"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, November 20, 2010

Is this a Lesson in Hypocrisy from the American Federation of Teachers?

The Washington Examiner reports the head of the American Federation of Teachers, Randi Weingarten, has an issue with a government panel dealing with budgetary concerns...but not with her own financial situation:

American Federation of Teachers president Rhonda “Randi” Weingarten has issued a statement slamming proposed cuts from the congressional deficit commission for not pushing shared sacrifice among the wealthy, but an AFT spokesman has told The Examiner that Weingarten will not be taking a paycut from the total $428,284 she received in salary and benefits during fiscal year 2010.

It's easy enough not to sacrifice any of your paycheck and benefits when it is funded by union members' dues whose salaries are paid by taxpayers. Are you weary of the call to "shared sacrifice" that isn't shared by any of the parties calling upon the sacrifice? Is this what we call leadership?

Here is an piece chronicling Obama's vision vs. the Christie Principle which provides a clear contrast of calling others to "shared sacrifice" but excusing yourself from financial hardship. Christie addresses this idea of 'sacrifice":

At all times, and especially during a difficult economy, it is unfair for those who run government, and those who receive paychecks from government, to exempt themselves from the difficult financial decisions that other private citizens are required to make.

The "sacrifice" is more like a shell game. As the Examiner article states:

The lesson from the teachers union is clear: Shared sacrifice for thee and not for me.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Mizzou Journalism Students Denied Access to Governor's Educational Policy Chat. Welcome to the Club.

The lack of involvement in Missouri educational decisions isn't reserved just for parents and taxpayers on the K-12 level. It apparently extends to college journalism students as well. The Columbia-Tribune reports:

A handful of student reporters were denied access to a meeting with Gov. Jay Nixon yesterday during which he spoke to invited reporters about higher education.

The Tribune and reporters from The Associated Press, the Kansas City Star, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Stateline and the Springfield News-Leader were asked to meet with Nixon to talk about his agenda for higher education.

Reporters from other media outlets and publications, including the Columbia Missourian, weren't invited.

Students at the University of Missouri have a vested interest in what Governor Nixon had to say about higher education in terms of budget and curriculum decisions. If a policy is going to affect a individual and/or group directly, it would be a valid assumption that the individual and/or group would want access to information. As the article continues:

Charles Davis, associate journalism professor at MU, also said he had a problem with a governor making a “favored list of reporters he’s going to talk to and exclude other people who want to engage in the same subject.”

Plus, Davis said, “It’s highly ironic that in a conversation about higher education, he excludes students.”

Professor Davis' statement about excluding students can be applied to the conversation we've been having about the "Vision for Missouri Public Education". Parents and taxpayers independent of the lobbying groups are on no planning committees.

Welcome to the "vision" of transparency and taxpayer input from the Governor's and DESE's office. The students and journalism professors can now understand the frustration citizens experience with these governmental entities. Parents and taxpayers have no voice at the table for educational decisions being mandated to their K-12 students and local school districts.

Perhaps the School of Journalism should start an investigation on the disenfranchisement of Missouri taxpayers and students from all educational levels in regard to how their taxes are being used for educational policy. That would be an interesting series of articles, don't you think?

Thursday, November 18, 2010

"Action expresses priorities" -- Mohandas Gandhi

Ghandi wrote, "Action expresses priorities". What priorities do you think are in the "Vision for Missouri Public Education"? We've written on the transformational plan put forth by the Missouri Association of School Administrators (MASA) and the Missouri School Boards' Association (MSBA). The goals of this ambitious plan are to make every student ready for college and with the new curriculum, our students will become globally competitive. This is from the "Teaching, Learning and Assessment" group vision:

Schools must prepare all children for many choices through providing them the tools and attitudes to contribute meaningfully to our democratic society and to enable them to live successfully in a rapidly changing world. Students must be prepared to think critically, to solve problems, to collaborate, to foster relationships, to be flexible, to adapt to change, and to communicate effectively. Schools must be places where all children succeed, feel safe, and have their curiosity cultivated. Experiences must be customized to meet the individual needs of every student. Standards must be clear, attainable, and high enough to ensure that all students are intellectually challenged. Learning must be at the profound level.

These educational priorities are laudable goals and sound reasonable. How they are to be attained (the action) causes concern. There is an emphasis on attaining these goals via the "new digital learning environment". Translated that means we must spend billions on longitudinal data systems to track students' physical, mental and academic progress. We've questioned if the intrusion of government into documenting the personal lives of students is constitutional. These goals are also to be met through common core standards, which violate state sovereignty and are financially unsustainable.

