The Epiphany Peddler

That’s me, the epiphany peddler. I haven’t no barrow filled high with turnips or taters. I offer only the finest of intangibles I do, like the Emperors new clothes.

Its like magic or fairy dust. I sprinkle a little here and dab a little there and Bob’s your uncle, there you are –  suddenly you have a bright shiny new epiphany. And then there be a hootin and a hollerin and the whole world suddenly makes a good bit o sense

Epiphanies are scare on the ground, of course. You can’t mine them or chop them down, though some argue hen they had a pint too many that procuring an epiphany is mostly like fly fishing, or piping for rats. Have to tease them epiphanies out, you do, and there’s just no telling if, or when, or never. And of course most having never had one, they don’t believe in them. Can’t blame them much. Epiphanies will never be like turnips or taters, don’t you know.

Like with doctors, sniffing them out for others says nothing about making do for yourself, and at present I am sitting in an old Syracusan tub, and the water has gone very cold….

UPDATE ON ANCHORAGE SCHOOL DISTRICT’S LOOK AT SCHOOL START TIMES

High School student Matthew Park started a petition to ASD in July 2017 to push high school start times to 8:30. https://www.change.org/p/anchorage-school-district-push-start-times-in-asd-high-schools-to-8-30-am

In August of 2017 the Superintendent (Dr. Deena Bishop) and the Board President (Tam Agosti-Gisler) indicated that they wanted to look at changing school start times.  https://www.adn.com/alaska-news/education/2017/08/09/should-the-anchorage-school-district-change-its-school-start-times/

By November the Superintendent had used her discretionary budget to hire Western Demographics to look at the issue in what some have called an “efficiency study”.  http://www.ktva.com/story/36909860/local-teens-welcome-new-school-start-times

Since then the Superintendent has published a web page on school start times on the ASD website. The Page never identified who actually authored the content. https://www.asdk12.org/Page/10284  The web page originally contained names and dates of authors whose work purportedly supported the claims made in the document, but no bibliography was ever included. When complaints were made about ASD needing to provide a full bibliography, the material identifying dates and authors was deleted. https://www.facebook.com/groups/AkEducators/permalink/10156543167479267/  A  bibliography that included all but one of the sources apparently mentioned by ASD (one did not appear to exist) as well as quite a bit of additional literature addressing questions raised by AEA members was prepared and shared with ASD (see https://www.zotero.org/groups/2153649/school_start_times. ASD has never shared that bibliography.

Shannon Bingham, President of Western Demographics, presented to AEA building representations on March 28th. Mr. Bingham apologized for not having published his presentation online, and for not having a bibliography available. AEA Representatives presented quite a few unanswered questions, including the impact on Elementary students, and interventions that ameliorate the sleep disorders relied upon by much of the research to suggest changes in start times (see Alaska Educators Facebook Group https://www.facebook.com/groups/AkEducators/permalink/10156543167479267/ ). ASD still has not published any additional material from Mr. Bingham.

The material presented by Mr. Bingham was somewhat inconsistent with the material presented on the ASD web page, apparently as a result of ongoing examination of the question by Western Demographics, but as noted, the most current material has not been published to the ASD website.

A short bulleted version of this is available at http://bit.ly/ASDBULLETS

Bill Roth ADN

Anchorage skyline and pan ice at Point Woronzof on Wednesday, March 22, 2017. (Bill Roth / Alaska Dispatch News)

 

“Separate But Equal” Has No Place

The highest court of this land, in the words of Chief Justice Warren, stated in no uncertain terms:

“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.” Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, 347 U.S. 483 (1954)

Yes, “in the field of public education, the doctrine of “separate but equal” has no place”. But today, especially in public education, we are seeing a rise in segregated education, and along with it, a clear attack on the values so clearly espoused by the Brown Court.

While race was the basis for the Brown decision, race is, as arguably IQ is, just a matter of a few genes. But it is, in a very real sense, a fiction. It is a fiction that was broadly employed in our country (and some argue its use is now rising again, see The Resegregation of Jefferson County and Better Use of Information Could Help Agencies Identify Disparities and Address Racial Discrimination) to maintain what were argued variously as “cultural” or “ability” differences. It was fairly common to allege that as some races were less amenable to education (slower?) they did better in their own schools, with their own kind.

It was this kind of thinking that was found unacceptable as to race, and then, in a striking partial reversal of Rowley, it was applied in Endrew F. v. Douglas County School Dist. RE–1, 580 U.S. ____ (2017).  You cannot have equality of education where you are segregating populations, and that applies to the entire gamut of actual (or perceived) differences.

