Shining a Light

One of the things I find the most fascinating about attending the National Education Association’s Representative Assembly is how much knowledge the delegates gain while there that the average member “back home” doesn’t have, or even realize they are missing. From the stories – good and bad – from other states to the vast array of caucuses to the awards, political action, and parliamentary procedure, there is a lot about the inner workings of our parent organization about which we have virtually no awareness at the ground level. One of those procedures which gained national attention in 2015, and again in 2016, was the endorsement process for the office of President of the United States, in the primary and general election, respectively. This was a contentious topic at the representative assembly this year, sparking much debate and multiple attempts to move the NEA to action on a different, more transparent process for future elections.

To speak openly for a moment prior to delving into the process by which NEA endorses candidates, permit me a moment of personal privilege. While the Christina Education Association openly publishes our by-laws and policy manual, which are the documents that direct how our organization works, many organizations do not, including the Delaware State Education Association and the NEA. While I understand the hesitation to reveal the “playbook”, so to speak, it is incumbent upon the leadership of an organization to ensure that members have awareness of the component parts of the governing documents of the organization. For instance, how would a member be aware of a “whistle blower policy” and follow it as needed if the member is never given free access to the document containing said policy? In the case of a re-election of officers, how might a member evaluate the incumbent’s performance of duties without having the expected duties in hand? For that matter, how might someone seeking election to a leadership position be expected to know what the responsibilities would be prior to making the commitment?

The NEA has published, through state leadership to RA delegates, the process involved with presidential candidate endorsements. In brief, the NEA PAC Council – the political action team – is given comparative information and data on the candidates, their policy views, a screening questionnaire by any candidate who completes one, and videotaped interviews with the NEA President. According to the information sent via email, “national, state, and local organization channels and resources are used to provide members with information related to the recommendation process, presidential candidates and issues, as well as to assess member attitudes and opinions”. Once this has occurred, the PAC Council may recommend endorsement of a primary candidate to the NEA Board of Directors, which group is comprised of individuals from each state elected within the state to represent the members, as well as various other key individuals from NEA committees. The endorsement recommendation must be approved by 58% of those voting. For a recommended endorsement of a general election presidential candidate, the PAC Council “may put before the RA delegates” the recommendation, which has also been approved by the Board of Directors, and said recommendation must be approved by 58% of those voting (if a yes/no option is given on the ballot) or a simple majority of those voting (if the ballot indicates specific candidates to be selected).

Here is where the heart of the contention lies: Nationwide, many members, as evidenced by the national outcry and subsequent RA actions in 2016 and 2017, felt disenfranchised, left out of the process, and unheard by their parent organization(s). In 2016, the RA delegates voted to endorse the recommended presidential candidate, Hillary Clinton, by a margin of about 85% to 15%. Keeping in mind that Clinton was already the endorsed primary candidate, about which many members felt strongly, Clinton was also the guest speaker on the day of the balloting for the endorsement recommendation. There was a demonstration against Clinton on the RA floor during her speech, and the convention center was packed with delegates, guests, and staff for the speech. In listening to debate at the 2017 RA around this topic, roughly half the delegates in attendance in 2017 felt that a lot of the 2015 (primary) and 2016 (general) endorsement process was straddling the gray area between unbiased and heavily managed. Regardless of the facts, delegates felt disenfranchised, ignored, left in the dark, and deliberately sidetracked from participating in the process.

As a result of the mixed feelings around the presidential candidate endorsement process (spurred largely by lack of knowledge, which I would argue is due directly to state and national leadership not informing the members, since the issued policy directly states that is how the information would be passed along; as a local leader I can say without hesitation the information was not issued by state or national leadership to the local, although as a GLBT Caucus member I did receive a survey from the caucus chair asking for my input), delegates introduced two new business items for consideration as well as a constitutional amendment, which will be considered, debated, and voted upon in 2018. Both of the new business items, numbers 22 and 159, sought to make the process more intentionally solicitous of the general membership at large, and both were referred to committee. The final text of each is as follows:

NEW BUSINESS ITEM 22: The 2017 RA directs the NEA PAC Council to make a plan for surveying the general membership regarding their preference for president of the United States on a quadrennial basis and to include the publication of the results using existing resources starting with the recommendation by the PAC Council for president of the United States in 2020.

NEW BUSINESS ITEM 159: NEA shall hold an advisory vote at the RA during regular voting for NEA officers to indicate member choices for preferred presidential candidates in presidential primaries. Ballots would list candidates from all parties and members would have the option of choosing one candidate or choosing one preferred candidate from each party. (During the RA 16 months previous to the upcoming presidential elections.)

The purpose of the constitutional amendment is described as, “To establish the Representative Assembly as the only body to recommend or endorse presidential candidates for both the primary and general election.”

The clear theme here is that the members want more power and control over the endorsement process for presidential candidates. What was interesting about the debate was how close the actual votes were. On NBI 22, there was a nearly split vote, with several standing votes taken to assist the chair in determining the outcome. After that NBI failed, there was a request for a roll call vote, which would require the chair to seal off the convention hall and have each state delegation count up the individual votes of all delegates present at the time of voting to provide a delegate-by-delegate count of the actual votes cast. This request narrowly failed, as well, with some delegates feeling that the scheduled state voting times for officers and other balloted items removed entire states from the RA floor while this particular vote was taking place. Subsequent calls to reconsider the vote resulted in the NBI being referred to the PAC Committee as well as the introduction of NBI 159, which also was referred to the PAC Committee. This led to the introduction of the afore-mentioned constitutional amendment.

