Education – Is it failing?

Most of the older generation know the frustration standing in line, watching as a gangly teen with messy hair scans their purchases. In our story today; the teller scans a mans items, looks at the register, and announces to the man that his total is $19.27. The man checking out places a $20.00 bill on the counter, but as the teller enters 2000 and looks at how much change to return, the man remembers he has two pennies. Not wanting even more pennies, he places the two pennies on the counter. The gangly teen is completely dumbfounded. He doesn’t know what to do. He looks around in a panic. The man checking out, tells him kindly, eighty-five cents. But the kid still doesn’t know if that’s right or wrong, and has no clue whatsoever. He calls over a manager. After explaining it to the manager, the manger stands there rubbing his chin, also clueless. Exasperated the man takes the pennies back and says: “Just give me the seventy-three cents.”. The man had hoped to get rid of a couple pennies, but ended up with a headache and three more pennies instead.

The No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (NCLB) was a U.S. Act of Congress that reauthorized the Elementary and Secondary Education Act; it included Title I provisions applying to disadvantaged students. It supported standards-based education reform based on the premise that setting high standards and establishing measurable goals could improve individual outcomes in education. The Act required states to develop assessments in basic skills. To receive federal school funding, states had to give these assessments to all students at select grade levels.

The 670-page No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (NCLB) was passed with strong bipartisan backing by the United States House of Representatives passed the bill on May 23, 2001 (voting 384–45), and the United States Senate passed it on June 14, 2001 (voting 91–8). President Bush signed it into law on January 8, 2002.

The primary sponsors of NCLB were President George W. Bush and Sen. Ted Kennedy of Massachusetts, a decades-long advocate for raising the quality of public education for all American children. It was coauthored by Representatives John Boehner (R-OH), George Miller (D-CA), and Senators Edward Kennedy (D-MA) and Judd Gregg (R-NH).  One of the principal authors of NCLB was Margaret Spellings, who was nominated to Secretary of Education in late 2004. Spellings, who holds a B.A. in political science from University of Houston, has never worked in a school system, and has no formal training in education.

The problem with the legislation:

  • The Bush Administration significantly underfunded NCLB at the state level, and yet, required states to comply with all provisions of NCLB or risk losing federal funds.
  •  Sen. Ted Kennedy, a sponsor of NCLB and Senate Education Committee Chair stated that: “The tragedy is that these long overdue reforms are finally in place, but the funds are not.”
  • As a result, most states have been forced to make budget cuts in non-tested school subjects such as science, foreign languages, social studies and arts programs, and for books, field trips and school supplies.
  • Teachers and parents charge that NCLB encourages, and rewards, teaching children to score well on the test, rather than teaching with a primary goal of learning. As a result, teachers are pressured to teach a narrow set of test-taking skills and a test-limited range of knowledge.
  • NCLB ignores many vital subjects, including science, history and foreign languages.
  • Since states set their own standards and write their own standardized NCLB tests, states can compensate for inadequate student performance by setting very low standards and making tests unusually easy.
  • Many contend that testing requirements for disabled and limited-English proficient students are unfair and unworkable.
  • Critics allege that standardized tests contain cultural biases, and that educational quality can’t necessarily be evaluated by objective testing.
  • NCLB sets very high teacher qualifications by requiring new teachers to possess one (or often more) college degrees in specific subjects and to pass a battery of proficiency tests. Existing teachers must also pass proficiency tests.
  • These new requirements have caused major problems in obtaining qualified teachers in subjects (special education, science, math) and areas (rural, inner cities) where schools districts already have teacher shortages.
  • Teachers especially object to the Bush 2007 proposal to allow districts to circumvent teacher contracts to transfer teachers to failing and poorly-performing schools.

By 2015, criticism from right, left, and center had accumulated so much that a bipartisan Congress stripped away the national features of No Child Left Behind. Its replacement, the Every Student Succeeds Act, turned the remnants over to the states. The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) is a US law passed in December 2015 that governs the United States K–12 public education policy. The law modified but did not eliminate provisions  of its predecessor, the No Child Left Behind Act, and relating to the periodic standardized tests given to students. Like the No Child Left Behind Act, ESSA is a reauthorization of the 1965 Elementary and Secondary Education Act, which established the federal government’s expanded role in public education. Like the No Child Left Behind Act, the Every Student Succeeds Act passed both chambers of Congress with bipartisan support.

