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.

Civics 101: Public Trust Will Be Lost If A Perjurer Is On The Supreme Court

The White House announced that only four people, none of them former classmates who have contradicted Brett Kavanaugh’s testimony,  will be interviewed by the FBI. In addition to the four people whom the White House named, the following individuals must be interviewed in ascertain if Brett Kavanaugh perjured himself when he testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee on September 27, 2018:

  1.  Elizabeth Swisher, classmate of Brett Kavanaugh at Yale
  2. Lynne Brookes, classmate of Brett Kavanaugh at Yale
  3. Daniel Lavan, classmate of Brett Kavanaugh at Yale
  4. Sean Hagan, classmate at Georgetown Prep
  5.  Renate Dolphin, public school student when Brett Kavanaugh was at Georgetown Prep
  6. Bill Barbot, alumnus of Georgetown Prep
  7. William Fishburne, classmate of Brett Kavanaugh at Georgetown Prep who managed the football team
  8. Alumnae of Holton-Arms School during the years that Brett Kavanaugh was at Georgetown Prep to check his statement under oath that Georgetown Prep students did not socialize with girls from Holton-Arms.

All of these individuals have come forward to tell what they know. The FBI should begin its investigation with them. The FBI can ask them if it is true what Brett Kavanaugh said about his drinking habits and true about the terms that Brett Kavanaugh said refer to indigestion and drinking games but his contemporaries say refer to sexual conquests. The FBI can find out if Brett Kavanaugh was telling the truth to the Judiciary Committee and to all of us in the country who were watching.

Some say that what happens in high school and college doesn’t matter. I disagree. But no one says that perjury doesn’t matter. And no one says that lying in a job interview doesn’t matter. And no one says that the integrity of the Supreme Court doesn’t matter.

There is plenty to investigate by the FBI about Brett Kavanaugh’s  truth-telling or perjury in more recent years.  Manuel Miranda, a Republican aide working with Brett Kavanaugh at the White House when files were stolen from the Democrats, could be questioned. Those who worked with Brett Kavanaugh when he was clerking for the disgraced Judge Kozinski could be questioned to see if Brett Kavanaugh did or did not know of Judge Kozinski’s activities with pornography that caused him to be removed from the bench. Brett Kavanaugh’s emails about judicial appointments while he was in the White House Council’s Office could be examined to see if they support his statements made under oath.

What needs to be determined by the FBI is if Brett Kavanaugh lied under oath.  Events can be lost to memory due to alcohol or due to those events not being anything unusual to the person being questioned. But perjury could be right before our eyes, right on national TV.

Demand of your Senators and demand of the White House that the FBI investigation be complete. Demand that the FBI investigation begin with the individuals listed above.

Determining if Brett Kavanaugh told the truth or perjured himself is essential for the integrity of the Supreme Court.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Silence Speaks At March For Our Lives

Listen to Emma’s profound silence.

Remember the silence of students crouched in closets, hiding from the sound of an automatic weapon being fired in their school.

Think about the loudmouth lack of silence of the President of the United States as he played golf while Emma Gonzales stood without words.

Question the silence of the Members of Congress when students, teachers, and parents asked them to address  gun violence.

Listen. Listen. Listen.

Then VOTE. Vote in your precinct or vote by absentee ballot if you are away at school. Vote early if your state allows it, or vote on election day if that fits your schedule. Whenever. Wherever. However. Just do it.

Make Emma Gonzales’s silence speak for a new ethic, a new beginning for this country weary with the noise of greed and corruption.

 

Questions For The New CEA President-3

 

The Connecticut Education Association will hold elections for a new president in May. The two candidates for president of the CEA are Jeff Leake and Robert Smoler. Jeff Leake is currently CEA vice-president, and Robert Smoler is president of the Fairfield Education and Association and a math teacher at Fairfield Warde High School in Fairfield, CT. I have asked them twelve questions about issues regarding education that face us as a state. I have previously posted two sets of the candidates’ answers. Here are their answers to the third set of questions:

Jeff Leake

5.What is your position on standardized testing? What do you think about Connecticut’s current practices regarding standardized testing? Would you recommend those practices remain the same or be changed and, if so, how?

