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Standardized Tests are a Horrible Way to Evaluate Teachers

[ 179 ] July 18, 2017 |

Of all the facets of Rheeism, the one that always made the least sense to me is evaluating teachers based upon the standardized tests of students. Even if you believe that the teacher union busters sincerely want to improve education for children, all that basing employment on standardized test scores means is that any teacher who can get out of teaching poor children will get out of teaching poor children. Why risk your job teaching poor kids when you can teach middle class or wealthy kids who you know will do fine on standardized tests? But try telling that to the Rheeists. Luckily, there is finally some real pushback on this ridiculousness. Rachel Cohen:

The Houston teachers union scored a legal victory in May when a federal judge found that the Houston school district’s system of evaluating teachers violates due process rights. The lawsuit centered on the system’s use of value-added modeling (VAM), a controversial statistical method aimed at isolating a teacher’s effectiveness based on their students’ standardized test scores.

United States Magistrate Judge Stephen Smith concluded that the metric’s impenetrability rendered it unconstitutional. Because, he wrote, teachers have “no meaningful way to ensure” that their value-added ratings are accurate, they are “subject to mistaken deprivation of constitutionally protected property interests in their jobs.” More specifically, he continued, because the school district denies its teachers access to the computer algorithms and data that form the basis of each teacher’s VAM score, it “flunks the minimum procedural due process standard of providing the reason for termination ‘in sufficient detail to enable [the teacher] to show any error that may exist.’”

It’s unclear whether the Houston school district will now negotiate a settlement with the teachers union or end up back in court, but either way, the decision comes at a significant time for the test-based accountability movement, which has faced a number of legal and political challenges over the past several years. The outcomes of the court battles have so far been a mixed bag: Teachers challenging VAM have scored some wins, lost other big cases, and a few major suits are still pending. Outside the courtroom, states have begun implementing the new federal education law—the Every Student Succeeds Act—which imposes far less pressure on the states to use VAM or similar measures than what they faced during the Obama administration.
Donald Trump’s education secretary Betsy DeVos has also signaled she’s less interested in using test scores to define school performance.

Donald Trump’s education secretary Betsy DeVos has also signaled she’s less interested in using test scores to define school performance. (“I’m not a numbers person in the same way you are,” she said in March, in response to a question about measuring school success. “But to me, the policies around empowering parents and moving decision-making to the hands of parents on behalf of children is really the direction we need to go.”) Considering all this, some experts have gone so far as to say that regardless of what ends up happening in the judicial system, the political momentum for using test-based accountability measures is all but over.

Never forget that Barack Obama holds enormous responsibility for the neoliberalization of American education. Demand accountability from all Democratic candidates, from school board to president, to support teacher-friendly initiatives to improve education, such as fighting poverty and providing teachers more pay and resources.

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Kris Kobach’s Successes

[ 40 ] July 18, 2017 |

Trump’s voter suppression panel led by noted white supremacist Kris Kobach, is already having an impact in Colorado.

Hundreds of Republican and unaffiliated voters in Colorado are among the nearly 4,000 people who have canceled their voter registrations in the wake of the Trump administration’s request for voter information.

The Colorado Secretary of State’s Office reported Monday that of the 3,738 people who withdrew their registrations between June 28 and Friday, 367 are Republicans and 1,255 are unaffiliated voters. Just over 2,000 Democrats have also canceled their registrations.

The cancellations are just a minuscule fraction of the state’s 3.7 million registered voters. But the figure is striking nonetheless, with some county election officials reporting that they’ve never seen anything quite like it in their careers.

It doesn’t seem like the real story here is a few Republicans among thousands of Democrats. Anyway.

The withdrawals began in earnest earlier this month, after a presidential advisory commission on election integrity requested publicly available voter information from all 50 states. On July 10 alone, 1,237 Colorado voters withdrew their registrations.

This is likely to be one early effect throughout the nation. For whatever reason–paranoia or legitimate worry, people are going to simply stop voting. A lot of those people will be people of color. And Republicans win. I’ve been surprised by the number of states who have rejected this bullshit voter fraud panel, but for Trump and Kobach and Bannon, this is gold.

Fox News’ Continued March Toward Nazism

[ 91 ] July 18, 2017 |

I wonder what Sheldon Adelson will say when Carlson starts talking about the Jewish menace sometime around September?

