“We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.” – Albert Einstein

Posted on by Steve Reick | 2 Comments

**UPDATED** As the CDC Dithers, Schools Twist in the Wind

Last week the board for my local school district met and the main topic on the agenda was the matter of whether students, teachers and staff would be required to wear masks. The board gave a great deal of time to public comments, and many parents took advantage of the opportunity. Except for one parent, all of the comments were in favor of giving parents the choice of having their children wear face coverings.

.

In my comments to the board, I said that it has the responsibility to consider more than just the risk of COVID infection among children when fulfilling its role to provide for their education, and I thought it should be a parent’s choice to decide whether his or her child should wear a mask at school. I also challenged parents who argued for choice to think about whether they were doing it for their kids’ sake or whether they were making a political statement. I’ve since received emails from constituents who wanted to know why I spoke out as I did.

.

I think it’s important to point out that all flu viruses are coronaviruses, which are very adaptable and prone to mutation. However, it’s also true that as they mutate and may become more contagious than the original virus, statistics are showing that the virus is not more dangerous or likely to kill you. No vaccine is 100% effective, and if you’re vaccinated and are exposed to it, you may get infected. These symptoms are usually mild, manageable, and pass within a day or two. This was the case with the later mutations of Spanish Flu in 1918, the “swine flu”, and will be true of COVID-19. The virus will, as was pointed out in The Great Influenza, “revert to the mean” and become another flu for which vaccines will be developed and which will be another risk that we as a society will take in stride.

.

We also have to compare COVID’s danger to children with other dangers. In the United States, extraordinarily tiny fractions of children have died among the millions who have gotten sick. The risk is not zero, and while every death is tragic, we make judgments all the time about acceptable and non-acceptable risks. Every year we go through “flu season” without shutting down schools or resorting to other universal restrictive behaviors. Deaths in automobile accidents could possibly be preventable but trying to stop them all would require rules and enforcement mechanisms that society wouldn’t put up with. How do we measure the harmful effects of what we’re doing to our kids, from isolation to the fear of basic human contact that accompanies the demands of grownups who want to make the world absolutely safe? Those have to be factored in, as well.

.

Before the board made its decision, it was announced that just that day, the CDC had issued new guidelines that, because of the rapid spread of the “Delta” variant to the COVID-19 virus, it was recommending that masks be worn indoors, even by those who’d been vaccinated. This announcement was quickly followed by a letter from the district’s insurance carrier that unless this new guidance was followed, the district could lose its coverage, so the decision was put off until next Tuesday. Such is the litigious world in which we live.

.

My personal take is that the CDC is being pulled from one side to the other by competing interests which go beyond the need to keep the pandemic from coming back. Otherwise, why make so many inconsistent pronouncements in such short order? This Federal action trickles down to the local level in demonstrable ways such as whether to mask or not. Besides, I certainly don’t want to set a precedent that every time a new variant arises we all go back into lockdown. Nor does this serve to inspire confidence in our public health system. Those who are hesitant to get the vaccine are going to be less likely to do so if they think that even if they do get it, some bureaucrat is going to say that masks are still going to be required.

.

That’s not to say that people shouldn’t get vaccinated. The evidence is mounting that the vast majority of new infections is coming from those who haven’t been given the vaccine. I’m not going to ask you to prove to me or anyone else that you’ve done it, but I’m more than a little annoyed that there are some out there who ride on the backs of those who’ve taken the vaccine with the hope that enough will take it to get us to full herd immunity without their cooperation. You aren’t proving anything to anybody and all you’re doing is helping the government slow-walk the process. Regardless of your objections, this thing will be over a lot sooner if you just go out and get the shot, so step up and take one for the team.

.

**UPDATE** Of course, there’s no accounting for the hysteria that can be stoked by breathless media reports of possible outbreaks at events where 90% of the participants showed proof of vaccination and another 8% showed proof of a recent negative test. Setting aside for the moment the slippery slope that may come by requiring proof of vaccination for entry, it seems that some people just don’t want our national nightmare to be over.

.

