Politics

Entries related to things political.

Life is Messy – Rethinking Educational Reform – Part 2, Triggers

This was written a few days ago, but I never got a chance to really go over it. I've been pretty busy, so I'll put this up now, as is. More soon...

This weekend, I came across three distinct and interesting articles that, perhaps, should be considered in light of one another. The Hartford Courant ran the article, Top Nominees Announced For Ct High School Musical Theater Awards. I was very interested in the production of two of these shows. Amity Regional High School, in my hometown, produced “In The Heights” (See Lamentations and The Heights). It was a great production, as productions at Amity usually are. It received several nominations, as did “Rent”, produced by Trumbull High School. The Trumbull production of Rent, almost didn’t happen and I wrote about it a couple times: Trumbull for Rent and World AIDS Day and Learning About Bullying - Trumbull RENT. I was glad to see both production receive nominations.

Also this weekend, the New York Times ran an article, Warning: The Literary Canon Could Make Students Squirm. Should students be forewarned about content in works they are assigned to read that might make them uncomfortable, or might trigger PTSD? To me, these two stories are related. How should have Trumbull High School dealt with the difficult issues that Rent brings up? Cancelling the show? Using some sort of Trigger Warnings? Some other approach?

I recognize the need for trigger warnings in certain cases, just as I recognize the need for warnings about peanuts for those with peanut allergies. For some people, these warning can be a matter of life and death. For others, they can be just an annoyance. I had the good fortunate to go to a small liberal arts college where the professors knew each of the students in their classes. In such a situation, I would expect the professor to be able to deal individually with students as necessary and to make wise decisions about warning students that needed to be warned. However, in large universities where there might be hundreds of students in a class, I can see where some sort of trigger warning might be needed.

Yet even in situations like this, it would seem that the trigger warning could be an educational tool. Prior to reading a text, a discussion about the difficult topics would seem beneficial. “This week, we will be reading The Great Gatsby, a masterpiece of American literature. The story depicts misogynistic violence, a problem that society still faces today…” and from their get into a discussion about misogyny in the twentieth and twenty first century.

Life is Messy – Rethinking Educational Reform - Part 1, SBAC

This weekend, I’ve been thinking a bit about educational reform and have stumbled across several different interesting discussion. It started off when a discussion about the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium, or SBAC, tests which have recently been administered at our schools.

A board of education member was fiercely defending the SBAC tests. She believed that the concerns with the tests were overblown and that the tests were properly administered. I opted my daughter out of the SBAC tests for many reasons and the feedback I’ve received about the tests do not square with the board members assessment.

The board member did admit that there were some difficulties, but there are always difficulties with any changes, and we eventually need to test changes in the real world. Setting aside the issue of whether or not there is real benefit to the changes that SBAC brings, I question whether there was sufficient testing prior to using the SBAC tests, and, perhaps more importantly, whether using the tests on students was wise, or perhaps even, ethical.

Having worked with computers for years, I recognize the importance of different aspects of testing, moving from unit testing to systems testing and integration testing. To put it into more contemporary terms, when do you move a system out of beta? Were the SBAC tests really ready to be moved out of beta? Where they properly tested? It does not seem so, from my perspective.

Yet there is a bigger question, about the efficacy and ethics of the testing. Thinking in terms of the scientific method, what was the hypothesis being tested? How will this test of the SBACs help prove or disprove the hypothesis? I have not heard this properly addressed. Working in health care, I constantly hear people talking about the importance of double blind tests. The SBAC tests were very far from this standard of testing. In fact, students were told that the tests wouldn’t make a difference, it was just a test to see how well the test works. As a result, I’ve heard many stories of students making up silly answers on the tests, something that wouldn’t happen if it were a real test that mattered.

I don’t know how much this really happened, and how much these are the sort of stories middle school students like to tell, but it does raise serious questions about the validity of SBAC experiment.

Yet this takes me to a bigger issue. In 1961, Yale psychologist Stanley Milgram ran a series of experiments measuring people’s willingness to follow orders, even if it could cause harm or death to others. In the experiments, the subjects were told to give shocks to students who failed to properly answer certain questions.