Standardized testing, although now disconnected from teacher evaluation, is still a burden for students and the learning process. Standardized testing has narrowed instruction and the student assessment process. We need to end every-year testing for our grade 3-8 students and implement representative testing (NAEP model).

6. What is your position on charter schools in Connecticut?
a. The original idea for charter schools was to create innovative, teacher-controlled learning spaces.

b. Charter schools have become for-profit business opportunities and have increased racial and economic segregation in our nation.

c. The proliferation of charters needs to end, and those presently operating need real and effective oversight.

 

Robert Smoler

5. What is your position on standardized testing? What do you think about Connecticut’s current practices regarding standardized testing? Would you recommend those practices remain the same or be changed and, if so, how?

Standardized tests, as they are currently viewed, are one of the great disservices to our youth and the education system as a whole. They do not measure achievement, but rather measure the ability to do well on a particular test that has inherent biases built into it. These types of tests also correlate to the relative wealth of a community. So, it is not doing anything to close the achievement gap.   If anything, it exacerbates it. Children in poor communities are likely to get a sub-par education as their faculty and administration must feel so much more pressure to “teach to the test.” These tests should not be used to reflect student capabilities, the effectiveness of teachers nor the quality of public schools. That said, they represent one of many data points that could be helpful in informing teacher instruction. To the extent standardized tests aid the instruction process, I am in favor of maintaining them in a limited manner. If these tests were to be used in any other way than informing instruction, then they should be eliminated.

6. What is your position on charter schools in Connecticut?

Public schools are treasures that need to be cultivated. They are central to our democracy. I am against any alternate education system that siphons funds out of the public school system or puts our schools under the influence of corporate entities. I also believe that when our public schools are properly resourced; they do a tremendous job educating students. Clearly, there are failing schools, but they are only failing because governmental entities have failed to recognize the unique challenges of these district, mostly poverty, and withheld the type of support from these districts that would allow them to succeed.

I’ve seen this movie before. When I was in the healthcare industry, managed healthcare companies came onto the scene promising to lower costs and improve quality versus traditional indemnity health insurance plans. In the early going, these plans were less expensive, not because they were doing such a great job, but because they were cherry picking the healthy customers and leaving the indemnity plans to insure the sick. Each time more healthy people went to the managed care plans, the cost of the indemnity plans went up until they were no longer affordable and they disappeared. At that point, the managed care plans had to begin insuring everyone and wouldn’t you know it, they became just as expensive as the indemnity plans were after a short while.

That’s what is happening in public education today. The charter schools are cherry picking the stronger students out of the public schools and as a result their scores look good. If charter schools ever had to educate everyone, no doubt their results would look the same or worse than that of today’s public schools. In fact, there is the risk that once charter and private schools have all of the students, they might find it unprofitable and pull out of the business, leaving whole communities without a mechanism to educate their children.

Here’s To Revision!

One of the 42 Common Core Standards for English Language Arts lets students know that revising their first draft is not necessary and that revision has nothing to do with promoting the writer’s expanded and deeper thinking.

That standard is just one of the 41 Common Core English Language Arts Standards that I wholeheartedly oppose (One of the standards about speaking and listening is OK but not tested so, therefore, never taught.). 

So I am beginning the new year happily in defiance of the Common Core. I am revising my last post of 2017 and, thereby, creating a new post to begin 2018. Maybe my thinking is clearer now in 2018  because I was rushing for a deadline late on December 31, 2017. Maybe seeing the new year in by watching the classic film, Harry Met Sally, was a catalyst for my more relaxed thinking. Or just maybe the Common Core is wrong and having the opportunity to revise helped me as a writer to think more clearly and to write something better than when I started.

Judge for yourself. Compare what follows here to my post of 6:00 PM on December 31st, entitled “An Answer For 2018”.

