"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 12, 2010

How do US Students Perform in Academic Subjects?

One of our latest posts laid out how the left and the right are calling for the abolishment of the Department of Education.

Remember the chart showing the increased spending (180%) over 40 years of federal education funding and flat testing scores? This enormous amount of money has produced not what the Department hoped for...increased achievement scores.

Here are graphs you can access from the Atlantic concerning scores between states and countries on academic subjects:

To see which countries produce the most competitive workers for a global economy, it helps to consider what percentage of their private and public school teenagers score highly on standardized math tests. A new study published in Education Next and shared in advance with the Atlantic lets us compare kids in 57 countries to 50 states and 10 big-city school districts. Prepare to be surprised.

What have we been paying for the last 40 years? Perhaps the left and the right are correct when calling for the abolishment of the Department of Education. It's time to be truly innovative. The Federal Government has not prepared our students to be "globally competitive". Why should it be different with even more encroaching mandates?

The Atlantic says "prepare to be surprised". It's not a pleasant surprise.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Message from Educational Guru Cookie Monster: "C" is for Cookie...not for Cauliflower.

We recently blogged about the government's questionable intrusion into public schools' nutritional decisions. Included in this piece was the intrusion of the government in private industry as well. The day of complimentary toys in Happy Meals may soon be over in San Francisco if the meal doesn't meet the city's nutritional guidelines. It doesn't matter that the government isn't buying the meal for the child, apparently the city believes it should step in to discourage the parents from buying the meal as a Happy Meal will "reward" the child for eating a meal it doesn't find nutritious. The city wants to take on responsibility previously delegated to parents for making choices for children and thwart marketing decisions by private industry.

We've documented how government's role in food choices affect both the private and public sectors. Enter the sweets controversy in Pennsylvania. Sarah Palin made an appearance at a parochial school in Plumstead, PA and she mentioned the proposed guidelines under consideration by the Pennsylvania Board of Education:

Sarah Palin is calling Pennsylvania's plans to issue new guidelines limiting the number of sweets allowed in classrooms: "a nanny state run amok". Palin raises a larger point: Government intervention in school nutrition programs continues to be a point of contention in Congress. No stranger to controversy, Palin told the crowd she is hoping to spark conversation. "I wanted these kids to bring home the idea to their parents for discussion," said Palin. "Who should be making the decisions what you eat, school choice and everything else? Should it be government or should it be the parents? It should be the parents."

The Board of Education responded:

...on Wednesday, (the) Pennsylvania State Department of Education says Palin misrepresented the nutritional guidelines that the state board of education is considering.

They assert that there will be no "cookie ban" as she stated and that they will not mandate a limit on school parties.

It does sound like they are strongly suggesting, however, that parents make healthier options available and schools consider consolidating birthday parties to one per month.

There may arguments on the specifics of this "guideline" the Board will consider, but the core of the issue is the government regulating food choices for children. I was raised in a school system that encouraged critical thinking. If we take all choices away from children, push only one agenda into their daily curriculum and life, do we expect when they leave the system that they will be able to make good decisions independently? Why aren't we teaching our children good nutritional choices through curriculum and expect them to make informed choices by themselves? Could this be teaching children to develop the trait of personal responsibility?

It is easier to withhold non-nutritional food and parties from children to assert control over their eating habits. It's harder to teach and help children develop critical thinking skills. But you can't control children forever. It is our role as parents to teach, supervise and let children decide actions in their lives; by doing so, you are preparing them for life as adults when they have to make their own daily decisions. When and if children make decisions that are dangerous to them, that's when we step in as parents. Are having cookies and parties at school at that danger level?

Apparently the government believes this is a danger level of enormous proportion (pardon the pun):

Palin does raise a broader issue. Obesity is one of this country's biggest health problems, but legislation comes with a price. In August, the U.S. Senate passed legislation expanding children's access to more nutritious meals at a cost estimated at $4.5-billion.

