first why this was necessary, or more importantly, whether there was some way to avoid the unforeseen consequences presented by the bill, while still providing health care for the families of deceased firefighters and cops. And that means answering the question, “Why is it that legislators supposed that firefighters could not provide for medical insurance premiums for an eligible surviving spouse or dependent child through an IRA, life insurance, or related instrument?” And if such options were available (and they were), instead of carving exceptions into state law, wouldn’t it have made more sense to transition state medical care to health trusts, and allow the health trust to provide such services until the covered parties are otherwise eligible?

All persons covered under this bill would already be entitled to COBRA  (which, at a cost no more than 105% of the existing premium, provides for continuation of coverage on the occurrence of a qualifying event, like death of the policyholder).  All employees through whom coverage would be realized through this bill are also provided or offered life insurance. The longest that COBRA would have to be paid for would be 18 years, the time it would take an infant to reach majority (26 if we want to look at current insurance “standards” for parental coverage). A rational response to this situation might well be to provide adequate life insurance or similar instrument that would cover COBRA or alternative.  The cost for such insurance would be about $50/month. Yes, I said $50/mo.

The demonstration above gives rise to the possibility that some are seeking to “double-dip” based on milking an emotive response. How is it “double-dipping”? The covered employee class already negotiates for a salary and benefits based on their “heroic” status (walking towards the fire, as it is argued). Stripped bear of the chest beating, we are really talking about a way to avoid asking the employer for an additional $50/month, or more to the point, moving part of the employment cost away from the employer directly (but as we might expect, this will have an indirect effect on dollars available for other purposes, and the current situation, where the Senate Majority is unwilling to adequately fund education in the State, is just one example). So the fireman gets paid on the basis of his heroism, and then we also provide additional remuneration (off the books, as it were, on the same basis), while denying that benefit to every other public employee.

The fact of the matter is that whatever the reason for the loss of the employee’s life, it will result in the loss of medical benefits for their dependents, and that will present a family crisis to a family already in crisis. No responsible family member would leave his or her family in such a precarious position, so we really have to assume that all such persons are already implementing a solution such as described above. The issue, then, is not really providing the tools for coverage, but providing additional benefits to one occupation, not provided to another occupation on the basis of something other than risk of occupational fatality for that occupation. That, to be blunt, is an emotional response that carves exceptions with unforeseen consequences and promotes making non-data driven decisions.

An emotive response should have nothing to do with the need to make sure that the families of anyone who dies on the job retain their health insurance until otherwise covered. By emotive response I am referencing the perception that someone deserves something “extra” because of the perceived nature of the risk, despite whatever the stats might reveal about the actual risk, the actual risk being determine actuarially. As noted, public safety personnel negotiate compensation on the basis of the risk they experience (one of the reasons people argue about the fact that the job is less risky than people like you believe) – and we should not promote this “double dipping”  while the employee could provide for family coverage on the employee’s death.

But teachers? Look, if you want to reward public safety personnel for being “heroes”  that is fine (though remember, you are also doing that when they negotiate for pay), but I (and thousands of others) think that teachers are heroes too. If you really want to extend benefits based on heroism, your policy should be based on actual risk, and the actual risk is far from your perceptions of the risk.

When comparing US schools to Finnish, the difference, again and again, comes back to Disrespect that the population holds for teachers, and the ramification of that disrespect eventually “blossoms”. In addressing teacher victimization, the American Psychological Association states:

According to the U.S. Department of Education, from 2011-12 , approximately:

  • 20% of public school teachers reported being verbally abused.
  • 10% reported being physically threatened.
  • 5% reported being physically attacked in schools.

From 1997-2001 1.3 million nonfatal crimes (including 473,000 violent crimes) were committed against America’s teachers.

Yes,  the fatal injury rate is actually some 5 times greater for firefighters than for teachers (the rate for firefighters is 4 per 100,000 full-time equivalent workers) but the rate for firefighters is still a third of that for bus drivers! The point I am trying to make is that actuarially the fatal injury rate for firemen is actually lower than many other possible public employee sectors, so to single out a sector with a lower rate for extra benefits is emotional and not data driven, and as such would also arguably inappropriate public policy.  It would make more sense, I suppose, to use the occupational fatality rate as a multiplier to address public subsidy for COBRA or some such.




I think instead of this law, which is a mistake, the families should have clearly identified the cost of life insurance necessary for COBRA for 18 (or 26) years and negotiated for that. In the alternative, the legislature should have made the coverage available to everyone, which is to say, instead of me, me, we should be talking about us us 😉 And, of course, instead of trying to kill the health trusts functioning so well in this State, the State should be promoting the expansion and networking of such trusts. At that point we have coherent policy that mets the long range needs of Alaska residents. What we have now is a poor knee-jerk emotional response to what is really a non-problem, and legislation that really does need to be adopted as been sidelined instead.



