28 October 2014

Colorado Renames State Standardized Tests Again

In yet another puzzling and useless development pretending to be education reform, Colorado has renamed its state standardized tests again for the third time since my kids entered the public education system in the state. First, we had the CSAPs. Then, they were called the TCAPs. Now, they are called the CMAS.
The assessments are called the Colorado Measures of Academic Success, or CMAS for short. These statewide tests replace the former statewide exams known as the Colorado Student Assessment Program (CSAP) and the Transitional Colorado Assessment Program (TCAP).
The CMAS will serve the same purpose as the TCAPs and CSAPs, but will have a different set of four levels of grades with different cutoffs to achieve each of the four ratings, to keep us on our toes and to prevent us from making apples to apples comparisons for long time periods.

In principle, the CMAS will not be graded on a curve to the same extent as the prior renditions. But, since the tests are used to evaluate schools rather than having any role in educating kids, it really doesn't matter how they are graded.

Here's a prediction for you: the relative performance of kids, income groups, ethnic groups, schools and school within school programs on these tests will be almost exactly the same as they were when the tests were called the TCAPs and the CSAPs.  In physics, we call this a gauge symmetry.  In education, we call this shifting deck chairs on the Titanic.

Quote of the Day

"Sorry," I say, "I'll be right back and we'll go," leaving Ben to explain our plans and knowing that at this moment, he could say we were off to a heroin-smuggling operation in Mexico and that my father, dazzled and disarmed, would probably only ask if I needed any cash for tacos.
- Kat Rosenfield, in her novel "Inland"(2014).

27 October 2014

Rural New York State Is Much More Liberal Than Alabama

Lawyers, Guns and Money dramatically demonstrates how much more liberal New York State outside of New York City is than Alabama. For example:
If we look at the presidential level, a more useful metric in this context, we can see that upstate New York is overwhelmingly Democratic. In 2012, Obama lost three of New York’s 27 congressional districts: NY-22 [central New York] by .4%, NY-23 [Ithica and parts of the Finger Lakes] by 1.2%, and finally one solid Romney win in NY-27 [suburban Buffalo.] In Alabama, conversely, Romney’s percentages in the 6 of 7 districts he won were 62, 63, 62, 74, 64, and 74.

How Fast Can Gender Norms About Appearance Change?

Today, once of the most visually disturbing and alienating feature of Islam is the extent to which the religion places limitations on how women can dress. But, not so long ago, even the center of the American film industry wasn't that different when it came to using the force of law to impose dress standards on women (although this women's protest was ultimately upheld on appeal):
In 1938, L.A. woman defied a judge's order and wore slacks in court, earning her a five-day jail sentence 
Kindergarten teacher Helen Hulick made Los Angeles court history — and struck a blow for women's fashion — in 1938. Hulick arrived in downtown L.A. court to testify against two burglary suspects. But the courtroom drama immediately shifted to the slacks she was wearing. 
Judge Arthur S. Guerin rescheduled her testimony and ordered her to wear a dress next time. Hulick was quoted in the Nov. 10, 1938, Los Angeles Times saying: 
You tell the judge I will stand on my rights. If he orders me to change into a dress I won't do it. I like slacks. They're comfortable.
She returned to court five days later — in slacks — infuriating the judge. The Times reported: In a scathing denunciation of slacks — which he prosaically termed pants — as courtroom attire for women, Guerin yesterday again forbade Helen Hulick, 28, kindergarten teacher, to testify as a witness while dressed in a green and orange leisure attire. 
The last time you were in this court dressed as you are now and reclining on your neck on the back of your chair, you drew more attention from spectators, prisoners and court attaches than the legal business at hand. You were requested to return in garb acceptable to courtroom procedure. 
Today you come back dressed in pants and openly defying the court and its duties to conduct judicial proceedings in an orderly manner. It's time a decision was reached on this matter and on the power the court has to maintain what it considers orderly conduct.  
The court hereby orders and directs you to return tomorrow in accepted dress. If you insist on wearing slacks again you will be prevented from testifying because that would hinder the administration of justice. But be prepared to be punished according to law for contempt of court. 
Slack-shrouded Miss Hulick was accompanied by Attorney William Katz, who carried four heavy volumes of citations relative to his client's right to appear in court in whatever dress she chose.  She said: 
Listen. I've worn slacks since I was 15. I don't own a dress except a formal. If he wants me to appear in a formal gown that's okay with me. I'll come back in slacks and if he puts me in jail I hope it will help to free women forever of anti-slackism. 
The next day, Hulick showed up in slacks. Judge Guerin held her in contempt. She was given a five-day sentence and sent to jail. "After being divested of her favorite garment by a jail matron and attired in a prison denim dress, Miss Hulick was released on her own recognizance after her attorney … obtained a writ of habeas corpus and declared he would carry the matter to the Appellate Court," The Times reported. Hundreds sent letters of protest to the courthouse. Guerin's contempt citation was overturned by the Appellate Division during a habeas corpus hearing. Hulick was free to wear slacks to court. A couple of months later, Hulick came back to court. Her point made, this time she wore a dress.
On comment on this retrospective article at the Los Angeles Times noted that:
When I moved to western Michigan in 1973, women attorneys were not allowed to wear slacks, even tailored pant suits, in some judges courtrooms.
Now, of course, in the era of "Orange is the New Black" women in jail or prison are rarely allowed to wear dresses or skirts even if they want to do so.  And, about one in three women incarcerated in the world are incarcerated in the U.S. prison system, despite the fact that the U.S. has only about 5% of the world's population.

The direct contempt of court power under which Miss Hulick was incarcerated is essentially unchanged today from the way it was in 1938.

Dogs Are For Soup

While it is unfortunate that it took NRA support, I applaud the defeat of a Pennsylvania bill that allows the criminal prosecution of anyone who “[breeds,] keeps, sells, offers for sale or transfers a dog or cat for the purpose of human consumption." I also favor keeping slaughter houses for horse meat legal.

Eating dogs, cats and horses is a matter of taste, not a crime.  Many perfectly law abiding people in other parts of the world eat these animals, and animals are not people, no matter how much we might wish to imagine otherwise.  Given a choice, I will almost always side with the People Eating Tasty Animals version of PETA and not the often extremist People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals that wants us to call fish "sea kittens."

Now, this is not to say that I don't believe that cruelty to animals shouldn't be subject to a criminal sanction.  Torturing animals for cruelty's sake, rather than merely killing them for utilitarian purposes, is a characteristic trait of a psychopath and is often used as a means of intentionally inflicting distress upon, or threatening people.  But causing a swift death to an animal for food, or for advancing a clearly identified research objective in medical science is not cruelty.