This is an example of the choice architects at work as Fat Police. Cookie Monster is probably not too happy with this decision. Watch him sing. He's much more fun to be around than the Fat Police.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Stranger than Fiction: "I Know Better than You" Education Crowd (Choice Architects) vs the Right...AND the Left?

When you've even lost the liberals supporting the direction and intent of a left leaning governmental program, it might be wise to dismantle it and start over. Or just dismantle the whole department...such as the Department of Education. The right has consistently been clamoring for the abolishment of this department as it has not instituted mandates or programs that have made any difference in students' achievement scores in four decades. Move over and make room on this abolishment bandwagon for additional educational advocates...from the left.

Here's an excellent article by Neal McCluskey of Cato in which he gives us information on the left's disillusionment with Race to the Top and other mandates:

What’s not nearly so well known is that there are also people on the left who dislike ED. Now, they don’t dislike it because it and the programs it administers clearly exist in contravention of the Constitution, or because its massive dollar-redistribution programs have done no discernable good. They dislike it because, especially since the advent of No Child Left Behind, it strong-arms schools into doing things left-wing educators often disagree with or resent, like pushing phonics over whole language, or imposing standardized testing. Many also truly believe in local control of schools, though often with power consolidated in the hands of teachers.

George Wood, director of the Forum for Education and Democracy makes some excellent points on why the Federal Government's intrusion into mandating 100% of policy is disastrous:

Everybody dislikes bureaucracies, but for different reasons. The “right” complains they are unresponsive, full of “feather-bedders,” and a waste of taxpayer money. The “left” complains they are unresponsive, full of people who are too busy pushing paper to see the real work, and too intrusive into local, democratic decision-making. Maybe we should unite all this new energy for making government more responsive and efficient around the idea of eliminating a bureaucracy that was probably a bad idea in the first place.

Mr. Wood is correct in his many of his observations in the original Washington Post piece. Even the left is getting tired of the "choice architects" behind these educational policies:

It might be viewed as peculiar for someone who values education to be arguing for what has often been a very conservative position. I know I will hear responses that education is a national issue and is too important to be left to states and locales. But this has always been the argument of the “I know better than you” crowd, and it’s time we stop buying into that logic. The fact is that the federal government has demonstrated time and time again it does not know better when it comes to our schools.

Question: When you've lost the right and the left and both agree it doesn't help the children it's allegedly trying to help, why continue such a flawed and unconstitutional mandate? Perhaps this is the time to launch real pushbacks in our state and federal legislatures against the total control of the Department of Education. McCluskey writes:

...now is the time to launch a serious offensive against the U.S. Department of Education. I have largely concluded that because of the wave of generally conservative and libertarian legislators heading toward Washington, as well as the powerful tea-party spirit powering the tide. But this is a battle I have always thought could be fought with a temporary alliance of the libertarian right and educators of the progressive left who truly despise top-down, one-size-fits-all, dictates from Washington.

It's time to share this information with your Republican AND Democratic representatives and senators, on the state and national level. The people detest it. The system loves it.

This is a lesson I learned a long time ago: the system protects the system. It doesn't protect the individual. It's time to garner our forces from the left and right and dismantle this monstrosity of legislation and centralized federal power grab.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Tyranny and Tape Measures Coming Soon to a School Near You?

Will the fat police be coming to a school to you soon? They probably will be arriving soon, if they are not there already.

Who would have ever thought private companies could be regulated if they could offer a toy in a child's meal? Who would have ever thought restaurants would be regulated to the amount of transfat and salt a prepared meal could contain?

The fat police are not content to confine themselves to private industries; they also are patrolling the schools. We've written about Michelle Obama's legislative efforts for her fight in the child obesity movement. Many schools have taken out sodas from vending machines in the schools, which may not be a bad idea. But the fervor of insisting our students are denied sugary snacks to force them to eat healthy vs. teaching them and then trusting them to make good decisions are two different paths toward the same hoped for outcome: healthier children who grow into healthy adults.

