Friday, August 4, 2017

From Russia With Chaos

Yesterday news broke that Robert Mueller, special counsel investigating the Trump campaign's entanglement with Russian operatives, had convened a grand jury, which enables him to subpoena documents and compel testimony under oath.

So what's up with the ongoing investigation into the Trump campaign that has so discombobulated the president?

1. The first issue is the meetings that took place between Trump associates and persons affiliated in some manner with the regime of Vladimir Putin. The character of these meetings and the topics of discussion range from mere contact with a presidential campaign through discussion of issues of interest (adoption, the Magnitsky act--more on that below) to a possible collusion in order to obtain damaging material on Hillary Clinton, Trump's opponent. Collusion becomes an issue because if the Russian operatives are handing over damaging material that is unknown to others, two questions emerge: What did they want in return and was the Trump campaign willing to give it? If the meetings were harmless and innocent, why did the campaign, notably Trump's son and son-in-law, pretend the meetings did not happen, fail to mention them in required disclosure forms, offer different versions of the meetings until at last the truth emerged?

Yet these meetings, as unsavory as it may be for a presidential campaign to consort with a foreign power in order to win an election--to use a hostile regime to put down a domestic foe--these meetings do not constitute an ongoing problem for the president. His base of support is not swayed by the disclosures and it would seem that no obvious legal infraction has taken place.

2. A second issue is the alleged file of possible sexual escapades during visits to Russia. It is not known if such a file, including video, exists. This is another non-issue as it doesn't seem to matter to Trump's supporters. His adulterous lifestyle, including a lack of restraint over his hands that is ingrained into every child--keep them to yourself!--his infamous remark that represented the 2016 election's 'October Surprise,' and his overall misogyny have done nothing to undermine the support he receives from his base, including the Moral Majority, better known as evangelical, conservative Christians. It is a mystery as to why they excuse Trump's behavior, but they do, and these allegations that come with a murky undertone of possible blackmail have been generally dismissed by the populace.

3. A third issue could be the sanctions, which Trump despises, and his desire to ease or end them in order to have better relations with Putin's government. Putin's behavior in the world, the annexation of Crimea, the war in eastern Ukraine, his threats to his neighbors, and more may compel Trump's admiration, but these are political and diplomatic issues, not legal ones.

From here we now depart what is known or can be deduced from reports and enter into the world of sheer speculation. This is only a possibility. Mueller's investigation will uncover the truth.

SPECULATION: One thing really got Trump's goat in the ongoing inquiries and that was when Mueller expanded his investigation to cover Trump's financial dealings with Russian investors. That was when Trump issued a public warning to Mueller that he had better not cross a line, whatever that line marks off.

To acquire and develop his properties, Trump has utilized Russian investors. What if these same investors are the oligarchs targeted by the Magnitsky Act?

For those who don't know, the Magnitsky Act was passed in late 2012 to identify and sanction persons who were known to be involved in the death of Sergei Magnitsky, a Russian lawyer investigating corruption. The passage of the act enraged Vladimir Putin, who retaliated by ending adoption of sick Russian orphans by U.S. citizens.

What if Russian investments in Trump properties are tied up in the sanctions and that is at the heart of Trump's desire to ease sanctions? Or worse, what if these investments, maybe not directly by the named individuals but by associates, front men or shadow companies, are circumventing the law and allowing the oligarchs to avoid the restrictions of the Magnitsky Act? What if Trump is allowing his properties to be used to launder these assets such that the oligarchs can get them out of the country?

Only speculation, an attempt to look at all the possibilities for why the Russian investigation is driving Trump bonkers. I don't know that any of this is true, nor do I think it probable, but it would explain a lot.

That is why the Mueller investigation must be allowed to run its course. In the end, if Trump has nothing to hide, he will be exonerated.

Whatever the outcome, I believe the Magnitsky Act will be playing a significant role.

In ending, Trump dismisses the investigation and all allegations as fake news, but he has tried to shut down the investigation in many ways. Congress doesn't agree on much, but it has a bipartisan solidarity in standing up to Russia meddling in U.S. affairs, an approach Trump does not share.

