Thursday, October 29, 2015

Misguided Mike Bloomberg Misses the Point on Testing & Public Education

Many in the education world recently cheered the announcement by the Obama administration that schools should seek to decrease testing and limit the amount of time taking standardized tests to no more than two percent of class time. While the stance was a clear reaction to the public's opposition to NCLB policies and increased testing, as well as a growing "opt out" movement of parents and kids who simply refuse the tests and their test-based accountability ideals, it was pretty clear that this policy is a text-book case of Obama politicking. For, it was his administration's policies under Education chief Arne Duncan that pushed these test-based policies in the first place. And, there is little evidence that Obama's policy will do anything to help the situation.

In fact, the one thing Obama's announcement has done is to amplify the entrenched positions of pro-testing and pro-test-based-accountability voices. This rigid opposition to facts is best exemplified by New York mayor Mike Bloomberg's recent piece of naivete in which he urges us to Demand Better Schools, Not Less Testing. Bloomberg perpetuates many myths about public education, not the least of which is the belief that "public schools are failing" or that American students are "falling behind" the rest of the world. Recent test scores from NAEP and ACT show stagnant or slightly lower scores on math and reading, which truly exposes the flaws of the test based reform that have dominated the past decade of public education policy. And scores from the international PISA tests continue to expose the real problem of American public schools - that is, poverty. For, American students are not, in Bloomberg's words, "in the middle of the pack." American schools with less than 25% poverty actually rank among the leaders of the world in international tests, and the state of Massachusetts actually ranks among the scores of countries like Finland, Singapore, and other "high scoring nations."

Additionally, Bloomberg ignores all the data the indicates test-based reform hasn't improved the academic achievement for our poorest and neediest students. As those kids' schools narrow their curriculum to only test prep, the students fall farther behind, and the measure of success by standardized test actually continues to favor students of affluent families. These tests have long been known to be at best a predictor of socio-economic status, not academic achievement or, worse, potential. By focusing on a one-size-fits-all model of academically focused tests with a bias against poor kids and students with an interest in the arts or skilled labor, people like Bloomberg actually cause more harm than good.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Keep Colorado Liquor Sales Local & Independent

Colorado is unique and independent and home to one of the largest most well-defined craft liquor industries in the country. Often referred to as "Beer's Napa Valley," Colorado is home to thousands of independent microbreweries, wineries, and distillers. And, it's a wonderful time for both producers and consumers in this artisan field. However, some are critical of Colorado liquor laws which limit liquor licenses to one per individual business entity. After trying for years to convince the Colorado legislature to change the laws and allow them to sell full-strength beer and wine, the large corporate supermarket chains are now attempting a legislative "end around" by floating a ballot initiative asking voters to approve what the legislature has long rejected. These corporate entities believe that as Colorado's population changes with thousands moving here every month the voters who are used to buying liquor at supermarkets will shift the state's liquor laws to make Colorado like all the other states.

That is change for change's sake, and it's something Colorado does not need. Here is a link to my recent letter to the Denver Post, voicing opposition to the change.

The first rule of governing is “Don’t fix what ain’t broke.” That advice should guide voters’ rejection of Your Choice Colorado’s ballot initiative to change Colorado’s liquor laws on beer and wine sales. Allowing supermarket liquor sales will decrease choice for Coloradans by putting many independent store owners out of business while creating a beer-wine monopoly of the Big Three grocers — King Soopers, Safeway and Walmart. Supermarkets are not hurting for business, and they don’t need to sell everything. Clearly, their limited shelf space and narrow purchasing practices will not offer consumers the vast varieties of small craft beers, wines and spirits available in the state’s 1,600 independent liquor stores. Coloradans appreciate the choice offered by individual liquor stores with knowledgeable staff. Supermarkets don’t need to monopolize beverage sales, and Colorado doesn’t need a pointless and unnecessary new liquor law.
My support for Colorado's liquor stores is not about "opposing the free market," or any other nonsense about my politics. In reality, there is no free market, and when suppliers are consolidated, supply shrinks. Undoubtedly, if supermarkets sell full-strenght beer and wine, many independent liquor stores will lose enough business that they will not be able to make their rents, and they will close. Certainly, as in many states where supermarkets sell beer, wine, and liquor, many liquor stores will be able to stay in business. But that's not really the point. Colorado has a unique economy that offers consumers extensive choice, and there's no reason to change the laws that have helped cultivate such a diverse artisan industry.