The key takeaway from all this, in my opinion, is that there is dissatisfaction among members related to the methodology for endorsing candidates for the nation’s highest office. Keep in mind that the delegates to the NEA RA are elected by their state and local members at a ratio of 1 delegate for every 150 members. In Christina, we earned 8 delegates from the local level and had an additional CEA member in the state delegation. That’s a total of 9 Christina folks voting on behalf of our 1200 or so members. Our votes should echo the votes of our membership, but without a process (such as what NBI 22 was calling for) there is no good way to ensure that all member voices are heard. With it being a vote of delegates, it is essential that leadership at all levels provide a clear process by which direct member voices are solicited and represented. Similar to the US electoral college, which members in theory are casting votes in accordance with the actual votes cast by the voters in their home districts and states, there should be an expectation that the RA delegates are casting votes that represent the members they were elected to represent.

If I were on the NEA leadership team, I would be taking a long, hard look at the communication methods and the process of getting information from top to bottom of the organization. Seeing the contention on the floor and reading about it virtually daily over the past two years, I would be assuring my members that yes, their concerns are being attended to with utmost concern. While ultimately the process itself might not change, it is clear that the breakdown of communication is inexcusable and must be addressed moving forward. The members cannot make informed decisions about leadership when they don’t know the processes and procedures in place for running the organization. It is time to stop being afraid of the light and start showing the nation that we are not afraid to let them see how we UNION.

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The Rich Get Richer and the Poor Grow Old

Although I like to consider myself well-versed in budgetary and funding topics (well-versed for a lay person), there are definitely still some areas where I am learning the ins and outs. The Delaware estate tax is one of those areas, and as I have been reading about this I’ve become more and more dissatisfied with the decision that was made to cut the tax, as per House Bill 16.

I read Rep Pete Schwartzkopf’s explanation, how this tax was a trade-off for another vote. I understand the concept and importance of compromise, and that we sometimes trade what is good for something we conceive of as better. Right now I’m moderately addicted to this game called Egg, Inc., and as I build my egg farm I have to make choices that impact my farm valuation, which helps me advance in the game. Sometimes I have to determine whether doing a “prestige” is worth it, because to “prestige” I have to completely scrap the entire operation, start over from step one, and rebuild my whole farm. However, in doing so I earn a significantly larger amount of money per egg, so I can move through the levels more quickly, and it certainly makes the upper levels more attainable due to the increased output.

What does raising chickens to lay eggs in a phone game have anything to do with Delaware budgets? Nothing at all, in this particular instance, but I needed a handy way to show I get the concept of compromise and trade-offs for benefits.

The real question that must be asked is: “Is the trade-off worth it?”

Who decides the worth or value of a trade-off? If my 9 year old has 2 Pikachu Pokémon cards and wants a Charizard Mega EX super badly, he will happily trade his 2 cards to his 11 year old sister for that 1 card. For him, the benefit is greater than the loss.

Again, not the same, but you see where I’m going with this (I hope).

From here on out, I’m going to be a purist, so if you can’t handle that, remember I owned it and don’t get upset with what I’m going to say.

If a piece of legislation is best for the state and its citizens, it should be passed. Period.

Why should the Delaware estate tax not have been eliminated? Here are some basic facts of which you should be aware:

  • The Estate Tax impacts only the wealthiest among us, the heirs to large estates.
  • The first $5.49 million (per person) of an estate is exempt from the tax. The exemption for a married couple is $10.98 million. Only amounts over these thresholds are subject to the tax.
  • Nationally, about 2 estates out of 1,000 are impacted and the heirs owe on average 17% of the estate’s value.

The U.S. and Delaware have a huge wealth gap in large part because taxation policy preferences benefit the wealthy throughout their lifetime. The estate tax is literally a last chance to recoup and redistribute excess wealth from over a lifetime of tax preferences. Over time, the amount of earnings is compounded, so without a higher-bracket income tax or capital gains tax there is an exponential loss of revenue.

You cannot cut your way to prosperity.

In 2016, the estate tax yielded $9.3 million in revenue. Every year the amount collected for the Estate Tax fluctuates greatly because it depends on the death of a very wealthy individual, and no one can predict when a large estate will be left for heirs. Compare that to the $22 million project cuts to public education, and although the amounts aren’t guaranteed there is a clear problem with cutting revenue streams (ANY revenue streams) while constitutionally-guaranteed and socially-responsible public goods are being reduced. Delaware should be focused on creating revenue rather than reducing it. Since 2008 the state budget has been subject to severe cuts and subsequent budgets were kept low. In effect, we never climbed out of the hole created by the recession.

Perhaps someone could define “shared sacrifice” for me, because I’m not clear on why the wealthy are exempted, even partially, from the sacrifice. Why must the rich be appeased in a deal when the poor are not? How can the legislature seriously entertain throwing away $5 million in revenue when facing a deficit of more than $300 million? Why are the kids, who aren’t even taxpayers, subject to more harm than the wealthy, with as few of these estate tax scenarios exist?