He has the Clinton problem. Remember the Whitewater Affair? For two people who maintained their innocence, Bill and Hillary acted like they were guilty. Same with Trump. If he and his people are innocent, what does he fear from Mueller's investigation?

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Lost At School (Plan B)

As I work to lessen my pile of professional reading, last week I picked up Ross W. Greene's book, Lost At School. What made it interesting, nay fascinating, was how Greene set aside the usual reasons for why many children struggle in school (valid reasons but beyond the control of school personnel) to focus on what adults could do to meet the needs of children and thereby reduce discipline and learning problems.

He calls it Plan B, so yes, if you must, make a birth control joke and let's get on with it.

The thesis: Most, if not almost all, misbehavior in school is the result of students not having the skills needed to communicate their concerns and needs to adults. Our job is to detect the skills deficit and identify the predictable problems that occur. Once we do, we can develop strategies with the child to avoid future misbehaviors.

For example, a child may have difficulty in handling transitions from one activity to the next. Therefore, it is predictable that the child will act up during the transition from recess back to the classroom, which teachers experience when they bring the class in.

"Challenging behavior most likely occurs when the demands placed upon a child exceed his/her capacity to respond adaptively ... Some kids have the skills to 'hold it together' when pushed to their limits and some don't."

"'Bad attitudes' tend to be the by-product of countless years of being misunderstood and overpunished by adults who didn't recognize that a kid was lacking crucial thinking skills."

In other words, figure out what skills a student is lacking to have an understanding of what gets in his way of behaving and learning. Most kids want to do what's expected, they know what's expected, but some cannot do what's expected because they lack the necessary skills.

"When you treat challenging kids as if they have a developmental delay and apply the same compassion and approach you would use with any other learning disability, they do a lot better."

I'm summarizing a whole book. I'm hoping you will be enticed to get a copy and read it for yourself.

On to Plan B.

Plan A is the familiar adult-imposed 'this is the way it's going to be.' Plan A ignores the child's concerns and feelings, shuts them down if the child tries to express them, and sets out consequences. If you throw chalk, you will go to in-school suspension for three days. Plan A is the 'Because I said so' approach.

Plan C is to ignore the situation. Greene makes clear that many kids have so many challenges that Plan C has to be used in some instances--temporarily--to focus on one or two problems at a time. Plan C is not a permanent, but a strategic prioritizing of what to work on.

Plan B is proactive (normally). In Plan B, the adult meets with the child to discuss a problem, a specific, unsolved problem, that is causing the child difficulty.

The meeting must be voluntary, that is, the child is given an invitation that may be refused. Many times, they do refuse the initial invitation for various reasons, including I'm in trouble, I don't care (but why doesn't the child care?), and It won't make any difference.

But once the child agrees to meet, the first step is for the adult to present an observation and to ask the child about it. "I notice you have trouble playing with Jamie during recess. What's up with that?" It is crucial not to be judgmental in this phase. The adult's concern may be bullying, but notice that the adult does not accuse the child of being a bully. The adult merely makes an observation about a problem in two children getting along.

It is important to continue in the first step until the adult believes that the child's concern is fully understood. "Ah, you make sarcastic comments about Jamie because if you do not, you think others will make bad comments about you. If you let Jamie decide a rule about your play, then you believe other children will think they can tell you what you must do."

Only when the adult has a full understanding of the child's concern does the adult place his/her concern on the table. "While you may want others to leave you alone, my concern is that you need to learn how to get along with others in your play. This will be an important skill when you are an adult and have to work with others."

The final step in Plan B is to come up with a plan that is mutually satisfactory and realistic.

This is not a magic solution, a try it once and all is well philosophy. It takes time and persistence. There will be problems and missteps along the way. But a philosophy of discipline that incorporates this approach can turn around children's lives, one by one, then a classroom, then a school.

I am going to commit to Plan B in the new school year about to start.

BTW, isn't this a major complaint of Duval teachers in regards to the recently-departed superintendent? His approach was Plan A, every day, all the way, in regards to teachers. He had no patience to listen to teachers' concerns and then to work with them to find mutually satisfactory solutions.

