Scalia and Friedrichs v CTA: The Stakes Have Changed

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Jarek Tuszynski / CC-BY-SA-3.0 & GDFL [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons
A month ago, I examined the SCOTUS case of Friedrichs v. CTA, and forecast that Friedrichs had a 65% probability of winning. However, Justice Scalia’s sudden death has completed shifted the prospects for this case. I now believe that it is unlikely that Friedrichs can win. If I had to pin a probability on it, I’d move closer to 40% now.

Here’s more on SCOTUSblog on this:

“If Justice Scalia was part of a five-Justice majority in a case – for example, the Friedrichs case, in which the Court was expected to limit mandatory union contributions – the Court is now divided four to four.  In those cases, there is no majority for a decision and the lower court’s ruling stands, as if the Supreme Court had never heard the case.  Because it is very unlikely that a replacement will be appointed this Term, we should expect to see a number of such cases in which the lower court’s decision is “affirmed by an equally divided Court.”

The most immediate and important implications involve that union case.  A conservative ruling in that case is now unlikely to issue.” [Bold added]

Adaptive Learning: Rock Climbing

Yosemite 086

“When you’re on a rock ledge,” Willson says, “there’s a sweet spot of arousal and stress that opens you up for adaptive learning. You find new ways of solving problems.”

—Florence Williams, “ADHD Is Fuel for Adventure” on Outside

Words Matter

“Using person-first language to describe people who have mental illnesses is not just an example of political correctness. These words matter. They influence people’s attitudes, and attitudes help determine behaviors. We make assumptions about people based on the words we use, and when we use the words “the mentally ill,” those assumptions lead to lower levels of tolerance and acceptance.” [Bold added]

—Darcy Haag Granello, “Labeling people as ‘The mentally ill’ increases stigma” on The Conversation

What our schools in Detroit say about what we value

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By Jdmdetroit1 (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons
“Given the significant amount of time a child spends in school, it’s important to ensure a healthy learning environment so that children can reach their full potential,” adds Dr. Maida Galvez, a preventive medicine and pediatrics professor at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai.

With an estimated 13 million missed school days in the United States due to asthma each year, says Galvez, “we need to critically look at our schools and what the school environment says about how we value education and most importantly, how we value our children.

Until last November, children at Spain Elementary-Middle still played in one-half of the gym, says Lakia Wilson, but when the aroma became overwhelming, they switched to walking through halls to satisfy their physical education requirements.

“It used to be that they could go outside in warmer weather on the playground,” she tells PEOPLE, “but now the playground has a steam geyser coming from the ground, so it has been closed as well to prevent kids from getting burned.” [Bold added]

—Cathy Free, “Detroit’s Public Schools Are in Crisis: Students and Teachers Deal Daily with Rats, Mold and No Heat” in People

Providing context for concepts may hinder transfer

“One implication of this pattern of results is that as an instructor designs their instructional materials, they should be asking themselves whether they are trying to optimize their students’ demonstrated mastery of the material itself or their ability to transfer their understanding to new materials. . . .

Simply adding richer meaningful content to in-class examples may make intuitive sense, and may have immediately obvious benefits in terms of student engagement and comprehension. But as the results of our experiments make clear, these short-term benefits seem to come at the cost of students’ long-term ability to apply their knowledge. If educators are to take advantage of these inherent benefits, they will need to give careful consideration to how such examples are designed and used together in order to plan the most effective instruction.”

—Samuel Day, Benjamin Motz, and Robert Goldstone, “The Cognitive Costs of Context: The Effects of Concreteness and Immersiveness in Instructional Examples” on frontiers in Psychology (H/T Greg Ashman)

Give Students a Green View to Increase Attention

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“Gazing out of the widow onto green pastures or a peaceful copse of trees while sitting an exam will actually help students score higher. And not just a little bit either—a new study has found that students’ capacity to pay attention increased 13% with a green view outside their classroom window.

. . . a 13% boost in attention might be enough to convince architects that classrooms and offices should come with better views, and perhaps teachers won’t scold pupils for gazing out the window.”