Here goes: 

HOPE IS THE ANSWER

There is only one answer to improving education, closing the achievement gap, and producing graduates who are capable and have a sense of purpose: Give poor kids what the children of the educated and the affluent already have.

We know that middle and upper class students in the United States receive from their public schools the best education in the world. We also know that the achievement of those more affluent kids does not come exclusively from what their schools offer them but also from what their families and communities give them as well. So let’s give poor kids those same family and community advantages of the more affluent and see what happens.

Harris Rosen did just that. Since 1993, he has given $12 million to a poor community of about 3,000 people in the metro Orlando, Florida area named Tangelo Park. He gives about $500,000 a year, less than his start-up yearly contributions, directly to preschool and prekindergarten programs he established and to all graduating seniors who are going to college.

Tangelo Park has a population that is 90% African American and, until recent years, was best known for its drugs, crime, and shuttered houses. Thank to Mr. Rosen’s involvement, Tangelo now has free preschool for all children ages 2-4 and prekindergarten classes with access to parenting classes, vocational courses, and technical training for their parents. Children, according to their teachers, now arrive in kindergarten ready to learn. The high school graduates all of its seniors, most of whom go on to college on full scholarships, funded by Harris Rosen. The scholarships are for anyone who is accepted to a Florida public university, college, community college, or technical school and covers tuition, room, board, books, and travel costs. There is a 75% college graduation rate of Tangelo high school graduates who go to college, which is the highest rate among ethnic groups in the nation. Tangelo now also has increased property values and plummeting crime rates. Harris Rosen’s investment, over the past 21 years, has changed lives and transformed a community.

What created the changed lives and the transformed community?

 For Harry Rosen, the changed lives of the people of Tangelo Park and the transformation of that community is all about an element absent in many impoverished American neighborhoods: hope.

“If you don’t have any hope,” Rosen says “then what’s the point?”

 The children of educated and affluent parents are raised in a culture of hope; they, to quote Emily Dickinson, ” dwell in possibility”. They are also given the cognitive skills to make the possible real for themselves. That is why they succeed.

Harry Rosen questioned why students would devote countless hours to school and their families would emphasize education to their children if college is out of reach. He decided to make hope real for the community of Tangelo Park.

We, as a nation, can do what what Harris Rosen did for Tangelo Park. We can give all kids hope. What it will take is universal early childhood education, which emphasizes cognitive and social development, and college scholarships for all.

Philanthropists, such as Bill Gates, the Walton family (Walmart), and Eli Broad could put their money into funding early childhood education and college scholarships, instead of trying to micromanage something about which they have no knowledge or expertise: what goes on in classrooms. Federal, state, and local taxes could help to fund quality early childhood education and college scholarships instead of paying for useless standardized tests and the curricular materials to prepare students  for those tests. Individual volunteer efforts could focus on developing the vocabulary and thinking skills of 2, 3, ,4 and 5 year old children or in helping high school seniors and their parents to explore college options and complete the required application and financial aid forms.

We could then see in 2018 the beginning of a national effort that would make for real student achievement, for real equity, and for real education reform. We could build a culture of hope. Let’s do it.

Onward!

Ending A Democracy With A Tax Plan

The crisis that threatens the health of the American economy today is income inequality. The GOP tax plan will markedly exacerbate that income inequality. The rich will get richer, and the poor will get poorer. The rich will educate their children in private schools so that they are prepared for good jobs, earn high salaries, and keep getting richer. The poor will send their children to public schools with decreased resources, increased class sizes, and learning focused on useless standardized tests.  The difference between education for the children of affluence and the education for the children of the working poor will deepen. Public education as the bedrock of a democracy will cease to exist.  The crisis is not just an economic one. We are witnessing as citizens and participating in as taxpayers a moral crisis of immense proportion.

