Monthly Archives: January 2016

Note from a Trump Supporter: It’s the Immigration, Stupid!

(Or a la Dave Barry, “It’s the immigration, zitbrains!”)

Ann Althouse predicts a cascade of smart, educated Trump supporters in the coming months. I am kinda sorta in the ballpark of smart and educated–for a teacher, anyway—and came out early for Trump. So I thought I’d take a break from my usual education beat1 and add my voice to the many efforts to explain my people.

Why do I support Trump?

I want another forty year pause in immigration, putting a near-total block on every possible means of legal or illegal access. In part because I’m a teacher who sees no opportunities for far too many of my students thanks to immigration, network hiring, and the constant wage pressure of a never-ending unskilled labor supply. In part because the government is incapable of enforcing the laws so necessary to our national security and well-being, since even the best-intentioned state and federal employees see themselves as providing customer service, rather than ensuring taxpayer and citizen interests.

Finally, I want to turn the flood of immigrants to something less than a sprinkle because the influx is fraying America’s cultural fabric. Immigrants sensibly exploit our cultural and political mores to their advantage, usually without malice or intent to harm. They are supported by legal interpretation of laws that simply weren’t written with any consideration of non-Western cultures. Few of the countries sending us immigrants share American values.

I’m willing to negotiate. But in order to negotiate, shutting down access through visa restriction and border enforcement (land, sea, or visa overstay) has to be speakable. For the past twenty years, the cosmopolitan elite, as Sean Trende calls it, has deliberately shrunk and shifted the Overton window for immigration by punishing opinion violators with social and economic devastation. Ordinary people like me who come out for immigration restriction could lose their jobs. I don’t mind anyone opposing my immigration goals. I mind the attempts to shut down and ruin those who support them.

I don’t hate immigrants. Like all people, they range from fantastic to criminal to every possible characteristic in between. But their merit is not the issue.

Americans deserve a vote on every aspect of immigration. For thirty years or more, the public has opposed the generous federal immigration policy, rarely getting a chance to register their disapproval—and on the rare occasion when they were given a chance to express their opinion, the courts consistently overturned their effort.

The government and the media also conspire to present immigration as a shiny wonderful gift to the country, opposed only by a few nativists and xenophobes, withholding unpleasant facts and generally operating as cheerleaders and gatekeepers.

At present, 25% of the country support deportation and a wall with no immigration at all, with another 30% supporting a wall and very limited immigration, with deportation optional. Yet no major media outlet, no politician joins Trump in catering to that view. Why not? Doesn’t the media want eyeballs, the politician votes? I’ve concluded that the wall of silence is partly ideological, partly fear of repercussions from the powerful. But I don’t know.

What I do know is that Trump comes along, supports just the tiniest fraction of my agenda, and the media and political world goes wild trying to shut him down. They fail, and in that failure, everything changes.

Immigration wasn’t expected to be anywhere on the horizon this election. And certainly, the media has done everything to keep it out of the debates. The topic barely made it into the GOP debates, on weak-tea issues that barely scratch the surface. We saw Rubio and Cruz arguing not about reducing immigration, but which one had flipflopped on amnesty—which they both supported until quite recently, along with all the other GOP candidates, in the world Before Trump.

On the other hand, immigration hasn’t made the platform much at the Democrat debates, either. No rhetorical flourishes on Republican iniquity towards immigrants, no yammering about the Dream Act, no long tirades on the plight of Syrian refugees. The Democrats looked at Trump’s poll numbers and other recent events (Eric Cantor’s unemployment, for example), and got the hint. They’re worried enough that Trump’s immigration and trade talk might peel away their union vote. No one’s making big promises about immigration on the Democratic side.

I’m well aware that Trump’s actual beliefs on immigration, as reflected in his stump speech and, presumably, his private views, are considerably more welcoming than his satisfactory official policy position, but think it unlikely he’ll do a general election pivot. If he were to win the nomination and pivot against restriction, he’ll lose the general. Full stop. The Donald doesn’t need me to point that out.

