Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Banning Books

This week is Banned Books Week and an important reminder that we must allow for challenging view points to be available for students and the general public.  As a teacher, there is always the concern that some parent somewhere will become upset over a book that is part of the school curriculum.  The list of books that have been challenged and banned in places is incredibly long.  It includes books like Winnie the Pooh, The Scarlett Letter, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Animal Farm, To Kill a Mocking Bird, The Lorax, The Outsiders, Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes, and many, many more.  You can see a list on South Dakota State University Library's website.

I look at some of the books and can see why they might not be offered in a high school library.  Fifty Shades of Grey and Madonna's book Sex are a couple of good examples; however, if a high school student showed up to class with the book to read on his or her own, I would respect that student's desire to read.  

I remember a time when a parent that was homeschooling a student asked for a list of AP books to help her student prepare for college and an AP test.  This parent did not want any AP books that used inappropriate language, sexual references, or extreme violence.  I struggled to think of any books.  I gravitate toward more modern fiction, but knew I could not recommend Grapes of Wrath, Catcher in the Rye, Great Gatsby, Fahrenheit 451, Catch 22, Frankenstein, or a host of others.  I know that there are some other books that might be considered acceptable, but I felt bad for that chance at great literature this student may never get.  

It is hard enough to get students interested in reading.  It is important that libraries can offer a wide selection of material to be available for potential readers.  When a parent challenges a book because they disagree with it based on religion or their own personal sense of morality, it runs the risk of limiting knowledge and access to opening new minds.  I do think that it is okay to question if certain material is age appropriate.  A good librarian is trained to examine material and help guide the library based on the audience.  

So, I encourage you to go down to your local library, thank the librarian working there, and check out a book that has been placed on the challenged or banned book list.  The book may challenge your world view, but what a better way to discover a little nugget of humanity.

Monday, September 15, 2014

EB-5 Is Mike Rounds

Mike Rounds continues to try and run away from EB-5, saying that it is not his program, but he still thinks it is really awesome!  Bob Mercer reminds Mike Rounds that EB-5 is all you pal:
Rounds and Weiland have run TV ads lately on the EB-5 matter. Neither of their ads is totally accurate. Rounds’ ad is the bigger dodge. EB-5 was indeed his program. His Cabinet pursued expansions of it hard from the federal agency that oversees it. His Cabinet secretary Richard Benda signed the contract in 2009 privatizing EB-5 administration, with state government to receiving percentages of the fees paid by foreign investors to the private company run by Joop Bollen of Aberdeen.
While the article was more about the role of Pressler, Mercer provides a clear reminder about just how much Rounds pushed for EB-5 in South Dakota and how active he was with the promotion of the program.

On other related EB-5 fronts, it appears that Tidemann is being encouraged to act on EB-5 instead of running away from it and protecting the GOP leadership in the state by an advertisement being running by South Dakota Democrats.

This seems to be one thing that the Republicans are good at: avoid debates, avoid asking questions, just continue to say that everything is fine.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Lies, Damn Lies, and Statistics

Mark Twain wrote in his Autobiography, "There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies and statistics."  This quotation, a favorite of mine, might sum up all this talk about polling in the Senate race between Weiland, Rounds, Pressler, and other (uhh, I mean Howie).  

