Archive for March 3rd, 2011
Conservative criticisms of Wisconsin school teachers based upon state reading scores are completely off base and only help to underscore the growing Republican indifference to anyone other than the privileged classes.
Even though Wisconsin is above the national norm, when only 34% of students are reading at or above the level of proficiency, there is some cause for alarm. But the worry should not be over whether the teachers are doing their jobs. On the contrary, the numbers point out that, when all factors are taken into consideration, the teachers are doing the best they can with who and what they have to work with and under adverse circumstances that are the result of many in our nation’s upper classes ignoring the plight of the poor.
In my home state, Maryland, our scores are not that much different from Wisconsin’s. But there is a huge disparity among the school districts. I happen to be ‘fortunate’ enough to live in Howard County, one of the top 5 wealthiest counties in the United States. (Don’t get the wrong idea, I’m just a chauffeur and live above the master’s garage.) Our eighth grade students typically score in the 90th percentile.
But in Baltimore City and certain other urban areas, the students score much, much lower. Same state curriculum guidelines, same teacher pool (Baltimore actually offers higher salaries because they find it is a pretty tough teaching gig) and the same teacher unions. Different demographics, different environments, different levels of crime and safety, different class sizes, different family structures. Different scores.
So, it’s not necessarily about instruction, it’s about social and economic inequality. It’s about school districts where many of the students come from broken, dysfunctional and impoverished homes and others are recent immigrants that have difficulties speaking English versus schools where the students drive Accuras and BMWs and have wealthy parent who help them with homework and maybe even pay for tutors. Which kids do you think would likely score higher? Which teachers have the tougher job? Which kids are more likely be successful in this world and have children of their own with similar promise?
Not that these scores are altogether that accurate nor is standardized testing the right way to go, but scores across the country have gone up. Every state has some version of the High School Assessments, which every Maryland student is required to pass to graduate. Wisconsin has a very similar set of assessments. I’ve taken a few of these sample tests, and though I’m no dunce, I found them very challenging
I’ll bet that most of these critical Tea Party folks, especially Beck, Limbaugh and Palin, would have a hard time passing these tests, if they could at all. Though they might be able to handle the Wisconsin eighth grade reading test OK, I wonder if they could earn a ‘proficient’ on the highs school version. From what I’ve seen and heard, reading is not high on their list of priorities.
If the Tea Party conservatives are really as serious about cutting spending, streamlining government and protecting individual liberties as they claim to, then they should stop wasting their time tilting at windmills like civil service unions and take on the real Big Government elephant in the room: the Federal War on Drugs.
Let’s face it. The War on Drugs has failed miserably and, as we see with the earlier alcohol Prohibition, likely doomed to failure from the start. It is outrageously expensive. It has contributed to a burgeoning organized crime industry. It is immoral and hypocritical. As of March 3rd, 2011, 2:25 EST close to 7 billion 200 million dollars has already been spent on drug prohibition this year alone.
After 40 years, the United States’ war on drugs has cost $1 trillion and hundreds of thousands of lives, and for what? Drug use is rampant and violence even more brutal and widespread.
Even U.S. drug czar Gil Kerlikowske concedes the strategy hasn’t worked.
“In the grand scheme, it has not been successful,” Kerlikowske told The Associated Press. “Forty years later, the concern about drugs and drug problems is, if anything, magnified, intensified.”
This week President Obama promised to “reduce drug use and the great damage it causes” with a new national policy that he said treats drug use more as a public health issue and focuses on prevention and treatment.
Nevertheless, his administration has increased spending on interdiction and law enforcement to record levels both in dollars and in percentage terms; this year, they account for $10 billion of his $15.5 billion drug-control budget.
If you are skeptical then you might consider that the source of the above information is not NORML but Fox News, a group that is not known for their ‘liberal’ tendencies. But drug prohibition was never really part of a conservative agenda, with just as many on the left bound up with misguided, well-intentioned, yet hypocritical and myopic ideals. Conversely, there have been visionaries on both the Right and the Left ( like Bill Buckley and Kurt Schmoke) who have joined forces to inject some sanity into our nation’s drub debate. In the same Fox story of May 13th, 2010, the previous drug czar, John P. Walters, didn’t agree:
Walters insists society would be far worse today if there had been no War on Drugs. Drug abuse peaked nationally in 1979 and, despite fluctuations, remains below those levels, he says. Judging the drug war is complicated: Records indicate marijuana and prescription drug abuse are climbing, while cocaine use is way down. Seizures are up, but so is availability.
