Science Wants You To Coddle Your Teenagers To Help Them Learn

Rachel Morello, writing for State Impact Indiana, has a story about doctors recommending later school start times for middle schools and high schools to accommodate adolescents need for sleep and thereby improve their ability to learn while they’re at school. This will never catch on because life is a morality play, and anything that seems enjoyable or pleasant is immediately suspect. Can’t coddle “kids these days”(tm) you know. Misery builds fortitude which is why piling on homework and yelling at students to work harder will always be a more popular approach to education by policy makers.

A couple of health care news items

Rick Callahan, writing for the Associated Press, has an article entitled “Health-care fears loom large in gay marriage cases.” The article discusses how health care benefits can be a strong motivating force for gay partners who want recognition of their relationship as a marriage which entitles them to their partner’s health care benefits.

Yesterday, Tony Cook, writing for the Indianapolis Star had an article on Seema Verma, an individual who works as a health care consultant for the State of Indiana, designing the “Healthy Indiana Plan” while working as a vendor for that plan.

No time to comment, but it’s unfortunate that health care protection can be so variable even while it’s so important to our lives, meanwhile it’s hard to escape the suspicion that the system is corrupt, and we’re chumps enriching some privileged few who have gamed the system.

Police and Optics

Dave Bangert, writing for the Lafayette Journal & Courier, has a good column discussing the issue of military hardware in the possession of local police forces. West Lafayette has, most notably, a mine-resistant ambush protected vehicle (MRAP).

The column was unsurprisingly prompted by the news and images coming out of Ferguson, MO where the available evidence so far suggests the police are behaving badly. And the images coming out of that community are full of police in riot gear with military grade hardware. But, to date, the primary damage has come from a fairly ordinary sidearm wielded by the police officer who killed Mike Brown.

The use of scary looking tools in Ferguson has done the police more harm than good. So far as I know, the actual uses of force employed by the police in Missouri have been fairly conventional. The deployment of high tech, menacing, military grade (I’m not sure exactly what this term means, but it’s been employed a lot) hardware has been mostly for show. I don’t know that the police have actually used capabilities that wouldn’t have been available to them 35 years ago.

On the other hand, the optically menacing display is feeding the narrative of jack-booted thugs run amok with its center-piece being the shooting of Mike Brown in the manner described by witnesses sympathetic to Brown and hostile to the police. If the Ferguson police have their own, less inflammatory narrative where the shooting was justified, it is being drowned out through a combination of police silence, horrible optics, and probably a healthy dose of good old fashioned being in the wrong.

As for West Lafayette and other communities, I think the relationship between the police and the communities they serve is going to be far more important than the particulars of the hardware available to the police forces. It’s critical to have a police force that is drawn from and active in the community being policed. We are fortunate to have that in Tippecanoe County. St. Louis County and Ferguson, not so much.

Indiana Issues Statewide Report on School Bullying

Rachel Morello, writing for State Impact Indiana, has a story on the State’s report on school bullying. Consisting of about 9,400 reported incidents:

Data collected by the Indiana Department of Education shows 44 percent of cases reported during the 2013-14 academic year were verbal and 21 percent physical. The rest involved written or electronic threats, as well as social relational issues.

Eric Weddle, writing for the Indianapolis Star, also had a story on the subject.

The data collected is an initial step. It’s tough to make too much of it right now, but the report creates something of a baseline. Lack of any reported bullying might be a red flag that schools are not being observant or forthcoming. Bullying is not easily defined, but the State took a stab at it:

Overt, unwanted, repeated acts or gestures, including verbal or written communications, that create an objectively hostile school environment for targeted students that place them in reasonable fear or harm or affects their mental health or school performance.

I know I had some difficulties as a kid. Being a scrawny, academically oriented boy doesn’t exactly endear you to some of the bigger, less-academically oriented boys who (more often than not) had chaotic home lives to deal with. (Bringing to mind Warren Zevon’s line, “You know, the Sheriff’s got his problems too. He will surely take them out on you.”) And, I recall being on the giving end for at least one kid who became a target among the boys because he seemed to have a much greater affinity for the girls in the class than the boys. (Years later, I sought him out on Facebook and apologized — he didn’t seem to remember me, so there is a good chance my behaving poorly was more of a minor problem for him).

What I don’t get is the hue and cry from parents who apparently think maintaining civility in schools is going to soften up their kids. You want your kid to be tough? Let him treat you the way you’d apparently have him act in school. Maybe let his siblings beat him around if that’s what you’re into. Leave it at home though. Getting my books dumped, getting my arm punched repeatedly, and being harassed for using 5 syllable words didn’t make me a better person. It turned me into a vengeful trial attorney. I think we can all agree we don’t need any more of that.

Media Stuff

In no particular order:

I went running with my 10 year old son yesterday. As we were chatting, he mentioned that you shouldn’t trust the news too much because they liked to exaggerate. He was thinking mostly of TV news. I shared with him the notion that, “if you’re not paying for it, you’re the product.”