In that light, of course, tracking should raise a number of concerns. While tracking may be a very effective tool for pedagogy, it can easily become a very effective tool to promote social segregation (and has done just that). Charter schools are being created specifically to keep the “wrong child” elsewhere, and how “Native” charter schools could survive a Brown challenge would rest solely on the dubious claim that separate but equal is acceptable if the separated agree? Really?

When I was young I was tracked (with excellent results) but I was also required to take a half a dozen different shop classes (where many of my academic peers were far from performance leaders). This had a counterbalancing effect to the academic tracking, and promoted the mixing of all students in the school. As a teacher I was able to help coach a US FIRST Robotics Team that likewise included a broad range of students, and it was this breadth that was the aspect of the team most celebrated by the team members.

Slowly but surely though, financial pressure has been brought to bear to move “non-academic” “career-oriented” students to programs focused on “getting them a job”. I think one of the worst aspects of such programs is that it gives up on these students when these students have yet to demonstrate that they are literate.  That is on its face unacceptable.  What we see in test after test is that we are graduating students who have NOT mastered the adopted curriculum. To essentially accept that has an acceptable “truth” and thereupon to decide that we can then spend a couple of years not teaching them to read, but teaching them to do medical filing, is obscene.

But more importantly, and why I write today, such “vocational” schools promote class segregation at a time when such polarization is perhaps the biggest crisis facing this nation. Nor do the inclusion of a few well chosen “academic courses” remove the separate identity (whether one wants to call it stigmatization or not) as the students are still segregated.  And see Cain Polidano and Domenico Tabasso, “Fully Integrating Upper-Secondary Vocational and Academic Courses: A Flexible New Way?,” Economics of Education Review 55 (December 1, 2016): 117–131, accessed January 10, 2018, http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0272775716300012; John H Bishop and Ferran Mane, “The Impacts of Career-Technical Education on High School Labor Market Success,” Economics of Education Review 23, no. 4, Special Issue In Honor of Lewis C. Solman (August 1, 2004): 381–402, accessed January 10, 2018, http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0272775704000287. And we have yet to address the gender segregation that is typical of Voc-Ed, VET, and/or CTE programs

In creating “vocational schools” we are promoting the “deplorable”, if you will, as a viable segment of our population, and frankly, I don’t think pride in ignorance is anything to ever be proud of.

Round and Round We Go

I thought I would continue to try and have a substantive conversation with Dr. Bishop regarding her presentation to our legislative delegation, which as you can see from the note at the very bottom (chronology is bottom up – see below for some shortcuts) piqued my curiosity when I saw it referenced in a State Senator’s newsletter.  I have appended the conversation save the last reply from her, which, because that reply removed the markup, made following the back and forth (more) difficult. Her last reply was,

Dear Mr. Grover,
Thank you for your thorough feedback. 
I hope you have a nice holiday.
Cheers,
Deena Bishop

Apparently she now has me confused with a blue Sesame St character (OK, maybe that’s not all that unusual…) But will she respond to my questions or concerns? I think that is as likely as her setting up a meeting, don’t you?

There were a total of 6 notes. Click here for my initial e-mail. Click here for Dr. Bishop’s reply to that note (the second in the string). My comments on Dr. Bichop’s note (the third note) can be found here. I interlineated my comments to her reply, so her reply and my comments appear at the top in one message, here. My writing appears in Times New Roman, Dr. Bishop’s in Helvetica.


To:        Dr. Deena Bishop
From:    Marc Grober

On 12/14/17 2:42 PM, Bishop_Deena wrote:

Hi Mr. Grober,

Hello Deena – answers interlineated below…

You and I must meet.

Actually, we need not meet, though if you wish to meet I can certainly accommodate that. However, I don’t see you as taking steps to that end, do I, so I will assume that is just polite puffing? which you can dispense with as many people find it confusing. On the off chance you are serious you know where to reach me.

I do not think that we are necessarily that distant 
on our desired outcomes for the education of students...
the details in our respective areas have some differences.

I don’t know that we have shared our “desired outcomes for the education of students”, nor am I sure what our “respective areas” are, let alone what you think the differences in those areas might be. Perhaps you could explain?

I do agree with some of your thoughts on preschool and 
the universal access that Oklahoma has tackled.

Actually, I don’t think I shared any ideas on pre-school, though I inquired as to whether you promoted Oklahoma’s position on pre-school to the legislators, a question you seem not to have answered.

