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In Support of Gay Marriage (By Elizabeth Burke) May 27, 2009

Posted by Suzanne Robinson in politics.
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6 comments

    

To quote The Princess Bride, “Mawwage is what bwings us together today.”  Now if you have never seen this movie, drop everything and rent/download/steal and watch it. You will thank me. Or watch this part:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Sbqv3MwwVd8. But, back to mawwage, or marriage, if you will.  

The majority of Americans claim that they have nothing against homosexuals, they just don’t want them to get married. See, according an unnamed source, that privilege is reserved for “one man and one woman.” The reasoning is that this most sacred of sacraments, this gift bestowed by God, is not something that should be shared with the gay population. The “Protectors of Marriage” claim that this has been ordained in the Bible… like slavery and the selling of daughters.

Now, if you ask these Marriage Protectors, they’ll all tell you that they are in favor of equal rights for homosexuals that extend to the same rights in housing and jobs. Gays should have equal access to government benefits. Gays are entitled to equal protection of the law – but only to an extent.  Because when you ask about the most personal right, the right to get married, their definition of “rights” gets a little inconsistent.

They reason that if we let homosexuals get married, well where does it end?  Next thing, we will have to allow Beastiality! Bigamy! Incest! Marrying Children! And, of course, adding Gay Marriage to the Grade School curriculum! 

In reality, gay marriage has been legal in Scandinavian countries for many years, and, yet, they have introduced no other type of marriage legalization outside one human marrying one human, nor has their been a clamor for it.

The argument that gay marriage will de-value straight marriage falls flat when one sees that the values gay couples exhibit in their daily lives are indistinguishable from those of their straight neighbors. They are devoted, monagomous partners. They value and participate in family life, are committed to making their neighborhoods safer and better places to live, and honor and abide by the law. Many make valuable contributions to their communities, serving on school boards, attending houses of worship, volunteering in charities, and trying to be good citizens.  In doing so, they take full advantage of their  familial relationships not only to make their own lives better, but those of their neighbors as well.

But it is the hypocrisy of the Marriage Minders that makes me the angriest. The incredibly irrational reasoning that granting gay couples the right to marry will somehow destroy marriage is so ridiculous that I find it difficult to accept these people really believe this nonsense.

Straight couples have had centuries to bring marriage to its knees.  We now have double-digit divorce rates, quickie, sometimes meaningless, sometimes multiple weddings in Reno and Las Vegas.  How is getting married in a drive-thru window or by an aging Elvis impersonator honoring this sacrament?  How is marriage as a hobby healthy?

I have a good friend “Mary,” and I really adore her, but she has now been married five times.  And she is 40 years old.  FIVE TIMES!  Explain to me how it’s absolutely acceptable for her to marry every few years while another couple I know, “Joe” and “Bill,” who have been together for over 20 years and who are raising three children, are told they will destroy the fabric of society if they dare to commit legally.

Now, the Marriage Wardens like to bring God into the equation.  But marriage is not a legal contract with with God.  It is a legal contract with the State.  You don’t go to the church when seeking a divorce.  You have to hire legal representation and petition the State to grant you a dissolution of the Marriage Contract.  Besides, God is subjective and does not exist for everyone.  Freedom of religion also means freedom from religion.  Are all the marriages by a Judge or Justice of the Peace any less valid because they were not conducted in a house of worship?  Religion is purely personal, and marriage is legal.  So let’s please leave your particular God out of this.

When a man strikes his slave, male or female, with a rod and the slave dies under his hand, he shall be avenged. But if the slave survives a day or two, he is not to be avenged, for the slave is his money. Exodus 21:20-21

According to the Bible, beat your slave, just don’t kill him.

Over the millenia the Bible has been used to defend bloody crusades and tragic inquisitions; to support slavery, apartheid, and segregation; to persecute Jews and other non-Christian people of faith; to support Hitler’s Third Reich and the Holocaust; to oppose medical science, and in some cases, science in general; to condemn interracial marriage; to execute women as witches; and to support the violent racial devisiveness of the Ku Klux Klan. Shakespeare said it this way: “Even the devil can cite Scripture for his purpose.” When you pick and choose what verses you want to use to bolster your anti gay argument, you lose credibility.

