"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, December 18, 2010

An Unprecedented Look in What's Normally Hidden

I thought you all would enjoy this video from YouTube, a clip from "Discovery Showcase: Invisible Worlds in the Water".

We live in hectic and uncertain times today and when I watched this, it was comforting in a way. There is magic in what you are about to see. We often don't see the whole picture even though we think we are in situations with our eyes wide open.

Enjoy the educational experience in a drop of water. It may be explained by understanding hydrogen and oxygen atoms, but it sure looks like a dance to me...a "coalescence cascade".

Friday, December 17, 2010

Educated Citizenry 2020 Committee Reveals Education Goals for Missouri Students.

The Missouri State Senate Panel delivered its education report today entitled "Educated Citizenry 2020".

The St. Louis Beacon has a report on the meeting today in Jefferson City:

If a state Senate panel has its way, Missouri students 10 years from now will be better prepared for kindergarten, three-fourths of them will do well on state standardized tests and 60 percent of them will get college degrees and credentials.

Further, charter schools will expand throughout the state, not just in St. Louis or Kansas City, new lawmakers will have to take lessons to learn how public schools are funded and one agency will oversee education from pre-school through post-graduate degrees.

State Senator David Pearce, the chairman of the education panel said on the subject of teacher pay and tenure:

On specific issues, Pearce said that he has filed legislation to study how teachers are compensated. Specifically, he said, it might be time to ask teachers if they are willing to be paid on a merit basis if they would give up the protections of tenure at the same time.

"If we're going to do this," he said, "it would have to be voluntary for schools as well as for teachers. If teachers want to go on merit-based, performance-based reimbursement, they would have to give up tenure. We need to take a look at that, perhaps beginning with districts that are provisionally accredited or unaccredited.

"Tenure is something that for the most part doesn't resonate well in the state of Missouri. Education is the only place where people have tenure," continued Pearce. "People outside the system don't necessarily support it or appreciate it, and now may be a good time to do some trade offs, like tying it to merit pay."

If you are familiar with Race to the Top mandates, teacher tenure and merit pay was a cornerstone of the legislation, as well as the expansion of charter schools. Governor Nixon took out these items in Missouri's proposal to the Department of Education and the removal of these highly graded goals may have been one reason we did not receive funding from the Department of Education.

Missouri adopted Common Core standards in June 2010, a critical part of the Race to the Top. By adopting these standards, we have given up our state's right to write curriculum. We cannot set state or local standards for students and are under the mandates of a consortium.

If I am reading the Beacon article and Educated Citizenry report correctly, even though Missouri did not win Race to the Top funding, we will have the key important programs in this (RTTT) Department of Education's plan implemented: common core standards, the expansion of charter schools, the termination of teacher tenure and the introduction of merit pay. A difference is in the RTTT plan, the tenure and merit pay issue was mandated; the Missouri Senate's plan is apparently voluntary.

The original RTTT proposal was slated to cost $400 Million. The total we could have received from the Department of Education was $250 Million. This current plan doesn't mention how much money Educated Citizenry will cost. The goals appear to be very similar; the state has received $248 Million in other stimulus funding to begin implementing common core standards, so I am assuming the total will be close to the original $400 Million total cost. Taxpayers should know from the Legislature how much this plan is projected to cost as it will create unfunded mandates.

The Beacon reports:

In public hearings witnesses were asked to respond to these questions:

  • What will it mean to be an educated citizen in 2020?
  • What will employers need from their employees in 2020?
  • What principles will anchor our decisions about education -- flexibility, accessibility, affordability? How do we advance those principles?
  • How can the needs of all Missouri students best be balanced?
  • If you could change one things about education in Missouri, what would it be?

Questions taxpayers should be asking the legislators involved in this plan include the following:

  • What is the total cost of this program?
  • If there are unfunded/underfunded mandates in this program, how will these be addressed in this climate of budget cutting in the state?
  • How does this plan promote smaller government?
  • How does this plan promote more local control?
  • Does this plan promote more parental rights and involvement?
  • How are charter schools considered a viable alternative as they will operate under the same mandates as traditional public schools?

Taxpayers and constitutionalists may want to study the committee's recommendations and ask questions regarding further involvement of the federal government in terms of setting mandates and providing funding for state programs.

This desire to turn over control of state education and accepting federal funds is in contrast with the 10th Amendment beliefs of many Missouri taxpayers. 71% of voters approved of Missouri not having to acquiesce to the Federal Government in health care legislation. Why has Missouri signed onto Common Core standards and agreed to unfunded mandates? Why is the state acquiescing to the Federal Government in the educational realm?

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Are All School District Boards a Microcosm of Congress?

