The SAT: A Pricey Horse And Buggy

News Flash: The State of Connecticut has wasted its money because it has tested all high school students with a test that proves nothing and keeps them from learning what they need to learn in order to be successful in their future. Too bad for Connecticut.

The only positive news is for the outfit that makes the test. Thanks to Connecticut and 14 other states, it is now doing better financially and gaining back its lost share of the market. Good for the outfit’s profits.

The test is the SAT and the outfit is the College Board. This past week the College Board announced triumphantly that the most recent scores on the SAT are up as is participation and the percentage of college-ready students. But wait.

Peter Greene in Forbes Magazine gives these five reasons why “there is not a need to organize a parade right now”:

  1. The scores went up an average of 8 points; that is only a 0.7% increase. No big deal. For many years, one of my job responsibilities was to analyze standardized test scores for school districts. We would not mention to parents, students, or school  boards an eight point increase or decrease because it was insignificant.
  2. Participation rates are up only because 15 states, including Connecticut, require that all students take the test. Taking the test didn’t suddenly seem like a good idea to thousands of additional kids.
  3. The College Board has no idea who is college-ready. The College Board says that 46% to 47% of the test-takers met the College Board benchmarks for college-readiness, but the thing is that there has been absolutely no field-testing to ascertain if what is tested on the SAT makes for success in college. No college professors or high school educators or college graduates were asked. And there is ample evidence that what is tested is irrelevant to success in the workplace.
  4. The gains are not impressive because the test has been changed to guarantee a huge jump in scores, and that has not happened. The SAT was originally claimed to be a test of aptitude that “leveled the playing field” for kids regardless of what their high school education had been. The SAT never delivered on that, but that is now no longer even the intent. What happened is that David Coleman, known as “the chief architect of the Common Core Standards”, became president of the College Board in 2012 and decided that the new and sole purpose of the SAT is to assess the attainment of those standards. So classrooms across the country, fashioned on teaching the Common Core, became test-prep stations for the SAT. With that scenario, scores should have climbed through the roof. They did not.
  5. The SAT measures only one thing: SAT-taking skills. Proof of that comes from the College Board. Through its free tutorials in test-taking skills, the College Board claims scores rise a lot. So if a high score is what a student or the student’s parents want, it can be had for signing up for a tutorial in test-taking skills.  And voila!

Here’s the thing, though: Colleges and universities know that the SAT is not a good predictor of success in college and are increasingly dropping the SAT requirement for admission, and we have overwhelming evidence that what is measured on the SAT will not be of much use at all to those students when they enter the workforce.

So I say, let’s get our priorities right.

Let’s teach kids what are not Common Core Standards and what is not on the SAT. I can speak directly about the 42 Common Core Standards for English Language Arts because I know how and what students need to be taught in order to excel as readers and writers and know that, without a doubt, the Common Core Standards won’t help them. The Common Core stands in their way of being thoughtful readers and effective writers. Instead, let’s teach them what they need to grow and develop as learners and thinkers and to be successful in college and the workplace.

Let’s teach kids, as Tony Wagner, the lead scholar at Harvard’s Innovation Lab, recommends. Let’s teach them to question, to think critically, to collaborate with other knowledge-seekers, to deal with ambiguity, to be creative and imaginative, to express themselves clearly and with enthusiasm as writers and speakers, and to determine productive actions after analyzing and assessing information. Then and only then will our kids be ready for college and equipped for their future.

The SAT is the horse and buggy of education. Let’s put that horse out to pasture.

Our Hearts Are With You In Pittsburgh


A Prayer for the Dead of Tree of Life Congregation

   by Rabbi Naomi Levy

We are devastated, God,
Our hearts are breaking
In this time of shock and mourning.
The loss is overwhelming.
Send comfort and strength, God,
To grieving family members.
Send healing to the injured,
Send strength and wisdom
to their doctors and nurses.
Bless the courageous police officers who risked their lives
To protect innocent lives.