I was somewhat surprised to read this sentence in the plan:

Experiences must be customized to meet the individual needs of every student.

I am curious to understand how this can occur as the standards are mandated and addition and/or subtraction to common core curricula is prohibited. "Individualized mandates" is an oxymoronic phrase. You can't factor in the individual in an equation when the formula is mandated and unchangeable. If you were truly interested in the individual needs of a student, you would throw mandates out the window, and allow curriculum that was truly tailored to a student.

As we've previously written, common core standards and "Vision for Missouri Public Education" are failures in terms of empowering local school districts and the state board of education. This plan takes control from the state and we are thrown into a grouping of other states to set curriculum. It can't possibly accomplish its goal of providing individualized instruction with the plan as written.

What can we learn from Gandhi that can be applied to the authentic goals of public education? Ed Kaitz in American Thinker writes:

On his recent trip to India, President Obama was lavish in his praise for Mahatma Gandhi. Obama maintained that Gandhi's message of being "the change we seek in the world" was instrumental in inspiring his own journey from community organizer to President of the United States. "I might not be standing here today," said the president, had it not been for the Great Soul's influence.

Knowing, however, that Gandhi's political philosophy included highly persuasive polemics against big government, the welfare state, foreign aid, affirmative action, identity politics, divisive rhetoric, and malice toward one's opponents, it's hard to imagine the president devoting much time as a student in quiet and humble contemplation with the great guru's writings.

Kaitz argues Obama has a profound misunderstanding on Gandhi's true guiding principles; one is freedom, and what drives that freedom. This administration is intent on controlling more and more aspects of our lives-even our educational system-but Gandhi feared increase of the state's power:

I look upon an increase of the power of the state with the greatest fear, because although while apparently doing good by minimizing exploitation, it does the greatest harm to mankind by destroying individuality, which lies at the root of all progress.

Review the "Vision for Missouri Public Education" and determine for yourself if it creates more power for the state and if so, then how can the state can truly offer "individualized needs of every student"? In a situation of increased governmental control, the individual's needs are not protected; protecting the system's structure is paramount. The proposed educational structure will tremendously expand in terms of size and power. Do you believe the individual will have a louder voice in a larger system?

Do you agree with Gandhi's wisdom and vision or do you trust the policies of MASA and MSBA? If a powerful state does indeed destroy individuality which allows progress, what does the Missouri Vision provide to students?

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Do Parents in the Rockwood School District need to form "Recess Defense Groups"?

A parent in the Rockwood School District is concerned about the school requiring students to run a lap before they can enjoy recess. The parent believes recess should be unstructured time and questioned why the school would require a lap being finished before a child can enjoy some free time.

According to the parent, a counselor at Kellison Elementary School in the Rockwood School (MO) District responded to her question regarding this requirement and this is the parent's version of the school's answer:

"They cut P.E. from 5 days to 4 days. . .so the Recess Committee @ the School Board decided to make up for loss in one day of P.E., they would have the kids run a lap around... the playground everyday. She also said, "Well, it's not a REQUIREMENT" (stress on word requirement-- which makes me believe they were manipulating the kids in this to give them the perception that it WAS a requirement). When asked if the children were told they did not have to run if they did not want to. . .no they were not. The way it was laid out to the kids was no run, no recess... no questions asked.

We have informed the school that we are telling our children they have a choice in the matter and do not have to run if they do not want to. Their response was a short "okay". I recommend that every parent do the same with their children. We can't let the school manipulate the minds of our children, and teach them (by not addressing the issue) that that sort of behavior is acceptable. I refuse to let the government do it to me, and I refuse to let the schools do it to my kids."

I called a few people who have connections to Missouri public education schools. They all confirmed
it is a DESE requirement to have a certain number of minutes per week for physical education. However, the school can CHOOSE to adopt the requirement in the manner of incorporating it into recess to allow more minutes for other instructional time in other areas. You may count recess time as a physical education requirement IF there is physical activity that would satisfy specific mandates for the PE requirements. It would seem the school is/was attempting to force children to use his/her recess time to fulfill those requirements.

Students have scant free, unstructured time in schools today. Schools are data-driven industries and free time available for creative thinking and activity is scarce. Children need time for physical release without the confines of state mandates or adult driven goals. This is not a new concern; read this 2006 Washington Post article on the increasing demands on student time:

Pressure to raise test scores and adhere to state-mandated academic requirements is squeezing recess out of the school day. In many schools, it's just 10 or 15 minutes, if at all. In some cases, recess has become structured with organized games -- yes, recess is being taught.
"There's more pressure than ever on teachers and higher-stakes accountability," Marinoff said, showing off the complicated charts he uses to plan the day for 550 children. Fifth- and sixth-graders get just 15 minutes of recess, and sometimes there's just no time for recess, so the teacher has to edge in a break.

