Doing Homework In 2025

Interviews

"Forget 2025!"

It is necessary for both Serbia and Montenegro to speed up their reform processes. Much has to be done, but how can you push the governments of these countries when you say that the target (to join) is 2025? This was quite an unfortunate statement, which I hope will soon be forgotten - Franco Frattini

cordmagazine.com Izvor: CorD

(Tanjug, file)

Former European justice commissioner and Italian foreign minister Franco Frattini has for several years been helping the President of Serbia in the European integration process with his advice. At the recent Belgrade Security Forum, he reiterated that he is optimistic on the issue of Serbia’s entry into the EU, while in this interview for CorD he criticizes the European Commission President’s statement that Serbia and Montenegro could become EU members in 2015.

At the Belgrade Security Forum you discussed the region, Serbia and the EU. Do you think Serbia has a European future?

– Yes, I think it is the only possible option. I don’t consider any alternative because Serbia is not only geographically and politically, but I would say systematically, part of Europe. I cannot imagine concluding the unification of Europe, which started in 2004 by bringing in countries like the Czech Republic or Hungary, without having Serbia in. So, my answer is yes!

When it comes to Serbia’s record of European integration, what do you think was done right and what do you see as obstacles on the road to full membership?

– The obstacles are of a political nature. There is a shared feeling in Europe called “European enlargement fatigue”. There is a feeling that, after the accession of Croatia, Europe needs to take time before further enlargement. This is a political obstacle that could and should be overcome. My view is that there are more positive than negative elements to this. The positive aspects consist of at least three main elements. First, Europe is facing fragilities within the governments of the member states. The incoming German government, for example, will be more fragile than the previous one, because it might include Greens and Liberals whose views differ from those of the CDU on many topics. Furthermore, there is uncertainty regarding the outcome of Brexit, then there is the infiltration of instability and insecurity caused by migratory flows and terrorism – all these elements need a political response badly, in terms of the stability of the Balkans. The stability of the Balkans is in the interest of Europe even more than it is in the interests of Balkan citizens. I can understand that citizens of the Balkans share the feeling of enlargement fatigue when they complain “We are waiting for Europe for so many years! That’s enough”. It is understandable. But they should also realize that we, EU member states, are even more interested now in having countries like Serbia, because it is a pillar of stability in the region.

Secondly, the Western Balkans as a whole, and Serbia in particular, represent a new, promising market. We are slowly emerging from the crisis and new markets are needed. In Italy, industrial production boomed during July and August 2017, mainly because of export demand. In order to keep that level of export, we need to find new markets. Serbia, which is vital in offering opportunities for foreign investments, is one those new markets, along with the rest of the Western Balkans. Finally, there is the element of having geostrategic meaning. We cannot imagine leaving this region as an enclave surrounded by EU states. Leaving the region as an enclave would be a time bomb, because it might become a place where all those who would want to plot against (the EU) would establish themselves. All those elements justify speeding up the accession process.

Jean Claude Juncker said that Serbia and Montenegro could be ready for EU membership by 2025. Do you think the goal is achievable in eight years?

– That statement is a ridiculous! I appreciate very much Mr. Juncker; I’ve known him for a very long time and we have worked together, but as a president of the European Commission he should avoid such statements. From my experience, if there is political will, it is absolutely possible to open and close all the negotiating chapters in two or three years. I have already said that, in the case of Serbia, I would like to see the conclusion of the negotiating process by 2020, maybe 2021. But let’s avoid fixing the ridiculous target of 2025. Nobody knows how the world will be in 2025! Rather, let’s say transparently that, for the moment, there is no political will to go ahead with enlargement. That would have been a much more serious statement, because this one is like saying we are leaving everything for our great-grandchildren to decide. It is necessary that countries like Serbia or Montenegro speed up the process of reforms. Much has to be done. But how can you push governments for change when you say that the target is 2025? This was quite an unfortunate statement, and I hope it will soon be forgotten.

However, that statement made the Albanian prime minister quite unhappy, given that Mr. Juncker singled out Serbia and Montenegro from the rest of the Western Balkans group.

– Well, Albania has to do more. Albania is still lagging behind. A number of political crises in Albania affected its path to Europe. I’ve was working on achieving the goal of Albania gaining candidate status when I was Italian foreign minister. I was also involved with Albania’s bid for NATO. But we have to recognize that more stable political leadership is needed in Albania. Though the government has to go ahead with more concrete results, Albania is absolutely essential to the process of the Western Balkans’ EU accession. We cannot leave it behind.

