"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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Saturday, October 23, 2010

The EPA's Not so Benign "Nudging" in the Reorientation (or Re-education?) of Public School Students

My curiosity was peaked when I read this snippet from The Columbia Daily Tribune about new educational facilities being built from EPA funding. I was curious in a previous post as to when and why the US State Department became involved in education issues; I now discovered an article telling how the EPA is funding two organizations to either build or update four area outdoor classrooms for four Columbia area schools.

I researched when the EPA became not only a regulatory agency, but when it started developing curriculum for schools. I found this site explaining the agency's role in education through yet another group, The National Environmental Education Foundation (NEEF):

Chartered by Congress in 1990 to advance environmental knowledge and action.

US EPAThe National Environmental Education Act of 1990 established the National Environmental Education Foundation as a complementary organization to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), extending its ability to foster environmental literacy in all segments of the American public as well as leveraging private funds that EPA, as a federal agency, could not access.

In the almost two decades since then, the annual appropriation we receive from the EPA’s Office of Environmental Education has enabled us to tap millions more in private and other governmental funding. The strong relationship we’ve built with the EPA has allowed us to multiply our resources and deliver innovative education programs which encourage environmentally responsible behavior.

I think I got the answer to how/when the EPA became involved in education; now I ask the question, who is partnering with this foundation that our tax dollars support? What private funding can this agency access that the EPA cannot? There are numerous organizations listed on the site who partner with the NEEF, many that are familiar; the NEA, Toyota, National Arbor Day Society, American Academy of Pediatricians. Some may not be so familiar, and one in particular caught my curiosity; World Watch Institute.

On the site under the subheading "Transforming Cultures", I found these two paragraphs interesting:

Worldwatch Institute's Transforming Cultures project turns a critical eye to how we can shift today's consumer cultures toward cultures of sustainability. The key to this transformation will lie in harnessing institutions that play a central role in shaping society—such as the media, educational services, business, governments, traditions, and social movements—to instill this new cultural orientation.
The project also seeks to bring women into educational, economic, political and health equality with men. This will require the erosion of cultural norms that promote early and frequent childbearing and expanding women's capacity to choose when to bear children. Studies show that such advances slow and eventually end population growth, allowing for more sustainable development worldwide.
Gee. That sounds alot like Cass Sunstein's theory in "Nudge" doesn't it? Missouri Education Chris Nicastro based her proposal to Race to the Top on this theory; perhaps she is employing the current theory present throughout all the government entities; schools, the EPA, the Department of Education and the State Department. Here's an excerpt from the book's review:
Every day, we make decisions on topics ranging from personal investments to schools for our children to the meals we eat to the causes we champion. Unfortunately, we often choose poorly. The reason, the authors explain, is that, being human, we all are susceptible to various biases that can lead us to blunder. Our mistakes make us poorer and less healthy; we often make bad decisions involving education, personal finance, health care, mortgages and credit cards, the family, and even the planet itself.

Thaler and Sunstein invite us to enter an alternative world, one that takes our humanness as a given. They show that by knowing how people think, we can design choice environments that make it easier for people to choose what is best for themselves, their families, and their society. Using colorful examples from the most important aspects of life, Thaler and Sunstein demonstrate how thoughtful “choice architecture” can be established to nudge us in beneficial directions without restricting freedom of choice.

I have a few questions:
  • Who is designing these choice environments for us to make it easier us to choose what is best for us? The EPA? The Department of Education? World Watch Institute?
  • Is there an oxymoron in the "Nudge" description and the reality of what educational "transformation" really means? "Nudging" theoretically doesn't restrict our freedom of choice. Two points on this contention: One, Federal mandates in education take away choice. Two, read this sentence from World Watch again: The project also seeks to bring women into educational, economic, political and health equality with men. This will require the erosion of cultural norms that promote early and frequent childbearing and expanding women's capacity to choose when to bear children. World Watch can couch it in any language it chooses, however, it is very clear the intent is to eliminate cultural norms and insert its ideas and rules on how life is to be lived. The Institute has just turned it around by "expanding women's capacity to choose". No. The Institute wants to take away a woman's right to bear children whenever she chooses by "transforming the culture".
  • What does "harnessing institutions" mean? Read this paragraph again: Worldwatch Institute's Transforming Cultures project turns a critical eye to how we can shift today's consumer cultures toward cultures of sustainability. The key to this transformation will lie in harnessing institutions that play a central role in shaping society—such as the media, educational services, business, governments, traditions, and social movements—to instill this new cultural orientation. This doesn't sound like being "nudged in a beneficial direction" to me, it sounds like forced indoctrination of the media, schools, businesses, etc. Instilling new cultural orientation means controlling the message. This was almost successful until a whistle blower cast doubt on the veracity of the scientific data used in climate change data. Could this be why those opposed to Al Gore's theories of climate change are met with such hatred? Transformation of cultural traditions and social movements are included as well. Is this the reason on why conservative social family or religious structures are ridiculed?
Some sample EPA curriculum used in the lower grades is linked here. See if you can spot the harnessing of the educational service to children in these sheets. Al Gore's movie is still being highlighted for highschoolers even as much of his research data is questioned for its truthfulness. That nudging wasn't as successful as hoped.

