Sunday, November 22, 2015

State-by-State Education Rankings: It's (Almost) All About the Spending

Reading this article in the NYTimes on Massachusetts' dropping out of the Common Core testing regime made me wonder how different states compared in student performance. The NYTimes' article placed Massachusetts at the top, even outpacing all other countries except Singapore in science. Them's some pretty hot numbers.

The best comparison I found was published in Education Week using 2013 numbers. the statistics were essentially unsurprising and established pretty clear differences. Massachusetts indeed placed first. The graphic above provides quite a picture.

What does Massachusetts do right? Just about everything, including high levels of spending. The list of higher-learning institutions, such as Harvard, M.I.T., Amherst, Holy Cross, Tufts, Williams, Brandeis, and Boston College is quite impressive. The state is highly educated and ranks high in all categories.

The best performing states are clustered in the Northeast. It appears likely that the presence of fine private schools and colleges -- including the Ivy League schools and more -- leads to better school performance. In fact, all of the original thirteen colonies are in the top fifteen performing states -- with the glaring exception of three Southern states, Georgia, North Carolina, and South Carolina.

The cluster from Virginia north all the way to Maine speaks to the long history of education reaching back 300 years. The poor performance of the three Southern states can be partly explained by spending. Georgia, North Carolina, and South Carolina all received Fs for overall spending.

The high-performing exceptions, Wyoming and Minnesota, seem to break the mold. Wyoming spends a lot of money for good results, surprising for an essentially rural state with only one four-year college. Two important indicators for Wyoming are high rankings in the categories of Early Foundations and Adult Outcomes, which indicates that the state may have fewer English Language Learners dragging down test scores, plus a stable and well-educated workforce. Who knew?

Minnesota, on the other hand, has much lower spending for good results. Minnesota is near the top in Early Foundations and even higher than Wyoming in Adult Outcomes.

By and large, though, spending equals outcomes among the vast majority of states, especially when comparing top performing and low performing states. You get what you pay for. My state, California, used to be an educational juggernaut. Now it's in the bottom grouping. What's telling about California is its very low spending (gets an F) and its low scores for Early Foundations and Adult Outcomes. Since I spent part of my career as an English Language Learner teacher, I'm aware of the challenges California faces because of its large immigrant population. In fact, toward the end of my career, my school district in Napa had a majority Hispanic population (it takes a lot of Mexicans to tend all those vineyards).

A state, like California, can look bad in the ratings because of its challenges but actually be doing a pretty good job in light of those challenges. So beware of the "failing schools" narrative. California is barely doing okay with barely enough money in teaching a very challenging population leading to barely okay Adult Outcomes. No surprise there. What would the outcomes be in a less diverse population, like Minnesota?

By the way, under Governor Jerry Brown, spending on education has begun to rise dramatically in recent years, with a $3,000 per pupil jump since 2012. Still, school spending lags in my state.

But again, my rule in judging school performance remains: Follow the money. This Jill Tucker article in the SF Chronicle tells a very enduring tale of affluent communities wildly out-performing impoverished ones, something I noted in my column in the Napa Valley Register back in 1998 when the first student test scores came online.

No matter what money is spent, poverty is the leading cause of low test scores.

If you were wondering whether educational accomplishment was good for you, check the above graph.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Colbert Retains His Comic Genius and Goes Off on Easy Marks, the Fraidy Cat GOP!

Sure, the Republicans in full riot gear over the Paris attacks can be pretty easy marks, but let's get a pro on it to see if he can milk it properly:

Oh yes, he's still got it, although the true joke would be if one of the GOPers pissing their pants actually got elected. Oh myyy! Those saying na ga happen, see Bush, George W.


Thursday, November 19, 2015

It's Time to Ban White Males from the U.S. They're Responsible for 63% of Mass Murders.

Why are white males so dangerous? Hard to say, but Hispanics rarely do this. Weird.

I'm so proud of our Republican Congress. It was really brave of them to ban guns in order to stop the 30,000 or so who die by the bullet each year. Real guts.

Wait, that was some other movie, you know the one that makes sense, not the one where Marco Rubio says that “You can have a thousand people come in and 999 of them are just poor people fleeing oppression and violence. But one of them is an Isis fighter – if that’s the case, you have a problem."

But in real life 63 percent of mass murderers are white males. The weapon of choice is a gun.

So which is it, America? Will we ban white men or guns or neither? Okay, let's just go with neither. Progress!

We're screwed. So great, so brave, so stupid.

Wait, this guy's not Syrian!

Reminder: The vast majority of terrorist attacks in this country are perpetrated by white male citizens. Just so you know.

All You Need to Know: Only 1% of Fox News Viewers Is Black

Typical Fox News viewers.

People, over time, tend to self-select. It's not always easy to pick where you live -- born in Detroit, die in Detroit, how'ya gonna get out -- or your job, which sucks but you gotta eat.

