Daily Archive: 05/05/2015

May 05 2015

Common Core, Standardized Testing and Vomit

I don’t often delve into the dark world of what education in the United States has become since my child was in school in the 70’s & 80’s. But lately it has factored into politics here in New York State and across the country with the advent of Common Core, standardized testing and for profit charter schools that are encroaching on America’s once excellent public system of education. The arguments in the past were mostly over funding, teachers’ salaries and contracts. Parents used to just worry about homework, grades and snow days. Some things remain the same, but now, add to the list: teacher evaluations, tenure, funding charter schools, teaching to tests, vomit and incontinence:

The principals’ letter on the new exams lists a number of problems with the exams and said many children reacted “viscerally” to the tests:

   We know that many children cried during or after testing, and others vomited or lost control of their bowels or bladders. Others simply gave up. One teacher reported that a student kept banging his head on the desk, and wrote, “This is too hard,” and “I can’t do this,” throughout his test booklet.

It urges parents to help children who scored poorly understand that it isn’t their fault.

It has become so bad that in NY state as many as 200,000 students opted out of the mandatory testing:

New York’s rejection of the Common Core tests crosses geographical, socio-economic and racial lines.

There are also reports that student opt-outs were suppressed by administrators in some districts, who called in non-English speaking parents and pressured them to rescind their opt-out letters. Parent activist Jeanette Deutermann states that she “was contacted by dozens of NYC teachers who were horrified by the scare tactics being used on parents in their schools, to coerce them into participating in this year’s assessments. Language barriers and the absence of a social media presence resulted in a lack of knowledge about their rights to refuse the test. Teachers reported that administrators exploited this language and information barrier, telling parents that their children would not be promoted if they refused, or that they simply had no right to refuse. This is blatant discrimination at best.”

Despite attempts to suppress opt out, refusal rates were over three times last year’s 60,000, and activist parents are already planning to increase numbers next year. The opt-out movement is spreading across the nation. PARCC opt out is taking off in Colorado, New Jersey and California, especially among high-school students. [..]

Opt out is far bigger than a test refusal event. It is the repudiation of a host of corporate reforms that include the Common Core, high-stakes testing, school closings and the evaluation of teachers by test scores.   These reforms are being soundly rejected by parents and teachers.

Leave it to John Oliver, host of HBO’s “Last Week Tonight” to hammer home everything that is wrong with standardized testing:

“Something is wrong with our system when we just assume a certain number of students will vomit,” Oliver said. “Standardized tests are supposed to be an assessment of skills, not a rap battle on ‘8 Mile’ Road.”

May 05 2015

Cinco de Mayo

Reprinted from 5/5/2012

The name simply means “The Fifth of May” and it’s an oddly U.S. American holiday.

Except in the State of Puebla they don’t much celebrate the victory over the French at the Battle of Puebla in Mexico which makes it much more like Patriot’s Day that we here in New England get to celebrate almost every year as an extra filing day (I understand there’s also a foot race in Boston).

Interestingly enough it was a stand up fight against the banksters which they lost (those who do not remember history…).  Some people say that the French intervention was intended to establish a supply line to aid the Slave Owner’s Rebellion (or as the more charitable put it, The War of the Rebellion).

Not Congressionally recognized until 2005, celebrations started in California as early as the mid 1860s and for over 100 years were most common in Southwestern States with a large population of people of Mexican descent.  Now of course it’s just another excuse to over consume the cheap crappy Tequila and Beer that Mexico exports (don’t get me wrong, there are good Mexican Beers and Tequila but Corona, Dos Equis, and Jose Cuervo are not them) and ignore real, actual factual Mexican history because we’re so fucking exceptional that understanding and caring about the countries we border is as beneath us as even knowing which ones they are.

Just don’t mistake it for Grito de Dolores.

May 05 2015

Punting the Pundits

“Punting the Pundits” is an Open Thread. It is a selection of editorials and opinions from around the news medium and the internet blogs. The intent is to provide a forum for your reactions and opinions, not just to the opinions presented, but to what ever you find important.

Thanks to ek hornbeck, click on the link and you can access all the past “Punting the Pundits”.

Follow us on Twitter @StarsHollowGzt

New York Times Editorial Board: Runaway Drug Prices

A drug to treat abnormal heart rhythms can cost about $200 on one day and more than $1,300 the next. A diagnosis of multiple sclerosis can lead to a drug bill of at least $50,000 a year. How companies set prices of specialty drugs for these and other complex diseases, like cancer and AIDS, has been a mystery to the patients who need them. Now the Obama administration and some states are tackling that lack of transparency and the rising costs. [..]

A recent report in The Wall Street Journal described how Valeant Pharmaceuticals International, based in Canada, bought the rights to two lifesaving heart drugs on Feb. 10 and raised their prices the same day. The list price for a one-milliliter vial of Isuprel, used to treat abnormal heart rhythms, rose to $1,347 from $215. The price for a two-milliliter vial of Nitropress, for dangerously high blood pressure and acute heart failure, increased from to $806 from $258. The Journal cites similar increases for Ofirmev pain injections and Vimovo pain tablets after new companies acquired the rights.

