Tuesday, August 7, 2012

RE: Blog Stage Seven

          Veronica Barfield’s Blog, entitled “Government: Bigger in Texas,” touched on a very interesting and recent declaration from Texas’ Republican Party, her comments on which can be found here. In their defense of Knowledge-Based Education, the party has gone as far to say they oppose teachings of critical thinking: “We oppose the teaching of Higher Order Thinking Skills (HOTS) (values clarification), critical thinking skills and similar programs that are simply a relabeling of Outcome-Based Education (OBE) (mastery learning) which focus on behavior modification and have the purpose of challenging the student's fixed beliefs and undermining parental authority (page 20, Republican Party of Texas, 2012).” In accordance with Ms. Barfield’s commentary, such a declaration is absolutely ridiculous.
          Although the party desires obedient children, preventing students from generating their own beliefs, or imagining an alternative, is extremely unproductive. Imagination fuels innovation, understanding, and allows obstacles to be overcome. By preventing students from acquiring such problem-solving skills, how will they achieve anything new? How will they adjust to the structure of collegiate-level coursework? Will they ever desire, or be able, to understand diverse cultures and people? Without such skills, I highly doubt it. With Texas dominated by Republicans, no wonder the state is renowned for being so closed minded. To them, ignorance is bliss and knowledge is set. Hell, maybe they still think the Earth is flat. However, as students of many backgrounds and beliefs populate the state, the many non-Republican supporters should not have to suffer. This is unfair and unrepresentative, but until minorities come out to vote in greater numbers, inevitable. Such policies would be another blow to an already broken education system.

Source: “Texas GOP Declares: ‘No More Teaching of “Critical Thinking Skills” in Texas Public Schools.’” Truthout. http://truth-out.org/news/item/10144-texas-gop-declares-no-more-teaching-of-critical-thinking-skills-in-texas-public-schools

Texas' Graduation Rate Hits All-Time High

          As the state continues to grow, the future will be up to the youth of Texas. Thus, their education, creating knowledgeable and qualified leaders, will be key. Such brings me to the recent report from the Austin American-Statesman, highlighting the state’s graduation rate reaching an all-time high. Up to 85.9%, this number is a 1.6% increase from 2011. This is a great sign of improvement, especially as 92% of these graduates completed their schooling in less than five years. Also impressive was the four-year math and science requirement for these students – credentials not previously mandatory for graduates. Though the graduation for whites was highest, increases in minority graduation rates, particularly among Blacks and Hispanics, was another positive sign.
          While such increases are a step in the right direction, further work needs to be put in to ensure the future leaders of the state and world are properly prepared. First, as the minority population reaches a majority, further improvements need to be made to increase their graduation rate – especially to levels equivalent to Anglos. As our state and country becomes more diverse, the education of such minorities will be key in achieving reflective representation.
          In addition to these unequal graduation rates, the United States still lags behind many other nations in its primary education quality, ranking 25th in mathematics and 20th in science, according to this study. Such rankings are unacceptable, especially as the United States used to dominate in these fields. If Texas cannot properly educate its youth, not only will we lose respect from abroad, but also decrease the quality of our currently renowned secondary institutions. For a country of so many, with so much money, further investment is needed. In my opinion, both Texas and the country overhaul the education system, or we fall victim to international takeover in all fields of innovation – technology, energy, medicine, etc. This is a battle we cannot afford to lose.

“Texas' graduation rate hits all-time high.” Austin American-Statesman. http://www.statesman.com/news/texas/texas-graduation-rate-hits-all-time-high-2427631.html

 “International Comparison of Math, Reading, and Science Skills Among 15-Year-Olds.” Infoplease. http://www.infoplease.com/ipa/A0923110.html

Friday, August 3, 2012

RE: "I Value My Education and So Should You"

          While searching through our class blog roll, I ran across Rohan Adiga’s interesting commentary on the recent funding decreases for Texas’s secondary institutions, particularly the University of Texas at Austin. As a student of UT, and especially one invested in the quality of its faculty, research, and reputation, he expresses particular disappointment in Governor Perry’s recent cuts in funding to the University – policy costing a “whopping” $92 million to UT over the next two years. With such cuts, one would think hikes in tuition could help pick up the slack. However, thanks to the Governor, frozen tuition rates leave the University in a deep hole – a predicament Adiga feels will cost the University the prestige it has worked so hard to achieve. Without the money to fund such groundbreaking research, why should brilliant scientists even think about coming to UT? A great question indeed, Rohan.
          As a fellow science and University of Texas student, I agree with his argument. Rick Perry has continued to champion his conservative ways, preventing tax or tuition increases without providing a means to pick up the slack. This well written commentary provides insight into how such policies will hurt the diverse and innovative researchers of the University of Texas – chemists, psychologists, political scientists, and more that have worked to help put UT on the world map. Though the Governor may champion the University’s success, he can’t realistically expect such groundbreaking (and subsequently expensive) research to continue without the appropriate funding. The cake may be tasty, but who’s going to keep baking it?