In our post-abusive all-inclusive society, it appears that we may have neglected to address the needs of a specific demographic that is now crying out in need.  Yes, I am talking about the MOC’d, the Morbidly Obese Challenged. You see these people every day. They are the ones who have no trouble sitting in chairs, manage to walk through doors (even two at a time in some cases), and have clothes not covered with crumbs. Yes, you may have stopped your snickering, and you may have ceased talking about these people behind their backs, but do you really know how they suffer.

It is high time we had a frank discussion of some of the typical accommodations that are necessary to make the MOC’d feel part of the group, and to get the ball rolling I am going to talk about the three “ph”s: Food, Fat, and Physicality.

Go to any corporate training program anywhere in the country and you will find, of course, a table laden with the carbohydrates most of us need to stay bulked up (let’s face it, it’s not easy to keep yourself morbidly obese if you have to manage that without the help of biological assistance).  While we are accustomed to the constant movement of our compatriots back and forth to the table, and to the constant chomping, crunching, grinding and general snorfling that accompany this tide of bodies, the MOC’s are seriously disturbed by the sound and fury of our social mandate.  What to do? I really think this can be addressed through technology! Assistive devices can provide audio filtering, as well as narrow visual focus and directional cues for when the MOC person is tempted to look away from the presenter.

We all know, of course, that fat (we call it blubber in our marine cousins) provides an effective thermal barrier to environmental temperatures, and that we require constant cooling to address the insulating layers we proudly bear. Unfortunately, our MOC’d colleagues become agitated when asked to deal with a 5 knot breeze in the conference room, or with 55F temperatures.  Here again, I see no great challenge as the problem is quickly solved with a few extra articles of clothing, and as a side benefit, the parka offers lots of pockets! I almost wish I could wear one!

More problematic is that MOC’d persons take offense at the perceived intrusions into their “personal space” they claim by the rest of us. They get all purple in the face if our butts bump them, go pale if our boobs hit them, and start screaming if their materials are nudged on to the floor because they were not adequately anchored. Many would simply argue that the best thing to do is find the little snowflakes a “safe place” at the back of the class where they can stay. We know, however, that such arrangements are inappropriate – separate but equal is no longer the law! But I believe there IS a solution.  Some of you may have heard about Bubble Football!

That’s the key! All we need to do is provide the MOC with a bubble suit! In fact, we could laminate the bubble with solar panel material and use that to power the audio and video accommodations. Additional, the bubble would also likely alleviate the need for additional clothing, so it would become an all-in-one wholly self-contained accommodation.

Yes, this IS a Brave New World, and thankfully, we are really well equipped to deal with it.

Save Us This Day, From Edumacators

I could not resist purchasing this (rewritten Third Edition addressing the dramatic changes in education since 1950) in no small part because I was laughing so hard at UAA Instructors advising students not to use Wikipedia in composing answers to short answer/identification questions on take home finals (as if they were going to find usable answers in the horrendous texts employed, or the equally useless lecture notes afforded to the students ). The book was waiting for me on the UAA Consortium Library cast-offs cart for the stated price of $.25 and, as I said, I could not (would not) resist.

From quoting Commager, “No other people ever demanded so much of education as have the American. None other was ever served so well by its schools and educators” (93), the book moves to more realistic appraisals of the issues education in the U.S. face.

No agency but the school can provide the systemic, disciplined intellectual training required. This is, and always has been, the primary, indispensable funtion of the school. The nation is betrayed if the school shirks this responsbility or subordinates it to any other aim, however worthy in itself. The school exists to provide intellectual training, in every field of activity where systematic thinking is an important component of success * * * [but]  [a]n increasing number of public schools administrators and educational theorists today refuse to define the purposes of the school in terms of intellectual training or of recognized disciplines of science and scholarship (103, misciting Bestor, the cite for which can be found below ).

And Bestor’s take?  Well….

An inkling of what the educators mean ·when they propose to bring the great issues of public life down tb the level of what they call the “real-life problems of youth” is afforded by an elaborate report on The SchoolJ and National Security, which the Illinois Curriculum Program has recently published. The first task of the social studies, according to the d1apter devoted to them, is to “reduce the tensions and meet the needs of children and youth.” There are some starry-eyed promises about developing “a constructively critical attitude toward foreign policy” among pupils who, of. course, are not to be burdened with any useless knowledge of history or geography or foreign languages. And when the report gets down to specific classroom work, it solemnly sug­gests that the schools can serve the nation in its present, hour of peril by asking its students to “make studies of how the last war affected the dating pattern in our culture.”

But perhaps the best way to approach the book is its review in Educational Leadership via Lewis Carroll.

One who seeks definitive answers to educational problems may he disap­pointed in this book. One who seeks an organized departure point for thinking through many of the issues of secondary education will find this source very help­ful. Unlike the discussion of curriculum in Alice in Wonderland, this text deals with Modern Secondary Education in a realistic, straightforward, practical man­ner. And, as the Gryphon said in a very decided tone to Alice, “That’s enough about lessons.”

Maybe we have something to learn from Alexander and Saylor?

