Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Rick Saccone Hopes to Become Trump’s New Bobble Head in Western Pennsylvania by Steven Singer

Originally posted at: https://gadflyonthewallblog.wordpress.com/2018/01/29/rick-saccone-hopes-to-become-trumps-new-bobble-head-in-western-pennsylvania/

Rick Saccone’s signature achievement in the Pennsylvania House was to get “In God We Trust” posted in every public school.

Actually, he didn’t even get that.

He wrote a successful bill that merely allowed public schools to post that – if they wanted.

To my knowledge not a single school in the Commonwealth has taken him up on it.

His second greatest hit was to authorize a state day of fasting.

I’m not kidding. And it’s all down hill from there.

Now he’s running for U.S. Senate!

Oh. Wait. His fundraising was terrible.

Excuse me. He’s running for U.S. House – because that’s an easier win!

Whatever. So long as he can get to Washington, DC. He’s had enough of this small potatoes Pennsylvania politics – even though he’s one of the smallest potatoes in the patch.

If you know what I mean.

He’s running against Democrat Conor Lamb in a special election to be held March 13 to fill Republican Tim Murphy’s seat.

You may recall Murphy. He made his name voting for anti-abortion legislation until his alleged mistress got pregnant and then he allegedly pushed for her to abort their love child.

You know. Family values stuff.

Is Saccone up to that level of hypocrisy?

Donald Trump thinks he is.

The least popular President in U.S. history with only a year under his bulging golf shorts thinks Saccone is his kind of guy.

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“Will be going to Pennsylvania today in order to give my total support to RICK SACCONE, running for Congress in a Special Election (March 13). Rick is a great guy. We need more Republicans to continue our already successful agenda!”

Of course, Trump immediately had to walk back this comment because his trip to the keystone state was being paid for with public tax dollars. He had to say that it was an official White House event and not (as he indicated in the tweet) that it was a campaign event.

You know, for once I agree with Trump.

Rick Saccone IS Trump’s kind of guy.
He has lots of experience as a Yes Man. That’s really all he’s done in Harrisburg.

We used to have our own version of Trump – a Republican Governor who had no idea how to do his job – Tom Corbett.

Of course, Corbett’s reign was short lived. Like the President, his popularity plummeted and he was voted out of office like yesterday’s garbage.

But he had his loyal bobble head Saccone backing him every step of the way.

In fact, he voted for Corbett’s initiatives 95% of the time giving him the nickname of Corbett’s “Mini-me.”

Even when Corbett proposed something deeply unpopular, like cutting almost $1 billion from the state’s poorest public schools, Saccone went out there to explain why our children, our future, just weren’t worth the investment.

The Swamp recognizes Saccone as one of their own.

That’s why big moneyed interests are pouring cash on the sycophantic lawmaker. That and the fact that the district in question went for Trump in the last election by 20 points.

The National Republican Congressional Committee has spent at least $1 million on ads for broadcast and cable TV stations to boost Saccone’s candidacy.

And that’s not all.

Congressional Leadership Fund has put aside at least $1.6 million for ads, not to mention funding from outsiders like the 45Committee and Ending Spending – a group founded by the mega-donor Ricketts family.

All this money just to serve out the remainder of Murphy’s term!

Whoever wins would be up for re-election in November to secure a full two-year term.

Moreover, now that the state Supreme Court has overturned the Commonwealth’s gerrymandered districts that unfairly favor Republicans, that November race is likely to include newly drawn legislative lines.

So this GOP wonderland that boosted Trump and Mitt Romney in 2012 will likely become more competitive.

In fact, it may already be.
Saccone disrespecting the flag by wearing it as a shirt.
Some polls have Saccone up over Lamb by only a 3 point lead. This may be in part because of Trump’s steadily deflating support – even among Republicans. The President’s approval rating in the district has dropped to 49 percent – not far from the national picture where 47 percent disapprove of his job performance.

This is not good news for Saccone.