I am suspect when these governmental agencies become so entwined in our lives and especially in the lives of our schoolchildren. I am also concerned about the partnership of outside agencies such as World Watch Institute with the EPA and NEEF. When common core standards are established (the harnessing and the nudging of information which has a distinct political agenda), what are you as a parent going to do? What choice do you have?

Oh, but I forgot...no worries! Remember as Cass Sunstein tells us,

Our mistakes make us poorer and less healthy; we often make bad decisions involving education, personal finance, health care, mortgages and credit cards, the family, and even the planet itself.
According to the theory and the actions of these governmental agencies, they just have to nudge us to live our lives in the way they deem beneficial to society and the world. We must nudge them back and tell them no. These are our children and our schools and our decisions.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Why does the ACLU Hate Children?

Once you read this Hot Air piece about the ACLU wanting to take away the rights of Arizona parents to use tax credits for their childrens' education, you will ask why that organization hates children:

On November 3rd, when conservatives across the nation hope to celebrate a massive victory in the midterm elections, parents in Phoenix will instead cast their eyes to the Supreme Court, which will hear arguments that will determine whether Arizona can create a school-choice program where parents can decide on where to educate their children.

The ACLU did not like the fact that the Individual Scholarship Tax Credit many parents used were applied toward schools with a religious affiliation. Hot Air sides with the parents:

...parents should be able to choose the education that best suits their children. The 1st Amendment prohibits the establishment of religion, not prohibiting the use of tax credits to fund a child’s education, especially since there is nothing compulsory about either requesting the tax credit or using it at a religious school of any faith or denomination.

We hope the parents of Arizona are able to choose where their children are educated. If the Supreme Court sides with the ACLU, 27,000 students will be relegated to failing public schools. Why does the ACLU hate children? The ACLU is supposed to protect civil liberties. Whose civil liberties is this organization concerned with? Apparently not the 27,000 students and their families. If education is truly considered a "civil right" as stated by the administration, these students' rights are certainly being compromised by withholding these tax credits to the families for them to decide how to educate their children.

Who is most important in a child's life? The parents or the government? Who has the ultimate responsibility for that child? The parents or the government? Who should be able to decide the appropriate educational placement for a child? The parents or the government?

On reflection, parents shouldn't be "able" to choose. IT SHOULD BE THEIR RIGHT TO CHOOSE.

Learn more about this case at the Institute of Justice.

(ht to a Hot Air reader for the title of this article. Nailed the issue!)

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Choice (n): The power, right, or liberty to choose; option

We blogged the last couple of days about the "Vision for Missouri Public Education"...it is the plan (now not for taxpayers' eyes) to fundamentally transform Missouri education. We believe it is a renamed plan for Race to the Top that will cost us millions of dollars and cede state control of educational decisions.

We don't believe in the Cass Sunstein theory of "Nudge". Education Commissioner Chris Nicastro based her first proposal for RTTT funds based on this theory. People need to be "nudged" by their governments to make correct decisions. Apparently she believes parents need to be pushed into educational decisions for their children because we are ineffective and unable to make good decisions without the government's assistance.

We have a much easier, less costly, and truly empowering plan for parents in making educational decisions. Here is an excerpt from a group named National School Choice Week:

Our message is simple: we need a K-12 education system that provides a wide array of options. We need an effective education system that has the flexibility to personalize and motivate students and allow parents to choose the school that is best for their child.

