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Looking for trouble.


As a follow up to What Seems to be the Trouble, Lady? post, the question arises concerning teacher/educator power versus “other” power, and what possible damage can Devos do?

Well, let’s take one possible walk through the Woods of Broken Pencils:

Lest you think that I was a complete fan-girl of the Obama administration’s choice for Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, nope. He was a poster-boy for privilege and ed-reform, and not only didn’t change or destroy NCLB, he gave us Race to the Top, which made matters worse.

What matters, you ask?

As usual, those who want to gut the Federal government’s role in our basic human rights: education, health, freedom of speech, religion, press, clean air/water, energy, etc. use sweeping, uninformative phrases. They say nothing and a lot of it.

But there is so much hope: teachers, parents, and administrators are speaking up, loudly and clearly. Many have had the scales fall from their eyes.

DeVos Survives Confirmation Battle But Her Agenda May Not:

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What seems to be the trouble, lady?

Look out!

Like most benign institutions, I assumed the Department of Education would always be there, doing its most important job: keeping the playing field field-y and the standards standard-y. But since education is under DEFCON 1 level attack, along with many of our Constitutional laws under the new, inexperienced and dangerous administration, the question was posed, “So what would be so bad if the DoE was abolished? What is the problem with state and local control of schools?” Good questions! And, since I didn’t immediately know the answers, but am always suspect of everything the Republicans do or say– because if it looks good on paper, it’ll probably burn everything down–I decided to dig a bit. Here are my findings (so far).


Please forgive me. With many sites disappearing like dodos and buffalos, I copied and pasted this entire page:

The Federal Role in Education


Education is primarily a State and local responsibility in the United States. It is States and communities, as well as public and private organizations of all kinds, that establish schools and colleges, develop curricula, and determine requirements for enrollment and graduation. The structure of education finance in America reflects this predominant State and local role. Of an estimated $1.15 trillion being spent nationwide on education at all levels for school year 2012-2013, a substantial majority will come from State, local, and private sources. This is especially true at the elementary and secondary level, where about 92 percent of the funds will come from non-Federal sources.

That means the Federal contribution to elementary and secondary education is about 8 percent, which includes funds not only from the Department of Education (ED) but also from other Federal agencies, such as the Department of Health and Human Services’ Head Start program and the Department of Agriculture’s School Lunch program.

Although ED’s share of total education funding in the U.S. is relatively small, ED works hard to get a big bang for its taxpayer-provided bucks by targeting its funds where they can do the most good. This targeting reflects the historical development of the Federal role in education as a kind of “emergency response system,” a means of filling gaps in State and local support for education when critical national needs arise.

Google Doc

It’s all about the money, and access to money.

This page says what I assumed: the locus of control for schools is contained in state and local governments.

The Department of Education’s missions include: (this is my paraphrasing)

  1. Give out Federal loans and aid
  2. Collects data and provides information to Congress
  3. Identifies and seeks to rectify major problems or issues in American schools
  4. Enforces Federal statutes regarding discrimination, etc.

So when Betsy Devos had no answer or experience for #1, didn’t know proficiency versus growth for #2, doesn’t know that teachers buy their own pencils (among a hundred other things) for #3, and wants to privatize schools so those schools can legally discriminate on race, special needs, religion, etc. #4, well, we have a BIG CRISIS.


State and local governments spending on students range widely. The graph on this site is interactive and shows the largest percentage of the budget is on educator salaries, and then benefits. This site is fairly consistent the Washington Post’s article, “The states that spend the most (and the least) on education, in one map”


U.S. states’ education spending averaged $10,700 per pupil in 2013, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, but that average masked a wide variation, ranging from $6,555 per pupil in Utah to $19,818 in New York.

There’s an even larger range separating the lowest- and highest-spending of the nation’s largest 100 school districts: At the low end is Jordan, Utah, at $5,708 per student; at the high end is Boston, Mass., at $20,502.

Part of the variation is due to the huge differences in costs of living nationwide, which influence everything from teacher salaries to the cost of building and maintaining school facilities. Part is also due to economic realities — many states’ education spending remains lower than it was before the recession.

And part of the variation is due to political decisions to invest more or less in schools, or to do more or less to equalize education spending across low- and high-income areas.

