Sunday, November 27, 2016

School Voucher Plans: Who benefits more: the students or the holders of ideological beliefs?

This is a reposting of an 11/27/16 blog posting

Betsy DeVos has been tapped as Donald Trump's Education Secretary. She is an ardent supporter of charter schools and vouchers for private education but she is reported to be also in favor of testing which may or may not mean Common Core (which Donald Trump wants to trash). She is getting hit from both the left and the right.  

 Ideology should not be the basis for providing education that is good for our children. .The goal of some is to get religious based education paid for by taxpayer money.  They have had to buck numerous court decisions that upheld the Constitution's separation of church and state.  However, there are two questions involved:  One is the Constitutionality of a voucher program that can fund religious-based education. The other is it good public policy that improves educational outcome for all.   Will education teach kids to read, write, at least calculate using math, have critical thinking, understand history, its lessons and, yes civics?

 From the public policy perspective, will students' education benefit?  We do have some experience with vouchers and the results are contrary to expectations of many. advocates of vouchers.  From the public policy perspective, Students using vouchers to attend private schools in Ohio performed significantly worse on state tests than their peers who remained in public schools, according to a new study. In Wisconsin, a study finds little or no indication that pupils in those Milwaukee public schools that have more school choice possibilities nearby made significantly greater year-to-year gains in primary school tests than pupils in other Milwaukee public schools. (

So what is wrong about those who support using taxpayer money vouchers in support of "religious education".  What is at issue is the separation of church and state in the Constitution and if funding religious schools violates that. provision. 

There was an attempt in a Denver suburb, Douglas County, to allow vouchers to be used for religious based schools.   The effort failed in a federal court.

On the other hand, the Supreme Court in a 5 to 4 split ruled in favor of a voucher program in Ohio if it went to parents, not to schools, had a secular purpose and did not fund religious education.  The Private Choice Test developed by the Court, for a voucher program to be constitutional was that  it must meet all of the following criteria:

  • the program must have a valid secular purpose
  • aid must go to parents and not to the schools
  • a broad class of beneficiaries must be covered
  • the program must be neutral with respect to religion
  • there must be adequate nonreligious options
However, the results have had mixed performance on student tests. From a public policy viewpoint, it has not been a great success.

The conclusion from these experiences is that vouchers do not benefit the students so much as it satisfies ideological and political beliefs that choice that includes private schools is the most important criteria or that anything private is better than that which is government funded...

Posted on Facebook in the comment section of the posing of this was a very well expressed comment: by Maggie Orth.
"The problem with vouchers is that they create a baseline cost for education. Those who can only afford the vouchers will get crap. Those who can supplement will get more. Moreover, vouchers assume that working parents have the resources and time to weed through a complex marketplace-- just as Medicare vouchers do with seniors. I shudder to think of my poor parents who are struggling with my father's Alzheimer's trying to sort through "market-based Medicare options." The only thing education vouchers guarantee is a parent's right to indoctrinate their children and deny them access to ideas the parents don't like. There are facts in the world- like geology and science. If people think the US can be a world-class stable democracy and economy when people can teach their children whatever facts they want, they are very wrong."

The private elementary school average is $8,522 per year and the private high school averages $12,953.   ..

Michigan has gone from a middle-of-the-pack state to the bottom tier in just 12 years. The state's NAEP ranking on fourth-grade reading has dropped from 28th in 2003 to 41st in 2015, the latest results. The fourth-grade math ranking has dropped from 27th in 2003 to 42nd, writes Ravitch. The Detroit Free Press runs down the numbers here.

Friday, November 25, 2016

Gen. Michael T Flynn's anti Muslim rhetoric. He needs to tone it down.

Michael Flynn, Donald Trump's national security advisor, has a tendency to make comments that warm the cockles of those who have a bad case of Muslimphobia.  He has called the religion of Islam a "cancer" .  Lately  taken out of context to some extent he  has called Islam not a religion but a political system. (He was referring to "radical Islam"  in context but often the captions of his remarks left out that qualifying  nuance).  What  these not carefully  parsed words has done is to cause comments in Facebook postings I have seen  that reveal how widespread is anti-Islamic  bigotry in the United States.