The SuperPACS supporting him are trying to paint Lamb, a former federal prosecutor, as a Nancy Pelosi puppet.

But Lamb has repeatedly criticized Pelosi, telling The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that he would not support Pelosi as the Democratic leader. There is a “need [for] new leadership on both sides,” Lamb said.

Taking his cue from the Commander in Chief, Saccone took to twitter to express his feelings:
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“I’m humbled that @realDonaldTrump for President, Inc, has officially endorsed my campaign for Congress!”

I’m not sure why he wrote “President, Inc.”

Perhaps Saccone thinks the office belongs to a private company.

Perhaps he doesn’t understand that a politician’s job is to serve the needs of his or her constituents.

Judging by his less than stellar performance in state government, this would seem to be the case.

He’s come a long way from earnestly trying to legislate past the establishment clause of the first amendment to fighting to starve our schools to running for a position as Trump’s favorite puppet.

Or not.

That depends on voters this March.

Full Disclosure: I am not a Saccone fan. Along with teachers, parents and students from across western Pennsylvania, I’ve picketed outside of his offices demanding he do his job and provide for students. He was deaf to our cries. Do you hear me now, Rick?


Monday, January 29, 2018

In Global Studies, It's Martin Luther (NOT) King by Dr. Michael Flanagan

This weekend many New York City teachers graded the New York State Regents exams. I graded the Global History and Geography exam. Regents are given at the end of each school year, and students can retake them again in January and August if they do not pass the first time. At this time, students must pass five of these exams in order to graduate, making the Regents a high-stakes standardized test. And for the high school teachers who have  20% - 40% of their APPR (Annual Professional Performance Review) being comprised of these student Regents scores, they are high-stakes as well. Essentially, the students’ futures, and our careers, ride on these state tests.

In NYC, teachers are not trusted enough to grade their own students’ exams in their own schools. Instead the grading is done in regional grading sites -- schools in other, very often inconveniently, located areas of the city. During “Regents Week” in January and June, teachers and exams are both shipped to these locations during regular school hours. When there is not enough time in the regular school day to complete the grading, the Department of Education hires teachers for overtime pay, known as per session hours. Most of us affectionately refer to this gig as “blood money”, but to be honest, the extra cash is nice.

The majority of teachers grading these exams are student-centered and caring professionals who have the students' interests at heart. They are there to fight for points in order to give the kids every chance to pass. But that doesn't mean we can't find the humor in the occasional entries from the “out of the mouths of babes” files -- the amusing things kids write in their essays shared at the tables to break up the monotony of scoring. Some actual quotes from this weekend:

- When Gandhi got out of prison the first thing he did was take a walk around the city

- If Hitler sees Jews he kills them in an instant

- Galileo used the microscope to prove the sun was the center of the earth, but they didn't believe him.

- Martin Luther was an exceptional person he read a really great book by god. The Bible I believe it was called.

- Nelson Mandela took a six week ass whuppin for his people

- Martin Luther had 99 problems. He was awoke.

Then there are the kids that throw the Hail Mary, and abandon the essay altogether to plead for the grader’s mercy:  

“This is the hardest test I ever took so please pass me" or,

"I have not taken this class since 9th grade, and didn't go to the review classes, so I know I failed and will have to take it again in June. So I will have more time to study. Have a blessed day. "

While the graders could share a chuckle over these lines, we stopped laughing once we realized we were in the midst of a grave epidemic. The Martin Luther (Not) King Massacre.

As global studies teachers one of the first things that we teach our kids during instruction of the Protestant Reformation and again during Regents review, is that if you see Martin Luther, it is not, not, not, Martin Luther KING! Any teacher worth his or her weight knows this. It is like cops pulling the old “good cop bad cop routine” or a sales person pulling a “bait and switch”. You know it is coming, you need to expect it,  and should never fall for it. For the Global Regents you are not even supposed to mention the United States, except in reference to other world events.