Finally, it’s long past time for our Governor to stop hiding behind his pronouncements that he’s “following the science”. His original justification for shutting down the State was to take the pressure off of hospital emergency rooms, and it made sense, but unless we start seeing much higher demand on bed capacity, the fact that the Federal government can’t get its act together is justification enough to open up both our economy and our schools.

Posted in COVID-19, Education | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

You Don’t Apportion Legislative Districts With a Random Survey

Like every other state, Illinois is in the process of drawing new legislative boundaries as is required every 10 years after the taking of the census. This year is unique because (like everything else) COVID interrupted the process.

.

The Illinois Constitution provides that the legislature has until June 30th to draw a new legislative map. If it fails to do so by that date, an eight-member backup commission is appointed to draw the map. If the commission fails, the Secretary of State is instructed to appoint a ninth member from a pair of names, one from each party, that he draws from a replica of Abraham Lincoln’s stovepipe hat (the hat part isn’t in the Constitution).

.

The last thing Democrats want is to possibly lose control of the redistricting process through a random draw, which is the only way the Republicans could possibly get their map approved, so they’re pulling out all the stops to convince people that it’s Republicans who control the redistricting process. They’re even raising money on it.

.

As everyone who ever took a civics class knows, legislative boundaries are drawn using data from the U.S. Census, which happens every 10 years. All states must comply with the federal constitutional requirements related to population and anti-discrimination. For congressional redistricting, the Apportionment Clause of Article I, Section 2, of the U.S. Constitution requires that all districts be as nearly equal in population as practicable, which essentially means exactly equal. For state legislative districts, the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution requires that districts be substantially equal. Some variation is considered acceptable.

.

Therein lies the problem. The Democrats in Illinois are doing everything they can to substitute data from wherever they can find it for Census data, which we are told won’t be available until August. They want the map drawn by June 30th so as not to trigger the appointment of the commission, which may lead ultimately to having a Republican’s name pulled out of a hat, which leads us to the American Community Survey.

.

At a recent virtual townhall held in McHenry County, the chairman of the Illinois Democratic County Chairs Association said the map should be drawn by June 30 using “the best data you have access to, and make any adjustments, if needed, as the new data comes in.” She also suggested moving the June 30th date back to compensate for the delay in census data.

.

See what she did there? By moving the date back, she’s ignoring the plain language of the Constitution, and by using “the best data you have access to” she’s asking that the map be drawn using ACS data, just so it’s drawn by June 30th. When asked, she admitted that she didn’t know anything about the American Community Survey. But what does that matter if it means we have the map by June 30th? To these people, the date’s the thing, we can fill in the blanks later.

.

I recently had a chance in House floor debate to talk about what the ACS is and what it isn’t, where its use is appropriate and its limits:

.

Watch this video on YouTube.

Posted in Illinois Constitution | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

“Culturally Responsive Teaching” Standards: Whether They’re Adopted Is Up To You

In my last blog post, I discussed the “Culturally Responsive Teaching and Leading Standards” which have been promulgated by the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) and which will be considered by JCAR at its February meeting. Rather than reinventing the wheel, I’d ask that you take a few moments to read the post to get the full background.

.

I’ve sent a letter to ISBE asking a number of questions about the standards which I’ve asked that they answer prior to our February meeting. The central question as I see it is:

.

Subsection (a) of the Illinois Professional Teaching Standards states as follows:

“Teaching Diverse Students – The competent teacher understands the diverse characteristics and abilities of each student and how individuals develop and learn within the context of their social, economic, cultural, linguistic, and academic experiences. The teacher uses these experiences to create instructional opportunities that maximize student learning.”

.

Question: When the very first section of the Illinois Professional Teaching Standards requires an understanding of and a sensitivity to the needs of diverse learners, what do the CRTL standards add that are not already plainly stated?

.