This scenario may be happening at Kellison Elementary School. The constant pressure to perform well on standardized testing (which is going to become even more intense with the implementation of common core standards) puts children on a hamster-like wheel of education. They can't ever stop and just be kids and...play. If an action can't be applied to a measurable goal and checked off to satisfy an administrator's spreadsheet, it is discounted and cut down to a minimum, or combined with a mandate. The emotional development of children seems to be on the bottom rung of many educators to the peril of the children these same professionals are supposed to be serving:

"This is the one time during the day that they have the freedom, or the power, to control what they will be doing in terms of decision-making, in terms of negotiation, in terms of conflict resolution with their peers," said Audrey Skrupskelis, associate professor of early childhood education at the University of South Carolina in Aiken.

"We were researching this issue of childhood obesity. One of the things that came out is [many] schools were planning to eliminate or reduce recess or had already done so," said Jim Samples, Cartoon Network's executive vice president. "Can you imagine if adults had to go all day long without taking a break -- a coffee break? It seems like an absolutely basic thing to me that kids need a break during the day."

Olga Jarrett, an early childhood education professor at Georgia State University, said the decline of recess is causing some playground games to die out, including clapping games such as Miss Mary Mac and jump-rope rhymes. "Children do a lot of transmitting of folk culture," Jarrett said. "When kids don't have recess, there's not another place where that tends to occur."

Clapping games aren't part of the plan at some area schools. In the rush to fight obesity and get kids moving, some schools are adding mandatory activities and exercise time during recess, guided by teachers. They say kids aren't as spontaneous as they used to be, perhaps because they spend so much time in front of televisions, computers and video games. So some schools are asking teachers to lead the way three days a week.

"Before we organized guided play, recess was just a free-for-all, with kids never organizing anything much more in-depth than a game of tag," said Steve Geyer, principal of the elementary school in Berryville, Va.

"They wouldn't organize soccer or relay races or any more complicated games. There needs to be a little more leadership involved," Geyer said.

Child psychologists say these programs may come at a cost.

"If it's structured, it's not recess," said Ford, of George Mason University. "It's not producing the same developmental outcomes."

Cartoon Network started a program called "Rescue Recess" to raise awareness of the danger of the demise of recess. Here is a Facebook page for this same purpose. Rockwood parents may want to join this group and also call the school to register their opinions on this encroachment of creative play.

I believe individual thoughts and actions aren't valued much today in public education. Those behaviors are rather hard to check off on a form to satisfy the state. Kudos to this parent for understanding the importance of a child being able to just be a kid. It's too bad the educators have lost that vision for the students.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

What is the most "transformational" sentence in the "Vision for MO Public Education" plan? (hint: it's not new taxes)

Cato Institute writes about school choice and true innovation:

Douglas County School District officials say an unexpected level of interest in a retreat exploring school choice today and Saturday is forcing them to add an overflow room and a video feed to allow the public to watch the discussion. The school board is investigating a voucher program that would allow students to use public money to help with tuition at approved religious schools and other private ones. The two-day retreat will discuss the findings of a school-choice task force that has been mulling several issues, including vouchers.

The board will officially discuss the school-choice recommendations at a meeting Tuesday night, during which the public will be allowed to comment. No Colorado school district has a voucher program.

This might actually be a school board interested in transformation in the truest sense. Close your eyes, take a deep breath, and revel in the thought: Taxpayer money (translation: YOUR money) can be used for non-public schools. Tax money is in the control of the taxpayer, and the taxpayer is free to use it at schools the taxpayer chooses to send his/her child. What a novel idea! The taxpayer has control over the way his/her money is spent to educate his/her child! The parent is the authority in choosing an educational placement for the child and can use the money he/she has paid into the educational system. This is the ultimate empowerment of parents/taxpayers and the true transformation of education.

I have a suggestion for the school board personnel and superintendents assembled in the seven task groups for "Vision for Missouri Public Education": ditch the platform of Missouri Association of School Administrators (MASA) and Missouri School Boards' Association (MSBA) and do something that will truly empower children and taxpayers, NOT the lobbying groups. As Cato writes:

Keep your fingers crossed that Douglas County officials resist special-interest groups that are seeking to thwart this reform. The teacher unions have been vicious in their efforts to stop this kind of development. If Douglas County succeeds in putting kids first, this could break the logjam and lead to better education policy across the nation.