Regarding Kosovo, Mr. Thaci said that EU failed keeping its promise to accelerate Kosovo’s European integrations after the establishment of the Special court for war crimes. Now he seems disappointed?

– Mr. Thaci has to be aware that Kosovo, together with Bosnia-Herzegovina, is the most behind schedule. It is undeniable that Kosovo is facing a political crisis. There were so many problems to get a majority to form this government, which now functions with just a slight majority. They have a number of domestic political problems, while there are still problems preventing the continuation of a dialogue with Serbia… So, before blaming the EU, they should do their homework. This is my honest piece of advice to Kosovo.

How do you see the proposed “internal dialogue” in Serbia on the future of Kosovo talks? It looks like that some in Brussels have very high hopes about it. Do you think that internal dialogue can change Serbian official policy that Kosovo’s self- declared independence is unacceptable?

– I don’t think so. The sentiment that independence of Kosovo is not legitimate is deeply rooted in Serbia. We have been facing moments of frank exchanges of opinions at the time my country recognized Kosovo in 2006 – during the time of my predecessor as foreign minister, Massimo D’Alema. I don’t think people in Serbia will overcome this stance. This is why it’s even more important to launch an internal political dialogue and civil society dialogue, as decided by president Vucic. This is not only depoliticizing the issue of Kosovo, but de-dramatising the issue of Kosovo. One of the merits of President Vucic is that he is ready to discuss Kosovo – it is no longer taboo.

Back in 2008, when Kosovo declared independence, western diplomats were saying it was a “unique case”. After that, we have seen a “unique case” in Crimea, and now the referendum in Catalonia. After all that, do you think it was more a precedent than a “unique case”?

– It is very dangerous to multiply the number of unique cases, because we give the idea of double standards. Silence from the international community about Kosovo’s declaration of independence at the time, or even open support for it, and today’s almost unanimous “NO” for the referendum in Catalonia, gives the impression that there are double standards. It is important to remain linked to international laws and principles. The International Court of Justice came with an advisory opinion affirming general principles of trying to work for independence, but the court did not take a position on Kosovo’s right to secede from Serbia and become independent. This was the ruling of the International Court of Justice and the case was solved only at the political level, not at the legal level. How was the problem solved? It was solved through the initiating of a political process in the UN. In Catalonia, the referendum was held and a few days later the leader of Catalonia called for a dialogue with no precondition. Why? Because he realised there was no right to secession. This is a clear principle and the same applies to the Crimea, because otherwise we couldn’t justify even thinking about sanctions against the Russian Federation. I am against sanctions in principle, but the basis of sanctions is that there was no right to secession of Crimea.

Despite the fact that praises are heard from the EU on President Vucic’s account, both the European Commission and European Parliament often speak about problems with the rule of law, judiciary and media freedom in Serbia. How do you see that?

– There will be a very important review exercise before the end of the year, when a delegation from EU, for the first time comprising judges and prosecutors, will come to Serbia, to explore the fight against organized crime and corruption, freedom of the judiciary and so on… That will be a good opportunity for Serbia to present the situation and demonstrate whether the country is on the right track when it comes to strengthening the rule of law, according to Chapters 23 and 24. By the way, those were the chapters that I was responsible for during my time with the European Commission. I used to look at the press in Serbia, by translating it to Italian or English. The large majority of media are against the government, against the regime, against the president – similarly to what happens in Italy. And, of course, we have to fight to try to find the right balance. I don’t think that media should be in principle in favor of or against the government. They have to honestly report what happens or what doesn’t happen. It is in the interest of government to give full transparency on media freedom. I think President Vucic is pragmatic enough to understand that he is very strong; he has nothing to fear from opening completely to the media. It is something that Europe will continue to explore.

One of the future problems for Serbia on its EU path could be presented by its relationship with Russia. So far Belgrade has refused to implemented sanctions against Moscow, despite repeated calls from some European capitals to harmonize its foreign policy with that of the EU. How do you see future developments in that respect?

– Cooperation with Russia has never been one of the general criteria to be fulfilled by candidates within the Copenhagen criteria. These elements are completely outside the framework of negotiating chapters. I have to confess that my personal advice to then Prime Minister Vucic was also to play an excellent role in bridging the gap with Russia, instead of antagonizing Russia. This kind of positive attitude is proving to be right, because everybody in the world is realizing that, without cooperation with Russia, we cannot achieve anything in fighting terrorism, in stabilizing Libya, Syria and the Middle East. Everybody realizes that Russia is a global player with whom we have to cooperate. I think the sanctions will be overcome soon and the fact that Serbia was able to be a bridge between Russia and the EU is another added value for us. It’s no secret that from the very beginning Italy was among the countries advocating for the restoring of cooperation with Moscow.