“To say that all the things that have been done in the war on drugs haven’t made any difference is ridiculous,” Walters said. “It destroys everything we’ve done. It’s saying all the people involved in law enforcement, treatment and prevention have been wasting their time. It’s saying all these people’s work is misguided.”
Yes. Misguided but well-intentioned. Anyway, the figures speak for themselves.
It is only March 2nd yet already 293,628 people are incarcerated for drug related offenses in this country. Of those 151,513 were for cannabis. (Every 30 seconds an American is arrested for possession of pot). On average, since 1995, U.S. prisons have grown 10,000 more inmates a year for drug related offenses. And the U.S. appetite for drugs continues to grow. So why continue to press this ‘war’?
Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, sitting down with the AP at the U.S. Embassy in Mexico City, paused for a moment at the question.“Look,” she says, starting slowly. “This is something that is worth fighting for because drug addiction is about fighting for somebody’s life, a young child’s life, a teenager’s life, their ability to be a successful and productive adult.
“If you think about it in those terms, that they are fighting for lives — and in Mexico they are literally fighting for lives as well from the violence standpoint — you realize the stakes are too high to let go.”
Which is how so many Americans think about this problem: emotionally. But Napolitano is very, very wrong ( and as head of Homeland Security realizes that if drug prohibitions were lifted most of the current financing for anti-American terrorism would dry up). Anyone at any time can buy illegal drugs, in spite of all the forces fighting this “War”. The real cost of this boondoggle are in the lives destroyed by over zealous prosecution and incarceration, the property of innocents seized, the opportunities lost because of the money being allocated for this losing campaign and the incalculable number of violent deaths. The trials of the addicted are, with all due respect, trivial in comparison to the wholesale suffering that this drug prohibition is responsible for. As for drugs’ debilitating effects, apparently you can smoke dope and snort cocaine and still make it to the White House.
What do they call something that you keep doing and doing and doing, each time expecting a different outcome? Madness? Meanwhile, we continue to look for ways to cut government spending, while all along it’s right up our nose.
Today Mexican President Felipe Calderon is in Washington to meet with President Obama. The situation between our two countries is rocky, with the contentious issues of immigration, the illegal drug industry and trade imbalances at the forefront. Seemingly beneath the tensions lay some deep-seated resentments that Mexicans have for the U.S.
Maybe it’s just because we tend to consider ourselves as the real “Americans” with our country deserving of the name “America”, which arrogantly demoted Canada and Mexico to the status of remoras feeding off the scraps of the U.S.shark. But then why don’t the Canadians seem to dislike us as much as our neighbors to the South? Well, this is nothing new.
The love/hate relationship between the U.S. and Mexico is nothing new. Recently, the Mexican dislike for the US came to the limelight with the notorious reaction they Miss USA slipped and fell during 2007 Miss Universe Pageant (again, she was first billed as Miss America before she was Miss USA). To the average U.S. citizen this dislike was surprising and unfathomable. Because if they hate “America” so much why do so many of them want to move to the U.S., often illegally? ( Maybe to escape Mexico’s challenged economic and social conditions that, arguably, the U.S. is to blame for.) Though they likely share the same reasons with other countries for being annoyed with the U.S., Mexicans seem to harbor some special inherited resentment of America.
Maybe it has to with the fact that, if all was right with the world, the country that today claims to lead the world in freedom and democracy, that sees itself as the shining example of liberty, fairness and the rule of law, would have a national map that looked more like this:
I’m sure every Mexican child is fully aware of what happened to their country at the hands of a northern aggressor nation and this could hardly foster warm fuzzy feelings for the United States. I wonder, if there was a country around at that time that wore the mantle that the United States wears today – as world policeman and arbiter – if they would have stepped in to prevent our young, impudent nation from conquering almost half of Mexico.