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Review of Insurance Rate Hikes in Texas

          The Affordable Care Act was controversial in its creation, and was recently brought back into the spotlight as the Supreme Court upheld the legislation’s individual mandate clause. However, despite its legal winnings and public support, Governor Perry continues to be outspoken against the President’s health care proposal. A shock to no one, he reprimands the legislation, stating that not only will he refuse to expand Medicaid in Texas, but also prevent creation of an insurance exchange.
          Although the Republican is often just a lot of talk, many advocates have accused the Perry administration for stalling on insurance rate reviews. A provision of the act designed to make insurance more affordable, the functioning federal law requires every state to conduct a review whenever an insurer wants to increase premiums more than ten percent. This review is designed to help protect small businesses and individuals who buy their own policies. And although the state cannot stop a rate increase, the government can say whether the change is fair or foul - giving the opportunity for individuals to shop for a more just policy. In the short run, the review helps keep the insurance market more transparent. In the long run, it also helps prepare the state for future legislation, potentially allowing the government to strike down the rate hikes (seen currently with automobile and home insurance).
          Such stalling, as described by KUT, is not only incredibly irresponsible by the Governor, it is also illegal: especially as the federal government gave the state $1 million dollars to perform the reviews. Though some individuals may argue that such investigations take time, nine reviews, all of which have been proposed so far, are still ongoing. This allows insurance companies to increase their rates, without public knowledge of whether such hikes are fair. This is extremely selfish on the part of Perry and his Republican cronies, worrying only about preserving their conservative viewpoints, instead of doing their job. As legislators, one would think upholding the law and acting in the best interest of their constituents would be of primary importance. Obviously, our elected officials think otherwise. In my opinion, serving the electorate and providing the best healthcare for Texans is the government's duty. If Perry does not like the President's plan, despite being law, instead of simply complaining, he should propose an alternative. To date, I do not know of any such plan. With state officials essentially spitting in the face of federal legislation, who knows what sort of disobedience will come next. This is a slippery slope all Texans should be afraid of. If those elected to help uphold the law don’t follow it, why should its citizens?

Source: “Texas Slow to Review Health Insurance Rate Hikes.” KUT News

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Thoughts on the Obama Contraception Compromise

          Rachel Farris, an experienced writer, new media specialist, and active Democrat, takes to her acclaimed blog, MeanRachel.com, to discuss President Obama’s compromise on his controversial contraception policies. For those unfamiliar with the issue, it centers around a federal mandate requiring individuals, or employers that provide health insurance, to include free coverage of contraceptives in their health insurance plans. Though a drug utilized as a tool for women’s health, its association with abortion and pro-choice sentiments created a huge controversy, particularly among the Catholic community.
          Believing choice, or any talk of abortion, blasphemous, Catholic Institutions, such as universities, took great offense to the mandate. They argued that requiring them to cover the cost of contraceptives not only violated their beliefs, but also promoted abortion among women. After months of arguing, litigation, and public outcry, the President recently issued a compromise. Women working for these religious institutions will continue to receive access to birth control, but instead of being supplied by their Catholic employers, insurance companies will cover the cost. Sounds like a win-win for women’s choice and religious freedom, right?
          This is what Farris argues, and I agree. However, some continue to remain opposed, arguing that access to birth control for Catholic employees continues to promote violation of their beliefs. To such an ignorant statement, I take offense. Firstly, not all of the individuals that work for these institutions follow the Catholic religion. These individuals should be able to have contraceptives as they see fit. In addition, whose place is it to control access to contraceptives? The right to improve one’s health or live a particular lifestyle should be up to the woman, and no one else. We don’t let the Church tell us what antibiotic we can take, right? That’s ridiculous. Though some believe this compromise is a cop-out, I feel it continues to provide the necessary access to every woman, without having to deal with continuous outcry and stalling via the judicial system. However, some groups crying wolf will still likely pursue litigation. But before they do, though, I wish they would sit and think for a minute. No one is forcing women to take birth control. The mandate simply gives them access, if they so desire it.

Source: Farris, Rachel. “A few words regarding the Obama contraception compromise.” MeanRachel.com.  

