I'm baaaaaaack.

Hoarding All the Glitter Since 2001.

29 July 2012

Minutiae Sometimes Have Value.

Like most teachers, I am a walking Jeopardy game.  Children ask lots of interesting questions.  I think it is good educational practice to tell children you don't know something or to help them find the answer themselves, but I do generally try to find answers to their questions.  And whenever I am planning a new unit of study I try to learn more about the topic than I plan to teach.

Some develop this skill/habit/eccentricity through teaching; others collect strange facts and obsessions like magpies.  I am one of the latter.  One of my minor sideline interests is risk analysis, and through this I am perhaps overburdened with all kinds of information about Enron.

Strangely enough, this comes in rather handy when discussing education reform.  One of the wealthy deformers attempting to manipulate education like it's demand for electricity in a badly-deregulated market is John Arnold, ex-Enron trader and all in all not someone whose life experience leads me to think he has any place in education policy.

Apparently I'm not the only Enronista who's teaching, because a recent comment thread at the Answer Sheet (now closed) brought it up:

"educationlover54" begins:
Enron used to practice a strategy with their traders they called "Rank and Yank." Each year they would rank their traders by the amount of money they made the company, and then fire the lowest 10-15 percent. Since it was because of the traders that Enron went bankrupt, we can see that "Rank and Yank" wasn't all that good in the long term for the company.  

What RTTT is doing seems equivalent to Enron's "Rank and Yank" policy.

"educator53" chimes in:
Rank and Yank ensured that the most brutal Enron traders would continue their tricks. It pressured the traders to do things that were unethical in order to create false earnings for the company, such as the rolling blackouts that occurred in California.

And then "ramrants" gets irritated:
Enron didn't go bankrupt because of the traders. It went bankrupt because of the deriviative accounting practices they implemented. This is the reason why all the finance and accounting executives are currently in prison and not their traders. 
The interent [sic] is a wonderful thing. Where else can you spread your ignorance to the masses?

I'd like to respond to "ramrants": Yes!  You certainly spread your ignorance on the internet today!

Because ramrants?  Is WRONG.  Among the many reasons Enron went bankrupt were its traders:
  1. Enron's energy manipulation shenanigans opened them to huge liabilities, and they had to first hold cash and then give it away to settle regulatory issues at a time they could not afford it.
  2. Traders went to jail and accepted plea bargains to avoid prison because of their illegal manipulation of energy markets.  In fact, the first Enron plea deals originated in Portland - among electricity traders - prior to the bankruptcy.  (Besides, now that Andy Fastow's out of the halfway house, I am quite certain Jeff Skilling is the only Enrat still in prison.)
  3. Traders at Enron rose to positions of power, taking their dubiously legal and morally bankrupt strategies to the company as a whole.  Enron's last President?  A trader.  The person who perhaps  lost the most of Enron's cash while making off the best?  Also a trader.
  4. Enron's traders demanded massive "retention" bonuses as the company bled cash, even though the "retention" they were offering was a few months at best.  This made it difficult for Enron to raise cash because its burn rate was worsened.
  5. Enron's trading book was essentially valueless; despite the traders' claims, they weren't sitting on any cash to save the company.  Nor did their unit survive after its purchase - UBS laid off the traders and then closed the book.
  6. And most critically, Enron's traders burnt through the cash Dynegy gave Enron as part of their merger agreement.  When Dynegy realized the cash was gone, the Hail Mary merger failed, and Enron had no choice but to declare bankruptcy.  That's right: in the end, the traders bankrupted Enron.
I don't know if ramrants is simply misinformed or one of John Arnold's commenting identities.  Regardless, Enron as a whole - traders, Rank and Yank, mark to market, you name it - all of it was built  around the value of being number one no matter the cost.  That's why the elevators showed the stock price.  That's why the traders ran the asylum.  That's why ludicrous deals with great but fake numbers got approved just before annual bonuses.

Enron was built around the idea of absolute, cutthroat competition.  It was a brutal and hostile workplace.  In that environment, moral lapses and cheating became commonplace, even honored.  Honesty got you lousy bonuses and recommendations to find work elsewhere; coming up with ways to bankrupt Californians and giving them catchy names like "Death Star" got you big bucks.  And we can all see how that played out.  John Arnold may have a lucrative career and plenty of cash on hand to bring Enron's values to education, but most of Enron's rank and file employees lost everything.

