"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, July 30, 2010

A Paradigm Shift in the Kansas City School District

You may or may not be aware of the new classroom structure being tried in the Kansas City, MO school system. When classes begin in just under a month, classes will begin with two weeks of testing, and then students will be grouped by ability, not age.


Kansas City, MO schools need to try something new. Test scores have been failing for years even as huge amounts of federal money have flowed into the district. The district has gone through two BILLION dollars from a desegregation settlement...with nothing to show for it in terms of increased student achievement. Read this excellent analysis on the history of Kansas City, MO schools and the collapse of the school district and system:


This report delves into the myriad of problems facing this district over 30 years and illustrates throwing money or mandates at failing schools doesn't work. Race to the Top is not the answer for failing districts. It will cost the states money they don't have to institute the mandates. It's a bureaucratic nightmare. So what is the answer?

Kansas City hopes it has found a solution grouping children according to ability. I applaud the KCMSD's approach to teaching its students by this new method. Denver has tried it with success, and school districts in Maine are beginning the process of ability grouping. I have some experience as a parent with this approach. When my son was attending an oral deaf school, he was grouped with kids with similar abilities. As a parent, I was satisfied my son was placed where he could be most successful. A school should ensure a child achieves success at the rate he/she is able. A child who is failing will become frustrated and give up. This pattern is replayed year after year and the child falls farther and farther behind. By the time middle school comes around, the student has probably lost any interest in learning. Then districts are in the warehousing mode with these students, rather than educating them.

The most important two sentences in the eschoolnews.com article reads:

But backers acknowledge that implementation is tricky, and the change is so drastic it can take time to explain to parents, teachers and students. "If the community isn't sold on the effort, it will bomb", said RichardDeLorenzo, co-founder of the Re-Inventing Schools Coalition, which coaches schools on implementing the reform.

Why are these sentences so important? If you read through the original 800 page Race to the Top document prepared by the Department of Education, it is clear parents are never considered to be an important "stakeholder" in student progress. In Missouri, the original Race to the Top state proposal never listed parents as important stakeholders; instead, it was superintendents, teachers, principals and union representatives who are most important in your student's educational life. I have great hopes for the KCMSD plan, as these educators are aware of the profound responsibility parents have in the their children's educational progress. This approach is a "team approach" which is necessary for success.

I wish the school district, parents and students well. I hope it works. I understand the social and emotional skill levels are particularly important to address in elementary school. It appears the groupings will only occur in the subjects of math and reading. Children will still be with their peers for social learning. Perhaps NOT "teaching to the middle" in core subjects will be of great benefit to both remedial and gifted learners.

I remember when the director of my son's school told me, "If a child is not succeeding, WE need to do something different to reach that child. It is OUR responsibility to help that child succeed". I hope the KCMSD is turning the corner and these kids will receive a diploma that's worth something.

And guess what? It won't cost the state of Missouri $150 Million it doesn't have to try what the Department of Education wants us to buy into. It also lets the local district make the decision to do what it believes it needs to do to turn around disastrous scores and failing students. Two billion dollars of federal money and mandates, expensive buildings and swimming pools haven't helped Kansas City students. I hope this latest round of educational reform is the ticket out of mediocrity for these kids.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Do Your National and State Candidates Believe in School Choice... or Governmental Control?

Thanks to a watchdog tip, we discovered this nationwide non-partisan educational group working on behalf of families and children, Citizens for Educational Freedom. It was founded in 1959 and is based in the St. Louis, MO area. The purpose of the group is to promote the primary rights of parents to freedom of choice, justice and quality in education for all. Missouri Education Watchdog salutes this group! Please visit their site often. Here is the link for this parental school choice advocacy group:


The site has other state educational updates as well, so you might want to check out what is happening in your state. Missouri readers may be interested to read the voter's guide compiled by this organization:


Some of these candidates may surprise you with their "yes" or "no" answers. This is valuable information to know before you head into the voting booth on August 3.

Question: I wonder why a candidate wouldn't want freedom of educational choices for his/her constituents? Does he/she believe the government makes better school choices for a child than a parent? Those questions might be worth a phone call to ask those candidates who voted "no". It also might be worth a phone call to those candidates who didn't even bother to answer the question.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Arne Duncan wants your kids "Eight Days a Week"

Well the title might be a little exaggeration, but not by much. Arne Duncan wants your kids 12 hours a day and if he could, he would extend the school calendar to thirteen months.


As the article states, "Duncan joked with attendees at a luncheon that he would like schools to stay open 13 months out of the year. But then he got serious and said, "In all seriousness, I think schools should be open 12, 13, 14 hours a day, seven days a week, 11-12 months a year".

A couple of thoughts come to mind.
  • I wager the teacher unions in Missouri and other states would love to have their work hours extended to 12 hours, 11-12 months a year. Can you even begin to imagine a school district's budget with those hours clocked in by district employees?

  • The time you would spend with your child would be limited and your control over your child's values would be minimal. There aren't enough hours remaining in the day to even talk with your child--that would be left up to a school employee. You wouldn't have to worry about those pesky family vacations and reunions. There's no time!

The article continues:

Duncan highlighted what he describes as a "quiet revolution" that he feels will reform the current education system. "This quiet revolution is driven by motivated parents who want better educational options for their children". Said Duncan, "They know how important education is to succeed and compete in the global economy, they insist on the very best, and they are willing to sacrifice to make it happen".

