"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 27, 2010

Al Gore, Ethanol, and Science Curriculum Exposed as Fraudulent?

This is a fascinating article in the Wall Street Journal about Al Gore and his about-face on the wisdom of supporting ethanol subsidies:

Welcome to the college of converts, Mr. Vice President. "It is not a good policy to have these massive subsidies for first-generation ethanol," Al Gore told a gathering of clean energy financiers in Greece this week. The benefits of ethanol are "trivial," he added, but "It's hard once such a program is put in place to deal with the lobbies that keep it going."

No kidding, and Mr. Gore said he knows from experience: "One of the reasons I made that mistake is that I paid particular attention to the farmers in my home state of Tennessee, and I had a certain fondness for the farmers in the state of Iowa because I was about to run for President."

We recently wrote about the EPA's involvement in setting educational policy, which includes teaching about the benefits/drawbacks of using ethanol. I pulled up some Internet information on the EPA, its stance on ethanol and how it was being taught in the public school setting. Searching "EPA and public school curriculum", this appeared from from The NEED Project (National Energy Environmental Development Project), page 9:

Using ethanol as a fuel helps farmers by providing additional uses for their crops. Ethanol is a cleaner fuel than gasoline; it makes the air healthier to breathe. Using ethanol also means we don't have to import as much petroleum from other countries; Ethanol is good for the economy, the environment, and the country.

What is NEED? This is from its website:

In 1980, the NEED Project began as a one-day celebration of energy education. A Joint Congressional Resolution established National Energy Education Day. A Presidential Proclamation from President Jimmy Carter proclaimed the need for comprehensive energy education in our nation’s schools, a reduction of our dependence on fossil fuels, and increasing use of renewable energy technologies and energy efficiency. As NEED celebrates its 30th Anniversary, it continues to make an impact on energy knowledge of students, teachers, and the public. NEED is successful. The vision and goals established by the Board of Directors ask that the NEED staff, teachers, students, partners and sponsors work to provide energy education curriculum and training to every appropriate classroom in the nation.

The curriculum on the website is dated 2008-09 so it is probably the most up to date information teachers use to teach about ethanol. Do you think the curriculum will be amended and denote a current philosophy about ethanol as noted by the WSJ?.....

Meanwhile, the greens have slowly turned against corn ethanol, thanks to the growing scientific evidence that biofuels increase carbon emissions more than fossil fuels do.

Maybe not. Review the NEED National Sponsors and Partners (pg 24). The vast majority are lobbying groups. Let's revisit Gore's words:

"It is not a good policy to have these massive subsidies for first-generation ethanol," Al Gore told a gathering of clean energy financiers in Greece this week. The benefits of ethanol are "trivial," he added, but "It's hard once such a program is put in place to deal with the lobbies that keep it going."

Do you think the educational programs funded by the lobbyists for NEED will change anytime soon? Why are lobbyists helping to form educational policies? Perhaps this needs to be in the revised ethanol curriculum:

Mr. Gore's mea culpa underscores the degree to which ethanol has become a purely political machine: It serves no purpose other than re-electing incumbents and transferring wealth to farm states and ethanol producers. Nothing proves this better than the coincident trajectories of ethanol and Mr. Gore's career.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Lesson Plan from Theatre Class: Goldie Hawn can Teach Public Administrators and Officials How to Make Good Decisions

The educational plan in the works for the nation's children, Race to the Top, is beginning to hit roadblocks. The two major impediments are: the question of the constitutionality of the federal government to control state educational decisions and the lack of funding to institute, much less complete the mandates.

If states didn't sign on to Race to the Top, the Federal Government then informed those states if they didn't adopt the common core standards (an integral part of RTTT), they were in imminent danger of losing future funding for Title 1 programming. The common core standards and mandates went from being voluntary to being coerced for states to receive funds. Missouri lost out on Race to the Top funding, but has received $248,000,000 in stimulus funding after the appointed State Board members signed on to the common core standards. That amount was about what we could have received if we had signed onto RTTT and the new educational plan ("Vision for Missouri Public Education") seems almost identical to the goals of Race to the Top.

