Hochul won Congressional seat in upstate New York

May 24, 2011

I get e-mail from Nancy Pelosi from time to time, like tonight:

Ed —

It is my great pleasure to report that tonight, thanks to you, Democrat Kathy Hochul has won a triumphant grassroots victory in the special election in NY-26.

Victories like this are what happen when we fight together to protect our core Democratic values.

Congresswoman-elect Hochul’s victory in a staunchly-Republican district has shocked the political world and sent an unmistakable sign that the American people will not stand for the Republicans’ reckless and extreme agenda to end Medicare.

This is our third straight special election victory in New York — and it is truly one for the ages. All of the Republicans’ right-wing outside groups with their secret money and dishonest attacks were no match for the combined strength of grassroots Democrats.

Thank you again for fighting to protect and defend Medicare and bringing us one step closer to regaining our Democratic House Majority.

Nancy Pelosi
Democratic Leader

Is there a lesson in the election?  Yes, there is:  Republicans overreached when they started their march against Medicare.

See the story in the New York Times:

Two months ago, the Democrat, Kathy Hochul, was considered an all-but-certain loser in the race against the Republican, Jane Corwin. But Ms. Hochul seized on the Republican’s embrace of the proposal from Representative Paul D. Ryan, Republican of Wisconsin, to overhaul Medicare, and she never let up.

On Tuesday, she captured 48 percent of the vote, to Ms. Corwin’s 42 percent, according to unofficial results. A Tea Party candidate, Jack Davis, had 8 percent.

Voters, who turned out in strikingly large numbers for a special election, said they trusted Ms. Hochul, the county clerk of Erie County, to protect Medicare.

Kathy Hochul on election night, May 24, 2011 - New York Times photo by Michael Appleton

Kathy Hochul claimed victory at an election party in Amherst, New York, on Tuesday night. Hochul won a seat in Congress in what has traditionally been a Republican district in New York. New York Times photo by Michael Appleton


Trouble in Texas: Big city school supers bail out

May 24, 2011

Texas schools continue to suffer under the oppression of the Republican state legislature (“the Lege”) and Gov.  Rick Perry’s assault on education funding at all levels.

Last Thursday, May 19, some of the seams that hold Texas education together unraveled enough that problems spilled out for the public to see and wonder.  In Dallas, school Superintendent Michael Hinojosa announced he plans to take the job open in the Cobb County, Georgia, school district.  Hinojosa signed a three-year, more-money contract extension with Dallas Independent School District (ISD) earlier this year when he was passed over for the top job in Las Vegas, Nevada schools.

His announcement that he was leaving caught school board members flat footed, and not necessarily happy.

Fort Worth ISD Superintendent Melody Johnson announced her resignation at about the same time.  She said she was resigning for personal reasons — her mother is ill — but it is also true that she has not had a good relationship with the board of the district, and things have been very contentious over the past several months.

Hinojosa made a statement to teachers and others working in Dallas ISD:

Two weeks ago, I was contacted by the Cobb County School District in Georgia about the position of superintendent. This past Sunday, I met with their board and tonight I was named a sole finalist for the position. This process has moved very quickly, to say the least.

It is an honor to be considered and is yet another indicator that the achievements experienced in the Dallas Independent School District are being noticed by other school districts throughout the country. I did not seek the position in Cobb County, nor have I been looking to leave Dallas.

I am enormously proud of the accomplishments that have been achieved with our Board of Trustees during the past six years. The number of Dallas students passing statewide exams at both passing and college-ready levels has increased every year. The number of students graduating from our schools has increased during the last three years. The number of students taking and passing AP exams is going up every year. The number of schools considered exemplary by the state of Texas has increased each year.

This did not happen because of any one individual. It happened because of a shared commitment from the staff of the entire Dallas Independent School District. To be part of the progress that has been made has been something very special.

I am not certain how things will play out in Georgia during the next few weeks. Please know that, regardless of what happens, your work on behalf of the students of Dallas ISD continues to be deeply appreciated.

Thank you.

One might hope he’s up to date on the creationism-evolution controversy for the sake of his new job; evolution is not controversial in Dallas ISD. It’s been a tough year for most Texas school superintendents.

When schools are supposed to be planning for fall, most districts in Texas still don’t know how deep will be the cuts in funding from the state legislature.  Consequently, schools do not know how many faculty they will have to lay off, and that makes planning for the coming year all but completely impossible.  We should expect more than a few of them to be weary of these fights, and wearing out.

