"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

Search This Blog

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Thoughts from Some Heartlanders on Educational Flatlining and Enormous Federal Spending

I am going to link two EXCELLENT posts on education. Both links refer to the Cato Institute's study on educational spending during the last four decades and student scores. While spending has has increased 180%, scores have flatlined. These two bloggers theorize why this has happened and how (or if) it can be turned around.

Darin, one of the team members on Missouri Education Watchdog, wrote on his main blogsite, Reboot Congress, about the history of education, the enormous amount of money spent on education with no measurable improvement, and his thoughts on how he believes education will evolve in the future:

I think that the reason that we "turn our kids over to an institution" (schools) is that historically educational institutions had a high degree of quality. That past quality has translated into current pedigree and so we wind up with graduates who are credentialed, but not educated. The historic quality of education was derived from the fact that educators of yore were at the top of the yet-to-be-named knowledge worker pyramid. Today, they're basically at the bottom--no one fails out of an early education degree and decides to go into engineering. What's happened is that there are a lot more job opportunities for the smartest people so they go work for Google or whatever while the marginal college students tack on the courses necessary to become a teacher as a fall back position. Or, worse, they go into public policy or some other apprenticeship for bureaucrats/education administrators. A hundred years ago that education bureaucracy didn't really exist. A few people noticed that every time education issues were voted on, more money went to schools. Now, there are battalions of administrators studying everything in their school district except their own efficacy. The first rule of every bureaucracy is to spend your budget. The second rule of every bureaucracy is to fail. They're effective bureaucrats. And the response of parents (homeschooling or private school) has now become common. They've basically exited the system. In a perfect Hayekian world, a new educational order would emerge. I believe what homeschoolers are unintentionally doing is implementing, testing, and refining that new educational order. At some point, there will be a better and free alternative to public education and shortly there after, public education ceases to be a line item in government budgets.Well, that's how I think the education bubble will pop. In practice, what will happen is that a town or city facing a huge budget hole will notice a free alternative and implement it while firing their teachers and education administrators. That process will repeat, if the free alternative adequately meets the educational needs of the community, so maybe the bubble has a slow leak instead of just popping.

Van then chimed in from Blogodidact on his ideas of the problems in education today:

Look at the Cato chart of performance across the years… the lesson to learn from it is that no matter what ‘strategy’, format or ‘standards’ or tests are followed, or how the classroom is arranged or stocked with various electronic gadgets or graphically enhanced textbooks… the materials taught from, and the purposes of the lessons themselves, are uninteresting, unintegrated and entirely uninspiring. No matter how much money is thrown at whichever part of the modern educational process, so long as the purpose of education is taken to be to impart skills and responses, it will fail. Or as the more cynically minded have said, it has succeeded, succeeded in producing people who cannot hope to be self governing, and who therefore welcome the government stepping into their lives to fill the gap.

...When we find a way to enable real teachers to provide their services, and include parents in participation with them, and provide the materials in such a way that the teachers themselves can Teach as they see fit, where they wish, and how they wish, and Parents can send their kids to those ones who most reflect their values and wishes... then we'll see a revolutionary change in Education.

Both make excellent points. Read both posts and I believe you will understand why the mandates are educational nonsense cranked out by the Department of Education. Until we start really educating children instead of expecting rote answers to the "teaching to the test" teachers are forced to implement, we will have the flatlined scores so vividly portrayed by Cato. And, as long as the bureaucracy of education exists, students will not show improved test scores. As I have noted in my posts, I discovered many years ago, "the system protects the system, it does not exist to serve the student".

We wrote on the "Trigger Option" and why we believe it may not be the panacea some organizations and politicians believe it to be. Darin's and Van's insights support this theory. If you have a floor about to cave in on your house, do you replace the floor without fixing the foundation? If you fix the floor without addressing the underlying problem of what's holding up the floor, you still have the same problem! The new floor may last for a while, but eventually, the new floor will collapse as well. If the foundation is faulty, it won't matter how much you repair the floor or gloss it over by carpeting. It is still unstable and will fall.

I believe that's what the Cato diagram illustrates and what Van wrote-- No matter how much money is thrown at whichever part of the modern educational process, so long as the purpose of education is taken to be to impart skills and responses, it will fail. The Federal government can mandate away all it wants--if the content and process are faulty, real education will not occur and the flatlining will continue. How much more money will we keep pumping into a system that is not responsive to educational purposes? Our students have been flatlining for forty years and this system cannot be resuscitated.