So in the end, Enron does matter.  Its values are those we see in education reform.  That those values are bankrupt and destructive goes unmentioned or ignored.  I don't think we can allow that: we need to fight the kind of ideology upon which Enronesque deformers rely.

And that's why being an Enronista does still come in handy.

27 July 2012

The Inexperienced Leading the Uncredentialed

Dear Match Graduate Program in Education,

I think this Answer Sheet column sums up the big problems - the general deficit approach to poor students of color, the lack of agency and responsibility granted to students, etc. - but they neglect to condemn some stylistic issues.  Presumably, they're letting readers make their own judgements, and maintaining civility.

I have no such compunctions.  Therefore:

  1. Maybe it's because I wasn't the kind of kid who "succeeded in school when given freedom", but it alarms me that you assume high-needs children must have their freedoms restricted to succeed. It's not just deficit, it's damaging.  If we do not teach children how the powers that be expect them to act in low-structure environments, we are condemning them to fail.  Besides, I bet your students do very well in many high-freedom situations - you just don't bother to identify any that might be different than those with which you grew up.
  2. LOLCats?  No, seriously: you illustrate points with LOLCats?  Wrong on so many levels.
  3. Despite my serious muscles, I never attempt to "bad-ass" my way through a classroom.  And yet my students respect me.  Perhaps this has to do with my assumption that given the proper explanations for why I want something done in a certain way, they'll agree to do it.  You know: I respect my students enough to believe they deserve to understand my reasoning.
  4. Speaking for my fellow ADHD, you can make us sit up straight but you can't make us learn that way.  Sitting up straight takes so much energy I don't have that much for actual learning.  I look good, though.
  5. Children behave as we expect them to.  If we expect them to run wild through the halls and demand therefore that they do exactly as we say - silent prisonwalking - sure, they may do it.  They'll also come to understand that you don't believe they could control themselves in any other way.  That's not a lesson I want to teach.
More broadly, I always think it's funny how unmanaged my students must look to these charter types.  Yet my students learn the content I teach and practice critical thinking.  How do they think I get these results?  Do they assume they're false?  I truly don't get it.  The way I teach isn't that odd or unique.  I have to assume that these kids look, figure the results are poor, and condemn it.

26 July 2012

Special Rights

Various school reform advocates claim all they want is equity with real public schools.  Charters just want to share space with regular public schools.  They simply want access to the same funding streams.    Choice programs will offer rigorous education to all, with all schools held to strict accountability standards.

The problem is that this just isn't true.  The reformers don't want equity, they want Charter schools have a bad habit of taking over spaces, not sharing them equitably.  And the latest news out of Louisiana reminds us that accountability standards aren't for everyone, either:

State money will continue to flow to scores of private and religious schools participating in Louisiana's new voucher program even if their students fail basic reading and math tests, according to new guidelines released by the state on Monday.

The reform rhetoric and reform reality are not at all the same.  When the rhetoric is questioned, the reform crowd has a bad habit of calling for civility, under the theory that questioning untruths is rude.  It's time to demand honesty over civility.

25 July 2012

Believing the Lie

Charter school proponents often turn to a delightful interpretation of market forces when extolling the benefits of their schools.  Parents are informed consumers who shop for the best school option, and the market power forces every school to be better through the power of competition.

This is ridiculous, of course.  We mandate schooling; it is not some kind of luxury add-on for which we shop.  Our consumers are variably informed, and our charter schools are not interested in all shoppers anyway.

Of course, often all cutthroat competition does is cut a lot of throats, not better all who are forced to compete.  And as the article shows, this isn't a fair competition.  The existence of charter schools does not empower real public schools through all-American competition; it weakens them.  While charters compete for the most-informed parents, public schools educate all comers.  While charter schools benefit from extra private funding, public schools lose funding - and not only through enrollment cuts, but also from the damage perpetuated on our economy by some of the very same proponents of charter education.

I don't believe that charter school champions were necessarily ever that interested in improving school quality broadly.  They certainly don't have the means or methods to do so.  What they have accomplished is supporting the dismantling of broad public education in the United States.

