Thursday, December 29, 2005

From The First to The Fourth Amendments; The Constitution Rules

I thought I would continue The Christmas Wars.  No, if I never hear about any holiday, secular or not, again I will be very happy.  And I have banned certain words from my vocabula

I want to briefly talk about Judge Jones and the Intelligent Design decison.  No, I don't.  I want to gloat over it.  Why?  Several months back I wrote a post that used very similiar reasoning to Judge Jones's.

Why when we at Bring it on! have been saying this since we began am I bringing this up now?  Because many radical Christian Rightists still don't get it.  It's simple; it's the Amendment that guarantees the most basic of rights, the right to practice or not practice a religion, and never have to worry that a state religion will be formed, and also and equal, guarantees freedom of speech.

That's the first time I have ever quoted myself.  I explained how faith is untestable.  No matter how much you want to believe that something bigger than us created the universe, nobody is able to test faith.

It's easy to test one type of faith: Faith in ones ability to do something.  I have faith that I will cross the street without being killed.  If I'm not, I have prove my hypothesis.  But the type of faith that proponents of Intelligent Design believe in is simply not testable.

Here's Judge Jones;

To be sure, Darwin's theory of evolution is imperfect. However, the fact that a scientific theory cannot yet render an explanation on every point should not be used as a pretext to thrust an untestable alternative hypothesis grounded in religion into the science classroom or to misrepresent well-established scientific propositions.

If you haven't read Judge Jones decision; I have linked it.  Okay I have gloated enough.


I found an article in that blew me away.  Yes, really. Fox or as we like to call it here Faux News.   It's by Martin Frost, former Democratic Congressman from Dallas/Fort Worth  He was in Congress for 26 years, and isn't faux anything.

Recently I have been trying to figure out who President Bush reminded me of.

Was it Richard Nixon with his willingness to break the law to hold onto the presidency? Was it FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover who bugged Martin Luther King Jr. and anyone he considered to be a political enemy?

And then it struck me. President Bush most closely resembles King George III of England. You remember him -- he’s the guy whose high-handed rule led to the American Revolution.

Frost reread The Constitution; he's a lawyer, was a Fellow at the Institute of Politics, Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University, and was a Congressman for a long time.  When he talks about the Fourth Amendment I will listen:

Now the "new King George" would have us believe one of three things: (1) the president’s powers as commander-in-chief supersede the fourth amendment during the war on terror (2) the resolution adopted by Congress shortly after the 9/11 attack can be read to give the president the authority to conduct domestic wiretaps against American citizens without going to court to seek a warrant and (3) modern technology is such that the founding fathers could never have anticipated the need to conduct wiretaps without a warrant.

Let's see Frost debase these arguments:

First, it takes a very broad reading of the commander-in-chief clause to justify any conduct as superseding the constitution. President Lincoln suspended the writ of habeas corpus during the U.S. Civil War, an action that was very controversial at the time; it is hard to equate the ongoing war on terror with the American Civil War, which threatened the very existence of the Republic.

Second, I was a member of Congress when we passed the resolution giving the president the authority to use all force necessary against the terrorists who attacked us on 9/11. Congress clearly meant this as authorization to go into Afghanistan and find Usama bin Laden. No one ever thought this authorized our government to wiretap American citizens in our own country without court approval.

Former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle wrote an op-ed piece in the Dec. 23rd Washington Post detailing how the Bush administration proposed last minute language to the 9/11 resolution which would have given the president the power to engage in domestic spying without a search warrant, and that this language was specifically rejected by the bills’ authors.

And third, the modern technology argument is an interesting one but is not very persuasive. Congress in 1978 passed legislation permitting spying inside the United States under certain circumstances. That law created a special court that can respond within hours to a request for search warrants. And the law also contained an exception, permitting the Attorney General to authorize wiretaps in an emergency situation and then seek a warrant within 72 hours.

Frost then asks if Bush...  Oh, he says it so well, and I never want to be accused of mangling words.

Does he simply want dictatorial powers? Does he so mistrust the court system (even a secret one specifically set up to make it easier to wiretap people inside the United States) that he doesn’t want any of the traditional checks on the power of the executive to violate basic civil liberties? Does he just want a political issue that makes him look tough and opponents (Democrats and some Republicans) look weak?

This is our country and this is our Constitution. Even if for some reason you like Bush, he has seriously abused the powers of the presidency.  Don't tell me that I'm convicting him without a trial.  What has Bush been doing?  Here's the one question that you should ask yourself:

"The Bush administration simply cannot answer this one question - if time was of the essence, why didn't they conduct the searches and get the warrants after the fact, something that is allowed under the FISA law? They conducted the searches alright, but they never once sought the retroactive warrants."

