Wednesday, December 10, 2014

The Crony Capitalism of Common Core

When people talk about having standards, it’s with the shared assumption that standards are a “good thing.”  When we talk about minimum standard for something, we’re talking about a baseline, below which is considered unacceptable.  When we use the phrase  “a standard of excellence” we associate the word standard with an ideal that we should all strive for.

It’s not accidental then that the Federal government, in a well intentioned attempt to direct the path of education in the country, used that word to introduce the Common Core State Standards.   Common Core is a set of standards for elementary and secondary education that are meant to provide a guide to educators and parents as to what should be taught in schools.

According to the Common Core website,

“Building on the excellent foundation of standards states have laid, the Common Core State Standards are the first step in providing our young people with a high-quality education. It should be clear to every student, parent, and teacher what the standards of success are in every school.”

The statement alone makes it clear that the goal is to provide young people with a high quality education.  And this is a laudable goal.  Who would not want to provide students with a quality education?  When is anyone ever against education?  Education is another word, much like “standards” that has become loaded.

In America, we are the greatest bastion of capitalism -- and that’s a good thing.  We use market forces to drive many of the decisions in our economy.  We understand the benefits and efficiencies of “economies of scale.”  We understand that if you buy a truckload full of pencils, you get a better price per pencil than if you are just buying one.

Taken to the extreme, we see Wal-Mart as a model of efficiency.  They have a database that connects every warehouse to every cash register.  Every day they analyze what sold in a store and based on sales and inventory they send price adjustments to the store to move things that they need to sell, and they send trucks to replace the items that the store is running low on.  Managers don’t order what they need -- they open the trucks from the warehouse and find exactly what they need in them.

It’s a model of efficiency, and it has made Wal-Mart the most successful retailer in the history of money.  Yet inspite of this success, when Wal-Mart comes to a town it is often faced with opposition from locals who know that Wal-Mart can sell bread cheaper than the local baker.  Wal-Mart can sell paint cheaper than the local hardware store.  Wal-Mart can sell clothes cheaper than they local dress shop.  All these businesses will be forced to adapt to a Wal-Mart in their midst.  And as a result, some may have to change the way they do business.  Some will be forced to lower their standards to provide a cheaper product.

And in business, that’s an appropriate adjustment to make.  

Mark Twain famously wrote “I never let my schooling interfere with my education.”  Education has become BIG business here in the United States.  We have a Higher Education industry fueled by government loans that has been increasing tuition and profits steadily.  According the Department of Education the average cost of a 4 year degree has doubled over the last 10 years.

And Elementary and Secondary education are no different.  Textbook contracts are worth millions.  School spending is typically are HALF of a city’s budget.  Massachusetts spends ~$14,000 per student per year.  It would be a huge boon to business to be able to apply economies of scale to that money.  The Wal-Marts of education are champing at the bit for the application a single purchasing directive to schools.

But Walmart clothing, though cheap and sufficient, is meant for for the lowest common denominator.  And it’s not built to a standard of quality, but to a standard of immediacy.  While consumers are welcome to satisfy immediate needs, when paying for our childrens’ education we should be concerned with quality.

And as economies of scale take over, smaller competitors are driven out of the market.  There are currently THOUSANDS of small businesses that facilitate educational advancements (full disclosure, I work for one).  The plethora of options benefits school systems in that they are able to chose a system that fits them well, and then frequently is custom tailored to their specific needs.  The adoption of common core by most states threatens the ability of individual states to customize their education system.

Oversight from the Federal level is abstracted.  Oversight in your own neighborhood in personal.  What has made education work in the United States is the idea that a local School System has a better idea of what its population needs.  In Massachusetts, where 83% of graduating seniors take the SATs focus on college preparation makes a tremendous amount of sense.  In Illinois, where 5% of graduating seniors take the SAT, they might determine that more vocational training is a better implementation.

“The Common Core is about raising the bottom half,” says Common Core Development Team member Mark Bauerlein. “One problem is the broader issue of trying to equalize school situations. We need to do so, but we will never equalize home situations.”