The failure of some competitors is to be expected in a free market system.  It's a little harder to accept when that failure dooms so many children.  It's time to start challenging the idea that schools are a commodity to be sliced, diced, and sold.  They are a public trust for all of us.

22 July 2012

This Is Why We Can't Have Nice Discussions

There is widespread agreement across the political spectrum that the official poverty rate is the highest it has been in nearly fifty years. Nearly a quarter of all children live in poverty. Needless to say, the impact of poverty on those children, their families, and their schools is enormous.

Poverty means transient, unsafe, and crowded housing situations. These do not offer the quiet, well-lit homework zone most teacher magazines recommend I suggest to parents at conferences. Nor do they support regular, uninterrupted sleep. Low-quality housing in industrial neighborhoods causes health problems like asthma; these health problems further disrupt sleep and impact learning. Sick kids can't get to school. This housing is often located in food deserts, so even if our hypothetical poor family receives food assistance (California ranks 50 out of 50 in participation in food stamp programs by eligiblity), healthy food is not necessarily available. Malnutrition and hunger impact learning: hungry children are not focusing on academic content.

I could go on like this for pages. I think it's clear that we have an enormous problem. It's also a problem that we have the means and ability to solve. We do not live in a poor nation. Tax rates are at incredible lows. Income disparity is a yawning gap. Safety net spending is miniscule. Rather than investing in a healthy, well-educated society - don't you think a civil democracy needs one? - we are choosing to abandon one in every six Americans.

However, we can't even have a serious discussion about poverty and what it would take to at the very least mitigate poverty rates and provide a minimal standard of living and education for every American. And that's because some people will think, say, and do anything to avoid it. From the article linked above:

Robert Rector, a senior research fellow at the conservative Heritage Foundation, believes the social safety net has worked and it's now time to cut back. He worries that advocates may use a rising poverty rate to justify additional spending on the poor, when in fact, he says, many live in decent-size homes, drive cars and own wide-screen TVs.

First off, I've got to say that Mr. Rector has needs a hobby if worrying about spending on the undeserving, television-owning poor is keeping him up nights.  But more importantly, Mr. Rector's statement is the worst kind of dodge.  It's the kind of argument we see about pensions - "I don't have a pension and will starve in the street if I try to retire," observes quoted Voter X.  "So why should anyone else?"  The possibility that Voter X might be better served by a wider public pension system or more generous Social Security benefits is not addressed.

Rather than admitting that a rising poverty rate might in fact be a problem, Mr. Rector would like you to focus on how the poor aren't really poor.  After all, they own things.  Mr. Rector does not believe the poor should own things, I guess.  Whether he thinks Oliver Twist-esque workhouses are the solution or not he doesn't mention, but clearly poor people shouldn't be participating in this whole "Ownership Society"  thing - or at least not the parts that involve, you know, actually owning anything.