Many of their preschools are funded outside of the 
k-12 system, even to private entities.

I am unaware of the sources for your claims. Perhaps you could share them?

On the other hand, there is ample documentation of the success Oklahoma had with funding public pre-school (see, http://sde.ok.gov/sde/files/ok.gov.sde/sde/Legislative%20Briefing%20PreK%20Program.pdf for State fact sheet), both in the press:
http://hechingerreport.org/why-oklahomas-public-preschools-are-some-of-the-best-in-the-country/
https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2013/02/14/is-oklahoma-the-right-model-for-universal-pre-k/
https://eyeonearlyeducation.com/2016/02/18/universal-pre-k-in-oklahoma-a-national-model/
http://newsok.com/article/5550751
https://www.cbsnews.com/news/oklahoma-offers-pre-k-model-for-nation/
https://www.pbs.org/newshour/show/seeing-success-conservative-oklahoma-banks-on-universal-preschool

and in the literature:
https://www.crocus.georgetown.edu/publications
[shared as I was not sure whether this aspect of education had been broached as an area of Board interest and as we were including the Board in our conversation, they should have some familiarity with the topic – though I am not suggesting that they did not have a background in this already]

I think this is a good thing.

I see private education below the endowed post-secondary level (perhaps with certain very elite exceptions such as Phillips Andover, Exeter, etc) as suffering from poorer staffing than public schools because they pay less, provide no workplace guarantees, etc. and my experience with private schools in Alaska underscores my impressions. What data do you have that suggest that private entities manage education well?

 ASD does not have to be solely responsible for 
all preschool education. 

Perhaps not (though see my caveat above), however, by the time you impose the constraints necessary to ensure that the provision of services are comparable, you have rendered the private entity much more expensive (less affordable, I think you’d put it) and operating at a disadvantageous scale 😉

Partnerships, to me, is the key to solving this 
community concern.

Partnerships can be successful when the partners bring something to the table. You have yet to suggest what that might be.

If I can offer a lower overhead and the private 
owner agrees to pass this onto the customer, perhaps 
more folks can afford quality preschool?

Which essentially ignores the likelihood that the private operator is providing an unacceptably poor program, or the cost would be in excess of what ASD could provide.

Unused educational space is there, parents are 
looking for quality preschools they can afford, 
and empirical evidence supports early learning benefits.

Again, you seem to have ignored the fact that there might be lots of demands for space in ASD schools, but for the fact that ASD has been shedding anything that suggests it might be outside its mission statement. You also seem to have dismissed any possibility that class size could be reduced if ASD moved people out of positions carrying water for the administration, to actually teaching.

Additionally the closest reading of the literature to date suggests that the benefits of Pre-K dissipate if instruction in K-3 doesn’t maintain the pace the child experienced in Pre-K, which commends, of course, smaller elementary class sizes, AND an argument to legislators to fund Pre-K (which I will note, again, you appear NOT to have made).

On the NAEP front---2015 data is actually quite recent 
as NAEP is only given every other year to randomly 
selected students in randomly selected schools across 
the state and nation. We do not get individual student 
or school results for the NAEP. And, to be honest, 
PEAKS results mirror AYP results more than either 
of these assessments mirrored the SBA test of yesteryear. 
My argument with the delegation was that we get 
it...we get that the standards have changed and we 
are addressing this. It was not a self-congratulatory 
action. It was intended more for transparent accountability 
on my part. No excuses here.

I am not going to duel about the specifics of NAEP testing – that is all of record for anyone to see. Nor am I going to argue about the significance of AYP testing on its own or vis-a-vis the NAEP, as that is also a matter of broad discussion in the literature as I said before, and I am sure you have provided the Board with an extensive bibliography on same. My point was that the Education Next piece was of little value; a better demonstration would have been State longitudinal data, and even that is of attenuated value because it is really not comparable to Alaska Urban data as many have been at pains to point out to the likes of the ideologues at Alaska Policy Forum and their fellow travelers.

If your intent was to demonstrate that we are between a rock and a hard spot, you frankly failed as that was not the message that was passed on. If your intent was to differentiate between the urban performance and rural performance, again, you seem to have failed. And I would have thought it would have been a great opportunity for you to share your correspondence to NAEP decrying their failure to include Anchorage in their Urban assessments, and I take it that in this too, you failed. Of course, failing is the only way we really learn, though I don’t know too many employers who see it that way…

The SAT/ACT scores were presented in a Fast Facts 
sheet for ASD, available to all stakeholders. 
I did not present personally on this topic. I have 
included the data in the fast facts in this email.

