Education: About Charter schools and Teach for America

While Teach for America has been Idaho’s biggest educational issue this month, a Washington State court delivered a bombshell by declaring charter schools against their state constitution, one with wording very much like Idaho’s.

December 12th, Judge Jean Rietschel of the Superior Court for King County ruled the use of state funds for charter schools violated the constitutional provision requiring that state education revenues be “exclusively applied to the support of common schools.”

Sneaky little word, “common.” One might think that, with state-funded charter schools in 42 states, they could be regarded as “common.” Not so. According to the judge, the traditional meaning of “common schools” is open to all and governed by an elected board.

Of course, appeals are certain, but, as education pundit Diane Ravitch points out, charter schools have used the claim that they are private corporations to fend off lawsuits by employees and, in one California case, to avoid prosecution for misuse of public funds.

This ruling has to be unsettling to the directors and employees of Idaho’s nearly 50 charter schools as well as their 16,000+ students. An uncertain future can only hurt the search for financing for start-up costs and buildings.

Like many educators, I have mixed feelings about charter schools. Some things are good—choice, small, parental involvement, expanded curriculum. Meridian’s technical and medical charter school graduates have marketable skills few others their age have.

The negatives, however, cannot be ignored. Charter schools take not only funding away from public schools, but also many student role models and involved parents. Charter school student bodies tend to be homogenous, depriving their students of exposure to the cultural diversity of our society.

Public schools have been melting pots where a doctor’s kid might be partnered with a homeless one, an Anglo with a Hispanic, an academically-minded student with a so-so-one. Students usually learn to respect and value persons with other backgrounds and skills and to reject stereotypes about “all” members of a culture.

How can our melting pot work when kids only meet students selected for being like them?

We need to address this challenge because it is likely that any court rulings will change the relationship between elected school boards and charter school governance rather than eliminate the charter school.

Now, about Idaho’s problem with Teach for America.

The argument that our teacher shortage justifies hiring teachers with little training rankles. The state of Idaho created our teacher shortage by heavy-handed anti-teacher measures. During the downturn we made heavier cuts in teacher numbers than any other state, cuts which forced teachers to carry heavier work loads and heavier guilt for the kids they couldn’t reach. Our state government followed that up with insults to their professionalism and attacks on their rights. This teacher “shortage” was artificially and purposely created.

Ironically, TFA attracts college graduates into teaching by pointing out the professional skills that teaching requires. Their website implies that teaching for two years will give you the leadership ability to conquer the world. Certainly a different view than our legislature’s, which seems to be that teachers are natural malingerers who must be hounded and controlled.

According to the TFA website, their training enables new college graduates to raise students’ expectations, plan backward from student goals to classroom activities, adapt their efforts for maximum student learning, and work continuously to maximize student learning.

In five weeks.

It brings to mind the story of a man who asked a golf pro how much he’d charge to teach him golf that afternoon. The pro said $5,000.

The man protested that was outrageous. “You teach 12 sessions for only $900!”

“Twelve sessions,” the pro said, “doesn’t require a miracle.”

Police: Don’t bash protestors

When I was fresh out of college and an intern in Washington, D.C., I shared an apartment in a new, upscale complex smack in the middle of a Black neighborhood about a mile from the Capitol.

During one of my first walks to work, a group of Black teens was gathered on a street corner.  I debated whether to cross the busy street midblock to avoid them, to skirt around the group’s edge, or simply to plow my way through.

Before they noticed me though, a police car pulled to the curb and a cop leaned out.  “Hey, Chuck, haven’t seen ya for a while.  Where ya been keeping yourself?”

The teens gathered around the car, and I passed unnoticed.

To me, that is the epitome of good neighborhood policing.

And here in the Treasure Valley we take it for granted a lot.

A school resource officer chats with kids on a playground.

An officer checks up on a woman who’s attempted suicide.

A teen with sagging black pants and a dangling belt excitedly anticipates a coming boxing match in Spokane.

An Hispanic grandmother reports abuse, and an Hispanic cop shows up to talk to the family.

And sheriff deputies celebrate their eighth year wearing cameras while the Illinois legislature debates whether to ban recording of police actions.

Okay, an aging white lady doesn’t see everything, but I feel I can say that our police have good training and pro-active leadership.

Perhaps dangers elsewhere excuse poor behavior from cops, but I don’t think so.

I once told a seventh grade class that there was a good reason that one teacher control 25 of them.  I watched the kids bristle and then added, “Every one of you knows it is for your own good.”  They nodded, reluctantly, but they knew.  Someone had to be in charge, and it might as well be the oldster with training and experience.

That is as true for policing as teaching.  I’m not happy that an elementary school in Meridian has a lower speed limit than the one I pass daily.   And I’m certainly not happy that speeding fines are outrageously high.

I know, however, that I benefit from having traffic regulations enforced.  So I respect the enforcer.

When people don’t see that police actions benefit themselves and their neighborhood, things are different.

You can call Michael Brown a thug and list six things he did wrong, but a good cop would not have let matters escalate to killing.  And I can’t imagine a policeman here leaving a body to lie in the street for four hours.  It’s as though Officer Wilson wanted to advertise what happens to people who cross him.