—Charlie Sorrel, “Want Kids To Do Better On Tests? Let Them Gaze Into Nature” on FastCompany

Lessons for both liberals and conservatives from Flint

By abarndweller (AC Spark Plug, Flint Michigan) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons
What happened in Flint is absolutely appalling.

Imagine the horror of a mother in Flint, knowing your child has been irrevocably poisoned. Poisoned as the direct result of the decisions of civic “leaders” whose very job, ostensibly, was to serve and protect you and your children. A poison, lead, that is insidious because it manifests in a slow and invisible devastation of decision-making, attention, and behavior that can all too easily be blamed on your child. And will be, because our society always blames the poor for their suffering. It’s so much more convenient to be able to dismiss someone’s suffering—their humanity—outright, without thought or empathy or even that moment’s worth of consideration, due to skin, or appearance, or where they may happen to live.

This is so wrong on so many levels. Beyond the inestimable human cost of the state’s failure, there is a damage that may outlast even the children whose bodies and brains have been poisoned. That damage is the fear and complete and utter mistrust of government that any family in Flint will never forget and will pass on to future generations.

When a community of people no longer can trust their government at any level, this is a damage that will not be fixed by an apology, nor by a formal indictment (and I sincerely hope that Snyder and his myrmidon are prosecuted for their crimes—especially in light of recent information), nor by any immediate action and intervention. What Michigan governor Snyder has wrought upon his people is criminal not simply for the poisoning of his constituent’s bodies and minds that he has been elected to serve, but furthermore for the stain he and his administration have left on civic institutions that his citizens can no longer trust. It will take generations to rebuild that trust.

In an article in Rolling Stone, Stephen Rodrick squarely blames the Republican party, et al, for this crime:

“I hate to get all MSNBC-y, but this man-made disaster can be traced to one fact: Republicans not giving a [expletive] about poor kids as much as they give a [expletive] about the green of the bottom line.” [Edited for language]

I frequently have much the same reaction to the Republican party myself, yet I think it’s all too easy to lay the blame on a political ideology or party in such a knee-jerk manner. In fact, later in the very same article, Rodrick presents some evidence for liberals such as myself to consider. When describing the historical context for how Snyder came into office, he writes:

“There was a $20 million budget deficit, as Flint was having difficulties meeting the pension requirements of union retirees who had worked in a more prosperous time and with a much larger tax base.

I have the same urge to belittle conservatives and the austere and even inhumane policies they often seek to perpetrate. Yet I fear that liberals (well, really, any of us humans) can all too easily get caught up in a rapturous cycle of blame and shame, rather than acknowledging the complex, deeper, and ongoing issues confronting civic leaders and representatives.

The context for what led to the situation in Flint will continue to recur in other cities. As our elderly population increases, the financial burden for health care and pensions will also steadily grow, stressing already taut public budgets. As Robert Guest argues in an article in an article in the Economist on the “millenial” generation:

“Throughout human history, the old have subsidised the young. In rich countries, however, that flow has recently started to reverse. . . . Within families, intergenerational transfers still flow almost entirely from older to younger. However, in rich countries public spending favours pensions and health care for the old over education for the young. Much of this is paid for by borrowing, and the bill will one day land on the young. In five of 23 countries in Messrs Lee and Mason’s sample (Germany, Austria, Japan, Slovenia and Hungary), the net flow of resources (public plus private) is now heading from young to old, who tend to be richer. As societies age, many more will join them.” [Bold added]

At some point, something’s got to give. Many liberals dig in their heels against any consideration of cuts or changes to pensions or health care, or privatizing the provision of some public services, without considering how those amenities will be paid for, and by whom.

Furthermore, our infrastructure is decaying, most especially in older East Coast cities like Detroit (where schools are literally falling apart, such that teachers are resorting to “sick-outs” to protest the decrepit conditions), Baltimore, Philadelphia, and New York. But even in younger cities, such as Seattle, updated infrastructure to prepare for potential catastrophic earthquakes is needed.

At some point, something will give, as it has in Flint due to decaying water infrastructure and poor political decisions by state officials. Many conservatives dig in their heels against any and all investments in public infrastructure and the necessary regulations to provide accountability and oversight, without considering how a failure to make such investments will impact future generations.