Alexander, William M., and J. Galen Saylor. Modern Secondary Education: Basic Principles and Practices. New York: Rinehart, 1959.
Bestor Jr., Arthur E. “Anti-Intellectualism in the Schools.” New Republic 128, no. 3 (January 19, 1953): 11. http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=pwh&AN=14557231&site=pov-live.
Bishop, Leslee. “Significant Books: Modern Secondary Education.” Educational Leadership 17, no. 4 (January 1960): 257–258. Accessed May 2, 2017. http://www.ascd.org/publications/educational-leadership/jan60/vol17/num04/toc.aspx.

When is Racism Not Racism?

Recently I read where a friend argued that “voluntary racism” was not problematic:

It’s the Hegelian dialectic. Thesis (Forced Association); Antithesis (Free Association); Synthesis (Elective Affinities). What people voluntarily do as a matter of choice is infinitely preferable to compliant submission to authoritarian order. The first produces ontological dynamism; the second, ontological stasis. Adaptation requires a dynamic selection process and is essential to survival. Voluntary segregation is only superficially analogous to forced segregation. Therefore, while you assert a circular deconstruction of civil rights because of voluntary segregation, your assertion is invalid for the reasons outlined above.

This was sparked by the news that “California State University Los Angeles recently rolled out segregated housing for black students.”

But I have to ask whether your “voluntary segregation” isn’t tantamount to forcing segregation on me, because when all of you decide to be segregated, it means there are none of you with whom I may exist, which is forced segregation on me.

In essence it would appear that you deny the existence of de facto segregation, arguing a binary of involuntary versus voluntary segregation, the involuntary segregation being sole a matter of de jure segregation which is unrelated to the whims of the population. Of course, the reality of the situation is that de jure segregation is simply a reflection of de facto (voluntary) segregation, i. e. practices established by a group “voluntarily” segregating themselves such that others know where they cannot be 😉

To put it another way, if “whites”, whatever that is, decide to voluntarily segregate, then you are suggesting that they may in fact bar “others” from participating. Otherwise, how does one argue for the “voluntary segregation” of one group, and against the “voluntary segregation” of another?

It seems to me that this boils down to what in common parlance is known as the “have your cake and eat it too” fallacy, named after the famed statement that Marie Antoinette never made…. But perhaps more important it begs the definition of racism and segregation. Both terms focus on discriminating among people based on their race, race being a rather loose and bizarre term that, when all is said and done, is often argued to really mean “different than us”.  In other words, segregation is ALWAYS going to run up against the concept of “voluntary association”, and practically speaking if government represents the will of the people there is little practical difference between voluntary segregation and governmental segregation.

Of course, we should not single out universities looking to safeguard student psyches. screen-shot-2016-09-09-at-3-11-27-pmHere in Alaska we have an entire medical industry that is limited to serving only one race (Senator Stevens wanted to provide insurance for Natives instead of racially discrete services, but was shot down over his views by Natives).  In fact, signs at the entrance to the Native Hospital state that they are only for Native Elders (apparently non-Native Elders aren’t allowed to park there.) And don’t the same concerns arise with respect to voluntary segregation as to sex, creed, and national origin?

No, this is not going to end in an attack on Affirmative Action. Nor is it an attempt to delegitimize the perspectives of Cornell West’s Race Matters or the Black Panthers’ Manifesto. But I am concerned that in our desperation to be different, we are actually promoting racism, and that we can do without.

In 1954 Justice Warren stated in Brown vs Board of Education,

We conclude that, in the field of public education, the doctrine of “separate but equal” has no place. Separate educational facilities are inherently unequal. Therefore, we hold that the plaintiffs and others similarly situated for whom the actions have been brought are, by reason of the segregation complained of, deprived of the equal protection of the laws guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment. This disposition makes unnecessary any discussion whether such segregation also violates the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.

Segregation, the Court found  “generates a feeling of inferiority as to their status in the community that may affect their hearts and minds in a way unlikely ever to be undone.” And someday, some day soon, a white child is going to ask, “Why can’t I go to that school?”

SB174 | An Open Letter to the Alaska House Judiciary Committee

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I apparently (and unfortunately) missed the discussion in the House (and Senate) education committees on the intersection of SB174 and the Gun Free School Zones Act of 1990 as amended by theScreen Shot 2016-04-12 at 7.47.50 AM Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act of 1968 (and interpreted by the 9th Circuit).

As I read the Act, it would prohibit firearms, for example, in most of UAA’s West Campus (in as much as UAA property is not “private” property and lies within 1000 feet of a series of public schools (Lake Otis Elementary and KCC).

It seems pretty clear that there needs to be an extended fiscal note to address the full and true cost of this legislation, from the hundreds of thousands the Legislative Council would have to spend to attempt to challenge the federal Act, to the hundreds of thousands that the University system has indicated it will take to implement the Bill (should it be adopted over the objections of the UA system.)