So, this was simply more second hand hash. In as much as it was expected that scores on SAT and ACT would drop across Alaska takers as State requirements forced more who would otherwise NOT take the tests to take them, it would have seemed appropriate if talking about school performance to trot out such data as it is some of the on;y data that compares apples and apples we have. SInce I have not seen the presentation I can’t really comment on how it was targeted, of course, but I do have to wonder why real data on such a measure was not included on any discussion of legislative priorities for the District. Perhaps, should you make that presentation available, I could comment further?

I do have each school's national percentile score 
and will request these data also be available on 
the Data Dashboard as you have a good point 
in that they are not easily accessible.

Please advise when the data is available.

As long as we are talking about data, I should note that I had been trying to have a conversation with ASD about concussion, TBI, and sports, and had been told (2 years ago) that a committee would be formed (I even received an invite) to look into this matter (action supposedly delayed due to staffing). The staffing issue was resolved months ago, but apparently the new staff member chooses not to respond to correspondence.

In the meantime, conversations with a Board member about the data pertinent to the Middle College suggested that the member had asked for data, and yet months have passed and the member seems to be as unable to obtain data from ASD as I am, though I don’t want to put words in the members mouth…

And it seems when schools jumped on DIBELS, their successes with that tool were ignored when ASD moved to AIMSweb. Now I am hearing rumors that AIMSweb is no longer required, thereby foregoing critical data. Is there an ASD white paper on the history of probe adoption and implementation at the district which includes a section on the current tools, their relationship, if any, to prior tools, and the analysis behind any changes?

Thanks again for your thoughtful responses. They do make me step back and think.

I thought that was the entire purpose of conversation (and the reason I was black-balled from ever working at the District, lol).

Tell me, when a student complains that a teacher is spending so much time lecturing students on how to use technology the teacher  wants to use to teach that he isn’t effectively teaching the underlying lesson, what does that tell you about what is (or is not) appropriate Ed Tech?  Don’t be a tool; use the tool 😉

A Shifty Solstice, a Yumpin’ Yule, and a Scandolous Saturnalia to you and yours,

Marc

—–Original Message—–

From: Marc Grober [mailto:marc@interak.com] Sent: Thursday, December 14, 2017 11:33 AM
To: School Board <SchoolBoard@asdk12.org>
Subject: Re: Questions from the Trenches

 

Dear Dr. Bishop,

Thank you for your interim response.

I fully understand the issues with most State AYP assessments as compared to the NAEP, as I clearly noted. I don’t understand why anyone would rely on an out of date Education Next article to address this point when it has been the subject of extensive academic discussion for some time, especially because of the nature of the NAEP as opposed to that of most AYP assessments vis-a-vis the scope of the assessment.

“Yikes!”, is not an argument in any company I know. It is an exclamation of horrified amazement, used here because the Senator apparently came away with the impression that confirmation by way of an out of date article in a political journal that an assessment abandoned by the State years ago found some agreement with long standing NAEP results, that Alaska students are far from proficiency, was a basis for self-congratulation.

More importantly, the message apparently received by the Senator seemed to be missing a longitudinal analysis with respect to the testing Alaska has done. In other words, to be blunt, had someone simply compared findings of proficiency from State AYP testing with that afforded by NAEP testing annually for the last decade that would have very simply evidenced the gap, and done that without confusing anyone. Let’s just say that I am intrigued by the fact that the Senator didn’t share the graphic your staff prepared with respect to such an analysis; can you tell us where we can find it? I certainly agree that it is high time to recognize that the State is a long way away from being able to demonstrate adequate long term proficiency on basal standards; the problem is demonstrating to legislators that increasing revenues will change that, and that NAEP testing pressnts an appropriate standard. Those bits seem to be missing, not to mention the fact that the NAEP mysteriously failed to include Anchorage in its urban testing results, and a discussion of why that might have been, and whether NAEP is going to correct that oversight.

In sum, I would have expected any such presentation to cover the challenges presented by the State’s approach to education, and the marginal successes the local District can show despite those State-wide issues. Perhaps the easiest way to get to the bottom of what you did present is to make your presentation public on the ASD web?