Jason does a reading exercise during class in late April. Jason and his third-grade classmates took state assessments for the first time this year.

Bradley W. Parks/OPB

The Class of 2025 is in third grade. In Oregon public schools and across the country, that means they’re taking required standardized tests for the first time.

About The
Class Of 2025

Oregon set a goal years ago to graduate 100 percent of students in the class of 2025. OPB is following a group of students from kindergarten to high school graduation to see how they do.

Jason, a third-grader at Earl Boyles Elementary School in East Portland, knew enough about the third grade tests to be nervous. He’d heard the tests lasted at least three weeks, and that the first week was a reading and writing exam.

“The second week we have to do math problems on it. And the third week, I don’t know what we’re doing on the third one,” Jason said in late March, a week before starting tests. “I feel horrible. I don’t like tests.”

Thousands of students like Jason are taking required state exams that measure how Oregon schools are doing. Now that they’re in third grade, Jason and his classmates will take state exams every year through middle school.

Teachers know about test anxiety and try to make the exams simple. 

Jason’s teacher, Michelle Moran, says it can be tough having several things to keep track of. Kids have to show they understand difficult academic content, on a computer program that can be challenging to navigate.

“If it’s a technology and an academic demand, that’s where they do get a little bit stressed out,” Moran said. “Because they’ve got so many things going through their head of ‘how do I remember, what am I supposed to do here?’”

Moran taught math word problems by putting questions in a multiple choice format, like her students might see on the state test. And, she reminded students the questions can be tricky and might require them to do more than one math step.

“Is there sometimes two steps?” Moran asked the class.

“Yes,” students responded.

“Is there sometimes three steps?”

“Yes.”

“Could there even be four steps?”

Students responded again, with a loud “Yes!”

“There could be,” Moran agreed. “So we’re going to look at a few of these questions together. Keep in mind, you might not be able to do just one thing to get the answer.”

Teacher Michelle Moran, center, helps students with problems during small group work in a late-March class.

Bradley W. Parks/OPB

Schools also work to get kids familiar with the computer applications they’ll use for the test. 

On this morning, Earl Boyles Elementary computer teacher Lauren Huff is going over math problems with third graders.

“Question 4 has a graph, and in this graph, you’re going to have to click to fill up the lemonade cups to answer the question,” Lauren Huff said directing students’ attention to a large overhead projector with an image from a practice math exam.

Dude, right, works with a classmate on a writing exercise in late March. In addition to reading, writing and math, schools are trying to familiarize kids with technology.

Bradley W. Parks/OPB

Huff is making sure students understand the technology. But she emphasized some test-taking basics, too, when she checked in with students doing the practice test.

“You’re confused on question number two? Did you read through the whole question first?” Huff asked one student.

Huff might’ve been going over the technology on a math test, but reading and third graders are never far from the center of attention.

Earl Boyles Elementary third grade teacher Linda Long said the bottom line is this: “They need to be fluent readers to pass the test.”  

Teachers and researchers agree that it’s critical for students to be strong readers by the time they finish third grade — not just because of test expectations, but because teachers in higher grades increasingly expect students to access content by reading on their own.

Long and her teaching colleagues have been using the same approach to reading comprehension. The approach mirrors what the state reading test will ask. 

“They read a passage and then they read a question,” Long said. “They need to go back and search the passage for evidence.”

But for students taking a challenging test for the first time, that can be difficult. Earl Boyles third grader, Austin, said he would sit down day after day to take a reading exam, and have the same problem.

Earl Boyles third-grader Austin works on test prep during class in late April.

Rob Manning/OPB

“Every single time, I have to re-read this really big article, so I would remember it,” said Austin with some frustration. “But every single time it takes the entire time to read it, because it’s really big.”

Students had different reactions to the tests. Remember Jason who felt “horrible” beforehand? He certainly didn’t enjoy the tests, but he thinks he did OK.

Some things about the tests frustrate teachers, too. The exams last for weeks and take hours away from class. And teachers Michelle Moran and Linda Long won’t see test results in time to adjust their teaching for these third grade students.

The scores won’t be available for months — not until the Class of 2025 is in fourth grade.

Class of 2025

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