Erik Visits an American Grave, Part 107

[ 42 ] July 18, 2017 |

This is the grave of Potter Stewart.

Born in Jackson, Michigan in 1915, Stewart was a member of a powerful Ohio Republican family. His father was mayor of Cincinnati and then served on the Ohio Supreme Court. Stewart went to Yale and graduated in 1937. He then went to Yale Law School, finished that degree in 1941. After a stint in the Naval Reserve during World War II, he went into private practice back in Cincinnati, but he was ambitious like his father. He was elected to the Cincinnati city council but the Eisenhower administration tapped him for a slot on the Sixth Circuit in 1954. He didn’t last long there either, because Eisenhower named him to the Supreme Court in 1958, at the age of 43. He won confirmation 70-17, with all the no votes coming from Dixiecrats.

I am not a legal historian nor expert like some readers, so let me summarize Stewart the best I can and others can make revisions in comments. Stewart belived himself a centrist but his jurisprudence was quite conservative in his early years on the Court. He dissented in Griswold v. Connecticut because he rejected the right to privacy as a constitutional element. He did the same in Miranda v. Arizona. But when Warren Burger replaced Earl Warren, Stewart did become the swing vote in many cases. He voted with the majority in Furman v. Georgia, which invalidated all state death penalty laws. He also moved to the left on the right to privacy, rejecting his previous ruling in Griswold to go with the liberals in Roe v. Wade. He was also personally disgusted by the Vietnam War and wanted to use the Court’s power to act against it and was part of the majority in ruling that most of the Pentagon Papers should be released. Perhaps most famously, he came up with the famed phrase about pornography, “I know it when I see it, and the motion picture involved in this case is not that.” Given that it was Louis Malle’s The Lovers, he was right. He opposed discrimination based on race but also opposed affirmative action programs. He was a critical player in many other cases over his long tenure; have at it in comments.

Stewart retired from the Court in 1981 and Reagan nominated Sandra Day O’Connor to replace him. He was only 66 and hoped for a long, healthy retirement but he had a stroke and died in 1985.

Potter Stewart is buried on the confiscated lands of the traitor Lee, Arlington National Cemetery, Arlington, Virginia.

Well Then

[ 177 ] July 17, 2017 |

Maybe the stake has finally been driven into the heart of the vampire bill.

Of course, maybe McConnell will just try again with an even more right-wing bill.

Erik Visits an American Grave, Part 106

[ 26 ] July 17, 2017 |

This is the grave of Charles Pillsbury.

Born in New Hampshire in 1842, Pillsbury graduated from Dartmouth in 1863. Rather than fight in the Civil War, Pillsbury moved to Quebec, where he worked for the next 6 years as a clerk and then as a partner in a mercantile firm. A lot of Midwestern grain was processed in Quebec so he figured he would have some opportunities there and moved to Minneapolis in 1869. He worked for his uncle in flour milling for awhile and was thinking about how he could improve upon it. He did so by transforming the technology to become more efficient and producing a high quality flour. He started the Pillsbury Corporation in 1872 and soon became the nation’s largest flour producer. It also significantly changed the agricultural economy of the northern states by creating a strong market for its spring wheat, which was before this a secondary production to southern winter wheat. He traveled to Europe to see the largest flour mills there and reproduced them in Minneapolis. He produced ever larger and more efficient mills and began selling his wheat around the world. Now wealthy, he ran for the Minnesota state senator in 1878 and won, serving until 1897. It helped that his uncle was governor as he rose. He became chair of the Finance Committee and was a typical Gilded Age capitalist who used politics to promote his own business interests. He sold the controlling interest in his mills to a large British company in 1889 but remained in control of them.

Pillsbury died of a bad heart in 1899.

Pillsbury did produce specific Pillsbury products, but the modern ubiquity of Pillsbury as a brand of baked cake mixes and the like originated mostly in the 1950s. The Pillsbury Doughboy originated in 1965. The name is probably far more famous today than it was during Pillsbury’s life, although he certainly became wealthy enough at the time.

Charles Pillsbury is buried in Lakewood Cemetery, Minneapolis, Minnesota.

The President is a 6 Year Old Boy

[ 86 ] July 17, 2017 |

Trump gets back in big trucks.

Erik Visits an American Grave, Part 105

[ 16 ] July 16, 2017 |

This is the grave of Elbridge Gerry.