RTTT was initially heralded as being innovative and would put our students on a "global track" and make American students more competitive. As the months have progressed and schools are discovering what is really in store for the local district, the state, the students and the teachers, some are reneging on the deal. The Washington-Post details how certain districts in Ohio have serious concerns about accepting this "assistance" from Washington. Not only has Ohio seen some school districts drop out, several Massachusetts districts have opted out as well. Ed Week reports:

States faced a federal deadline this week to submit plans describing how they would carry out their Race to the Top plans, including detailed descriptions of their local buy-in from schools and districts. Early reports indicate that the buy-in has held firm in some states, and fallen off a bit in others.

In Ohio, 50 of the initial 538 participating districts and schools have dropped out, meaning they'll forgo their local share of the state's $400 million award. In some cases, the local entities cited concerns about the time and work involved, Michael Sawyers, the state's assistant superintendent of education, told me. In other cases, local officials could not muster the necessary agreement between the school board, union, and top school administrators over how to count student academic growth in teacher evaluation, as is required in Ohio's plan. Local collective bargaining agreements, Sawyers noted, complicated the work in some communities.

In Georgia, superintendent Bill Mathews echoed some of the same frustration:

Mathews has decided not to accept $1.3 million in Race to the Top money -- the district’s share of Georgia’s $400 million pot -- for reasons including his refusal to implement a value-added assessment system for teachers, based on student standardized test scores. Assessment experts say these systems should not be used to evaluate teachers, pointing to new research that indicates they are not reliable and error rates are unacceptably high, but they are supported anyway by the Obama administration. Many of these systems are seen by teachers as ignoring other factors beside a teacher’s influence that can affect a student's performance on a standardized test.

And that’s why Mathews decided not to accept the money and why the county school board went along with his recommendation.

I wish we had a governor, DESE administrators, state board members and superintendents as clear thinking as Mr. Mathews. He understands that mandated goals, programs and money from Washington DC will not help this ailing system. Increased federal spending and increasing federal control have not moved test scores in forty years. How much longer do we have to give this branch of government power over our children it does not know how to use, and in reality, has no legal Constitutional authority to set educational policy?

Do you remember Goldie Hawn's portrayal of Judy Benjamin in the movie "Private Benjamin"? The movie shows her progression from a self-centered young woman into a competent soldier. Near the end of the movie, she was about to get married to a handsome French doctor in France, the ceremony was in French, and she had to sign a prenuptial agreement in French before the wedding could occur. She didn't speak much French, so you knew she was being hoodwinked into giving away her rights and she didn't know how many rights she was signing away. There was evidence the fiancee (Armand Assante) had been unfaithful to her during their engagement, and as they were getting ready to say their vows, Goldie Hawn starts thinking about everything about their relationship, she physically draws back and declares, "Not so fast"! The groom tries to "reason" with her, when this doesn't work, he insults her, at which time she hauls off and decks him. She turns around, walks out of the house with her head held high and as she exits the grounds, she throws her veil into the air and it sails away.

This is a great analogy to what these school districts and administrators have done in the reconsideration of RTTT. Race to the Top was signed in a rush as the administration kept telling districts and unions "it is a crisis"! Now that the details are discovered and the information is clear, some of these districts are saying "not so fast". Perhaps these three words should be the rallying cry of common sense officials as they push back against the Department of Education.

Advice to school and elected officials: Don't get duped by incomplete and controlling behavior...if Goldie Hawn can figure out what is and is not in her best interest, it's about time our state and local officials follow suit. Here's a great last paragraph from the Facebook page for the movie:

After she chooses Henri over the Army, Judy discovers Henri's controlling side, when he tries to 'remake' her, and when forced to sign a prenuptial agreement in his favor. Then, when she finds out Henri is still madly in love with an old flame (his ex, Clare) and has cheated on her with their maid, she realizes that she is capable of doing whatever she wants, and that she doesn't need Henri for that. She walks out on him at the altar to go live her own life.

It's time to leave these educational mandates and choice architects at the altar and walk away.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Thanksgiving and the Education of the Heart

Happy Thanksgiving!

I was wondering how to tie education and Thanksgiving into a post and this story keeps wanting to be written. It doesn't have to do with educational mandates or testing. Rather, it is a story about the education of the heart.

My dear grandfather was in a nursing home on Thanksgiving 2008. He was 101 years old, and while his mind was in amazingly good shape for a person that age, his body was wearing out. He was frail and needed help. Even with his suffering, he was as gracious and positive as he had always been. If I had to describe my grandfather, I would describe him as the ultimate gentleman who looked for the best in a person and minimized the faults. I am truly blessed to have had such a wonderful man as my grandfather, and my children were indeed lucky to have experienced the love of a caring great-grandfather.