The favored argument seems to be that Marriage is between one man and one woman. Who says what marriage is and by whom it is to be defined? Straight people?  Isn’t that kind of like allowing a banker to decide who is going to own the money stored in his vaults?

It is said that the majority of Americans are against Same Sex Marriage.  Since when can the “majority of Americans” be trusted to do the right thing?

Marriage between mixed races was illegal in the US until Loving v. Virginia, 1967, the landmark Civil Rights case in which the United States Supreme Court declared Virginia‘s anti-miscegenation statute, the “Racial Integrity Act of 1924“, unconstitutional, ending all race-based legal restrictions on marriage in the United States. This happened while the majority of Americans were still against mixed-race marriage.

This struggle for equality is the claasic struggle for all Americans, a Civil Rights struggle.

This struggle separates who can make medical decisions for loved ones, turning over life-and-death decisions estranged distant family members over lifetime partners.  Upon death, in many cases, even very carefully drawn wills and durable powers of attorney have proven to not be enough if a family wishes to challenge a will, overturn a custody decision, exclude the surviving partner from a funeral or deny them the right to visit a partner’s hospital bed or grave.

As survivors, estranged families can, in nearly all states, seize real estate property that a gay couple may have been buying together for many years, quickly sell it, and stick the surviving partner with all the remaining mortgage obligations on a property that partner no longer owns.

As for civil unions – beyond the comedy of asking the one you love “Will you civil union me?” they do not offer the legal protections of marriage. A civil union granted in Vermont carries no legal status outside of Vermont. A civil union does not extend outside the state where the Civil Union took place – with the limited exceptions of DC and New York.  Further, the federal government does not recognize civil unions – couples so joined are not be able to file joint-tax returns nor are eligible for tax breaks or protections the government affords to married couples.  A married United States citizen can sponsor his or her non-American spouse for immigration into this country.  Those with civil unions have no such privilege.  And company health benefits are not always available to the “civil unioned.”

Honoring civil unions creates a separate and unequal status for some of America’s citizens. The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial court ruled that creating a separate class for gay and lesbian citizens is not permissible, and that is why they have voted that only marriage equals marriage.

The precedent set with Brown v. The Board of Education regarding segregation in public education arrived at its 50th anniversary when Massaachusetts passed its ruling honoring gay marriage, driving home the point that the United States Constitution guarantees equality for all.

This is the document we all can agree on. You can’t claim “partial” equality, it’s all or nothing.

A citizen’s fundamental rights should not be subject to referendums or popular approval.  If that were the case, President Obama would still be sitting in the back of the bus, unable to vote.

It is time for New York State to join Massachusetts, Connecticut, Iowa, Vermont New Hampshire and Maine in standing up for the rights of all its citizens.

Last month, the New York State Assembly passed the Landmark Marriage Equality Bill.  In just a few weeks, it is up for a vote in the State Senate.  Please, look into your hearts, see how marriage for all will benefit the community and state as a whole.  See how creating happy families, secure children, and loving homes can only make society stronger, happier and richer in every way.

For more information on how to contact your New York State Senator, please go to http://www.broadwayimpact.com/ and make that call, send that email, and help get this Bill passed. Your gay child will thank you.

  

President Obama Calls For Education Reform, Part I March 19, 2009

Posted by Suzanne Robinson in Education, politics.
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President Obama this week announced his plans for education reform, which many in the MSM hailed as courageous, as calling for sweeping change….  Wait a minute.  I think I missed something.  While he called for some reform, like lengthening the school day and/or the school year (but maybe only for those students who ‘need’ it) and doing more to support early childhood education (for which I applaud him) his message fell well short of a transformative vision.  He wants to hold teachers accountable, link pay to performance (as measured by student testing), close failing schools, and promote charter schools.  All of this sounds like President Bush were still in office.  