Of course, there are other questions besides those of a pecuniary nature. For example, how will UA students know when they are in a Gun Free School Zone, and what might happen when Law Enforcement attempts to apprehend a person on UA campus in possession of a firearm within such a School Zone. Is the Legislature going to try and bar APD, AST, and the FBI from enforcing federal law on UA property? And how would the legislature actually manage that. Of course, it gets messier by the minute, because with a right to stand one’s ground and make a citizen’s arrest, it is only a matter of time before we have a shoot-out on West Campus, with stray bullets whizzing through elementary classroom windows. Yes, I am sure that all those Lake Otis students will feel much safe with the adoption of SB174 (though I am concerned that some unpatriotic bozos might well try to set up a defensive perimeter at the extent of the Gun Free School Zone and man that perimeter with armed guards – some people!)

While I do understand that the House majority is willing to invest time and energy in any proposition that avoids addressing the critical need to adopt at least a 15% nominal top rate graduated income tax, I am sure that in your eagerness to promote your legislative agenda you will, as always, act diligently, rationally and deliberately to address ALL the ramifications of such legislation, and, in the event that you don’t manage that, at least make it clear how you are going to fund both sides of the extended litigation and havoc you will otherwise be creating.

Marc Grober

Champs (or Chumps?)

Contrary to the claims of success made in this March 22nd Press Release  no programming implemented by anyone has been demonstrated to have a direct impact on childhood obesity in Anchorage. In fact, as the CDC Report data (such as they are revealed) indicate, during the target window obesity actually increased and any changes were likely random and insignificant.

I suppose the niggling bit is how ASD and the State expects to retain the respect of its students when it is publishing such nonsense. Here we are, telling students they need to be critical thinkers, while we peddle porridge suitable for Little Effie and the Hollow Men.

On the other hand, I was very impressed with the work Trey Coker did with NANA. Granted that it was a corporate attempt to buy “hearts and minds”, but it also dramatically impacted obesity by simply radically increasing activity. In comparison, the policy initiatives engaged in by the State and District had the actual effect of increasing caloric density at the vending machines and eventually reducing the funds available for increasing activity.

I am certainly concerned about childhood obesity, but I would have rather seen a press release that told the truth about where we are, than engage in such shallow attempted manipulation of data to argue success of dubious programs (and that heralded “success” means that we won’t change tactics!) Any high school Stats student could run down why the conclusions in this paper (let alone the press release based upon it) are laughable, and yet they are peddled to the public much like we were sold “Mission Accomplished”.

Yes, the reliance on p values has been decried in the academic literature. Yes, the confidence intervals render the results almost laughable. Yes, the variation makes Screen Shot 2016-03-23 at 8.13.35 AMany trend line likely an artifact. Yes, the text descriptions, looking at percentage change over base, as opposed to percentage no longer obese, is misleading. Yes, BMI is not an accurate gauge of obesity. And yes, there is no evidence that ANY of the strategies applauded was in fact causally related to any change in the weight of any student.

But, how could anyone engage in selling this hooey to students with a straight face? Do we really think our kids don’t know this is make-believe, or are we in such dire straits that in fact, our kids are just as foolish as their parents?

Has The Old Man of the Forest Gone FEEble

Screen Shot 2014-08-19 at 8.42.28 PMWell, maybe I have, and I should probably explore this further in a blog post, but for now I will share a few thoughts. A recent HuffPo piece (I know; why does anyone read that horrid crap) by some sniveling snot (Matthew Fray who whines at length on his own blog) suggests that his wife left him not because she was irrational over his insistence on leaving his glass on the counter, but because his insistence revealed that he had no respect for his beloved.  Really. This old fart’s response?

Get a grip! This poor whipped kid thinks that he should do what his wife wanted because she wanted it, instead of doing what he wanted. Forget the umpteen thousand other things he did for her. Sorry – I am not going to wash my glass because I drank out of it, and it will sit by the sink where I set it. Maybe, just maybe, his obsessive (ex-)wife should have loosened up just a bit, instead of following him around and turning lights off…. It’s a two way street, and if you want to spend your interpersonal “currency” on where the dishes go, then you have real problems…. this joker is well off shot of his ex. Now let the claims of misogyny roll in

I don’t have to kowtow to someone because they obsess about something. It is always a two way street, and maybe, just maybe, she should understand that “he’s fighting for acknowledgment, respect, validation, and his love” as well, and it’s not about leaving the glass on the counter?

While The Gift of the Magi is in fact one of my favorite O’Henry stories, the practical result of the piece is that the family screwed itself for “love” because they could not effectively communicate. A relationship needs communication more than it needs silent sacrifice.

There! <shudder>I did a Skwire, lol!</shudder> Mea culpa, mea maxima culpa, yes, but let’s face it, the possessions sacrificed, as well as the gifts purchased in the story clearly had value, and the couple clearly had very little beyond that.  It is all very good for the 1% to to romanticize about love, but the couple flushed virtually everything they had down the old toilet. Yes, yes, their love is far more precious than feeble trinkets, but that is not the question here. The question here is whether effective interpersonal communication could have brought them to the same juncture without the sacrifice of the family fortune (while unfortunately depriving us of a fine piece of literature).