Colorado media has covered the issue extensively over the years, and there are many solid arguments on both sides. In this piece of commentary, two writers argue "No, Don't Allow Colorado Grocers to Sell Beer and Wine." It's a sound argument about the value of locally owned independent stores, And, of course, in the interest of fairness, the Denver Post also offered the counter-argument, which basically centers on the innocuous ideas of "choice" and "freedom" with little appreciation for the nuances of the economy and small business. And, the Denver Post hasn't been shy about promoting the interests of large corporate supermarket chains over the hopes of independent business owners. Editorial writer Jeremy Meyer has written in favor of corporations a couple times. Meyer tries to argue that "other states do it," so Colorado has nothing to fear. But that view is naive to the uiqueness of individual states and communities. And, again it simply focuses on the idea that consumers should have the convenience of buying liquor at supermarkets. Yet, that assertion is on shaky ground. Nearly, every supermarket has a liquor store nearby. And arguing that shoppers are so burdened by not being able to buy everything in one place is a bit absurd. Meyer recently followed up with his second column on the issue, though he was a bit more even-tempered with this one. Here was my response to Jeremy Meyer and the DP Editorial Board:

As a supporter of independent business owners, I firmly oppose an unneccessary change to Colorado law, especially when it would only succeed in consolidating larger market share to corporate owners. And, I speak with the view of a transplanted mid-westerner who knows about "how other states sell liquor." When I moved to CO a decade ago, I discovered the uniqueness of the industry that has created something special. And the conservative in me sees no need to change. With your most recent piece, I am hoping you are beginning to re-consider your position that Colorado needs to change simply to be like other states. Coloradoans are not hurting for choice - in fact, they have plenty. And, as I noted in my letter, "supermarkets don't have to sell everything." We can preserve specialty shops because it works for Colorado. Let's focus on avoiding change for change sake, and let's not promote the "Walmartification" of Colorado's liquor industry when we can honor the spirit of artisan craftsman and small business owners.

Ultimately, there is no reason to change Colorado liquor laws. Individual licenses means the state has thousands of vendors for spirits, and no single business has a monopoly. The system serves Colorado well, and, truly, no one is going thirsty.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Broken Compass - A Breckenridge Brewery

For those who are heading to the High Country this fall break or through the winter, and who might be hoping to enjoy a tasty, malty, hoppy beverage while there, the town of Breckenridge welcomed a new brewery to town last year with the launching of the Broken Compass Brewery. The brewery, which had an unofficial opening over Memorial Day weekend, is fully operational now after hosting a grand opening during the last weekend of May. The owners celebrated with a tasting party that was offering generous two-ounce+ pours of six featured beers, including a very sippable Coconut Porter, a couple deep rich coffee and chocolate stouts, and an innovative Chili Pepper Ale.

The Broken Compass Brewery is located outside of Main Street, Breckenridge, and so patrons will need to take the quick two-minute drive down Airport Road. There they can join co-owners Jason Ford and David Axelrod, who are affectionately known around town by their beards, and enjoy some truly innovative beers the reflect the spirit of life above 9,000 feet. It is truly a labor of love for these men, and they would be happy to show you around the brewery while talking about the process of fermenting barley, wheat, and hops. They are simply happy to create a product that will appeal to their customers. And if they can sell somewhere between 500 and 2000 barrels a year, the effort will be worth the time.

For beer drinkers in Breckenridge, it's worth stopping by, having a few cold ones, and perhaps taking home a growler or two.


Sunday, October 11, 2015

Is Ayn Rand's Anthem Rigorous Enough for High School?

Rigor is defined by some teachers as the amount of homework or the expectation of daily quizzes.  Others believe it is related to the quality of the materials studied and the level of sophistication in the text.  As I deal with discussions of appropriate - and appropriately rigorous - texts for high school students, I am struggling with my feelings toward Ayn Rand's Anthem.  While this dystopian novel has been taught at both the middle and high school level, I feel the simplicity of the text and the overly transparent nature of the theme and message make it far more appropriate for early middle school.  It's more like Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451 or Lois Lowry's The Giver, than it is Orwell's 1984 or Huxley's Brave New World.  Of course, the Ayn Rand Foundation offers Anthem as the freshman and sophomore book choice for its essay contest each year, but I don't think I'll base my ideas about pedagogy on their recommendations.  Obviously, Rand wrote this book geared toward children as a way of contributing to the dystopian genre - and offering her own indoctrination.  The book is, after all, roughly one hundred pages.  And, it begins with sentences like "It is a sin to write this.  It is a sin to think words no other think ..."  That just doesn't sound like a high school text to me - and if it is, that may be part of the problem in public education.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Colorado News - What to Read & Watch

