Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Common Core Standards and the Right Wing

Right wing reaction to the Common Core State Standards for K-12 education is an almost instinctive rejection of anything aimed to the "common good." Perhaps this "reject instinct" hearkens back to the Cold War, where communism, which sounds like "common" and shares etymology tracing back to the Old French "comun."

In various social media exchanges, one of the things I have been instructed on is the notion that "parents should be trusted with decisions regarding their children, not bureaucrats." As a parent myself, with what most people would consider a reasonable level of education, I certainly want to be trusted with decisions regarding my children. But if pressed, I would not be able to come up with a list of skills and knowledge in math a 5th grader should be expected to understand and demonstrate, compared to the skills and knowledge that child should have learned in 4th grade. I suspect that, when pressed on the issue, most parents would be equally clueless on the matter.

But that is exactly what the Common Core State Standards establish - a list of expected skills and knowledge students should master at each grade level in the specific areas of mathematics and English language arts. For example, one of the specific standards for grades 11-12 states:

Analyze multiple interpretations of a story, drama, or poem (e.g., recorded or live production of a play or recorded novel or poetry), evaluating how each version interprets the source text. (Include at least one play by Shakespeare and one play by an American dramatist.)

Similarly, here is one of the specific standards for high school math:   Distinguish between situations that can be modeled with linear functions and with exponential functions.

Now, apparently these types of standards are somehow controversial, yet the basis for controversy is unclear. In my mind, these sound like perfectly normal and acceptable expectations for an 11th or 12th grade public high school student.

And while these standards seem perfectly reasonable and appropriate, I would be hard pressed as a parent to develop such standards or proficiency targets for my children or anyone else's children, and I challenge any other parent who is not a professional educator to do the same.

REF: National Governors Association Center for Best Practices, Council of Chief State School Officers. Common Core State Standards2010

Friday, September 6, 2013

My Letter to my Legislators

To: Sen. Jim Davis (R-Macon) and Rep. Joe Sam Queen (D-Haywood)

Gentlemen: Care to comment on yesterday's report in the Raleigh News & Observer that one Joe Hauck was paid $228,000 over 8 months as a consultant to DHHS Secretary Alana Wos?

DHHS Spokesman Ricky Diaz defended the consulting contract in a statement. This is the same Ricky Diaz who, at 24 years of age and with absolutely zero public health policy experience, enjoys a taxpayer-funded salary of $85,000, including a $23,000 raise after a few months on the job.

What kind of racket is DHHS running? Is this agency's budget being used as a slush fund to reward campaign aides and big-money contributors?  Meanwhile, working class North Carolina residents, school teachers, firefighters, police, state troopers, and others are being told to sit down, shut up, and be thankful you have a job at any wage. Hospitals are closing down, teachers are paying for classroom supplies out of their own pockets, and the courts are bogging down in a backlog of cases.

This came after the Governor and his business executive Budget Director "found" $10 million in a blatant attempt to pander to teachers. Isn't the Budget Director the state's model of the ideal businessman - selling cheap imported goods to low wage workers who can't afford anything else? How does a competent business executive "find" $10 million after months of budget negotiations and legislative action?

Who's in charge? Who's minding the store? Who's allowing these shenanigans? Someone's obviously doing a heckuva job.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Response to Syria

I've given much thought to, and read as much as i could about, Syria's use of chemical weapons against its own people and President Obama's proposal to respond. I don't claim to understand all the intelligence, don't pretend to know our military capabilities to attack appropriate targets, and certainly don't have a crystal ball to see which of many possible responses might yield the best possible outcome. Despite the failures of intelligence and our administration's use of the intelligence in the run-up to our invasion/occupation of Iraq, I trust that our intelligence agents and analysts, acting in good faith today, have given our Commander-in-Chief and the chain of command the best intelligence, and our civilian and military leadership have presented those estimates in good faith to the appropriate parties in Congress.

Now we can only trust that our elected Senators and Members of Congress come to this issue with the same good faith and professionalism that the intelligence community, the State Department, the Department of Defense, and the White House have demonstrated. Each one of our elected legislators must answer for him or herself one simple, yet profound question. Would I send my son or my daughter, my niece or my nephew, my next-door-neighbor's child, into battle as a pilot, as a sailor, as a Marine, against the Syrian regime?

On that question rests all the preliminaries, all the intelligence, all the nuances of international law, all the ramifications of moral obligation. To ignore that question is to stoop to the lowest form of political gamesmanship, to abrogate one's duty as the Constitutional declarer of war, and to abandon any pretense to humanity.

I don't know how I would answer the key question, and I don't presume to suggest how anyone else, including our Senators and Representatives, should answer the question. But I pray they will search their consciences as they consider this matter.