This year’s thematic essay question asked students to select two individuals who brought about change, and for each describe the historical circumstances around the individual, describe the action taken, and discuss the extent to which the action was successful.  Basically a six part question, and one of two essays on the exam.

This essay question appears in some form every couple of years and the Board of Regents, knowing that many students stress in this kind of high pressure test, is kind enough to offer suggestions on who to choose for this essay. Gandhi. Mandela. Galileo. And inevitably, Martin Luther.

Martin Luther, the Monk.

Protestant Revolution Martin Luther.

The guy from Germany who nailed stuff on the church door.

As in: NOT the American civil rights leader. Ever.

I myself read dozens of papers discussing Dr. King. Some graders began keeping more precise tallies. One teacher counted 52 essays. Another 61.  

None of those essays can receive credit.

So many kids.

I am angry.

Angry at the kid for falling for the trick.

Angry at the teachers who did not drill that fact in deeply enough.

Then I think of myself. I taught seniors in government this past semester, and some of them had to retake that global history exam again. I should have reviewed more with them, but I was too focused on teaching my own content.

But mostly I am angry at the state for pulling this crap on students, once again.

The state's got jokes. They think it's funny to waste our students’ time by throwing this dirty trick at them, particularly in January when most of the test takers are special needs and ELL students who have already failed this Global Regents at least once before. Some have not seen the content all year. Many of the students taking the test are seniors trying to graduate, and have not even sat in a global class for two or three years.  

However, all that aside, putting Martin Luther on this test, knowing full well that students might fall for this trick…is a cheap shot.

But bigger than that, the fact that students are forced to take and pass these standardized exams in order to graduate -- and that their scores are tied to their teachers evaluations -- is the real problem. The very students who fall into the Martin Luther (NOT) King trap are the students who often times will never pass these tests. They may not have the ability, the resources or be given the support necessary to pass. They are therefore denied their high school diploma.

We as teachers have to remember that many of these kids are set up to fail. We need to be better at preparing them to meet the challenges facing them. We also have to remember that the kids who failed these tests previously, are going to have an even harder time passing the second and third times around. Sometimes, what they need might be different than what we are directed to do. We -- I -- need to be better. So I leave my fellow global studies teachers with this piece of advice: remember the Martin Luther (Not) King massacre of January 2018. And let's give our students every opportunity to pass these high stakes exams.

Sunday, January 28, 2018

The Sad Impact of Corporate School Reform on Students with Emotional/Behavioral Disabilities