If we don't like being on the receiving end of Plan A, why would we put children there? No one likes a 'my way or the highway approach.'

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Dear Betsy, About That Status Quo

The Honorable (sic) Betsy Devos
United States Secretary of Education
Department of Education
Washington, D.C.

Dear Betsy,

     Welcome to the second of my letters. While you give much to discuss regarding the state of public education in the United States, you really stirred the pot when you accused your detractors and dismissed the protesters in Denver as 'defenders of the status quo.'

     While you remain unaware of much that has taken place in education over the last twenty years, (I would have said ignorant but that word has taken on pejorative tones; I want this to be a respectful communication,) surely you are aware that the status quo is not the educational system of the 1950s, where parents sent their children to public schools, parochial  schools (that is, Catholic schools), or private schools to which they paid the entire tuition.

     By the way, Betsy, as we get rolling, notice that with those three options parents have always had a choice and a free market of sorts has always existed. In fact, without government vouchers, sending a child for all except the very wealthy involved a sacrifice on the parents' part and schools had to keep tuition affordable. That free market was working, including the viable option of sending children to the local public school.

     But the status quo of 1957 is not the status quo of 2017. Much has changed. None of your critics are defending the status quo because the marketplace has added government-subsidized options (emphasis mine). Indeed, as an aside, it is a surprise to me that such a free-market advocate as yourself has one policy in mind: expand government subsidies via a federal voucher program funded by a diversion of Title 1 dollars (again, emphasis mine).

    Let's examine the status quo in Florida, whereby parents can access the following education options:


  1. One of over 652 charter schools according to the Florida Department of Education (http://www.fldoe.org/schools/school-choice/charter-schools/). That was the 2015 - 2016 school year and the number grows annually.
  2. Florida Virtual School, an online option for students, including 62 district franchises associated with FLVS.
  3. Other virtual schools that are allowed by Florida law to begin operating in the state. (BTW, as an assist to virtual models of education, the legislature requires high school students to take at least one credit-bearing course via an online option.)
  4. John M. McKay Scholarships for Students with Disabilities. This is a voucher program that gives parents up to $20,000 to enroll their child in a private school that meets their child's needs.
  5. Florida Tax Credit Scholarship Program for low-income families. These are the ones you tout, the children you claim deserve the same option as children from wealthy families to attend quality schools. In the school year 2014 -2015, parents could get a voucher worth $5,272. For comparison, one such quality private school in my city (Bolles School) has annual tuition of $24,000 for a middle-school aged child. Providence School for the same age is $11, 782. Episcopal High School charges a tuition of $22,500 for a middle-school child.
  6. Personal Learning Scholarship Account Program for children with specified, severe disabilities. An educational savings account-type program, it's worth $10,000 a year and parents can use the money for diagnostic and support services.
  7. Opportunity Scholarship Program. Students in public schools labeled as 'failing' may transfer to another public school.
  8. Private schools.
  9. Home Schooling.
  10. Traditional Public Schools, including magnet programs, choice programs, vocational programs, and in high school, AICE (Cambridge) diploma, IB diploma, and dual enrollment programs.
Source: http://www.fldoe.org/core/fileparse.php/5606/urlt/2015ChoiceOptionsBook.pdf

    This is the status quo, Betsy, and no defender/advocate for public education, including your critics, is defending it.

     There isn't sufficient space in this post to critique the many options on this list and explain why they should not be subsidized with taxpayer dollars. However, the list is sufficient to demonstrate that your dismissal of public school advocates is wrong, dead wrong. They criticize and work to eliminate this status quo.

     You don't like this status quo, either. You really don't like charter schools and they have figured that out. It really isn't a problem for them; eventually, they will convert to voucher schools. You want to eliminate #10, traditional public schools and for the most unknowing of reasons: you entertain a stereotype of teachers that is false. Like the Israelites of old, though, you worship this golden calf in the desert because you believe it will bring investors the meager gold that poor and middle-class families have left after 25 years of a diverging economy that is eliminating the middle-class.

     You are Aaron, asking for the gold to build this idol of a privatized school system funded by vouchers.

      You cry that poor children deserve the same quality schools that wealthy children can afford.