As to private pre-school use of ASD facilities: a) If you rent such facilities for less than the market value you are indeed wasting ASD assets, no matter your inventive approach to finance.  b) Scalable is not synonymous with affordable, this does not present an viable argument that the private sector can provide appropriate instruction at a lower cost (which seems to be what your argument is intended to imply), and ASD could always actually reduce the size of Kindergarten classes if ASD chooses to spend money on teachers, instead of on activities, administrators, special projects, and unused curricular materials.  c) The community has been busy hemorrhaging services to meet budget constraints for two decades. Did you suggest to the legislators that, as in places like ultra-conservative Oklahoma, it is high time that Alaska offered free universal pre-school, and that in light of the State budget restrictions on communities like Anchorage, it is grossly unfair to expect such communities to subsidize pre-school themselves? Apparently the Senator missed that bit too.

I am pleased, however, that this is just something your highly paid staff is investigating, and hope, like some of the bizarre schemes floated by your predecessor, this idea gets short shrift. I would suggest (AGAIN) that the District roll out the Budget Review Team system; I think that would go a long way to affording the District “community resources” as far as appropriate ways to spend educational revenues.

The ACT/SAT data should be easily accessibly via the portion of ASD’s web site addressing assessment, and for someone who has argued that decisions will be data driven, it is confusing at the least to have to ask to see what was provided to legislators. Unless, like the release of a new iphone, there is some benefit to keeping close wraps on such presentations, it would sem that the best policy is to develop and public the presentation, and then use that as a basis for discussion with legislators or whomever, as opposed to engaging in apologetics about what you believe actually happened. Thank you for your reply. It is unfortunate that so many of your staff are not as responsive.

Marc

On 12/13/17 7:45 PM, Bishop_Deena wrote:

Hi Mr. Grober,

Thank you for your feedback.  I want to clarify a 
few items you mentioned now and will get back 
with you on others, once I can locate the data.

1. Preschool---In this area, ASD is looking 
to broaden the opportunities for preschool 
in our community. We are presently using grant 
money to provide pre-schools in some of our 
schools. However, this does not meet 
all needs as presently there remain families 
who cannot afford quality preschools. 

At this same time, ASD understands that 
having preschools wrapped into our overall 
k-12 programs is not scalable (not affordable). 
In our effort to increase the readiness for 
kindergarten learning and not wanting to 
increase our costs, we are looking at innovative 
ways to increase the access to preschool. 
We partner with private preschools presently for 
training. Given some schools' space availability, 
we are investigating the idea of partnering 
with private preschools to offer programs in schools 
for students from low income families. We are 
essentially not looking to "give away assets," 
rather use the assets we have to bring value to 
our community. I realize nothing is free, 
nothing is being given away. We are in talks 
to see how we may rent space to offer a service 
that is needed by the community---this would 
support the private sector as well. These ideas 
are working in other cities, so the investigation 
was an effort to be innovative with the empty 
spaces in some schools.

2. The Education Next map URL you shared demonstrates 
the grade on STANDARDS, not assessments. The results 
of assessments are used to communicate the delta 
between the NAEP and individual state's assessment 
results in an effort to define rigor.  While Alaska 
has much to improve, the idea shared with the 
Senator was that we have standards that are of 
higher rigor than before. While our coefficient 
is still negative, it is closer than many states' 
results for which their state assessments found 
more students proficient than NAEP found. Again, 
Alaska's score is much closer, meaning we are 
more accurately reporting and that our standards 
are coming closer to the overall national expectation for 
student success. I did not share this to communicate 
we are doing well on these new standards. That 
would be untrue. In fact, I shared the poor PEAKS 
results for ASD in this presentation to show we have 
significant improvement to make.

I shared the map to demonstrate that the rigor of 
standards in Alaska changed, and we did step things 
up. Moreover, the ASD Board expects me, the superintendent, 
to foster our culture and actions to meet the higher 
standards. I am not sure about your "yikes" argument. 
Are you unhappy that we acknowledge the challenge? 

3. I will get the ACT and SAT information for you. 
It is shared directly with the District.

Thanks again for your feedback.

Cheers,
Deena

Dr. Deena M. Bishop
Superintendent, Anchorage School District
5530 E. Northern Lights Blvd.
Anchorage, AK 99504
Office Phone (907) 742-4312
 
Educating All Students for Success in Life

—–Original Message—–

From: Marc Grober
Sent: Wednesday, December 13, 2017 5:18 PM
To: School Board
Subject: Questions from the Trenches

Dear Anchorage School Board and Superintendent,

I was rather dismayed recently to receive a newsletter from Senator Gardner which featured the following statements:

Tuesday, the Anchorage School District (ASD) and School Board presented their 2018 legislative priorities to Anchorage legislators, highlighting advancements in education, cost-efficiency measures, and difficulties their organizations currently face. I sensed a lot of optimism from the district, conviction that they are moving in the right direction, and genuine pride from the new superintendent, Deena Bishop.

