"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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Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Who Controls Education? Missouri Education Watchdog is roadtripping to Jefferson City to ask the legislators.

Missouri Education Watchdog supporters are driving to Jefferson City on Wednesday, September 15. We'll be meeting at the Capitol at 9:00 AM and will deliver a "talking points" memo to the legislators prior to their veto session about the educational reform burning its way through our state.

We want to inform our legislators about the insidious control the Federal government is wielding in Missouri. Watch this excellent video from Kansas Watchdog, and the conversation by the State Board of Kansas members regarding Race to the Top and federal mandates:


Did you hear the phrases from these board members? They don't want to become enslaved to the Federal Government; they were concerned about common core standards; these issues were never brought to the voters; these mandates are not sustainable and once the money is spent, it is gone; they did not want to lost local control; parents should help control the student's education; the Federal Government supports 6.4% of the state's budget, yet it controls almost everything the State Board does; the State Board ought to be driving the education process and the State Board is the elected body to perform that duty.

The amount of state control the Missouri State Board of Education has turned over to the Federal government in the last few months is unprecedented. Our Commissioner proudly touts the "Vision for Missouri Public Education", a pseudonym for Race to the Top, which cedes control of state education to the Federal government. She already successfully supported the signing of the common core standards, one of the primary objectives of Race to the Top:


The state legislature currently has no control in appropriating the Federal funding given to the state for teacher bailouts and common core assessments. Do we even want to accept this money? There is serious concern that by accepting it, the state will incur even more unfunded debt. Additionally, the money is given for mandates from the Federal government, and decisions on education funding is determined by the Department of Education, NOT your elected state officials. And by the way, our State Board is appointed by the governor, and it apparently feels no reason to answer to citizen concerns as the Kansas State Board of Education deems necessary.

We will visit every senator and representative next Wednesday to alert them to the current state of affairs in Missouri education land. We will be urging them to override Governor Nixon's veto of the bill which stated all federal funding would be subject to the Legislature's appropriations process.

Why did Governor Nixon veto this bill? Why doesn't he want our legislators to have say in how the funds are to be spent? The lack of financial transparency and power grabbing by Governor Nixon, the State Board of Education, and the Department of Education is absolutely stunning.

Come join us. Make a difference. Drop me a line at stlgretchen-at-gmail-dOt-com. We'll give directions to our meeting place and we'll plan to see you next Wednesday.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Spelling lesson for the day via Jay Nixon: INCONGRUOUS

A spelling lesson and use of the word "incongruous" opens this posting...while looking at the Missouri DESE website, I came across this proclamation signed by Governor Jay Nixon:

The second week of September was designated as "Parent and Family Involvement Week" by the state legislature in 2008. The proclamation in part states:

  • Whereas: "Parent and Family Involvement Week recognizes that parent and family involvement in a child's education is an important factor in determining success in school..."
I agree with that statement. How sincere that proclamation is from the governor...I have my doubts. This is from the same governor who wanted our state to receive Race to the Top funding. In the original 800 page document sent to the states, the Federal Government wanted NO input from parents on the writing of the mandates. In the 300 page DESE proposal for Missouri, parents were not even considered important stakeholders in the child's education:

Scroll to page 11. DESE is explaining what Race to the Top entails, the process, and the "actors" involved in this educational mandate. Remember the proclamation Governor Nixon signed for this week, "Parent and Family Involvement Week". Now read the language of the proposal for this Federal Mandate:

"These transformative activities, which are the heart of Missouri's reform plan, will actively involve and impart all actors in the education system:

  • Individuals (most notably students, teachers and principals)

  • Education organizations (unions, reform organizations)

  • Educational institutions--LEAs, Institutions of Higher Education (IHEs), DESE, Department of Higher Education (DHE), early education providers.

Dear reader, did you spot who was left out of this list? This list supposedly listed ALL the actors in the education system, correct? This is exactly what was published in the original proposal for Race to the Top funds. The list does not include parents. Parents are not considered an integral part of the educational system by the individuals controlling the system.

Do you find this a bit disingenuous? Governor Nixon signed a document which states parent and family involvement is an important factor in determining a child's success in school...but parents have not been involved in the decision to sign away our local and state educational control via adopting common core standards. Parents are not involved in the planning for "Vision for Missouri Public Education", which, in reality, is Race to the Top. The title is different, but the federal control of state education remains the same:


The proclamation ends with the governor encouraging "all residents to observe this event through activities that will bring about an increased awareness of the importance of parent and family involvement in a child's education." I have a suggestion for an activity which would increase awareness of the importance of parent and family involvement in a child's education...I propose Chris Nicastro invite parents and taxpayers to help develop the comprehensive vision for Missouri public schools.

Currently our education system is being "transformed" by school board members and administrators according to their vision for our schools. Granted, some school board members are parents...but wouldn't it be a novel idea to involve parents/taxpayers who have volunteered to serve on such a board, who are not appointed, and whose motivation is not to promote an preconceived Federal educational agenda? Can you imagine or dare to dream of a comprehensive vision for Missouri public schools that focused on the children (not the "actors" in the Race to the Top language) and the sovereign right of the state to educate those children?