Michael Brown was walking in the street.  Eric Garner had a history of selling loose cigarettes. Akai Gurley was walking downstairs with his girlfriend. John Crawford was carrying an air gun in a Walmart.   Tamir Rice was playing with a toy gun in the park.

They shouldn’t have been killed, particularly 12-year-old Tamir.  That spindly kid could have been grabbed, tackled, maced, tasered, etc.  He should not have died.

It’s not just that police are killing people.  Or even that police are killing Blacks.  It’s the fact that community members are losing their lives over minor actions, several not even crimes.    People cease to see the police as protecting them and begin worrying who the next victim will be.

So, when you see athletes wearing protest t-shirts or demonstrators marching in the streets, don’t think that they are attacking law enforcement.  They are demonstrating for policing like you and I take for granted.

Politics: Obama One of Many

“But my firm belief that [the President] is a dedicated conscious agent of the Communist conspiracy is based on…detailed evidence so extensive and so palpable [as] to put this conviction beyond any reasonable doubt…There is only one possible word to describe his purposes and his actions. That word is treason.”

[The President] “criticized the Supreme Court’s legal reasoning during a State of the Union address, which many considered a dangerous precedent as it appeared to place political pressure on the court, violating the Constitution’s separation of powers.”

One cannot forget [the President’s] “passion for partisan persecution, his lack of concern for basic civil liberties, and a self-righteousness that becomes at times out-and-out ruthlessness.”

Without doubt, [the President] is “a fascist dictator.”

[The President’s] “failed approach to foreign policy has…put America in a perilous position in the world…Whether it’s the Middle East, Iran or North Korea, [his] track record…is nothing to brag about…”

Did you grasp that the quotes above are about different presidents? Only the second one—the President exerting political pressure on the Supreme Court—is about President Obama.

The “agent of the Communist conspiracy” was Dwight D. Eisenhower.  On-line references cite `the interstate highway system, tax rates up to 90% on personal income, and the entire 1976 Republican platform as evidence that Ike was a Communist.  I remember, however, a pamphlet claiming that Eisenhower had been groomed since childhood to be the first Communist president.  His advancement to five-star general and leader of the Allied Forces had been orchestrated by Russia and partially repaid by his refusal, despite direct orders, to send American troops into Berlin ahead of the Russian Army.

The president accused of “partisan persecution” and failure to respect “basic civil liberties” was Thomas Jefferson.  Theodore Roosevelt believed Jefferson guilty of “cowardly infamy” for failing to prevent the British capture of Washington, D.C., of “torturous intrigues” against George Washington, and of being a “slippery demagogue.”  Jefferson’s contemporary critics used far worse language in accusing him of having a Negro slave as mistress.

The “fascist dictator” was Franklin D. Roosevelt.  Okay, the quote was too brief to give a strong clue—especially since FDR is more frequently accused of being a socialist.  (Fascists are pro-corporate and socialists, pro-state.)

And the president who put is in a perilous position in the Middle East was Jimmy Carter, who actually managed to get Egypt and Israel to sign a peace accord before the fiasco in Iran.

Every president faces harsh criticism.  The first political joke I ever heard was, “The three most hated men in U.S. history are the one that shot Lincoln and the two who missed Truman.”

Lincoln himself faced harsh criticism for conduct of the war and for freeing slaves in rebelling territories.  (The Emancipation Proclamation was an executive order issued without even advance notice to Congress.)  His successor Andrew Johnson was impeached for treating the surrendered Southern states too well.

Bill Clinton was accused of the murder of Vince Foster, illegal firing of White House Travel personnel, and political abuse of FBI files, before being impeached for lying about his conduct with Monica Lewinski.

And one can find copies of the 1963 wanted poster accusing John F. Kennedy of treason on the Internet. Among other things, JFK was accused of supporting anti-Christian decisions by the Supreme Court, sending Federal troops into a sovereign state, and “turning the sovereignty of the United States over to the communist-controlled United Nations.”

So pardon me if I don’t take right-wing rhetoric as evidence that Barrack Obama is the worst president ever and deserving of impeachment or criminal charges.  “Those who don’t learn history are condemned to repeat it.”

Politics: Note What Republicans Do

                I don’t care about your facts.  I can hate the President if I want.  I hated the last one, and, I’ll probably hate the next one, too.”

                “Obama is such a liar.  You know the hospital in Kenya where he claims he was born wasn’t even built yet?”

                “We don’t need government health care.  People should show some personal responsibility.  Medicare?  That’s different.  I worked for my Medicare.” 

                “My father didn’t vote.  My grandfather didn’t vote.  And you have some NERVE asking me to vote.”

                “Man isn’t causing global warming. Do you have any idea how much pollution is thrown out by volcanoes?”

                “The NRA endorsed the Governor and I listen to the NRA.  I’d die for my guns.”

                “Watch FOX news?  I don’t listen to any news.  I don’t read papers either.  I know to vote Republican without that stuff.”

I’ve heard a lot of scary nonsense working booths and knocking on doors during the last decade, but I’ve kept my faith in the American voter.