Bills have been introduced in several states requiring drug makers to report profits and expenses for costly drugs or sometimes for all drugs, according to The Journal’s pharmaceutical blog. Such disclosures might shame companies into restraining their price increases and provide state officials with information to determine what action to take.

Paul Krugman: Race, Class and Neglect

Every time you’re tempted to say that America is moving forward on race – that prejudice is no longer as important as it used to be – along comes an atrocity to puncture your complacency. Almost everyone realizes, I hope, that the Freddie Gray affair wasn’t an isolated incident, that it’s unique only to the extent that for once there seems to be a real possibility that justice may be done.

And the riots in Baltimore, destructive as they are, have served at least one useful purpose: drawing attention to the grotesque inequalities that poison the lives of too many Americans.

Yet I do worry that the centrality of race and racism to this particular story may convey the false impression that debilitating poverty and alienation from society are uniquely black experiences. In fact, much though by no means all of the horror one sees in Baltimore and many other places is really about class, about the devastating effects of extreme and rising inequality.

Rev. Dan Schatz: How Not to Celebrate Cinco de Mayo

About a year ago I read an eloquent and powerful article on Cinco de Mayo by Sudie Hoffman at the Zinn Educational Project. In this must-read blog post, Hoffman correctly names the damaging ethnic stereotypes embodied in the commercial appropriation of this day as it is celebrated in the United States. [..]

Why do we do this? Why do good, thoughtful people who would never think to celebrate African American culture with fried chicken, watermelons, and Sambo figurines nevertheless feel it perfectly appropriate to “honor” Mexico with racist tropes?

I don’t have an answer to this. I hate to think people actually believe those stereotypes, but it’s likely some do. Or maybe they simply don’t stop to think about how hurtful and damaging those kinds of images can be.

On the other hand, there is a reason Cinco de Mayo came to the U.S., and it wasn’t to celebrate a dictator. In the 1960s Chicano activists thought that this day might become a bridge to better understanding and acceptance of Mexican Americans in the United States, and a window to authentic Mexican culture. It didn’t turn out that way, but there is no reason we cannot return to that initial intent.

Dean Baker: Celebrating the Flash Crash with a Wall Street Sales Tax

This week marks the fifth anniversary of the flash crash. For those who don’t remember, the Flash Crash was when the stock market lost almost nine percent of its value from its opening level, with most of this decline occurring in a five-minute period.  [..]

The issue of short-term trading is the key here. There was no event in the world that triggered the plunge. There was no outbreak of war, major terrorist incident, or natural disaster that sent stock prices plummeting. There wasn’t even a bad profit report from a major company. The crash was based simply on program trading that fed back on itself, turning a downward blip into a major plunge. [..]

The traders now siphon off more than $200 billion (1.3 percent of GDP) a year from the productive economy. Much of this money is the income of super-rich bankers and hedge fund partners.

There is a simple and easy way to reduce the amount of money being drained away by short-term traders. A financial transactions tax, effectively a modest sales tax applied to trades, would drastically reduce the amount of short-term trading while raising a huge amount of revenue.

Jason Downs: How Do We Prevent Another Freddie Gray?

Telling the truth requires courage. Lying is easy. Telling half-truths is the coward’s way out. But telling the truth in the face of adversity calls for great courage. Accepting the truth, especially when this truth offends your sensibilities, requires even greater courage.

Discussing Freddie Gray’s homicide without discussing race is as incomplete as discussing the history of the United States without discussing slavery. It’s a half-truth. [..]

Once the truth is known, once dirty little secrets are revealed, the frustration shown yesterday is better understood, which is not the same as condoning any more violence. Freddie Gray’s homicide was not an isolated incident; it was the tipping point. That said, the question now is how to honor this truth?

How do we prevent another Freddie Gray? How do we prevent explosions of community anger and frustration that burn down portions of our city?

Wendell Potter: Why Health Insurers May Be Destined to Follow Blockbuster Into Irrelevance

Remember Blockbuster?

In its heyday — which wasn’t so long ago — Blockbuster had 60,000 employees and 9,000 locations. For most Americans, for a minute anyway, it was the place to rent a movie. Then along came Netflix. And Redbox, which operates most of the movie-rental kiosks in convenience and grocery stores. [..]

What will be the next Blockbuster? It very well might be your health insurance company, says Steven Brill, the entrepreneur and journalist whose 26,000-word Time magazine cover story about the absurdly high costs of American health care captured the nation’s attention two years ago.

“I see insurance companies as the weak players” in the U.S. health care system, Brill told me in a recent interview. By that he meant that insurers have become increasingly impotent middlemen in the battle to rein in health care costs. [..]