I'd like to take a moment, though, to look into these possessions that the poor may have, thereby causing Mr. Rector to doubt their poverty.
  1. "Decent-size" homes.  Mr. Rector does not explain what "decent-sized" means.  Nor does he explain whether or not he is accounting for how many people are living in that home.  Nor does he tell us whether the home is well-maintained or in a nice neighborhood.  Notice, too, that Mr. Rector isn't claiming that the poor own these homes.  If some person's apartment over at Sunnydale is larger than Mr. Rector feels is appropriate (even if the entire extended family is sharing it), that person qualifies as indecently over-housed in his view.  What a broad-minded and charitable individual, no?  (He's also not considering the newly-poor, unemployed and stuck in homes with underwater mortgages until they are evicted during foreclosure proceedings.  But I digress.)  Don't miss that he's talking about decent-sized homes.  Apparently the real poor live in indecently-sized homes.  Any decency should not be provided to the poor, huffs Mr. Rector.
  2. "Drive cars".  Let's go back to our hypothetical Sunnydale dweller in his or her huge apartment.  Sunnydale is located in the far southeast side of the city.  It is largely surrounded by a park.  Local labor opportunities are few and in between.  Sunnydale is served by two bus routes.  So if our Sunnydale resident has a job, he or she can commit to a daily commute of at least an hour by bus or buy a cheap used car.  I'm guessing that Mr. Rector is not a big fan of government spending on public transportation - the kind that would be necessary to make not owning a car a possibility for the rural poor, people living in poverty in very spread-out suburban areas, poor people in underserved neighborhoods, and so on.  "Poor people should take the bus!" howls Mr. Rector.  "Public transportation funding is a boondoggle!" he adds.  So should the poor walk?  Mr. Rector wants you to focus on the undeserving poor he posits, not the fact that he has deposited them in a Catch-22.
  3. "Wide-screen tvs".  This one always gets me.  Beyond the fact that a wide-screen television isn't terribly expensive these days (Mr. Rector is living in the late 1980s, I think), and that people who want television recently had to upgrade their sets to receive HD programming, television is the cheapest appliance available if you think about its many purposes.*  Television can provide news, entertainment, education - heck, even religion! - with low upkeep and electricity costs.  Televisions are durable and fun for the whole extended family living in their too-generously sized home.  I understand that Mr. Rector thinks the poor should be picking oakum and doesn't think they need to be informed, but this idea that television ownership is a dividing line between the poor and not-poor (or the deserving poor and those not deserving) is hogwash.
So Mr. Rector wants us to focus on those terrible, not very poor people in poverty.  Rather than examining what it would take to have a robust safety network, we should condemn one in six Americans for the crime of possibly owning a television.  This is certainly a popular and powerful way to control our political debate.  It's also dishonest, peripheral, a dodge, and extraordinarily hateful.  I hope that Mr. Rector never finds himself in poverty.  But if he did, I doubt a television, a car, and a decent-sized dwelling would make him feel less so.

*For the record, I do not actually own a television.  I don't mean to argue that television is a wonderful thing.  I just want to observe that it is ubiquitous and on an adjusted by use basis a good investment.

21 July 2012


Have you updated your whooping cough vaccination recently?  Remember, adults need a booster.  Nor should you forget that immunity is not a lovely parting gift after contracting whooping cough.  Whooping cough is extremely unpleasant and you do not want to have it or infect others.  I speak from experience.  (Moreover, since I am allergic to tetanus and therefore can't be vaccinated against whooping cough, I am counting on the herd here.)

I believe that diversity in and of itself is valuable and important.  However:

Research shows that students attending racially and socioeconomically diverse schools have higher academic achievement across the board.

Neat, huh?  Support diversity in schools today!

19 July 2012

A Clear Credential vs. HOUSSE.

The No Child Left Untested Act wants every child to have a "highly qualified" teacher.  Whether or not you believe five weeks of training will create a highly qualified teacher, it's not hard to be highly qualified.

One of the things you don't need is a full teaching credential.  In California, intern credentials - a two year credential that requires you pass a test and enroll in a credential-granting program - is enough to be highly qualified.

So teachers who have no classroom experience and no coursework in education count as highly-qualified.  This San Diego USD NCLB compliance page explains the requirements.  Basically, you need at least one hundred points to qualify, and if you can't scrape up the full hundred, you can still count as highly qualified by having a classroom observation.  This is a pretty standard worksheet for demonstrating that one can meet California's "High, Objective, Uniform State Standard of Evaluation" (HOUSSE ).

In short?  Without bothering with an observation and Form 3, I can rack up several hundred points.  Being designated "highly qualified" is highly easy and requires limited qualifications.

And it definitely doesn't require a full teaching credential earned through completing coursework and cleared through observations, portfolios, and testing.

18 July 2012

Best Behavior

I went to a screening of "American Teacher" this weekend which included a discussion.  I was on my best behavior, so I generally avoided flipping out or observing actual inaccuracies in the statements of others.  It's no holds barred around here, though!