Many have questioned the ethics of these experiments and the Milgram experiments are regularly brought up in discussions about institutional review boards, or IRBs.

As I thought about the discussion with the board of education member, I had to wonder, are SBAC tests being administered in a way that would be approved by an IRB? Are risks to the subjects, or children in schools, minimized? Do the benefits of moving towards SBAC tests outweigh the risks to students? Are students, and their parents, adequately informed and asked to consent in ways that are free from coercion or undue influences? What measures are being taken to protect vulnerable populations?

There is a role for testing students in our educational system. Yet these tests need to be well thought out and administered in a fair way that benefits our students. In my mind, the SBAC tests fails this.

At the #CTDemConvention

It is a rainy Friday evening as I sit in the Connecticut Convention Center in Hartford. The Pledge of Allegiance and the prayers have been made, the convention has been called to order, but mostly delegates just spend time talking with one another. There isn't much suspence at this convention, instead, a chance for friends to reconnect and to talk about various coming elections.

I've been wearing my Google Glass which has been a good topic of discussion. Congressman Jim Himes tried them on, and the folks at the Kevin Lembo nerd table found the glass to be particularly nerdy. Unforunately, for some reason, low batteries, heavy network traffic, or the latest upgrade has caused Glass to be very slow.

After the nominating speeches for Gov. Malloy, they started playing a video. Almost no one seems to be paying attention.

It has been a while since I live blogged a convention, but I hope to have additional updates through out the day.

UPDATE 6:10 - I streamed some of Gov. Malloy's acceptance speech via Google Glass, after recharging it and then rebooting it. They are now nominating Nancy Wyman for Lt. Gov. and I'm recharging Glass a little bit more.

A Different Read of the Gallup Poll

Recently, Gallup published a poll saying Half in Illinois and Connecticut Want to Move Elsewhere. This has garnered a few different responses.

The New Haven Register put it as Nutmeggers say higher taxes, cost of living forcing them to rethink living in Connecticut. They lead with

A lot of Connecticut folks are thinking seriously about moving out of state…

However, that does not appear to be what the Gallup poll is really saying. The question that Gallup asked was

Regardless of whether you will move, if you had the opportunity, would you like to move to another state, or would you rather remain in your current state?

Depending on my mood when asked that question, there is a good chance that I’d say I would like to move. If I had the opportunity to live comfortably in a nice house on Cape Cod, I’d probably move pretty quickly. Of course, that is very different from thinking seriously about moving out of the state.

In fact, when you look at the subsequent Gallup question of whether someone is even somewhat likely to move within the next twelve months, the 49% drops down to 16%, dropping Connecticut from being number two to just barely making the top ten.

The Register then gets its spin on the poll from the organization that lobbies for businesses in Connecticut.

There are a bunch of reasons, but cost of living and the cost of doing business are big ones, according to two state economists.

“Anecdotally I hear about taxes and the high cost of living and cheaper living in other places,” said Peter Gioia, vice president and economist for the Connecticut Business and Industry Association. “Some of it’s from business people; some of it’s from non-business people.

When we look at the data from the poll, however, we find very different data. In fact, nationwide, 31% of people planning to move within the next 12 months is work or business related. In Connecticut, it is only 21%. Instead, people are looking to move from Connecticut because of quality of life and cost of living reasons.

The poll does not give more detailed information about this, so I looked at some other data. According to the U.S. Census, Connecticut has the fourth most expensive housing in the nation for home owners and the seventh most expensive housing for renters. So, if people are interested in keeping people in Connecticut, perhaps we need more affordable housing. Yet I suspect that the many of the people who are concerned about the cost of living are also concerned that their property values don’t get driven down by more affordable housing in the state.

The Register article also quotes Republican Candidate for Governor, Tom Foley, saying, “I am disappointed, but not surprised, because people are attracted to places where they see opportunity and can feel optimistic”

This, of course, begs the question of opportunities to do what? Some people may be attracted to the opportunity to make a lot of money and buy a lot of stuff, but others may be more interested in opportunities to enjoy life and nature and help those around them.

I don’t expect to move to Cape Cod any time soon, there are still too many opportunities to help people around me here in Connecticut, opportunities that Mr. Foley seems not to focus on.

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.

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