WOW!!! This is the FIRST educational plan I've run across that doesn't focus on "stakeholders", "human capital", and mandates. It centers on students and parents and the ability to choose. THAT'S what taxpayers deserve for their children...the ability to choose. The monopoly known as public education doesn't work. Even though federal funding has increased 180% over 40 years, test scores have flatlined.

True competition will weed out the bad schools and teachers. Choosing your school will allow for true motivation for your child to succeed...isn't that the original idea when charters were created? Why shouldn't this choice option be available to all children for all schools; charter, public, private, homeschooling?

Why would the Department of Education be so frightened of parents and students having a choice in where they want to attend school? Why aren't parents given an option to have their tax money be spent (and decided by the parents) in an appropriate educational setting for their child?

It's the difference between the theory of "empowering" vs. "nudging". The Constitution spells out the rights afforded to us by the Creator; I don't remember it granting the Federal government to right to nudge.

This is listed on the School Choice Week website:

On January 23-29, 2011, School Choice advocates will gather all across the nation to shine a spotlight on effective education options for every child.

I sure would love to see this week listed on the DESE calendar.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Taxpayers Need Superman's X-Ray Vision (and a Password) to Access this Public Education Project information.

Yesterday we blogged about the disappearance of information about "Vision for Missouri Public Education". We had previously read the plan and it contained language reminiscent of what is contained in Race to the Top.

We wondered how the plan was coming along so we searched the website where this information was contained. Accessing the site, we discovered it had been taken off the internet. When you access the link, you are taken to this. The logo appears as well as a login box for your username and password, with no instructions on how you can access any further information about the program. We questioned why it was now password protected as it had a glowing report in a newspaper article.

Searching further today, I was able to find a cached copy of the original document from the Missouri Association School Boards' (MASB) and Missouri Association of School Administrators (MASA). Now you, dear taxpayer, can see what these organizations and DESE have in mind for your students and schools. Here are some excerpts:

  • To build trust and support for public education.
  • To create a unifying vision and transformational principles around which coalitions will form to change the education culture in the state.
  • To provide guidance to local school districts as they develop strategic improvement plans for improving educational opportunities in their communities.
  • To provide a world-class educational experience for all of Missouri’s students.
  • To ensure our students are competitive in a global economy.
Let's compare that to the main goals of Race to the Top:

  • Adopting standards and assessments that prepare students to succeed in college and the workplace and to compete in the global economy;
  • Building data systems that measure student growth and success, and inform teachers and principals about how they can improve instruction;
  • Recruiting, developing, rewarding, and retaining effective teachers and principals, especially where they are needed most; and
  • Turning around our lowest-achieving schools.
I suggest many of the goals listed in our state program encompass the more specific goals of Race to the Top. Look at the second goal in the Missouri plan: "To create a unifying vision and transformational principles around which coalitions will form to change the education culture in the state".

What could that mean for your student and your school? Whose vision and transformational principles are they going to apply? The vision and transformation contained in Race to the Top? I believe this is the plan the state is intending to implement as Chris Nicastro, the Commissioner of Education stated in our state's first proposal for RTTT funding on page 40:

"Implementation of the reform plan described in this proposal will not stop if the state does not win Race to the Top funding...In the absence of Race to the Top funding, the state and its partners would continue moving forward but will do so over a longer time-period and, in some areas, will have to adopt a more incremental approach".

"Vision for Missouri Public Education" is that incremental approach. Ms. Nicastro has made her intentions perfectly clear. This is the vision she has for our state.

This vision is costing millions of dollars (funded by stimulus) consisting of teacher and superintendent training. New standards are being drafted and teachers and administrators need to be trained. Are these goals set forth by MSBA and MASA underfunded? How much are these implementations going to cost? The Race to the Top programs were underfunded to the tune of $150 Million. I don't see anywhere on this page how much the projected cost will be. This will be expensive; look at the number of groups involved in setting the vision for the students:

To accomplish this task, there will be seven groups working on various segments of public education. They will include:
  • Teaching, Learning and Assessment
  • Supports for Early Learning and Student Success
  • Human and Organizational Capital
  • Governance, Leadership and Accountability
  • Climate, Culture and Organizational Efficacy
  • Financial Resources
  • Physical Resources
No wonder the MASA, MASB and DESE don't want you to know what they are planning and how they are spending tax payer money. We'll research if we can legally get them to start posting their updates on a site accessible to taxpayers. After all, it's our children and our money.

Missouri Education Watchdog has some ideas on how to save money and deliver quality schools to students that will accomplish the first goal in "Vision for Missouri Public Education":

To build trust and support for public education.