He wants the ‘best and brightest’ teachers, yet he did not call for paying teachers as though they are professionals.  Average teachers’ salaries range from the mid $20s to the upper $40s, depending on regional differences in the cost of living.  That is not the pay that will attract the ‘best and brightest.’ That’s not to say that many of our teachers are not the best and brightest, but the best and brightest who choose to teach in the public school system must also be something more.  They must be strongly dedicated to giving back to their community.  The best and brightest can find their first jobs, straight out of college, that pay beyond the median American income, in the mid $50s (and even more in expensive parts of the country).  And those with advanced degrees, as many of the best and brightest teachers have, can find jobs that pay far more (or at least they could before this economic crisis was brought upon us).  In addition to the low salaries teachers receive, they are under-appreciated, and are too often blamed for every failure in education, though so many problems in our educational system are far beyond their control.  

Teachers are expected to teach classes of 25 – 30+ students, even though, as I will flesh out in more detail below, most researchers believe that providing classrooms with 20 or fewer students is the single most important reform we can make to enhance learning.  Yet President Obama uttered not one word about decreasing classroom sizes.  

The best teachers are filled with innovative ideas, but are strapped by the testing requirements of No Child Left Behind, which should be scrapped, but which he will keep.  To his credit, he did say that he wants to replace NCLB’s rigid multiple choice exams with tests that measure real learning – analytical ability, problem solving and the like.  While this will be a vast improvement, it alone is not enough.  Children must be provided with the resources they need to learn in order to score well on any test.  And too many of them aren’t.  

President Obama was elected on a platform of change, and he claims a strong commitment to education, but he failed to provide a transformative agenda about which progressive educators and advocates of reform can get excited.  

President Obama Announces Secretary of Education Pick, Arne Duncan

President Obama selected Arne Duncan as his Secretary of Education, a controversial choice.  Hailing his great success in Chicago, the president said,

“For Arne, school reform isn’t just a theory in a book – it’s the cause of his life. And the results aren’t just about test scores or statistics, but about whether our children are developing the skills they need to compete with any worker in the world for any job…. In just seven years, he’s boosted elementary test scores here in Chicago from 38 percent of students meeting the standards to 67 percent. The dropout rate has gone down every year he’s been in charge…. He’s worked tirelessly to improve teacher quality, increasing the number of master teachers who’ve completed a rigorous national certification process from 11 to just shy of 1,200, and rewarding school leaders and teachers for gains in student achievement. He’s championed good charter schools – even when it was controversial. He’s shut down failing schools and replaced their entire staffs – even when it was unpopular. 

And Duncan said, in accepting the post, 

“Whether it’s fighting poverty, strengthening the economy or promoting opportunity, education is the common thread. It is the civil rights issue of our generation and it is the one sure path to a more equal, fair and just society. 

But neither the president nor the education secretary addressed the vast inequalities that exist in our educational system.

Duncan, of course, has his fans and his critics.  Rod Paigs, President Bush’s Education Secretary, whose Texas reforms were the model for the hated NCLB,  called him a “budding hero in the education business.”  Is public education a business?  I suppose it makes sense, then, that Duncan was the ‘Chief Executive Officer’ of the Chicago public school system.  

But others, like Chicago education activist Michael Klonsky think that under Duncan we will see “more standardized testing, closing neighborhood schools, militarization, and the privatization of school management.”  

On the other hand, according to MSNBC’s report, Obama Education Pick Sparks Conflict, some teacher’s unions like him, saying he is willing to reach out to teachers in collaboration.

So, the jury is out.  President Obama did credit him with providing teacher training and certification on a grand scale, and he has lowered the drop out rate in Chicago schools, but I wish I’d heard more about his ideas for decreasing class sizes and ‘advancing educational opportunities in economically disadvantaged areas.’  I am skeptical, and I will keep a close watch, but for now I will try to be hopeful.

Class Size Matters.  As I mentioned above, most researchers agree that class size is an important factor in education.  Studies show that, while small reductions in class size have little effect,  students benefit substantially when class sizes are cut to around 20 students per classroom, particularly in the early grades, but also in grades 8-12.   Yet NCLB removed funding for cutting the size of classrooms. 

A consensus of research indicates that for K-3 education, class size reduction to a point somewhere between 15 and 20 students leads to higher student achievement that many believe lasts throughout the child’s education.  The Public School Parent’s Network, a resource and information website for parents, reports that the research data from The US Dept of Education’s publication Reducing Class Size, What Do We Know?,  indicate that if class size is reduced from substantially more than 20 students to below 20 students, the average student moves from the 50th percentile to above the 60th percentile.  And, for disadvantaged and minority students the effects are even larger.