Diane Ravitch, the noted historian about American education, explains how the GOP tax plan will contribute to the moral crisis which foreshadows the end of our democracy. Diane Ravitch writes:

“If you aren’t angry yet about the Trump Tax scam, you should be. An article in The New York Times clearly lays out how it will produce tax savings for private school families while devastating state revenues that now fund public schools. The author, Nat Malkus, is deputy director of education policy at the right-leaning American Enterprise Institute. After this tax plan, never again let it be said that Republicans believe in local control and states’ rights. They believe in federal dictation, so long as they are in charge.

Nat Malkus writes:

Congressional Republicans, traditional defenders of states’ rights, will deliver an unexpected one-two punch to state tax systems if the current version of their tax bill becomes law as expected.

The tax plan, negotiated behind closed doors, includes an expansion of 529 savings accounts and the partial elimination of state and local tax deductions. These changes will provide new avenues for people to avoid state income tax that states never envisioned. And those states will have a hard time making up the difference.

The first blow would come from expanding 529 college savings accounts, which offer tax advantages to encourage families to save money for college, to cover K-12 expenses, such as private school tuition and home schooling costs.

This amendment by Senator Ted Cruz passed only because of a midnight tiebreaking vote cast by Vice President Mike Pence. Under current law, earnings on contributions to 529 plans are not subject to federal taxes. These investment vehicles work well for college savings because deposits grow tax-free over a long time. Using 529 accounts for elementary or high school tuition, however, substantially shortens that period, making these accounts a minimal boost to school choice.

While this change would have only a small effect on the federal Treasury, it creates outsize impacts on the state income tax bases in the 33 states that instituted state tax deductions and tax credits to encourage 529 college savings. The federal expansion opens these state incentives to an entirely new area of expenditures, allowing private school families to funnel their tuition payments through 529s as a way to avoid state taxes.

Imagine for instance that a family in New York spends $10,000 on high school tuition but has not yet started saving for college. Congress’s 529 expansion opens New York’s $10,000 state income tax deduction for 529 contributions to private school tuition. This family could now open a 529 savings account, briefly park the $10,000 for private school tuition in it, and avoid about $600 in state income taxes.

That modest $600 for families takes a much bigger cumulative toll on New York’s income tax base. With about 465,000 New York private school students, roughly $3 billion might be cut from New York’s income tax base.

While the federal government limits its benefits to $10,000 in annual distributions per student for K-12 expenses, some states offer much larger state tax deductions, and their tax bases would be affected even more than New York’s will be. Illinois, for instance, allows deductions for $20,000 in contributions a year per beneficiary to 529 plans, while Pennsylvania allows $28,000. Colorado, New Mexico, South Carolina and West Virginia have broader tax loopholes: all 529 contributions are fully deductible, so participants’ entire private school tuition could be free of state tax.

With this law, the Republican Congress would be nullifying the intent of state legislatures by creating tax breaks for private school parents that are paid for by reducing state tax bases that pay, in part, for public schools. States did not choose to create tax-free private school tuitions, Congress did.

Not all states will bear the full brunt of this law. States without income taxes, like Senator Cruz’s home state, Texas, have no state income tax deductions for contributions to 529 plans to interfere with their state taxing sovereignty.

The second blow to state education funding would come from the new federal cap on the deductibility of state and local tax payments. Public schools are primarily funded by state and local taxes, partly by local property taxes, and partly by the state, often through income taxes. When districts are too poor to raise enough property taxes to fund schools, the state contributes funds to even the scales with wealthier districts.

Expanding 529 plans to deliver state deductions to private school families will erode the tax base that funds public schools, affecting high-poverty schools the most. By limiting state and local tax deductions at the same time, Republicans would make it harder for states and cities to raise taxes to make up for those shortfalls.

The easiest fix is to eliminate the 529 expansion, a federal action that transfers state tax dollars from the poor to the rich and which won’t substantively increase school choice for those who do not already have it. Doing so would be a principled stand for the party that professes to protect state sovereignty. Not doing so will affirm the worst caricature of Republicans and education — taking money from the poor to give to the rich.”