We lived about seven hours away and didn't get to see him as much as we wanted. We decided we would visit him for Thanksgiving in the nursing home, so we packed up the family and the dog, and off we went.

The dining room looked very festive, and even with my younger son's apprehension about a Thanksgiving meal in a nursing home, the food was quite good. The tables were decked with tablecloths and candles, and it was a nice touch for a holiday meal. They were reserved with the residents' names, and we were shown to our table by a member of the staff.

On each table was a piece of construction paper folded in half. On the front of each piece was a picture of a turkey made from a traced hand of a child. Opening it up, there was a lined piece of paper on which children practice handwriting. The message was from a second grader from St. Theresa's elementary school which is just around the corner from the Presbyterian nursing home. As I found out later, the second graders were responsible for making cards for the residents during the year's holidays.

My grandpa's note was from Kaleb, and it indicated he would be praying for the person who received his note and wished the reader a "Happy Thanksgiving". My grandfather was quite touched with the message and the card, and we took it back to his room after dinner. We propped it up on a table where he could see it and be reminded of prayers lifted up for him...by a stranger.

I wrote the school when we returned home to thank the second graders for remembering my grandfather and the other residents. I told them how much it touched my grandfather and for the first time, I witnessed the power of prayer. This power is intense, even if it is directed your way by people you don't know. My grandfather was overwhelmed by Kaleb's prayer, and I wanted the students to know how much this act of love and kindness impacted another person. I thanked the teacher for the activity and told the students they were indeed lucky to have such a wonderful adult in their lives to teach them this very important lesson...to pray and remember those who are hurting, either physically and/or mentally.

My grandfather died the following April, and I met the teacher at the wake. She noticed the obituary in the paper and shared it with the students. They were quite upset to learn of my grandfather's death and wanted to share their condolences. She said my letter was the first one the school had received since she had been doing this activity in 15 years. They were delighted to know how much their cards meant to the strangers for whom prayers were offered. In fact, Kaleb was able to visit my grandfather in March, just a month prior to his death, when the teacher delivered the St. Patrick's Day cards!

At the wake she gave me a collage of prayers for our extended family listed on construction paper flowers pasted on posterboard. This is one of my most treasured possessions.

Thanksgiving 2008 is my most memorable Thanksgiving...I don't remember the menus from many of my holiday dinners, but I will always remember the love in this particular Thanksgiving. I appreciate the teacher's and school's service to the spirit of strangers. This was a visible way for children to show the thankfulness they have for others and the understanding of the importance of each individual. That's the education of the heart. There is no mandate, testing assessment, or money needed to teach children what's most important in being a successful student or person. The government can't demand it. The student has to will it, nurture it, and become it under the guidance of adults who want to help shape the character of that student.

Happy Thanksgiving to you and your family.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

How the Nudge becomes a Takeover. And why is Bill Gates Involved in the Nudging?

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has poured millions of dollars in grants to states for Race to the Top proposals, and his foundation has been instrumental in crafting Common Core standards. Here is an excerpt from the Common Core standard initiative website with Gates' enthusiastic approval of these standards:

"With the states' release today of a set of clear and consistent academic standards, our nation is one step closer to supporting effective teaching in every classroom, charting a path to college and careers for all students, and developing the tools to help all children stay motivated and engaged in their own education. The more states that adopt these college and career based standards, the closer we will be to sharing innovation across state borders and becoming more competitive as a country."
- Bill Gates, Co-Chair, The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

Why should we be concerned about Bill Gates advocating for common core standards? Review the sponsors listed on the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) site. They are educational publishing, software, and testing/assessment companies. They include Microsoft, McGraw-Hill, Apple, Dell and many other institutions. Think about the push for the common core standards. Are they really to help the children or to create a huge market for these educational, data, and software companies? Are Bill Gates' multi-million donations to states truly for student improvement or self-serving as the monies generated by these mandates will create billions of dollars for these companies that have partnered with Gates?