A person much wiser than I once said, “the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results” (it wasn’t Einstein, but it’s frequently attributed to him). With that in mind, why are we still cutting budgets without increasing revenues? If you need more money to pay the rent, you don’t just pay less rent; you find another way to make money. It’s a no-brainer. And I know folks in the GA have brains, so clearly something else is going on here.

From the cheap seats, this “trade-off” was not worth it.

“There is nobody in this country who got rich on his own. Nobody. You built a
factory out there, good for you. But, I want to be clear: you moved your goods to market on the roads the rest of us paid for. You hired workers the rest of us paid to educate. You were safe in your factory because of police forces and fire forces that the rest of us paid for. You didn’t have to worry that marauding bands would come and seize everything at your factory and hire someone to protect against this because of the work the rest of us did. Now look, you built a factory and it turned into something terrific or a great idea. God bless. Keep a big hunk of it. But part of the underlying social contract is you take a hunk of that and pay forward for the next kid who comes along.”
~Elizabeth Warren, 2011, PhD, Harvard Professor, Led the establishment of
Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, US Senator

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On “Thirteen Reasons Why”

Recently, Netflix began to air an original series called Thirteen Reasons Why, based on the novel/novella of the same name by author Jay Asher. Having read the book years ago, I pulled it back up on my Kindle iPhone app and read it again tonight, to refresh my memory. It took about 2 hours. I cried. Again.

The purpose of reading the book again, although I do intend to watch the series and include my 11 year old daughter in the viewing, was to write this blog entry. It is in direct response to all the comments I’ve seen from many, many people, and also because, like Clay, I’ve sat and done nothing until I finally was no longer able to. Now I am the person who does something, even if that something makes me unpopular or look foolish. Being wrong out loud is better than silently being right.

The first thing I’d like to say is that many, many adults do not know anything about school except what they learned from having attended school. Which is not an admonition or reproach; it’s simply a fact. Having taught grades 9-12 for 11 years and grades 6-8 for an additional 5 now, I’ve had an opportunity to get to know more details about school in a more intimate way than I could possibly have as a student. I’m also raising 4 children of my own, the eldest 3 of whom are in elementary school at the time of this entry. What I’m going to write here will not be comforting, so if that’s why you are reading, well, far be it from me to tell you what to do…

Yes, school is pretty similar to what was described in the book. Having not yet seen the series, I have to assume it is accurate to the book, and once I have seen the entire series I will hopefully be able to verify that. Kids are mean, especially when they are hurt. Many kids can’t regulate emotions and are inherently self-centric, by which I mean their world view is limited to themselves and what things they interact with as opposed to being socially conscious. They make lists and include names to hurt others. They take advantage of situations and cover up for friends who have done truly awful things. They sneak out of the house, they take inappropriate pictures of themselves and each other, they spread rumors and gossip around without finding out the truth (and without really caring about the truth, if you want that level of detail), and they speak to one another in ways that are borderline abusive but increasingly accepted (even normal) in today’s society. Phrases like “snitches get stitches” and “bros before hoes” or even “chicks before dicks” are definitely common, and even upper elementary students use language that would make a sailor’s momma blush.

Actions do have a snowball effect in some cases, and I’m absolutely certain you have immediate memories that pop up of times a seemingly-innocuous event turned into something much, much larger. That time I saw the little plastic “flameless” tea candle lying on the floor and thought “I should pick that up before someone gets hurt” and then got distracted, only to end up in the urgent care unit with my 2 year old bearing a deep puncture wound because he ran through the foyer and his tiny foot landed directly on top of that same damned candle….

And we can never, NEVER, know the full and total impact of an action ahead of time. Especially not in the life of another person.

So what do you do? How do you protect, prepare, prevent, etc.? The long and the short of it is you have to accept responsibility yourself and take action. You cannot place all the hope or all the blame on the schools. First and foremost, your child is in school a sum total of 180 days a year. And of those days, only ⅓ of them are spent in school, and much of that time is spent in various classroom settings with a variety of students. At elementary the transitions are minimal, but after grade 5, or 6? Depending on the school, you’re looking at 4-8 different classrooms a day. Plus hallways, restrooms, locker rooms, athletic fields, the cafeteria…. School staff can do a lot – and believe me, we do. There are times and places where student interactions are not, and CAN not, be monitored. Furthermore, different schools have different types of issues. While you might be concerned about fights at one school, the next school over has an issue with pharming parties, and the one up the street has an online group of female students proudly dubbing themselves “sluts”. None of that is available in the online demographic page from the Department of Education, and much of it will never be disclosed by staff, students, families, or anyone else who has awareness. While you can typically find reported statistics on school violence and the like through a direct inquiry or even on a district website, that’s hardly the only (or even worst) thing your child is likely to face in school. In ANY school. Traditional public, charter, private, or parochial. They all have their own issues. I promise you this.

Again, what do you do? How do you protect, prepare, prevent, etc.?