We have a lot of troubled kids. As of 2016, approximately 1 in 5 youth aged 13–18 (21.4%) experiences a severe mental disorder at some point during their life. For children aged 8–15, the estimate is 13%. HERE.
Schools should be on the front line to assist children and adolescents with mental health difficulties. But corporate school reformers have never focused on helping children with serious problems. On the contrary, they have made problems worse.
Here are reasons schools have failed children due to reform. All of the following affect how children feel about themselves.
  • High-stakes testing
  • Elimination of special education services
  • No excuses
  • A nonstop work ethic eliminating recess and play
  • One-size-fits-all standards
  • Removal of art and music
  • Focus on a disingenuous reward system
  • Collection of indiscriminate data
  • Replacing teachers with online instruction
Where are we now when it comes to helping students with emotional/behavioral disabilities?
Betsy DeVos and her friends paraded around this week wearing yellow scarves, in honor of school choice week.
I’ve not seen or heard any statements by DeVos referring to the recent 11 school shootings in 23 days done by those with easy access to guns. Three of the shootings involved students as active shooters. The last time she seems to have noticed a school shooting was San Bernardino last April. 
The gun issue continues to loom causing justifiable outrage.
But DeVos and her supporters also don’t say anything substantive about mental health services in schools. Betsy talks little about anything other than school choice and rethinking schools.
Yet how do you rethink schools if you don’t consider the emotional/behavioral problems children face today?
DeVos needs to be replaced with someone who is in touch with the real needs of students in our public schools.
What is currently being done to address emotional/behavioral disabilities in students?
School choice is not going to do anything to fix these problems.
  • Charters and most private schools have a record of pushing kids with emotional/behavioral difficulties out.
  • As taxpayers we don’t know what takes place with children who are home schooled, in charter schools, or private schools. (Note) My favorite home school parent has expressed concern about my statement about tax dollars only going to home schooling. This was an mistake on my part. So I added charter schools, and private schools. There are many wonderful parents who homeschool and do a great job of it! And many do it because of the terrible corporate reforms that have destroyed public schools! So I apologize for appearing to single out homeschools.   
  • How does one address the mental health needs of students who sit in front of screens for school? Too much tech exacerbates mental health problems!
We need strong public schools, schools with resources that will address the needs of children and teens.
Inclusion is the preferred placement for many students with disabilities, but it isn’t always the best placement.
Most class sizes are too large. Especially in high school where teachers can have 150 or more students, young people struggling with emotional/behavioral disabilities are lost—unless they act out to get attention.
In large elementary school classes, it takes only one student to interrupt a class of thirty.
We used to have classes for students who acted out, who struggled to overcome a variety of problems. Some students needed temporary assistance. Others, it was long-lasting. These classes were managed by special education teachers with special preparation, who were familiar with the latest research.
Social-emotional learning is reinvented character education. The difference is SEL involves a strange standardization of behavior, and collects unnecessary social and behavioral information about children. Many parents distrust SEL due to data collection. SEL does nothing to assist students with emotional/behavioral disabilities.
Anti-bullying programs are a good thing. Schools should help all children understand that bullying is wrong. Along with that, school-wide programs should help students understand that anyone can face emotional/behavioral challenges in life and that all students deserve love and acceptance.
Teach for America types are not well enough prepared to understand problems in children. A well-prepared teacher with education degrees, and a background which includes classes in child development and psychology, can spot high frequency or extreme behavior that indicates problematic behavior. They also understand how to work with parents. Students deserve well-prepared general and special education teachers.
Response to Intervention involves assessing students to determine placement in tiers that might assist them in reading. The hope is early intervention will eliminate problems down the road. RTI also looks at behavior. However, it’s not funded well, often assessment is administered by volunteers, and results concerning reading are less than stellar. Many parents fear RTI keeps students from special education services.
Positive Behavioral Intervention Supports (PBIS) through the United States Department of Education, Office of Special Education Programs, instructs and promotes positive rules and behavioral expectations in school. But it does nothing to address the needs of students who have emotional/behavioral difficulties.
Too few school counselors are hired at individual schools. And when schools do have counselors, many of them are relegated to doing paperwork. Counselors provide much needed support to teachers and parents. But they can’t do this if they are stretched too thin.
Public schools need a continuum of services for children experiencing emotional/behavioral problems. They also need a whole curriculum that includes classes that are therapeutic, like art, music, and drama. These classes can help students find their niche and keep them from academically falling behind.
Little discussion currently takes place as to how to address the needs of children and teens with emotional/behavioral problems in public schools. This needs to change. Too many students are troubled and not getting the assistance they need and deserve in order to face the challenges life can bring.