My experience with my school board is that it doesn't take citizen concerns seriously and is dismissive of those who don't agree with district spending or policy. Kirkwood School District is operating in the same manner of our present Congress: it ridicules and marginalizes everyday citizens by not allowing their comments to the Board to be recorded. This current Congress has been accused of being tone deaf to citizen concerns and wishes, and many citizens in Kirkwood believe this Board mirrors Congress' behavior.

My district will allow public comment before the regularly scheduled Board meeting. When comments are finished, the meeting officially begins. By not taking comments after the official start of the meeting, comments are never published or addressed publicly.

When asked about this practice, I received a response from the superintendent which stated:

"As you know, District practice is not to include items other than regular Board agenda items in the minutes".

As the Board has to approve items to be placed on the agenda, citizen concerns that are in opposition to Board policy have no chance to become an agenda item. In effect, this Board controls the message and provides no record of public comment. Is this the way government is supposed to work?

Does your school board operate in this manner, that of not recording comments from the taxpayers who fund this entity? It's almost as if your opinions don't exist; and they officially do not exist as there is no record of your concerns.

Is your school board a microcosm of Congress?

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Rick Scott is Making a Splash in Florida Education Waters

Whether you agree with it or not, this is a radical move for the governor elect in Florida:

Newly elected Florida Gov. Rick Scott is making waves with his proposal that all children should receive education vouchers they can use to attend private, public or charter schools.

Many school choice advocates are pushing for school choice, but only as it pertains to charter schools which still must operate under federal mandates. Private schools are not under such mandates which make this proposal that much more intriguing. I would think this would also apply to homeschooling parents as Scott stated:

"The parent should figure out where the dollars for that student are spent," the Republican governor-elect told the St. Petersburg Times. "So if the parents want to spend it on virtual school, then spend it on virtual school. If they want to spend it on, you know, whatever education system they believe in, whether it's this public school or that public school or this private school or that private school, that's what ought to happen."

Read the article and let us know what you think.

Did you think the health care debate was heated? The original article regarding Scott's remarks was posted at 5:24 ET. By 8:44 PM ET, there were 232 reader comments. This tells me education is of high interest to many Americans and they are weary of failing systems. Readers have differing opinions, but everyone agrees something radical must occur in delivering education to our students.

The Educational Version of the Shell Game

Here is a link from the Washington Post featuring Marion Brady. Brady's analysis is spot on. The blind push for the "Trigger Option" or opening charters on every street corner is not the answer for US public educational problems. The underlying problem (that pesky white elephant in the room) with schools is HOW and WHAT they TEACH and TEST:

Consider as failing every school – public, charter, private, whatever – that assumes that corporately produced, standardized tests say something important about something important. Using test scores to guide education policy makes about as much sense as using the horoscope of whoever happens to be Secretary of State to guide US foreign policy.

That standardized tests are a useful tool for guiding education reform is a myth, pure and simple – a myth constructed from ignorance and perpetuated by misinformation, or conjured from hope and reinforced by cherry-picked data.

We believe you can't move the chess pieces (the students) around the educational board and expect a different outcome. It's the same game with the same mandates and inherent problems and it will result in the same outcome. The teachers' unions will be gone (perhaps), but will students really learn what they need to know from the mandated curriculum and testing? What benefit is there from having an excellent teacher when the material is faulty?

Standardized, subject-matter tests are worse than a waste. We’re spending billions of dollars and instructional hours on a tool that measures one thought process to the neglect of all others, wreaks havoc on the minds and emotions of teachers and learners, and diverts attention from a fundamental, ignored problem.

That problem? Longshoreman and college professor Eric Hoffer summed it up a lifetime ago. Because the world is dynamic, the future belongs not to the learned but to learners.

Read that sentence again. Then read it again. Even if standardized tests didn’t cost billions, even if they yielded something that teachers didn’t already know, even if they hadn’t narrowed the curriculum down to joke level, even if they weren’t the main generators of educational drivel, even if they weren’t driving the best teachers out of the profession, they should be abandoned because they measure the wrong thing.

America’s system of education is designed to clone the learned. And motivated either by ignorance or greed, the wealthy and powerful, using educationally na├»ve celebrities as fronts, are spending obscene amounts of money to convince politicians, pundits, policymakers, and the public that this is a good and necessary thing.

Brady has hit it on the nose. Legislators who are falling over all themselves to push school choice need to understand exactly what they are pushing. It is not necessarily about educational excellence. School choice with charters will operate under the same standardized testing and expectations as traditional schools. It will take power away from the public schools and give it to the private company.

