Connecticut

Post posts about what is happening in the State of Connecticut.

Profiles in Privilege

In his column a couple days ago, Colin McEnroe writes about the Doug Glanville article in The Atlantic, I Was Racially Profiled in My Own Driveway. Colin asks if this was ”Cops Doing Their Job? Or Profiling?”

Colin, along with people who commented on the column, both on the Courant’s website, and on social media sites like Facebook raise some interesting questions. At what point does an officer reacting to a complaint and attempting to enforce an ill-considered law cross over into racial profiling? If the officer was just reacting to a complaint by a citizen, wasn’t he just doing his job? Unfortunately, the ‘just doing my job defense doesn’t always stand up, particularly if it is reinforcing some injustice.

Perhaps the bigger questions start with how much of a reaction is appropriate, independent of whether or not it is called profiling? Instead of talking about profiling we need to be exploring how each one of us contributes to, benefits from, and is damaged by unexplored expectations about the people around us based on their age, gender, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation and other factors.

Perhaps we need to explore how these unexplored expectations fit into laws, rules, regulations, and ways that our institutions operate that benefit one group of people and the expense of another group of people.

I Got My News from Bridget

As part of its eighth anniversary celebration, Twitter came out with a tool to find your first tweet. Mine was, “playing with twitter” back on October 15, 2006. Twitter wasn’t as well-known back then, but it was a great source of news. I’m guessing it was about a year later that my wife made me a shirt which said, “I get my news on Twitter”. It would raise eye-brows when I wore it to conferences on the future of journalism.

At these conferences, people would talk about how Craigslist was stealing all the classified advertising revenue and large corporations were buying up local papers, sucking whatever they could out of the profit, laying off local reporters, and trying to cover every story from headquarters in Chicago or Yardley, PA.

People talked about how the Internet might be used for news in the future but always talked about the importance of the local reporter. Local reporters had the relationships necessary to get the news. They had the background to provide the context and they had the readers that would follow them to whatever platform.

Bridget Albert was a great example of one of these local reporters. She worked for a while for the New Haven Register, one of those legacy news organizations bought up by folks from Yardley, and now working on reinventing itself. She later worked for The Orange Times. She covered me when I ran for State Representative. She covered my daughter’s radio show. I was a source. I was a reader. I was a friend.

It only seems fitting that Friday night, I learned of her passing from a post her partner posted on her Facebook page. “Bridget has passed. She died suddenly in her sleep. Memorial information will be forthcoming.”

As I read through the outpourings of grief, I find may friends and acquaintances from the community, people I’ve worked with in politics and animal rescue. There are numerous offers condolences and help. It is a fitting tribute to a wonderful local reporter. Rest in Peace, Bridget. I got my news from you.

The Better Deal

On Thursday, Connecticut House Republican’s Chief of Staff George Gallo resigned as the word spread about a federal investigation into how candidates used a direct mail firm out of Florida. People asked me if that wasn’t the same firm that my opponent used in 2012. It was. Yet I don’t think she is any more culpable in this than Chris Donovan was in the improprieties that took place in his Congressional campaign. It is easy to suggest that the candidate either knew, or should have known about possible illegal activity. It is too easy. It doesn’t get to the real issues. Perhaps it simply reflects one of the bigger issues.

In the Hartford Courant article about Gallo, former state GOP Chairman Chris Healy, talking about direct mail firm simply states, “we got a better deal”. A cynic might ask what that deal was. Was there any sort of illegal quid quo pro in the better deal? But this, too, perhaps doesn’t get to the real issue.

I often quote Randy Pausch’s Last Lecture in my blog, and I’ll provide a more complete version of one of my favorite quotes here:

OK, and so one of the expressions I learned at Electronic Arts, which I love, which pertains to this, is experience is what you get when you didn’t get what you wanted. And I think that’s absolutely lovely. And the other thing about football is we send our kids out to play football or soccer or swimming or whatever it is, and it’s the first example of what I’m going to call a head fake, or indirect learning. We actually don’t want our kids to learn football. I mean, yeah, it’s really nice that
I have a wonderful three-point stance and that I know how to do a chop block and all this kind of stuff. But we send our kids out to learn much more important things. Teamwork, sportsmanship, perseverance, etcetera, etcetera. And these kinds of head fake learning are absolutely important.
And you should keep your eye out for them because they’re everywhere.

What candidates want is to get elected, but most of them don’t get elected, they just get experience. This experience might help them get elected the next time around. It might turn them bitter against the system, or it might inspire something greater.

Why do we want to get elected? Hopefully, it is to make their communities better places, and this gets back to the quote from Chris Healy. What is that ‘better deal’ he spoke about?