Then join us, Bulldog, and the entire Impeach Bush Blog Coalition in taking these steps:

2. Send an email to all of these media folks and ask them "The Question."

3. Sign Senator Boxer's petition .

4. Contact your senator.

5. Contact your congressman.

6. Contact Congressman Pete Hoekstra too.

7. File a Freedom of Information Act request HERE.

8. Sign John Conyers' petition to censure and investigate impeachment.

9. Join the guerilla marketing campaign .

10. Make a donation to ImpeachPAC.

11. Join the Impeach Bush Coalition.

(Thanks to Redneck Mother for inspiring the list.)

Please read the articles in The Impeach Bush Coalition.  More people and newspapers than you would imagine are joining us.  Join with everybody at BIO, in calling for an impeachment hearing.  It's the only way that we're going to ever learn anything unless Bush muzzles the prosecuter, and that's a possiblity that our Congress, and judical system won't allow.  Why?  We have an incredible Constitution and Bill of Rights. Nobody will allow that to be mocked.

We already know that Fitzgerald is incredible; he's the perfect antitode to Ken Starr and that mockery of an impeachment hearing..  Maybe lying about sex is a minor crime; but everything Bush has been doing is a high crime and misdemenor.

Let me end by saying that the only way 2006 can be a great year is by getting rid of Bush and all the Bushettes.

Personally I would like to thank everybody at BIO! for being so great; and Bulldog for beginning the Impeach Bush Coalition.

Let the lost children of New Orleans be found; New Orleans to be rebuilt quickly, and bring the troops home now, please.  We don't belong in Iraq; it's the only way we can ensure their safety.

Peace in 2006.

Posted by Pia Savage at 12:01 AM in Current Affairs, Education, Politics, Religion, Science | Permalink | Comments (10) | TrackBack

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

A year of blogging: from The First Amendment to Intelligent Design

Blogging has been great for me.  It's allowed me to meet people from parts of the country I didn't know well enough before, and realize that people throughout this incredible country are caring, compassionate, and intelligent with beliefs that are very similar but they don't exactly mirror them.

That's the problem.  We, who are called liberal, don't think exactly alike.  Earlier this summer I wrote about subway searches.  I was scared, angry, tired of answering comments from people who do usually think alike, and can't understand how people on Bring it on! can think differently from one another.

I won't explain how The First Amendment really means that America is a Christian country; because as many times as it's been explained to me I still don't understand how this: Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances. The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution can possibly mean that as a non-Christian I have been living in a legally Christian country all these years.  Yes the majority of the population is Christian. 

The variety of religious beliefs in the United States surpasses the nation’s multitude of ethnicities, nationalities, and races, making religion another source of diversity rather than a unifying force. This is true even though the vast majority of Americans—83 percent—identify themselves as Christian. One-third of these self-identified Christians are unaffiliated with any church. Moreover, practicing Christians belong to a wide variety of churches that differ on theology, organization, programs, and policies. The largest number of Christians in the United States belong to one of the many Protestant denominations—groups that vary widely in their beliefs and practices. Roman Catholics constitute the next largest group of American Christians, followed by the Eastern Orthodox.

That in no way means that Thomas Jefferson and the other founding fathers meant for this to be a Christian nation.

The roots of the First Amendment can be traced to a bill written by Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826) in 1777 and proposed to the Virginia Legislature in 1779. It guaranteed freedom of (and from) religion. After an impassioned speech by James Madison, and after some amendments, it became law on 1786-JAN-16.

Why when we at Bring it on! have been saying this since we began am I bringing this up now?  Because many radical Christian Rightists still don't get it.  It's simple; it's the Amendment that guarantees the most basic of rights, the right to practice or not practice a religion, and never have to worry that a state religion will be formed, and also and equal, guarantees freedom of speech.

Because so many people feel validated and vindicated by the people occupying The White House, Intelligent Design, and The Discovery Institute have been getting much play recently.  Here are a few quotes by William Safire who isn't exactly known as a liberal, but yikes, he's Jewish, so the Radical Christian right always knew that they couldn't trust him, really.

Then along came the phrase intelligent design, and evolution had fresh linguistic competition. Though the phrase can be found in an 1847 issue of Scientific American, it was probably coined in its present sense in "Humanism," a 1903 book by Ferdinand Canning Scott Schiller: "It will not be possible to rule out the supposition that the process of evolution may be guided by an intelligent design."

At about that time, the traditional creationists took up the phrase. "We are a Christian organization and use the term to refer to the Christian God," says John Morris, president of the Institute for Creation Research in Santee, California. "The modern intelligent design movement looks at Dr. Phillip Johnson as its founder. ... His book, 'Darwin on Trial,' kind of started it all in the early '90s. We were using intelligent design as an intuitive term: a watch implies a watchmaker."

The marketing genius within the phrase - and the reason it now drives many scientists and educators up the wall - is in its use of the adjective intelligent, which intrinsically refutes the longstanding accusation of anti-intellectualism. Although the intelligent agent referred to is Divine with a capital D, the word's meaning also rubs off on the proponent or believer. That's why intelligent design appeals to not only the DNA-driven Discovery Institute complexity theorists but also the traditional God's-handiwork faithful.