We'll talk about that tomorrow. And it won't cost millions and billions of dollars and it won't relinquish educational control of our children to Chris Nicastro's idea of reform:

The Race to the Top has provided an unprecedented opportunity for Missouri to bring its citizens together, to identify common goals and to develop a plan for a decade of educational reform designed to give Missouri’s children a competitive edge in tomorrow’s international competition. Our vision for reform embraces the notion advanced in the book, Nudge, where Thaler and Sunstein outline the need for “choice architects” to subtly steer choices toward positive results while leaving people, districts and schools “free to choose.” We know that if Missouri’s public schools are to be the best choice for our citizens, they must produce the best results. This Race to the Top competition has provided the “nudge” Missouri needed to pick up the pace.

We are being "nudged" to "choices" we don't want. The PARENTS are the "choice architects" for their children, NOT the Federal government, Race to the Top mandates, Vision for Missouri Public Education goals, Chris Nicastro, DESE, MASA and MASB. It's time to "nudge" back. We'll start tomorrow.

I'll give you a hint of our educational plan. The word "parent" actually appears in our vision for students. Now THAT'S transformational.


Monday, October 18, 2010

Blink. What Happened to the Transformational Education Plan for Missouri? UPDATED!

Is there something the State Board of Education,
Missouri School Boards Association (MSBA) and Missouri Association of School Administrators (MASA) are hiding from the taxpayers and parents of Missouri?

Earlier we reported on the failure of Missouri not receiving Race to the Top funding. After accessing the MO DESE website late summer, we discovered "Vision for Missouri Public Education". We blogged about this new, transformational plan for schools and the language which mirrored Race to the Top language. We stand by our statements we previously made:

I can answer the question "Vision for Missouri Public Education" poses underneath its logo..."why are we undertaking this initiative"? Chris Nicastro has made it clear from November 2009 that she always intended to adopt Race to the Top goals, even if no funding would be made available by Arne Duncan. She has always intended to cede state sovereignty. That is why she signed common core standards. The state has received separate funding for charter schools and funding to ostensibly hire back laid off teachers. Why does Missouri need Race to the Top funding? State control is already gone.

I hadn't read much about the new plan lately so I thought I would see what the educational professionals were planning for our Missouri students. The plan had received coverage (from the MSBA's news site) when it was first unveiled late summer:

More than 100 school board members and superintendents gathered in Jefferson City on August 30 to begin a project designed to define the vision for public education in Missouri for the coming years. The "Vision for Missouri Public Education" project is a joint effort of the Missouri School Boards' Association and the Missouri Association of School Administrators. Its goal is to develop a plan outlining a vision for the state's public schools by October 2011.

MSBA President Dave Wright told the gathering, "The one thing we will not tolerate is business as usual. We are interested in developing ideas that will literally transform public education in our state."

Among the speakers at the event was Missouri's Commissioner of Education Dr. Chris Nicastro who said Missouri ranks in the middle in most measures of student achievement and that needs to improve. She said, "A clear vision and a few very focused, high-impact goals will be critical to drive the improvement efforts necessary to bring about world-class results." She also highlighted the critical importance of early childhood education as a key component of any vision for our schools.

Note the last sentence in this article:

Information on the progress of the "Vision for Missouri Public Education" project will be posted on www.visionforMOpublicschools.org.

In fact, this the link where we received the information on the transformations ahead for our students and our schools.

I wonder if DESE, Missouri School Boards Association, and Missouri Association of School Administrators didn't appreciate our blogging on this plan of which they were so proud . I went to the website I previously visited for updates and information and the site has been taken down for updates or revisions and is password protected. Pick a username and password...try it. You'll receive this message: Username and password do not match or you do not have an account yet. Silly me. I just can't seem to find anything on the screen that directs me on how I can open an account.

Why is the information about the plans for our students and schools now hidden from the taxpayers? MSBA and MASA are funded with state and/or federal funds to transform our schools. They want to "literally transform public education in our state." Those are the exact words from MSBA President Dave Wright. These are plans for public educational facilities. If I am not mistaken, public schools are funded by the taxpayer, and as such, plans for the transformation of these schools should be transparent and available for review by the public.

Why have these plans been taken off the internet and password protected? Perhaps a Sunshine Request is in the making to access this information. The plan is to be revealed to us in 2011 and is being paid for by tax dollars for public education. I would like to know what the public servants (paid by tax dollars) have in mind for our students.

