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SEQUESTRUTIN AND THE SMOKIN MIRRORS SENSATIONALISM March 3, 2013

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A civilian employed by the Army, said, “I can’t say if this is happening in all branches of the military, but here’s what’s happening here. They are giving us ‘forced furloughs’ amounting to two days off every two weeks, without pay.”

In other words, these support-level workers will take a 20% reduction in salary without having their pay rate reduced.

Some won’t get to choose the 2 days of unpaid leave they are forced to take off, and they will not be able to file for unemployment benefits, because they are still employed.

The Masses are dismissing the sequester as “only” a 2% cut in the government’s budget.

But it appears it will be paid disproportionately by the little guys just trying to make ends meet. For some a 20% cut in pay for someone making $50,000 is significant for them!

Poloticians,  yeah! I said it, may still work out a deal if the sequester causes a stink. We have a better plan…

Things you can do… Avoid ill effects of Sequestration In Your Life

One thing that is abundantly clear in all of this fiscal cliff and sequestration drama. Anyone who relies on the government for their livelihood had better help yourself and start your own business and protect you and yours.

Jobs and entitlements can come and go, and your so-called Congress can axe them at any time.

It granted a large increase in the spending limit in exchange for future budget cuts.

Republicans “are unwilling to sign onto a plan in which 50 percent of the savings would come from tax increases. While concerned about the impact on defense, ranking Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-OK) said the military’s worries are “not desperate enough to raise taxes” when there are other options.” – See more at: http://www.c-span.org/Events/Joint-Chiefs-Assess-Impact-of-Sequestration

Here’s what the Commander in Chief said about it at that time: “Is this the deal I would have preferred? No. But this compromise does make a serious down payment on the deficit reduction we need, and gives each party a strong incentive to get a balanced plan done before the end of the year.” -President Barack Obama

He was right: there was a huge incentive for both sides to get a better deal.

The law said that if the two parties couldn’t come up with a better solution, two things would happen:

1. The borrowing limit would automatically increase by another $1.2 trillion.

2. Automatic, across-the-board spending cuts called a “sequester” would kick in

Conservatives did not want to raise the debt ceiling any more, and liberals did not want social programs slashed, so it seemed like the strong-handed tactic might actually work.

But lawmakers failed to act in 2011 … and then waited until December of 2012 before they even started looking at a possible solution.

Economists sounded the first warning. They claimed that if the sequester, combined with the mandatory tax-hikes, actually took effect, it could cause irreparable harm to the already-fragile economy. They warned it might push the U.S. off the brink of recovery into a new recession.

That’s why many began calling it the “Fiscal Cliff.” And it turned into quite a circus.

Politicians pointed more fingers. News media fanned the flames. It was a frenzy.

The average citizen didn’t have a clue what the so-called “fiscal cliff” was all about, but at least he knew it was serious business… and that something had to be done soon. Or bad things would happen.

Here’s what did happen: in the wee hours of January 1, 2013 … Congress saved the day!

Sort of.

They passed a hefty tax increase for the wealthy, and allowed a significant tax increase to creep back into 86% of the American working public’s paychecks.

But that was only half of the “cliff” problem.

They simply kicked the other half (the sequester part) down the proverbial road. The automatic budget cuts were delayed until March 1,2013. Legislators claimed it would give both sides time to craft a “more equitable” plan rather than relying on sequestration.That’s because most elected officials loathe a government spending sequester.

Why? Because it’s a brute-force budget-balancing tactic that hasn’t been used since 1987. Besides …

To Do Business by way of Sequestration Is the “DUMBASS” Way…

Say you ran a small business with about 12 people you that employ. A couple of them were intelligent workers that brought tremendous worth to your organization and increased its profitability. Two of your employees were slackers who seriously underperformed in their duties. The rest were average workers.

The bad economy was affecting your business and forced you to make a 20% cut in your payroll. Which of these two scenarios would be smarter:

1. Fire the two underperforming employees, eliminating 20% of your workforce, or
2. Slash 20% of all 10 employees salary on an equal basis

A wise business owner would never pick #2 and punish his star employees in order to be “fair” to the slackers. That’s plain silly.

