Month: <span>October 2015</span>

The dangerous intersection of science and politics


Listening to politicians, including several current presidential candidates, is kind of like surfing the Internet. A lot of what you hear and read is true, but much of it is totally made up and pure hogwash. That observation came to mind after I read Dallas Morning News columnist Jacquielynn Floyd’s column, linked below, about the sometimes dangerous intersection of science and partisan politics.

Floyd points out the frustation of scientists trying to “reach people determined to believe that science is a kind of choose-what-you-like cafeteria, where facts are only real if you want them to be.”

Right in the middle of this phenomenon, of course, is the debate over climate change.

Floyd notes that presidential candidate and U.S. Ted Cruz, one of many politicians debunking global warming, has claimed that scientists are “cooking the books” when they insist that climate change is real. “I’m saying that data and facts don’t support it,” Cruz told Politico a couple of months ago.

What data? What facts? Apparently not the same data and facts considered by most scientists.

As Floyd notes, Time magazine reported last year on a review of every peer-reviewed scholarly article published on climate change in 2013. The review was conducted by a geochemist who served as an advisor to both Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush.

Of all the scientific articles this scientist reviewed, only two rejected climate change. The other 10,883 concluded it is real.

At least, Cruz, so far as I know, has never claimed to be a scientist.



Obama still would use tests to evaluate teachers


Although the Obama administration is partially retreating on standardized testing, it is not giving up on the discredited idea of tying student test scores to teacher evaluations, at least not entirely. The administration’s “Testing Action Plan” calls only for “reducing the reliance on student test scores” for evaluations.

This was pointed out by Washington Post reporter Valerie Strauss, who also reminded us that as recently as last year the Education Department pulled Washington state’s No Child Left Behind waiver because that state’s legislature didn’t require its teachers to be evaluated by test scores.

The administration won’t let loose of that bad idea despite the fact that assessment experts, including the American Statistical Association, have said the so-called “value added-measurement,” which includes test scores, is an unreliable, invalid tool for evaluating teachers. That means test scores shouldn’t be used in evaluations at all.

This reinforces the importance of educators and parents making themselves heard, loudly and clearly, when the new Texas Commission on the Next generation of Assessments and Accountability is appointed and begins its work. As I noted in my previous blog post, this commission will be appointed by the governor, the lieutenant governor and the speaker of the House to make recommendations to the 2017 Legislature on a new school accountability system.

The panel will include at least two parents and two educators, but it needs to hear from thousands of Texans who are weary of the testing regime. This is critical because, believe me, the panel also will hear from the privatization interests that have a huge financial stake in preserving testing.




Testing: Is the time ripe for change?


First, Education Secretary Arne Duncan, a national cheerleader for standardized testing, prepares to head into the Washington sunset. Then President Obama and a new national study note the obvious – testing has gotten out of control and needs to be curtailed.

Could the retirement of the STAAR testing regime – or at least an extreme makeover — be that far behind?

Let’s not get ahead of ourselves. For one thing, the president’s new “testing action plan” offers guidance to school officials but does not carry the force of law. Permanent changes in testing requirements, at least at the federal level, will require congressional approval of changes in the No Child Left Behind Act, and our dysfunctional Congress is barely able to legislate a walk across the street.

But the president’s announcement comes at an opportune time for educators and parents in Texas who have had it up to their eyeballs with practice tests, benchmarks, stressed-out grade-schoolers and other manifestations of an out-of-control STAAR culture.

Earlier this year, Texas legislators – who also began detecting parental anger over testing – created a 15-member Texas Commission on the Next Generation of Assessments and Accountability. That’s a long title for a panel that will study possible changes in testing and accountability requirements and make recommendations for the Legislature to consider in 2017.

The commission will be appointed by the governor, the lieutenant governor and the speaker of the House, and, despite concerns about testing, it is likely to hear from interest groups more concerned with test scores than they are in providing educators and students with sufficient resources for classroom success.

But the panel will include at least two parents and two educators. TSTA is encouraging all its local affiliates to lobby their school boards to demand that the commission and the Legislature reduce testing and replace it with a realistic accountability system that is supported by an adequate and equitable school funding system.

It’s past time to start putting first things first.




A bad “fix” for health care is bad for education


Gov. Greg Abbott isn’t endorsing anyone yet in the race for the Republican presidential nomination, but he has listed the top criteria for a candidate to gain his support. The first two are border security and “fixing” Medicaid. There already has been a lot of hyperventilation over the first, so let’s skip to the second.

Regarding Medicaid, according to The Dallas Morning News, Abbott wants his choice for the Republican nomination to “promise and commit to at least a block grant program so that Texans can do a better job of taking care of themselves with regard to the health care system.”

I assume the governor delivered that line with a straight face, but the thought of the current state leadership doing a “better job” with the health care system is preposterous. That would require a complete reversal of priorities for a political leadership that consistently has ranked public health care at the bottom of its list of concerns, right alongside public education. And, health care has important consequences for education.

Texas continues to lead the nation in the percentage of people without health insurance and, last year, edged out the more populous California for the largest actual number of uninsured people as well. About 5 million Texans, or 19 percent of the state’s population, lacked health insurance in 2014. That was an improvement from 2013, when 5.75 million residents, or 22 percent of the Texas population, were uninsured.

Texas leaders, though, did nothing to cause the reduction in the uninsured. The reduction was brought about by the fact that about 700,000 Texans found insurance under President Obama’s Affordable Care Act, which the political majority in Texas continues to castigate. The Texas leadership also refuses to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, which could provide health care coverage to as many as 1 million additional adult Texans with the federal government picking up most of the cost.

Abbott and other state leaders want more authority over Medicaid so they can have more authority over eligibility and other rules, with the goal of saving money in the state budget, not necessarily increasing health care coverage. And, their approach would increase the burden on county taxpayers, whose hospitals would have to provide more expensive, emergency care to indigents without health insurance and access to preventive care.

Several hundred thousand of the Texans without health insurance are public school students. Without proper health care, they are more likely to struggle in class, have lower test scores and drop out.

Let’s make health care a real priority, not a political one.