ISBE’s stated aim is to increase the number of minority teachers in Illinois, especially bilingual and special ed teachers. I fail to see how these standards will do this.  Instead, these standards are directly aimed at increasing social activism within the teaching profession, which will translate into lesson plans such as was recently reported about a teacher in Cupertino, California who forced her third grade class to deconstruct their racial identities, then rank themselves according to their “power and privilege.” This isn’t new, as George Will wrote about in 2013, describing an effort in Wisconsin to get students to wear white wristbands “as a reminder about your privilege.” What’s new is that this kind of thing is now being elevated to the level of state policy through an under the radar process known as administrative rulemaking.

.

I need to take a few moments to discuss the role that JCAR plays in the whole scheme of things. As time has gone by, Illinois has followed Congress’ example by abandoning the practice of passing statutes that fully describe the matter at hand (and taking responsibility for the consequences), leaving that more and more to the discretion of executive agencies through the administrative rulemaking process. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard legislators in debate on a bill saying that inconsistencies and clarifications in a bill can be left to JCAR. That’s not our job.

.

JCAR was originally intended to be a committee that had a very low-key role in determining a rulemaking’s adherence to statute and legislative intent, but it has become more of a flash point in the development of (in this case) education policy because of the Legislature’s abdication of its responsibility to clearly state what it means in statute. As the Legislature becomes less involved as the voice of the people (except at election time), JCAR is being asked more often to suspend or reject specific rules, thus taking on the role that the Legislature has all but abandoned: that of guardian of their interests. Again, that’s not JCAR’s job.

.

JCAR’s staff has always held the position that any public comments regarding proposed rulemaking should be directed at the agency promulgating the rule rather than the members of JCAR because the agency is considered the “active” party in the process, while JCAR’s role has been deemed to be “passive” by virtue of its stated mission of determining compliance with state statute. While I agree with that intent and understand that the focus of inquiry and comments by the public should be placed upon the agencies writing the rule, the agencies have become ever more insulated from such attention, and the focus has shifted to the members of JCAR, resulting in hundreds of phone calls and thousands of emails to its individual members.

.

Last May I received over 10,000 emails when the Governor tried to turn struggling business owners into criminals through the rulemaking process. That pressure upon me and the other Committee members forced him to pull the rule before JCAR considered it. So I’ll leave you with this. If you’re upset about this rule and want to voice your displeasure, you can send me an email, but I’d also ask that you send your thoughts to ISBE by clicking here. You can also clog up their phone lines by calling ISBE in Chicago at (312) 814-2220 or in Springfield at (217) 782-4321.

.

There’s a lot at stake, how it ends is up to you.

Posted in Education, Regulation | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

“Culturally Responsive Teaching” – Putting Activism Before Learning

Writing in Education Week last February, Bettina Love, professor at the University of Georgia and co-founder of the Abolitionist Teaching Network, declared that “Anti-racist teaching is not a teaching approach or method, it is a way of life.” That thinking has landed here in Illinois.

.

Like every state, Illinois requires that programs for developing teachers adhere to a defined pedagogy by which certain standards of competency in the subject matter are to be taught and which assure mastery of the means of imparting that knowledge to students. Our standards are laid out in 23 Ill. Adm. Code 24. Section 24.130 contains the minimum requirements for any program leading to teacher certification, such as mastery of subject matter, varying plans of instruction for diverse students and the like.

.
This month, the Joint Committee on Administrative Rules (of which I’m a member) will be asked to approve an amendment to Section 24 which layers “Culturally Responsive Teaching and Leading Standards” onto the minimums established in Section 130. “Culturally responsive teaching” (also called culturally relevant teaching), is a pedagogy that recognizes the importance of including students’ cultural references in all aspects of learning. To give you a flavor of what JCAR is being asked to consider, I’ve excerpted certain sections from the amendment:

.
Section 24.50 The Illinois Culturally Responsive Teaching and Leading Standards

a)  Self-Awareness and Relationships to Others – The culturally responsive teacher and leader will:

1)  Understand and value the notion that multiple lived experiences exist, that there is not one “correct” way of doing or understanding something, and that what is seen as “correct” is most often based on our lived experiences;
10)  Assess how their biases and perceptions affect their teaching practice and how they access tools to mitigate their own behavior (racism, sexism, homophobia, unearned privilege, Eurocentrism, etc.).