Shield us from despair, God,
Ease our pain.
Let our fears give way to hope.
Lead us to join together as a nation
To put an end to anti-Semitism,
An end to hatred,
An end to gun violence.

Teach us, God, to honor the souls we have lost
By raising our hands
and voices together
In the cause of peace.
Because Torah is a Tree of Life
And all its paths are peaceful.

Work through us, God.
Turn our helplessness into action.
Teach us to believe that we can
rise up from this tragedy
And banish the hate
that is tearing our world apart.
We must never be indifferent
to the plight of any who suffer.
We must learn to care,
To open our hearts
and open our hands.
Innocent blood is calling out to us.

God of the brokenhearted,
God of the living, God of the dead,
Gather the souls of the victims
Into Your eternal shelter.
Let them find peace
in Your presence, God.
Their lives have ended
But their lights
can never be extinguished.
May they shine on us always
And illuminate our way.


Note: Naomi Levy was in the first class of women at the Jewish Theological Seminary and the first female Conservative rabbi to lead a congregation on the West Coast. Her path to becoming a rabbi began when she was 15 and experienced the tragedy of her father being killed in an armed robbery on a Brooklyn street as he walked home. She wrote the book, To Begin Again, which was the only book that spoke to me when I suffered the sudden death of loved one. May this poem reach those in Pittsburgh and be of help to any of you suffering now.

The Ten Commandments for Donald Trump

Former Vice President Joe Biden, speaking in Hartford on October 26th, urged us to not abandon our traditional values. I want to give that same advice to our current President. In that office, he should be the standard-bearer of our best values. And what could be a better place to start looking at those values than with The Ten Commandments?  It’s hard to argue with them. Here they are:

  1. You shall have no other gods before Me.
  2. You shall make no idols.
  3. You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain.
  4. Keep the Sabbath day holy.
  5. Honor your father and your mother.
  6. You shall not murder.
  7. You shall not commit adultery.
  8. You shall not steal.
  9. You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.
  10. You shall not covet.

Here’s The Ten Commandments tailor-made for Donald Trump:

  1. You shall not make of yourself a god, a center of the world, a perfect being.
  2. You shall not make an idol of money by worshipping an arms deal more than a human life and by giving tax breaks to the ultra-rich while denying hourly workers a living wage.
  3. You shall know that words are powerful and use them judiciously not stirring up mobs by insulting those you present to them as enemies.
  4. You shall honor what is holy. You shall phone and express empathy to those who have been targets of homemade bombs. You shall condemn anti-Semitic prejudice at the site of deaths caused by that prejudice. You shall welcome those seeking asylum from violence and death. You shall not separate little children from their parents. You shall remind us of the sanctity of human life as President Barak Obama did when he sang “Amazing Grace” in Charleston after the shooting deaths.
  5. You shall give credit to those who went before you who brought us out of a recession, extended our civil liberties, and enhanced our position in the world because they are upon whose shoulders you stand.
  6. You shall honor innocent life, whether they be hurricane victims in Puerto Rico, children in our public schools, or a college professor from California who comes forward to tell her truth because she sees it as her civic responsibility.
  7. You, who are comfortable with your own adultery and boast of your own sexual assault, shall not demean the pain of those who have suffered sexual assault and shall not publicly humiliate one of the women with whom you committed adultery.
  8. You shall not use the office of the President of the United States to make money for yourself.
  9. You shall not lie further to the American people even though, in your first 20 months in office, you made more than 5,000 false or misleading claims.
  10. You shall control your envy of world leaders who are autocrats, who are not limited by the rule of law, who engage in barbarism, who deny a free press, and who exercise absolute power because, if your envy wins out, our democracy will spiral down into fascism.