Bill Costello writing for American Thinker doesn't like the idea of common core standards and questions why these standards are being pushed to the states. He details how they in reality are not voluntary to sign onto as federal money will be withheld from Title 1 funding if not adopted by a state. This is the one of the best articles we've read about common core standards and the danger of the standards. As Costello writes:

Typically, when federal financial strings are attached, control begins with a nudge. Then it's a push. Then it's a shove. Ultimately, it ends up becoming a takeover.

For now, it's a nudge to national education standards. Then it will be a push to national testing. Then it will be a shove to a national curriculum.

When you understand the constitutional and financial considerations in this federal takeover, further your questioning into the reasons why Bill Gates is pushing so hard for these standards. Again, who will really benefit from centralized educational systems? Individual children or companies needing to institute a huge federalized system?

As Costello points out:

Look how federal funding for No Child Left Behind led to mandatory testing and proficiency requirements for the states.

Did that federal intervention actually lead to higher academic standards or improved student outcomes? No, it led to the dumbing down of many state standards and zero improvement in student outcomes.

In fact, ever since President Lyndon Johnson implemented the Elementary and Secondary Education Act in 1965, federal involvement in education has led to zero improvement in student outcomes.

Why are CEO's with vested interests in education policy setting this same policy for our children? This has less to do with the children and more to do with an agenda that doesn't care a whit about educational progress. It cares about making billions of dollars establishing even more of a bureaucratic nightmare from which public school children can't escape.

Missouri State Employees Receiving Pay Raises in a Recession while Teachers Lose Their Jobs.

With budget cuts looming in Missouri, you might be interested to know about the pay raises in DESE. Here's a retweet from House Representative Ryan Silvey on Twitter:

Rt @RyanSilvey: Here's the Star story on today's hearing. I blasted Ed. Dept. for giving massive raises. Some as high as $45k. http://tinyurl.com/2e5crdq

The Kansas City Star reported on a legislative committee hearing with Commissioner Chris Nicastro and employee raises totaling $307,320.00:

At a time of state budget cuts and financial difficulties in school districts across the state, such pay increases simply are not appropriate, said committee Chairman Ryan Silvey, a Kansas City Republican.Nicastro defended the pay increases as reasonable management choices during a time of substantial reorganization in the department, which administers kindergarten through 12th-grade education programs and distributes state and federal funding aid to school districts.

Despite the pay increases, the department has, in fact, cut its total budget and its total staff this year, she said. The pay increases merely elevated existing employees to positions that had become vacant, meaning they did not increase the department's budget.

“You see people show up to work on Friday making $50,000 and show up on Monday making $90,000,” Silvey said. “It just doesn’t sit well with the average constituent in this state.”

(Silvey) said the increases also played into a popular perception that education bureaucracies were top-heavy and spent disproportionately on administration, rather than classroom instruction.

"You see people show up to work on Friday making $50,000 and show up on Monday making $90,000," Silvey said. "It just doesn't sit well with the average constituent in this state."

Rep. Casey Guernsey, a Bethany Republican, said word of the pay increases had caused an uproar among the rural school districts in northwest Missouri, where teachers had been laid off and salaries were stagnant.

This statement from a commenter on the KC Star site doesn't hold much sympathy for any problems in DESE:

Here’s what you get from State Education “strategists”, doesn’t matter if it’s Missouri or any other state. They spend their working hour recycling old education strategies by simply developing new names for them. By the time I got done with my teaching career, I was being asked to adopt the same strategies I used when I first started. …I often shook my head in disbelief.

Nutshelled: If it was discarded two decades ago, it will return under a new name. Count on it.

…then they get a pay increase for coming up with a “novel/new” delivery system.

This reader has some valid points. We look forward to hearing more on DESE's budget and expenditures.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Missouri Educational Policies...when Theories Meet Realities...it makes for "Puzzling Agendas" and bafflement.

The journalism students at Mizzou were not invited to sit on the recent chat by Governor Nixon regarding higher educational issues. Other journalists were invited, but not those who have the most invested in these issues--students. We blogged about the students being shut out and we now know what was discussed in this chat.

The Columbia Daily Tribune has a report on this meeting and it is entitled "A puzzling agenda--Governor calls on colleges to do more with less". Here is an idea of the Governor's thoughts:

Educate more students, Nixon instructed, parroting a national goal to increase the number of degree-holding adults from about 37 percent to 60 percent by 2025. In other words, teach hundreds of thousands more students in less than 15 years.

