Sunday, March 27, 2016

Governor Nice Guy and the Ohio Jobs Miracle

If you haven’t been paying attention you might not have noticed that Governor Kasich is baling sweet political hay, bragging about all the jobs he has brought to his state. The figure he cites (and what good conservative could doubt that a semi-conservative GOP governor was telling the truth) is 400,000.

So, good work Governor Nice Guy. (And, please, please, please, can you save the GOP from Donald Troll!)

It seemed to me, as an upstanding liberal, that if the Governor was allowed credit for creating jobs for Ohio, then the same kind of credit might be due President Barack Obama for his work across the United States. There aren’t “magic jobs,” I don’t think, created only by Republicans, whereas jobs created by Democrats don’t countI think a job gained is a job gained is a job gained, as Gertrude Stein once opined.

For that reason—because I don’t believe in voodoo economics, I like to peruse the Labor Bureau statistics. Sometimes GOP types loves statistics. Sometimes GOP types insist the same statistics are bogus.

(Rule of thumb: all statistics that make President Obama look good, indicate Climate Change is real, or prove the Top 1% is rolling in dough, are unreal, false, mathematical impossibilities, and part of a nefarious communist plot.)

Here’s what we know for sure. 

Governor Kasich took office on January 10, 2011. We should not blame him for the state’s high unemployment rate on that day. In February 2011, less than a month after he took over, Ohio unemployment was 9.0%. By the end of the year Governor Nice had turned it around and cut unemployment to 8.0%.

How was President Obama doing during those same months? In February 2011 the national unemployment rate was also 9.0%. By the end of the year it had fallen to 8.5%. 

Advantage: Governor Nice. 

Well: The Ohio and U. S. economies chugged along, straining to make up for damage done when President Mission Accomplished watched Wall Street drive a great nation over a giant fiscal cliff.

Even in those difficult times, however, the jobs magic of Governor Nice continued. Here are his stellar numbers, my liberal brothers and sisters. By February 2016 state unemployment had been slashed.

Only 4.9% of Ohioans remained out of work. 

Morale of the story: When you really, really cherish job growth, and not comments about human genitalia, John Kasich is the man for the job.

Not Donald Troll! Definitely not Donald Troll!!

See column far right, fourth from top.

As for that sneaky Muslim in the White House, with plans to kill granny, steal all the guns, and evil enough to want to bring health care to twenty million Americans who lacked it, liberals must swallow the cruel facts and…

OH, HELL NO! my right-wing friends! WT-job-creating-F is happening here?

By February 2016, President Obama had caught up with Governor Nice. You read that right. The dark-skinned guy, born in Hawaii (which last time geographers looked was still an official state in our union) had cut the unemployment rate in Hawaii, Ohio and THE OTHER FORTY-EIGHT STATES to:



I understand how hard this might be for some. I realize how much conservatives want to believe the myth that President Obama wrecked the economy and is wrecking it still. I also know many five-year-olds believe the Easter Bunny is real.

The fundamental concept here is not difficult to grasp. If numbers are right where Mr. Kasich is concerned, the exact same kind of numbers are right where President Obama is concerned.

For the plain fun of it all, here are job-creation numbers for the last six years, since the slide into the Great Recession (which President Obama could in no way have caused unless he was proud possessor of some kind of Muslim time machine, which Rush Limbaugh may well soon insist is true) was halted and turned around:

2010: 1.06 million jobs added (the tide turned for good, with job gains every month, starting in October 2010.)

2011: 2.09 million jobs added.

Figures in box show monthly job gains in thousands.

2012: 1.8 million jobs added.

2013: 2.2 million jobs added for the year.

2014: 2.95 million jobs added (the best total since 1999 when President Lustful was chasing women around the White House).

2015: 2.65 million jobs added in twelve months.

Then as Forbes and other news outlets reported the U. S. economy added 151,000 jobs in January 2016.

Even Fox News had to admit another 242,000 jobs were added this past February. But Fox News was quick, in a fair-and-balanced right-wing kind of way, to ignore this alarming fact. Alarming to right-wingers, at least: That meant, under President Obama, once he halted the precipitous fall touched off when Mission Accomplished Bush still grasped the policy wheel, that we had had job growth for 65 straight months.

So that’s where we stand.And that, boys and girls, left, right, center and crazy, is what is commonly called:


Sunday, March 20, 2016

Kate Could Tell You What Educators Do

What do America’s frontline educators really do? It’s a question you might not normally need to ask. But in recent years the trend has been to reduce everything they’re supposed to do to what can be “measured” with a simple standardized test.

A or B or C or D?

What do educators do?