The problem with the legislation:

  • Nationally recognized tests are developed by national organizations.
  • Everything is heavily reliant upon the Common Core which is wrought with its own set of problems.
  • College admissions tests are designed to measure college readiness, not high school learning.
  • The ELA portion of nationally recognized tests may adequately cover high school ELA classes, but the math, science, and civics portions of national tests often cover several subjects (like biology and chemistry) in one testing section.
  • Calculating value-added at the high school level for state report cards could become very complicated, and even impossible, based on the grade in which students take the assessment.
  • Performance assessments require significantly more time to develop, administer, and grade. Considering that some parents and teachers have recently been frustrated with when they receive test scores, it doesn’t seem likely that more grading time will be added.
  • A lack of standardization in grading can lead to serious questions about validity and reliability—and the comparability that a fair state accountability system depends on.

The once “Golden Answer” to educational achievement – the Common Core State Standards Initiative, is an educational initiative in the United States that details what K–12 students should know in English language arts and mathematics at the end of each grade. The initiative is sponsored by the National Governors Association (NGA) and the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) and seeks to establish consistent educational standards across the states as well as ensure that students graduating from high school are prepared to enter credit-bearing courses at two- or four-year college programs or to enter the workforce.

Common Core’s appeal is based on claims that:

  • It represents a tighter set of smarter standards focused on developing critical learning skills instead of mastering fragmented bits of knowledge.
  • It requires more progressive, student-centered teaching with strong elements of collaborative and reflective learning.
  • It will help equalize the playing field by raising expectations for all children, especially those suffering the worst effects of “drill and kill” test prep.

Despite the base on which the Common Core was built, and the good underlying intentions, Common Core remains fraught with problems of its own. Stan Karp put it the best:

Today everything about the Common Core, even the brand name—the Common Core State Standards—is contested because these standards were created as an instrument of contested policy. They have become part of a larger political project to remake public education in ways that go well beyond slogans about making sure every student graduates “college and career ready,” however that may be defined this year. We’re talking about implementing new national standards and tests for every school and district in the country in the wake of dramatic changes in the national and state context for education reform. These changes include:

  • A 10-year experiment in the use of federally mandated standards and tests called No Child Left Behind (NCLB) that has been almost universally acknowledged as a failure.
  • The adoption of test-based teacher evaluation frameworks in dozens of states, largely as a result of federal mandates.
  • Multiple rounds of budget cuts and layoffs that have left 34 of the 50 states providing less funding for education than they did five years ago, and the elimination of more than 300,000 teaching positions.
  • A wave of privatization that has increased the number of publicly funded but privately run charter schools by 50 percent, while nearly 4,000 public schools have been closed in the same period.
  • An appalling increase in the inequality and child poverty surrounding our schools, categories in which the United States leads the world and that tell us far more about the source of our educational problems than the uneven quality of state curriculum standards.
  • A dramatic increase in the cost and debt burden of college access.
  • A massively well-financed campaign of billionaires and politically powerful advocacy organizations that seeks to replace our current system of public education—which, for all its many flaws, is probably the most democratic institution we have and one that has done far more to address inequality, offer hope, and provide opportunity than the country’s financial, economic, political, and media institutions—with a market-based, non-unionized, privately managed system.

And as a result, the problems have become mountains which must be scaled by the student, the educator, and the parents.