Here was a response to our posting on Florida Governor Elect Rick Scott's rather revolutionary idea of providing vouchers for Florida families:

I am a public school teacher but believe it or not I am not against vouchers nor do I think that school choice would end public education.

Read the rest of the reader's comment...he is in the trenches and understands the problems of public education and has some good observations on how it should be addressed. None of his suggestions, nor Darin's or Van's, suggested schools need more federal dollars, Race to the Top, common core standards or other additional federal mandates.

Darin, Van and I are from the state of Missouri, the Show Me state. We've seen what four decades of increased mandates and federal spending have meant for students. We've seen enough. We want to see real education for students, not watered down instruction so students can pass assessment tests. I hope other citizens are becoming as concerned and frustrated as we are about the state of public education. It has become a huge expense for little results.

Educational policies are being written by lobbying groups. Is there ANYONE in the state of Missouri or on the national level that truly cares about students and understands why special interest groups should not be writing or implementing educational policies?

It's time for Missourians to insist on their state sovereignty and refuse to fund any of these underfunded Federal mandates. Legislators, are you listening?

Friday, December 10, 2010

Florida Governor Elect Rick Scott--Revolutionary in Disguise?

Now this is something to ponder.

Rick Scott, governor elect of Florida, "has the idea of giving vouchers to all students, essentially ending public education as it is known everywhere else in the country and the world."

Scott is putting forth a choice for taxpayers on how their tax dollars should be spent for their children. It is amazing and radical for a governor to go against the "status quo" of today's educational push...the rush to common core standards and Race to the Top funding.

Read the comments from this Politico piece. Readers have differing opinions on the use of public money for education.

What do you think?

Thursday, December 9, 2010

The "Trigger Option"...on its Face, it's a Beauty. Look Deeper and You'll Find Bill Gates.

My emails have been exploding about the "Trigger Option". Have you heard about the newest educational tool to close underperforming schools? This was started in California; it is a way parents can force the closing of failing schools. Here is an article from the Wall Street Journal explaining how the trigger option works and the Journal is very supportive of placing the option in parents' hands.

On its face, this seems as if this is a fabulous idea on how to deal with underperforming schools. Parents can close schools that don't reach Annual Yearly Progress (AYP) for four consecutive years. If at least 51% of the parents sign a petition, they can shut a school down, shake up its administration, or invite a charter operator to take over. Charters that open as a result of parent triggers must accept all students from the original school.

This sounds great, doesn't it? What would you think if I told you only 25% of Missouri school districts made the AYP goals this past year? You can access this link on the DESE website to check your own district's failing or passing grade. My district, Kirkwood VII District, has not met AYP goals for four years. Kirkwood VII has the highest paid superintendent in the state. Should I mount a campaign to ask my district to go to charters, scrap the administration and start over? Why are we paying a premium for an administrative head for a district that can't pass AYP goals?

The majority of Kirkwood students go on to college. So what's the disconnect between AYP and actual performance of the majority of the students? Here's a layman's definition of AYP. These goals are practically impossible for any school district to meet. High performing and high paying districts in my area very rarely can meet AYP goals. Why? Testing is broken down into subgroups (free lunch, minority, IEP student, etc.). A entire school can do well on the testing, but if one subgroup does not meet proficiency, the entire building fails on AYP for the year. This happened in one Missouri school last year; it had the highest math and reading scores in the district, but since the IEP students did NOT meet the AYP goals, the entire building failed. Entire districts fail based on the subgroup performance.

Be careful what you wish for. And ask yourself, who is behind the "parent trigger option"? Would it surprise you to discover that would be none other than Bill Gates? Read this article from "School Matters". It has not been a parent driven movement for the trigger option; it has been Bill Gates and his charter school buddies pushing this idea. If parents can become so enraged as to demand the closure of their school based on AYP data and demand charter schools, who immediately benefits? Those who are funding the charter schools will stand to make a fortune and this seems often to come back ultimately to Bill Gates.