Libertarians believe children should be taught about good decisions and then make decisions themselves (critical thinking); choice architects insist they know best for the children and they alone should make the choice on whether soda is offered at school or not (authoritarian school of thought). The push to ban sodas from schools has been around since the 1990's, but it is not stopping at soda machines at school.

We now see choice architects at work mandating regulations at McDonald's and restaurants in New York City. When the Longitudinal Data System is instituted pursuant to Race to the Top mandates, your child's Mass Body Index (BMI) will be measured and entered into a data base. It's been happening in Arkansas the last few years. What happens if your child is deemed as too fat? Could the choice architects fine parents if their child's BMI is too high?

The State of Arkansas explains its actions:

It is important to note that the BMI assessment's primary purpose is to alert parents to the problems of obesity by giving them a health marker. BMI is one of the few tools available to screen children and adolescents for overweight. Secondarily, this information was collected and used as a surveillance tool regarding the spread of the obesity epidemic and as a method to monitor weight trends among children throughout the state.

The intentions may be noble but there are serious constitutional concerns raised by collecting and disseminating this information to third parties. Should a child's weight be part of a data system available to unknown entities? Cato raises concerns as well in writing about the Happy Meal ban, just another extension of the soda in schools ban:

The San Francisco ban, and similar proposals on both sides of the Atlantic, are predicated upon four false assumptions: the fast food sold by McDonald's and its competitors makes kids fat; fast-food marketing causes childhood obesity; fat children grow into unhealthy adults; fat kids incur significantly higher health care costs than skinny ones.

While the article specifically targets fast food, I believe sodas have been categorized by the fat police as being as dangerous as fast food. The article goes on to debunk these assumptions and offers forth an interesting fact:

The evidence also shows that the goal of encouraging children to eat low-fat diets is not only unsupported by the evidence but also risks significant harm in terms of adverse effects on growth and nutrient intake.....The evidence-less Happy Meal ban should remind us that the entire idea of fat children is largely a cultural construct, not a scientific one. A hundred years ago, today's penchant for thin children would have been considered a shocking instance of child neglect.

The idea that children weighing over a certain amount are fat or obese has no scientific foundation, as the dividing line between fat and normal is purely arbitrary, representing nothing more than a public health bureaucrat's notion of where normal ends and fat begins.

If your state is receiving Race to the Top funding or has signed onto common core standards, tell your child to watch out for the fat police patrolling the halls at school. It used to be the ruler that was dreaded by children when their knuckles were rapped; currently it is the tape measure around their waists. Is this a violation of you and your child's civil liberties?

Thanks to a reader from the American Thinker site who left this comment:

If people let government decide what foods they eat and what medicines they take, their bodies will soon be in as sorry a state as are the souls of those who live under tyranny. – Thomas Jefferson

Monday, November 8, 2010

This Fiscal Year's Lesson Plan from DESE: How to Spend Money that Doesn't Exist

The poor economic climate is affecting Missouri's revenue collections. Missouri Watchdog reports:

Although general revenue collections are increasing year-over-year and total spending by Missouri continues to rise, revenue for the state is down nearly $1 billion from a decade ago, new research finds.

“This general revenue decline is historic,” Missouri Budget Project writes. “Between 1975 and 2001 Missouri had no years of falling revenue. In the last decade, revenue has dropped in four years.”

Fiscal year 2010 was 9 percent lower than 2009 and more than 13 percent below 2000, when adjusted for inflation, according to the public policy organization.

Missouri Budget Project is estimating Missouri will face a budget shortfall in fiscal 2012, starting on July 1, of $822 million, although revenue is rebounding.

In the meantime, while we are waiting for that revenue to rebound, here is a common sense approach to spending money the state doesn't have:

“The state government in Missouri should view the low revenues as an impetus to reform its expenditures,” said
Christine Harbin, an analyst at the Show-Me Institute, a free market think tank. ”By living within its means during the present, the state government will be less likely to create or exacerbate budget problems in the future.”