Eventually, people sort things out. Get a better job in Houston, and you're gone. Some things are easier to select, like the news you watch on the tube. If you're black, for example, you can only take so much Hannity and O'Reilly before you figure out they're not talking to you. So you move on.

On the other hand, if you're an alienated white who sees "the other" squeezing you in, why, Hannity and O'Reilly just make sense!

So 1 percent of Fox News' primetime viewers are black and 92 percent are white. It's no accident.

Now, what's the mix of voters? About 90 percent of the Republican Party are white, and less than 5 percent are black.

So, how does a news channel become the overwhelming choice of white people? Have you watched Fox News?

Oh, that's how it works.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Indiana's Mike Pence Becomes the First GOP Governor to Refuse Entry to Actual Syrian Refugees

What the GOP is afraid of.

I learn at Daily Kos that Mike Pence of Indiana is the first to refuse entry to specific Syrian refugees.
One of the families has been has been waiting in Jordan for three years before getting approval to move to the U.S., according to the New York Times. The family of three will be resettled in New Haven, Conn., the Times reports.
Waiting for three years. I think they might have been vetted, don't you? In any case, it's entirely established that these refugees are not dangerous, making it so obvious that Pence is doing this for political reasons, not for the safety of Indianans. Disgraceful.

The lines are drawn: Red states are xenophobic, blue states are welcoming.

But, as Atrios at Eschaton points out, today's America may be ready for this kind of bullshit. Sounds ridiculous until you remember that George W. Bush was re-elected after considerable failure in Iraq and Afghanistan and just after the unveiling of the Abu Ghraib horror in 2004.

Abu Ghraib: the Bush years writ large.

Post-Paris: ISIS 1, GOP 0

House Speaker Paul Ryan, getting ready to take on ISIS.

Watching all the unhelpful mish-mash of cowardly, un-American offerings by Republicans up and down the food chain, it's hard to assess them without coming to the conclusion that ISIS, in essence, has them pissing their pants.

Dana Milbank of WaPo has a brilliant exposé this morning of what government-by-cliché looks like.

What has emerged in the past couple of days is an ever-clearer image of Republican fraidy cats who want to close our borders to the very people who have been displaced by George W. Bush's misguided war of choice in Iraq. Yes, the Bush/Cheney cabal destroyed the balance of power in Iraq, alienating the Sunnis -- already the branch of Islam from whence al Qaeda came -- and driving the creation of al Qaeda in Iraq in Anbar province that has since morphed into ISIS.

And yes, the civil war in Syria was the result of Bashir al-Assad's violent reaction to the peaceful protests generated by the Arab Spring, which lies at the feet of no one in particular, other than an embrace across the Arab world of the peaceful transition to democracy in Tunisia inspired by the suicide of one brave soul. There was hope that the movement might spawn more good outcomes, but Egypt, Libya, Bahrain, Yemen, and Syria put an end to that.

ISIS is only a part of why there is a mass exit from Syria. Most of those fleeing are running from the violent cruelty of Assad. But the Republicans' xenophobic reaction is primarily spawned by ISIS's actions in Paris. The rest is conflation on an unparalleled scale.

The actions of the Republican Party, from its state governors' refusal of refugees on to the pronouncements of its 2016 presidential candidates and its congressional leadership, has left me feeling more embarrassed and disgusted to be an American at any time since I was a college student protesting the Vietnam War.

That was almost fifty years ago. Is the span of my life going to encompass yet more American warmongering? Are we such a weak people that we need to turn our country into one giant bunker?

That, my friends, is what the current Republican Party thinks is the correct response to terrorism.

ISIS 1, GOP 0.

Update. As a stark rebuke to GOP cowardice, President Hollande of France has just announced that the French won't cancel plans to admit 30,000 Syrian refugees:
While American politicians compete in the wake of the Paris terror attacks to see who can most hysterically denounce the possibility of accepting Syrian refugees, French president François Hollande said today that his country will follow through on its pre-attack commitment to take in 30,000 Syrians fleeing that country's conflict.
Yep, them's some real freedom fries, don't you think?

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

After Paris, Republicans Are Openly Disgraceful on Syria: Bombing, Yes, Refugees, No!

Senator and GOP presidential candidate Ted Cruz: the face of intolerance.

There's no question that the Paris terrorist attacks incite fear. That's their central purpose. But if that central purpose serves to incite intolerance and a craving for a violent and deadly response, the Republican Party has risen -- or fallen -- to the occasion.

Shred the Constitution by creating a religious test for obtaining refugee status. Sure.

Want to bomb the crap out of Syria? Sure. Want to refuse any and all Syrian refugees? Sure.

Will this be politically expedient? Maybe. Does it invite condemnation? It has.

(Reminder: Some pages, at paywall sites like the Washington Post, can be viewed by opening in a private or incognito window, using a right click on the link.)

In any event, I appreciate how fear can awaken some of our worst instincts. But the way the Republicans are reacting is utterly contemptible and should openly condemned. Among other considerations, it is utterly un-American.

Or is it?

For shame.