Pat Powers at South Dakota War College attacks a recent poll by SurveyUSA because it doesn't look good for his man, Mike Rounds, and shows other Democratic candidates polling better than to be expected.  He does so by going after the methodology used for the poll.
Part of the problem is, according to its methodology, it’s a push button poll combined with Internet polling.
Cory Heidelberger at Madville Times, points out that just a little while earlier that Powers was raving about the same poll.  He then goes on to defend SurveyUSA's methodology:
Survey USAVoter Reg
GOP50%47%
Dem33%34%
Indy16%19%
Survey USA over-represented Republicans, not Democrats. Survey USA under-represented Independents. A more representative sample would have put Rounds even lower and Weiland and Pressler even closer to pulling off the upset of the decade.
Powers in another entry crows about another poll (Yougov.com) showing Wismer far behind Daugaard, but doesn't share that poll's methodology, which also uses online sampling to get to its conclusions.  The website explains its methodology in part:
The Battleground Tracker is a four-wave panel study conducted by YouGov for CBS News and the New York Times Upshot during the 2014 midterm elections. The survey provides estimates for voting on every race for U.S. Senate, Governor, and the House of Representatives. Interviews are conducted with samples of online survey panelists that have been selected and weighted to be representative of registered voters. This document describes in detail the statistical methodology used in the Battleground Tracker panel.
It targets registered voters that are available to go online.  The SurveyUSA poll actually calls people, mostly registered and some not registered.
SurveyUSA interviewed 775 South Dakota adults 09/03/14 through 09/07/14. Of the adults, 674 were registered to vote. Of the registered voters, 510 were determined by SurveyUSA to be likely to vote in the 11/04/14 general election. This research was conducted using blended sample, mixed mode. Respondents reachable on a home (landline) telephone (88% of likely voters) were interviewed on their home telephone in the recorded voice of a professional announcer. Respondents not reachable on a home telephone (12% of likely voters) were shown a questionnaire on their tablet, smartphone, or other electronic device. 
I am not an expert in statistical analysis.  I took a class in it during some graduate studies, but it is definitely not my strong suit.  These statistics are interesting to look at.  We all love polls, but we must remember that in the end, it is the real people that show up to vote in November.  If many Republicans think that Mike Rounds is going to be the hands down winner and decide not to show up, then Weiland/Pressler will pull off the upset.  If Democrats give up and don't bother to vote, then Rounds will beat Weiland by 30% or more and maybe even a third place finish for the Dems behind Pressler.

As Democrat, we should feel good that Rounds simple can't break 50% constantly because that shows people really don't like Mike that much.  However, we can't think this is solved.  The focus must be on voter turnout.  Get the early voting done.  Remind everyone that they need to get out and vote on November 5.  

As we get closer to November, the only thing that we can count on is that we will be hearing a lot of lies, damn lies, and statistics.

Monday, September 1, 2014

On Labor Day We Are Reminded South Dakota Has Little Respect for Laborers

Today is a day celebrating the work of the labor movement and dates back to 1882.    In South Dakota, "union" is a four letter word to many people, especially in the GOP.  There has been a lot of mischaracterization of unions.  The idea that working folk would band together to get the best deal from the corporation that are trying to take advantage of them.  Many get upset with the unions, but very few think it is wrong for businesses that band together through the Chamber of Commerce and other business groups to write laws to help them make a fast buck from government at the expense of the rest of us.

Kathy Tyler reflects on this idea in her latest blog post:
The influence of unions has declined over the years as working conditions and wages have improved. But in my research, one of the things that kept popping up was the growing divide between the upper and lower income groups and the increasing number of families that can’t make a living on their current wages and the increase in the number of jobs that do not provide a living wage. Will unions have a comeback because of these issues? I have no idea, but we must recognize their importance in our past and what they accomplished for workers in our country. If it weren’t for the laborers and the ‘little people’, where would we be?
We, the little people, are having a tougher time getting ahead.  The game continues to seem rigged for the big businesses and those in government that they can buy.  Many in the GOP see the idea of solving unemployment by letting businesses offer wages at any rate, seven dollars an hour, four dollars an hour,  or two dollars an hour.  The Rapid City Journal reminds us about this mindset that people like Dennis Daugaard, Mike Rounds, and Kristi Noem have fully accepted. 

Today the Rapid City Journal talked about the problem that many businesses in Rapid City finding workers.  An issue that Daugaard thinks can be solved by begging people to come here without offering better wages.  The article points to part of the problem that businesses have in finding quality workers: low wages.

According to the national Bureau of Labor Statistics' most recent wage data from May 2013, South Dakota ranks second-to-last in average hourly wages, ahead of only Mississippi. 
A debate over wages in South Dakota is looming. In November, voters will consider a ballot initiative seeking to raise the state's minimum wage from $7.25 an hour to $8.50 plus annual cost-of-living increases. 