I would argue that if this were true, there would be no need for standards for the states that are currently excelling.  Why then is there pressure on Massachusetts to adopt standards that are less than the current state standards?  If the standards are so good, why wouldn’t states voluntarily choose to adopt them?  Why the pressure for the Federal government?  The Race to the Top initiative awarded more than $4 billion in federal grants to 19 states that demonstrated a commitment to education reform and innovation. Race to the Top applicants who agreed to adopt the Common Core standards had points added to their score.

So the Federal government is collecting $5b in taxes from the people to return $4b (I’m assuming 20% waste as the money passes through the bureaucracy).  This coercion is subtle, but key to the way Federal oversight worms its way into local issues.

A school system that operates locally and is responsive to the parents operates best.  Absolving localities of responsibility for curriculum by presenting them with a “common core” will be detrimental to the quality of many local school systems.  Undoubtedly there are school systems for whom Common Core will be beneficial.  In states like Mississippi the emphasis on communication skills and math will certainly benefit many student.

But the fact that a curriculum will benefit some students -- even MOST students, does not mean it should be required.  And while common core adoption is not forced upon school districts, they are now disadvantaged in their ability to get Race To The Top money.  And as common core text books come out, the financial pressure to buy the cheapest books will also mount.  

Common core is an attempt to apply economies of scale to education.  Small business that cater to their customers are vanishing before the expansions of the megastores.  While we gain cheap products, we lose quality craftsmanship.  Is this the direction we want elementary and secondary education to take?

Friday, October 31, 2014

Rick Marciano for State Representative in Beverly, Massachusetts

In the 6th Essex race the Salem News editorialized: “... Parisella has certainly earned another two-year term...”  Apparently the editors have not been reading the excellent reporting of Paul Leighton who detailed the conflict of interest complaint filed against Parisella and his subsequent quitting of his job.

And though that weighs on my mind, I’m voting for Rick Marciano because of 3 votes Jerry made.  

24 Hour Review Time for Bills Vote # H2015.1

This was a vote on Amendment #1 to the Joint Rules for the years 2013 and 2014 (H2015). Supporters sought to require the budget to be posted online for 24 hours before a vote, after it emerges from the Conference Committee. -  Rep. Parisella voted against this

Requiring Committee Votes to be Published Online Vote # H2015.3  

This was a vote on Amendment #3 to the Joint Rules for the years 2013 and 2014 (H2015). Supporters sought to require committee votes be published online. Rep. Parisella voted against this

Require Six Public Hearings Before Raising Taxes Vote # H3700.234

This amendment would have required six public hearings before legislation containing new taxes or tax increases could be voted on.  Rep. Parisella voted against this.

These three votes I think would have improved accountability and transparency  in our state government.  These votes however indicate clearly that those in power do NOT want to be accountable or transparent.  

I don’t blame the Representative for voting as leadership instructed him -- this is how Massachusetts government has been played for many years now -- and Democrats who cross the speaker are in a dangerous position.

That is why I’m supporting Rick Marciano for State Representative.  Rick can be counted on to speak his mind and vote his conscience.  He will not “play ball” with the speaker to hide the things that they would prefer to sweep under the rug.  Scandal after scandal has tarnished our state government, with the probation department scandal having recently convicted 3 more government employees.

I’m voting for Rick because I want someone who owes nothing to the speaker or the governor or either party -- but instead is independent and works for Beverly. Rick won't have to quit a job because of a conflict of interest. Rick has committed to working ONLY the State Rep job and giving the people of Beverly full time representation.
Sincerely, Daniel Fishman

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Apple is giving away all your stuff in the iCloud

I've used the login name "fishdan" since 1996 -- I own it about everywhere it's worth having.  Because I'm old, my primary usage is via yahoo, but I'm also fishdan@gmail, It's my primary interface to all things google, including my google+ account and the account I sync my android phone with.

Because I'm a good doobie I use 2 Stage verification with this account.  This has been a minor pain in the ass, but it always seemed like a good idea, and I'm rarely that far from my phone.