CBS is terminating its affiliation with WISH-TV, channel 8 and beginning one with WTTV, channel 4 beginning January 1, 2015. If WISH-TV can reboot Sammy Terry and Cowboy Bob and somehow broadcast all of the Purdue and IU basketball games (including the Farm Bureau tuba kid and Martha the mop lady intros), I think they’d be fine.

Rumor has it that the Indy Star is laying off a lot of people today. My opinion is that the long term future of news organizations is going to be investigating and reporting on local issues. Those are things that can’t effectively be outsourced or replaced otherwise. Going for short term gain by replacing those more expensive functions with cheap content like opinion or news wire reports is going to erode the long term viability of the organization because that stuff is replaceable.

Norm Ornstein on Main Stream Extremism

Norm Ornstein, not known as a liberal wishing ill for the Republican Party, thinks the Grand Old Party is in the midst of an existential struggle between bedrock conservatives and radicals. (h/t Sheila Kennedy). It caught my eye because I’ve seen variants of a lot of these make their way into proposed Indiana legislation:

That the Texas Legislature should “ignore, oppose, refuse, and nullify” federal laws it doesn’t like.

That when it comes to “unelected bureaucrats” (meaning, Hertzberg notes, almost the entire federal workforce), Congress should “defund and abolish these positions.”

That all federal “enforcement activities” in Texas “must be conducted under the auspices of the county sheriff with jurisdiction in that county.” (That would leave the FBI, air marshals, immigration officials, DEA personnel, and so on subordinate to the Texas versions of Sheriff Joe Arpaio.)

That “the Voting Rights Act of 1965, codified and updated in 1973, be repealed and not reauthorized.”

That the U.S. withdraw from the United Nations, the International Monetary Fund, the World Trade Organization, and the World Bank.

That governments at all levels should “ignore any plea for money to fund global climate change or ‘climate justice’ initiatives.”

That “all adult citizens should have the legal right to conscientiously choose which vaccines are administered to themselves, or their minor children, without penalty for refusing a vaccine.

That “no level of government shall regulate either the ownership or possession of firearms.” (Period, no exceptions.)

That seems to be the current struggle going on. Ornstein notes that the Republicans was being fractured from the left at the beginning of the 1900s with guys like Teddy Roosevelt and Robert La Follette pushing Progressive policies, and the Democrats being pulled from the left a little earlier than that with William Jennings Bryan running around with his Cross of Gold speeches and whatnot; and again in the late 60s and early 70s with the McGovern wing briefly taking hold.

Ornstein finds the roots of the Republicans’ current challenge in the strategies and tactics of New Gingrich:

Clinton’s election in 1992 moved the Democrats firmly to the center on previously divisive issues like welfare and crime. But it also provided the impetus for the forces that have led to the current Republican problem. These forces were built in part around insurgent Newt Gingrich’s plans to overturn the Democratic 38-year hegemony in Congress, and in part around a ruthlessly pragmatic decision by GOP leaders and political strategists to hamper the popular Clinton by delegitimizing him and using the post-Watergate flowering of independent counsels to push for multiple crippling investigations of wrongdoing (to be sure, he gave them a little help along the way). No one was more adroit at using ethics investigations to demonize opponents than Newt. In 1994, Gingrich recruited a passel of more radical candidates for Congress, who ran on a path to overturn most of the welfare state and who themselves demonized Congress and Washington. At a time of rising populist anger—and some disillusionment on the left with Clinton—the approach worked like a charm, giving the GOP its first majority in the House in 40 years, and changing the face of Congress for decades to come.

For the current struggle, Ornstein sees a push back against the radicalism but doesn’t foresee the return of the kind of problem-solving conservatism he’d like to see. Instead he says:

It is a measure of the nature of this intra-party struggle that the mainstream is now on the hard right, and that it is close to apostasy to say that Obama is legitimate, that climate change is real, that background checks on guns are desirable, or even that the Common Core is a good idea.

One thing this piece reminds us of, simply by recounting some of the history, is that trajectory lines are not constants. A lot of the current dismay and dissatisfaction about government comes from drawing a line between the way things were and they way they are now and simply projecting that line to the future. But there will be an inflection point. Things change, they always do. Often, but not always, for the better.

Sen. Long cites “national excitement” over Constitutional Amendment process

Sen. Long has a guest column in the Journal & Courier about his participation in efforts to amend the U.S. Constitution through the untested state convention process rather than through the process initiated by Congress that has been used for every Constitutional amendment to date.

There is a growing national awareness, and corresponding excitement, over a state-led effort to propose amendments to the U.S. Constitution.
. . .
The Founders feared that without this provision, states could never be assured of protection from the threat to their sovereign rights by an over-reaching federal government.

He then raises the specter of trampled upon states rights, a fearful national debt, and waves away fears of a runaway convention.

I suppose that when you’re messing around with the guts and inner workings of the Republic, it’s appropriate to raise fearful images of tyranny. But, for starters, the “trampled upon” states rights are over stated. I haven’t noted Indiana being ground down by the boot heel of Washington. I’ve seen political parties who control state-level government having different policy preferences than political parties who control federal-level government and resulting squabbles from often venal politicians and lobbyists.