Raise your child with compassion, empathy, awareness, understanding, and kindness. That is the first thing. Seriously. It sounds trite, and most parents would probably say they are already doing this. But are you? Are you, really? Are you talking with your white child about being a witness or an upstander when they see a person of color being addressed by authority? Are you teaching your daughter that it is never okay to call another student names or cut her out of the group because of the influence of the “popular” girl? Are you teaching your son that he is to never put his hands on another person ever, not even pulling pigtails to show he likes her? Do you use the phrases “boys will be boys” and “little girls are mean” with a “just saying” attitude? Do you write negative reviews after seeing gay characters featured in Disney movies? More importantly, because more is caught than taught as my mother in law says, how are you modeling this behavior at home? Do you share jokes that are “off color”? Do you say condescending, mean, or hurtful things to people in your household, even “just joking”? Have you erased the phrase “that’s retarded” from your own vocabulary? These observed behaviors have an impact on the little people around you. Your behavior becomes theirs. It truly does.

Talk with your children. Talk with them about everything. By the time they are receiving “the talk” in school, it’s way too late and they do NOT want to hear it that way. No one wants their first exposure to the words “penis” and “vagina” to be in a classroom full of pre-pubescent 11 year olds who can’t stop giggling and are grossed out by the thought of tongues in each other’s mouths. Tell your kids! Tell them about how they are similar to and different from other kids. Tell them about love, and how regardless of whether you agree with it or not, sometimes love doesn’t look like a man and a woman. Read books that tackle difficult subjects like racism and xenophobia and sexism, read them together, and discuss them! Ask probing questions to make sure your kids understand and aren’t embarrassed by what they don’t know. And for heaven’s sake, be real about it. Share with them your thoughts and teach them to make decisions on their own.

One other thing you can do is educate yourself and your child about bullying. Teasing, name-calling, picking on each other, that isn’t necessarily bullying. Please please please look into it and help yourself and your child differentiate between what true bullying is and what it isn’t. None of that behavior is okay, and we should not be encouraging our children to call each other names “affectionately” or in jest, but the system gets so slowed down when the initial complaint alleges bullying, and that means less time to look into and monitor what’s going on in other places as well as reduced resources for students who truly need help. Students like Hannah.

Finally, and I cannot stress this enough, build your community. If your kids aren’t going to school where they live, which is quite common in a “choice” state like Delaware, help them to be connected to both their school AND their home communities. Attend events in both. Know the neighbors and other key players. To the greatest extent possible, provide your children with the safety net of an extended group of people who care and will look out for them. Remind them who they can trust and talk to when they need to. Let them know it’s ok if that person isn’t always you. Be their parent, not just their friend. Tell them you are proud of them, and that you love them, and that they are good people even when they sometimes make bad choices. Let them move on from those bad choices. Move on from them yourself.

The world is big for these tiny souls. So big, and so very full of dark. Give them a light that will never burn out; give them the ability to BE the light themselves.

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Yes I’m a Natural Blue

Donald Trump is my President. He is, incidentally, your President as well. It doesn’t actually matter what you think about that, because the fact is that Donald Trump was sworn in as the President of the United States of America on January 20, 2017, and unless you are not a citizen of the U.S.A., President Trump is your President. Regardless of what your protest sign or hat or t-shirt says.

Back in mid-summer, the process of acceptance began for me. As the Democratic National Convention drew to a close with concession speeches and cries of unification, it became clear that the Democratic Socialist who could almost certainly beat the tidal wave that is The Donald was the one the Democrats refused to allow leadership over the party. I knew then that President Trump was as inevitable as the sunset. Still I tried, because that is the objective of my activism, but I was not as shocked, appalled, disgusted, sad, and horrified as many of my liberal friends on November 9.

The hardest part of the election for me was refraining from saying “I told you so” during the subsequent two months, even though those mourning around me were not so gracious when my preferred candidate didn’t garner the necessary votes for the party candidacy.

This extended period of prescience and relative calm amidst chaos has allowed me a singular opportunity to remain clear-headed and deliberate with my actions and advocacy. Knowing that a VERY large portion of my extended family supported Trump with a fervor and system of belief that goes directly against most of what I hold dear has made it even easier for me to hold my tongue. Just as dearly as I hold my convictions, the 25.5% of Americans who voted for Trump hold theirs (presumably – it is entirely possible that, as my mother told me, many just didn’t want another 4-8 of Obama and like-minded Dems in the White House).

Wait, what? Around one-quarter of the nation elected President Trump? Yes, and 25.6% elected non-President Clinton. Which means around 49% of Americans voted for Harambe, someone else, or no one at all. So you can stop claiming that this is what America wants. The vending machine wants $1.00 for a Butterfinger, and no matter how many times I press D3 after putting in my $0.25, it still ain’t spitting one out.

The end game here, in my mind, is that we liberals and progressives will be lucky to not lose gains we made that are super important to our way of life. The conservatives and Tea Partiers are well-positioned to close the gaps that have opened between their values and our national direction. The folks in the middle of the road probably aren’t going to care one way or another except about the small, individual battles that directly impact them in their lives.