But because it's not my #1 account, I only check the email every other day or so.

Imagine my surprise when I looked at it today and saw the following:

Yep, 20 emails from Apple.  I knew that wasn't going to be good.

Here's the first one:

Full disclosure -- I don't own an Iphone and I'm not really a consumer of anything in the ITunes Universe.  I do have a few AppleIDs,  the most critical being professional ones related to being in the IOS developer's program and other professional things like that.  That one is linked to my yahoo email address.  I don't remember why I created the gmail apple account, but I certainly would not have hesitated to do so.  Probably for apps.

So, I'm troubled as soon as I read the email.  Someone was able to sign into my iCloud account from an Iphone?  I don't have an iCloud account!  You can see in the image above that then there was another email saying that my AppleID was used to sign into facetime and iMessage.

And immediately after that, 11 emails like this:

I suppose being charitable, I could assume that someone had perhaps fat fingered their email address and they were  Still, 11 requests to reset the password??

As it turns out, that was only for yesterday.  Today (starting at about 9 this morning) they made 6 more attempts to verify the email address (which is also in the first photo).  Of course I didn't respond to any of them (I hadn't even seen them yet), so my account could not have been verified right?  The last attempt to verify was at 9:08am and went unanswered.

And then at 9:28 this gem!

Seriously Apple?!?  With no verification, you allowed changes to my account, including the Apple ID, the password and the email address???

So I noticed this a few hours ago.  I went to Apple to try to reset my password.  Guess what!  If there was a reset password email, it was no longer being sent to my gmail account.

I tried to get in touch with apple, but they best they can do it to call me tomorrow morning -- we'll see how it turns out.

I feel confident my gmail account is secure because of two factor authentication.  I only use virtual credit card numbers online, all of which I set to expire one month after I use them, so I'm not too worried about there being a credit card number associated with the ITunes account.

What I am really unhappy about however is that whatever WAS in that account -- perhaps some apps -- perhaps photos?  Is now apparently gone to someone else.

I did nothing wrong here (and I would argue many things right) and STILL Apple allowed themselves to be socially engineered into giving up an account, even after they were exposed two years ago and deleted all of a guys photos of his kids, his collected works...

Bottom line?

You would have to be crazy to trust Apple or ICloud with anything sensitive, or anything you wouldn't want to lose!

I suspect that if I had had an ICloud account or an Iphone, my vulnerability would have been even worse.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

seeing the progress of Windows Update in windows 8

Just upgraded to windows 8, and I'm not happy about a lot of it, but I kept digging to see if the answers I wanted are perhaps in there somewhere.

Most particularly I was very frustrated that I could not see the progress of windows update as it ran from the app.  It took me a long time to figure this out, but if you go to the control panel in the desktop and look at windows update there, you get to see it all as it happens!

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Charity must begin at home

We have changed ourselves as a country and as a people when we think that the social safety net MUST come from government. When my grandparents came to Lynn in 1904 they came to a community that took them in and shared responsibility for them. If a kid was misbehaving, the first adult in the neighborhood to it would pass that information on to the parent. If someone was struggling their family was invited to dinner. Simple concepts that are rarely practiced any more.
Charity does more than help the recipient -- it integrates the giver into the community. We learn more about ourselves and our communities through our own acts of charity. In particular we learn that our society is not as hopeless as the doomsayers would have us believe. If we can all find a way to be a little more involved and have a closer relationship with our neighbors, we would find that we can solve more problems.
Sadly, some people would rather wash their hands of the responsibilities of humanity. When I hear people say "that's what I pay taxes for" as an excuse to look the other way -- it bothers me. There's a lot about our system that can be remedied if we can just work a little bit at being good towards each other and finding a way to be give of ourselves.
And that's what bothered me about this story. I think there is a concerted effort by some to make the social safety net be solely the responsibility of government. This doesn't work because government is whimsical. Today's charity is tomorrows pariah with a new majority in power. Republicans won't allow government funds to Democratic causes and vice versa.
But hopefully our hearts ARE constant. Where people want to step up and engage in charity, we should not punish them.