I'm a capitalist and understand the beauty of private industry. But what makes a private company fail or succeed? The success of private industry depends on excellence and innovation which doesn't exist for the current and coming standards for charters. The government is funneling money from the unions to private industry. The actual testing and curriculum are the same for both public and charter schools. What is most important? Should our legislators continue to spend money on curriculum and testing that isn't relevant for a true education, or should they be discarding the mandates by which schools must operate? Wouldn't a true revolution in education concern the ability for districts to exercise authentic local control?

When all is said and done, it's not much of a choice at all. It very well could be the newest educational version of the shell game.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

UrbanFUTURE. A Lesson to Study and Understand How Education is Supposed to Work.

I'm trying to be optimistic in the midst of the takeover of public schools not only from the Federal Government but also special interests. When you are in the middle of information overload and the "crises" we are finding ourselves in continually according to this administration, sometimes you need to stop, take a deep breath and look for the positive aspects in the situation.

I recently had an opportunity to sit down and talk with two authentic education reformers from UrbanFUTURE. This is an privately funded organization that:

...is a “connector” of the Family, School and Community in impoverished urban areas. At the core of the model is the student whom we challenge to see and believe in his/her possibilities. At the apex is the family, the student’s primary educator, who is supported by representatives from the community and the school. UF staff brokers the connections and is housed within the school building making it the hub for family and community to convene. In this way we are addressing generational poverty at an individual and structural level.

This group provides one-on-one tutoring in elementary and middle schools and "a recent evaluation by St. Louis University shows that students read two to three grade levels higher after only one school year in UrbanFUTURE programming". What I found most interesting was UrbanFuture's philosophy:

The UrbanFUTURE mentors, staff and programs are committed to upholding the following core values: Individual Dignity, Character Formation, Family Commitment, and Academic Growth. This organization is an asset to these inner city students and it teaches them the core values which are ultimately most important in life: those of morals and values.

This is a dedicated group of administrators and teachers and it is trying to make a difference in young people's lives one at a time. It is in desperate need for more volunteers and/or mentors. If you are in the St. Louis area and could volunteer as little as two hours a week, please contact UrbanFUTURE.

Constitutionally minded education reformers are insistent that more governmental control and more mandates are not the answers for educational success; real education demands personal attention to the whole child.

Volunteering in UrbanFUTURE is an extension of this belief and truly helps children. It doesn't "teach to the test"; it provides authentic educational content.

UrbanFUTURE has been proven to help students...please consider helping children who desperately need assistance they will never obtain from the Department of Education. If you are not in the St. Louis area, seek out opportunities in your town to mentor a struggling student. These kids can't wait for the newest "miracle mandate" to free them from failure.

Monday, December 13, 2010

The "New " Math...Once Again. This Time, Japanese Style.

What do you teachers think about the Japanese method of solving multiplication problems? Since we're "going global", it might be something in the new common core assessments and important to have passing knowledge of this method!

It is a fascinating video. It's certainly different than how most American children learn multiplication tables...do they still teach those in school?

Sunday, December 12, 2010

The Sunshine State, An Albatross and Teenage Wasteland

We recently blogged about Governor Elect Rick Scott toying with the idea of providing educational vouchers to all Florida students. We wondered if he were one of the true revolutionaries in the public education arena.

He and the Florida Legislature may be partners in this educational revolution. Read this blog from The Pacific Research Institute comparing Florida's education rankings to those of California. Dr. Vicki Murray compares testing results from these two states and she details the disparities between them. She writes:

Florida pursued those reforms from the top down through state testing and from the bottom up through parental choice—and they did so with strong bipartisan support. Overall, Florida’s approach emphasized standards for schools, transparency for parents, and immediate options for students most at risk. That includes children trapped in chronically failing schools, from low-income families, from the foster-care system, and children with disabilities.

On the other coast, California has refused to adopt large scale reforms that would allow students to attend schools their parents—not bureaucrats or special interest groups—think are best. The time has come for change. California’s new crop of legislators should learn from Florida’s success and enact reforms based on equal access for all students to great teachers and high-performing schools.

Does it occur to you that it's not systems requiring more mandates, layers of bureaucracy, and billions of dollars that will allow students to truly learn? Instead of Dr. Murray's titling her piece "Lessons from Florida for California's New Legislators", I would suggest she rename it to "Lessons from Florida for California's New Legislators AND the Department of Education". If states cannot rid themselves of this albatross of an agency around their necks, at least the states should educate the Federal Government what works in their state, what type of education allows their students to succeed, and doesn't force the states into unfunded mandates that only promote more bureaucracy.

Free the students from the "Teenage Wasteland". Free the states from unfunded mandates and increasing federal control.

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