  1. To the rising second year Teach for American who was recruiting for Students First, the reason that all those veterans aren't working as hard as you isn't that they're lazy.  It's that they've done this before and they've already made the investment in early-career prep you still need.  (I think I inadvertently upset this young person, however, by observing that one of the factors making my job harder was teacher churn: the need to take care of first year teachers at the cost of my own prep, plus how all professional development is geared toward their needs, even though many of those teachers won't stay more than two years.  This person definitely won't and turned red when I said this, but it wasn't directed at anyone.  Really!)
  2. To the charter school owner who explained that we know just how to educate children of color, your state receives muuuuuch more money per pupil than California and has some pretty notorious issues around charter school enrollment and retention. And also?  We may know how to educate all children, but we're sure working hard to fail some of them.
  3. To the new teacher who said teacher salaries are pretty good, I felt that way too my first few years.  Then I got older and started having family financial needs.   And I discovered that the top of the salary scale is just about ten thousand more dollars than I make now, despite all I will learn and all the investments I will make in that time toward improving my practice (and equipping my classroom).  That made me a little frustrated, particularly as I graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Fancy Private University X, have advanced degrees, and could make lots more money in the private education sector writing tests or curricula.  Just saying.
  4. To the teacher who claimed that teachers leave because students don't respect them, respect is not one's due simply because one is a teacher.  Families and students at my school respect me because I've been there, I demonstrate respect myself, and I assume we are all doing our best we can.  You'd be surprised.
In other news, I assume that this chilly July means a torrid September and purchased some clothing with a ninety-degree classroom in mind.

15 July 2012

Reflect before Retooling

This op-ed is making the rounds, and I think it makes some pretty good points.  Teach for America is far too concerned with its application counts and acceptance rates, and despite its mission to support high-needs schools, quotes like this make it seem like the mission is to support recent college graduates while they find themselves:

Wendy Kopp, CEO and founder of TFA, addressed this issue last month in an interview with NY1 news: "Our applicant pool fell in half when we asked for a three-year commitment. It doubled if we asked for one year. The reason this plays out is that 22-year-olds think that two years is the rest of their life."

But I feel that the author makes some of the same mistakes in her framing.  Sure, one's teaching practice is undeveloped after two years in the classroom.  The frame here is around one's own practice, though - not around students or the school.  It's about the TFA teacher, not his or her impact on the host school.

And the real problem I have with Teach for America is its whole-school impact.  Schools are not stable when staff is in and out the door.  There is no institutional memory, standard and schoolwide systems, or even much rapport among staff.  Children are failed, because there aren't teachers who've known those kids since Kindergarten with whom to consult if they start having problems in fourth grade.  Families are failed, because building relationships is hard work that happens over years, especially when complicated by institutional roles and ethnolinguistic and class difference.

A five-year commitment would help.  TFA teachers have worse attrition than all teachers, but attrition is high across the board, especially at high-needs schools.  The job is often thankless and difficult, teachers are not particularly well-paid, and the idea that one embarks on a career for life is fading anyway.

More broadly, though, I think TFA has got to start thinking less about its "best and brightest" and more about those they encounter in their two years.  More narrowly, I think there are some things TFA has got to admit can't be done in a two-year commitment: Special Education and Early Childhood Education.  Special Education does have a shortage of teachers; putting minimally-trained young people focused on academic results doesn't ameliorate the bigger problem.  And nothing in TFA's training makes me believe they can handle social-emotional development and learning.  Perhaps that's because I can't forget this letter from a young Corps Member:

As a kindergarten teacher in a Title I school with 99 percent of students receiving free or reduced-price lunch, most of my 5-year-old students enter without being able to recognize the letters of their name or count to 10. They are certainly not suffering from overly high expectations but rather the opposite. Testing has shone a spotlight on the fact that for too many low-income children, the expectations have been so low in kindergarten that they leave without the foundational reading skills they need. Peggy Orenstein is correct: assessment in itself is useless. What is useful is its power to define expectations and hold students, parents and teachers accountable. My greatest wish is that one day my students will have the luxury of complaining about their “souped-up childhood learning.”

Not only is it depressingly dismissive of families, it betrays a fundamental lack of interest in what children need outside of academics.  And I've seen the result of all-work-all-the-time Kindergarten: if the children didn't have preschool, they often struggle socially throughout primary because the important work of emotional learning, play, and peer interaction was ignored in favor of drill.  If this is an example of what TFA thinks about Kindergarten, they can't be in ECE.

13 July 2012

Job Expectations

Since there's only about a month of summer vacation left and I like to get started on room setup at the very beginning of August (saves stress later), I just finished ordering some basic room materials for the year.

I don't know any teacher at a high-needs school who doesn't buy his or her own bulletin board trimmers, name tags, charts, stickers, heavy-duty folders and other general supplies.  Some of these we order because we have specific desires.  For instance, I order my own folders because I would prefer to buy a couple sets of heavy-duty, extra-large folders annually rather than a couple hundred cheaper ones (which my school doesn't supply anyway).  I also bought a mess of these, which came highly recommended by teacher and trainer alike at the Institute I attended.  (I could just get pencils from the supply closet.)