Flynn is already under attack for his hard line approach to Islam and Donald Trump's appointment to his White House in a very sensitive position.  Let us hope his future pronouncements are more sensitively  parsed and the advice he gives Pres. Elect Trump behind the scenes is more reflective of  the complexities of the Muslim world.  If he does not, he may actually harm US national security and create more problems with terrorism than we have now.

What I learned  from  on line media discussions is there are those who do believe that the religion of Islam is not a religion but  a political system. To them it justifies their  blanket indictment of Muslims and Islam in general .They seized on Flynn's words, leaving out any qualifying statements that he was referring to "radical Islam" (referring to ISIS or other of such ilk)  which is even held in contempt  by the overwhelming number of  world's Muslims as being heretical    Here is the reality:  It is not the religion that is at fault; it is  some of the practitioners who use the religion for their own purposes. . What those who took his remarks as validating their indictment of  all Muslims  are doing  is creating a strategic military  problem, too. It will turn off the very allies who consider ISIS and its kind as as heretics. Those Muslims who do not follow ISIS are the very ones we need to fight ISIS,and we might find ourselves going it alone if the Trump administration continues to condone such anti-Islamic bigotry.

What is true is that there are those who use religion to get and keep power and that is a  fact of life in our world's history.  It has happened with some frequency.  It can be countered. Sometimes greater understanding can come from personal contacts or becoming more knowledgeable about the religion. How many Muslims do you know anyway or ever met or talked with them? How much of the theology of Islam or its origins (based on the same Abrahamic beliefs of Christianity and Judaism) do you know?To say Islam is not a religion is sheer ignorance and is disrespectful   of  the  over 1.5 billion Muslims in the world who practice it peacefully.

What is particularly  disturbing is the effect of anti Muslim bigotry on  our own security.  There are those who are already here who have been  radicalized on line.  So far, to intercept theim from carrying out Jihad in the US or abroad,  law enforcement has relied on cooperation with the Muslim community and their good will to intercept them before they act.  Now, what I hear is fear in that community, that the Trump administration is hostile and suspicious of all followers of Islam in the US.  Whether good will and cooperation in the future will continue is not helped by the bigoted comments found on line or expressed openly. Those bigoted remarks can only work to increase the alienation of members  of our own  Muslim community.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Defining racism and bigotry

Sometimes in the battle of words and name calling, we throw around terms that sound awful but we fail to look at the meaning:  There are two hurled often:  One is racism and the other is bigotry.  I ran to Websters' dictionary for defintion:
"Racism:1.  a belief that race is the primary determinant of human traits and capacities and that racial differences produce an inherent superiority of a particular race2a :  a doctrine or political program based on the assumption of racism and designed to execute its principlesb :  a political or social system founded on racism"
  1. By that definition the KKK or Neo Nazi groups fit that definition to a tee. Inclusion and belief that all men are created equal are the opposite terms.
Bigotry is a bit more  subtle:

"Full Definition of bigot. : a person who is obstinately or intolerantly devoted to his or her own opinions and prejudices; especially : one who regards or treats the members of a group (as a racial or ethnic group) with hatred and intolerance."How we apply the definition and to whom are the stuff of which political discourse is made.  The key in that  definition  of bigotry is "intolerantly" as does the following clause. You may have strong views you hold dearly, but the difference is how you treat or speak to others, especially a racial or ethnic group.Example of Breitbart bigotry in the their own words: Birth Control Makes Women Unattractive and Crazy” 
• “Bill Kristol: Republican Spoiler, Renegade Jew” 
• “World Health Organization Report: Trannies 49 Xs Higher HIV Rate
• “Roger Stone: Huma Abedin ‘Most Likely a Saudi Spy’ With ‘Deep, Inarguable Connections’ to ‘Global Terrorist Entity’” 
• “Lesbian Bridezillas Bully Bridal Shop Owner Over Religious Beliefs” 
• “The Solution to Online ‘Harassment’ Is Simple: Women Should Log Off”

Is Steve Bannon, formerly with Breitbart and now closest policy advisor to Donald Trump, himslef a bigot?  A case could be made either way. He admits to being a nationalist, but a white nationalist? Probably not, though he has provided the media forum for some of those holding such views to be an advocate. 