Are there some schools who are performing badly? Absolutely. Should some be closed? Yes. But I get a bit uneasy when I see Gates' fingerprints all over this reform in terms of charters and common core standards. Read our blog on how Bill Gates is behind legislative writing of educational policy. It's not legislators driving legislation, it's special interest groups. No wonder I get concerned when Gates' name pops up in the Trigger Option as well.

As this administration has said, "Never waste a crisis". And a failing school is a crisis. It pits parents against teachers and teachers against parents. The teachers' unions finally get broken when it comes to disbanding a failing school and students are placed in charter schools. Just be sure before you celebrate this option you do your research and find out who is funding the charters and why.

And one more thought: if the charters are operating under the same standards as the public schools, and they are being graded in the same way (via subgroup testing protocol), will there be much difference in results? Instead of disbanding underperforming schools, perhaps more scrutiny should be given to the onerous mandates given to the states by the Federal Government and the way they are graded. Just wait for common core standards and assessments; they will be even worse and time consuming than No Child Left Behind. Claire McCaskill may be correct. Parents should get their pitchforks and demonstrate if their child is stuck in a failing school. But who are they demonstrating against? Are they demonstrating against failing teachers or a deeper systemic problem? Who is benefiting from all this unrest?

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Tales of Educational Nanny Legislators and Kindergarten Mandates--Coming Soon to your Community?

Missouri is in danger from the Democratic and Republican educational nanny legislators. Robyn Jones-Wright has pre-filed SB 21 which would lower compulsory school age and require mandatory full day kindergarten for students in public schools. This will fit it quite nicely with the educational agenda of the Missouri Association of School Administrators (MASA) and Missouri School Boards Association (MSBA). It is in the legislative platform of these two lobbying groups to require full day kindergarten, and it is also an important goal in Race to the Top.

This is an attempt to control educational choices for parents. If this bill makes it into legislation, parents will have no choice whether or not to place their child into public kindergarten. What kind of choice is that?

Race to the Top makes no bones about it; it is a cradle to age 20 program. Even though Missouri did not receive Race to the Top funding, the intent is to mandate more and more educational rules for children and take away parental choice. We know that from our commissioner, Chris Nicastro, as she indicated she wants to implement the core goals of Race to the Top even though we have not received funding.

Here is a blog from "Culture Vigilante" which will give you more information about the background of the insistent yoke of control being introduced every year in Missouri restricting parental educational choices for their children. Not only should public school parents be concerned, so should homeschooling parents who currently have the right NOT to place their child into a public kindergarten classroom.

Two questions: Missouri is a state that is vehemently opposed to mandates (71% voted to reject Obamacare) so why would state Republicans join with the mandate happy Democrats for this educational bill as they have in the past (watch Culture Vigilante's video)...AND, if this would pass, how does the Legislature intend to fund all day kindergarten for the districts who cannot afford such a mandate? Isn't that part of the problem of federal mandates? Not only are they unconstitutional, they are also underfunded and will necessitate states to go into further debt (or raise taxes) to fulfill the mandates. Missouri is facing an $800 Million deficit this upcoming year and there is no money available for yet another mandated program.

The legislative nannies in this state are potentially placing their employers (the taxpayers) in serious constitutional and financial distress.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

The Seesaw of Educational Theories--Mandates vs Children Setting their Own Educational Agenda

How do some parents respond to the ever increasing standards control and financial expense of the Federal Government in public education? Some parents aren't aware of increasing mandates and spending, some believe more money and national standards mean better education, and still others are pulling their children from an increasing nationalized mode of education into systems with no standards at all.

Here is an article from The Sun Sentinel in Florida about a Sudbury school where curriculum doesn't exist. The students set their own agenda and learning style. It's an interesting concept and an alternative for parents who see a nanny state educational program for their child as stifling and inappropriate. It's a novel idea and is parent/student driven rather than government driven. This is a succinct quote from an article about this approach to learning:

The Sudbury approach appeals to people who reject what they see as "coerced" instruction that occurs when adults set the agenda. Supporters instead trust that children will choose to learn what they need to become successful adults. Detractors see it in much the same way as the inmates taking control of the asylum. Only time will tell.

I wonder if the Sudbury approach will ultimately succeed...after 40 years of the Department of Education's control and increased spending (180% increase during those four decades) and flat-lined scores, it is hardly surprising parents are searching for alternative educational models for their children.