To counter the "sophisticated branding experts" who flummoxed establishmentarian evolutionaries with intelligent design, opponents of classroom debate over Darwin's theory have come up with a catchily derisive neologism that lumps the modern advocates of intelligent design with religious fundamentalists: neo-creo. The rhyming label was coined on Aug. 17, 1999, by Philip Kitcher, professor of the philosophy of science at Columbia University, New York, in a lively and lengthy online debate in Slate magazine with the abovementioned Phillip Johnson, professor of law at the University of California, Berkeley.

Intelligent design advocates like to point to Albert Einstein, who repeatedly rejected a statistical conception of physics with his famous aphorism, "I cannot believe that God plays dice with the world." However, his recent biographer, Dennis Overbye, a science reporter for The New York Times, says: "Einstein believed there was order in the universe but that it had not been designed for us." Overbye also notes that Einstein wrote the evenhanded "Science without religion is lame; religion without science is blind."

Can't really trust Dennis Overbye, he's a reporter for The New York Times.  Like many New Yorkers, I have spent my life in a love/hate relationship with The Times, but I'm very proud it's my hometown newspaper now.  Anybody who wishes to point out that Einstein's brain was smaller than average, and that he couldn't learn to tie his shoes until he was six etc., will be ignored.  Here's something about The Discovery Institute.

After toiling in obscurity for nearly a decade, the institute's Center for Science and Culture has emerged in recent months as the ideological and strategic backbone behind the eruption of skirmishes over science in school districts and state capitals across the country. Pushing a "teach the controversy" approach to evolution, the institute has in many ways transformed the debate into an issue of academic freedom rather than a confrontation between biology and religion.

Mainstream scientists reject the notion that any controversy over evolution even exists. But Mr. Bush embraced the institute's talking points by suggesting that alternative theories and criticism should be included in biology curriculums "so people can understand what the debate is about."

Financed by some of the same Christian conservatives who helped Mr. Bush win the White House, the organization's intellectual core is a scattered group of scholars who for nearly a decade have explored the unorthodox explanation of life's origins known as intelligent design

In any other political climate, these people would be known as crack pots who are pushing a pseudo-scientific answer to the theory of evolution.  But in today's climate they are scientists posing an important alternative to a theory that has been postulated over and over again.  Oh right, Intelligent Design can't be tested through regular tests; a designer acted.  How can you test faith?  Sorry,then it's not science, and can't be taught in public schools.

Here's something by Carl Zimmer that refutes Intelligent Design

It describes how the Institute has spent $3.6 million dollars to support fellowships that include scientific research in areas such as "laboratory or field research in biology, paleontology or biophysics."

So what has that investment yielded, scientifically speaking? I'm not talking about the number of appearances on cable TV news or on the op-ed page, but about scientific achievement. I'm talking about how many papers have appeared in peer-reviewed biology journals, their quality, and their usefulness to other scientists. Peer review isn't perfect--some bad papers get through, and some good papers may get rejected--but every major idea in modern biology has met the challenge.

It's pretty easy to get a sense of this by perusing two of the biggest publically available databases, PubMed (from the National Library of Medicine) and Science Direct (from the publishing giant Reed Elsevier)....Look for the topics that have won people Nobel Prizes--the structure of DNA, the genes that govern animal development, and the like--and you quickly come up with hundreds or thousands of papers.

A search for "Intelligent Design" on PubMed yields 22 results--none of which were published by anyone from the Discovery Insittute. There are a few articles about the political controversy about teaching it in public schools, and some papers about constructing databases of proteins in a smart way. But nothing that actually uses intelligent design to reveal something new about nature. ScienceDirect offers the same picture. (I'm not clever enough with html to link to my search result lists, but try them yourself if you wish.)

Here's another search: "Discovery Institute" and "Seattle" (where the institute is located). One result comes up: a paper by Jonathan Wells proposing that animal cells have turbine-like structures inside them. It describes no experiments, only a hypothesis.

Zimmer's talking about peer review and the importance of papers agreeing with or refuting a hypothesis.  Anybody who does any kind of meaningful research in any field will tell you that the first step is a lit review to see what is or isn't there.  Don't tell me that Intelligent Design is too new to have been studied; it's been discussed enough these last several months, and has been studied for a longer time period.  I have linked to an article from The Natural History Magazine that talks about it in 2002. 

They take it a little less seriously then New Yorkers take subway searches.  They're an inconvenience that can't work. .Subway searches can't work though I would have loved for them to be an easy answer.  Like any good Liberal I have flip-flopped on that one.  I will discuss why they can't work in depth next time.  But I will leave you with one last thing that I have learned this year; the ACLU is a Commie organization out to poison your water and kill your children. No, I added the part after "Commie organization."

Of everything that has happened in the past year, and of all the things that I have learned the movement to stop the ACLU scares me almost as much as or the same as the movement to re-create The First Amendment.