He probably doesn’t feel this way, but from my standpoint, Trump has already won. From the moment his polls rose after NBC fired him, after Frank Luntz’s idiotic focus group said Trump crashed and burned, after many experts declared him a nuisance,a clown, a bad deal, a a false conservative and through the re-evaluations of his appeal (but not his chances), Trump has understood the strength of and reason for his appeal. He never worried about the media, didn’t give a damn about elite approval. Every additional day puts the hammer on the media and the political elite who have suppressed any discussion, much less a vote, on the issues so many Americans care about.

So Trump’s willingness to court social and economic punishment has already paid off by giving Americans a chance to show how utterly on board they are with limiting immigration. He has kicked the Overton window several notches back to center, and I’ll be forever grateful.

Excellent analyses of Trump’s success abound, but they all suggest Trump’s rise is due to a variety of factors. I believe this is wrong.

Without immigration, Trump is nowhere.

His call to “bring jobs back home” wouldn’t be nearly as appealing if voters were worried all those jobs would go to cheap immigrant labor. Yes, his ferocious assaults on political correctness and elite sensibilities are attractive, but more importantly, they are essential for withstanding the media and political assault that followed his proposal. Hit him, and he’ll hit right back, upping the ante and distracting attention from the original charge with increasingly outrageous insults. Had Trump stoically stayed on message, politely trying to explain his way through the outrage, he’d have been gone before Labor Day. I’m delighted that he’s rendered the media helpless in its self-appointed task of destroying people for the wrong opinions, but that’s not why he’s doing so well.

Without immigration, Trump is just a billionaire dilettante politician with good timing, a populist touch and big hair.

This election has been amazing.

For the past six or seven months, I’ve been watching, waiting for Trump to cavil or backtrack on the essentials, holding my breath. And instead of disappointment, I’ve had the ….really, the only word for it is elation…as I watched the frustration, the astonishment, the fury at Trump’s success. Watching George Will’s head explode is—forgive me—exhilarating. Watching the Republicans–some I count among my favorite writers and thinkers–who called me stupid and desperate eat crow time and again after their earlier assurances of the desperate idiocy of Trump supporters and his imminent decline has brought me so much joy.

But my personal satisfaction aside, these Republicans’ shock and dismay at the depth of Trump’s support is a necessary first step if the country’s going to change its immigration ways, because change has to come via the GOP.

I don’t know what will take Trump down, if anything does. He’s created a seismic impact just getting this far, and I’m not going to count the effort wasted if it all ends in Iowa, or at some future state primary. I sense it will not. I think those who, like me, have longed for the chance to be a single-issue voter, are going to come out in droves.  I hope enough Americans will vote on this issue to put him over the top.

But if he wins the primary to lose the election, then my side doesn’t have enough votes yet. So be it. Sing me no sad songs about the Supreme Court. I worry about Democrat nominees, yes, but conservative or liberal, the Court doesn’t seem interested in protecting the nation’s borders. Maybe this last executive fiat pushed them too far. If Clinton gets elected, the GOP Congress can just get serious about the “consent” part of its job.

Recently, Ramesh Ponnuru declared that immigration issues are the new conservative litmus test.

Wrong. I’m not conservative. I’ve supported Republicans for a decade not with any particular enthusiasm, but because the GOP politicians have on most issues reliably opposed Democrats in their brand of crazy. It’s not Ronald Reagan or William F. Buckley that has me voting GOP; it’s Nancy Pelosi, Al Gore, and Barack Obama, along with the causes they espouse.

The GOP has been pandering its electorate on immigration for long enough. What I guess the Republican elite didn’t understand until now is just how many GOP voters were, like me, pandering right back. We don’t really support the GOP’s goals intellectually or emotionally, but what the hell, if we vote for them, maybe our turn will come.

Trump is our turn.

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1To my regular readers: I understand you range from liberal teachers to alt-right HBDers and everything in between; I’m not assuming a friendly audience. Feel free to fulminate.