On my campaign, we often spoke about who we would purchase our services from. We wanted to make our community a better place, and we argued whether it was better to get services from companies in the district, or if it made more sense to use less expensive companies in other parts of Connecticut. It was a difficult balance, and I don’t know how well we really did on it, but at least we didn’t spend most of our budget, a large amount of which came from a Connecticut state grant, with companies in Florida.

We also had people offer us great deals because they were friends that believed in our campaign. We sought to make sure that everyone was paid fairly for the work they did and that there was no expectation of quid quo pro, real or perceived.

Yet most importantly, the focus was on issues. I wanted to talk about health and education. I did. I wished I could have gotten into more discussions about these issues. I wish people would engage more on the issues our state faces instead of making decisions based on a few pieces of mail crafted by political consultants in Florida. I wish more political coverage in the traditional media could be about the issues, and not the horse race and the corruption.

Hopefully, I moved the needle a little bit in that direction. No, I didn’t get elected, but I got “the better deal”.

Health Equity and the 2014 CT Legislative Session

Last year, as a member of the Connecticut Health Foundation’s Health Leadership Fellows Program the group I was part of mapped out plans for bring Health Impact Assessments into Connecticut policy decisions, especially the state legislative process.

A key component of this plan was to improve the way health advocates work together during the legislative session. We set up a Google Group, CT Health Equity Bills to discuss this. As we enter another legislative session, members are encouraged to discuss upcoming bills and opportunities to testify.

I must admit, prior to becoming a CT Health Foundation fellow, I would often be asked to support various bills, and I rarely thought about these bills in terms of the impact they would have on health equity, and I suspect that many legislators don’t think about bills in terms of health equity the way I believe they should.

The Connecticut Health Foundation has published a blog post, Things We’ll Be Looking Out For During the 2014 Legislative Session. While it doesn’t address specific bills, it provides an important framework for this year’s session. I have been speaking with other organizations and hope to share thoughts about their agendas as well.

Meanwhile, I’m already getting messages from activists to support different bills. One of the first bills I received a message about was S.B. No. 23 AN ACT CONCERNING BENEFIT CORPORATIONS AND ENCOURAGING SOCIAL ENTERPRISE.. Friends have pointed me to a Change.org petition uring the senate to take up SB 23 this year.

it is early in the session and I don’t know what SB 23 is going to look like by the end of the session, but I strongly support the goal. Yet I hadn’t been thinking of this bill in terms of health equity. My gut feeling is that it won’t harm efforts for health equity and has the potential to benefit health equity efforts, but beyond that, I haven’t really thought it out much.

Then, at dinner last night, I got into a fascinating discussion with a friend from Yale’s Global Health Initiative. She was at a conference where people were talking about using a social impact exchange as a means of encouraging social entrepreneurship and investment in Haiti to deal with the issues of cholera.

While I do expect the passage of SB 23 to lead quickly to the issue of Social Impact Bonds, or the establishing of a social impact exchange, and a resulting improvement in efforts to address health equity in the state, it does seem like a step in the right direction.

Another bill I was contacted about was S.B. No. 120 AN ACT CONCERNING DYSLEXIA AND SPECIAL EDUCATION.. “To include dyslexia detection, recognition and intervention education as part of the professional development program for teachers and to amend the state IEP form to include dyslexia.”

With sponsors ranging from Sen. Bye to Rep. Cafero, this seems like a pretty straight forward broadly supported bill. Yet even with a bill like this, it is important to think about how it relates to health equity. Are there disparities in the diagnosis and treatment of dyslexia in Connecticut? How are they tracked? How will they be tracked and corrected?

A final bill for this blog post: H.B. No. 5144 AN ACT CONCERNING ACCESS TO BIRTH CERTIFICATES AND PARENTAL HEALTH INFORMATION FOR ADOPTED PERSONS., “To provide adult adopted persons, twenty-one years of age or older, access to their biological parents' health information and information in the person's original birth certificate or record.”

A friend contacted me about this bill. She was adopted as a child and does not have access to information about her biological parents. While it is easy to think of this in terms idle curiosity that an adopted child might have about their history, there are important health issues to consider. Are there biological family history information that could help the adopted child better deal with their own health? Again, I don’t know much about the health equity aspects of this. Are there disparities in access to birth and health information by adopted children along racial or ethnic lines? Would this bill help address such disparities?

Over the coming days, I expect I will hear more about these and other bills. I hope you’ll join me in thinking about the impact these bills would have on health equity in our state.

Looking at the Core Curriculum from a Health Care Perspective

Yesterday, I attended a presentation on the use of tablets in health screenings. It is a project CHC has been involved with together with UConn and another health care organization and it is funded in part by the Connecticut Health Foundation.

One of the comments that particularly jumped out at me was about research that questions the effectiveness of many earlier screening programs. The problem is that these screenings often took upward of an hour and were not necessarily all that accurate.

By using tablets with targeted screenings that the patient could do, typically in four to seven minutes on a tablet while waiting for an appointment, the researchers found much greater accuracy and patient satisfaction with the screenings.