The 2006 elections will be here before we can blink our eyes; and then there will be 2008.  Moderates will take back this country because more and more people are waking up to the reality that the Radical Christian Right has gained power way beyond its membership.  When William Safire and I agree on an issue; it should be a wake-up call.

We Jews don't all know each other; but we do tend to get a bit crazed when The First Amendment is under attack; and Intelligent Design is just another attack on it.

Posted by Pia Savage at 12:00 AM in Current Affairs, Education, Politics, Religion, Right Wing Nut, Science, Weblogs | Permalink | Comments (13) | TrackBack

Monday, July 04, 2005

July Fourth

While we’re celebrating the Fourth of July this year, we all need to remember the official name of the holiday — Independence Day.  (Yes, I know you know that already.)  If there was a truth-in-labeling act for holidays, we’d have to call it Bow Down And Worship Our Perfect Government Day.  This would reflect the attitude of too many Americans.

Remember the original meaning of the word “Patriot”?  The original Patriots overthrew  their colonizers.  They were rebels.  This word has mutated beyond any possible recognition since the founding of our country.  Today’s “Patriots” (at least that’s what they call themselves) insist on unquestioning blind allegiance to the government.  What happened?!?

“There should be a revolution every twenty years.”  Can you name the left-wing rabble-rouser who said that?  Would you believe Thomas Jefferson.  When Jefferson got elected president, he repealed the Alien and Sedition Act — passed by Congress two years earlier — which called for imprisonment of anyone publishing “false, scandalous or malicious writing.”  The law had been passed in order to stifle dissent from the minority party — Republicans.

The popular American archetype has always been the cowboy riding off into the sunset.  Americans have always been proud of their independence, self-reliance, rugged individualism.  “Don’t tell me what to do.”  “Don’t fence me in.”

At some point that changed to “hey, don’t question our leaders.”  “Oh, OK, I’ll happily bend over and let you do what you want to me.  No Sir, I’m not questioning your leadership Sir.”  “Sure, you can go ahead and spy on me and monitor every move I make.  I don’t have anything to hide.”  What the F#%&# happened?

The War on Drugs has probably been the most disgraceful and most long-standing assault on our Constitution.  This is how everyone slowly got used to having Big Brother towering over us.  After several decades of draconian prison sentences for victimless crimes, Americans have gotten numbed to the feeling of an Omnipresent Orwellian government regulating everyone’s every move.  This got the government’s foot in the door and laid the groundwork for the Patriot Act.

The manufactured hysteria over ***DRUGS!!*** is so prevalent that we’ve all just sat on our hands while millions of people have been incarcerated for crimes that affected nobody else.  Millions of otherwise-sane people support this War on American Citizens just because, well, we just can’t allow this sort of thing, this, this permissiveness.  Drugs are bad, M’Kay?

This isn’t a partisan issue.  Some of the most gung ho drug warriors have been Democrats, and some conservatives have actually remembered their own slogans about individualism and limited government.

Debra Saunders, a conservative columnist for the San Francisco Chronicle (yes they do exist in San Francisco), periodically writes about specific individuals who have been caught in the middle of the War on Drugs.  She gives the person’s name and a brief biography, and a description of the crime and sentence:  thirty years in prison, maybe even life without parole, for a woman whose boyfriend is a drug dealer, or someone who was a passenger in a car where a drug deal was being made.  Putting a human face on these tragedies really brings home the total insanity and perversion of the War on Drugs.

And just to show how sick and twisted some people are, Debra Saunders gets a certain amount of hate mail after each one of these columns.  People tell her the War on Drugs doesn’t go far enough, these wicked drug abusers are being coddled and should get even longer sentences, etc. 

Believe it or not, there’s actually an Amendment to the Constitution which guarantees equal protection under the law.  And yet our prisons are filled with non-violent drug users who are serving far longer sentences than most armed robbers and rapists.  Whose definition of “equal protection under the law” is this?

Now there’s a bill working its way through the House of Representatives which would provide up to ten years in prison for anyone who knows about illegal drug use and doesn’t report it to the police.  This bill, introduced by Essen Scheisse Sensenbrenner, R-Wisconsin, has been publicized by many bloggers but there hasn’t been a peep out of the mainstream media.  Is this the America we want?  “Independence Day”?  Independent from what?

After four or five decades of the War on Drugs, we were numbed and sedated and stupefied enough that we were ready to bend over and spread ’em for:  the Patriot Act.

If you liked the illegal searches brought on by the War on Drugs, you’ll love the Patriot Act.  Now you can have your library records searched.  Your home or place of business can be searched without a warrant, and they don’t even have to inform you.

If your response to the above paragraph is “so what, what are you hiding?” or “they can search me; I don’t have anything to hide” — you don’t deserve to live in a democracy.  You need a one-way ticket to the police state of your choice.

Certain provisions of the Patriot Act have been deleted in the House, but they’ll probably be reinstated by the Senate.  Bush has threatened to veto the bill without those provisions, and his bitches jump when he says jump.