Once again, Sen. Long speaks to organizing the process, a vague description of the problem, and an almost non-existent indication as to the solutions he has in mind. Debt’s a problem? Why do I feel like extracting some extra portion of the nation’s GDP to those citizens who have been more successful in appropriating it to themselves in order to pay the nation’s bills isn’t on Sen. Long’s mind?

But, interestingly, I recently found out that Sen. Long’s side of things, Citizens for Self-Governance, isn’t the only state convention organizing effort afoot. There is also the Wolf-PAC effort. Rather than debt, states-rights, and allegations of federal tyranny; the Wolf-PAC is calling for a state led convention in order to pass an amendment that would permit campaign finance regulations and overturn Supreme Court decisions that overturned campaign finance regulations.

Would Long’s group be willing to join forces with Wolf-PAC in order to get the necessary number of states?

In any case, I don’t think any of us should get behind these efforts unless we have a very good idea of the policy solutions the organizers want to propose. I haven’t seen that out of Sen. Long’s group. Give me sample amendment language you anticipate supporting. If it has to be tweaked later, fine. But we shouldn’t be buying a pig-in-a-poke.

Overcrowding at Delaware County Jail

Keith Roysdon, writing for the Muncie Star Press, has a story on the overcrowding at the Delaware County Jail. Apparently the county is housing inmates at other jails and now the Sheriff plans on transporting Department of Correction inmates as quickly as he can instead of waiting until they have several at a time to transport. After trial and sentencing to the Department of Corrections, it can take a while for inmates to actually be moved from the jail to the DOC. The county has paid $343,000 this year on housing county inmates in other jails and are budgeting $750,000 for next year.

The county jail is supposed to house 220 inmates. Scroggins said the county had 265 inmates in jail Monday with another 42 in Blackford County, one in Jay County, 14 in the sheriff’s home detention program, four in Delaware County Community Corrections home detention and 165 placed on pre-trial probation by local judges.

Overcrowding is a decades-old problem at the jail, which was built and opened in 1992 to settle a federal court inmate lawsuit over unconstitutional conditions at the county’s former jail.

Sounds like they need to expand their jail. Additionally, I would expect the problems to be exacerbated with the recent overhaul of the criminal code which can be expected to add pressure to local jails and community corrections programs.

New Indiana Code Website Takes Giant Step Back in Functionality

The Indiana Law Blog has some detailed analysis about what has changed with the new Indiana Code website provided by the Indiana General Assembly. It also includes mention of my less refined bellyaching on Twitter.

Friday Lafayette attorney Doug Masson had these tweets:

LSA’s new website for the Indiana Code is incredibly unwieldy and a downgrade from what was available before.

Not to put too fine a point on it, the new Indiana Code website stinks out loud.

Navigation through the Code exclusively through drop down menus. Displayed only in framed PDFs with limited scrolling.

I agree with the ILB’s analysis that the new site might work for occasional use but is a significant step backward for new users and heavy users alike. It’s too much of a learning curve for new users. It’s too slow and too frustrating for heavy users.

I seem to have it in my head from somewhere that the new design elements, in particular the heavy use of PDFs instead of html, are a response to some sort of security concerns. But, if I ever knew what they were, I can’t begin to articulate what those security concerns may have been. (I know back in my LSA days, there was concern that someone might counterfeit a bill and misrepresent the language in the actual bill somehow. I think bar codes or maybe watermarks on the original versions were an effort to counter that anticipated threat.) Again, this is all very vague, but I’m offering the dim memory as I struggle to figure out what this redesign was intended to fix at such a loss in functionality.

But, yeah, at the moment — stinks out loud.

“Comparing ISTEP scores won’t make our education system better”

Every year, we see a flurry of ISTEP news reports (see, e.g. here and here and here) telling how various schools did on the tests, whether they did better or worse than last year, and how they did compared to the rest of the state. You get the sense that these scores are a major source of anxiety and concern for most involved.

Which is one of the reasons I enjoyed seeing Rocky Killion, Superintendent of West Lafayette Schools, comment on ISTEP scores:

“Comparing ISTEP scores won’t make our education system better,” he said. “There’s much more to all of our public schools than these scores.”

As a superintendent of a public school system that routinely performs well on these tests. Rocky’s in a fairly unique position to offer this critique. No one can accuse him of sour grapes or of making excuses for poor performance. In any event, the ISTEP story is an easy narrative for the reporters. It reminds me a little of the horse race narrative you see way too often in politics where the substance of the campaigns and the policies are glossed over in favor of reporting on how the candidates are doing in the polls.

For my kids, I see the ISTEP as a waste of time. Because I’m a doting father, I’ll brag a little bit. They’re going to pass every year, and they’re going to pass by a lot. If they had their testing days back and if their teachers didn’t have to concern themselves with the administrative hassles, I daresay the quality public school teachers my kids have would have that much more freedom to teach my kids in useful ways.