My therapists over the past 20 years have pretty universally stated that my ability to see both sides of an issue is developed to the point of being a flaw. I’m using it as a strength right now, however, to see the possibility of a path forward. Let’s be real; sometimes logic and facts are not enough to make an impact, and it becomes insanely frustrating to work with individuals who refuse to see things plainly, instead turning to conjecture, speculation, presumption, and flat-out stubbornness to avoid rational discourse, let alone being open to change their minds about dearly-held beliefs. (Note: I’m well aware that some of you see me in this exact way. I’m okay with that, although you are incorrect. If you aren’t open to seeing and hearing me as a whole, as someone who is willing to listen and learn, you aren’t worth the emotional investment it would cost me to dislike you or attempt to convince you otherwise.)

The start to the path forward is to respect all opinions and beliefs, no matter how contrary they are to your own. “Tolerance implies no lack of commitment to one’s own beliefs. Rather it condemns the oppression or persecution of others.” (JFK) That means you don’t get to tell me that I have to suck it up and unify for the betterment of America (that’s condescending and inaccurate) and I don’t get to call you names like sexist, racist, misogynist, and village idiot (that’s just rude, and also probably inaccurate). I don’t have to respect President Trump, and I sure as hell don’t have to like him. To me, he is an embarrassment and a very specific form of danger to America, one we have yet to begin to realize. However, I do not see him as the epitome of all things unholy and the ultimate downfall of our great nation. That type of belief imbues him with a power he truly does not have, and it makes our cause more difficult to move forward with his supporters.

We stand a better chance of achieving harmony with others if we work to find common ground, no matter how slender, and build the positive relationships that will make us more amenable to seeing other points of view. Some of you may not appreciate that particular character trait, but it is important to who I am as a person. I will not publicly – or pseudo-privately – call people names or say mean or untrue things about them because that is also counterproductive to my ultimate goal, which is progress. By tearing one another down we only serve to regress.

Let us build not a wall but a web, a flexible, living connection to one another that will truly make America great again.

(If you have yet to make a connection between my post title and its content, click here.)

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Black. Lives. Matter.

Recently I came across the following epistle, and I thought I might give it the old “John Young red line” treatment.

Subject: Fwd: Black lives Do Matter! sobering facts

Well, I’m glad we agree on that!

Black Lives Do Matter  (one of the most racist groups ever!)
noun: racism

  1. the belief that all members of each race possess characteristics or abilities specific to that race, especially so as to distinguish it as inferior or superior to another race or races.
  2. prejudice, discrimination, or antagonism directed against someone of a different race based on the belief that one’s own race is superior.

The Black Lives Matter movement is attempting to spread the message that people are equal and should be treated as such. It is the very opposite of the definition of racism.

WHAT IF ALL THE BLACKS SUDDENLY LEFT AMERICA WHICH IS 11.3% OF THE TOTAL U.S.POPULATION:

First off, the entire population of the world could be boiled down to more Africans than people from the Americas (keeping in mind that not all Africans are Black, not all Blacks are African, not all people from the Americas are from the US, and not all US Americans are White). 

Additionally, the percentage of Black or African American people in the US is 13.3% as of July of 2015.

The prison population would go down by 48%,

37.7% of US prisoners are Black as of June 25, 2016.

There would be 53% fewer gang members,

As of 2011, only 35.3% of gang members are Black or African American.

Average IQ would go up 7.4 points, putting us 3rd in the world, tied with Japan,

Japan is 3rd at 105. The US is tied for 9th with 8 other countries with an average IQ of 98. This is based on data gathered from research conducted between 2002 and 2006, and the researchers themselves drew a correlation between IQ and income inequality more than race. When looking for data on racial impacts on IQ, I was not able to validate any claim of a point value anywhere remotely resembling 7.4 points difference between Black and White Americans.

Average SAT scores would go up almost 110 points,

The average SAT score overall is 1488.457, with the average score for Black or African American participants being 1277. In looking at this data, I used a spreadsheet  (SAT_ACT_Comparisons) my husband set up for me and discovered that the average score would be 1522.053, a rise of only 33.596 points.

Average ACT scores would go up 5.9 points.

ACT scores have a very wide range of categories to review. Using strictly the composite score, which is a national average of 20.7478, I calculated the difference using a spreadsheet my husband set up for me (see above link) I see that the average score without Black or African American participants would rise to 21.53336, a difference of 0.78556 points.

AIDS & HIV would go down by 65%,

By the end of 2014, 42% (504,354) of those ever diagnosed with AIDS were African Americans.

Chlamydia cases would go down 59%,

I’m not seeing an actual number for this statistic; however, my computations based on the CDC table here yields about 34.79%.

Gonorrhea would go down 69%,

Based on 2010 data – the CDC reports that the level has decreased.

Syphilis would go down 58%.

Wrong: 47.4%

The average income for Americans would go UP over $20,000 a year,

The Real Median Household Income in 2014 was reported by the US Bureau of the Census as $53,657. For Black Americans, it was $35,398. Removing the Black American data, the average rises to $59,014.67. Less than a $6,000 increase. (Editor’s note: This is based on a straight average. I’m aware that it is not based on comparative percentages of different populations among the four represented ethnic groups. Frankly, I’ve done a metric crap tonne of work on this and you can look it up yourself if you want that level of detail. Suffice it to say the statistic is incorrect regardless.)

