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August 11th, 2013:

Weekend link dump for August 11

Twenty-eight things that happened after the Harry Potter books ended.

That iPhone charger may be doing more than just charging your iPhone.

Dolly Parton is even cooler than you thought.

“But now Republicans have taken themselves hostage. They’re threatening to hurt themselves and their states and their voters and their most committed activists if Democrats don’t give them their way on Obamacare.”

“There’s more to life than low wages. There are other ways to boost profits, even in low-wage businesses. Pay more upfront and you’re likely to see better customer service, and you may save more in the long run on training or absenteeism.”

Google Reader is dead, but RSS feed readers most definitely are not.

Turning an abandoned WalMart into a ginormous library is a great idea.

How to strike out on one pitch.

Don’t click this link if you have a fear of clowns. But do click it if you want to learn about why some people fear clowns.

Google wants to make TVs smarter and remote controls simpler.

Tawana Brawley is back in the news. Try to remain calm.

RIP, Doghouse Riley, about whom more here and here.

“A rule that allows everyone to make money except for the person who is the impetus for that money is a bad rule.”

Unskewing baseball statistics is no more likely to end well than the initial incarnation of “unskewing”.

Republicans have problems with the ladies. I have a feeling that stuff like this won’t help.

Wil Wheaton is not happy with the Discovery Channel.

“Photocopied invoices, part numbers, engineering tables, and medical information could be just plain wrong, even if the document that was being copied was 100% correct.”

All reasonable steps to get Russia to repeal its unjust and immoral anti-homosexuality laws should be taken.

From the “What liberal media?” files.

The fact that Erick Erickson is taken seriously as anything but a cheerleader is irrefutable evidence that we do not live in a meritocracy.

RIP, Pacific Princess, also known as The Love Boat.

For a guy who claims to love Milton Friedman, Sen. Rand Paul sure knows nothing of his work. But then he knows nothing about a lot of things.

Meet Johnny Manziell’s lawyer. Only in Texas, baby.

Oh, what a tangled web we weave, when first we practice to sell our endorsement to the highest bidder.

I endorse the use of “The Washington Department of Football“, or “Washington Doffs” for short, as a replacement for the inappropriate and racist nickname the team now uses.

The new accountability standards

Here’s the TEA press release about the school accountability ratings for 2013, which came out on Thursday.

The Texas Education Agency today released the 2013 state accountability system ratings for more than 1,200 school districts and charters, and more than 8,500 campuses. The ratings reveal that almost 93 percent of school districts and charters across Texas have achieved the rating of Met Standard.

Districts, campuses and charters receive one of three ratings under the new accountability system: Met Standard;  Met Alternative Standard;  or Improvement Required. School district ratings (including charter operators) by category in 2013 are as follows:

RATING DISTRICT CHARTER TOTAL PERCENT
Met Standard/Alternative 975 161 1,136 92.5%
Met Standard 975 126 1,101 89.7%
Met Alternative Standard N/A 35 35 2.9%
Improvement Required 50 30 80 6.5%
Not Rated 1 11 12 1.0%
TOTAL 1,026 202 1,228 100.0%

“A transition to a new accountability system comes with a great deal of uncertainty,” said Commissioner of Education Michael Williams. “The 2013 ratings confirm that the vast majority of districts and campuses are meeting the state’s standards and providing a quality education for our students.”

The 2013 ratings are based on a revised system that uses various indicators to provide greater detail on the performance of a district or charter and each individual campus throughout the state. The performance index framework includes four areas:

  • Student Achievement – Represents a snapshot of performance across all subjects, on both general and alternative assessments, at an established performance standard.
    (All Students)
  • Student Progress – Provides an opportunity for diverse campuses to show improvements made independent of overall achievement levels. Growth is evaluated by subject and student group.
    (All Students; Student Groups by Race/Ethnicity; English Language Learners; Special Education)
  • Closing Performance Gaps – Emphasizes improving academic achievement of the economically disadvantaged student group and the lowest performing race/ethnicity student groups at each campus or district.
    (All Economically Disadvantaged Students; Student Groups by Race/Ethnicity)
  • Postsecondary Readiness – Includes measures of high school completion, and beginning in 2014, State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness (STAAR®) performance at the postsecondary readiness standard.
    (All Students; Student Groups by Race/Ethnicity; English Language Learners; Special Education)

Districts and campuses with students in Grade 9 or above must meet targets on all four indexes. Districts and campuses with students in Grade 8 or lower must meet targets on the first three indexes (excluding Postsecondary Readiness).

Under the 2013 state accountability system, campus ratings (including charter campuses) by category and school type are as follows:

RATING ELEM MIDDLE HS MULTI TOTAL PERCENT
Met Standard/Alternative 4,062 1,511 1,338 295 7,206 84.2%
Met Standard 4,062 1,504 1,156 264 6,986 81.7%
Met Alternative Standard N/A 7 182 31 220 2.6%
Improvement Required 477 133 129 39 778 9.1%
Not Rated 73 62 280 156 571 6.7%
TOTAL 4,612 1,706 1,747 490 8,555 100.0%

For eligible campuses that achieve the rating of Met Standard, distinction designations in the following areas have also been assigned: Top 25 Percent Student Progress; Academic Achievement in Reading/English language arts; and Academic Achievement in Mathematics.