What  I am seeing  on Facebook regarding Muslims, are many postings painting their religion and their followers  as all being to be feared as a threat, is sheer bigotry since the remarks "treat the members of their group" with hatred and intolerance.  One of the tools used by those who are intolerant of Muslims is to gin up fear that their 1% of  the United States  population will impose Sharia law on us. That has been an ongoing theme in anti-Muslim bigotry since 2011.  Our forefathers had experienced "divine right of Kings' and wisely wrote an amendment to the Constitution that prohibits setting up a state religion. It is found in the First Amendment. "Amendment I. Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion,....".

Friday, November 18, 2016

Populism is a fickle beast and therein lies the Democratic Party's hope

Populism is a fickle beast. The public mood can change quickly. Therein lies the Democratic Party's hope, but only if it can develop an appeal to those who voted for change in 2016 and Donald Trump fails to improve the lot of those who felt economic pain of being left behind in the economy.  

Donald Trump is laying a trap for himself by setting up an administratiion dominated by anti-populists. So far, Donald Trump's appointments to cabinet posts make his administration look like a team of billionaires.  While they are Washington outsiders, their orientation is 100% big business and it is doubtful they will promote protecting consumers from bad, unfair, harmful business practices or take the side of the working middle class when policy conflicts with the CEO s and the bottom line. Republicans propose removing regulations that are harmful to business interests and many of those regulations are consumer protection measures. Democrats should be ready to pounce when they see these inevitable GOP backed anti consumer, anti little guy policies.

What Democrats are debating is whether to stonewall Donald Trump so he fails or whether they join forces with him on issues and legislation which they would normally support because it benefits the working middle class .Those who support stonewalling argue that supporting Trump on some policy issues is helping Trump succeed and will hurt Democratic chances later.  Democrats have more to gain by tooting  their horns loudly that solving middle class  problems is better than blind partisanship.  Their measuring stick should be whether the middle class is helped in deciding  what legislation they support regardless who proposes it.  

Both Democrats and the Trump administration can join in common cause in providing more jobs through infrastructure projects. Greater emphasis on educational training for the new manufacturing economy will be something that may be of direct benefit.  

What would be harmful  to the struggling middle class would be yanking affordable health insurance from those in the lower income brackets without  effective, comparable replacement.  Privatizing Medicare and Social Security would not be helpful, because those who most rely on those programs for retirement security are the middle class and the near poor.  Democrats should  hold Donald Trump to his promises not to touch them. If lowering individual taxes on the wealthy does not stimulate the economy and lift all boats in four years,  Democrats can make the case trickle down economics are a demonstrated failure. To do so, they need to oppose massive tax cuts to wealthy individuals now even if it is a losing battle in Congress.

Promoters of  white supremacy such as the KKK  and bigotry forums like Breitbart News  tainted supporters of Donald Trump. Racists and bigots  think they have found a home in a GOP and believe they have a green light to be "politically incorrect" and shout hate speech. Donald Trump denounced bigotry in a post election rally in Cincinnati. Those were the right words, but whether his policies support civil and human rights will be the real test.  Expect Democrats to continue to speak out against racism and bigotry, and be a champion for civil and human rights. That is what will inevitably differentiate Democrats from the Trump wing of the GOP.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

I hear two currents of thoughts from those who are optimistic about Donald Trump's ability to rule and to get things done.  One, because he has no prior experience in government, it is similar  the lack of experience that Pres. Obama had when he took office and so he will  likewise succeed, even though he called Obama a failure in the compaign. The other is conflicted. So he appoints a white supremicist to a leadership position in his White House, Trump himself is not racist and will concentrate on bringing economic well being to those left behind, which is much more important.

Comparing Donald Trump's lack of experience in government to Pres. Obama's lack when he was elected, is not a good one.  In fact, Trump's experience is much less. To dismiss the fears felt by those who were disrespected in the Trump campaign as not widespread or spontaneous, will lead to his inability to get his economic agenda accomplished.  Here is my response to a facebook post.

Was Obama unprepared. for the job? Obama was a state legislator and a US Senator and sat on the Foreign Relations committee. He at least understood civics and the Constitution, more so than anyone elected to that office since he was a professor of Constitutional law. Trump seems ignorant about the powers and Constitutional constraints on the office. It will be a very steep learning curve . Obama's multicultural background gave him a unique understanding of all of America and the world. He never acted out of ignorance nor did he ignore facts. He is leaving office with one of the highest favorable poll ratings in history.