But a lot of these things just aren't provided.  If I don't buy incentive charts, I can make my own (time-consuming).  If I don't buy bulletin board trimmer, then the boards won't be trimmed (ugly; also, it requires being far neater in cutting the paper since trim hides rough edges).  If I don't buy stickers, I won't have any.  And again: this is something that many - most - teachers have to do every year.  This is not a job requirement for other professions - CPAs do not need to buy their own green visors and calculators; doctors do not purchase their own surgical tools, etc.  This is yet another de facto paycut for teachers, especially since when school budgets are cut, supply budgets are cut - but children still need the same things.  (This is also why big line items for supplies in central office budgets are really irritating.)

As it happens, this means I've already spent my federal tax deduction ($250) for school supplies before the year has started.

08 July 2012

Lavatory Liberty

There is something of an internet brouhaha going on around this essay, which observes that private power restricts freedom even in the free market workplace.

I have no desire to add to the erudite discussion, but I have to say that I am amazed by the number of people who do not find certain workplace restrictions coercive and seem to have no experience of them.

I mean, along with service workers and assembly liners, teachers have significantly restricted bathroom breaks.  It is not uncommon for teachers to go four or five hours without being able to visit the lavatory.  Field trips and rainy days can lead to six to eight hours without a bathroom break.

This isn't to say that other workers do not face far more severe and ugly restrictions and coercions.  It's just to wonder if those who support absolute freedom for bosses are just totally clueless.  If such a large working group - in a professional class and unionized job no less - is subject to rather demeaning and possibly dangerous restrictions, how can you ignore reality?

07 July 2012

The Strange Double Life of Mr. Brooks

I think this Charles Pierce column covers most of the issues with David Brooks' latest screed in the New York Times, but a few questions remain:

  1. How does Mr. Brooks reconcile his love of bizarre drill-and-kill experimental charter schools with the inquiry-driven, student-centered education he mourns here?
  2. Is Mr. Brooks familiar with the diagnosis of ADHD in childhood?  Because even screening for ADHD is strongly discouraged until 2nd grade or so.  And many school districts (like mine) refuse to screen for it at all.  In short, Mr. Brooks: just because you heard about the mean spinster nursery school teacher who forcibly drugs young boys with Ritalin doesn't mean she exists.
  3. Has Mr. Brooks read any recent Newbery Award winners?  While the narrator in Dead End in Norvelt does have nose bleeds under stress and avoids viewing corpses, he also spies on Hells Angels and assists in building a bomb shelter.  I don't think this is sensitive, anti-boy literature.  Does he propose that the author's other autobiographical tale be read instead?
As a side note, in New York Jack Gantos was one of the keynote speakers and pretty hilarious.  Although he did not tell the story of James Marshall and the scotch, he did highlight some of my favorite children's authors (on Tomi Ungerer: "...kicked out of [children's books] for being too grumpy!") and some of my least favorites (on Fancy Nancy: "I'm still shaking out the glitter!").

06 July 2012


SFUSD has released its latest update of its strategic plan, which includes some handy pie charts, tables, and graphs.

On page two, it lists out staff by type/location: site administrators, teachers and substitutes, paraprofessionals, student support services, nutrition, facilities, and "Central Office Classified".  The last group comprises a mere three percent of District staff - 261 people.  Needless to say, I anticipate seeing this figure regularly during contract negotiations and budget battles: You must accept another week of furloughs and pay freezes because there's no room for cuts at the Central Office!

Still, not everyone at the Central Office is classified.  Many of the people working at the Central Office are certificated - they have some kind of education credential.  Where are those people counted?  And given that those folks comprise the majority of the highest salaries, I'd like to see a breakdown of district   human resources expenditures by job class, with a pie chart showing the percentages of the total allocated to various groups.

Anyway, these charts are helpful, but I get the feeling they're gaming the "Central Office" count - much in the way that the District annually "lays off" a hundred folks at 555 McAllister and then fails to lay off any of them - or even go through the motions of sending notice as required by the Ed Code (to be fair, the District was marginally more honest about that this year, which is probably in their best interest - telling the media you're laying off a hundred District staff every year suggests that thousands work at 555 McAllister, 20 Cook St., 1098 Harrison, and the rest).