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The Myth of the Teacher Leader, Redux

To understand why outsiders don’t grasp teacher quality in meaningful terms, consider this list.

Which of the teachers described here are leaders, working with their colleagues to improve school quality? Which ones are speaking out in support of improving the professional community? Which ones forge the way to a new professional concept? Which ones have a clear vision of their teaching identities? Which ones are committed to student achievement? Which ones, in Rick Hess’s phrasing, are cagebusters?

Ignore trifling matters like whether or not the teachers agree with your own values and priorities. Focus on leadership, caring, professional commitment. Yes, this makes it a more difficult task.

  • Teachers work late into the evening developing curriculum and planning instruction, but violate their contractual obligations by occasionally or consistent tardiness to staff and department meetings. Their timely colleagues see the tardy attendance as unprofessional. But the gripers often leave campus three minutes after last bell.

  • An attendance clerk wonders why a student is skipping first period each day for two weeks. The clerk contacts the other teachers and learns that he’s actually been absent in all classes, but that unlike the first period teacher, they’ve been letting it slide, since the student told them he was joining the Marines. Further investigation reveals that the student was on a cruise. Shortly after this incident, the principal announced that failure to take attendance and submit completed attendance verification reports would be made an evaluation point, if needed.

  • A new teacher is confused as to what responsibilities are held by the “department head” and a “math coach”, since neither approached to offer assistance when he began his job. The teacher who did approach him with help (and has no official role) told him not to worry about it, as department “leadership” roles are meaningless.

  • A few senior math teachers informally agreed to improve advanced math instruction by holding students to higher standards and a demanding pace. A new teacher was brought on, who taught at a slower pace and had a much wider “passing window”. The senior teachers requested that the new teacher be fired. The principal refused. One of the senior teachers left. The newer teacher continued with the same priorities.

  • A team of teachers and counselors are enthusiastically discussing methods to convince colleagues to comply with a new district-wide initiative. One team member cautions against mandated compliance, suggesting they accept cynicism and caution as logical responses. The team decides to go much more slowly, realizing that they can’t really enforce compliance anyway. They introduce a smaller initiative that builds on existing interest, hoping to win more compliance through results.

  • A second-career teacher works unceasingly to help at-risk students get to college, achieving a decade or more of success getting first-generation kids to college. He is a valued and highly respected leader in the teaching staff—right up until he confesses to inappropriate contact with a student. He is arrested and fired.

These examples all reveal why Rick Hess’s 90-10 split makes no sense:

…[W]hat’s happened is to a large extent…there are these teachers out there who are doing amazing things and speaking up, there are lot of teachers who are just doing their thing in the middle, and then you have teachers who are disgruntled and frustrated. These teachers in the backend, the 10 percent, they’re the teachers the reformers and policymakers envision when they think about the profession. They’re the ones who are rallying and screaming and writing nasty notes at the bottom of New York Times stories.

Hess never says so, but presumably we are to assume that the “amazing teachers” are moving test scores, while the disgruntled, frustrated teachers demanding more money are out there on the picket lines, demonstrating against Eva or taking time off to bitch in Madison, while their students sit in a dull stupor.

Would that the dichotomy were that simple. Dots can’t be connected between teaching ability and political activism. The street corner screamers protesting merit pay and standardized testing might just as easily be the ones working until 9 at night, building memorable lessons. The slugs who check out each day at 3 using the same tests year after year might have worshipful students. The former teacher who cries on cue as a paid hack for Students First might actually be less admired than the much loved teacher identified as incompetent based on a single student’s opinion. (I am always flummoxed that reformers think anyone other than the already converted would find Bhavina Baktra compelling.) Political activism is one of the utterly useless proxies for teacher quality.

Teacher Quality–what is it, exactly?

What makes a good teacher? Let us count the many ways that broad circles can’t safely capture and identify teaching populations.