  • The arrival of the tests will pre-empt the already too short period teachers and schools have to review the standards and develop appropriate curriculum responses before that space is filled by the assessments themselves.
  • Instead of reversing the mania for over-testing, the new assessments will extend it with pre-tests, interim tests, post-tests, and computer-based “performance assessments.” It’s the difference between giving a patient a blood test and draining the patient’s blood.
  • The scores will be plugged into data systems that will generate value-added measures, student growth percentiles, and other imaginary numbers for what I call psychometric astrology. The inaccurate and unreliable practice of using test scores for teacher evaluation will distort the assessments before they’re even in place, and has the potential to make Common Core implementation part of the assault on the teaching profession instead of a renewal of it.
  • If the Common Core’s college- and career-ready performance levels become the standard for high school graduation, it will push more kids out of high school than it will prepare for college. The most vulnerable students will be the most at risk. As FairTest put it: “If a child struggles to clear the high bar at 5 feet, she will not become a ‘world-class’ jumper because someone raised the bar to 6 feet and yelled ‘jump higher,’ or if her ‘poor’ performance is used to punish her coach.”
  • The costs of the tests, which have multiple pieces throughout the year and must be given on computers many schools don’t have, will be enormous and will come at the expense of more important things. The plunging scores will be used as an excuse to close more public schools and open more privatized charters and voucher schools, especially in poor communities of color.
  • Standards shouldn’t be attached to school subjects, but to the qualities of mind it’s hoped the study of school subjects promotes. Subjects are mere tools, just as scalpels, acetylene torches, and transits are tools. Surgeons, welders, surveyors and teachers should be held accountable for the quality of what they produce, not how they produce it.
  • The world changes. The future is indiscernible.
  • The Common Core Standards assume that what kids need to know is covered by one or another of the traditional core subjects.
  • So much attention is being given the Common Core Standards, the main reason for poor student performance is being ignored; a level of childhood poverty the consequences of which no amount of schooling can effectively counter.
  • The Common Core kills innovation.
  • The Common Core Standards are a set-up for national standardized tests, tests that can’t evaluate complex thought, can’t avoid cultural bias, can’t measure non-verbal learning, can’t predict anything of consequence.
  • The word “standards” gets an approving nod from the public because it means “performance that meets a standard.” However, the word also means “like everybody else,” and standardizing minds is what the Standards try to do.
  • The Common Core Standards’ stated aim, “success in college and careers” is ridiculous, and nowhere near approaches said aim.

Regardless of what you believe regarding the aforementioned Acts and Common Core Standards Initiative, it is clear to anyone living in our present reality (gangly teens excluded) that our standards have fallen considerably. Whether you judge based off of what you learned at a particular grade level versus what your children are learning at that same grade level, or if you take a look back further to the 1912 curriculum for eighth graders and realize that most high schoolers of the current generation would be unable to pass, the end conclusion is the same. We are getting stupider. For now, the cause remains to be unveiled, though many point to technology.

House Joint Resolution 86 Supporters

Bellow you will see the names of the 50 senators who voted on House Joint Resolution 86 (Summary: https://goo.gl/NZSE5D). It has not yet become law so you have a duty as an American for this and for future generations, to keep your internet access free and unmonitored. If monitored, they will be able to see everything you do online, manipulate what you see, and sell all of your data.

What can you do:

Call your representative directly (Rep Lookup: https://goo.gl/wxfvBR) and call them out on Social Media, especially Twitter; telling them to vote no, or that they will without a doubt, lose your future vote.

Here is the list of the 50 sellouts Senators that voted to monitor your internet activity for financial gain:

SENATORPARTYSTATETWITTER HANDLE
Dan SullivanRepublicanAK@SenDanSullivan
Lisa MurkowskiRepublicanAK@LisaMurkowski
Luther StrangeRepublicanAL@SenatorStrange
Richard ShelbyRepublicanAL@SenShelby
John BoozmanRepublicanAR@JohnBoozman
Tom CottonRepublicanAR@SenTomCotton
Jeff FlakeRepublicanAZ@JeffFlake
John McCainRepublicanAZ@SenJohnMcCain
Cory GardnerRepublicanCO@SenCoryGardner
Marco RubioRepublicanFL@MarcoRubio
David PerdueRepublicanGA@sendavidperdue
Chuck GrassleyRepublicanIA@ChuckGrassley
Joni ErnstRepublicanIA@SenJoniErnst & @JoniErnst
James RischRepublicanID@SenatorRisch
Mike CrapoRepublicanID@MikeCrapo
Todd YoungRepublicanIN@SenToddYoung
Jerry MoranRepublicanKS@JerryMoran
Pat RobertsRepublicanKS@SenPatRoberts
Mitch McConnellRepublicanKY@McConnellPress & @SenateMajLdr
Bill CassidyRepublicanLA@BillCassidy
John KennedyRepublicanLA@SenJohnKennedy
Susan CollinsRepublicanME@SenatorCollins
Roy BluntRepublicanMO@RoyBlunt
Roger WickerRepublicanMS@SenatorWicker
Thad CochranRepublicanMS@SenThadCochran
Steve DainesRepublicanMT@SteveDaines
Richard BurrRepublicanNC@SenatorBurr
Thom TillisRepublicanNC@ThomTillis & @SenThomTillis
John HoevenRepublicanND@SenJohnHoeven
Ben SasseRepublicanNE@BenSasse & SenSasse
Deb FischerRepublicanNE@SenatorFischer
Dean HellerRepublicanNV@SenDeanHeller
Rob PortmanRepublicanOH@RobPortman
James LankfordRepublicanOK@SenatorLankford
Jim InhofeRepublicanOK@JimInhofe ‏
Patrick ToomeyRepublicanPA@SenToomey
Lindsey GrahamRepublicanSC@GrahamBlog
Tim ScottRepublicanSC@SenatorTimScott
John ThuneRepublicanSD@SenJohnThune
Mike RoundsRepublicanSD@SenatorRounds
Bob CorkerRepublicanTN@SenBobCorker
Lamar AlexanderRepublicanTN@SenAlexander
John CornynRepublicanTX@JohnCornyn
Ted CruzRepublicanTX@SenTedCruz & @TedCruz
Mike LeeRepublicanUT@SenMikeLee
Orrin HatchRepublicanUT@SenOrrinHatch & @OrrinHatch
Ron JohnsonRepublicanWI@SenRonJohnson
Shelley Moore CapitoRepublicanWV@SenCapito
John BarrassoRepublicanWY@SenJohnBarrasso
Michael EnziRepublicanWY@SenatorEnzi

I’ve taken the time to list their Twitter handles for a reason. Make use of them. Spread them around. Blow up their Twitter accounts with complaints against their vote. But most importantly, take the time to call them. They sadly do not judge the desires of their constituency based upon Twitter interactions, but rather on letters mailed via snail mail, and calls to their office landline.

On Faith and Feeling

I awoke to the following post, and it genuinely sparked my curiosity, as I am one of those people that worships only because I prefer to receive reward rather than punishment in the event that there is, in fact, an afterlife.

“If we worship God because we are afraid of punishment and Hell, then we are not worshipping God at all. If we worship God because we hope to receive a reward now and in the future an entry to Heaven, then we are not worshipping God at all.”

Where does that leave those of us who, for biologically complex reasons, have brains incapable of “feeling” and emotion? Are we then doomed as a result of having been created incapable of having a real relationship with an intangible force as we possess only logic and reason, with no satisfactory spiritual-emotional abilities? For me, I worship only because it is what my father pounded into me. I neither see nor feel anything spiritually. But I do it to honour my father, and because I was taught that it is right. Due to the way the Divine saw fit to create me, I am incapable of truly believing in the unseen. The emotions that I do feel are 1. content, and 2. malcontent. I see in black and white with no shades of grey. I follow logic and emotion.

I am unencumbered by the emotional slavery that leads so many to clam to be of faith and yet follow their own whims while attempting to justify it with the holy book whose rules they are breaking. I do exactly what the faith I follow requires of me. Always. Without any deviation. But I don’t feel, and I don’t truly believe. I act only because following the rules makes me a better person, and because if it turns out that there is an afterlife (and I say if because I have in fact, died before, and there was nothing. I simply ceased to exist until I was revived. Similar to going to sleep without any dreams, and awaking.), I don’t want to suffer in it as well.

Where does that leave me?

Xubuntu 17 To Debian 9 Update Results

If you followed my last, hastily written, explanatory post HERE, you probably thought that I was a little crazy, trying to update an existing Xubuntu 17.04 system to the new release of Debian, 9.0 named “Stretch”. Well, I followed the instructions that I posted there from start to finish, and the results are: [drum roll – your fingers on your desk will do] it… took a real long time. And some issues were faced after upgrade when using sudo aptitude upgrade -y followed by sudo aptitude -f install. What happened, is they pretty much switched back and forth. Upgrade thought that Debian packages took precedence. -f install thought that Ubuntu, Lubuntu and Xubuntu packages took precedence. So each kept overwriting the changes made by the other.