The generalization is that liberals are against the Patriot Act and conservatives are in favor of it.  But there are a lot of exceptions, and there’s a growing bipartisan concern about an out-of-control federal government.  Two rightwing former Congressmen, Bob Barr and Dick Armey, have strong Libertarian beliefs and have worked extensively with the ACLU.  Senator Larry Craig, R-Idaho, has been one of the biggest critics of the Patriot Act.

Americans of all political viewpoints need to be aware of the dangers of giving the federal government too much power.  Remember, they work for us; it’s not the other way around.  Hahahahahaha.  Seriously.  That’s how it was originally supposed to be.  Our Founding Fathers would be spinning in their graves if they saw this lazy corrupt trust-funded group of self-serving country-clubbers trampling over the rest of us.  And to top it all off, these underworked, overpaid, overfed blobs just voted themselves another pay raise.  Tea party, anyone?

We need to remember Benjamin Franklin’s famous quote:  “They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.”  We need to maintain a balance of liberty and security, and in the past few years we’ve tilted waaaay overboard on the side of security. 

This year when we’re celebrating Independence Day, let’s all remember that cowboy riding off into the sunset; Clint Eastwood saying “feel lucky punk?”  Think of the Patriots dumping tea into Boston Harbor.  And for God’s sake break out of that hypnotized, stupefied mindset of “Great Leader has spoken.  We must listen and obey.”  It’s way too unbecoming, too perverted, for a country that was founded by rebels.

Posted by Tom Harper at 03:01 AM in Education, Miscellaneous, Politics | Permalink | Comments (38) | TrackBack

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

The State of Education

In March, I posted a two piece story on testing students.  In Florida, it's the end of the school year and test results are back for students.  School grades won't be determined until some time in the summer. 

Because testing results are effecting schools across the United States thanks to No Child Left Behind, I decided to revisit those posts. 

In Florida, we take the FCAT.  The FCAT was originally intended for, a diagnostic aide.  This test was not originally designed to be the holy grail for grading schools.  It was supposed to be used by teachers and administrators to help them determine what skills students need to work on to improve their reading and math.  As a diagnostic tool it's okay.  But, as anyone who works with special needs students will tell you, it's just one tool and it's not the best one to use with every student.

Almost all students are now expected to take this test.  The only students that can be exempted from taking the test are those with significant cognitive and social impairments.  For 3rd graders, it is the state determined standard for advancing to 4th grade or being retained in third.  Students with learning disabilities, mild mental handicaps, and limited English skills are judged the same way as students with no special needs. 

Yes, the students with special needs or limited English skills get some accommodations for taking the test.  The test may not be timed, or they may be able to take it in a different setting, for example.  However, their scores will determine if they are retained or if they move on even if the test is not a valid tool for them. 

After one year in this country, students are expected to be able to take the FCAT.  After two years in this country, students are expected to do just as well as students who were born and raised here.  It doesn't matter that it takes 5 to 7 years to learn a language to the point where you can do more than casual conversation. 

Mentally handicapped students are not working on grade level, yet they must take the test and perform on grade level.  Students with learning disabilities tend to have difficulty processing language.  The ability to process language is a very important factor in determining a student's success when taking the FCAT.  Giving a student extra time does not mean that they can take the test and show what they have learned. 

For example, one student from my school has made incredible progress this year.  She's mentally handicapped, but she's managed to go from reading on a 1st grade level to a 3rd grade level.  This student is in the 4th grade and had to take the same test as her non-impaired 4th grade peers. According to the FCAT, she has shown an increase in learning gains of over 1000 points.  That's remarkable for any student.  Did she pass the FCAT?  No.  She failed. 

By state law, if a 3rd grade students scores a level one on the reading portion of the FCAT, they must be retained at least once.  Even if they have special needs.  If they have no special needs and have never been retained before, they must be retained twice. 

The FCAT is a very important test for students.  Some districts have extended the state retention standard from only 3rd grade to 3rd to 8th grade.  Orange County is just such a district. 

Students know how important this test is to their school careers.  They worry over how they did on the FCAT.  Students with good grades and excellent academic skills worried.  Students who have special needs or limited English skills worried.  Eight year olds worried  themselves sick over a test that takes up 3 days. 

In college, few classes are determined passing or failing on one test or project.  Finals are also given at the end of the term, not three fourths of the way through the term.  We are expecting elementary school students to do what we don't expect from college students.

Please don't suggest that a year's time is from the last quarter of the school year until the end of the 3rd quarter of the next year.  Technically, it's true.  However, as anyone who has taught in Florida can tell you, once students have taken the all important FCAT, they are done for the year.  No matter how hard teachers try, students feel that the big deal is now over and they can coast for the last grading period. 

Jeb Bush promoted and passed a bill in 1999 that determined that schools would be graded on the results of their students' FCAT scores starting in the year 2000.  It's called the A+ plan.