  • An engaging, creative teacher can be a terrible or indifferent employee, showing up to meetings late, missing supervisories, forgetting to submit grades on time.
  • An uninspiring or incompetent teacher can be a fabulous employee, impeccably on time with contract obligations: grades, attendance, and assigned tasks.
  • Teachers of any instructional or employee quality can be activists fighting against reforms they see as damaging to either their jobs or children—or on the reform payroll (yes, it does seem that way to us) pushing for merit pay or an end to tenure.
  • An ordinary, somewhat tedious teacher can have an outstanding attendance record, while a creative curriculum genius misses ten or more days a year;
  • Unlawful teachers–from the extremes of unthinkable sexual behavior to the seemingly innocuous falsification of state records—are, often, “good teachers” in the sense that reformers intend the word. (Just do a google on teacher of the year with any particular criminal activity.

No objective measure or criterion exists for teaching excellence. At best, most might agree on its display. Were a thousand people to watch a classroom video, they might agree on the teacher’s displayed merits. People might agree that certain opinions are unacceptable for teachers to have, or that certain actions are unacceptable. But those merits, actions, or opinions have next to no demonstrated relationship to test scores or other student outcomes.

So What Makes a Teacher Leader?

And if we can’t even know who or what defines a good teacher for any objective metric, then naturally the whole idea of finding “teacher leaders” is a lost cause.

Who’s a leader? The officially designated department heads or coaches, or the de facto mentors who offer advice and curriculum to the nervous newbies? The teachers who follow the contract obligations like clockwork, or the ones who work late and give hours to the kids but are weaker at the contractual obligations? The teachers who want to plow down resisters, or the teachers who suggest accommodating to the reality that the plowdowns will never happen? The teachers who want everyone to follow proven procedures, or the teachers who follow their own vision? The teacher who successfully manages a a site-wide program for at-risk kids, helping hundreds over the years while occasionally making sexual advances, or the teacher who just shows up every day to teach without ever molesting his students? The teachers who want to embrace reforms to improve schools, or the teachers who fight the reforms as the efforts of ignorant ideologues?

These aren’t rhetorical questions. There are people who can brief for either side–yes, even the molester. Just ask Mrs. Miller or, just to ratchet up the difficulty level, the hundreds of kids who weren’t abused by this predator, but found focus and purpose to achieve based on his advice and support.

So who wants teacher leaders, anyway? Reformers. Ed schools. Politicians. Administrators. Teachers who want to be teacher leaders—a handy group that serves as mouthpieces for the other organizations. The same people, in short, who believe the delusion that “good teachers” is an axiom, an easily defined, obvious trait.

Who doesn’t want teacher leaders? Teachers who don’t want to be teacher leaders. Which is most of them.

I repeat, for the umpteenth time: what the outside world sees as a bug, most teachers see as a feature. We trade promotions and pay recognition for job security and freedom from management that industry can only dream of.

Certain things just don’t make a dent in the teacher universe. When math teachers get together for beers, we don’t secretly bitch about how much more money we’d get if teaching salaries were determined by scarcity. Very few sigh for a world in which our pay is dependent on our principal’s opinion of our work. Many of us either aren’t fussed by system bureaucracy or—as if often the case—understand that the bureaucracy isn’t the underlying reason for whatever wall we face.

Given the utter lack of internal demand, teachers suspect, with much justification, that those calling for “leaders” are looking to install their mouthpieces in positions of authority over the rest of us. Call us cynical. Call us justified.

So the next time anyone calls for “teacher leaders”, please remember a few things. Any teaching community has leaders both official and informal. The official leaders are selected, often by management, sometimes by majority vote. The informal leaders are often sought out by colleagues, but occasionally self-drafted. Regardless of selection method, the relationships are many to many, not one to many. These leaders have little actual authority. They have influence. Sometimes.

Teachers don’t want leaders. We have management. We’re good, thanks.


2015: Turning a Corner. Maybe.