Lisbeth Zwerger’s illustrations for “Gift of the Magi”

I understand that the woo crowd are going to scream, “You have missed the whole point you hormonal moron!” But I think not.  I get maudlin over the story just like I am sure Mr. Fray might.  But the lesson is NOT just that love is more valuable than trinkets. The lesson (though clearly NOT the lesson the master was intending to serve up) is that the couple were so self-involved in their obsessions that they failed to communicate at all, causing what amounts to a tragedy (as well as the joyful discovery the author celebrates). Money is certainly not everything, but one does not get on without it. Fairy tales celebrating poverty are just what FEE peddles, so I think you should lay that accusation at someone else’s door.

OK, if you want to think I have gone over to the dark side, you are entitled to your thoughts, but for me, being self-involved over you want, and being self-involved in Screen Shot 2016-01-29 at 9.02.27 AMwhat you think another wants, are two sides of the same bad penny.  You are never going to work things out with “knowing glances”, no matter what Cosmo tells you.

Frankly, Father Oleska (Oleska still teaches a State required cross-cultural education class that promotes deferent communications styles and the inherent value of non-verbal-ness) and the entire non-verbal feminine communication crowd can go chat with themselves in their taciturn stillness for all I care. I am for Horton, who meant what he said and  said what he meant (even if his creator, Theodor Geisel, was attacked for being a misogynist).  The rest of you can go suffer in silence.

The Making of a Mole Hill

The paper of record for the largest urban center in Alaska had as the major front page story (click to link to the first of the three) for three days running a feature about how a purported pregnant Meth head was helped back on to the straight and narrow by an innovative nursing program.

Of course, as the story runs its course one discovers that the young lady is still abusing drugs, is really not caring for the child much of the day, and is not on the street only because she has her hooks in her high school boyfriend (who she dumped apparently for an abusive guy who was also a dog-beater, and a guy some years her senior who managed to knock her up.)

The denizens of the paddock see this as a feel good story (Praise Jesus!) though these are the same folk who bad mouth “libtards” over “welfare”. But I want to talk not about morons who dot the Alaskan landscape, but about the fact that the paper of record is pandering to this crowd by running an atrociously written heart-string plucker above the fold on the front page.

I commented on just the most obvious of the problems with the story, and was immediately savaged by the maroon army, which could not distinguish between criticism of the writer (Boots), her editors, and her publisher, and the young lady who was featured in the story. And this is where the bald tire meet the pot-holed road. It is the pack mentality that we see, whether in the followers of this saccharine tale, or in the sycophants of the local “liberal” harpy. There is no room for analytical thinking among today’s social networks; if you do not subscribe to the party line you are a “troll” and subject to what amounts to virtual stoning.

Yes,  it was very clear that Boots was not engaging in “journalism”; she was playing fast and loose with the facts for the purposes of, well, a cynic would say selling newspapers, wouldn’t he? And, to be fair, there were quite a few people who approved of my comments, even one who had the temerity to post that I was right in raising my concerns, but the overwhelming voice of the ADN readership agreed that I am a nosy troll.

Well, I suppose I might be a nosy troll, but that does not really have much to do at all with the fact that the writing in this story is terrible and certainly there is no place on the front page of a newspaper for this kind of writing (it certainly is not news, and calling it journalism would be a slap in the face to real journalists everywhere.)

And more importantly, while the local paper is running this burlesque show (full half page photo of her actually delivering, while the folk in the Valley are trying to keep Sherman Alexie books out of the hands of teenagers) it’s not like there is no news to report. The local District of 50,000 students has no Superintendent, is in budgetary crisis (as is the State, whose legislature soon convenes), and is graduating students who can’t read and write, while the Mayor is playing fast and loose with public transit and developers, the cops won’t talk about real community policing (no car, no coverage), and if you say marijuana three times someone’s head nearby will explode.  Not to mention we need data on Medicaid expansion, specifics on the viability of various income tax regimes, and the scoop on why BigOil has not jumped up to help Alaska’s bottom line, now that the projections of the glorious returns on putting BigOil in charge of tax policy have rung hollow.

But wait, there’s more!

The humorous bit is that right on the heels of this rolling feature, the ADN actually did a rather comprehensive story on a small CAP plane that flew into a downtown office building. No massaging of information, all possible sources pursued, no outrageous claims or appeals to sentiment.  Of course, the comments from the ADN peanut gallery include attacks on the paper by the well known “liberal” harpy, Shannyn Moore who shrieked,

Sick. Sickest story by people who forgot who Alaskans are. Even if Kate wasn’t the finest attorney in Alaska she wouldn’t deserve this ambush. You have to get up early to make her day harder than her husband already did. But, hey. You actually made her day worse than a suicide by plane into her place of work. My guess is the Alaska Press Club will give an award. That’s about all they are good for.