Eighty Percent Of The Time

If Anne Lamott can do it, so can I. 80% of the time.  Here’s what Anne Lamott writes:

                                                        A Note From Anne Lamott

Every so often, I mention a book I’ve always thought about writing, called All The People I Still Hate: A Christian Perspective. Half the people responding roar with laughter and say, “I’d read that,” and half are sort of horrified, by either the word “hate” or “Christian.”

You’re not supposed to hate, because hate is ugly and diminishes the soul of the hater. But if I were to be honest. I’d admit that I could still write the book, about some of our leaders and one really special ex-boyfriend. But I got the miracle.

There is an entire chapter in the new book titled, “Don’t Let Them Get You to Hate Them,” about the steps I took to reduce my crazed fever dream hatred of certain people, whom I am too polite to name. I do not have the book in front of me (I am on a plane). And I have lost an enormous amount of cognitive function since this book tour began, so cannot give you a synopsis. But I seem to remember something about how all willingness to change and heal from anything addictive, whether alcoholism, dieting, binging, or hatred, begins with the pain of staying the same.

A sober relative once told me that he and his friends, working the 12 Step program, all reached Step Zero before they did Step One (which involves admitting that they were powerless over their drinking and that their lives had become unmanageable.) But before that, they had to arrive at Step Zero: they woke up one morning, sick and tired, and said to themselves, “This shit has GOT to stop.”

I did the hate for a full year after the election. It was kind of exhilarating, definitely mood-altering—I could go from despair and hopelessness, to adrenalized, not quite on fire but hot. I was so stuck, so clenched, my mind filled with tiny rats; I didn’t even know who I would be without my hate.

I felt that if I gave it up, they would win, in the paranoid sense of the word They. I would become a mealy-outhed blob of fear and indecision, like, well, right off the top of my head, Susan Collins. I mean that nicely.

Who, very recently, I was loathing. And now, through the miracle of Step Zero, prayer, radical self-care, and looking in the mirror for the source of the problem—at own fear, my inner blowhard Donald Trump, I am not hating her—very often, or nearly as much.

There’s a story in Almost Everything about one of my 8- year-old Sunday School students, to whom I asked this question one day: “Do you believe that God, and Goodness, are always with us, within us, around us, to comfort or guide, to gentle our hearts and help us get our sense of humor back?”

He thought about this a minute, and then said, “About Eighty percent”

I love this so much. Eighty percent And the great writer and speaker David Roche happens to be the pastor of the Church of 80% Sincerity, which posits that 80% of anything is a small miracle—sincerity, faithfulness, healthy eating, truth-telling (“Darling, I will love you all the way through dinner.”)

So after I reached critical mass with my hatred last year, and realized I had lost myself, felt toxic and rashy, imprisoned and steamrolled, and was becoming them, and that this was what they wanted, I did the most amazing thing. I stopped in my tracks. I asked myself, “What if you have a year left on this vale of tears, this world of wonders. This funny blue marble. Is this how you choose to live?”

Of course not. I want to be a Love Bug, because if you want to have loving feelings, you need to do loving things: We take the action, the kind action, and the insight follows. Wonder and service fill us, and help us pink up, like babies. Revenge empties our reserves, sickens us, and makes our skin look like hell.

My insight is that we are a dangerous species. Cain is still killing Abel, and at the same time, paradoxically, we are as vulnerable as kittens.(There is also a chapter in the hope book I wrote about how all truth is paradox.) So yeah, we get scared, and we blame, and we judge, and we bask in our self-righteous victimization. And we are all, even Dick Cheney, and EVEN (I think) Ted Cruz, precious children of God, with equal standing in the family of mankind and womankind. God loves Mitch McConnell exactly as much as he loves my little grandson. That’s called the mystery of grace.

So if I were to have written a book called All the People I Hate: A Christian Perspective, I should have done so a year ago. It’s all been sort of ruined by the work of the last year. If I were to be honest, I do hate Trump, or at least every single thing he does and says. But less.