But that’s what a government sequester is all about: Every department pays equally. Across-the board cuts without taking into consideration the value of the program.

At least, that’s what we were led to believe.

And that’s why leaders on both sides of the political aisle where screaming and making threats about the dire effects of the sequester earlier this year.

Conservatives groused about how the sequester would harm our national security and gut our military.

Liberals whined that it would leave grandma out on the street without a blanket.

“Unfair” was the battle cry sounded on both sides. But neither side was right, because the reality is …

The Sequester Has Plenty of Loopholes

It turns out the “across the board cuts” politicians were threatening weren’t really across the board.

The Congressional Research Service released their official report last month called “Budget Sequestration and Selected Program Exemptions and Special Rules.”

The large document identifies certain programs that are 100% exempt from sequestration. These exceptions were squeezed into the the dark corners with fine print in the original “Budget Control Act” Obama signed into law back in August, 2011.

There are plenty of full exemptions from the sequester, including:

  • Social Security and Medicaid benefits
  • Refundable tax credits to individuals
  • Food Stamps
  • Children’s Health Insurance Program
  • Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program
  • Temporary Assistance for Needy Families
  • Supplemental Security Income

In other words, none of these political “hot-button” items will be affected at all. They’re exempt.

And, oh yea, all of the Congress’s special pension and insurance payments? Yup. Exempt. Go figure!

Another one of those exemptions is: “Compensation for the President” (Page 19)

The bill cited a constitutional provision which prevents the President’s salary from being reduced while he’s in office.

So Who WILL Pay for the $85 Billion in Cuts?

With so many exemptions, you may wonder who’s going to bear the brunt of the $85 billion in cuts that will kick in tonight at midnight.

The answer isn’t totally clear just yet, but one thing is clear: the military is on the hook for 50% of the sequester.

This hasn’t gotten a lot of press, because another one of the “exempt” items is military pay. In other words, the sequestration law does not permit anyone employed by the military to have their pay cut.

That’s why many analysts were predicting HUGE layoffs in the military, especially among its civilian workers.

We couldn’t find any good recent info on that,

The nice lady, a civilian employed by the Army, said, “I can’t say if this is happening in all branches of the military, but here’s what’s happening here. They are giving us ‘forced furloughs’ amounting to two days off every two weeks, without pay.”

In other words, these support-level workers will take a 20% reduction in salary without having their pay rate reduced.

They won’t get to choose the 2 days of unpaid leave they are forced to take off, and they will not be able to file for unemployment benefits, because they are still employed.

Many are dismissing the sequester as “only” a 2% cut in the government’s budget.

But it appears it will be paid disproportionately by the little guys just trying to make ends meet. A 20% cut in pay for someone making $50,000 is significant for them!

Politicians may still work out a deal if the sequester causes a stink. We have a better plan…

The Dumbing Down of America: Creating Mass-Produced Ignorance October 25, 2012

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“Curiosity is the wick in the candle of learning.”—William Arthur Ward

What goes on in America’s schools is essentially identical to what goes on in the Madrassas of the Muslim world. In both, orthodox beliefs are taught as truth and critical examination is discouraged. Two worlds clash in loggerheads.

In Ward’s words: “In the 1980s, I came across a little book entitled Master Teachers and the Art of Teaching. This unpretentious little book, written by John E. Colman of St. John’s University, not only enlightened me as a young educator but proved to be invaluable. In it, about a dozen different teaching methods are described along with some information about the master teachers who designed them. Each of these methods was used successfully to teach some subjects to some students. None was used successfully to teach all subjects to all students. Throughout my teaching career, I found opportunities to utilize many of these methods when the right situations arose. The lesson I learned from this little book is that there is no one teaching method that works for teaching all subjects to all students. Finding the right method for the students at hand is at best an art, never a science, and is never easy.”