When the Republican leadership raged because Obamacare requires everyone to be insured, I trusted voters to realize this was a necessary tradeoff if insurance companies are to cover pre-existing conditions.

When the Republican House voted over 50 times to repeal the Affordable Care Act, I trusted voters to realize this was a costly publicity stunt to distract from real problems.

When the Congressional Republicans in five House Committees spent months investigating four American deaths in Benghazi, I trusted most voters knew what the investigation eventually found: early information had been inaccurate, but no one had acted irresponsibly.  I even expected voters to be angry that Republicans had cut funding for embassy security.

And when Republican candidates answered every accusation of incompetence and corruption by calling their opponents Obama liberals, I trusted voters to recognize the diversion—and resent–the insult to their intelligence.

Then came the election of 2014 where voters trickled to the polls to vote to weaken social security, public education, worker’s pay and protections, and the rights of women and minorities.

Some Democratic friends are saying we must work harder, present a vision, and be less negative.  One, however, voiced our fear.  “I thought it was enough that we were at the bottom, but now I don’t think people are going to wake up until the bottom falls out.”

Nothing will change until people see the Republican leadership for what it is.

They don’t want to see good-paying jobs available.

They don’t want to see affordable healthcare.

They don’t want to see a good public roads and bridges.

They don’t want to see America with great schools and teachers.

They don’t even want to stop Hispanics from sneaking across our borders.

And they certainly don’t want Americans free from fear.

How do I know this?

Because of what they do.   They know their policies have brought suffering to Americans, yet they show no interest in examining them, much less changing them.

No, they are pleased with their results and are moving full steam ahead.

If the American people don’t fight now, we’ll see a return of the 1920s—where workers saw wages declining from $5 to $4 then $3 a week while a boss could spend $1800 a month on his mistress; where the workplace death rate was ten times today’s rate; and where air, water, and soil pollution was uncontrolled.

Republicans are tightening their hold on America.  Democrats–their most serious challengers—now control the legislatures of only six states.  Moreover, more and more national Democratic leaders are being co-opted.

We fight now or we fight later—or, like those of ancient Rome, we settle for bread and circuses.

Elections: Make Idaho Beautiful for Everyone

I marvel at Idaho in the fall—the red and orange sunsets, the perfect weather for hiking and play, the beauty of autumn mums and marigolds.  We are blessed.

I’m reminded of a year when the state essay prompt called for 8th graders to write of what they liked or didn’t like about where they lived.  Many of the papers spoke of tree houses, quiet spots by willow trees, tree houses, and little shops that sold homemade and novel items.

Others, however, wrote of graffiti and trash and boredom.  I was saddened to realize that these kids weren’t just displaying different attitudes; they lived in different worlds.

There have been major improvements since then.  In Caldwell kids run through the water fountain in front of the train station, caper in and along Indian Creek, and swim, climb and play at the Y.  I like to think most 8th graders today could write of things they like about living here.

I don’t think people look at such changes in our communities and think of them as Republican or Democratic accomplishments.  Active community members see needs, imagine a solution, and work together to implement it.

It’s sad that, at the state level, power struggles and ideology take precedence over problem solving.

Idaho can be better. Not so long ago a well-educated work force and good schools for employees’ kids attracted businesses.  We never were a high-wage state, but we were a living-wage one.

Once, in spite of low pay, seven applicants for every teaching opening was standard.  Now schools rely on long-term substitutes because no one qualified has applied.  Still, the Republican leadership sees weeding out unqualified teachers as a top priority. As they work to siphon money and control away from local districts, their promises of “responsible investment” in education ring hollow.

Idaho can again be a great place for our kids and grandkids. We need to elect pragmatists who look at the problem, study the possible solutions, and then do the right thing for our citizens and our environment.

Some political pundits claim that, unfortunately, voters who feel fear and insecurity are more apt to vote Republican. That’s why, they say, Republicans rave about Ebola, citizens forced into concentration camps, and terrorists streaming across the border.  Will people actually turn to Republicans to save us from evils—real and fantasy—as conditions get worse?

Of course, pundits are saying a lot of things these days.

Polls tend to be too favorable to Republicans because fewer Democrats have land-line phones–and polls tend to be too favorable to Democrats because Democrats are less likely to make it to the polls.  (Same pundit—different press releases.)  Similarly, people like to vote for a winner–but won’t show up if they sense an easy victory.

Republicans are working to make this election about national issues because they don’t want to talk about their records at the state level.  (Have you seen the picture of a dour and very black Obama on a recent Idaho Republican mailing? Karl Rove’s millions have apparently found Idaho.)

Voters should pay attention to the “issues” rather than the individual.  (But aren’t individual failings behind the mess in broadband funding, the useless school data system, and prison fraud?)  We need leaders who take responsibility.

A punditry of my own–voting adds years to your life.  Did you see the chart in Thursday’s paper? Fully 43.8% of the state’s 20-somethings–but only 10.5% of the 70-somethings–don’t vote. Doesn’t it follow that non-voting hurts longevity?  Okay, I know correlation doesn’t mean causation, but why take the chance?

Vote as if your life depended on it.