Thursday, November 20, 2014

Cheap shots and free associations

Poster by Mungo Thomson, 2004.

No, of course, how could a branch of government institute reform in a government agency? Like, how would that even work? It makes no sense at all!

Guess we'll have to reform it from the outside, huh, the way we levitated the Pentagon back in the day?

Or maybe just like charter schools, with their freedom from pesky bureaucracy and ability to innovate. You could have Booz Allen and and Stratfor and First Look Media and all those companies start up their own intelligence shops using accountability measures and working their test scores up in a marketplace of ideas, where competition would spur excellence. Spook choice!

Illustration by David Klein via The Badger Catholic. Good depiction (I think unintentionally) of how voucher systems work: I'm afraid there's only room in the canoe for one very small kid.
Speaking of charter schools, some new evidence is showing up of one of the less predicted defects of "small schools of choice" whether charters or not, and something I've been aware of, as it happens, ever since my own kids rejected all the boutique middle schools and high schools we trotted them around to and insisted on going to the biggest ones they could get into: economy of scale.

You want some choice not just before you pick your school but after you get in, and a bigger school can offer more foreign languages, more science electives, more sports, more clubs, more cliques to choose your friends from. And a bigger library. And a bigger menu of counseling and advisement, as we learn from the experience of the New Orleans school district, which shifted almost totally to charters as it rebuilt after Hurricane Katrina, reported on NPR this morning.

New Orleans is in the middle of more crises than one, including a mental health crisis, and their charter schools aren't equipped to deal with it. Indeed, they aren't equipped to deal with the most common kinds of learning disability, like dyslexia and ADHD, and they're reacting to it in the familiar charter-school way, by punishment, and suspending kids left and right. NPR found a case where counseling has to be triaged and they make the kids "earn" it—you're not getting any behavioral help, sonny, unless you behave:
Walker's eldest son Te'Saun was diagnosed with ADHD and emotional troubles. He has had discipline problems. Under his school sanctioned special education plan, he is allowed breaks, cool down time – and counseling. Walker alleges that at various times Akili Academy has made him "earn" those breaks with school performance. On several occasions, Walker says, he was denied access to school trips by his teacher.
This is much worse in charter schools that in district-run small schools because each charter constitutes, in effect, a district of its own. Small schools within a district can share resources like gym and music teachers and reading specialists but charters can't, or don't (for special education problems, New Orleans schools can get help through the nonprofit Louisiana Special Education Cooperative, but only nine out of 80 have done so).

Just about everybody who's not a brain-dead "conservative" understands that government is needed to create a public infrastructure like the Interstate highway system, but a powerful anti-government reflex makes some people deny how much it's needed for—in Greenwald's case, to absurd lengths.

Image via Prose Before Hos (and a host of great Bernie quotes).
"Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has." And composing the government is one of the best ways they have of doing it. (So is a private group like the Wikimedia community, from which I learn that Margaret Mead doesn't seem to have ever said that.) The big question is how to get thoughtful, committed citizens to run for office, and win, where we really don't have a good record.

But then again there's thoughtful, committed Bernie Sanders, who may be running for president and has begun making utterances on foreign policy in which, I'm delighted to say, he is saying things (on NPR and CNN)  about the administration policy in Iraq and Syria that he could have gotten from this page. Welcome, Bernie, it's cool up here.

(P.S. On NSA reform, see Drifters.)

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