Approximately 3,600 campuses that achieved the Met Standard rating earned some type of distinction. More than 750 campuses earned distinctions in all three potential areas. These distinction designations are based on campus performance in relation to a comparison group of campuses. Distinctions earned (by campus type) in 2013 are as follows:

DISTINCTION(S) EARNED ELEM MIDDLE HS MULTI TOTAL
Top 25% Progress & Read/ELA & Math* 385 182 152 40 759
Top 25 % Progress 326 94 117 16 553
Top 25% Progress & Reading/ELA 186 88 34 11 319
Top 25% Progress & Math 209 93 48 10 360
Reading/ELA 547 183 63 28 821
Reading/ELA & Mathematics 164 81 147 32 424
Mathematics 133 122 84 24 363

* Denotes campus received Met Standard rating plus all three possible distinctions under the 2013 state accountability system.

“Under the new accountability system, these designations recognize outstanding work at the campus level that would not be acknowledged in previous years,” said Commissioner Williams. “Despite the many positive numbers, I am confident school leaders across our state share my concern for the number of campuses where improvement is still required, especially at the elementary level. If we can target our efforts in those grade levels today, the state will see improvements for all students in the years ahead.”

Commissioner Williams noted that while the four components of the new accountability system are in place, future adjustments will be made based on district and stakeholder feedback. In addition, House Bill 5 (passed by the 83rd Texas Legislature) requires stronger measures of postsecondary readiness to be added to the system

To view the 2013 state accountability ratings for districts, charters and campuses, visit the Texas Education Agency web site at http://ritter.tea.state.tx.us/perfreport/account/2013/index.html.

That last link will take you to the accountability system overview page, which has all the explanations and summaries of the numbers. All district and individual campus ratings can be found here. HISD schools begin on page 80. As the Chron reported, HISD has some work to do.

Terry Grier

Terry Grier

More than 20 percent of campuses in the Houston Independent School District failed to meet the state’s tougher academic standards this year, according to data released Thursday.

Across Texas, 10 percent of schools fell short in the new rating system, which for the first time holds them accountable for results on the state’s more challenging standardized exams that launched last year.

Most districts in the Houston region fared well. Every campus in Cypress-Fairbanks, the second-largest local district, met the standards. In Fort Bend ISD, which ranks next in size, one school fell short.

Aldine ISD struggled, with 27 percent of its schools missing the mark.

[…]

In HISD, the largest district in Texas, 58 of the 268 rated campuses – or 21.6 percent – received the “improvement required” label.

Unlike last year, HISD fared worse than the Dallas school district, which has similar demographics and ranks second in size. About 15 percent of the Dallas campuses missed the standards.

Superintendent Terry Grier said he was pleased that most schools did well on a measure that looks at test scores across all subjects and grade levels.

“At the same time,” Grier said in a statement, “these ratings clearly highlight areas where we must focus our resources to ensure every student in every neighborhood is prepared to succeed in college and in the workforce.”

Half of the 20 schools in Grier’s signature reform program, Apollo, earned the “met standard” rating. The multimillion-dollar effort, which started three years ago, includes specially hired tutors and increased class time.

All of the schools in North Forest ISD missed the standards, except for one run by a charter school.

HISD’s press release on the accountability standards is here. One point to note:

HISD campus results for each of the four indexes were:

Student achievement: 251 out of 268 rated schools (94 percent) met standard
Student progress: 235 out of 263 rated schools (89 percent) met standard
Closing performance gaps: 232 out of 265 rated schools (88 percent) met standard
Postsecondary readiness: 42 out of 46 rated schools (91 percent) met standard

That sounds a little better than “21.6 percent of HISD campuses failed to meet the standard”. Not meeting any one of the four standards gets you the “improvement required” label. What that suggests is that most of the HISD schools that were classified as “improvement required” met at least one of the three or four indexes. A look through the HISD schools on the master list confirms this – only Wheatley High School and Hartsfield Elementary School struck out completely. That may make bringing them up to standard a little easier. On the other hand, four of the eight non-charter North Forest schools (see page 126) rated Needs Improvement in each index. HISD definitely has its work cut out for it there. Everyone is still figuring out what the new system means, and it will get tougher over time, but HISD has budgeted money to improve the schools that failed to satisfy one or more index. We’ll see how much progress they make next year.

Two ways to deal with a problem you don’t want to solve

First, deny there is a problem.

It's constitutional - deal with it

It’s constitutional – deal with it

Attorney General Greg Abbott said Thursday he would never give up the fight against Obamacare, but the front-running candidate for Texas governor declined to embrace a temporary shut-down of the federal government — one of the key strategies promoted by U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz and other Tea Party-backed Republicans in Washington.