Federal data show that there is a growing gap in education spending by the nation’s poorest and most affluent school districts.

And that is where it matters.

It’s about access and opportunity. It’s about upholding our values. It’s about free and accessible public education TO ALL. There is no one government agency that’s not important — not health,  not the environment, housing, and certainly education. If you climb up Maslow’s hierarchy the government agencies were doing a pretty damn good job, until the man with the orange pucker stepped into office.

But even with the Dept. of Ed, states still struggle, for a variety of reasons. From this site, Louisiana ranks the lowest, while Massachusetts the highest. When we talk about mission numbers 3 and 4 this is where it will hit home for every American family that isn’t part of the 1%: we want standards, just not bought and paid for standardized testing. We want free access for all children. We want inclusion. I want to teach refugees, immigrants, all religions, all neighborhoods. I want the children of our nation to get to know one another. To learn how to play and work together. I don’t want false science taught in schools. I want separation of church and state. I want a Muslim student to feel as welcome as a Jewish, Christian, Buddist, Hindu, Sikh, atheist or agnostic. I want children to say the pledge and mean it. I want children to be able to move from Idaho to Florida and know that they are receiving an equal, high-quality education that is consistent with rigorous standards and cognitive demands. I want learning outcomes to be transparent, objective, and based on research, not whims.

This is what we have to lose, and nothing to gain. If the house needs repair, you fix and mend, not burn it to the ground. And if children are once again segregated and isolated, no one will hear them call for help, because there will be no department who will be unified and dedicated to answer the call.

Source: WalletHub

I want the states to be united on this issue especially.

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Numbers game.

Cassandra based on Anthony Frederick Augustus Sandys, 1904.
Cassandra based on Anthony Frederick Augustus Sandys, 1904.

None of this is new news.

We are hurting.

Our economy, our growth, our creativity: we see it, we call it out, and we try, desperately, to avert the tsunami. And it feels as if the invisible force of money drowns us, like a force of nature, pressure systems, and earthquakes shaking us little humans and dumping us on our heads.

I constantly think about…

coal miners.

People who’ve worked in the ground for centuries and what they dig from the earth no longer matters. And everyone knew it. So they equate the people who dig as the ones who don’t matter.

I’ve thought this since I was in second grade: why don’t the big companies shift and switch and do research into energy and food that’s sustainable and gives people the jobs they need?


Don’t they want to stay in business?

Don’t they want to make a profit and have people buy their stuff?

Seemed to me the best way to prevent revolutions and bloodshed is to be real, mature, and functional about the realities of how the world works.

But now I don’t know how the world works anymore.

My childhood questions echo back.

I need to know where good is. Where growth and prosperity are.

I don’t need America to be #1. This is not a zero sum game. I want all of us to get what we need.


Things may get worse, again, before they get better. We can’t seem to move forward without burning it all down.

PBS produced a show about childhood poverty in the U.S. six years ago. Here are some of the highlights:

More than 16 million children, or roughly one in five, were living in poverty in 2011, according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s official poverty measure (pdf). That is higher than any other age group. Among 18– to 64-year-olds, the poverty rate was 13.7percent, while among seniors the rate was 8.7 percent. (Nov 20, 2012)


Only three other countries in the developed world have a higher child poverty rate (pdf) than the U.S., according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. Mexico leads all nations with a rate of 25.79, followed by Chile (23.95), Turkey (23.46), and the U.S. (21.63).

Financial experts have been writing about education and income for years, too, along with research and data:

Eduardo Porter wrote an article for the New York Times, ‘A Simple Equation: More Education  = More Income.’

But in the American education system, inequality is winning, gumming up the mobility that broad-based prosperity requires. On Tuesday, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development released its annual collection of education statistics from around the industrialized world showing that the United States trails nearly all other industrialized nations when it comes to educational equality.


Nate Silver, love or hate, is a statistician. Here are his latest numbers about education and voting trends:

Education, not income, predicted who would vote for Trump.

But since education and income are so closely connected, I’m not sure if his thesis is whole. Yet.

And now we have this horror show.

So money, education, and politics. Oh, my.

But: I have to keep hope alive.

Who gives me hope?

To be clear,  I never think one man or woman is a savior. Humans are all flawed. With those flaws, come some genius moves.