Under this plan schools that do well get bonus money.  Schools that do poorly don't.  These schools also face possible funding cuts.  Sounds fairly straight forward, right?  Wrong.

First of all, school districts don't know what the determining scores will be for a school to be considered A, B, C, D, or F.  We typically don't find that out until after the scores are figured.  One year, the state decided that there weren't enough failing schools and adjusted the score for F to raise the numbers.  This decision came in the summer, after the school year was over.

Another problem with the grading method is that a school can go from an A one year to a C the next.  The following year it can be back at an A.  No, school personnel didn't change radically during that time.  No, curriculum and teaching practices didn't change.  What changed?  The students on which the grades were based.

Ask anyone who's taught for more than a couple of years, and they'll tell you that you have good years and bad years.  Some years you can have a class full of high achievers.  Some years you can have a class full of slow learners.  I won't try and explain why it happens.  It just does. 

If you were comparing the students (high achievers or slow learners) as they progressed from grade to grade, school grades should be fairly steady.  For example, if you compare the scores for students in class A in 3rd grade against their scores in 4th grade, they should show similar growth/learning.  In this case you'd be comparing apples to apples. 

What Florida does, however, is compare students in 4th grade in the 2003/2004 school year to students in 4th grade in the 2004/2005 school year.  If you were teaching a class of students with several slow learners in 03/04 and a class with few if any slow learners in 04/05 it would look like your students made huge gains.  Your grade would go up.  However, if the situation was reversed, it would look like your students made small gains or even slipped.  Your grade would go down.  In this case you're comparing apples to oranges. 

Because everything relies on student performance on the FCAT, schools have been placed in an untenable position.  School districts are putting enormous pressure on school principals to do well.  School principals put enormous pressure on their teachers.  Teachers try their best to teach their students everything and keep up with the paperwork they have to do to show that they are teaching everything and the progress their students are making. 

No matter how much effort is put into teaching the students by both the students and the teachers, no matter how much progress can be shown, all can be for naught.  If a certain percentage of students don't take the test, a school's grade can drop from a B to a D. 

At least 95% of all eligible students must take the test.  If too many students are exempted from the test (such as autistic students) or don't come to school on test days and don't make it up in the two day window, oh well.  Nice try. 

Another factor that has to be taken into consideration, moving the lowest performing students up.  Nothing at all is wrong with that.  As a special education teacher, I've always worked on moving those students up.  Again, though, we get back to the apples and oranges issue.  The school doesn't get credit for moving the lowest performing 3rd graders up as shown on their 4th grade FCAT results.  The school is judged as moving the lowest performing 4th grade students up from two different years. 

Yes, schools are being forced to "teach to the test."  No, it's not always a bad thing.  For reading, schools have become better at teaching students comprehension skills.  For math, however, students aren't taught to mastery any more.  My school district bought a whole new program for elementary math students that cycles through skills quickly in order to expose students to as much as possible. 

This is just based on the A+ plan, by the way.  It doesn't take into effect the further problems caused by the No Child Left Behind legislation.

No Child Left Behind adds more problems to states and schools.  Even though the federal government provides roughly 10% of funding to states for education, NCLB controls 100% of expectations.  Districts and schools that are determined failing face the possibility of the federal government coming in a taking over.  There are stipulation requiring all students to be judged by the same measure. 

According to the NCLB law, schools must make Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP).  These means that all but about 30% of students in multiple categories must read on grade level.

The state of Florida determines grades in part on whether schools show a certain percentage of growth in the lower 25% of students taking the FCAT.  Last year this lead to nearly 70% of the schools in Florida obtaining a grade of either A or B. 

They should have done equally as well according to NCLB, right?  Wrong.  Only 23% made Adequate Yearly Progress last year. 

Why such a gap?  Numerous reasons but the biggest one involves the inappropriate nature of giving special education and Limited English speaking students the same test as non-impaired, native English speakers the same test and expecting the same results. 

Remember the student I mentioned above?  The one who showed learning gains of over 1000 points?  Even though this student is still in the lowest level according to the FCAT, her learning gains show improvement.  She fits into several categories according to NCLB.  She's a Limited English student, a special education student, and a low socio-economic student.  In all categories, she would be counted as a failure.  The school can get credit for the progress she made, but not much.  Typically not enough when averaged together with other students in these categories. 

So why is it that only 10% of state education funding is allowed to control 100% of the outcome?  What happened to states' rights?  You remember states' rights.  Once upon a time, the GOP used to argue long and hard that the federal government not inflict itself on states' rights.  Not anymore. 

Posted by Mulligan at 12:01 AM in Education | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack

Monday, March 28, 2005

Education 2006

One reason conservatives and moderates chose to support George W Bush in November was the illusion of the “No Child Left Behind” program passed in the first year of the Bush administration. This law turned out to be positive in name only.