A study commissioned by the US Department of Education analyzed the achievement levels of students in 2,561 schools, as measured by their performance on the national NAEP exams.  The sample included at least 50 schools in each state, including large and small, urban and rural, affluent and poor areas.  After controlling for student background, the only objective factor found to be correlated with higher student success as measured by test scores was class size. (Class Size Matters.org)  

A study from the Public Policy Institute of California shows significant improvements in test scores for all groups of students in smaller classes (with no changes in curriculum or instruction).  In California’s six largest school districts (Los Angeles, San Diego, San Francisco, Long Beach, Oakland and Fresno), class size reduction substantially raised the proportion of students  who exceeded the national median, after controlling for all other factors.  

                                                    Math        Reading        Language    

Los Angeles                            13.9%            9.5%            14.5%

Next 5 Largest Districts        10.5%           8.4%

LA High Needs Students        27%             19%               28%

100% Black Population         14.7%          18.4%

 

Also note that:

(1) This study looked only at 3rd graders who spent just one year in a smaller class;

(2) Gains improved the longer students remained in small classrooms;

(3) Even larger gains were found in schools with a higher percentage of poor students; and

(4) Studies show that parents are more involved in schools where their children are in small classrooms.

(Relationships Between Class Size Reduction and Student Achievement, Research Brief, Public Policy Institute of California)

These findings are consistent across states.  Studies from Tennessee, Wisconsin, and elsewhere show that students in smaller classes from grades K-3 do better in every way that can be measured: they score higher on tests, receive better grades, and improve their attendance.  And, again, students who need the most help show the most improvement.   Indeed, Alan Krueger of Princeton estimates that reducing class size in early grades shrinks the achievement gap by about 38%.

Class size reduction changes many features of the classroom which lead to higher student achievement.  Perhaps most importantly, the teacher has more time to give each student individualized attention, allowing the teacher to know each of their students better, to know how they learn, and to keep track of how each student is progressing.  As such, the teacher can intervene more rapidly and effectively to help  each student.  Furthermore, the research shows that students develop better relationships with their teacher and classmates in small class settings.  We all know that learning is enhanced by classroom participation, and in smaller classes, each student has more time to – and is more likely to – speak while others listen.  There are also fewer students to distract each other, and researchers report fewer disciplinary problems.  These findings are significant and should be a part of meaningful school reform. 

In 2007, the average class size in California (not including independent study and other self-contained courses) was 20 students in K-3 and 28 in grades 4-12.  Class sizes in Illinois, Kentucky, Mississippi and many others were similar in 2006 and 2007, especially in grades 4-12, while K-3 classes were generally somewhat larger. Georgia law allows for 32 – 35 students in grades 9-12, depending on the subject matter.  

So it is unfortunate that in February, the NY Education Department issued a report that found the average number of children per class increased in nearly every grade this school year.  And now comes new that, in New York and California at least, there will soon be even more students in each classroom due to state budget gaps.  In one California district, budget shortfalls have already increased the size of kindergarten classes to 33 students per teacher.   Unless class size is made a priority and funded as such, given today’s state of affairs, the outlook here is bleak and the impact on student achievement is too great.  

 

School Financing Matters.  President Obama did not address the widespread disparity in spending among school districts and states.  Underprivileged children often attend the worst school, though they are generally the students who need the most help.

The US Department of Education reports that current expenditures for public elementary and secondary schools will be about $519 billion for the 2008-09 school year. According to the its website, he national average current expenditure per student is around $10,418, but this provides little information.  Rather, they simply tally up spending, divide it by the number of students, and voila, there you have average spending.  But this information is close to useless because we know that is not the way spending occurs.  We do not spend the same amount to educate every child.  Rather, as I outline below, there remain vast differences in spending.  The information they provide does not even tell us the mean or the median.  It doesn’t tell us how much is spent on instruction, how much on administration (we know some districts have bloated administrations, wasting taxpayer money).  It does not tell how much disparity there is among school districts.  Over the past couple of decades, many states have made gains in funding schools more equitably, but sizeable differences remain.  Yet it is difficult to find data that will allow us to be informed consumers of education.  To take an example for their reporting on class sizes, the US Department of Education website tells us that classes are much smaller than reported by the Departments of Educations in the individual states.  This lack of transparency is inexcusable, and often the information they do provide is misleading.