Who inspires me now?

Elon Musk

Ira Glass

Sarah Vowell

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Malala Yousafzai

Malcolm Gladwell

Steven Colbert

John Oliver

Jon Stewart

Samantha Bee

….still thinking.

And recently I described our nation has millions of tiny little needles. Guess I wasn’t the only one seeing it.

Postscript: Thanks, Kid.


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Month of May Mothers: Smart moms.

The old adage, “a woman’s work is never done” feels true for many adults these days. People have always worked, and in most opinions, the phrase ‘working moms’ is redundant – it applies to all mothers, whether the mom has a job outside of the home or not. Staying home with small children is demanding and rewarding, too.

But what if you don’t have any choices or options because of a lack of education?

There are many who disparage the United States’ system of education, and yes, it’s flawed. It’s unevenly funded, it’s overly competitive at a time when we should be working harder to provide access to all, and is harangued on all corners by special interest groups.

But consider the following:

Literacy rates (people who can read and write over the age of 15):

Angola: 67.4% (83% men/54%women)

Bangladesh: 47.9% (54% men/41% women)

Belgium: 99% (99% men/99% women)

United States: 99% (99% men/99% women)

Somalia: 37.8% (49% men/ 25% women)

The infant mortality rate in the US is 6.26/1000 live births. In Somalia, it’s 109.19/1000 live births. I bring up this sad number to draw a possible correlation: countries that support women’s health and education have a great chance of survival, economic success, and prosperity.

Take your education seriously. I realize that in our greedy world we don’t always value what others value, but it is indeed a gift.


Information from the CIA Factbook:

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Why Do We Learn (Anything)?

Happy President’s Day, George. Abe. And the Rest. You Helped Grow a Strong Tree.

The other day a student asked why we were bothering with learning about ancient world history/civilizations, mythology, etc. His father (a German citizen) thought learning about American History would be a much more worthwhile use of time. The student wanted to know when during his time in public education would he be learning about American History? (When, indeed? The answer is every day you’ve been in public school, but maybe not as intentional as it should be?)

Wow. Where to begin?

First, there is a logistical response. In my school district, 8th grade Social Studies covers Ancient World History. It’s not what the state recommends, but the curriculum is in place, and has been for many years before the state determined the curriculum. I don’t know more than that, and can’t seem to get any more answers that what I just wrote. Ultimately, I’m not sure that it matters, but I would like to know where students are coming from and where they’re going through high school.

Next — it’s very important to learn about Ancient World History, Ancient Civilizations, and Mythology. Mythology is the Greek word for “story.” I’ve said this many times, and had my students repeat that learning about the first stories, the ones that connect all of humanity, connects all of us through time, cultures, and build our background knowledge in a myriad of pathways and inroads. A young student cannot begin to appreciate the sheer force, the will, the absolute shoulder-to-the-grindstone effort it takes teachers to try to provide and enrich as much background knowledge as possible.

I gave the example that even in a pop-culture magazine; there was a mention of Mariah Carey and her ‘Greek chorus.’ How cool it was that we just learned what a Greek chorus was, and if he had been reading that article his brain would have comprehended the writer’s intent and allusion much more quickly (cue student’s blank stare). I went on to explain with another example about movies, and modern stories (more of a light-bulb moment). If you know “it,” no one can take “it” away from you, and you use “it” every day.

We have discussed in our classes the connection between Greeks/Romans and their political system breakthroughs, and how those breakthroughs influenced the great minds of our American forefathers (who I still think really, really, got it right – go Constitution! Go Bill of Rights!) We as a nation only veer off-course when we interpret their very just laws for a “few people” and not all, when any one branch of government gets too powerful and uproots the rest of the tree in the process.

I wanted to give his question the time and fairness it deserved, but the contemplation of the question even overwhelms me, puts me on mental overload, because I do think, I do consider, I do ponder, question, and wonder. The real question is: how do I get my students to ask, to ponder, to answer their own questions? I should have just put it back on him, but that’s not always fair. There’s got to be a place I can point to start them out on their inquiry journey; then, it’s up to them.

So – here’s the challenge for my students – why don’t you tell ME why you’re learning this? Are you being fair to yourself, just sitting back and not taking charge of what you’re learning?  Ask the questions, and demand an answer.