#MeTooK12 and the Responsibility of Male Educators

By:  Aaron Michael Baker
#MeTooK12 is the hashtag of a recently launched campaign hoping to harness the continuing momentum of Tarana Burke’s #MeToo movement. According to the organizers at “Stop Sexual Assault in Schools,” #MeTooK12 is all about addressing “the epidemic of traumatic sexual harassment impacting our nation’s students.” This piece from the Portland Tribune addresses the apparent lack of attention that #MeTooK12 has received in Portland Public Schools despite the fact that the incident which sparked the movement occurred in nearby Seattle Public Schools. SSAIS partnered with National Women’s Law Center in the Twitter launch of #MeTooK12 in early January of this year. Teen Vogue and Babble both have profiled the campaign, and the hashtag is certain to receive more attention in the weeks and months ahead.
girl at school
The premise of #MeTooK12 is simple. If sexual assault can be adequately addressed at the elementary, middle, and high school level in addition to higher education, then in a generation there will be less women needing to say #MeToo. The main problem cited under current practices is that sexual assault and harassment in schools is severely under-reported. This is irrefutable. The question that no one is willing to ask out loud at the administrative level of virtually every school building and district is “Where do we start?” Every day all across the United States, educators witness countless examples of female students being touched without consent. We have a culture problem in our schools. We have to start somewhere, and we have to start now!
Non-consensual touch of any kind cannot go unaddressed at school. I am not calling for “zero tolerance” policies on all “Public Displays of Affection.” As educators, we have worried too long about the consensual things that students do behind closed doors outside of school, and not enough time worrying about the non-consensual things that happen right in front of us on a daily basis.  Recognizing when female students experience unwanted touch is not difficult, doing something about it is. Allowing young women to be conditioned to unwanted touch contributes to our systemic societal problems of rape culture and victim blaming.
Male educators are not responsible for “protecting the girls.” There should be no trace of paternalism in the relationship between the male educator and the female student. If a situation arises with a female student and dress code absolutely must be enforced, it should be handled by a female teacher or administrator. A male teacher or administrator telling a young woman that she is dressed inappropriately only contributes to our societal problem. He doesn’t have to say, “You are responsible for the thoughts of boys.” Because he is a man and because of our culture, that is what she will hear. Furthermore, girls should be encouraged, when possible, to report unwanted touch to women in the school building. The responsibility of male educators lies squarely with the boys.
As educators, we have worried too long about the consensual things that students do behind closed doors outside of school, and not enough time worrying about the non-consensual things that happen right in front of us on a daily basis.
Male educators, both teachers and administrators, have a unique opportunity to help facilitate a paradigm shift in our schools away from a culture that claims “boys will be boys.” If the constant objectification of women is what it means to be a boy, then boys need to be something else. To put it succinctly, male educators need to “get your boys.” A phrase that male students should hear from men (and women) at school every day is, “Don’t touch people without permission.”
“But Mr. Baker! It sounds so weird for me to ask, ‘May I touch you?’ Do you really want me to say that?”
“Yes… Yes, I do.”
“May I give you a hug?” “May I put my hand on your shoulder?” “May I hold your hand?” “May I run my fingers through your hair?” These are all types of touch that happen to girls at school every day without consent. These are all questions that boys would do well to practice in the mirror. The awkwardness of these questions is less inconvenient to boys than the unwanted touch is intrusive to girls.
But asking the right questions is not enough. We must educate our young men on how to listen and respond to the answer. Any answer other than “yes” means “no.” “No” means “no.” “Maybe” means “no.” “Not now” means “no.” Silence means “no.” And “stop” means the line has already been crossed. The confusion that college students continue to experience concerning consent and sex can be mitigated with routine practical advice on consensual non-romantic touch given to children beginning in pre-kindergarten and continuing through high school.
no means no
Our societal understanding of gender is ever so slowly expanding beyond the male / female binary. This is a good development. But the conditions under which sexual assault and harassment continue to thrive in this country are born out of that socially constructed gender binary. Trans, non-binary, and gender nonconforming students and adults are also affected by things like male entitlement and misogyny. The work to be done to turn the tide in our nation’s exposed sexual assault epidemic begins with young male and male identifying students.
Female educators can help male students in unique ways that male teachers cannot. They just are not responsible to do so. Male educators can and must take responsibility for educating the next generation of men who reject sexism, patriarchy, and toxic masculinity.

Wake Up, America! You Have a School Shooting Problem!

By Steven Singer

And January isn’t even over yet.

That makes about 50 for the academic year – roughly one a week.

Some involve no injuries. Some are suicide attempts. And some, like the latest in Kentucky, involve an active shooter hunting and killing children.

While gun violence is a problem throughout the country, it is especially virulent at educational institutions.