Earlier in the day, I had read an article in the New Yorker, THE DEFIANT PARENTS: TESTING’S DISCONTENTS. It was a fascinating article.

The article is full of great quotes, “One teacher remarked that, if a tester needs three days to tell if a child can read ‘you are either incompetent or cruel…’” Applying it to health care, any practice that took frustrating grueling days to administer basic tests would quickly find themselves out of business.

Part of the Affordable Care Act was the creation of the Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute. Perhaps, as part of education reform, we need to look at student centered outcomes research. How effective are the existing batteries of standardized tests? Are there better testing methodologies? Are the components of the core curriculum really the components that will result in the best life outcomes for the students? How does the core curriculum relate to twenty first century skills? Is the focus on the core curriculum diminishing the focus on other key 21st century skills, like creativity and collaboration?

This ties back to one of the lines in the New Yorker article,

Allanbrook says that her decision to speak out was motivated in part by thinking about the fifth-grade social-justice curriculum at the school, in which children who are about to graduate are asked to consider the question “What are we willing to stand up for?”

That especially jumped out at me. Does the school your children go to have a social justice curriculum? It seems like such a curriculum may a great example of what needs to be taught to reach twenty first century skills, and getting skipped because of excessive focus on the core curriculum.

To return to the topic of testing, the article talks about a testing process which takes “seventy minutes a day for six days” and contrasting it with “alternative tests produced by the Department of Education, one in English language arts and one in math, each lasting just forty-five minutes”.

There is another of aspect of health care that jumps out at me which I’ll introduce by way of the infamous quote from the Harvard Educated son of a University of Chicago Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, who

described critics of the Common Core as “white suburban moms who—all of a sudden—[find] their child isn’t as brilliant as they thought they were, and their school isn’t quite as good as they thought they were.”

Yes, I am white and suburban, though I’m a father, not a mother, and I have not found any of my three daughters any less brilliant than I thought they were. The older two both skipped high school to start college at fourteen. The eldest is teaching English in Japan and the middle daughter completed her Masters in Education at age 19 and has already published three books, her most recent pointing out issues with an education system that does not sufficiently promote creativity. The youngest who is attending a great public elementary school consistently is a top scorer on standardized tests.

Besides relying on false stereotypes, the biggest problem I have with Sec. Duncan’s quote is that it reflects a different issue with the core curriculum.

In health care, we have the National Culturally and Linguistically Appropriate Services.

Provide effective, equitable, understandable and respectful quality care and services that are responsive to diverse cultural health beliefs and practices, preferred languages, health literacy and other communication needs.

One of the criticisms of standardized testing is that many such tests have been culturally biased. Is enough being done to address cultural biases with the core curriculum? Do these cultural biases also end up in the classroom as teachers “teach to the test”? Concerns about the cultural aspects of education are just one part of the larger concern about the ‘one size fits all’ aspect of the core curriculum. Should the requirements vary depending on a students learning style? Does it really matter at what age geometry is learned and at what age algebra is learned, or does what really matter is that adequate progress is made towards learning all the aspects of the core curriculum by high school graduation?

Perhaps Ken Robinson’s comment about ‘date of manufacture’ addresses this issue best

We still educate children by batches. You know, we put them through the system by age group. Why do we do that? You know, why is there this assumption that the most important thing kids have in common is how old they are. You know, it's like the most important thing about them is their date of manufacture.

Well I know kids who are much better than other kids at the same age in different disciplines. You know, or at different times of the day, or better in smaller groups than in large groups or sometimes they want to be on their own.

If you are interested in the model of learning you don't start from this production line mentality. This is essentially about conformity. Increasingly it's about that as you look at the growth of standardised testing and standardised curricula. and it's about standardisation. I believe we've got go in the exact opposite direction. That's what I mean about changing the paradigm.

(You can get the transcript of his talk here or view the great RSA Animate video of it.)

As a final note, plenty of people have criticized the Affordable Care Act. It doesn’t do enough to reform health care and perhaps some of the reforms are headed in the wrong direction. We do need to improve the Affordable Care Act while recognizing benefits that it brings.

It seems as if the same applies to education reform. We do need a core curriculum, one that really addresses the twenty first century skills our students will need. We need proper testing and scientific research into how well these skills are being taught, the impact they are having, and even on the impact of testing, and we need to introduce ideas like the CLAS standards to education and move away from a one size fits all approach to testing and education.

Back to the starting point of this blog post, research at CHC has found that by coming up with new approaches to health screening, effectiveness and satisfaction can be improved. We need to look at similar ways to do this for education, perhaps individualizing and gamifying the whole process.

So, I asked my twelve year old daughter, “What if we replaced standardized tests with computer games?”

Her response was, “That would be awesome!” and then we went on to discuss how people could use it, track student and school performance and play the games from home.

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