This question came to mind again when Kate, a teacher friend of mine, posted a message on Facebook last week:

Today has been a very difficult day... I mentioned the other day my student was murdered on Friday morning. Well today one of his very best friends found me to let me know how I had influenced his life. She told me that this young man would comment with "well Mrs. Blanton said" all the time. I have felt heartbroken for his family and friends but find peace in knowing I was part of his life. As I write this tonight I think about all the times over the past few weeks I have questioned my chosen profession. I have asked myself if this was a career I could sustain. It's things like this that remind me no matter what anyone has to say or what anyone thinks of my relationships with students I do make a difference to these kids. They are my kids and will always be my kids. Keep that in mind when you judge what others do!!

Sadly, I don’t believe our politicians or education “experts” really understand what educators like Kate try to do. I don’t think the bureaucrats who compile test data have the whisper of a clue.

I know my colleagues, John and Bruce turned out excellent musicians by the score during their careers. I can’t toot a kazoo, myself, but I used to marvel at the sound they coaxed from their bands.

I know my wife, a speech therapist, spent a year working with a second grader who had never spoken in school—finally convincing the boy he could speak and that it was safe if he did.

I know Coach Mike taught kids in five or six sports to win with grit and determination and also taught proper skills and technique. I know his wife Janet did the same.

I know Mrs. P. taught kids to run hard during cross country meets and not just to remember the three branches of government and their duties. Although she also taught them that.

I know my friend, Mr. S., a history teacher, stayed after school every Friday and ran a guitar club for free.

I know what real educators DO.

I happen to be Facebook “friends” with more than a thousand former students. I know what they tell me teachers like Mr. P. did. Kelly, one of those former students, told me once Mr. P. “taught him what it meant to be a man.” (Measure that with an A, B, C, D test if you can.) I know what Ms. W. and Ms. P. and Ms. R. and Mrs. L. did. I know what Jennifer and Mandy and Paul and Calvin and many of my other old students, now teachers themselves, try to do. I know, as they now understand, that working with all kinds of kids is a complex and daunting business.

Kate knows this too.

I could list two or three thousand former students—Allie, Natalie and Natalie, Eric, David and Joel, filling pages—who were easy to work with and fun to teach.

Yet, I also know all kinds of kids enter the classrooms of this great land and I know some are much harder to save or to help. Monday, I know teachers will be back at it again, doing their best to help kids whose mothers and fathers drink far too much. I know counselors will try to figure out what to do to protect kids they suspect (and will later learn for sure) are being molested outside of school. I know principals and assistant principals will try to sort out the mess when youngsters with serious problems come to school high on various drugs. I know what kind of battles school psychologists and school nurses will fight every day of the week —to save kids.

I worked with principals like Mr. L and Mrs. B., who put in long hours in an effort to save every teen. I know how draining it is to do what good educators like Kate and my old bosses did.

I know Mrs. T. once helped cut a third grader’s hair, after he came to school with random tufts sticking out all over his head. His drug-addled mother had taken clippers to his head the night before and tried to shave a design.

So Mrs. T. had to help the embarrassed nine-year-old out.

Like Kate, and everyone else who has every spent time in a real classroom working with real kids, I know what educators try to do. But I don’t know some of the worst, because I worked in an affluent school. I know in tougher parts of this country there are educators at work trying to tamp down gang violence that spills into school hallways from the streets. I know in some places, where poverty is rampant, that counselors try as hard as they possibly can to show teens there is a path—however narrow and twisted it might appear—that can lead to college and success.

I know in poor neighborhoods that schools often provide reduced cost lunch—and increasingly breakfast, too—for children whose families are in need.

I know there’s no standardized test to measure the impact of warm scrambled eggs and toast.

I know there are teachers who have bled and died to shield students at Chardon High and Sandy Hook.

I admit I worked with some “bums” during my career in the schools. I know not every educator does what he or she should do. But I know dedicated men and women predominate in every school. I know millions pour blood, sweat and tears into their work, day in, day out.

I know tears are as elemental as pen, paper and books.

I know Rachel, who works with special needs children at my old school, never sits during the day to rest. I know it’s impossible to do her job right and dare take a break. I once watched Officer B., our school resource officer who cared about kids, too, spend time each morning for a week to show a child with severe disabilities how to twist a doorknob and open a classroom door.

I wish I could go on and on and list all the examples I saw during my own teaching career. I used to stand in the hall at my school and marvel at the artwork posted on bulletin boards by Bethany’s and Diane’s art students. They were teaching teens to do self-portraits in black and white.

And I was amazed by the work these teachers elicited from teens.

I know Ken, a former student, told me at lunch not long ago about getting into a summer camp—because of his shop teacher, Mr. B.—and how ten weeks spent in in the far north of Minnesota changed the arc of his life.