Born in 1744 in Marblehead, Massachusetts, Gerry grew up in a Massachusetts elite merchant family. He gradated from Harvard in 1762 and received an M.A. from the same institution in 1765. He was an early supporter of anti-British sentiment, working with Sam Adams, John Hancock, and others by 1770. He used his business contacts to help fund the American Revolution, served in the Second Continental Congress, and supported the Declaration of Independence. He served at the Constitutional Convention in 1787 and to his credit strongly opposed the Three-Fifths Compromise. He actually was only of only 3 delegates to vote against the Constitution as it was written, fearing the lack of individual liberties in the proposed government. He fought hard for the Bill of Rights to amend the flawed document, especially the inclusion of freedom of assembly in the First Amendment and for the Fourth Amendment. He really tried to stay away from the developing political party system after the Revolution, holding very strongly the antipathy to political parties common among the Founders. He supported Alexander Hamilton’s financial plans but disliked the monarchical inclinations of the man and his supporters. He was chosen by John Adams to be a representative to France in what became known as the XYZ Affair because he was so known for his impartiality. Finally, in 1800, he joined the Democratic-Republicans as a response to his discomfort with Federalist centralization of power and because Federalist partisans had attacked him over his role in the XYZ Affair, claiming he was pro-French, which was proven not true when he published his correspondence with Talleyrand. He then served as governor of Massachusetts for a couple of years.

But let’s quit beating around the bush. There is one reason why Gerry is important today, and that is what became known as gerrymandering. The overall connection to him for this is a bit unfair. He was governor in 1812 and the state legislature adopted new electoral boundaries that were highly partisan. He signed the bill. Federalists protesting their exclusion from power called it “gerrymandering” and the term stuck. It also contributed to his defeat for reelection in 1812. No matter, as James Madison chose him to be Vice-President. He served in that role until 1814, when he died.

In conclusion, this fellow’s signing of that 1812 bill has caused us no problems in the present.

Elbridge Gerry is buried in Congressional Cemetery, Washington, D.C.

This Day in Labor History: July 16, 1931

[ 9 ] July 16, 2017 |

On July 16, 1931, a white mob murdered the black sharecropper organizer Ralph Gray in Tallapoosa County, Alabama. This murder demonstrated both the very real communist organizing among black sharecroppers in Alabama and the extent that whites would go to keep control of their rural labor force, eight decades after the Civil War.

Gray was born into a family with a long history of fighting for black rights. His grandfather had served in the Alabama state legislature during Reconstruction. Gray was born in 1873 and had fought for his own personal survival through the terrible oppression that defined his life. He moved to Birmingham for awhile before returning to Tallapoosa in 1895 to get married and become a tenant farmer. In 1919, he set out again for a better life, but ended up sharecropping in Oklahoma and New Mexico over the next decade, unable to get ahead. He returned home in 1929. He managed to scrape together a small amount of money, bought a little land and even an automobile. He took out a federal loan in 1931 to rent a farm from a local white farmer. The check was supposed to be split between the two men. The white landowner stole Gray’s half. Gray took the case to the Agricultural Extension Service. The landowner was outraged and attempted to beat Gray. But Gray fought back and did the beating himself.

By this time, the Depression was decimating southern farmers and the worst of it was among sharecroppers. Gray began reading the Communist Party’s southern paper Southern Worker. He declared himself a communist and wanted to start a sharecroppers’ union. The Communist Party, probably the most important majority white organization in the United States fighting for racial equality, even if it had its own form of racial blinders, was attempting to organize southern workers no matter the race. Gray and his brother wrote to the CP, requesting an organizer come help them. That organizer was Mack Coad, an illiterate Birmingham steelworker and communist. He came at a good time. Tallapoosa County white landowners, having all the crops planted by mid-May, decided to withhold credit and food from black farmworkers to force them to work in a new sawmill. The outrage over this led to significant interest in the Communists from these black workers, as was happening in many places in Alabama during the early 1930s. Gray and Coad started a local branch of the Croppers’ and Farm Workers Union (CFWU), which soon had 800 members.