Twenty percent of me remembers that he is a man who has never once been loved, never once, except maybe by his kids. His brother was destroyed by the lack of love and committed suicide. Twenty percent of me aches for the total barbaric ruins of his inner life. Twenty percent. That is a miracle. And on top of that, I’ve realized that God looks at Trump and sees His own suffering son, never leaves him and aches for him, too, pulls for him to be transformed by Love, loves him as a mother does her child. Love is WAY beyond what I am personally comfortable or familiar with, tending as I do toward thoughts of perp walks and commissary cheese snacks.

And even when I am still working on the eighty percent part where I have so much rage about some people, I know that God in her infinite divine weirdness still loves hateful revengeful me as much as She loves the perfect baby we played with in Austin.

How can these things be true? You got me; but I know that my belovedness and inclusion in this precious community of All Of Us are due to God having such low standards. (As my son Sam’s aging and barely mobile but joyous dad says, every time he successfully lurches to the next stabilizing counter or tabletop, “Yay God!”) I have absolute hope that we are, and will continue to be okay (well…eighty percent of the time.)

I believe, against all odds, that if we stick together, take care of the poor and the very old, get thirsty people water, including our own worried self-obsessed selves, we can dramatically reduce our viral load. We can be Love with skin on. We can be present in barbaric times, and at the same time be nourished by the gorgeous and inspiring things all around us.

We can be free.

The Message For The 2018 Election

I am very disappointed in what the Democrats are doing to regain the House and Senate as well as in their efforts to claim some governorships. As the only political party that can return sanity to our current national life, they don’t have a big enough message.  I finally realized what that message should be when I read David Brooks’ analysis of the 2018 campaign season recently in The New York Times.

He critiques the Democratic Party for being inadequate to the current moment because it offers no counter-narrative to the immorality of Trump’s behavior and no unifying argument against ethnic nationalism.

I get that the slogan “Make America Great Again” attracts some people. I can buy that many Americans feel threatened by cultural changes and economic insecurity and feel that the solution to their fears is to bring back the past, whether that past ever really existed or not.  It is true that we are living in an oligarchy in which those with the most money, those in the top 1%, prosper, and the rest of us struggle. It is true that our neighbors and fellow citizens are increasingly people of color. It is true that racial and ethnic diversity is becoming the fabric of our nation. It is true that a married couple is not limited to being a man and a woman. It is true that more of our neighbors are doing their grocery shopping on Sunday rather than going to church. So the past looks simpler and neater to many people.

However, that past, at its best, was based on principles of kindness and fairness. In that past, we welcomed strangers and made them feel at home in our neighborhoods. We would never publicly make fun of people and scream “lock her up” as a solution to a disagreement. We wouldn’t call people names and let our children watch us doing it. We valued the truth and worked to find out the facts before making a decision or taking a side. We respected the commitments we made to the person we married and didn’t take lightly marital infidelity. We stood for something.

Those values are what the Democratic Party should put up next to the values espoused at Trump rallies. The message of the Democratic Party candidates should be: LET’S MOVE THE COUNTRY FORWARD WITH THE BEST VALUES OF THE PAST.

It is not the best of our past that Trump heralds and to what he wants us to return. He offers a past that is racist, closed, and full of fear.

It is up to the Democratic Party to remind the country that in this election of 2018, it is to the values of kindness, inclusion, moral leadership, honesty, and commitment that we must return. And we can’t return to them by voting for Republicans. We can return to them only by voting for those who oppose lying, name-calling, unkindness, unfaithfulness and racism. We must vote Democratic as our best hope for the present and as our only hope for our children’s future.

A Ray Of Light For The Country

If for some strange reason you are one of those people who has been feeling down lately because you have a Justice of the Supreme Court who lied under oath about what he wrote in his prep school yearbook and what he did about judicial appointments and knew about stolen emails while working in the White House, and you have a Senate that did not do its job, and you have a President who ordered a FBI cover-up, watch this video. It will restore your confidence in innocence and will remind you of nobler days.