According to an FBI study that looked at incidents from 2000-2013, nearly one quarter of all U.S. shootings took place at schools. And they’re on the rise.

Yet this latest incident barely raised an eyebrow in the collective consciousness.

Hardly anyone even attempted to offer a solution.

The reason?

Since Sandy Hook, we’ve effectively given up.

In December of 2012 a gunman walked in to Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, and killed 20 children and six adults, and we did nothing.

We stood by after the murder of elementary kids and couldn’t get up the collective energy to do one damn thing to stop things like this from happening again.

No new regulations.

No assault weapons ban.

No gun buyback programs.


In fact, the only thing we did do was actually weaken gun laws to INCREASE the likelihood of more kindergarten kids dying by shot and shell.

In this country we have created a false dichotomy – it’s either children or guns — and we’ve chosen GUNS!

We’re told to buy bullet-proof backpacksarm school teachers, and have gun wielding police patrol the buildings, but don’t do anything about the firearms, themselves.

America has 4.4 percent of the world’s population, but almost half of the civilian-owned guns in the world.
It’s no wonder, then, that our citizens are so much more likely to die at end of a barrel.

Since Sandy Hook, there have been more than 1,500 mass shootings (including those done at locations other than schools).
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According to the Gun Violence Archive, there have been at least 1,518 mass shootings, with at least 1,715 people killed and 6,089 wounded as of October 2017.

The database defines a mass shooting as one in which at least four people (not counting the shooter) were shot regardless of whether those wounds were fatal or not. And since some shootings go unreported, it’s likely only giving us the bare minimum.

But that’s just mass death and destruction.

The overwhelming majority of gun deaths are smaller scale – police brutality, domestic violence, suicides, accidents, etc. America’s total annual firearm deaths came to more than 33,000 in 2014.

This is patently absurd.

There are certain facts that we refuse to accept.

States with more guns have more gun deaths.
Countries with more guns likewise have more gun deaths.
Meanwhile, states with tighter gun regulations have fewer gun-related deaths.
Countries with more rigorous gun control likewise have fewer gun related deaths.

(Don’t believe me? See Florida’s “The Geography of Gun Deaths,” and a 2016 reviewof 130 studies in 10 countries, published in Epidemiologic Reviews.)

Yet we’re told that gun control is useless because new laws will just be pieces of paper that criminals will ignore. However, by the same logic, why have any laws at all?

Congress should just pack it in, the courts should close up and the army should just all go home. Criminals will do what they please – there’s nothing we can do about it.

This kind of thinking is the triumph of business over sense.

We may never be able to stop all gun violence, but we can take steps to make it more unlikely. We can at least make it more difficult for people to die by firearm.

And this doesn’t have to mean getting rid of all guns.

It just means sensible regulations.

According to the Pew Research Center, when you ask people about specific firearm regulations, the majority is in favor of most of them – both Republicans and Democrats.

We don’t want the mentally ill to be able to buy guns. We don’t want suspected terrorists to be able to purchase guns. We don’t want convicted criminals to be able to buy guns. We want mandatory background checks for private sales at gun shows.
Yet our lawmakers stand by helpless whenever these tragedies occur because they are at the mercy of their donors.

Our continued gun violence problem is a symptom of our flagging democracy.

In a Republic like ours, our representatives are supposed to enact our will in the halls of power. Yet they don’t actually represent us. They represent business and the wealthy.

Until we regain control of our government, we will always be at the mercy of the dollar and the gun.

Gun violence is not an everyday occurrence at our schools. In fact, children are actually safer there than anywhere else. But everything is relative. Going to class to learn you’re ABC’s shouldn’t bring with it even a moderate chance of fiery death!

But that’s 2018 America. We live in a culture of death.

You need no further proof of that than the weekly report of which school got struck by the lightning of gun violence this week. Which children were mowed down by the consequences of an out of control plutocracy today?

Bang. Bang. Democracy is dead.