Few people understand this. In fact, teacher training suppresses it. Teaching methods are taught to prospective teachers as fixed, reliable procedures that never fail when in reality, they rarely succeed. And although carried out in numerous variations, the predominant way of teaching in America’s schools at all levels has been the teacher’s lecture and the student’s need to memorize it. Today the lecture is often presented in various ways. The student listens to a teacher speak, or reads a teacher’s words in a textbook, or watches a televised presentation or a computerized video. And students are asked to memorize some portion of the presented material. Furthermore, the memorization of presented material is the most boring way of teaching anyone anything. No one likes having to memorize stuff. Some teachers, like orators, are better at lecturing than others which leads many to conclude that the quality of the presentation is what really matters and that that quality depends on the teacher’s talent. But it doesn’t. Teaching is neither a necessary nor a sufficient condition for learning. Human beings have been teaching themselves and others for millennia before what we know as a “teacher” ever existed.

The history of education in America makes this transparently clear. Even the Puritans had ways of teaching their children, but the first normal school, a school to train students to be teachers, didn’t come into being until 1839, less than two centuries ago. It resulted in building a school system modeled on an industrial, manufacturing model that still controls thinking about education today. Unfortunately is was faulty then and still is today.

Using this model, our schools are thought of as factories, the teachers are thought of as factory workers, and students are thought of as raw material. Each student enters the school system as a tabula rasa and exits as a book engraved with “knowledge.” The engraver, of course, is the teacher who is responsible for what is written on the tabulae. The system is devoted to mass producing educated people, and even anecdotal observations of people clearly demonstrate that it has never worked. Had it worked, everyone who attended school would have been equally educated, just like the buttons produced in a button factory are all alike. Two and a half centuries of graduate counterexamples absolutely refute the theory.

But so does the experience of most students. It is the rare graduate of any school on any level who can’t name a teacher s/he considers exceptionally good. Yet even those teachers never taught every student in their classes equally well. Some learned a lot, some learned less, and perhaps some learned nothing. No teacher can be responsible for such disparate results. Something other than the teacher’s ability must be accountable for them, because each student in each class was subjected to the same presentations. Mill’s method of difference must be used to identify the other, but no reformer is attempting to use it. Blaming the teacher is so much easier, and putting the blame there proves that the improvement of education is not the aim of reformers.

Even though we routinely ask children what they would like to be when they grow up, except in trivial ways, our schools rarely make attaining their goals possible, because the system is designed to make products not educated human beings. Prospective college students are always being told, even by the President, to study subjects that the commercial community needs to carry out its enterprises. Lindsay Oldenski, Assistant Professor, School of Foreign Service, Georgetown University, writes that the need is to match graduates to the areas where labour demand is growing. Students are not told to study the subjects needed to become what they want to be because unless the commercial community wants people who want to be what they want to be, this society has no place for them in it, which proves that this society does not exist for people, but that people exist to fulfill the purposes of the commercial community.

The President says more scientists are needed. No one asks him why. No one points out that we don’t pay any attention to those we already have. Why are more scientists who are not going to be paid attention to needed? What the commercial community wants is not scientists, but scientists who fulfill the commercial community’s needs. So the schools need not produce environmentalists or climatologists or anthropologists.

What schools need to produce are scientists like Wernher Magnus Maximilian Freiherr von Braun who was quite content to use slave labor to produce weapons of mass murder. Our commercial community needs scientists like that and apparently quite enough of them are being produced. The educational system exists to produce factory fodder, and educational reformers are concerned not with improving education but with producing factory fodder better. But it won’t work!

Recent studies show a list of the 16 colleges in the country that produce the highest paid graduates. Princeton University was first on the list; yet only 49% of its graduates considered their jobs to have merit. Preparing or training for work is not  even remotely close to education for living,  even if you’re amongst the highly paid. The average rate of meaningful work for the 16 colleges  involved is a mere 51%. Can you guess what was the average for all workers, especially the lowest paid? What does this say about the quality of life Americans enjoy?

Our legislative body of reformers’ love affair with technology has also shown itself to be ineffective. American love for science and technology is grounded in religious-like faith, not reality. This love produces a deeply held belief that science and technology will solve all problems. That it may not is never even considered, so reformers go from one technology to another in an endless search for the holy grail of learning. Television was introduced into college classrooms in the early 1960s. It enabled one professor to “teach” hundreds of students, but they never learned very much. Two decades later, computers were introduced into the public schools.A lot of computers were bought; little increase in learning was observed. Now the classroom is being shifted to the Internet.