As a previous posting stated, parents are considered "inconsequential conduits"...we are only there to provide the students and the money to fund the program. Other than that, we are to go along with whatever the system has deemed appropriate.

The motives and actions of Jay Nixon, Chris Nicastro and the State Board of Education don't align with this proclamation. It's currently not worth the paper on which it's written. It's incongruous: it is inconsistent within itself.

Monday, September 6, 2010

And the Beat Goes on...

Here's another musical interlude for your enjoyment:

Courtesy of Sonny and Cher..."The Beat Goes On." The question is: Whose beat are you going to follow?

You have two choices. One is to follow the beat of Arne Duncan and Company. This beat will cause you to give up local and state control and buy into unfunded mandates. The drums are coming closer and closer to your school district. The state of Missouri answered to this drum beat by buying into control even though it didn't receive Race to the Top funding:

Our State Board of Education gave away state and local control for federal mandates. This is not the drum beat I believe most Missourians would want to follow. I also believe most Americans don't want to follow this "beat". Read this recent post from American Thinker:

Bill Costello writes quite eloquently what we have been blogging about these last few months. Read his statistics and refer to the graph at the top of this blog. Take time to read the comments from the readers; they are as enlightening as Costello's points. You will read stories from those in the educational trenches.
Don't believe the myth of more money and control will create better schools. This myth is almost as old as this youtube clip.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

A Pedicure, An Expensive School, and What Really Drives Education

One of the luxuries I allow myself (especially in the summer) is a monthly pedicure. I rarely get a manicure because I find gardening and blogging are not kind on nail polish and nails. I've been frequenting new salon near my home and it is quite a trendy manicure/pedicure establishment. The chairs you sit in while you are having your pedicure have a massage capability built into them and the pedicures include a calf massage. You feel quite pampered during the process and your toes look much better when the pedicure is finished! It is owned and staffed by men and women who are Vietnamese. They all speak English; some better than others.

There are two employees at this salon I want to tell you about...I'll call them John and Mary. John gave me a manicure a couple of months ago and we began talking about our families. He has a son in 2nd grade and a daughter who is 4. He is very proud of both of his children, and really opened up when I told him one of my sons was hearing impaired. His son has Down's Syndrome and we chatted about the educational services available to him. His daughter has taken quite a shine to math, and he is understandably quite pleased with her talents. He is delighted his children can receive an education in the United States, and he reads with both of them at night when he comes home from work.

Mary is a beautiful young woman, probably about 18 or 19 years old. She gave me a pedicure in early August and we started talking about her life. She has been in the United States for about 5 years and attended St. Louis City Schools. She said she didn't know English very well when she moved here and high school was difficult. She is determined to better her English and education, and told me she would be working only on weekends starting mid-August as she was starting junior college. Mary loves to read books on biology and science and her dream is to be a nurse. One of her favorite authors in Dr. Andrew Weil, famous for his writings on natural healing.

I made an appointment with her on Saturday of Labor Day weekend and I inquired how she was enjoying school. She goes to two community campuses, one in the suburbs and one in the city, to accommodate her schedule. She is taking American History, physical education, biology and math. Mary said the professors speak very quickly and sometimes the notes are hard for her to keep up with so she tapes the lectures. As she walks around campus, she listens to the lectures so she is better able to understand the English terms.

She wakes up at 6:30 AM to get her brother and sister ready for before school care, and she then starts her day in college. She studies until 1:00 AM and starts the next day again at 6:30 AM. She then works Saturday and Sunday at the manicure/pedicure shop.

What a hectic schedule she maintains! As I was listening to her story, I was impressed with her inner drive. She is determined she will improve her English skills and she is going to be a nurse. She has tremendous responsibility in her own life and in her family. She bubbles with enthusiasm and I don't detect a bit of self-pity in her situation.

While waiting for my toes to dry, I read a piece in the Wall Street Journal about the most expensive school ever built in US history. We've written about this school previously, but this article is the most up to date:


Allysia Finley writes: "The project was abandoned for several years, only to be recommenced when community activists demanded that the school be built at whatever cost necessary in order to show respect for the neighborhood's Latino children, may of whom were attending an overcrowded Belmont High School". I guess this respect includes providing:
  • Talking benches costing $54,000
  • Murals and art costing $1.3 Million
  • A minipark costing $4.9 Million

The district is currently running a $640 Million deficit and has laid off 3,000 teachers. The total cost of this school to show Latino schoolchildren respect is $578 Million or $140,000 per student. I wonder if Mary's inner drive would be more intense if she had demanded respect because she is a refugee. Do any of you believe this extraordinary expense can create the work ethic and appreciation of education John and Mary exude? Does a school system, whether it be local, state or national need to show respect for students? I believe the LA school district has it wrong; the students need to show respect for the republic.

Mary and John are not demanding special treatment because of their ethnicity. They are trying to live the American dream...working hard and improving their life and those of their children. They understand the ticket for upward mobility for their children and themselves is education. They don't need a $578 Million school to work toward those goals. They possess what money can't buy; determination and goals. And the government can't supply or force these qualities by building super nifty multimillion schools, "buying respect", and instituting mandated educational goals.

Happy Labor Day to these two hard working people. They have the day off from work on Monday. They deserve it.

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