And, of course, given the fact that Moore apparently considers herself a journalist (so many Alaska are delusional, regardless of purported political perspective) her remarks are at best sophomoric,  but then, that’s what she does best (I have remarked on this in the past, e. g.  http://opinion.alaskapolicy.net/pardonme/?p=374 and http://opinion.alaskapolicy.net/pardonme/?p=226 ).

Damned if you do, damned if you don’t.


Comment thread

Merwyn Ambrose How about a news story, as in what happened to this girl’s father? Is he still alive and if so why does the young lady indicate she was raised by her aunt? If her aunt did raise her, how much money was she paid to raise the child? Did this girl graduate high school, and if not, why not? What has this girl been doing since 2012, and what was the reaction of her family members? The father of the girl’s child has been her boyfriend for years; is he the same person who she says she escaped from? Why should this girl be allowed to keep a baby when she clearly is incapable of caring for herself? How much drugs and alcohol was she doing when the child was conceived and is it likely the child will suffer from that abuse? How is it that the girl became pregnant in the first place?

Jill Neff Ummmm. Sex?

Juanita Hernandez Guerrero Why can’t people like you just be happy for others???

Danielle Marie Because there are questions you’re asking that are absolutely nobody’s business. She became pregnant the same way everyone does, obviously. The rest of your questions have zero bearing on this story, or your life, and don’t need to be asked by or answered to the general public. Mind your business and just be happy someone is helping this girl to become a responsible mother. If she’s not on drugs now there’s no reason to take that baby away or to ask any other questions. Sheesh. Nosey.

Merwyn Ambrose lol, this was front page of my newspaper, and the focus of the story was this young lady whose history is only partially recounted so that the story makes feature reading. What any newspaper reader would want to know (you should find your dime novels at the library) is why this young lady is in the circumstances she is, and what we might learn from the circumstances. Moreover, since we are likely going to have to support this young lady for some time, and she feels that she wants to share her story, questions about whether she has any certainty about paternity, as well as questions as to the financial support she is already receiving from the father (if really known) are certainly germane.

Ian Demello It’s part one of a multiple part story, I’m sure in the near future your nosey ass will get all the details!

Merwyn Ambrose I am gratified you are worried about my ass, Ian. Unfortunately, I am not sanguine regarding your anticipation. In the meantime, I am glad that you are one of very few supporter of Medicaid Expansion on the Kenai smile emoticon

Merwyn Ambrose Jill Neff implant? IUD? Or do the good folk of the KPBSD feel that sex ed is inappropriate for KCH students wink emoticon

Danielle Marie The questions about how much her aunt was paid is irrelevant. So is the question about if or why she might not have graduated high school. And asking about her family members reactions. Irrelevant and unnecessary questions that don’t need to be answere…See More

Merwyn Ambrose ahhhh…. feel good stories are not front page news, and in my paper it appears as front page news, so all the questions are germane. Especially in Alaska where a significant portion of the population is very exercised about Medicaid Expansion, lol. Frankly, the author of the story fails in any way to address how her society so failed her that she abused the fetus she is carrying.

Becky Westbrook Are you kidding me? So what if she did drugs in the past. I know many moms who have had rough lives that managed to turn their lives around despite their circumstances & overcame their obstacles & cleaned up their acts. They became wonderful working strong mothers. I have no doubts this young lady can do what what many choose not too. She’s already making those changes & frankly unless you’ve walked in her shoes get off your high horse & stop judging.

Danielle Marie I don’t see it as abuse of the fetus if she started the addiction prior to conception then quit the drugs after discovering her pregnancy.

Gina Whitlock Because it’s not her life path we are judging it’s how we are helping her as a community fix it for the better!

Ian Demello Mariahs mother died when she was a toddler, her aunt took her and her brother in without thinking twice about it! Her loving aunt, whom Mariah refers to as “mommy” was paid nothing for doing what a good mother should do! Mariah may have had issues during the start of her pregnancy, but thanks for a loving and supportive family and nurse, she was able to turn her life around for her and her perfectly healthy baby girl!

when did Jesus step off his throne and hand it to you to allow you to judge the actions of others?!?! Don’t be an ignorant judgmental ass if you don’t know the person your asking all of these personal questions about…

Shawna Leann Williams You’re such a troll.

Merwyn Ambrose rofl, this was a news story in my local paper, on the front page no less. If indeed the child was an orphan, then the aunt should have received funds from the State which could have made the difference between a child who did no how to avoid getting pregnant and abusing a fetus for 5 months and someone who did not need medicaid to “turn her life around”. I don;t know who the fuck “Jesus” is nor what anyone’s throne has to do with Meth abusers, but if this young lady did not want to be the subject of inquiry, she should not have allowed herself to become a poster child for why we need broader Medicaid services.

p.s. a supportive nurse is going to do little about what this young lady did to her fetus… that is more about the values she learned from her aunt, don’t you think?