b) Systems of Oppression – Culturally responsive teachers and leaders understand that there are systems in our society that create and reinforce inequities, thereby creating oppressive conditions. The culturally responsive teacher and leader will:

4) Know and understand how current curriculum and approaches to teaching impact students who are not a part of the dominant culture.
5) Be aware of the effects of power and privilege and the need for social advocacy and social action to better empower diverse students and communities.
7) Know and understand how a system of inequity reinforces certain truths as the norm.

e) Leveraging Student Activism – The culturally responsive teacher and leader will:

5) Create a risk-taking space that promotes student activism and advocacy.
6) Research and offer student advocacy and activism content with real world implications.

g) Content Selections in All Curricula – The culturally responsive teacher and leader will:

5) Embrace and encourage progressive viewpoints and perspectives that leverage asset thinking toward traditionally marginalized populations.
9) Ensure teacher and students co-create content to include a counternarrative to dominant culture.

.
You get the picture. If adopted, these standards will lard our teaching programs with additional mandates just at the time when Illinois is suffering from a shortage of teachers. At the start of the 2020 school year, there were 2,000 teacher vacancies reported in Illinois schools. With these new requirements, we risk increasing the teacher shortage and losing quality, new teachers. But what we’re really seeing here is not so much an attempt to expand our teacher rolls as it is a means by which those who set education policy are cementing social activism into our schools. I don’t say this solely based upon what the amendment itself says, but also upon an examination of the reading list upon which ISBE relied in creating the standards, among them:

.

The General Assembly has created a number of mandates for schools to teach students about racism, sexism, and other biases including, but not limited to:

.

  1. Character education so that students are taught respect, responsibility, fairness, caring, trustworthiness, and citizenship intended to raise pupils’ honesty, kindness, justice, discipline, respect for others, and moral courage for the purpose of lessening crime and raising the standard of good character.
  2. Holocaust and Genocide Study.
  3. Black History, including history of slavery and the contributions of African Americans in Illinois and U.S. history.
  4. History of Women, including women’s contributions and the fight for suffrage and equality.
  5. U.S. History and the role and contributions of a number of defined ethnic groups made to Illinois and the U.S.
  6. History, roles, and contributions of the LGBT community.
  7. Civics education so that students are well-informed and can be productive citizens.
  8. Violence prevention and conflict resolution.
  9. Anti-bias education so students can understand differing groups.
  10. Anti-bullying prevention and education.
  11. Disability history and awareness.
  12. Social and emotional learning.

.

This amendment does not establish a “woke” curriculum on its own. What it does is create a vehicle by which curriculum will be curated to conform to the standards, which will ultimately have the same effect. In a recent article in National Review, the author examined the trend of creating new history and civics standards for which this amendment will be the implementing vehicle, using the initiatives that are found in IllinoisCivics.org as an example. The Chicago Public School system has begun to implement The 1619 Project Curriculum as part of its curriculum, even though the assertions in the 1619 Project as credible history have been strongly and effectively rebuffed. This amendment is nothing more than a Trojan Horse which will only accelerate the movement to get an undefined progressive agenda permanently into our schools.

.
Section (g)(5) of the amendment, quoted above, requires the culturally responsible teacher to “(e)mbrace and encourage progressive viewpoints and perspectives” without defining the term “progressive”, leaving one to infer its meaning. Requiring all new teachers to teach from a “progressive viewpoint” is simply wrong. There should be no political viewpoints required or taught in any manner in Illinois’ public schools, nor should teacher licensure be dependent upon embracing them.

.
This amendment does no favors to the children who will be taught to think that 2+2=5 because to do otherwise would be to buy into the notion that they’re caving into the “dominant culture”. Education is power, and those we put in charge of public education hold great sway in what is and is not taught. What this amendment really does is condemn students to failure when they come up against the harsh realities of a world that hires people who know that 2+2=4. When that happens, will those who advocate for this be held to account? I doubt it.