The sheer idea of black organizing outraged the local white elite and they acted with the brutality all too typical of the South. On July 15, the CFWU held a meeting to discuss the Scottsboro Boys’ case, the famous trial against nine African-Americans for raping two white women on a train, a charge for which they were completely innocent and which became a major cause on the left in 30s. The Scottboro Boys had been sentenced to death five days earlier and the movement to support them was beginning. About 80 people showed up to hear Coad discuss the case. Sheriff Kyle Young created a posse to violently eliminate this growing threat to the white political, economic, and racial power structure in Tallapoosa County. They went to the meeting house and brutally beat many of the people there, scattering everyone else. They then went to the home of Tommy Gray, brother of Ralph. There they beat him and his wife, breaking her skull. Ralph Gray ran in armed and dispersed the posse. Showing incredible bravery, the next evening about 150 people gathered for another meeting with Coad. Armed sentries guarded the building. Ralph Gray was among those standing guard. When Young and his deputies showed up to the meeting, they confronted Gray. Shots rang out. Gray had shot Young with buckshot in the stomach while Gray laid on the ground with wounds to his legs.

Coad and others carried Gray back to his home and barricaded themselves inside. A new posse developed led by police chief J.M. Wilson. The exchange of fire lasted for some time and gave everyone but Gray the chance to escape. He evidently told his comrades to leave him. When the posse walked in to his house, someone put a gun down his throat and fired. They then burned his house and dumped his body on the steps of the courthouse in Dadeville. Armed whites then used his body for target practice. In the repressive aftermath, between 34 and 58 African-American men were arrested over the next few days. Most were charged with conspiracy to murder and carrying a concealed weapon, but 5 union leaders were charged with assault to murder. White mobs roamed the countryside murdering blacks and burning their homes. Dozens were killed or wounded.

Coad escaped to Atlanta. After a local black minister accused her of hiding ammunition, the police broke the back of Estelle Milner. These local mobs were whipped up by the white power elite in Alabama. The Birmingham Age-Herald ran a story titled “Negro Reds Reported Advancing” with claims that eight carloads of black communists were heading for Tallapoosa to help the sharecroppers. Of course, these stories were accompanied with fears of black men raping white women and all the usual race-baiting. None of this was true but whites created a mob to stop traffic entering the county.

Local black leaders and white liberals blamed white communists for all of the violence, saying that sharecroppers were docile and would never start such a thing. Moreover, they said Ralph Gray was contaminated with foreign ideas from his time in Oklahoma and New Mexico, as if those states were somehow less politically nightmarish than Alabama. Walter White and the NAACP went so far to accuse the communists of using the NAACP’s name to organize the sharecroppers after white Alabama blamed that organization as well. The Communist Party planned to go all-in to defend their members in prison. Alabama elites, already feeling the pressure over the Scottsboro Boys, wanted the charges dropped and after several delays, they were released and their hearings postponed indefinitely.

None of this had led to any concrete gains for the sharecroppers but it also did not stop the organizing. On August 6, 55 communist sharecroppers, including Ralph Gray’s brother Tommy, met in Tallapoosa and reorganized. The Communist Party would continue seeing success in organizing rural black workers in the Alabama through the rest of the decade.

I’m sure it will shock everyone that Tallapoosa County went 70-28 for Donald Trump in 2016.

I borrowed from Robin D.G. Kelley’s seminal Hammer and Hoe: Alabama Communists during the Great Depression in the writing of this post. You should read this book.

This is the 231st post in this series. Previous posts are archived here.

Chimpan-A to Chimpan-Z

[ 50 ] July 15, 2017 |

A deep exploration on what might be The Simpsons’ finest moment.

Erik Visits an American Grave, Part 104

[ 198 ] July 15, 2017 |

This is the grave of Omar Bradley.

I don’t have indifference to military history, I have open hostility to it and to the people who find interest in utterly pointless details of military operations. I suppose military history could be theoretically interesting, but it’s purveyors are so hidebound that it’s become a complete backwater of the historical profession, filled with people who are hostile to the historiographical and theoretical innovations that have transformed the writing of history in the last half-century. So let me see how quickly I can get through this.

Born in 1893 in rural Missouri, Omar Bradley was an important general. He led some big battles in World War II as the commander of ground forces in Europe. He became head of the Veterans Administration in 1945 and did a lot of quality work on health care for returning veterans. Then he became Joint Chief of Staff under Harry Truman in 1949 where he was the chief policy maker for the military during the Korean War. He openly rebuked Douglas MacArthur’s craziness during that war, perhaps the most important he ever did given the bloodlust MacArthur and other lunatics had to take the war into China. He retired in 1953 but remained active in military policy until his death in 1981. He was a strong hawk on Vietnam and advised Lyndon Johnson to pursue the war with vigor. That worked out great.