Colorado is a beautiful, diverse, and progressive state with much to offer. It also has the complex mix of opinions that establish it as purple state. And that doesn't refer to the "purple mountain majesty." So, the question becomes, "How do you get news about Colorado?" Clearly, the immediate answer comes in the form of its one major newspaper, The Denver Post, and its major news stations 9News, Fox31, ABC7, and CBS4. But where else do people learn about the Colorado Voices? I recently ran across an article in the Aurora Magazine, and up to that point, I had never heard of the magazine. As it turns out, it's an off-shoot of The Aurora Sentinel. So, I started thinking about the other places I get news about Colorado that is worth reading.

5280 Magazine is the monthly Mile High collection of news and features, with great info on restaurants and events.

Living in Greenwood Village, I like to check out The Villager, though even its online content is subscriber only.

I do check in from time to time with Fort Collins' paper The Coloradan.

Of course, Colorado Springs has The News Gazette

Because I am a teacher, I check Chalkbeat Colorado for the latest in education.

And, there's no substitute in the High Country for the Summit Daily News.

For more local and specific flavor, you can check out this list of Colorado blogs.

Sazza Restaurant - A Delicious, Earth-Friendly Find

Being a foodie, and the husband of a natural foods chef in Denver, Colorado, I am never at a loss for new and interesting locales on the restaurant scene that offer more than just a tasty meal. Foodies don't just like to eat - we like to dine. And that's as true for a light snack or lunch as it is for a five-course meal. So, I was thrilled to discover a tasty destination for pizza today that also appealed to my green and progressive sensibilities, and I found it in an unexpected place, the Cherry Hills Market Place on Orchard in Greenwood Village. After my daughter and I picked up a brush at Sally's Beauty supplies, we wandered over to The Wooden Table, a higher end nouveau Italian restaurant I've been meaning to try. And, next door we discovered:

Sazza Restaurant - Pizza, Salads [Mostly] Organic

The sign caught my eye, as it did my daughter, who is a pizza fanatic. I thought we might pop in for a slice, and instead sat down for a nice snack in a most interesting of "fast casual" style restaurant. The ordering is done at counter service, though the man behind the counter was as pleasant as any maitre' d, discussing the menu with my daughter and me, and then complimenting her on her choice of an 8-inch, whole grain pizza with red sauce, mozzarella, fresh basil, and pepperoni. The rest of the menu is variations on pizza and an array of salads, the name "sazza" coming from a combination of pizza and salad. As we checked out the decor, I became more intrigued by the message of sustainability, and the goal of "mostly organic." The wood-fired style and thin crust reminded me of the St. Louis style dear to my heart, and the flavors were fresh and original.

Everywhere you look at SAZZA
There's Earth-Friendly thinking:
 We source from sustainable and local growers and suppliers   Our ingredients are certified organic, and when they can't be they are pure and natural  Our Togo containers, utensils, cups, lids, and straws are compostable and made from renewable resources    We recycle the glass, plastic, aluminum, and paper we use to minimize our landfill contribution   In former lives, our patio furniture was soda bottles, and our dining room tables were manufacturing remnants   The glasses you sip from are recycled wine bottles   Our mismatched silverware? It's donated from our customer's kitchen drawers   Our mismatched employee shirts? Also donated for reuse by our customers   We continually strive to do more   We'll keep you posted...

Sazza is the brainchild of Jeff Rogoff, who developed his plan for a better pizza joint while studying at the DU (University of Denver).  He and his wife Jenni Hayes opened Sazza in 2006 with an eye for organic, clean eating and a sustainable business model. To that end, they developed an urban garden in Denver to give back to the Earth and the community, and provide as much fresh produce for their restaurant as possible. And it's no surprise where they found inspiration for this model, as being students in Denver opened their minds to the potential of all natural fast casual when Chipotle first opened while they were students. While it's not clear that Rogoff and Hayes are on their way to millionaire status like Chipotle founder Steve Ells, it is nice to see a high quality pizza place contributing to the same theme.

Check out Sazza. You won't be disappointed.