"I know no safe depository of the ultimate powers of the society but the people themselves; and if we think them not enlightened enough to exercise their control with a wholesome discretion, the remedy is not to take it from them, but to inform their discretion by education. This is the true corrective of abuses of constitutional power." - Thomas Jefferson 1820

"There is a growing technology of testing that permits us now to do in nanoseconds things that we shouldn't be doing at all." - Dr. Gerald Bracey author of Rotten Apples in Education

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Friday, November 26, 2010

Lesson Plan from Theatre Class: Goldie Hawn can Teach Public Administrators and Officials How to Make Good Decisions

The educational plan in the works for the nation's children, Race to the Top, is beginning to hit roadblocks. The two major impediments are: the question of the constitutionality of the federal government to control state educational decisions and the lack of funding to institute, much less complete the mandates.

If states didn't sign on to Race to the Top, the Federal Government then informed those states if they didn't adopt the common core standards (an integral part of RTTT), they were in imminent danger of losing future funding for Title 1 programming. The common core standards and mandates went from being voluntary to being coerced for states to receive funds. Missouri lost out on Race to the Top funding, but has received $248,000,000 in stimulus funding after the appointed State Board members signed on to the common core standards. That amount was about what we could have received if we had signed onto RTTT and the new educational plan ("Vision for Missouri Public Education") seems almost identical to the goals of Race to the Top.

RTTT was initially heralded as being innovative and would put our students on a "global track" and make American students more competitive. As the months have progressed and schools are discovering what is really in store for the local district, the state, the students and the teachers, some are reneging on the deal. The Washington-Post details how certain districts in Ohio have serious concerns about accepting this "assistance" from Washington. Not only has Ohio seen some school districts drop out, several Massachusetts districts have opted out as well. Ed Week reports:

States faced a federal deadline this week to submit plans describing how they would carry out their Race to the Top plans, including detailed descriptions of their local buy-in from schools and districts. Early reports indicate that the buy-in has held firm in some states, and fallen off a bit in others.

In Ohio, 50 of the initial 538 participating districts and schools have dropped out, meaning they'll forgo their local share of the state's $400 million award. In some cases, the local entities cited concerns about the time and work involved, Michael Sawyers, the state's assistant superintendent of education, told me. In other cases, local officials could not muster the necessary agreement between the school board, union, and top school administrators over how to count student academic growth in teacher evaluation, as is required in Ohio's plan. Local collective bargaining agreements, Sawyers noted, complicated the work in some communities.

In Georgia, superintendent Bill Mathews echoed some of the same frustration:

Mathews has decided not to accept $1.3 million in Race to the Top money -- the district’s share of Georgia’s $400 million pot -- for reasons including his refusal to implement a value-added assessment system for teachers, based on student standardized test scores. Assessment experts say these systems should not be used to evaluate teachers, pointing to new research that indicates they are not reliable and error rates are unacceptably high, but they are supported anyway by the Obama administration. Many of these systems are seen by teachers as ignoring other factors beside a teacher’s influence that can affect a student's performance on a standardized test.

And that’s why Mathews decided not to accept the money and why the county school board went along with his recommendation.

I wish we had a governor, DESE administrators, state board members and superintendents as clear thinking as Mr. Mathews. He understands that mandated goals, programs and money from Washington DC will not help this ailing system. Increased federal spending and increasing federal control have not moved test scores in forty years. How much longer do we have to give this branch of government power over our children it does not know how to use, and in reality, has no legal Constitutional authority to set educational policy?

Do you remember Goldie Hawn's portrayal of Judy Benjamin in the movie "Private Benjamin"? The movie shows her progression from a self-centered young woman into a competent soldier. Near the end of the movie, she was about to get married to a handsome French doctor in France, the ceremony was in French, and she had to sign a prenuptial agreement in French before the wedding could occur. She didn't speak much French, so you knew she was being hoodwinked into giving away her rights and she didn't know how many rights she was signing away. There was evidence the fiancee (Armand Assante) had been unfaithful to her during their engagement, and as they were getting ready to say their vows, Goldie Hawn starts thinking about everything about their relationship, she physically draws back and declares, "Not so fast"! The groom tries to "reason" with her, when this doesn't work, he insults her, at which time she hauls off and decks him. She turns around, walks out of the house with her head held high and as she exits the grounds, she throws her veil into the air and it sails away.

This is a great analogy to what these school districts and administrators have done in the reconsideration of RTTT. Race to the Top was signed in a rush as the administration kept telling districts and unions "it is a crisis"! Now that the details are discovered and the information is clear, some of these districts are saying "not so fast". Perhaps these three words should be the rallying cry of common sense officials as they push back against the Department of Education.

Advice to school and elected officials: Don't get duped by incomplete and controlling behavior...if Goldie Hawn can figure out what is and is not in her best interest, it's about time our state and local officials follow suit. Here's a great last paragraph from the Facebook page for the movie:

After she chooses Henri over the Army, Judy discovers Henri's controlling side, when he tries to 'remake' her, and when forced to sign a prenuptial agreement in his favor. Then, when she finds out Henri is still madly in love with an old flame (his ex, Clare) and has cheated on her with their maid, she realizes that she is capable of doing whatever she wants, and that she doesn't need Henri for that. She walks out on him at the altar to go live her own life.

It's time to leave these educational mandates and choice architects at the altar and walk away.

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