      You push taxpayer-funded subsidies to give those children that opportunity because their parents cannot afford it.

      You weep in front of your idol and call upon others to do as you say.

      Because low-income parents cannot afford the tuition. Because they are low-income.

     Has it never occurred to you, wealthy Amway billionaire, investor and owner of many business, that you could solve that problem yourself without needing the government? The solution is simple.

     Pay your workers a living wage, one that will sustain their families, without the need for government subsidies. Then support laws that force all employers to do the same.

     Really, Betsy, it's the least you could do ... if you really care about the children.

Very truly yours,

Gregory Sampson

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Recess

Last week the Florida Department of Education decided to issue guidance to district superintendents about the section of the omnibus HB 7069 that recently took effect that mandated at least 20 minutes of unstructured, free play for elementary age children in traditional public schools.

http://www.heraldtribune.com/news/20170718/florida-schools-can-hold-recess-inside-classrooms

Context is everything, as even the Department would acknowledge since it puts emphasis on testing, every year, the ability of Florida's school children to decipher context clues on the FSA reading exam.

It is context that guides my reaction.

Here is the salient paragraph: The logistics of implementing the recess requirement will be determined by each local school district. This includes, but is not limited to, the development of master schedules, designation of spaces that will be utilized for recess and establishing weather guidelines to ensure student safety. This law does not specify the location where recess must be provided. The recess minutes could be provided indoors or outdoors as determined by local school district and/or individual school leadershiphttps://info.fldoe.org/docushare/dsweb/Get/Document-7967/dps-2017-85.pdf

The memo also specifies that recess is "supervised, safe, and unstructured free play." Notice in the above paragraph how it suggests (encourages? requires?) districts to develop policies and rules for recess.

My initial reaction to reading the Herald Tribune posting was a wondering why we don't take the common sense route that the adults running elementary schools have the common sense to know when it would not be appropriate to take children outside for recess. Why doesn't the Florida Department of Education trust the judgment of principals and teachers?

Why do rules and procedures have to be established? Take the children outside and let them play unless it is raining or too hot.

Duh ...

That led to wondering why the Department made the statement that recess does not have to be outside. Most elementary schools are not set up with play areas to allow children to exercise that unstructured component of the law's requirement. What would supervised, safe, and unstructured play look like inside a classroom?

On to the suspicion that what the Department was doing was to tell superintendents to ignore the law if they wanted. Context is everything. Under what context is the Department issuing this memo?

But a second reading and a scrutiny of the source document suggests I was overreacting.

I await your thoughts (although I'll stick by my statement that we really don't need advice from the department about when it is inappropriate to go outside. Our teachers and principals are smart enough to figure that out without guidance, policies, and rules.)

Saturday, July 15, 2017

The Philanthrocapitalist

Philanthropy: altruistic concern for human welfare and advancement, usually manifested by donations of money, property, or work to needy persons, by endowment of institutions of learning and hospitals, and by generosity to other socially useful purposes.

     (altruistic: unselfishly concerned for or devoted to the welfare of others.)

--Definitions from dictionary.com

Philanthrocapitalism: Philanthropy that is marked by a belief that charitable work should be done according to business practices, is best performed by a business, and that the donor should control the policies and decisions of the philanthropic object, namely, the educational institutions, hospitals, and other relief organizations.

A century ago, the great industrialists (Carnegie, Rockefeller, Ford, and others) established foundations for their philanthropy. They did not try to choose the recipients for their largesse or direct the distribution of funds; they hired experts in the areas of their concern who best knew the needs and how to meet the needs.

In our time, we have seen the rise of the philanthrocapitalist. The great industrialists (Gates, Zuckerburg, Jobs (via his widow), and others) have established foundations for their philanthropy, but insist upon maintaining control of their gifts and demanding control of the recipients through conditions imposed upon the gifts. They believe in the free market as the ideal environment for all charitable endeavors: education, health care, and social welfare. Where the profit motive is absent, they introduce it. They raise a banner of individualism and choice, maintaining that those in need are consumers who should make the choice, but by the direction of their efforts, they often leave those in need with few choices.