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Affirmative Action: The University of Texas at Austin's Policies Put to the Test

              Richard Kahlenberg, a Harvard graduate, novelist, and fellow at The Century Foundation, utilizes this commentary to discuss the Supreme Court’s decision to hear the case challenging affirmative action at the University of Texas at Austin. Here, Khalenberg provides background to those unfamiliar with the case, while also providing a liberal perspective on how Obama could use such an opportunity to redefine affirmative action. The case of interest revolves around Abigail Fisher, a white female who was denied admission to UT, after barely missing the top-ten percent cut, and falling short on the University’s subsequent review process. In a lawsuit, she claimed that the University’s policy, using race as a factor of admission, violated the Fourteenth Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause, arguing that if not white, she would have likely been admitted. The University claims, however, their decision falls in line with the precedent decision made in Grutter vs. Bollinger, allowing race to be one factor, among many, in influencing acceptance. The University also argues that the case should not even be heard, as interestingly enough, the plaintiff just graduated from Louisiana State University.
              Throughout the article, I agree with Kahlenberg’s points. I found particularly interesting the potential breakdown of the decision. Based on political tendencies, and past statements by the judges, the decision will likely be left to the swing Justice, Anthony Kennedy, as Elena Kagan (due to past involvement in the case) has rescued herself. Up to him, Kahlenberg argues that Kennedy will side with the conservatives, standing against affirmative action. Such a prediction is based on Kennedy’s writings after dissenting in Grutter vs. Bollinger, penning: “force educational institutions to seriously explore race-neutral alternatives.” In tune with such statements, and his liberal tendencies, Kahlenberg argues that diversity is needed, with which I agree with, but should be done through a class-based system, instead of a race-based scheme. In support of his argument, he provides statistics from the University of California system, which, in spite of banning race affirmative action in 1996, has increased diversity through adoption of a class-based system. In addition, he includes studies from The Century Foundation and the University of Colorado – Boulder, finding that if structured properly, class-based affirmative action can even generate more diversity than race-based. This point I found particularly intriguing.
              Kahlenberg also states that “It’s not whether we should have affirmative action or whether we shouldn’t, it’s what kind of affirmative action should we stress: race-based or race-neutral?” And I agree with latter. Race, in my opinion, is a poor factor to include in admission. Individuals should be granted entrance based on test scores and performance in the classroom, particularly the latter. Race should not be a factor, as it continues to promote society-generated stereotypes, and focus only on visible differences. Such obsessions with tangible, aesthetic qualities continue to suggest different-looking individuals are worthy of varying levels of respect, an idea completely nonsensical. Such policies, in my opinion, continue to promote racism, rather than bolster diversity and equal opportunity. Something needs to be changed.
              At the same time, I understand that not everyone has the same opportunities in the classroom, especially in states with low amounts of funding for public education. Thus, I find Khalenberg’s suggestion as a better way to produce diversity, without simply relying on race. This could help avoid acceptance of ethnically diverse individuals who slacked, despite the opportunity to succeed, and were rewarded anyways, simply by pulling the race card. Such a policy would also likely please Fisher, though I really have no pity for her. If she wanted in, she could have tried harder in high school (though I do not know her circumstances), reapplied, or transferred. Giving up and suing is not the only option.
              Kahlenberg’s last point, challenging Obama to help lead the way for the Supreme Court by supporting such a system, is an interesting one. Although I approve of switching from a race to a class-based affirmative action system, I am not sure the President should endorse one or the other. With the election coming up, I think it is best for him to sit back, let the Supreme Court decide, and make a statement from there. If the public agrees with the decision, support it. If not, speak against it. At this point, Obama is smart enough to stay out of any unneeded controversy. Overall, I found Kahlenberg’s argument compelling, I look forward to seeing what the Supreme Court decides this fall (hopefully).

Source: Kahlenberg, Richard. "Time for class-based affirmative action." The Dallas Morning News.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Central Texas students' absences cost districts millions

Education is a key issue for parents, children, and aspiring scholars alike. For this reason, I found this article, published by the Austin American Statesman, particularly interesting. Through a study performed by the E3 alliance, it has been found that Central Texas schools are losing millions of dollars in funding, just by a few student absences. During a time in which the state continues to cut funding, such money is key in providing the best education for students. To improve attendance, and thus increase funding, Austin and other areas have launched programs to reduce absences. Employing techniques as varied as home visits, student video contests, and even automated wake-up calls from celebrities, such attempts to increase attendance have shown success. If children are not attending school, obviously they cannot learn. Thus, it is key to minimize absences not only to improve their future, but also guarantee the funding necessary to help them graduate and achieve their goals. As these pupils will one-day lead our state, such money and quality of education is key, especially as the state continues to reduce funding.