Amount of people in poverty would drop 54%,

Again, wrong. The data pretty clearly shows that, based on 2007-2011  averages, 14% of Americans live below the poverty level. When Blacks and African Americans are removed, the number drops to 12.69%, which is definitely not 54% of 14%. (Scroll to page 13 of the linked site.)

Homelessness would go down 65%,

40.6% of the “sheltered homeless population” in 2014 was reported as Black or African American.

Welfare recipients would go down by 52%,

41.6% in 2012. Bam.

DEMOCRATS WOULD LOSE 76% OF THEIR VOTING BASE!!! (they’ll never let that happen!)

76%? Sounds like some hinky Fox News crap to me. Try this out. Also, did you know global climate change is a hoax? If you’ll buy that, I’ll throw the Golden Gate in free.

And, many criminal defense attorneys would have to find another line of work!

There’s no real statistic for me to compare here. I suppose I could look up the total number of defendants in criminal cases and then calculate the proportional representation of Blacks and then redo all the math and Common Core that shit but….I had that brainpower half a bottle of wine ago.

Yes, Black lives do matter

Again, totes glad we agree!

I want to add one more editorial note, and since I’m the bloggess I have that liberty. Every single item here is repulsive when linked to Black Americans. I want you to realize that what this message says is Black people have diseases, they are criminals, they contribute nothing to society and live off the government dime, they are stupid gang members who belong in prison, and they are racist.

Those total and utter asshats! (/sarcasm)

Would our country be better off without Black people? NO. HELL NO. FUCK NO. Not only was our country built on the backs and with the blood of Africans (and please for the love of all that’s holy do NOT give me that shit about Africans enslaving each other), we are better than to tear down one another based on melanin production. In fact, if you really think hard about it, the darker one’s skin, the more likely one is to survive in the parts of the world we will ALL need to inhabit once the global climate change shifts us to the long-overdue ice age and everything where most people live freezes right the heck over.

Also, in case I haven’t said it yet, don’t be racist. Black. Lives. Matter.

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Breaking Down the Stats

Recently the following graphic came across my newsfeed:

IMG_3836

Without fact-checking this, although I easily could, I’m going to just work with what’s here, break down the assertions as they stand, and make a few statements about those assertions. I’m specifically going to focus on the blatant racism in this post.

73% of Americans are White.

18% of Americans are Black.

Assuming that 509 American citizens were killed by police this year, one would expect that 371 White and 91 Black American citizens were killed, based strictly on proportion.

According to this graphic, 238 White and 123 Black American citizens were killed by police this year.

That averages to an actual 64% of the expected casualty rate for White Americans and an actual 135% of the expected casualty rate for Black Americans.

This graphic also asserts that we do not have a race problem, and then uses the word “thugs”. Correct me if I’m wrong (check my privilege, if you will), but my understanding of the use of the word “thug” is, in general, to apply to Black males. Which in and of itself shows the lie in the claim that we do not have a race problem.

Oh, yeah, and it only lists Black and White American citizens, although we all know there is great diversity in race and ethnic status, including mixed race, among Americans. We don’t have a race problem? Then why aren’t all races included?

But, back to the stats, when Black American citizens are killed by police officers at 135% the expected rate, yet White American citizens are killed by police officers at only 64% of the expected rate, it is pretty clearly a race issue.

I will not waste time discussing my respect for and awe of what police officers do every day. I am only using the information in THIS graphic to make a point. This graphic does not go into details about justified or self-defense shootings. This graphic does not elaborate on the intersectionality of mental health and criminal recidivism and drug use and race. It does not address deaths that occurred during commission of a crime, evasion of law enforcement officials, or compliance with a reasonable request. It does not include information about profiling when making stop and search decisions. Therefore, I will not address any of those topics.

There are two common refrains when discussing Black death at the hands of police officers: “Black people commit more crimes” (related to “Why would they run if they aren’t guilty”), and “More White people are killed by the cops but no one causes an uproar about that.”

Do Black people commit more crimes? As compared to White people? I’d love to see some statistics on that (remember, I’m just using this graphic, not doing any fact-checking or research of my own, although I easily could). And, while we’re at it, make sure it is a proportional representation, not just the numbers. Although there is absolutely an issue with racism and the criminal justice system, it is not true that more Black men are in prison than college (thank you, Dr. Ivory Toldson). One can not make these blanket assertions about Black people, men in particular, being career criminals and thugs. And why would they run if they aren’t guilty? Maybe because they know they are more likely to be disproportionately mishandled from the first moment to the last than their White counterparts. Maybe because they are legitimately scared of what will happen if they are taken into custody. Maybe because they DID commit a crime, and are running away just like a White person would.

To my mind, the better question would be why shoot to kill when taking out a kneecap is just as effective in stopping the suspect?

As for the second statement, I believe we’ve already shown that, proportionately speaking, fewer White people are killed by police officers than Black people, using the statistics in the above-referenced graphic. However, the second part of that statement is also inaccurate. If 123 Black American citizens were actually killed by police officers this year, what are their names? In what cities were 123 protests or rallies (or riots) held? They weren’t. Because the bottom line is Black American citizens were killed for “justifiable” reasons, but also for completely ridiculous, absolutely non-justifiable reasons. The ridiculous, non-justifiable reasons are what we hear about because… Well, that’s self-explanatory, isn’t it.