Why don't the taxpayers in Missouri have the "vision" of putting kids first instead of unions and lobbyists? Why isn't DESE resisting special-interest groups instead of having them draft educational policy? Why aren't the legislators reviewing a conflict of interest in lobbying groups setting policy for a state agency? As the home page in "Vision for Missouri Public" Education states:

"In the absence of any vision and/or plan, proposals such as vouchers, open enrollment, tuition tax credits, etc. will be seen as alternatives."

This sentence is the most transformational sentence in the entire plan in the Missouri vision. Let's take that sentence on face value. Cancel the workshops and stop trying to figure out way to raise revenues for mandates and more control over curriculum. Give parents and students a real choice....the alternatives. THAT'S the "vision" DESE needs to adopt.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Question to DESE and State Legislators: Is there an Ethical Issue with Educational Lobbying Organizations Setting Educational Policies?**Updated!

Check out this copy of the Columbia Tribune's article announcement of DESE's "Vision for Public Education". According to the reporter, this was an important day for DESE, the Missouri Association of School Administrators (MASA) and Missouri School Boards' Association (MSBA). "Transformational change" is to come to Missouri schools according to one spokesperson:

“One thing we will not tolerate is business as usual,” MSBA President Dave Wright said. “We are dedicated to developing ideas that will literally transform public education in our state.”

What has happened to all that excitement and pride for the program? DESE had a pdf file on its website dated August 30, 2010 entitled "Missouri Education 2020 entailing the vision for Missouri schools". This is what currently appears when you search "Vision for Missouri public schools"; a link labeled Missouri Education 2020 appears:

File Format: PDF/Adobe Acrobat - View as HTML Aug 30, 2010 ... Our Vision. Missouri public schools: the best choice . . . the best results! Our Mission. To guarantee the superior preparation and ... dese.mo.gov/news/2010/documents/Nicastro_2020.pdf

DESE loved the plan in August...it was labeled "the best choice...the best results!" This vision was to "guarantee superior preparation". Try to view it as HTML. It's been pulled by DESE. It is no longer listed on their website. Why would DESE pull the link? What's happened to those promises to the public?

Here is a press release from MASA and MSBA about the intent of these two groups to craft a plan for public education from the MSBA site (we have a copy in case it gets pulled as well). Note the first paragraph:

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.

The MSBA and MASA are defining the vision for public education for the coming years. These two groups are lobbying groups. Here is information on MASA (we'll focus on MSBA in subsequent posts):

The Missouri School Administrators Political Action Committee (MSAPAC) was originally formed in 1991 and now includes the:
  • MAESP (Missouri Association of Elementary School Principals)
  • MASA (Missouri Association of School Administrators)
  • MASSP (Missouri Association of Secondary School Principals)
  • MCCTA (Missouri Council of Career and Technical Administrators)
Here are MASA's legislative priorities for 2010-11:


The platform states we are in a revenue shortfall, but Missouri needs to not cut any money from public education during a recession, rather, it needs to address shortfalls via these venues:

MASA is committed to working in collaboration with other educational groups, the Governor, the General Assembly, and DESE, to seek revenue solutions for long-term sustainable funding for public education in Missouri. We believe the state should consider revenue enhancements such as a sales tax on Internet sales, tobacco taxes, alcohol taxes or a general sales tax to provide long-term funding for Missouri public schools. We also firmly believe that policy makers much do everything possible to eliminate any further erosion of local property taxes which are vital to preservation of basic educational services.

MASA, a lobbying group which protects its own special interests, is developing the educational blueprint for Missouri children. It wants to raise taxes to pay for this vision. It is important to remember through this discussion and subsequent discussions on "Vision for Missouri Public Education", MASA and MSBA are lobbying groups. Why should lobbyists be crafting legislation and why has DESE acquiesced its duties to lobbyists?