04 July 2012

Dear Fellow California Voters,

I am delighted that you join me in panning the Governor's Legislature-approved plan to destroy the state's public schools if you don't vote for his tax initiative.  I agree that the Governor's scorched-earth tactics are offensive (and somehow manage to lightly singe the wealthy while charring the poor, but I digress).  I would also add that both tax plans will do far too little for California's schools - even if either/both pass, schools will still be drastically underfunded - and nothing to ameliorate ongoing, structural issues that condemn poor schools and poor districts to inadequate funding.

However, I feel compelled to observe that if neither tax initiative passes, these cuts will happen.  Your disgust will not stop them.  Recalling Brown and installing some Republican will not stop them.  And they will be absolutely brutal to your local public schools.

A few comments on common misconceptions:

  1. There may be waste, but thousands are not billions.  Any large bureaucracy, be it private or public, is going to waste some money.  At some size point, streamlining ends.  However, small areas of waste - be they the fancy car allowances we give our state government elected officials, a redundant clerk in some office, etc. - are small.  And even collectively, they will not cover the proposed cuts.  Anyone blathering on about waste failed second grade math lessons on place value.
  2. There is no magical money tree.  Indeed, corporations pay far too little to the state.  They won't even pay taxes to maintain the infrastructure they use.  But unless you are willing to significantly raise taxes or even overturn/rework Proposition 13, there won't be any money for education and social services in California.  Nor will the stingy federal government be opening its purse strings any time soon.
  3. The state GOP benefits from not having to have a plan.  California's elected Republicans would like you to know that they oppose all school funding cuts.  They also oppose all new taxes and revenues.  See points 1 and 2.
  4. You cannot blame this on undocumented Californians or the poor.  Again, this is an issue of place value.  Social service funding - which undocumented Californians do not receive - amounts to very little.  Poor people are not living well on your dollars.  Undocumented Californians are not privy to secret government cash funds from which you are barred.  Hating those who have less than you is far easier than structural changes that would actually make a difference but also threaten those in power.
  5. Nor can you blame pensions - and you should have one, too.  The state's pension funds are slightly underfunded - no real surprise given the state of the money markets.  Contrary to popular belief, the worker-funded pensions are neither overly generous or destroying California's prosperity for years to come.  They are providing a moderate retirement to the state's firefighters, teachers, police officers, and social servants: hard working and well-educated people who accepted moderate salaries in exchange for a decent retirement.  Rather than despising those who have a retirement fund that will support their needs, it would be better to ask why extraordinarily wealthy individuals would prefer to add to their money mountains rather than provide all workers with a guaranteed retirement.  California's schoolteachers do not demand you work until you die to support them.  California's corporations do: the infrastructure for which you pay, and the state's  unequal tax burden (personal taxpayers pay more than corporations) support ever-higher corporate profits.  Yet these companies prefer to stockpile their cash and provide multi-million dollar pensions to their executives - who already have more money than they can spend - rather than doing well by their employees.
In short, I hope you'll join me in gritting your teeth and voting yes on both tax initiatives in November.  And after the vote, I hope to see you also organizing to send Proposition Thirteen into retirement.


E. Rat

02 July 2012

It ends up that there is weather so vile that even I do not wish to try on clothing.

I only purchased one dress and one pair of pants in New York.


I'm always a bit bemused by ranting around Look At All This Stuff Kids Don't Know Find Me a Teacher to Blame.

Because the thing is, plenty of functioning adults don't have these skills, either.

Take spelling.  The spelling of the average citizen is appalling.  This is bigger than a few missing apostrophes - despite the fact that California reliably and annually places multiple questions (out of a mere forty) about plural endings and consonant doubling on its standard exams, adults I know spell these words wrong all the time.

Don't get me started on the limited vocabulary or basic innumeracy Americans display.

I only see two real possibilities here.  Either these skills are very hard to learn and few people ever do, or whatever failure there has been in teaching them has gone on for a long time.  Perhaps the fact that we don't really prize basic spelling - I don't care how many spelling bee documentaries are made, the fact is we have spellcheck - or vocabulary.