That’s what educators do. They change the entire arc of young lives—and you can’t “measure” that.

I taught for three decades, myself. So I can predict what will happen Monday in America’s schools. I know a kindergarten teacher in Kansas will step in to help a six-year-old who has wet his pants. I know a fifth grade teacher in Arizona will protect a girl who is bullied by peers. I know an eighth grade teacher in Massachusetts, like Mr. S. at my old school, will counsel a pregnant 14-year-old and help her see a positive path forward in life. I know an Oregon school psychologist will talk to a suicidal eleventh grader and help a boy step back from a precipice off which no one wants him to step. I know a dedicated Florida counselor, like my old friend Joe, will talk to a seventh grade boy about bringing up his grades—about using his talent and becoming a success. I know not every student will listen; but I know others will.

I know Jeane will be hard at work from the moment she arrives at school till the moment she leaves again for home, teaching seventh graders proper rules of grammar and the tricks and the trade of syntax—so that they learn how to write with greater clarity and skill.

I remember Mrs. H., who did the same for me when I was in seventh grade… half a century ago.

I have already mentioned many excellent teachers in my book. (Cheri and Trish and Steve and others know who they are.) I always wish I could mention hundreds more. I know Mrs. Z., just down the hall from my room, and Mrs. B., and Mrs. D., in the lower grades of my old district’s schools, turned kids on to reading, turned them into lifelong readers. I watched Mrs. A.’s class in action one day, after I retired. I saw her third graders present findings on Martin Luther King Jr. and dozens of other American heroes, during Black History Month.

I know all of us who have worked in the schools can feel in our hearts what Kate tried to do, understand how she set out to help one young man, how she feels the tragic loss of a valuable young voice. 

Unlike those who so easily criticize teachers today—and there are too many to count or to stomach—we know what kind of effort Kate must have put into her job, the kind of supreme efforts millions of educators will devote to their work Monday and every other day of the year.

The young man who so respected Kate, who liked to quote what she said, could tell you what educators do if only he could speak. 
Add caption

Saturday, March 19, 2016

If Heart Surgery Was Like School Reform

The operation to be performed on Mr. Viall, scheduled for Monday, would be complicated to say the least. So the experts gathered. The leader of the medical team which would soon transplant a heart was an Internet billionaire who first became interested in improving health care after watching Patch Adams on cable TV. Naturally, Mr. Gates, the billionaire, was having his say. “I think, because I have made billions in the Internet field, everyone should listen to me. And I believe we need better doctors and nurses in hospitals. I think we should test them on what they know every few weeks.”

Mrs. Viall, a former educator, like her heartsick husband, had been asked to attend and a keen observer might have noticed her raise an eyebrow in a first sign of disbelief. Polite to a fault, however, she held doubt in check. She would listen with care and not rock the medical boat.

A second gentleman in a white lab coat spoke up. His name tag read: “Arne Duncan.” Mrs. Viall wondered: Where had she heard that name before?

“I believe,” said Dr. Duncan, “that we should amputate Mr. Viall’s left leg.” I might not be a medical doctor,” Duncan admitted. “But I did serve as administrator of a hospital once.”

Mrs. Viall seemed about to spit out her coffee at Dr. Duncan’s remarks. “I don’t see why you’re in on this discussion….” she offered.

A fourth individual at the conference table interjected. Like all the other experts she wore a lab coat. But where her name tag should have been, the words “Pearson Education” were embroidered in green, followed by dollar signs. “You know,” offered the Pearson person, “you can never have too many tests. I think we should test Mr. Viall for glaucoma and probably Ebola.

“That would be an additional $20,000,” she added cheerfully, smiling in the general direction of Mrs. Viall.

“But those tests couldn’t possibly help. My husband has a heart condition,” Mrs. Viall tried to object.

“We have to test patients on everything, Mrs. Viall,” suggested Dr. Ripley, another expert on the team. “That’s how we know how sick they really are. Did you know patients in Finland and other advanced nations live longer than American patients? In life expectancy, we finish 26th, which only proves that other countries have superior doctors and nurses. So we need to raise standards in our medical schools.”

“I’m not sure I agree,” Mrs. Viall replied. “I think the fact my husband likes to finish off a bag of chips every time he watches The Muppet's Show might have something to do with his condition. I’m not sure the fault lies with…”

“Don’t be ridiculous,” Ripley remarked with a slight hint of disdain. “All of us here at this table agree: America’s health care system is failing. And besides, you have to listen to me. Because I wrote a book on the topic! As for Mr. Viall, I believe we should also remove his spleen.”