So there are lessons to draw from Michigan for both conservatives and liberals alike which will be increasingly salient to our rapidly changing cities and states:

  • There are very real financial issues looming due to unsustainable allocations to pensions, health care, and other large administrations of public funds (such as education).
  • There are very real infrastructural and environmental issues looming due to a lack of long-term planning, foresight, and investment.

Pragmatic solutions do not frequently come from ideological partisanship. And yet, our country often appears unable to get beyond superficial political polarization of real issues, preferring, instead, to elect leaders who play into and intentionally manipulate our fears to gain power. Unless we can learn to take our civic institutions and responsibilities seriously, we may well witness more horrors wreaked upon our citizens as the result of unscrupulous governance in the oncoming decade.

Decaying School Buildings in Detroit

“. . . the weight of the evidence is clear: Facility quality matters when it comes to improving student outcomes.

So say what you want about Detroit teachers’ tactics, but they appear to be calling attention to a real issue that can seriously harm kids.” [Bold added]

—Matt Barnum, “The Detroit ‘Sick-Out’ Makes a Valid Point: Crumbling Schools Shown to Hurt Learning” on The Seventy-Four

Glad to hear someone else saying this. And kudos to Detroit teachers for bringing much needed attention to the travesty of decaying school buildings.

Other posts on the impact of infrastructure on learning (there’s been a lot of ’em):

Responsible Regulation, Not Ideology

“it’s time for school choice advocates to dispense with ideology, engage regulators, and get serious about a policy environment that promotes measurable quality, scale, and access.”

—John White, “America’s most disadvantaged students need real accountability, not ideology” on Flypaper

Will Losing Friedrichs Result in Better Unions?

Facsimile of an IWW stickerette with artwork by Ralph Chaplin. March 1916

So, as you know, I’m pessimistic about the outlook of the pending Friedrich’s case (what probability would you assign to Friedrich winning the case? Vote here!) It’s not the outcome I want–but I’m afraid that it’s likely the outcome we will get. Meaning that teacher’s unions will lose a large source of funding and thus, power.

If you pay any attention to the history of US public education, or of labor in general, then you most likely have some understanding of why unions matter. Unfortunately, however, there are a newer generation of workers and teachers who may not see this.

Increasing disengagement presents a large problem for unions, especially as our economy and workforce undergoes increasingly volatile shifts. And let’s be honest–most unions haven’t demonstrated the greatest sense of urgency in trying to adapt to changing conditions. My local union, the UFT, for example, has more than half of its voting during elections come from retirees. And the union leadership seems to think that simply asking teachers to promote or comment on policies and proposals they’ve already created is somehow democratically elevating teacher voice.

Speaking personally, I rarely engage with my union because I’ve found other avenues to have my skills and voice applied in ways that can further my profession. But I at least understand the need for professional solidarity when it comes to collective bargaining for decent wages and working conditions. Without solidarity and collective bargaining, individual workers have little sway in gaining concessions from either governments (such as the mayor or superintendent) nor private interests. I am therefore supportive of my union, at the very least, for providing a necessary counterbalance to government and private financial interests.*

But maybe losing the Friedrichs case might prove to be the tough medicine that will force unions to adapt to the rapidly changing conditions of our times, like Peter Cunningham suggests.

Or perhaps there may come a day of reckoning, when the future labor force has been Uberized completely, and all jobs made temporary and contracted-by-the-hour, that a few teachers will awaken to discover their previous rights have been sundered, that they are working (even more) inhumane hours, in inhumane conditions, with few protections. And they may then gather together to hold a discussion about how they might leverage their collective power to gain concessions from those who hold the cards. And they thus may relearn the meaning behind the word “solidarity.”

We will see. In the meantime, if my state, NY, the birthplace of collective bargaining and Al Shanker, becomes a “right-to-work” state, I will choose to continue to give my “agency fees” to my union.

 

*It seems to me like both unions and government have increasingly ceded power to private interests. But to be clear, I’m not anti-privatization. I believe in public-private partnerships.