Raising the minimum wage in South Dakota will benefit many in this state.  It is a way of respecting all the people that labor day in and day out.  We need to remember this in November and vote for Initiated Measure 18.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Vermont Tells Arne Duncan to Stick It; Should South Dakota Follow

School is starting in Lennox.  Teachers have had in-services and like all the teachers in South Dakota, the Common Core and SLOs were on the forefront.  Diane Ravitch posted the move taken by the Vermont State School Board when they adopted a resolution about the role of testing and other things in education.  A few highlights of the post include:

What standardized tests can do that teacher developed tests cannot do is give us reliable, comparative data. We can use test scores to tell whether we are doing better over time. Of particular note, standardized tests help monitor how well we serve students with different life circumstances and challenges. When used appropriately, standardized tests are a sound and objective way to evaluate student progress. 
Despite their value, there are many things tests cannot tell us. Standardized tests like the NECAP and soon, the SBAC, can tell us something about how students are doing in a limited set of narrowly defined subjects overall, as measured at a given time. However, they cannot tell us how to help students do even better. Nor can they adequately capture the strengths of all children, nor the growth that can be ascribed to individual teachers. And under high-stakes conditions, when schools feel extraordinary pressure to raise scores, even rising scores may not be a signal that students are actually learning more. At best, a standardized test is an incomplete picture of learning: without additional measures, a single test is inadequate to capture a years’ worth of learning and growth....

As a teacher, I am not opposed to testing.  I am opposed to testing that is used as a single snapshot of what is or is not important in student's education.  I am opposed to using testing to compare create a one-size-fit-all mentality.  

The statement continues:

Unfortunately, the way in which standardized tests have been used under federal law as almost the single measure of school quality has resulted in the frequent misuse of these instruments across the nation. 
Because of the risk of inappropriate uses of testing, the Vermont State Board of Education herewith adopts a series of guiding principles for the appropriate use of standardized tests to support continuous improvements of learning.
The School Board then laid out eight concepts that they wanted to focus on from testing protocol,  test development criteria, value-added scores, to test cut-off scores.

I want to leave you with the following resolved statements:

RESOLVED that the Vermont State Board of Education requests that the Secretary of Education reexamine public school accountability systems in this state, and develop a system based on multiple forms of assessment which has at its center qualitative assessments, does not require extensive standardized testing, more accurately reflects the broad range of student learning, decreases the role of compliance monitoring, and is used to support students and improve schools; and 
RESOLVED, that the Vermont State Board of Education calls on the United States Congress and Administration to accordingly amend the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (currently known as the “No Child Left Behind Act”) to reduce the testing mandates, promote multiple forms of evidence of student learning and school quality, eschew the use of student test scores in evaluating educators, and allow flexibility that reflects the unique circumstances of all states; and 
RESOLVED that the Vermont State Board of Education calls on other state and national organizations to act in concert with these goals to improve and broaden educational goals, provide adequate resources, and ensure a high quality education for all children of the state and the nation.
South Dakota GOP love to have other people take the lead on policy issues like ALEC and Minnesota, maybe they should pay attention to Vermont. 

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Common Core is Losing Support Everywhere

As some teachers have started the school year and others are about to begin, one thing is forced onto their mind: the Common Core.  If you have not heard of the Common Core yet, I encourage you to turn your computer off and go back to sleep.  There are probably a lot of other things going on in the world that would upset you.

If you are like the 81% of Americans surveyed, you probably are not a big fan of the Common Core according to a recent PDK/Gallap poll.  This recent poll shows that 60% oppose them, but for some very, very different reasons.  This was reported in Education Week.