Aren't you tired and fed up of being considered an "inconsequential conduit" that channels money away from public schools? Blink. Better catch that coverage on the meeting while you can. I'll wager that's the next item to disappear. Thank goodness for screen shots.

UPDATE: I received a question on who to contact about this decision about the information disappearing. I would suggest you contact MASA. This is the contact information from the news release:

Let us know at Missouri Education Watchdog what you find out!

Sunday, October 17, 2010

The General Welfare Clause..."Don't Worry, Be Happy"...According to Clayton & Parkway School Districts

I received an email from a concerned parent about the teaching of the Constitution in the Clayton and Parkway school districts. If you are not familiar with these districts, they are considered to be high achieving with good MAP and ACT scores. Any parent would want their child to attend in one of the districts' schools based on reputation, right?

Based on what this parent sent me via email, parents in these districts might want to take a closer look at the syllabus for the teaching of the Constitution. Just keep in mind, the teaching of the Constitution doesn't seem to be a huge concern to MO DESE, so perhaps it may not be top priority for these schools either. As we contended in our previous posting:

I accessed DESE's site for special day and week celebrations and while it is listed, there is no accompanying information what the Constitution is, what is represents, and how it outlines our important liberties. Perhaps this is because this administration believes the Constitution is a "living document" and as it is currently in flux, students shouldn't be concerned about it much. That's just a guess on my part.

Read the following email from this parent. I think we were right in our guess about the Constitution's importance and meaning not only on the national and state levels, but also on the local level:

As we talked about briefly last week, I am gravely concerned with the course our public education system is putting us on. And to be more accurate, I am concerned with the way social and political issues are framed by certain teachers, because - as we and they know - children are impressionable. The "values" and "principles" they learn early on shape the way they process information and make decisions in future.

My child has attended schools in the Clayton and Parkway School Districts. Two lessons in particular stand out in my mind as the most egregious subversions of the principles of our republic.

While in Clayton School District, she learned that the General Welfare clause of the Constitution is synonymous with "being happy" - i.e. that Congress being able to provide for the general welfare means that Congress should provide for everyone being happy and living a comfortable life. This is neither accurate, nor sustainable as a principle of Constitutional law. It is antithetical to the principles held by those who built what we have today; not because helping others to live a happy life is a bad principle, but because Congress can act only through coercion by force of law and coercion is antithetical to freedom.

Second, while attending a Parkway school, she learned that the Necessary and Proper clause of the Constitution is also known as the "Elastic Clause" because it allows Congress to stretch its powers to pass laws that help people (or something equally as expansive). This fundamentally eviscerates the notion that the Constitution is an enabling document that specifically grants only limited powers to the federal government. It's related to the concept of an "evolving Constitution," which is of course nonsense. As has always been the case with the law in the U.S. the law exists and the courts apply the law to facts, which of course change and differ, over time and from case to case. That the factual circumstances of cases change over time causes evolution in case law, but it is not because our statutes and Constitution "evolve." It is because the facts - to which we apply legal principles to arrive at a legal conclusion - "evolve."

It doesn't take years of education or even deep thought to learn that Constitution does not evolve or that the general welfare is a term used to describe a small set of projects that make everyone better off, not just some at the expense of others.

But that's what they're learning, whether through the ignorance or insidiousness of some teachers and the teacher's union.

I recommend that you read Allan Bloom's critique of John Dewey. Mr. Dewey was instrumental in setting up the teacher's union, was a socialist, and directly stated that they would change America through education. Whatever victory conservatives may score this election, the trajectory of these United States is set by the angle of our youth, who carry our principles forward.

If you are a parent in these districts (or any district for that matter), it might be a good idea to meet with the history/civics teacher and ask his/her understanding and teaching of the Constitution. It might be a good idea to ask DESE as well. We know their understanding and emphasis on "International Education Week"...the US Constitution, not so much.

Classes will be forming within the next few months to teach the Constitution to children and adults. We'll alert you to the time and place of these classes; search your communities for similar classes if you are not in the St. Louis area. If what is being taught in Clayton and Parkway is indicative of teachings throughout Missouri and other states, it is imperative you educate yourself so YOU can teach the Constitution correctly to your child. Otherwise, he/she might believe in the Bobby McFerrin version of the document: "Don't Worry, Be Happy".
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