So, just as a general warning, if you try this and it works for you, -f install is pretty well useless from now on, unless you’re lucky and sudo aptitude upgrade –full-resolver works for you. For the record, I use “aptitude” for everything because it is able to find and to resolve conflicts, or to give choices as to how you want a conflict handled, except for autoremove which requires apt or apt-get.

Anyway, to make a long story short, the process worked, and all updating pulls from the correct places and correctly applies, but at this point, I’m unable to figure out, even after autoremove, clean and autoclean, how to restore my ability to use -f install. So I now have a working Debian 9 install with a few remnants of Ubuntu under the hood. It works fine, and is stable.

Xubuntu to Debian

One of my daughters is running Xubuntu on her laptop. Since the latest release of Debian (9.0 “Stretch”) should, in theory, have packages and kernel which are updated and superior to her 17.04 install of Xubuntu, I’m going to try a direct update from Xubuntu to Debian using dist-upgrade.

First, I will do a complete backup of her Minecraft worlds, music and any documents. Then I will edit her /etc/apt/sources.list to comment out all the Xubuntu/Ubuntu repositories and add entries for the new Debian “Stretch” repositories.

nano /etc/apt/sources.list

And comment out the current Xubuntu/Ubuntu repositories, and add the following:

deb http://ftp.de.debian.org/debian/ stretch main contrib non-free
deb-src http://ftp.de.debian.org/debian/ stretch main contrib non-free

deb http://security.debian.org/ stretch/updates main contrib non-free
deb-src http://security.debian.org/ stretch/updates main contrib non-free

# stretch-updates, previously known as ‘volatile’
deb http://ftp.de.debian.org/debian/ stretch-updates main contrib non-free
deb-src http://ftp.de.debian.org/debian/ stretch-updates main contrib non-free

deb ftp://ftp.deb-multimedia.org stretch main non-free

Then I’ll update the package list:

sudo aptitude update

Finally, I’ll check compatibility of the more… “important” packages, and at last run:

sudo aptitude upgrade -y
sudo aptitude dist-upgrade

It’s likely that this won’t work, but it will still be a fun little experiment, since she wants the latest Debian anyway. Worst case scenario, I wipe the drive and do a fresh install. The only customization that her install really has anyway, is Oracle Java JRE 9 and MultiMC for Minecraft. The rest is standard OpenSource.

I’ll be sure and let you know how it worked out!!! If, by chance, it does work well, I’ll do some testing of essential functions to ensure that everything still works smoothly.

OpenSource Privacy

I’ve blogged a bit about OpenSource, and Linux – I’ve even convinced numerous friends and family members to join me. CentOS and Debian are my distros of choice, but for many of them, moving over from the Windows world; simpler is better. So I’ve set them up mainly with Ubuntu (shudder) and Mint. My own children use Xubuntu. I get asked a lot – “How do you get anything done since (insert overpriced product here) doesn’t run on Linux? Well, I’ve blogged about that too, HERE. But in the wake of US Programmes for spying on the American public, such as PRISM, just using OpenSource and expecting the lack of anything Microsoft to protect you isn’t enough. I’ve touched on configuring TOR, using Off the Record plugins for Pidgeon and other similar privacy enhancements HERE. But I’d like to take a moment to post on a basic level for beginners, about the very bare essentials in protecting their privacy. Simple changes that they can make without having to do any real major configuration to their system.

For this, you need to be a bit more clever, doing things such as changing your search engine, what browser you use, how you email and how you generally make use of any web based products. Read more about giving the NSA the finger HERE, and opting out of global data surveillance HERE.

The “Opting out of Global Data Surveillance” link should pretty much cover what you need, and for Linux users like myself, this specific LINK in the Opt Out information is particularly useful. But at the very basic level, even if you don’t feel a need to install, configure and make use of TOR, at the very minimal, use Firefox and make either https://duckduckgo.com or https://www.startpage.com your go-to for your searches each and every time you search. StartPage has the obvious advantage as it provides Google search results (let’s face it, we call searching “Googling” for a reason) but strips out your personal information so that Google never receives your IP or has a chance to laden your machine with cookies. That’s not to say that DuckDuckGo isn’t useful, but you will note a HUGE difference in the quality of search results.