It is difficult to ascertain how funding is apportioned among school districts across the nation.  The data provided by the Department of Education is too broad to be useful, other available data is too old to be useful and, where financing per district is available, it is not coupled with the average income per district, leaving one only to speculate how money is apportioned among wealthy, middle class, and low income communities.  For example, according to South Carolina’s General Appropriations Bill for fiscal year 2008-2009South Carolina spends an average of  $11,480 per student, but spending among districts ranges from $8,659 to $18,081.  

And according to SF Gate, the San Francisco Chronicle’s websitein 2006 funding per pupil in California schools ranged from $4,806 to 34,279.  These are vast differences that must be addressed if we are to make a commitment to all our children.  Yet neither President Obama nor Education Secretary Duncan spoke to this issue.

New York spends the most money per pupil of all the states except Alaska, but we know that many inner-city schools have crumbling infrastructure and lack basic resources.  

The Washington Post reports that while the number most widely stated as per pupil spending in the Washington D.C. is $8,322, total spending is actually closer to  $25,000, about the same as the cost of an education at Sidwell Friends, where the Obama children attend school.  It asks, then, “So why force most D.C. children into often dilapidated and underperforming public schools when we could easily offer them a choice of private schools?”  My question is, if D.C. public school districts receive equal funding as some of the most expensive private schools, why do they have dilapidated school buildings?  Where does the money go?  We know that teachers at prestigious private schools earn more than their colleagues in the public sector, that private schools offer a broader cirriculum, including art programs and physical education that have been cut at many public schools, and have more resources for the students, such as science labs and computers, so this data is hard to reconcile.  

But it gets more complicated.  The Census Bureau reports that per public spending for D.C. students is $13,446, but adds that funding per pupil from local sources is $16,195 (it adds this information to clarify that local funding is high relative to other school districts across the nation because other districts, unlike those in D.C. also receive state funding).  Add to this that D.C. schools also receive about $81 million in federal funds, and the picture is pure confusion.  How much does Washington D.C. spend per pupil?  I can’t say with any certainty.  But it is clear that transparency in public school funding and expenditures is necessary if parents are to make informed choices about where to send their children.

Making matters worse, as some states were just beginning to make gains in a more equitable distribution of funding, school budgets are now being slashed as a result of our present economy.  While, as many argue, ‘throwing money at the problem’ isn’t the entire solution, all schools must be sufficiently funded to provide the basic necessities for learning.  It is a disgrace that some students do not have text books, that some go to school in unsafe buildings, that many do not have adequate facilities to learn science.  President Obama must call for equitable funding for our public schools or we will continue to leave far too many students with enormous potential behind, depriving them of the promise of opportunity and us of the benefit of their knowledge, both as citizens and as participants in our economy.

Conclusion, Part I.  Linda Darling-Hammond, a former teacher, expert on teacher quality and professor of education at Stanford and an Obama advisor writes in  The Nation   that the US should adopt some of the practices that higher-achieving countries have been using over the past twenty years “as they have left us further and further behind educationally.”  She reports that the US ranks twenty-eighth of forty countries in mathematics and graduates only about 75% of students, though other top performing countries graduate more than 95% of their students.  She tells us that most high-achieving countries fund their schools centrally and equally, then provide additional funds to the neediest schools.  They also have  better-prepared teachers whom they pay competitive salaries and provide with high-quality teacher education, mentoring and ongoing professional development. These are exactly the reforms we need if we are to recruit and keep the best and brightest teachers.  President Obama should heed her advice if we are to build and maintain an educational system that provides a world-class education for our students, all our students, even the disadvantaged who we too easily leave behind.

Education Reform, Part II.  In the second part of this piece, next week, I will discuss many other issues surrounding education, including student testing, merit pay, charter schools, innovative teaching methods, single-sex classrooms, and the US Supreme Court’s ruling on what right to education is guaranteed us by the education and the importance of that ruling’s being reexamined in light of the requirements of today’s world.  I hope it will shed even more light on what is going on in our classrooms, including the vastly different approaches some pioneers in teaching are taking.