Over the last five years, Alaska has gone from 48th in academic rigor to 13th in the nation, SAT and ACT scores have risen city-wide (and are now well above average nationally), graduation rates have increased in nearly every demographic, and student attendance – a focus in every school – is up across the district. I’m also excited that ASD is beginning to offer space inside their schools at a below-market rate for private pre-K programs. This will provide increased access to pre-K at an affordable rate – a great incentive for parents to start their kids in their neighborhood school before Kindergarten, resulting in the need for fewer resources once they enter the public school system.

I wrote to the Senator inquiring as to the basis for these claims, and I am somewhat distressed at the results of my queries and hope that you can provide specifics as to what the Senator was actually referencing. First off, I had to ask myself about Education Next (the Senator said the claims were based on this link http://educationnext.org/state-standards-map-2016/).

Education Next “is a scholarly journal published by the Hoover Institution” [http://rightweb.irc-online.org/profile/hoover_institution/ Hoover has been a mainstay of the Republican Party for decades, serving as a virtual revolving door for high-level GOP figures and apparatchiks, including many who served in the George W. Bush administration] which does not spare its own elbows in describing itself like this: “In the stormy seas of school reform, this journal will steer a steady course, presenting the facts as best they can be determined, giving voice (without fear or favor) to worthy research, sound ideas, and responsible arguments. Bold change is needed in American K-12 education, but Education Next partakes of no program, campaign, or ideology. It goes where the evidence points.”

This publication did a story in the Summer of 2016 (yes, a year and a half ago) in which they presented an interactive map that compared State AYP test results with NAEP test results. Of course, everyone in education has understood for years that very few states had AYP results comparable to NAEP proficiency. That map, produced a year and a half ago, is the map that the Senator was apparently referred to by the District. Yikes!

“Rigor” is defined in the map’s fine print: “This number shows for a given state in 2015 the difference in the percentage of students who were labeled proficient on the state exam and NAEP (National Assessment for Educational Progress). A negative number indicates that more students were identified as proficient on the state exam than were identified as proficient on NAEP”

The piece that references the map can be found here: http://educationnext.org/after-common-core-states-set-rigorous-standards/

Is this something for ASD to crow about. Absolutely not. As I wrote to the Senator:

“Education Next’s use of “rigor” means that if Alaska lists only 30% of its students as proficient on its exam, and its performance on NAEP reflects the same thing, then the lack of gap is regarded as effective rigor.

* This is a very artificial measure and it would be more appropriate to suggest that the metric might reflect reliability or validity of the NAEP or local measure, as opposed to rigor,

* Our coefficient is a negative number, which still shows our measure as being more “lenient” than the NAEP.

* This is at best a measure of our curriculum and testing regime, which so many want to see abandoned.

* Perhaps most importantly, the data employed are data on assessments THAT HAVE BEEN ABANDONED. In other words, anything Alaska could do to claim that State assessments were now consistent with NAEP assessments were dumped with the adoption of PEAKS.

Nothing to crow about here… So please explain why this was even trotted out to the Senator?

What about the relative performance on SAT and ACT? The Senator said that the data was provided by the testing corporations, but of course the data was not provided to the Senator, it was provided in some form, subject to certain conditions and limitations to the district. I looked at the District’s assessment web pages and could find nothing specific offering a link to the data in question. Where can the public find the data that the District is supposedly relying upon?

Lastly, how can we afford to rent out space to the public at lower than market value to provide services that the District could arguably do better? I failed to notice the sign at the time. You know, the one that said, “ASD giving away assets – sign up here!” I am a vocal supporter of public education, but it seems that ASD simply wants to fuel the fires of the Alaska Policy Forum and their ilk. What exactly is the cash loss ASD is suffering from the reduced rentals of these resources, and where is the policy analysis that finds that this giveaway is more important, for example, than providing reduced cost rentals to adult literacy programs, critical to student success, or parenting classes for that matter? Are the discounts available to any enterprise, or just for for-profits? Since we killed community schools largely on the rental loss to ASD, why not bring community schools back if ASD has so much money? Oh, wait! What about ASD offering a District wide Pre-K?

I really look forward to your reply, though based on your prior track record, I understand that answering difficult questions from the community has not been a focus of this administration.

Sincerely,

Marc

 

 

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 (or alternative program) 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 (technically COBRA today only runs 18 or 36 months) 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 meets 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.

 

MOC’d ACCOMODATIONS

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?