Monday, December 6, 2010

What Mizzou Business Students Should Have Learned from Kenneth Feinberg on Determining Executive Pay

We wrote about Kenneth Feinberg's recent speech at the School of Business at the University of Missouri...it was announcing his appearance and his presentation, "Government Determination of Private Executive Pay: Opportunities and Challenges". We wondered if the speech focused solely on executive pay from bailed out companies, or if this idea would spread to all companies in certain industries, even if they had not received government assistance.

The Columbia Daily Tribune covered the speech and Mr. Feinberg focused mainly on the companies receiving assistance from the Troubled Relief Assistance Program:

To rein in excessive pay, Feinberg capped salaries at $500,000 a year and banned retention bonuses; tied an executive's compensation to company performance; paid executives in stock that couldn't be redeemed for a few years; and prevented executives from being reimbursed until the corporation has repaid the taxpayers 25 percent of what it owes.

"Overall, it was a worthwhile exercise," he said, but he cautioned, "It's not something that should be expanded."

It seems Mr. Feinberg, then, would not be anxious to set executive pay for those companies not needing taxpayer bailout funding. I read a Forbes piece about Mr. Feinberg's actions after the BP spill and was impressed most with the one comment from a reader:

The only thing that management owes to their stockholders is enough information to let them make a rational decision on investment potential. That includes: a. Honesty / Integrity / no "Cooking the Books".
b. A clear Vision and Strategy statement as to their intended course.
c. Transparency and openness, providing all relevant information at appropriate times.

Under this model, stockholders can pick their investments based on the level of risk or conservatism the company is expected to show. Companies with good plans and with a continuing sustainability over time will be sought out by long-term investors and a fair price paid. Consider this the Warren Buffet model of investing. If executives would consider first their legacy to employees, societies and communities, rather than themselves and a limited circle of similarly compensated friends, we would return the respected Executive Statesman to business, rather than the Hired Aristocracy that we have developed.

I highlighted the last sentence because I believe that is the most important point in the reader's comment. Read this article from American Thinker, "American Religion and Religious Morality" and tie it in with the Forbes' article. The government has been instituting more and more rules on businesses and education. This has allowed the government to mandate moral behavior, which government is not constitutionally allowed to do:

Liberals and conservatives both believe that as Americans, we should be moral people. The major difference is where their morality intersects with their politics. Most conservatives believe that our morality should come from religion, separate from government. Most progressives incorporate moral guidance as a function of government.

The humanistic tendencies of the political left assume that morality can be governed by state laws and dismiss religion as an origin and arbiter of moral law. Therefore, government must become a humanist's ultimate authority to address and regulate human nature.

Therein lies the problem with Mr. Feinberg's actions on behalf of the Obama administration and I wish he had pointed this out to the future business leaders at the University of Missouri (from American Thinker):

Governments cannot create and enforce morality -- only law. The more corrupt a government becomes (as our human nature predicts), the more laws are created for power rather than justice -- which is the reason why governments cannot be the arbiters of morality. In addition, when Americans stop taking responsibility for self-regulated morality, then the heavy hand of government must attempt to control human nature and suffocate our free will. If we lose the ability to know not only what is right and wrong, but why it is right or wrong, then we stop being moral. We become simply law-abiding, compliant.

This article explains the difficulty in knowing how to address executives' "excessive pay". If taxpayer money is used to bail out these businesses, the taxpayers should have a say in how the companies are restructured and the company accounts and practices should be scrutinized. But the problem really is deeper and can't be solved by government rules and laws. It IS a matter of morality that needs to be practiced by business leaders AND politicians. It is NOT a matter of new laws and regulations and mandates. THAT is a lesson for college students to understand and integrate into their future professions.

Do you think business students will find any required courses about morality in college today? I wasn't there, but I didn't see it reported in Mr. Feinberg's speech at Mizzou. We might have fewer problems requiring massive taxpayer bailouts if our leaders had adhered to a moral law rather than the law of unmitigated greed.

Do you remember the title of Mr. Feinberg's speech: "Government Determination of Private Executive Pay: Opportunities and Challenges"? The opportunity he had to challenge the business students to operating/managing businesses from moral beliefs vs legalistic solutions seems to have passed. That's a shame.

Site Meter