This chart may be complicated, but since these retrospectives mostly function as my diary, I’ll not worry about that.

blogpageviewcomparison

So here’s the last three years: Year 4 (blue, 2015), Year 3 (yellow, 2014), and Year 2(green, 2013). The last set of columns shows the cumulative traffic for each year. So Year 3 saw slightly higher traffic than Years 2 and 4. In 2015, I saw about 214K views compared to 215 in Year 3 and 223K in 2014, my high point.

If I wanted to, I could be bummed and think man, I’ve had no increase in growth over the past two years. But that’s why the jaggedy lines are there, to cheer me up. They remind me that if I want people to read me, I have to actually write. I put out a grand total of 5 posts in May, June, and July. Five posts! I only got two out in November, too.

Since I get a minimum of 200 page views just by actually posting, those three months cost me a lot of traffic. And since I’m not really in this for the overall traffic, it means I shouldn’t fuss about the lower overall number, and I won’t. Except to remind myself that I need to write more.

In 2014, I set myself the goal of writing 72 posts, and only managed 46. This year, I just managed 36. THIRTY SIX. That’s ridiculous.

Before I go onto the brighter side of last year, I want to write this down, to document my change in productivity. I wrote 108 pieces in my first year. Year 2, 2013, I wrote 61 essays. It’s like that math activity where the kids bounce balls and measure the height. My essay output is a decaying exponential function….Output year=.75 * Outputyear-1.

What the hell have I been doing with my time since? It’s not that I’m lazy, or that I did less research back then. Some of my best, most popular pieces were written in 2012, including 5 of the 18 pieces that saw over 1500 views just this year–or 6 of the top 20, if you prefer that method, but I don’t because it doesn’t allow like to like comparisons. Admittedly, many in that first year were short teaching stories I don’t do anymore (short? Me? Let’s all laugh.), but that just makes it more astonishing. I did some major research and throwaway posts. How?

I’m not out of ideas. I am more than occasionally frustrated by the utter nonsense I see bruited about confidently, by people paid huge heaps of money to be experts. But instead of writing about it, I get bogged down. That’s the problem. I try to do one big piece and cover everything. I need to create bite-sized chunks. The problem, alas, lies in my knowledge of the likelihood that I’d do the next chunk rather than move on to something else.

The problem isn’t the writing. I can knock out essays in relatively little time when I need to. I did On The Spring Valley High Incident in an evening (a very late evening, though), because I wanted my thoughts to be in the mix so timeliness was essential. I got the five political proposals and their bookends done in a month, a magnum opus of focus. (I suspect hocus pocus. Sorry.) The problem is in the organization and structuring, identifying the goals of the piece.

And yet, this studied consideration is often a strength. I spent nearly a month mulling the “explaining your answer” discussion and came up with the first “math zombie” piece, which contributed much more to the longer term discussion than whatever I would have written in the first week. Except, alas, I couldn’t get beyond thinking about it and so didn’t write anything else that month, killing the momentum I built up from August through October.

I read a P-J example in a Myers Briggs book somewhere. The president of a hobbyist club asked for a volunteer to put out a monthly newsletter. The volunteer who responded put out a charming newsletter, filled with fascinating and useful information, a real pleasure to read—but always put out on the third, rather than the first. In frustration, the president took it over herself, and put out a brief, functional newsletter right on time. Or the test question: “Do you think a meeting is successful when everyone leaves knowing what to do, or when every issue has been thoroughly explored?”

Which is not to say that everything done to task on time is always dry and boring. Mickey Kaus quotes someone else (I forget who) saying that he writes faster than anyone who writes better, and better than anyone who writes faster.

I will put more emphasis this year into improving my essay entry procedures, to stop putting off the challenging task of structuring a piece so that I can write it. Moreover, I was once able to write more than one piece at a time, putting out something simple and descriptive (say, on curriculum) while working on a larger piece. I need to get back to that.

I’m going to try to get back up to consistently four pieces a month. Wish me luck.