That seems like enough on Bradley to me. Those of you who care about World War II battles can tell me why I’m not only wrong, but a jerk too.

Omar Bradley is buried on the confiscated lands of the traitor Lee, Arlington National Cemetery, Arlington, Virginia.

The Workers Making Ivanka Brand Clothing

[ 8 ] July 14, 2017 |

I’ve said previously that the attention to the sweatshops where Ivanka-brand clothing is produced is valuable because it’s finally bringing attention again to the horrible conditions in which most of the products Americans buy are made. But this very deep dive and wonderful piece of journalism demonstrates that if anything, the Ivanka brand is even worse than the average American apparel manufacturer in caring about conditions in their supply chain. And let’s be clear, the average American apparel manufacturer is far worse than the average European manufacturer, largely because European citizens have put more pressure on their corporations than Americans, who can’t even find Bangladesh on a map. Here’s just one section from this must-read piece.

The dangers to workers who try to seek better labor conditions are especially acute in China, where activists say heavy surveillance and police presences are used to protect company profits and the country’s lucrative reputation as the “factory of the world.”

Ivanka Trump’s products have been made in more than two dozen factories across China since 2010, shipping data show.

Yen Sheng, a Hong Kong-based company with factories in Dongguan where workers are paid between $190 and $289 a month, has shipped thousands of pounds of Ivanka Trump cowhide-leather handbags and other items since 2015, customs records show.

Employees in Dongguan told The Post that the company withholds sick pay unless they are hospitalized and avoids paying overtime by outsourcing work to the unregulated one-room factories that dot Dongguan’s back streets. But pressing for change is not an option, they said.

“If you don’t work, other people will,” one woman at the company’s Dongguan subsidiary Yen Hing Leather Works said. “If you protest, the company will ask the police to handle it. The owner is very rich. He can ask the police to come.”

Trump brand executives said its products are not made at Yen Hing. A manager at the Dongguan factory, Huang Huihong, told The Post that its workers have produced Ivanka Trump goods in the past.

Officials at Yen Hing denied the workers’ allegations, saying they “strictly follow the laws in our business operation.” Mondani, the Trump brand’s handbag supplier, did not respond to requests for comment.

The work conditions at Chinese factories that make Trump’s products have gained public attention in recent weeks after the detentions of three activists from a group called China Labor Watch who were investigating the facilities. The group said it found evidence at one facility of laborers working 18-hour days and enduring verbal abuse from managers, allegations that the Chinese factory denied.

Chinese authorities accused the activists of using illegal surveillance equipment and suggested they might have been selling commercial secrets to foreign entities. They were released on bail in late June. A trial is pending.

The State Department denounced the arrests, saying that labor rights activists “have been instrumental in helping . . . American companies understand the conditions involving their supply chains.”

Li Qiang, the group’s executive director, said it had never faced such police pressure in nearly two decades of experience investigating factories and said he believes this case was handled differently because “this is Ivanka Trump’s factory.”

Hua Haifeng, one of the detained activists, told The Post after his release, “The first question the police asked was to the effect of ‘whether you know it’s Ivanka Trump’s factory and then came here to investigate.’ ” Local police officials did not respond to requests for comment.

Li’s group says it has sent four letters since April to Ivanka Trump at the White House detailing the working conditions in the factory and asking for her to advocate for their colleagues.

Deng Guilian, Hua’s wife, also pleaded with Trump to intervene, telling The Post, “For her, it’s just a matter of a few words, but those few words would save the entire family.”

Of all the Trumps, the only one who matches Donald in being a grifter is Ivanka, unlike her moron brothers who make AJ Soprano look brilliant. Ivanka’s utter bullshit about caring about workers and women is complete garbage and needs to be called out. Moreover, we need to use these stories to advocate for a completely new system within supply chains that hold people like Ivanka Trump legally accountable for what happens in making their products, including giving global workers the right to advocate for themselves in American courts. Maybe I should send Ivanka a copy of Out of Sight. I’m sure it will be well-received!

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