Mick Jagger sang about the Texas Lege:

Raise your glass to the hard working people
Let’s drink to the uncounted heads

Let’s think of the wavering millions

Who need leaders but get gamblers instead


Rolling Stones, “Salt of the Earth”

May 24, 2011


Blaming the teachers can’t overcome problems of poverty in educational achievement

May 24, 2011

We got the scores from the state yesterday, for the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills (TAKS).  Most of my students are juniors, so this is a big deal.  If they pass these tests, in mathematics, science, English language arts and social studies.

Preliminary results gave me a 100% pass rate with 41% commended, out of  134 students whose scores counted (don’t ask about those formulae).  Considering that our students’ poverty rate, as measured by school lunches, is well north of 85%, that’s good.

It doesn’t mean all these kids are ready for the Ivy League, though.

I know the preliminary results err somewhere.  I can find two students in special education categories who did not muster the scores I had hoped, and to me, it looks like they may need to retake.  Two failures wouldn’t be bad, either.  I’ll let the state and our administrators fight that out.

So, I’ve done an okay job of teaching our kids bubble guessing.   That’ what the TAKS test does, focus teaching on bubble guessing.  Are we getting these kids ready for life and college?  I have more doubts.  The TAKS curriculum is limited, and shallow.  Dallas District has two other tests, but again the curriculum tested is limited and shallow.

Each year I discover most students don’t remember what they studied of Paul Revere, and almost none know the famous Longfellow poem about him.  They don’t know about Joyce Kilmer, either his poem or the sacrifice of his life.

Reading political cartoons proves difficult for many students, because they don’t understand the symbolism, sometimes of easy stuff like, “who does the Statue of  Liberty represent?” or “why is that guy dressed in a star-spangled coat, striped pants and striped top hat?”

They don’t know about Route 66.  They don’t know the National Parks.  They don’t know Broadway, nor Stephen Foster.  They are convinced Utah has some big river that led the Mormons to settle there, “on or near a waterway,” instead of the real reasons the Mormons settled there, for religious freedom in a desert.

Despite their remarkable test achievements, their teachers are all on the chopping block this year.  The Texas Lege still quibbles over whether to lay off 10,000 or 100,000 teachers over the summer.  We leave the academic year knowing only that the legislature as a collective hates teachers and teaching and schools, and they probably don’t like the students much, either, but they can’t say that because they want the students’ parents’ votes.

Jonathan at JD 2718 sent me a note a couple of weeks ago alerting me to a story in the online Texas Tribune, by Reeve Hamilton.  Hamilton interviewed Dr. Michael Marder, a physicist at the University of Texas at Austin who in his spare times runs UT’s UTeach Program, which encourages the best students in science and math to consider teaching elementary and secondary classes.  Marder has a strong case to make that it’s not the teacher’s fault when students in some schools do not measure up to the standards promulgated by the state tests, inadequate and inappropriate as those standards are.

(Personal note:  Reeve Hamilton is a very good reporter who often does great work on otherwise mundane issues; he’s also the son of a woman I met in graduate school at the University of Arizona, the first woman who ever gave me a highly contingent proposal of marriage, which as you see we did not carry out — probably much to the benefit of all of us, with Reeve doing such great work, and all our kids being basically sane and sound.  I smiled when Jonathan said such good things about Reeve’s work, and the subject of the story.  Nice to hear unasked-for compliments about people you know and like.)

Marder knows numbers.  Marder got the statistics on schools and their preparation of students for college, as well as we can get those numbers without an expensive and expansive study.

Michael Marder’s numbers show that it’s not the teachers’ fault that so many students are not ready for college, and not learning the stuff we think they should know.

Texas Tribune said:

In the popular 2010 documentary Waiting for Superman, former DC schools chancellor Michelle Rhee said, “But even in the toughest of neighborhoods and circumstances, children excel when the right adults are doing the right things for them.”

After looking at the data, Marder has yet to be convinced that any teaching solution has been found that can overcome the detrimental effects of poverty on a large scale — and that we may be looking for solutions in the wrong place.

Hamilton’s interview of Marder takes up three YouTube segments — you should watch all three.

Marder indicts those who blame teachers first, with the data.  By implication, he also indicts the state legislatures who appear bent on continuing the daily flogging of teachers until teacher morale improves.

In Part I of the interview with Hamilton, Marder shows the statistics that demonstrate poverty of the student is a greater influence on student achievement than the teacher:


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