Congress is considering next year’s budget and education is once again on the table. Conservatives have total control of both houses of congress and they can pretty much pass whatever law they deem necessary to improve the education of our children. The Far Right Republicans lead by George W Bush say that they don’t want to leave any children behind. However, the proposals for this budget say differently.

The House resolution would lead to $38 billion in cuts to education and training from 2006-2010, compared to current spending adjusted for inflation. The Senate version of the bill was protected with an amendment by Senator Kennedy to protect education funding. However, if both versions of the bill are passed a conference committee is likely to strip the bill of this amendment in order to reach consensus.

President Bush is breaking his promise to Americans. He called on the nation to reform our public schools, pledging to make sure that all children receive a quality education, the president has ignored his own pledge. Bush's budget is $12 billion short on funds he promised for the No Child Left Behind Act the program that he touted in the election. The president's proposals would also cut 25,000 children from Head Start, leave 1.7 million children without after-school programs, and kick 2.8 million adults out of programs that help them learn to read.

Why doesn’t the Government have money for education? The government doesn’t have any money for education because the far right radical Republicans have cut taxes to the wealthy. Far Right Republicans don’t really care about public education, because their kids are in private schools. And, the whole reason that the government sponsors education is to keep America a democracy. People need to understand the facts in order to make good decisions. But radical Republicans don’t care about the truth and less education benefits their cause. They can get the uneducated to support the agenda of the wealthy while the poor children don’t get the education they need to keep America a Democracy.

Posted by Dr. Forbush at 04:00 PM in Education | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Saturday, March 19, 2005

re-writing history

This was initially a comment on Preemptive karma, and her post "Those who cannot learn from history are bound to repeat it":

Earlier today on American Street, I commented that one of the reasons so many Americans have such disjointed and misinformed views on the state of our nation and the direction it's going is due to a fundamental lack of solid history teaching in school.

but it grew rather long, the issue deserving slightly more space than that.

I may not know all that much about American history, but since what concerns America pretty much concerns the rest of the world, I'm learning a lot.

And I'm starting to see trends: like policy makers attempting to re-write, and re-interpret history, so that history can then in turn be used to further their aims.

My favorite example of history distorted is here in Malaysia, perhaps we will be able to draw some parallels.

There was a racial clash on May 13th 1969 (t that resulted from the strong opposition to the preferential treatment of one of the three races that make up the country. Preferential treatment for the Malays was written into the constitution because the policy makers of the time, Malaysia's "founding fathers" if you like, believed nothing short of a law would be able to even out the balance between the more successful Chinese and Indian, and the less successful Malays.

Whether that was right or wrong is the topic of another discussion, but it caused a great amount of unrest, and a total of about 200-300 people died in the demonstration (no one is really sure of the actual figure, it depends on whether you listen to pro- or anti-government sources).

The government declared a state of emergency, and since that day has been using the "terrible, and infinitely sad" may 13th '69 as an excuse to keep the nation from protesting against similar ridiculous policies. And there have been plenty such policies: like the Printing and Publications Act that essentially controls the media via a license system given out by the government, and the Internal Security Act, that is very similar to your Patriot Act, and is generally used to get rid of influential people who might be able to change things around here. End of last year they used it on three bloggers (On a side, Bush was very happy with the Malaysian ISA, I wonder why).

What's interesting is the riot was localized to a few districts in the capital, but for the last three decades the death toll had "risen" to thousands and it had been blown into something that has apparently rocked the nation to its core. All other methods of promoting unity between East and West Malaysia (that are separated by an ocean) failing, the government started to use the "great riot" to unite the nation on mourning, and give the different people a (false) sense of common history.

May 13th had become a taboo subject, fit for discussion only in hushed voices with the letters C and M to signify the parties in the conflict, lest we be inciting racial hatred by even bringing the matter up.

The best part of all of this is the change had infiltrated the school system, intentionally or otherwise, I don't know. For more than 10 years I studied the names of the Rajah's and Sultans, their offspring and all the useless things they did. And then in my final year of school I got a crash course in modern history - the glory of the triumph against the British, and the formation of the new and perfect

It's almost as if no one wanted to teach me what really happened. All we were taught in school was that some people died, and no one said why, leaving it ambiguous enough for the government to use whatever interpretation they want.

Years later in University I found out that the very same big bad communists that are being denied entry to their country now to visit the graves of their relatives, were the driving force behind that revolution and not the people drafting the Constitution, and most certainly NOT the coalition in power. That's just one of the things the history books chose to leave out.

The reason I'm using an obscure Asian country as an example is because it started out as the perfect democracy - the initial aims of the Constitution are (for the most part) noble and modern. Written in are all of the fundamental rights, including the freedom of peaceful assembly, but things have been twisted  so much that no one really remembers this anymore. We are now told that speaking out against the government is unMalaysian, unpatriotic.

The nation has been scared into shutting up with a series of laws that directly contradict the rights guaranteed by the constitution. But a much bigger chunk of the problem today is apathy. People have been coerced into thinking this is the way things should be. And THAT is the work of the school system, and the "recommended and approved" history books.