By now, Mrs. Viall was deeply worried. It seemed these “experts” had no clue. She looked round the table at the twenty men and women in the room. “How many of you have ever performed actual surgery?” she inquired with a frown.

Not a single expert raised a hand.

“I once worked briefly in a pediatrician’s office,” a woman named Rhee offered with a forced smile. “Now I like to give speeches about how to fix our nation’s health care system. In fact, I can talk to you for an hour if you like. I only charge $35,000.”

“Are you kidding? Who are you people,” Mrs. Viall exclaimed. “What makes any of you think you know anything about heart surgery? It doesn’t sound like any of you even went to medical school?”

“It doesn’t matter. We’re all experts, don’t you see,” Dr. Duncan replied. “We’re all really smart. And some of us are rich, too.”

“I’d like to talk to an actual doctor,” Mrs. Viall tried again.

“Don’t be old-fashioned,” said another white-coated figure at the end of the table. The elderly fellow looked familiar. Then it dawned on Mrs. Viall. This was Senator Mitch McConnell, taking a break from a busy schedule talking to lobbyists in Washington, D. C. “We politicians understand heart surgery better than doctors and nurses ever will. We have just passed an expanded version of No Patient Left Behind. We call it the “Every Patient Lives Act” and it’s going to be great! As a result of this legislation, we can now guarantee that every patient will survive. If patients die, we will close failing hospitals and fire all the doctors and nurses.”

“Also, we will need to create new batteries of tests, to find out what doctors know,” chirped the happy Pearson lady. “We should probably test patients, too. I mean, we’d be talking billions!”

“Who here is in charge of surgery tomorrow?” Mrs. Viall asked, looking nervously around the room. A man with “Klein” on his name tag raised a hand.

“I’m a lawyer,” Klein replied. “So I know exactly what doctors and nurses should do. I wrote a book about how bad the doctors and nurses we have really are.”

“I’ll be in charge of hooking up all those arteries and veins and positive and negative wires,” offered a younger woman seated to his left. Her name tag read, “Kopp.” For once, Mrs. Viall recognized a name. Kopp was founder of Stitch for America, an organization dedicated to bringing smarter nurses and doctors into hospital across this great land.

“My god,” Mrs. Viall gasped. “Have you ever been part of a heart surgery team, Dr. Kopp?”

“Not really. But I went to an Ivy League college! So you have to do what I say.”

“You know, I was an educator for more than thirty years,” Mrs. Viall offered. “So, if you asked me, I wouldn’t offer opinions on medical care, because that’s not my area of expertise. I only know education. My husband would say the same. Frankly, I don’t think any of you have the slightest idea what you’re talking about. You’re not trained in the medical field.”

“Doesn’t matter,” piped up a fellow named Brill. “I also wrote a book about surgeons. That means I know everything there is to know about the challenges of being a surgeon. And I think it’s clear. Surgeons are at fault every time a patient dies. By the way, I’m a lawyer, too.”

“I made a movie about surgery,” interjected a fellow two seats to Brill’s right. Guggenheim was his name. “I’m a millionaire. So my wife and children and I enjoy the very finest health care available in the United States. But I want to see poor families have better care. I want them to have the best doctors and nurses. And it’s clear: doctors and nurses in poor neighborhoods are failing, because poor people die at a younger age than rich people…So my movie puts blame where it belongs, on doctors and nurses working with poor people.”

“Maybe poor people die sooner because they have poor housing and live in dangerous neighborhoods, Mrs. Viall tried. “Maybe gang violence is a problem. Maybe drugs are rampant.”

“I wouldn’t know about that,” Guggenheim interrupted. “I live in a gated community high on a hill. I mean, you don’t expect my family to actually interact with poor people, do you? I mean, I send my own children to private schools…”

“It might help if you wanted to understand the problems poor people face, and the problems a health care system faces in treating them, if you hung out with them once in a while,” Mrs. Viall muttered.

“Oh, ‘poverty, poverty, poverty,’ that’s just an excuse doctors and nurses offer for their failings.” Mrs. Viall stared at the newest speaker. No! It couldn’t be! This was no doctor, either. It was Patrick Dempsey, who played “Dr. McDreamy” on Grey’s Anatomy for many years.

For a moment, Mrs. Viall sat in stunned disbelief. Surgery tomorrow was going to be bad, really, really bad. The people who were going to do her husband’s heart transplant had no idea what they were about do. It reminded her of current trends in U. S. education, where so-called “experts” had spearheaded a na├»ve and entirely misguided—and expensive— movement to reform the nation’s schools.

Well, if she and Mr. Viall needed help with a will, at least there were several good lawyers in the room.

You don't have to know anything about education to become a famous education expert.
You only need an inflated opinion of yourself.