With all due respect, this must have been another part of the speech where he was joking. Do you remember when THIS Congress and THIS administration pulled voucher funding from the Washington DC council? This voucher funding allowed 1900 students to attend private and parochial schools so they wouldn't have to attend the failing public school system. It was wildly successful to these low-income families but who killed the program? The Obama administration, the Congress and the Department of Education. Read the article on what these parents said about the ending of this funding. They have been denied a "better educational option for their children".


Mr. Duncan's words are disingenuous. If he really wanted children to succeed, he would allow freedom of choice, instead of longer hours and more control. We know what this adminstration's agenda is: Control. Read the last sentence in the Daily Caller's article: "Nothing moves people as quickly as the opportunity for more funding, especially at a time like today," Duncan said. So what does he do with the DC system? He doesn't empower the parents or students, he makes the decision to pull the funding. That's control, pure and simple.

There IS a revolution going on, and it's becoming louder and louder. Parents and taxpayers do not want to give up local control of their schools, they do not want to have to pay for unfunded mandates, and they want more freedom to select the schools for their children.

Race to the Top will accomplish nothing except to feed a bureaucratic nightmare. A nightmare of 12-14 hour school days, 7 days a week, 11-12 months a year.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Disappointed , But Not Surprised

This is how our education commissioner Chris Nicastro describes Missouri’s second round Race to the Top grant proposal. In today’s news release, she assures Missouri citizens and taxpayers that the state plans on going full steam ahead even without the millions of dollars in federal money.

The Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education has spent an entire year chasing after federal grant money, only to come up empty handed. I wonder how much this little adventure has cost the taxpayers of this state. There is at least one consolation for DESE, the state school board and the governor. We now have new Common Core standards that were formally adopted in June in a rush to gain points on our grant proposal. The new national standards are being touted as “world class”, and far superior to almost all states. We taxpaying citizens will have nowhere to go when we question the content of what is in the new standards. Once you have national standards, you need national assessments and national curricula to teach the standards and of course, let’s not forget the textbooks that will also need to be aligned to the standards.
Missourians need not worry though, as our education commissioner assures us that the new standards are very closely aligned to our current Missouri standards. If they are so closely aligned, why then did the Fordham Institute recently award Missouri a D in math and communication arts when comparing our current standards to the new national standards. It appears to me that aligning “D” standards is going to be a lot of hard work and take a lot of man hours. Once again, we the people will foot the bill while giving up our state sovereignty in education. Little by little, Missourians are losing what little bit of local control they have over public schools.

By the way, the governor appointed state school board has all of the power in making the decision to adopt the standards. They don’t even need any type of legislative approval to make such a drastic change in the education of our children. Let the current board members hear how you feel about them allowing the federal government to set the standards for Missouri schools now and in the future! Remember, it’s your dime? Missouri State School Board

It's a "Mad World" in Education Land--UPDATED

Here is your musical offering for the day:


This "Mad World" video is complete with printed words and I thought the following phrase was most appropriate for the post; "When People run in circles, It's a very, very...Mad World...Mad World...Mad World".

I believe the public education system and its students are currently trapped in "a mad world". The Federal Government is causing states to "run in circles" with its overreaching mandates. These mandates are overreaching as they are not financially sustainable or constitutional. Even some people in the liberal state of Massachusetts don't like common core standards:


Jim Stergios' arguments mirror the arguments we have been making against these standards. The columnist quotes Tom Birmingham, former Massachusetts Senate president and state education reformer, about the signing on to the common core standards: "Low-reward, high-risk move".

Like Massachusetts, Missouri has higher standards than the current national standards. Like Massachusetts, we will have to take the focus off the kids to implement the new standards. Like Massachusetts, we've signed onto standards that have yet to be finalized. This reminds me of signing a blank contract for a business transaction. Would you sign such a piece of paper? Of course not. There are too many "fill in the blanks" that could be filled in at a later time to your detriment. This would be considered "madness", would it not? What the Massachusetts and Missouri state school boards have done is sign our children and teachers to learn/teach unknown standards. These Boards of Education have taken a page out of Nancy Pelosi's guide to government: "we have to sign it to find out what's in it".

Why did the Massachusetts and Missouri State Boards of Education sign on to common core standards? I propose it's because it's the precursor to be considered for Race to the Top funding. Remember, that's the money the state accepts so taxpayers will sink futher into debt...to the tune of $150 Million in Missouri.

This sounds like an unwise proposition to me. But it's all about the kids....right? Tell that to the parents as once again, the Department of Education gurus go chasing after yet more theories for educational reform. These theories will allow our children to become competitive in a "global society". It doesn't matter this will take years to put into place and billions of dollars. It doesn't matter this creates chaos for teachers and their students. It doesn't matter the Federal Government hasn't created a substantial increase in test scoring in 40 years, even as they have spent millions of our tax money money on this quest.

Race to the Top is in reality, Race to the Takeover. Based on the Federal Government's track record of directing social and financial programs, this is a frightening race. "Low-reward, high- risk" indeed. It's a mad world...

UPDATED: Read this post from Politico.


The President is making a personal pitch for this program of control. Congress won't release some of the money for the "reforms" so now states are competing for even a smaller share of funding. Hmm. Instead of being on the hook for $150 Million here in Missouri, maybe we'll have to foot the entire bill of the changes we've been mandated to implement.

I swear, even if I had been writing fiction, I couldn't think up this foolishness and madness.
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