But test scores keep dropping. Despite decades of reforms and billions of dollars spent the American education system badly needs improvement;  yet there’s been no relevant improvement in sight. “Most of the nation’s high school graduates of 2012, like those of yesteryear, aren’t ready for college; hell their reading skills continue to decline reaching their lowest level in four decades ” (Johnathan Kozy). In fact, piles of evidence reveal that Americans are getting dumber. People who have graduated from high school since the pocket calculator was invented can’t calculate in their heads, not even simple addition, subtraction, and multiplication. Many people addicted to the Internet have difficulty reading anything more complicated than a tweet, and the technical constraints imposed by the internet are making it impossible to teach spelling and the nuances of grammar. What can seriously be written about in 140 characters? Articles become mere headlines and headlines become mere soundbites.

America is, and always has been, an anti-intellectual society. It is a conservative nation with deeply held conservative views. This conservatism stems from its widespread fundamentalist religious values. Numerous progressive attempts to change this have failed and are failing again. When the Republican Party of Texas recently approved its 2012 Platform, it included the following paragraph:

Knowledge-Based Education

“We oppose the teaching of Higher Order Thinking Skills or HOTS (values clarification), critical thinking skills and similar programs that are simply a relabeling of Outcome-Based Education or OBE (mastery learning) which focus on behavior modification and have the purpose of challenging the student’s fixed beliefs and undermining parental authority.”

The Alabama Legislature considered a bill to stop the teaching of evolution as a fact. That even a part of America’s governing elite tries to enact such reactionary views into law means that they are attempting to make improving the American schools impossible. The American elite does not want anyone to improve the American schools. America’s schools will never be reformed because the culture impedes it. The reform movements are not about education. They, like everything else in America, are about money. Both the American political and economic systems rely on a thoughtless, unintelligent, uneducated populous. Einstein said that it is a miracle that curiosity survives formal education. In America, it hasn’t. To become learned, a person, especially a child, must be imbued with curiosity. But marketing to children and entertaining adults are based on mindless activities. How does watching a sporting event, a televised situation comedy, a music-video, or a cartoon awaken curiosity? What does any of this make a person want to learn? The culture doesn’t make Americans want to learn anything about anything. Such people do not make willing students. Schooling to them is something being forced upon them; they naturally resist it. Students who don’t want to learn won’t, and the society has developed no means of awakening curiosity. For educational purposes, the lack of curiosity is fatal. It cannot be cured.

A healthy curiosity is the only weapon against ignorance. Teaching is nothing but the art of awakening the natural curiosity of students, but learning what is taught is not enough. Learning whether what is taught makes sense is ultimately essential. Unfortunately that aspect of educating people is not part of American education.

“Where ignorance is our master, there is no possibility of real peace.”—Dalai Lama

Public Education: The Republican Football July 14, 2012

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The following story appeared in the online version of the Tampabay Times. It just goes to show how public education continues to be the football of the Republican Party. The “goal” is to divert your taxpaying dollars, not just in Florida, but nationwide, to privately-owned and Republican-connected charter schools. The students aren’t on the winning team as there is no proof that charter schooled students perform any better academically than their regular public school counterparts. It is the corporate owners of these charter schools that walk away with the win, in terms of your tax dollars. Read on…

A Times (Tampabay Times) Editorial

FCAT farce just gets worse.

No wonder Gov. Rick Scott and Education Commissioner Gerard Robinson have suggested in recent weeks they are ready to reassess the FCAT. After more than a decade of leading the national charge on school accountability, Florida on Wednesday released 2011-12 grades for public elementary and middle schools that were largely meaningless. The grades have been tweaked, adjusted and tweaked again. Even ardent supporters of the A+ plan appeared willing to concede that the process, which began with the ill-conceived grading of the state’s FCAT writing test, has been a complete mess.

Now leaders in Tallahassee should begin the serious discussion about what is next. Florida’s plan to jettison the FCAT for end-of-course exams is still two years away. That’s too long to wait to overhaul the A+ Plan if there’s any hope of restoring faith with teachers, parents and the public that Florida’s school accountability program is actually fair.