Legislators told us last year that the coming fiscal year would be worse, and it appears as if they are correct. We questioned where the money was coming from to fulfill the mandates in Race to the Top; it was projected to cost $400 Million and the most we could have expected from the Federal Department of Education was $250 Million. We were very concerned about the underfunded mandate, and while we didn't receive Race to the Top, we are now instituting "Vision for Missouri Public Education".

We have written on this "educational vision" many times before, detailing how the goals of this new program are strikingly similar to Race to the Top. The taxpayers and legislators have no idea how much these programs are going to cost. This is an educated guess on my part, but if the goals are similar, and Chris Nicastro (as stated in the original RTTT proposal) is determined to implement these goals even if there is not adequate funding, we are in trouble in Missouri. She seems to be describing the situation we currently find ourselves in with a new program which has no funding from RTTT coffers:

Implementation of the reform plan described in this proposal will not stop if the State does not win Race to the Top funding. Missouri has a long tradition of fostering innovative improvements in education, and this will not change. Race to the Top funds will allow the State to move forward aggressively and comprehensively in adopting these reforms. 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. DESE would nudge LEAs toward the goals and implementation of data- driven decision making, but instituting the radical improvements in infrastructure and capacity envisioned would require more time and face challenging obstacles. (pg. 40)

This State Board seems to be intent on making changes even if it plunges taxpayers and the state further into debt and federal control of public education. Does facing "challenging obstacles" include implementing radical improvements with no money budgeted or available for such improvements? Does that make sense?

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Pink Floyd, Ronald Reagan, Robert Frost, & Public Education..."Something There is that Doesn't Love a Wall, That Wants it Down"

Read the article here from American Thinker. Mr. Mulholland has an interesting plan on how to restructure secondary education. Here is his thesis on why secondary education is failing students:

Our school system was designed many decades, well over century, ago, much of it before high school was invented, and when college was for only a very few. While adequate for the elementary grades (for which it was designed), it does not work well for the upper grades. It did not expand effectively as the nation grew and our goals changed. It is time to redesign it with no preconceived notions except to meet the needs of the students and the society they must live in.

Mulholland's plan won't require billions and billions of dollars, such as Race to the Top or the adoption of common core standards. It won't require unfunded or underfunded federal mandates.

It will return the role of education to the states. Students will be able to work at their own pace and independently. Parents and students will have choices in educational decisions.

The choice architects who designed Race to the Top may have wanted us to believe they were "meeting the needs of the students and the society they must live in" when they were formulating their redesign plan; but there is a distinct and important difference in the method Mr. Mullholland is suggesting and the method put forth by the Federal government and states in the pursuit of Race to the Top and common core standards. It is very clear parents and students were not factored into the planning of reform by the government entities...they base their methods on Cass Sunstein's "Nudge". Do you remember the description of this book on which Education Commissioner Chris Nicastro based her application (see page 9) for Race to the Top money?:

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.

According to Sunstein and Nicastro, parents, students and taxpayers are not smart enough to make their own educational decisions or determine the individual educational direction for their student. Mr. Mulholland's plan puts the parents, students and taxpayers in the driver's seat and they are the ones making the educational choices.

Read the comments after the article as well. Mulholland and the readers have raised some interesting questions and ideas. They are common sense approaches to problems that the Department of Education haven't been able to figure out for 40 years...and has cost taxpayers (and students) an enormous amount for failure.

I agree with Mulholland: fire the choice architects, put the parents and taxpayers on planning committees, permit education to be locally controlled, and there will be a better chance our students will succeed and become "globally competitive".

This radical common sense plan protects the individual and his/her freedom to choose his/her path; the government's plan treats a student like "you're just another brick in the wall". Ronald Reagan told Gorbachev in his famous Berlin speech, "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall". Perhaps we should adapt President Reagan's line to the Federal government's educational plan for students, taxpayers and parents. Public education with its mandates, regulations, and forced compliance is becoming a symbol, a brick wall, of educational totalitarianism. It's time to tear down this wall.
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