And, Nixon said in the next breath, do so not with the promise of additional state funds but by culling degree programs and sharing services between campuses.

This will indeed be some kind of feat; increasing degree-holding adults by 23% with no additional funding. The goal comes from rhetoric from the current administration. This may not be such an idea that ultimately helps America according to American Thinker:

We can't magically transform our anemic economy into a powerhouse by scraping the bottom of the barrel to find more disengaged kids to process through our credential factories. The truth is that there is no direct connection between national prosperity and "educational attainment."

That is the crucial point Professor Alison Wolf makes in her eye-opening book Does Education Matter? She demonstrates that it's neither necessary nor sufficient for a growing, prosperous economy for a country to get the maximum number of its citizens through college.
Dragooning more people into college won't give us a better workforce or better jobs. It will only give us more credential inflation as employers demand college degrees for mundane jobs.

Why is Nixon pushing this agenda of producing more college graduates in Missouri? Perhaps, as the writer continues, there is an underlying agenda for proposing this line of thinking:

It does, however, have some political advantages for the president and his party. Our higher education establishment is one of the most loyal and vigorous supporters of the Democrats and their "progressive" agenda. Putting more kids through college means more money in the pockets of the overwhelmingly leftist administrators and professors. Furthermore, since the intellectual influence on college students is much more apt to drive them toward statism than toward individual liberty and free markets, the more young people go to college, the bigger the voting bloc for leftist candidates.

Just like the notion that federal deficit spending will revive the economy, the idea that getting more young Americans through college will make the country more competitive and prosperous is utterly mistaken.

This puzzling agenda is not confined to higher education, it also is present in "Vision for Missouri Public Education". Transformational change for K-12 grades consists of relinquishing state control of curriculum and unfunded mandates. The idea of common core standards allowing "individual educational experiences" is a puzzling comment. As we wrote earlier, "individualized mandate" is an oxymoron.

Are Governor Nixon's and DESE's plans making sense? When theory meets reality oftentimes the theory proves to be unworkable because of the reality of the facts:

Although it was the last among Nixon’s list of priorities, funding is at the heart of the discussion. Lawmakers are looking down the barrel of a 2012 budget that lacks the $860 million in federal stimulus dollars padding the current budget. The state could see as much as a $600 million shortfall, and after being protected from significant cuts for two years, colleges and universities could bear the brunt of those budget reductions. Nixon said higher education should expect at least a $50 million cut.

Eliminating degree programs or coming up with cross-campus collaborations won’t solve the 2012 budget puzzle. Those changes will take years to implement.

How will this budget shortfall be plugged? One legislator has the same ideas as the lobbying groups writing the educational policy for K-12 schools:

Quicker remedies would be to beef up collection of Internet sales taxes or to start charging higher sales taxes on cigarettes, said Rep. Mary Still, D-Columbia.

“There are many things we can do to improve our revenue picture just by modernizing and dealing with the world we live in today,” she said.

Governor Nixon is not keen on raising taxes but is committed to his vision:

At the end of the day, “we want excellence,” Nixon said. “We’re taking a much more comprehensive and — in my view — thoughtful view of what we can do to position our institutions to competitively educate more students for years to come.”

What does excellence in higher education entail? A rigorous education or more enrolled students? What does excellence in K-12 education entail? Common core standards or a truly individualized/localized educational experience? As one commenter nicely summed up the issue in the Columbia article:

So the gov is aiming to help fix our educational woes and budget crisis by pressuring the university to cut degrees, which apparently will not save any money and provide less diversity in programs for a populace that needs to be more educated? I'm baffled.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Home Schooling for Adults: Here's a Chance to Test your Political IQ.

is a fun political quiz for adults from the Pew Research Center. If you follow the news closely, you should be able to do reasonably well. Here is a quiz question which should be a "gimmee" and if you miss it, I would advise you to catch up on your political knowledge before you venture on:

Generally, which political party was regarded as doing best in the midterm elections?


In retrospect, this might be a trick question. The Speaker of the House seems to have a different perspective on the midterm elections than most political pundits. Compare the map from 2010 and 2008. Looking at the change in two years, a reasonable person could say to the Speaker, "you can't hide your lying eyes".

Pew stated about this particular quiz; "Public knows basic facts about politics, economics, but struggles with specifics". I wonder if the same can be said about the current majority parties in the House and Senate.

Have fun!
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