Merwyn Ambrose Danielle Marie in fact, the article makes it clear that she did not decide to cease Meth until sometime after she discovered she was pregnant, she felt the baby kick. In fact, it would appear she was abusing Meth and alcohol for the first two trimesters. As a result there is a reasonably possibility that the child will be developmentally delayed, not to mention more dire consequences.

Merwyn Ambrose And the story is a bit confusing in that it seems to suggest that this young lady was raised by her aunt in Kenai, but that she was living out of a suitcase in Kenai, and then came to Anchorage to escape an “abusive boyfriend” but was able to manage an apartment in Anchorage, though she could not manage that in Kenai. But when she discovered she was preggers, then went to live with her aunt in Anchorage. I am missing out on how the family provided supports for this girl from high school graduation on….

Raven T Stewman I think Merwyn is asking right questions for a front page story.

Patti Stands Usually sex is the leading cause of babies and why dose it matter how much the aunt was “paid” obviously she stopped doing meth when she found out she was pregnant and yes I’m some cases drug addicts can clean up and be fabulous parents

Patti Stands And meth is something u can’t just quit cold turkey it could’ve killed them both I think your just a nosey ignorant human and that’s sad

Craig Miller Hewitt Seems odd to shout down somebody for making positive changes. Especially during the time of year when you should possibly give a crap. Bad form.

Charles Lester Sounds like the girl in Vegas that ran everyone over

Rian Fletcher Merwyn, what is your shoe size ? Have you eaten bread today ? What’s your grandfathers middle name? At what point did you decide to be a gigantic cunt? These are all important questions

Nicole Leigh Katelnikoff-Anderson @Merwyn.. Nuff said….

Nicole Leigh Katelnikoff-Anderson’s photo.

Janet Wambolt Winder It

Merwyn Ambrose The reason, as can be seen from a number of the comments above, that modern educational standards attempt to focus on close reading is that many Americans appear incapable of close reading. By way of example, the article (as I noted above) does not indicate that she quit meth when she discovered she was pregnant. The article does indicate that a trimester later, she vowed she would stop using. In fact, the article does not indicate that she in fact stopped using, nor does it provide any information about assistance in quitting, so we are left to ponder whether Mariah is or is not an addict (indeed, for all we know she quit cold turkey, lol.)

So, once again we see the author of the article scattering all manner of bits of history before us intended as part of her rhetorical devices (the purpose of the piece is to move the audience, not to inform the audience), yet providing no coherent history. In sum, Ms. Boots is engaged in emotional chumming. Apparently, from the schooling of her fans present here, quite successfully, lol.

Why the Elephant Appeals to Blind Men

elephantYet another Anchorage Daily News puff piece about Anchorage School District performance produced reader comments prominently featuring the usual suspects on the Distant Right engaged in the obligatory Gnashing of Teeth.  The problem here, as is so often the case, is that folk like David Boyle and Bob Griffin see a piece of the problem, and thereupon assume that they see the whole picture clearly, and therefore can provide a simple and comprehensive solution.  Unfortunately, more often than not, they are just benighted Fellows of the  IBMC (Indostani Blind Men’s Club, see below).

Despite the howling “on the left” the data available appear to make it very clear that Alaska, like most states, was overstating student performance and that new testing regiments are now consistent with the kind of results that were produced by NAEP testing (I have posted before about the Brookings’ discussion of the comparison between typical AYP testing regimes and the NAEP, so will not go into that again save to say that the NAEP is a more comprehensive regime). The result is that we are finally seeing that broadly speaking only a third of our students are really proficient (that is to say, have basic skill mastery) in core subjects.

Yet, as we know, virtually all Alaskan educational institutions identify a letter grade of “C” as representing student mastery (a copy of the Anchorage School District grading system is appended below) and ASD has been increasing graduation (and therefore GPA). There is clearly a gap, and the gap is not a testing artifact nor is it illusory.

Unfortunately, the Fellows of the IBMC want to throw the baby out with the bath water. They are argue that all and sundry have failed, and the only solution is to put education in the hands of parents (who arguably are the real culprits here). Their arguments are the direct result of their (some would claim intentional)  failure to appreciate the complexity of the problems the educational system faces.  They are devotees of the silver bullet, and as I am perhaps overly fond of saying, there is no silver bullet to address out educational woes.

As anyone with a knowledge of high school physics will acknowledge,  just because you can demonstrate that light behaves as a particle,  does not mean that it does not also behave like a wave.  Yes, we have a gap, but if you want to meet the elephant in the room,  you have to become acquainted with something beyond its hind quarters.  Teachers face twice as many students as they could possibly cope with, presenting an educational and socio-economic continuum that we know are critical obstructions to effective instruction. We also face a cadre of parents who dispute the value of education, see education as valuable only through individual ROI (return on investment), and convey their disdain for schools, teachers, and the educated to their children. Of course, we also have inept administrators coupled with a deplorable lack of educational leadership.