Now, on the bright side:

While 2014 saw the most consistent traffic, year 3 was also a relatively unpopular year. Of those 42 pieces, only 18 of them saw over 1000 views that year. My usual benchmark is 1500, and only eight made it over that mark.

This last year was much better. A full 24 of my paltry output of 36 pieces saw traffic over 1000 views; 11 made it over 1500. The most popular essay in 2014 was 2,800 views; this year my international SAT piece saw over 6,000 hits. My college remediation piece and the one on the gaokao got over 4,000.

These numbers are nowhere near my average essay popularity of 2013, the year of my all-time popular piece on Asians, as well as my Philip K. Dick piece on IQ, both of which went over 6,000–and that was just the start. I did some good work that year, and I’m pleased that 2015 was at least in the hunt.

So even though 2014, year 3, was the high point traffic wise, my new work received much more attention this year.

Some highlights:

  • My seven essay series on unmentionable education policies, most of which topped the 1500 mark–the rest just missed. I’m most proud that I gritted my teeth and followed through, devoting the entire month of August and not giving up.
  • What You Probably Don’t Know About the Gaokao highlights my ability to go deep and make a whole bunch of information digestible by the casual viewer–and got lots of traffic for my troubles.
  • I did carry through on my vow to write more about math, showing different aspects of my teaching and writing. Illustrating Functions is a nice pedagogy piece, while functions vs. equations sparked some tremendous discussions throughout the math community. I couldn’t have been more pleased. Jake’s Guest Lecture and The Test that made them go Hmmmm is an accurate representation of my classroom discussions. The zombie sessions with my private student capture my strength as an explainer. I also contined to build my series on multiple answer math tests, and what I can learn from the student responses.
  • I was offered a chance to write an op-ed in a major media outlet about my college remediation policy! I had to turn it down! The downside of anonymity. Although really, is it so terrible a newspaper publish an anonymous op-ed? They use anonymous sources and expect us to believe the journalists have used their judgment. (cough). So why not op eds? But still, it was great to be asked.
  • My Grant Wiggins eulogy—and may I say to Grant, wherever his spirit is, you’re sorely missed.

The pieces that didn’t get as much attention, but should have:

On a personal note, my granddaughter has a new baby brother! My next generation is expanding. And while I like to beat myself up for not writing more, I didn’t waste the time. I had a wonderful year of travel that took me to amazingly beautiful sights, multiple, happy family get-togethers necessitating time spent preparing fabulous food, and oh, yes, I taught a grand class or two. It was a fun year.

So let’s see if I’ve turned the corner on the productivity slump for 2016. Wish me luck.

Below are the pieces that had over 1500 hits.

Asian Immigrants and What No One Mentions Aloud 10/08/13 6,948
The SAT is Corrupt. No One Wants to Know. 12/31/14 6,329
Homework and grades. 02/06/12 4,491
Ed Policy Proposal #1: Ban College Level Remediation 08/01/15 4,360
What You Probably Don’t Know About the Gaokao 01/18/15 4,325
On the Spring Valley High Incident 10/27/15 2,948
Five Education Policy Proposals for 2016 Presidential Politics 07/31/15 2,944
Evaluating the New PSAT: Math  04/16/15 2,866
Algebra and the Pointlessness of The Whole Damn Thing 08/19/12 2,717
Binomial Multiplication and Factoring Trinomials with The Rectangle 09/14/12 2,699
Education Policy Proposal #2: Stop Kneecapping High Schools 08/02/15 2,253
I Don’t Do Homework  02/15/15 1,799
Education Policy Proposal #3: Repeal IDEA 08/07/15 1,708
Teachers and Sick Leave: A Proposal 05/26/13 1,629
SAT Prep for the Ultra-Rich, And Everyone Else 08/17/12 1,616
Education Policy Proposal #4: Restrict K-12 to Citizens Only 08/16/15 1,582
Kicking Off Triangles: What Method is This?  11/12/12 1,572
Functions vs. Equations: f(x) is y and more 05/24/15 1,514