Hospitals will have to be regulated in ways they haven’t been regulated before, he says. There will need to be standard-of-care regulations. And limits on profit margins.

Brill believes that if those and other regulations can be put in place, quality of care will go up and costs will come down. If they aren’t, however, we may be worse off than we are now.

May 05 2015

TBC: Morning Musing 5.5.15

Happy Cinco de Mayo! Before you get started on your margaritas, I have 3 articles for you this morning!

First up, we can only hope:

FORGIVE THEM, FATHER

The ambassadors of denial are nervous that the tone of our cultural conversation is about to shift. Their worst fear is that Francis might successfully disabuse religious conservatives of a longstanding and pernicious myth: that climate change should be thought of as a splinter issue, and that belief in climate science and support for environmental action signify membership in the “enemy camp.” So long as climate deniers can maintain the charade of Us vs. Them, their well-funded dissembling machine keeps on rolling. But if the Pope actually manages to bring people together-and so far his track record on that front is pretty good-the whole thing could fall apart.

Jump!

May 05 2015

On This Day In History May 5

This is your morning Open Thread. Pour your favorite beverage and review the past and comment on the future.

Find the past “On This Day in History” here.

Click on images to enlarge

May 5 is the 125th day of the year (126th in leap years) in the Gregorian calendar. There are 240 days remaining until the end of the year.

On this day in 1862, the Mexican Army defeated the French forces at the Battle of Puebla

Certain that French victory would come swiftly in Mexico, 6,000 French troops under General Charles Latrille de Lorencez set out to attack Puebla de Los Angeles. From his new headquarters in the north, Juarez rounded up a rag-tag force of loyal men and sent them to Puebla. Led by Texas-born General Zaragoza, the 2,000 Mexicans fortified the town and prepared for the French assault. On the fifth of May, 1862, Lorencez drew his army, well-provisioned and supported by heavy artillery, before the city of Puebla and began their assault from the north. The battle lasted from daybreak to early evening, and when the French finally retreated they had lost nearly 500 soldiers to the fewer than 100 Mexicans killed.

Although not a major strategic victory in the overall war against the French, Zaragoza’s victory at Puebla tightened Mexican resistance, and six years later France withdrew. The same year, Austrian Archduke Ferdinand Maximilian, who had been installed as emperor of Mexico by Napoleon in 1864, was captured and executed by Juarez’ forces. Puebla de Los Angeles, the site of Zaragoza’s historic victory, was renamed Puebla de Zaragoza in honor of the general.

Mexico

Cinco de Mayo is a regional holiday limited primarily to the state of Puebla. There is some limited recognition of the holiday in other parts of the country.

United States

In a 1998 study in the Journal of American Culture it was reported that there were more than 120 official U.S. celebrations of Cinco de Mayo, and they could be found in 21 different states. An update in 2006, found that the number of official Cinco de Mayo events was 150 or more, according to Jose Alamillo, professor of ethnic studies at Washington State University in Pullman, who has studied the cultural impact of Cinco de Mayo north of the border.

In the United States Cinco de Mayo has taken on a significance beyond that in Mexico. The date is perhaps best recognized in the United States as a date to celebrate the culture and experiences of Americans of Mexican ancestry, much as St. Patrick’s Day, Oktoberfest, and the Chinese New Year are used to celebrate those of Irish, German, and Chinese ancestry respectively. Similar to those holidays, Cinco de Mayo is observed by many Americans regardless of ethnic origin. Celebrations tend to draw both from traditional Mexican symbols, such as the Virgen de Guadalupe, and from prominent figures of Mexican descent in the United States, including Cesar Chavez. To celebrate, many display Cinco de Mayo banners while school districts hold special events to educate pupils about its historical significance. Special events and celebrations highlight Mexican culture, especially in its music and regional dancing. Examples include baile folklorico and mariachi demonstrations held annually at the Plaza del Pueblo de Los Angeles, near Olvera Street. Commercial interests in the United States have capitalized on the celebration, advertising Mexican products and services, with an emphasis on beverages, foods, and music.

May 05 2015

The Daily/Nightly Show (The White Whale)

You stop being racist and I’ll stop talking about it.

Bloods and Crips

Bill Nye the Science Guy will be on to talk about racism.

Oh, and also man nipples.

Continuity

I haz the sads

This week’s guests-

Brian Grazer is a producer meaning that he organizes the money behind creative products such as theater, television, and movies.  I call people like that family and friends and coming sooner than I think is this summer’s exercise in anarchy for which I recieved my first piece of new kit today.

As excited as I am about this project, it deserves it’s own development as my thinking and schedule solidifies.  Brian on the other hand will be on to talk about Heart of the Sea based on the true story of the whaling ship Essex which was the model for Moby Dick (in public domain by the way, you can read the whole text here).

Either that or  his new book A Curious Mind: The Secret to a Bigger Life.

May the Fourth Be With You.  The real news below.