I would also argue that we suffer from an appalling number of incompetent teachers, but there are a couple of problems with such a claim: 1) no one can agree on what education is, let alone how it is to be delivered and it is difficult to argue that an educator is not doing their job if you can’t objectively quantify that job, and 2) even if we were to try to seize on some metric, there are so many possibly variable that any rubric would on its face be meaningless (and that of course includes the suggestions that anyone could intelligently employ standardized testing to assess teacher effectiveness).  No, I don’t think that lets teachers off the hook.  Peer review is an excellent start to generating some common language and perception regarding instruction; in other words, teachers need to lead the way, and they clearly are not.

But despite all the problems, it seems that everyone wants to point the finger at someone else! And as noted, since there is ample “fault” to go around, as long as they have their blinders on they feel satisfied that they have the answer. The elephant is the age old foil of the hubris involved.

The villain, once upon a time, was agreed upon to be the student.  Lazy and shiftless, they were sifted and then beaten into an acceptable shape. Hopefully we have a more sophisticate understanding of minors today than hundreds of years ago. But I think it only fair to acknowledge, as I think most teachers will agree, that students today evidence two major educational deficits that are not of their making.  First, they are not developing their ability to memorize.  For decades, educational reformers have argued against “rote” learning,  but in doing so, have also abandoned memorization, a pillar upon which all classical education relied. We have seen the same kind of results in the whole language and Chicago Math debacles, where an interest in increasing the depth and breadth of instruction essentially resulted practically speaking in the abandonment of effective instruction for almost a generation of students

A second culprit is the shadow of intentional forgetting (both in the technical sense and in a broader lay sense). While many students will demonstrate mastery of a skill, within weeks access to that skill will seem to have disappeared. Many curricular programs have sought to address such problems by including cumulative review in instruction, but this becomes a huge uphill battle, and that battle is inevitably lost in May of every year.  Proposed solutions run the gamut from “turn off the gaming station and take away the smart phone” to implementing a parade of tortures for the child on his way to Paradise Island.  Despite all we do, high school Math students spend some 40% of instructional time relearning what they supposedly had mastered the year before, and they do that without ever having an inling of why.

No silver bullets anywhere, but we do have to understand that if we want our children to learn what we have placed before them, they have to be embedded in an environment that supports their learning.  In fact, we are so busy bickering that we have largely lost sight of this.  No, standardized tests and regular probes don’t hurt the student any more than asking them to learn how to use a pencil.  Increasing homework, where the student is doing the work wrong and developing an antipathy for the work, the teacher and education, is not going to be helpful at all. Attacking teachers, haplessly paid to keep their fingers stuck in the dyke, does nothing to address their training, their resources, or the ridiculous demands made of them.

If you want to see  “the trouble with education” quit groping the elephant and take a look in a mirror.

The Blind Men and the Elephant

It was six men of Indostan, To learning much inclined, Who went to see the Elephant, (Though all of them were blind) That each by observation, Might satisfy his mind.

The First approached the Elephant, And happening to fall Against his broad and sturdy side, At once began to brawl: “God bless me but the Elephant Is very like a wall.”

The Second, feeling of the tusk,Cried, “Ho! What have we here So very round and smooth and sharp? To me ’tis mighty clear This wonder of an Elephant Is very like a spear!”

The Third approached the animal, And happening to take The squirming trunk within his hands,Thus boldly up and spake: “I see,” quoth he, “The Elephant Is very like a snake!”

The Fourth reached out an eager hand, And felt around the knee, “What most this wondrous beast is like Is mighty plain,” quoth he; ” ‘Tis clear enough the Elephant Is very like a tree!”

The Fifth, who chanced to touch the ear, Said: “E’en the blindest man Can tell what this resembles most; Deny the fact who can, This marvel of an Elephant Is very like a fan!”

The Sixth no sooner had begun About the beast to grope, Than, seizing on the swinging tail That fell within his scope, “I see,” quoth he, “the Elephant is very like a rope!”

And so these men of Indostan Disputed loud and long, Each of his own opinion Exceeding stiff and strong, Though each was partly in the right, And all were in the wrong!

by John Godfrey Saxe (1816-1887)

Grading System
“A’’ This mark indicates the student has done work in quality and quantity far in excess of the standards set forth for a satisfactory grade in the course.
“B’’ This mark indicates that the student is doing work in quality and quantity above the standards set forth for a passing grade in the course.
“C’’ This mark is a satisfactory passing grade. It indicates that the student is acquiring the necessary information to proceed in the subject. He/she is meeting the standards set for a passing grade in the course.
“D” This mark indicates that the student is not effectively mastering the work assigned but has sufficient understanding of the subject to justify the opinion that more growth will result from advancement than from repetition of the course.
“F’’ Insufficient progress in the subject to merit granting of credit in the course.
“WF ’’ Student has been withdrawn from the course “failing.’’
“J’’ Audit— Principal approval is required. Indicates a student is auditing a course for his/her benefit. This does not count towards credit for graduation and must be approved prior to the 10th day of the course. Students are still required to complete course work.

Anchorage School District 2014–15 High School Program of Studies pg ix