The movers and shakers of our burg have chosen the philanthrocapitalist model through which to benefit our community. While the likes of Chartrand, Weaver, and others do not have the billions of the Silicon Valley tycoons, they do have enough wealth to wield a large influence over the city of Jacksonville, Florida and to impose conditions on their gifts that must be met or they will take their marbles and go home.

How else to interpret the letter that Gary Chartrand penned through the Quality Education for All board and was joined by the chair, Wayne Weaver (original Jaguars owner), Lawrence Dubow, Cindy Edelman, Matt Rapp, and David Stein?

“If you are not willing to invest in those programs that have proven successful, we must consider that this bond has been broken and we will have no choice but to step back our part of this arrangement until a new understanding can be established.”

What distinguishes the philanthrocapitalist from the philanthropist is the insistence upon dictating policy and program despite their lack of expertise. Of the individuals named, only one, Cindy Edelman, has any actual teaching experience and that was 12 years at The Bolles School, an elite, private school on the Southside. I wonder how well Ms. Edelman would fare if she was teaching art at a public school, say Highlands Middle, Northwestern Middle, or Westside High? I wonder if she truly understands the issues and challenges of our public schools.

But they know best and they will dictate to the school board what must be done if they will keep donating and, to make their point, they have held up their five million dollar check.

This is philanthrocapitalism, charitable giving with an agenda, and an unwillingness to look at new circumstances.

This is philanthrocapitalism, the belief that expertise in one area of life makes the donor an expert in all areas of life, unwilling to trust, even condemning, those who have spent their lives in arenas like education.

This is philanthrocapitalism, the belief that struggling, impoverished families in the Northwest corridor should share the values, opinions, and behaviors that mark the wealthy and privileged. And if they don't, they are judged and deemed wanting.

I can imagine them pledging $50 million to improve the neighborhoods along Moncrief Road, but wait, the young men let their pants sag, never mind.

(Was that too sarcastic?)

Duval County Public Schools (Jacksonville, FL) is facing a triple whammy this year: Florida law that does not allow them to raise property tax rates, HB 7069 that is diverting property taxes from the needed maintenance of public schools to the capital needs of charter schools, and a 12 million dollar deficit left by the golden boy, now running Detroit Community Schools, that the QEA board would not want mentioned.

The philanthropist would say, "Tough year. Let me help." These philanthrocapitalists say, "Don't talk to us about your problems. You have to chip in or else." Students say, "How come there's no toilet paper in the restroom?"

Sorry, kid, we have no money. Ask Wayne, Gary, Cindy, Matt, and David.

Sunday, July 2, 2017

The Twump-Tweet

Yes, it's time to coin a new word for our troubled, challenging, but very interesting times.

You may not like the current president, but face it, he has invented a new sub-genre for the written word: the Twump-tweet.

It has its own literary structure, which was analyzed and identified over a year ago: usually three sentences or phrases, sometimes only two, the twump-tweet features a statement of (dubious) fact, a terse explanation, then a one or two word ejaculation of judgment.

Slate gives it a run:  http://www.slate.com/articles/technology/future_tense/2016/02/donald_trump_is_the_best_at_twitter_here_s_why.html

Moreover, a simple Google search will turn up dozens of templates where you can compose your own fake twump-tweet.

Here are some actual twump-tweets:

  • Crazy Joe Scarborough and dumb as a rock Mika are not bad people, but their low rated show is dominated by their NBC bosses. Too bad!
  • Fake News CNN is looking at big management changes now that they got caught falsely pushing their phony Russian stories. Ratings way down!
  • I've helped pass and signed 38 Legislative Bills, mostly with no Democratic support, and gotten rid of massive amounts of regulations. Nice!
  • I am being investigated for firing the FBI Director by the man who told me to fire the FBI Director! Witch Hunt
  • The Fake News Media has never been so wrong or so dirty. Purposely incorrect stories and phony sources to meet their agenda of hate. Sad!

  • I could go on, but you get the idea. Frankly, I can stomach only so much scrolling through Trump's twitter feed.

    However, 'a door once opened can be walked through in both directions.'