Overall, the wide-ranging survey found, 81 percent of those polled said they had heard about the common standards, compared with 38 percent last year. However, 60 percent oppose the standards, generally because they believe the standards will limit the flexibility that teachers have to teach what they think is best. Last year's poll did not specifically ask respondents whether or not they supported the standards.  
The poll also highlighted a partisan split in opinion on the common core: 76 percent of Republicans  and 60 percent of independents said they oppose the standards. Democrats were the only category of respondents polled in which a majority said they support the standards, 53 percent in favor compared to 38 percent opposed.
So what do Republicans and Independents dislike about the Common core according to the article?
A majority of Republicans, public school parents, and independents also agreed that the common core is not challenging enough, despite the fact that many education analysts have found them to be more rigorous than most previous state standards (with the exception of Massachusetts and California). 
For many educators the problem with the Common Core is not so much the standards, but it is the way those standards are implemented.  There was this big rush to start testing with the Common Core.  The call is to continue to attach teachers evaluations to those tests, and a push by some to direct specific instruction.  There has also been a lot of misinformation about the government using this to brainwash our children.  Terry Holliday, a supporter and education leader in Kentucky, explains part of the problem:
Holliday also said the rush by states to implement requirements linked to waivers from the No Child Left Behind Act "connected the common core with a federal overreach," which didn't help. "And the rush to implement the standards has led to inadequate support for teachers, inadequate communication with our public, and led to a major pushback from our teachers who [are skeptical] of connecting the common core to teacher development," he said.
As the President of the American Federation of Teachers stated in the article that the Common Core should be guides and separated from testing.

One other thing that was reported in the poll: The biggest obstacle facing schools is lack of financial support.  
A lack of financial support was named as the top challenge facing public schools by 32 percent in response to an open-ended question, the only problem to draw a double-digit response.
Welcome back to school everyone!  Keep you eyes on the prize! 

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Mike Rounds Looks to Hurt America's Workers!

Mike Rounds has come out and and stood by some actual policy positions other than "South Dakota Common Sense" and lies about Obamacare.  Unfortunately, one of the positions would actually hurt many Americans and South Dakotans.  The policy is Susan Collins 40 Hours is Full Time Act.  

Rounds writes:
The increased number of South Dakotans that will work less than 40 hours, due to the ObamaCare mandate will increase.  The ObamaCare Employer Mandate, and specifically the 30 hour workweek rule, is a job killer that must be repealed before it kicks in next year.
This policy, by setting the mandate at 40 hours a week, will hurt those working over forty hours already.  As was explained in the New York Times:

But with a 40-hour threshold, the workers at risk are those who work 40 or more hours per week, or about 45 percent of the workforce. 
In other words, raising the threshold would actually place more workers at risk of having their hours reduced. The result would be substantially less employer-sponsored coverage, which in turn, could cause a large increase in federal spending on subsidized coverage for people who otherwise would be covered at work — just what the foes of health care have long claimed it would do.
Ken Jacobs points out in The Hill:
Under current law, we at the UC Berkeley Center for Labor Research and Education expect cuts in work hours to be restricted largely to people working just over 30 hours a week.  It is not economically efficient for most employers to cut employees’ work hours to avoid the penalty. Doing so for workers currently working well above 30 hours a week would result in more turnover and expense for hiring, training, supervision and unemployment Insurance. We estimate that 2.3 million workers (1.8 percent of the workforce) would be especially vulnerable to work-hour reductions. These are people who work just above 30 hours a week, earn enough to make them eligible for federal programs, and do not already have coverage through their employer. 
While this is a real problem for the workers who will be affected, the kicker is the Collins-Donnelly proposal would put millions more workers at risk.  Overall, we estimate that 6.5 million employees would be immediately vulnerable to hour reductions under their proposal, nearly three times the number under current law.  That’s because the cost of cutting hours from 40 to 39 hours a week would be negligible for the vast majority of employers and many more employees work 40 hours a week or more compared to those who work close to 30.
I am not opposed to looking at ways to tweak the Affordable Care Act.  Going with Medicare for all would take all the pressure in the world off of business about how to force workers to stay at a certain time period.  My feeling is that Mike Rounds doesn't care if people have access to healthcare, but instead cares about how businesses can line his political pockets.