Posted in Education | Tagged , | Leave a comment

There’s a “Red Menace” Made of Ink, and We’re Drowning In It

I published the following post last December. With the defeat of the Governor’s so-called “Fair Tax” amendment, it seems an appropriate time to bring it around again.

.

The Chicago Tribune has published the story of a family trying to obtain services for their autistic son, who “aged out” of Illinois’ special education system when he turned 22, and was put on the State’s “Prioritization for Urgency of Need for Services” (or PUNS) list, a waitlist for disabilities services in Illinois administered by the Illinois Department of Human Services (IDHS). From the story:

.

.“Nick is among nearly 20,000 people with developmental disabilities in Illinois who are on a waiting list to get into adult programs. Many of them come from families who don’t have a way to pay for home care,  job coaches or other services.

Most wait an average of seven years before they are selected, despite a court order in 2011 that Illinois shrink the list and do other things to improve how it serves developmentally disabled adults.

One family told the Tribune they signed up their child when he was just 5 and he still did not get a spot when he turned 22 this year…”

.

The story goes on to describe a lawsuit filed in 2004 to require the State to provide community-based living arrangements and services to the developmentally disabled. Again, from the story:

.

“While paying lip service to the value of community-based programs, defendants have made paltry efforts to reduce the state’s reliance on large institutions or to expand Illinois’ community-based programs,” the lawsuit added.

.

We’re all familiar with the tragic story of A.J. Freund, the little 5-year old who had been in and out of the attention of DCFS since birth. The extent to which the agency’s systemic troubles failed him and others is a story yet to be fully told.

.

I’ve recently been appointed to the “Task Force for Strengthening Child Welfare Workforce for Children and Families”,  established by Public Act 100-879, the purpose of which is to:

.

[C]reate a task force to study the compensation and workload of child welfare workers to determine the role that compensation and workload play in the recruitment and retention of child welfare workers, and to determine the role that staff turnover plays in achieving safety and timely permanency for children.

.

It would be an easy fix if all we were doing was paying “lip-service” to these and any number of other underfunded programs. But the real and bigger reason for this chronic underfunding is staring us directly in the face.

.

.A story getting far less attention but which has everything to do with the 20,000 people on the PUNS list and excessive workloads at DCFS is the recent report issued by the Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability (COGFA) about the state of Illinois’ pensions.

.

The report discloses that the unfunded liability for its 5 pension funds as of June 30th, 2019 stands at $137.2 billion, up from $133.5 billion in the previous year and goes on to point out that in Fiscal Year 2020, the State is scheduled to contribute $9.223 billion out of General Revenue to fund those pensions.

.

Debt Payment 2020

.

That $9.2 billion represents 22 percent of the total amount of state spending in the current FY 2020 budget, which is scheduled to grow to $10.6 billion in 2024 and ultimately rise to over $19 billion in 2045.

.

When over 20% (and climbing) of your total budget is going towards paying debt, it leaves much less for the ongoing functions of government. The size of our debt is a rough measure of how much money was diverted in the past to dispense the type of goodies that politicians are only too happy to give, goodies which blur and ultimately erase the lines between an encroaching State  and those entities and institutions in which a free people in a healthy society really live: its civic and charitable organizations, community clubs, Little League, churches and a free economy, to name just a few.

..

.This is money that could be used for the types of programs that would help Nick cope with life in our broader society, allow the State to more adequately fulfill its Constitutional imperative of paying for education and create a more robust and effective program of child protection. But so long as we continue to deal with this albatross around our neck, none of this will be done.

.

.I grew up at a time when the former Soviet Union was referred to as the “Red Menace”. We now live under the threat of a new Red Menace, one made of ink. We can argue all day about where the responsibility lies and whose fault it is that we’re in this mess, but when the excesses of the past continue to increasingly crowd out our responsibilities of the present and to the future, we’re going to see more stories about people like Nick and A.J. If we don’t do something about our debt and soon, we’d better get used to seeing them.

Posted in Cost of Government, State Government | Tagged , , | Leave a comment