    It's time to out-tweet the Trumpster. Let's get busy. We could go for parody:

    • Meeting with Putin at the G20 to deliver the mortgage payment on my properties. Relief!
    • Gates et al. say robot workers will be ready in 24 months. No need for actual humans, no need for health care. Tax relief for billionaires.
    • Fake news says I bragged about sexual assault. Oops, that was real news.
    But the direct approach will be more effective:

    • Afghan schoolgirls' robotics team denied entry to US for world competition. Why does this insecure Prez fear them? Sad.
    • Minion-coconspirator Devos hires Wall Street exec to manage student loan portfolio. Manage? Rather, collect through any means possible. Criminal.
    • Devos rips Title 1 funds away from schools to line the pockets of her billionaire friends. Corruption extraordinaire.
    • Trump lashes out at media, conducts feud. Hatfield and McCoys weren't this bad. Pathetic.
    • Bush 43 sought to restore honor to the office. Obama upheld same. But now? Pig trough.
    You get the idea. Let's get trending. :)

    Postscript: the twump-tweet. I am rolling the r into a w a la Baba Wawa, the brilliant Gilda Radner impression we watched in the 70s on Saturday Night. Trust me, the alliteration works.

    Wednesday, June 28, 2017

    ACA vs. AHCA vs. BCRA

    If it wasn't so serious, we would mock it as an overhyped pro wrestling card for a local event: Who's gonna get the smackdown? We know who: those relying on Medicaid for health care coverage.

    Progressives, don't get excited and don't get discouraged, Conservatives. We are watching a negotiation and chances are good something will pass Congress for the president's signature.

    Analysis of what has happened to date mixed with predictions and a read on the key players:

    1. Donald Trump will sign whatever is put before him. He is not interested in the details as long as he can tweet that Obamacare is repealed and he has kept a campaign promise. Any Republican legislation that overturns the additional taxes of the ACA and ends the individual mandate will be seen as the repeal promised for six and a half years.

    2. Depending on the final version, the overhaul of federal law governing health care coverage will cause 22 to 26 million people to be uninsured, according to the Congressional Budget Office.

    3. The failure of the Senate to have enough votes to pass a 'motion to proceed' to debate mirrors the difficult process the House had in passing legislation. As in the House, moderate Republicans and hard-line Republicans have conflicting goals: preserve expanded Medicaid coverage for the former and curtail Medicaid costs for the latter. We cannot have both.

    4. When it comes to Medicaid, the hardliners are pushing for more than repeal of expanded eligibility. They seek to enact, for the first time, limits on how much the federal government will reimburse states for Medicaid expenditures. They seek to provide something akin to a block grant and to disclaim responsibility for the consequences--they want to say the states decided how to cut back on coverage.

    5. Key senators who were in the group that drafted the Senate legislation have refused the current version; this is why the Majority Leader had to delay the procedural vote. The legislation has to be revised.

    Thus, it is far from certain that the bill is doomed. It is far more likely that the Senate will go the House route by changing the draft to accommodate the hardliners and attempt to force the moderates to go along.

    The strategy is far from certainty of success. The Senate majority is far slimmer than the House. But to date, only two Senators have said they will not support a bill that drastically curtails Medicaid coverage.

    6. Expect hard bargaining to go on throughout the holiday weekend and the Senate to proceed to debate and a vote the second week of July.

    7. Something will pass.

    8. And the 2018 campaign will commence. Democrats are in retreat from their losses, but they take heart in this: in our era, every attempt to pass great change in American's access to health care has resulted in a change of power in Congress.

    9. The end of the individual mandate is the most problematic part of the Republican effort to overhaul the nation's health care law. Neither the 30% extra charge of the House nor the 6 month wait period of the Senate (they almost didn't do anything to penalize those who will wait until they are sick to sign up for coverage) are great enough to disincentivize the healthy from being uninsured until they are sick and dropping insurance if they become well.

    It will be the end of health care insurance, period. No private enterprise will be able to sustain a profitable business model under these circumstances.

    10. So in the end, the Republicans may be achieving the goal of progressives (unintentionally) of course. For when the health care insurance market dies, there will be no alternative but for the federal government to provide single-payer coverage.