Obamacare, officially known as the Affordable Care Act, was the topic of conversation at a campaign event Abbott staged at a business in north Austin. (As it turns out, the company is one of Abbott’s campaign contractors).

Employing the town hall format, with questions from an audience packed in advance with supporters, Abbott highlighted his efforts to fight the federal law in court and said its financial burdens on employers would kill jobs in Texas.

“The flaws and false promises of Obamacare are now being exposed,” Abbott said. “Obamacare is the wrong prescription for American health care and I will never stop fighting against it.”

[…]

Though Abbott warned of massive financial and regulatory burdens of the federal health care reforms, he said he supported two of its major provisions — one that bans insurance companies from putting lifetime caps on insurance policies and another that bars them from refusing coverage due to pre-existing conditions. The attorney general said those two provisions should be adopted in the law as stand-alone measures.

One reporter noted that Texas has the highest number of uninsured people in the nation and asked Abbott what he planned to do about it. Abbott expressed support for permitting insurance companies to sell policies across state lines but also suggested the problem isn’t as bad as some suggest.

“Just because someone may be uninsured does not mean they don’t have access to health care,” Abbott said. “The percentage of people in the state of Texas with access to healthcare is in the mid- to high-90 percent range. People still have access to quality health care in the state of Texas.”

Tell you what, Greg. How about you and everyone on your staff give up that nice health insurance package that you have that we taxpayers provide for you, and spend the next four or so years paying for your own health care, and going to the local emergency room as an indigent patient when the cost gets to be too much for you? Then you can talk about having “access to health care” in a more authoritative way. What say you, is it a deal?

The other way to deal with a problem you don’t want to solve is to lie about it.

One reason that Abbott gave for fighting the law came in response to a doctor who asked him from the audience about what Texas could do to keep the federal law from interfering with doctors’ judgment about the best way to treat their patients.

“You’re raising one of the more challenging components of Obamacare, and a hidden component in a way, and that is government is stepping in between the doctor-patient relationship and trying to tell you what you can and cannot do, interfering with both your conscience and your medical oath to take care of your patient,” said Abbott, who is campaigning to succeed Gov. Rick Perry.

That is similar to arguments raised against tighter abortion restrictions approved in special session, including a ban on the procedure at 20 weeks, along with stricter regulations on clinics and abortion-inducing drugs.

Asked the difference afterward, Abbott said, “The difference is that in the law that was passed in the state of Texas … what they’re trying to do is to give a woman five months to make a very tough decision, while at the same time get involved in trying to protect the unborn.”

That doesn’t even make sense. I guess I didn’t expect internal consistency, but you’d think by now he’d at least have a better rationalization prepared. This is little more than “Because I said so”.

Anyway. All of this was in part because Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius was in the state trying once again to tempt Texas with a deal to expand Medicaid. Which our Republican leaders won’t do because they don’t care about solving the problem of people not having insurance. They care about the potential for increased paperwork under the Affordable Care Act, and they care that some business owners might have thinner profit margins, but they don’t care that the fatter profit margins those business owners now claim to enjoy come at the expense of their employees. Because why should they care? They have insurance. It’s not their problem, and they’re not interested in solutions.

Better bats

Technology marches on.

As part of new MLB regulations, manufacturers use ink to test bats’ stability. If the dot bleeds more than a quarter inch, indicating low density, that wood isn’t major-league caliber.

Thanks to that practice and more implemented since 2008 when bat breakage has been studied by the U.S. Forest Service, the rate of shattered maple bats has decreased 50 percent, according to results of the study released Friday by the United States Department of Agriculture.

Referred to as “slope of the grain,” the straighter the wood appears along the bat, the less likely it breaks and hits other players or fans. Regulations put in place because of the study call for three degrees or less slope on the wood — essentially a straight line — for use in MLB.

The changes have affected half of Louisville Slugger’s bat production, as MLB’s leading bat manufacturer still produces half of its bats from ash.

[…]

In the five-year study, experts with the U.S. Forest Service and MLB examined every broken major-league bat from July through September of the 2008 season and found inconsistency in the wood’s makeup caused maple to splinter on contact.

Data collection isn’t over, though, as the USDA team will continue recording and analyzing video of every broken MLB bat since 2009, including some from the new-regulation bats in 2013. The goal is to keep bats with potential to fracture out of players’ hands — and away from fans.

This is a safety issue, since splintered bat fragments flying all over the place are an obvious hazard. It’s also a cost issue, especially for college baseball programs. The reason college programs used aluminum bats for so long is that aluminum bats hardly ever break, and thus can last a long time without needing to be replaced. Now that college teams are required to use wood bats, making sure those bats are less likely to break will be a boon for their budgets. On the down side, it probably means no one will ever again get a Chair of Broken Dreams like the one that Mariano Rivera recently received. But then that was likely the case anyway.