And, if I might make a suggestion, instead of sharing posts about why Black deaths are “more important” than White deaths, maybe share posts highlighting unjust White deaths. Be the change, people.

One thing I will readily agree with from this graphic is that we here in America have a massive media problem. I’d suggest, however, that the media problem is more of a “we know the media is biased but we’re going to believe whatever we want, share it across every available social platform, and ignore those who espouse positions with which we do not agree, because the echo chamber is more comfortable than being awoke”.

I guess what I’m really saying is the major problem Americans have is a willful and intentional disregard for fact.

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A Believable Falsehood

My morning went quite well… For about 90 seconds.

The first thing I did was check my messages for news on House Bill 399, the legislation that was inspired by the work of the DPAS II Advisory Sub-Committee. Upon seeing that it had been passed with amendments, I was thrilled. At 2:30 am, I was expecting amendments, though I had not seen the amendments that sent the bill back to the House, where it was approved in the wee small hours of the night, until they were linked in a blog post by Exceptional Delaware. Even the inimitable News Journal reporter Matt Albright hadn’t gone into the depth of explanation that sent me from excited to incensed in a very short span of time when I read the amendment.

Frankly, I expected the amendment clarifying the administrator’s role in approving the goals set, and I don’t really have an issue with that because a) from what I understand, it rarely happens that the teacher/specialist and evaluator don’t agree and b) the admin already has that role. In fact, that was already in the language of the bill, but to my understanding there needed to be stronger language to address the concerns that it was too vague. I was pleasantly surprised to read Senator Bryan Townsend’s amendment, which protects students from the possibility of being victim to increased testing as an inadvertent outcome of the changes.

However, upon reading the actual amendment submitted by Senator Sokola, I realized that the language turns the entire set of recommendations into a pilot program. Not piloting the algorithm part of the recommendations, but turning virtually the entire contents of the bill into a pilot. The key parts of the recommendations of the sub-committee are completely gutted from this legislation. In fact, the Sub-Committee specifically stated that this should not BE a pilot, aside from the mathematical component to ensure it was valid and reliable.

Just as troubling, there is a provision for adding in student and parent surveys to Component IV, Professional Responsibilities. As aggravated as I am by the amendment and how this all went down, especially because the bill was sent back to the House really late after intense WEIC discussions and votes so no one really had a chance to digest the information, I’m actually more frustrated by this survey bit.

When I went through a messaging training session six years ago, one thing that stuck in my mind is how information can easily be manipulated based on the willingness of people to believe something, regardless of whether it is true. Essentially, information can be true and believable, true and not believable, false and believable, and false and not believable. As an example of this, there is a satire going around about the dangers of dihydrogen monoxide. Because of the juxtaposition of scientific terminology and outright fear-mongering, playing to the basest fears of people (what we eat and drink is poisoning us), there are people who believe water is dangerous to drink. In case you aren’t following, dihydrogen monoxide = water, simple H2O. In this case, the information is false but completely believable.

This is one way in which people in positions of power manipulate others to believe in something that is not true. Often one can tell this has happened because the individuals being manipulated will vigorously and with absolute certainty defend a position that is provably false. It helps that we as people hear what we want to hear, especially when it comes from a person in a perceived position of power and/or with access to information others do not have.

Before I continue, I’d like to state for the record that there are ways in which this manipulation is used that are completely not harmful. For instance, a slightly misleading headline that gets the viewer to read the article, or the time I told my daughter that she has a lie dot on her forehead, which is how I always knew when she was lying, though the truth was she would immediately cover her forehead every time she told a lie. (That and as a parent, I rarely ask a question I don’t already know the answer to.) I’m in no way saying that the individuals being manipulated are weak, less intelligent than other people, not well-intentioned, or unwilling to be informed. I’m also not saying that those doing the manipulating are bad people; they may genuinely believe in what they are saying and doing, or they are trying to right a wrong, or get other people involved in a movement. This is the very foundation of politics, in which each side tries to prove that they are right and the other is wrong, when the reality is somewhere in the gray.

All that said, let me address the issue around parent and student surveys as part of an educator evaluation system.

This is a clear case of something being believable as having an impact, but not being true when one scratches beneath the surface.

We are going to ignore, for now, the fact that this legislation gives absolutely no guidance to how the surveys should be created, who should receive them, how they should be disseminated and collected, who will review them to collect the data for the evaluation, what types of questions should be asked, or exactly how the new data will fit into the existing Component IV criteria. We shouldn’t ignore that, but we are going to. For now.

Let’s begin with the very real fact that all sorts of surveys are given, and that the data gleaned from those surveys can be used for overall school evaluations. As a parent of three school-aged children in the Red Clay School District, I can honestly say I promptly return every single survey sent home filled out in its entirety, and I immediately fill out any surveys that are emailed to me. This data is important, and I want to make sure it is counted. Based on the number of follow-up emails from the teachers and administrators at the school imploring us and reminding us to return the surveys, not many parents do.

This is concerning. How will we guarantee a response rate from parents to include surveys in the educator evaluation system? Furthermore, not all teachers and specialists work with the same types or numbers of students. For instance, a guidance counselor would be responsible for a very large portion of the total student population (hundreds of students), a mathematics teacher might only have 90 students for the entire school year, and an elective teacher might see more than 200 students throughout the year. Even assuming a 100% response rate, the numbers are so diverse and the spread so wide that there is no way to guarantee the validity of the data.