Let's look further into these legislative priorities and note what MASA opposes. We'll list those items in terms of what it opposes and then what it supports:
  • Opposes: Diverting state funds from the public schools by any means including tax credits/vouchers; translation: no school choice for parents and taxpayers via tax credits/vouchers, even though more and more taxpayers and parents are demanding school choices for their children;
  • Opposes: Mandating open enrollment of students; translation: students must stay in a failing school system if it is within their district boundaries;
  • Opposes: Eroding public school funding by expanding Charter schools; translation: no support for Charters even as public schools are continuing to produce flat achievement scores;
  • Opposes: Mandating programs without appropriating the necessary funds to implement and sustain the programs; translation: mandates must be funded with additional new taxes (see above);
  • Opposes: Imposing property tax reductions, freezes or limits; translation: even if your house falls dramatically in price, your taxes owed on that devalued house would stay level or not go below a preset amount;
  • Opposes: Transforming the early childhood special education program from a required program to a voluntary program; translation: early childhood special education programming should remain as a requirement.
MASA is a lobbying group and has no legislative power. Remember however, this is one of the two groups presenting the plan to DESE, the Governor, and the legislators for adoption. Who is paying MASA and MSBA for the work necessary to draft such a far reaching plan?

Note the last sentence of this press release:

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

Don't bother to try to access that site. It's been pulled from several sites on the Internet the last several days. But many of us have complete copies of information from the site. We'll be posting excerpts from this plan and the seven areas of transformation during the next few weeks and months. Here is a description of the planning groups:

The board members and administrators involved in the project are divided into seven groups: 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; and Physical Resources.

We'll write more in the next few weeks and months about MSBA, MASA, the participants in the plan, and the disappearance of the documents DESE was so proud of in August 2010. Perhaps one of your superintendents is on one of the seven planning committees and you can contact him/her on exactly what this transformation will entail for children and taxpayers since we can't access it on the internet any longer.

If these groups are so proud of the transformation they are planning for your children, why is this information being pulled from public scrutiny? It started out with such celebration and has now disappeared. What is happening in Columbia and Jefferson City between DESE, MASA and MSBA? Do the legislators know that policies are being drafted by lobbyists to be presented to DESE, the governor and the Legislature for adoption? Are there conflicts of interest in this plan by the groups crafting this "transformational vision"?

We don't know the answer to these questions, but we'll let you in on their vision for Missouri public education. Follow along with us the next few weeks and months as we examine MASA's and MSBA's plans. We'll publish the policies of these groups and you can make the decision if you think it is in the best interest of children and taxpayers; or the lobbyists themselves.

**Update as of 11:05 PM. I found the vision plan posted on the DESE website. It has apparently been put back up after being taken down from the Internet on Friday and Monday. It had been previously password protected or the URL had disappeared. Check out this site from DESE and I hope you can access it:


You can now read for yourself the vision.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Is George Soros Connected with Educational Transformation?

George Soros has been scrutinized the last several days on Glenn Beck. Beck has used Soros' own writings and statements to introduce the public to Soros' life and current connections to government. I began wondering, with all this push toward global education and one world society talk being thrown around in the educational transformational plans in our state and country, could Soros have interests in education as well?

We wrote about our puzzlement on why the EPA was involved in education. Information I came up with had the EPA connected with promoting education, rather than solely being a regulatory agency:

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.

This is a spinoff agency from the EPA able to raise money for its goals, which by law, the EPA itself is legally unable to perform. This EPA Office of Environmental Education is receiving money from one organization called "World Watch Institute" that wants to transform cultures:

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 piece followed a previous one we had written on the US State Department's role in education which showed connections to Bill Clinton's Global Initiative group. From its website:

The William J. Clinton Foundation (WCF) was established by former U.S. President Bill Clinton in 2001 “to alleviate poverty, improve global health, strengthen economies, and protect the environment.” Claiming to be politically nonpartisan, the foundation administers several major programs, of which the best-known is the Clinton Global Initiative (CGI).

We wondered about its connections and funding groups and found many of them were quite progressive and proposed the question: " Hilary Clinton did not win her party's nomination but she accepted a national position with power and influence. Is Bill Clinton pushing his progressive left donors' agenda through the Secretary of State's office via the Department of Education? As noted above, Democracy Alliance wants to create a permanent political infrastructure of nonprofits, think tanks, media outlets, leadership schools, and activist groups."

So what is the possible connection between Soros and the education of your child? Take a look at this map. This shows Soros' connection to the Clinton Global Initiative. The Clinton group is listed as a member, the same level as Democracy Alliance. The sphere of influence is high at this level and to be so closely aligned with Soros might be a bit troubling to some parents as it relates to educating their child in a public school.

We'll be talking more about some of these maps and the players in US education in future postings. When Chris Nicastro and Arne Duncan talk about global economy and transformation of education, they are not kidding. Whether or not you agree with Beck's analysis of Soros, it's valuable to understand the connections between him, former and current presidents, think tanks, state departments, etc. We need to understand who is pulling the strings, setting the stage and teaching our children.
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