If what you are saying is that fear in our land and a feeling that Washington is now their enemy of all except white males is somehow just fomented by paid agitators, then you are laying the groundwork for a failed presidency.. Fear is deep seated and real. To calm the waters is now what Trump must do, or the civil unrest and constituitional crises will dominate public attention and Trump will find his economic agenda buried in the racial and ethnic civil unrest that will result.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

NATO and the Baltic States: Trump White House and Senate Foreign Relations Committee at odds?

I sense a potential area of conflict between the Trump White House and the Senate foreign relations committee.On MSMBC Morning Joe Nov. 15, committee member Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Arkansas) expressed firm support for US support of NATO and for protecting the Baltic States from Russian encroachment. Donald Trump as a candidate had called NATO obsolete, asked why we should go to war of these small countries, demanding that they pay their way (the Baltics are living up to their financial obligations while others in NATO are not) , and seeming to excuse Russia's sly takeover of eastern Ukraine, parts of Georgia, and the Crimea, while his campaign was communicating with Putin.. The Russians now boast they indeed were actively influencing the election.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

My first reaction

This is  my initial reaction to the election of Donald Trump

Now  President- Elect Trump has to deliver on his promises. No excuses since he will have a Republican dominated Supreme Court  eventually,  and Congress. I fear for the economy...and if his policies do not solve the anger of rust belt and blue collar workers, there may be hell to pay in four years. I have no faith that reducing taxes on the rich will trickle down to the middle class nor do I think protectionism will bring back the jobs of the 20th century. If he  or his supporters act out his hate filled oratory  to supress minority interests and their civil rights, I fear there will be civil unrest. If he destroys our alliances, we will have to increase our military spending because we will be on our own to fight terrorism. If he opens the gate for Russian expansionism, we will no longer be the leader of the Western world. I am not optimistic that Donald Trump will be a successful president, but he has a chance to prove me wrong.

His greatest asset is that he identified problems and issues that truly bother enough citizens to elect him.  However, he should never lose sight that he lost the popular vote which means he does not have a clear mandate to do as he wants and he may be in danger of creating a populist  backlash if he does not consider their concerns. What is both an asset and a liability is that he offered few concrete solutions to fix the problems plaguing his supporters.   This gives him flexibility to be pragmatic and to come up with his own solutions without having to be beholden to GOP ideological orthodoxy.  This will also allow him to create coaltions with even Democrats  on specific issue such as infrastructure programs. The liability is that he seems to have little ability to understand either public policy development or knowledge of  how the democratic process works and the Constitutional restraints that will hobble his authoritarian inclinations and create many Constitutional crises.

But public policy is not the only challenge he faces.  It is the fear and loathing of those he insulted and disdained   Some are demonstrating their fears and anger. To dismiss them out of hand  as a political stunt would be a major mistake.   My  22 year old grandson posted a remarkable  passionate manifesto on his facebook page, channeling the fears of Hispanic, immigrants, his gay friends (he is straight) and if that racist approach continues, that is not a country or a president he can support. A cousin responded in words I do not want to repeat . However, the core was that she was no racist, had done Christian missions to Africa, Central America and had Black friends. She had voted for Trump because of agreement with his issues and his dislike of Hillary Clinton.  She later posted I (his grandmother) should be ashamed of his posting. Here is part of  my response. " Let us respect each others' views. (My grandson)  is devastated. He works as a supervisor in a major hotel chain and most of the employees with whom he comes in contact are people of color and Muslims and he sees the expression of fear on their faces" ,which I added is expressed by Major Kahn' s father," is there a place for (his Muslim son and Iraq war hero)  in America."?  While you may not consider yourself racist, and you have friends of color,  nonetheless some of those who backed Donald Trump enjoy for once being politically incorrect and express openly racist feelings, which creates that atmosphere and supported Trump. You and I know who they are.  (We have a duty to witness as Christians).that will include the message ... found in my church's creed that .we  should " hear the voices of peoples long silenced,
and to work with others for justice, freedom, and peace."