Additionally, in schools where there is a high rate of absenteeism, transience, homelessness, foster care, or a myriad set of other instances, how likely is it that a representative sampling would be acquired to make the data meaningful? Would there be a minimum number of surveys set for the data to count? What happens if that minimum isn’t met? What happens if there are more? Does someone pick and choose what data gets included? In theory, all the data would be averaged and used, but then we are back to the concern about the dilution of the average for educators who have high numbers of students versus those with low numbers of students.

What happens in the (albeit rare) case that a parent requests their child not have a specific teacher, yet the school is unable to accommodate that request? Perhaps the parent knows this teacher is a bad match for the child. Perhaps the child has a medical reason he should not be in physical education, or is allergic to the class pet. Maybe that parent disagreed with the school’s restrictive bathroom pass policy and disliked the teachers who enforced it. Now the parent is predisposed to giving an average or even negative rating on the survey, not necessarily because of a lack of integrity, but because they genuinely had a bad experience.

True story: With the birth of my first child, I was at Christiana Hospital. I had a horrific experience there, and subsequent births were at St. Francis. However, Christiana is my go-to hospital for everything else; my gallbladder removal, my thyroidectomy, and even trips to the emergency room. And tons of people have had wonderful, amazing experiences there. To my knowledge, no one’s employment was ever put in jeopardy because of my negative survey rating, and therein lies the difference. You might argue that I could just take my business elsewhere, but keep in mind that, in Delaware at least, so can parents.

Let’s take a quick foray into the student survey side. My daughter LOVED her third grade teacher. Both of my school-aged boys have loved ALL of their teachers. Does that mean that all the teachers my boys have had were amazing, and all but one of my daughter’s teachers were terrible? My oldest two had the same exact first grade teacher, so even leaving my opinion aside, I think it’s obvious that the answer isn’t the teacher was good for one child and bad for the other.

Then there’s the age thing. For my pre-k son, there’s recess and finger painting and drawing and reading and building and friends… What’s not to love about school? For my second grade son, everything is doable as long as he focuses and works and checks his work. For my fourth grade daughter, math is boring, writing is a real pain, but reading is super awesome. If we were to survey those three kids about their school experiences, I’m wondering what questions might be asked of them that, a) they’d understand well enough to answer usefully, and b) might give insight to the quality of the teacher.

Expand that survey process out to other educators. How does the high school student who rarely uses the library media center complete a survey about the effectiveness of the librarian? How does the student who has never been to the nurse evaluate the nurse’s job performance? What about paraprofessionals who only work with one student in a school year? Educational diagnosticians? Disciplinary deans? For that matter, how does a parent rate those educators? Based on what knowledge and experience?

And the parent of an elementary student likely has one or two classroom teachers and a handful of specialists interacting with the student in a year. Your average secondary student will be interacting with 10 or more teachers and specialists throughout the year. Is each parent and each student going to rate each teacher and each specialist? Can you imagine us going from “just” having weeks devoted to testing in schools to having weeks devoted to testing AND weeks devoted to surveys?

It is completely believable that parent and student surveys should count towards an educator’s evaluation. It is believable because this is a business model. I go to the Firefly Music Festival, I receive a product and a service, I submit an evaluation expressing my opinion about the product and service. Each time I go to Firefly I’m going to have a different experience, and as a result the evaluation I submit will reflect a different level of satisfaction. I can make the decision to attend or not attend the festival, but my poor evaluation is not going to cause the folks who run it to lose their jobs. The goods and services offered at Firefly are more holistic, more rounded, than what could be accurately reflected in a survey, even keeping in mind that surveys are often more likely to be filled out by the extremely satisfied and the extremely dissatisfied, thus skewing the results for the average individual.

Let me sum it up this way: My child is not a backpack full of cash. My child is not an interchangeable widget. My child, all four of my children, are individual little people with personalities and opinions and work ethics and social issues, just like all children are. My children are going to have experiences that are good and experiences that are bad, and unless there is a serious harm being done in the classroom (which is likely going to be known by the administration more concretely than I could make it on a survey), having interactions with authority figures we don’t necessarily like is actually a good life experience.

As for me, I’m at work when my kids are in school, and I don’t have time to go observe the classroom to collect evidence of what’s going on in there. I do not pretend that I’m an expert in how other teachers should be teaching and their classrooms should be run, and for me to impose my opinions on other educators is condescending and inappropriate. If I have an issue, I approach the teacher directly, or seek other support services offered by the school and district.

If you are looking for a parent trigger, that’s a different conversation. As for surveys, perhaps it’s my own lack of creativity, but I cannot see how it will be beneficial or effective at the implementation level. Finally, by the time a survey is submitted to evaluate the educator, it will be the end of the school year with no time or ability for the educator to receive meaningful feedback and make substantive change. And what would an improvement plan look like when generated by poor survey ratings?

These are all questions and issues I strongly believe should have been asked, discussed, and answered before this type of language was ever included in a piece of legislation with the potential to end someone’s career.

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