Wednesday’s results would have looked even worse if the state Board of Education had continued on its original track, backed by Scott and Robinson, to dramatically raise requirements for student passing scores on the FCAT, on which school grades are largely based. By May, it was clear the state was moving too fast and risked labeling thousands of additional students and their schools as failures.

Results from the FCAT writing exam — which included tougher grading and a higher passing score — suggested that in just one year Florida schools went from teaching 81 percent of fourth-graders to write at grade level to just 27 percent. Robinson and the education board quickly recalibrated the scores. But the massaging didn’t stop there.

The school grades released Wednesday also — compared with a year ago — de-emphasized the performance of a school’s lowest achievers on the FCAT and prevented any school from dropping more than a single letter grade in one year. In Pinellas County that second provision meant 12 schools — including seven schools that received A’s last year — otherwise would have dropped to a C or lower. And in Hillsborough, Pasco and Hernando counties, more than 40 schools were saved from an even lower grade because of the change. In Hillsborough, West Tampa Elementary, would have dropped from and A to an F under the tougher formula before it was tweaked. How is that possible?

The results will obviously fuel the growing backlash against the FCAT. Even Republican state Sen. Don Gaetz, a former Okaloosa County school superintendent and the incoming Senate president, distanced himself from the results. He issued a statement reminding parents that by 2014-15 the FCAT will be gone, replaced with end-of-course subject tests that can be compared with national results.

But that’s two years away, and the question Tallahassee should be deciding is what to do now. School grades and FCAT scores play a role in both school funding and teacher merit pay. Will that now be based on the faulty formula used Wednesday? And will the Legislature and Scott accept some responsibility? The new grades, after all, measured a school year in which per student funding dropped 8 percent. For that, voters should hold them to account.

*******************************************************************

Guest blogger: Bridget Foster

As a Florida educator, this comes as no surprise to me. I can remember when the FCAT was first rolled out as part of Florida’s 1990’s education reform program, Blueprint 2000.  As we field tested hundreds of ninth graders on a meaningless test, the inside cover of the test manual stated that the test was not meant to be an exit exam but rather an assessment tool for teachers to identify student weaknesses. Within five or so years, under Jeb Bush, it did become an exit exam, with Neil Bush and his company becoming the benefactor as they provided the practice materials adopted by the state. The stakes have become higher and higher, as evidenced by the large number of 15 and 16 year old students still in middle school due to failure to pass the FCAT Reading test in 3rd grade, resulting in repeated years of retention. Additionally, 50% of a teacher’s evaluation is now based on the FCAT reading and math scores of assigned students…no matter how students perform throughout the year, the performance on a single test on a specific day of the year determines how “effective” your instruction is and whether you are eligible for merit pay. Worse still, those of us who have no direct instructional responsibility have 40% of our evaluation based on the grade assigned to the school as a whole with a “value-added” score designed to reduce the impact of the school grade. Either way, when you combine a change in the format of the test (6th grade reading is now computer-based) with an increase in the required passing score,  as well as a new teacher evaluation system all in the same year, there are bound to be problems. But it’s all a smokescreen…consider that our illustrious governor “increased” the spending on education by 1 billion dollars in the SAME YEAR as the aforementioned changes, the cry will now become: “We increased spending on public education and look! student scores plummeted, school grades dropped and none of the teachers or administrators were evaluated to be “Highly Effective”!  Public education doesn’t work! We need to divert the dollars to opportunity scholarships so parents can send their children to private schools…we need to fund more charter schools, etc. etc. etc.” This so-called “increase” in spending on public education is another farce, as it’s just a drop in the bucket compared to the billions of dollars that have been cut from the education budget over the past six or eight years.

Our children’s education is not a game, folks. It’s time to elect people who really support public education and that includes people who will hold PARENTS responsible for how their children perform and for their readiness (or lack thereof) for school.  Educating children is like baking a cake: you can have the finest ingredients to make the batter, but if you pour that batter into a dented pan, you will have a dented cake!

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