As to email, while it does not have anywhere near the bells and whistles of Google/Gmail, I highly recommend Autistici-Inventati. Their service does provide all of the following, free, and naturally they accept donations to keep these services available. Find them HERE. The webmail is plain and uses Roundcube, but it’s free, private and secure. Couple it with Thunderbird or Earlybird (HERE‘s how you secure them), and it’s a win! Also, you can use K-9 on your Android phone for the secure email feature.

There are other email alternatives, of course, aside from even those mentioned in the Opt Out link. A friend of mine on Mastodon (more on this in a bit) recommends ProtonMail. I haven’t tried it to date, and as such, cannot comment on it positively or negatively. I do, however; respect his opinion and assume that if he recommends it, it’s worthy of said recommendation. You can read about his move to Linux HERE. You can also read his writeup on online privacy (in which he touches on ProtonMail) HERE.

Anyway, these are the surface level important bits gleaned from the Opt Out information. You can read more details and customize more of your desktop environment with apps and web services as you desire based on their guide. These presented here are just the absolute BASICS for preserving a shred of privacy in an ever increasingly watched, regulated and data mined digital world.

The last subject I’d like to touch on, is… well… a touchy one. Social networking. I know… you’re old and stuck in your ways. Facebook is just familiar and easy. Twitter is comfortable and doesn’t require any configuration. Well – that may be true, but they’re also undoing EVERYTHING that we are trying to accomplish in the entire preceding portion of this blog post. Facebook caches every single search. Whether for people or for products. Every page you like. Every status you like. Every news story that you read from their web app. Twitter does the same. Everything that you do on either site is monitored, collected, and placed into a nice little package that allows them to serve all of those ads that you see all over in the side bars, and in between posts. Your email… your birthday… all of your relationships. This data is all theirs. You gave it to them. And they USE IT.

There are two different options for Social Networking that I highly recommend. The first is older (if you don’t count OpenSource predecessors) and it is called Diaspora. It’s pretty much got all of the functionality of Facebook, but without the clutter, without the ads, and without fear of all of your data being mined and sold to any and all bidders. I’m personally on https://diasp.org username theophilus79@diasp.org, but they have a large pool of “pods” to choose from, and you can join any of them. They allow you to follow people from other “pods”, but they aren’t ruled by a centralized, authoritarian data miner. I know, it’s a pain getting your family and friends to switch, but persistence does pay off! The second is Mastodon I’m personally on https://mastodon.technology username theophilus@mastodon.technology – as my main account. It’s essentially a fuller featured Twitter, which allows more character input as well. Like Diaspora, it’s broken into “instances” and not all housed in a central server somewhere. You can join any instance that you like, and like Diaspora, follow people from other Instances. Again, no centralized authoritarian data miner granting you the right to use a website in exchange for all of your digital data. Both Diaspora and Mastodon have mobile apps that you can use. Both are well worth a try, and both will help you protect / control your own data. That isn’t to say that either is foolproof, but both by far outweigh the negative aspects of Facebook and Twitter.

Memorial Day 2017

Winfield Kansas remembers.

With a replica of the Washington DC monument, the Winfield, Kansas Vietnam War Memorial lists all Kansas residents lost in Vietnam. Plans for the Vietnam War Memorial in Winfield began in 1987 when friends who had gathered for a class reunion wanted to find a way to honor their fallen classmates.  The project quickly grew from honoring only Cowley County servicemen to representing all 777 servicemen and nurses from Kansas who lost their lives or are missing in action from the Vietnam War. It was also created as a tribute to servicemen and nurses who served in any world war, and the central obelisk memorializes wars from the revolutionary war, to the World War, as well as POW’s and those Missing in action.

Many gathered today at the memorial, some placing flowers, others making rubbings of the wall, and still others just pausing with loved ones to take photos. It was a very moving display. The author opted not to take photos which would include those grieving. The city placed the flags as a memorial.