Because what better way is there to have a complete control over the nation, than by starting from small and teaching a new generation that their opinions don't matter, that the Daddy government knows everything better than they do, and that they should not question it because everything is done for their own benefit. And what better way to do that, than by teaching them a fragmented version of history which tells them that things have always been like this, and they worked, so why change now?

Here is an example, from a publication that calls itself independent. They are indeed generally known as a rather progressive on-line publication, that breaches certain taboo subjects, and that is (for now) free from censorship because it is an Internet resource. But even here we see the after-effects of the brain-washing:

"To [former Malaysian Prime Minister] Mahathir, everything and everyone was of great value to him. He employed and honed to perfection the very tools left behind by the colonial master to silence those who disagreed with him, for eg. the ISA, the OSA and the Printing and Publications Act."

[full article]

That's about as blatant as historical inaccuracies promoted by the educational system (and now the media) get. The colonial powers did not make those laws, as we have been led to believe, and the Printing and Publications Act came into force in 1984 toward the end of the emergency. Does no one remember that just 20 years ago this very same Government had been hailing the Act as a means to prevent further "disasters" like May 13th, and further racial clashes?

But of course, now that the legislation no longer holds the faith of the people, we will revise the history books and write it off onto the British.

The rather long winded point I was hoping to make is that history is at the mercy of the policy makers, and just like the "landowners" (and the big bad corporations) that Carla brought up, they have their own agendas, that don't necessarily (if at all) coincide with the needs of the people.

Posted by anna. at 02:00 AM in Education, Politics | Permalink | Comments (7) | TrackBack

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Leaving Children Behind

On January 8, 2002, the latest revision of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act was signed into law.  Ever since it's been known by the Orwellian term "No Child Left Behind (NCLB)." 

The goals sounded great.  All students would be proficient in reading by the end of the third grade, by the 2013-2014 school year.  Also, all limited English proficient students would become proficient in English.  Another goal, all students would graduate from high school.

These goals are wonderful.  They are what everyone wants.  They also ignore the basic fact that not all children are created equal.  When NCLB says "all children" it means all children.  If a child has a learning disability, is mentally handicapped, or has any handicap at all that might hinder their ability to learn, too bad, they still must be on grade level by 2013-2014.  If a student has only been in this country a year and doesn't speak English, too bad, they must still be on grade level by 2013-2014. 

Testing disabled students based on grade level goes against Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) which mandates that these students be taught according to their ability.  This means that a mentally handicapped child in 3rd grade but working on a 1st grade level would be taught according to his ability (1st grade) but tested on his grade level (3rd grade).

As a special education teacher, I can tell you that this puts undue pressure on the special needs students and on their teachers.  I can also tell you that the tests mandated by NCLB don't give these students a chance to show what they've learned.  Why?  Because their progress isn't important.  What's important is whether they are on grade level or not. 

For example, one of my students scored the lowest score possible two years ago when she took the FCAT.  Last year she came up 1000 points reading.  She made huge gains in math as well.   However, it wasn't good enough according to NCLB.  Why?  She was still way below grade level. 

NCLB judges schools as adequate or failing on an overly complex and rigid set of measurements.  Schools must show that their students meet the testing requirements in 63 areas.  Students are broken down into groups by race, socioeconomics, non-native to the US, disabled and must show that a certain percentage or on grade level in each of those areas.  If they miss even one area, the school is considered a failure. 

State testing is used to make this determination.  You would think that if a state like Florida had a high number of A, B and C schools then most of their schools would be considered to make Adequate Yearly Progress.  Not at all.  About 80% of Florida's schools are rated A, B, or C based on the state grading scale.  Only about 20% of schools in Florida were determined to make Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) according to NCLB.  That means the remaining schools were deemed to be failures. 

I'm not the only one who thinks that there are enormous problems with NCLB.  In February, the National Conference of State Legislators, a bipartisan panel of lawmakers issued a report strongly critical of the NCLB law. 

One member, co-chairman Steve Saland, a Republican state lawmaker from New York, said, "What our task force found is that innovation stopped when No Child Left Behind Act came along, because it was no longer allowed."

Another panel member, Kory Holdaway, a Republican state lawmaker from Utah, stated that NCLB "requires that 90 percent of students with disabilities be proficient in their grade level by school year 2013-2014. No Child Left Behind creates benchmarks for students with disabilities that are academically impractical and economically unrealistic."

The panel also questioned the constitutionality of the NCLB law.   From the report:

    . . . with passage of the No Child Left Behind Act, the federal government incorporated many of the state reforms into a single national policy, thereby significantly expanding the federal role in the administration of elementary education. But this assertion of federal authority into an area historically reserved to the states has had the effect of curtailing additional state innovations and undermining many that had occurred during the past three decades.

                                                                                                          Page vi

You can download the report at

Posted by Mulligan at 06:46 AM in Current Affairs, Education | Permalink | Comments (8) | TrackBack