"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, January 8, 2011

Watch the Legislation Proposed in Your State. This is Really a Nifty Educational Tool.

If you only bookmark one website, e-lobbyist.com might be the one to bookmark and refer to frequently while the Legislature is in session. This site is free to use and you can become aware of bills introduced in the state which you are following. You can also track up to 10 bills at a time to monitor their progress through the House, and if they make it out of the House, then through the Senate.

I had my eye on this bill last night, HB 59:


January 6 2011 - Read Second Time (H)


Requires the State Board of Education to establish a coordinated health program board to develop a program on the prevention of student obesity, cardiovascular disease, and type II diabetes

It seems Michelle Obama's recent push to regulate food intake and eradication of obesity might be important in the education of our children. Do you think with Missouri's current $500 Million shortfall this year this program (complete with a board) is a necessity the state budget can afford?

Here's another thought: should childhood obesity and the tracking of childrens' medical health be left up to the parents?

That last question might be a radical thought, to leave the health management of children to the parents. It's just a crazy idea. Might save a bit of money, don't you think?

However, HB 59 may be a piggyback on HB 57 :


January 6 2011 - Read Second Time (H)


Establishes the Missouri Commission on Prevention and Management of Obesity

What IS it this year? Has war been officially declared on obese children and adults? Be sure to register to track bills being presented this year. The session hasn't been in a week, and you'll be amazed how busy the legislators have been already.

Keep your eyes open! (And maybe pass on that piece of pie after dinner).

Setting Real Goals For Education

Representative Lynn Woolsey (D-CA) said on the US House floor yesterday that the US involvement in Afghanistan was a "national embarrassment and a moral blight." She inferred, from public polling results, that people did not think the war was not worth fighting. A better worded poll might have shown that people’s frustration with the war was due more to our lack of success there which many have said is a result of our lack of a reasonable goal and the subsequent tying of our military’s hands in trying to achieve it. Roger Stone, long term political consultant and, in his own words, Ron Paul conservative, responded on the Dana Loesch show that he agreed the US did a terrible job strategically in Afghanistan, that we did not look seriously enough at the war history in the country before we settled on a mission. If we had, we would have seen that military giants from Britain to Russia failed in traditional boots-on-the-ground campaigns there and yet that is exactly the kind of effort the US has engaged in. We would have been better served to develop a radically different definition of success in that country and design an out of the box military campaign to achieve that success allowing the full force and expertise of the US armed forces to accomplish the task.

So why talk about US strategy in Afghanistan on a blog dedicated to education? Because the same lack of well thought out definitions of the final goal, the continued reliance on a model that has not proven successful and a disconnect between intentions and implementation are exactly what mires the US policy on education. And it is not a huge jump to see how such failings in the military can similarly be predicted in a centrally run education system like that envisioned in Race To The Top.

Generally speaking, in the United States, we have made our goal to graduate students. We say our goal is to educate students, but the metrics we use to achieve that tell a different story. Every school meticulously collects and publishes data showing graduation rates, college entrance statistics, and drop-out rates. They don’t show statistics on whether parents and kids thought students were prepared for the real world. They don’t show how students’ talents and gifts are nurtured and supported. They don’t track kids who do not go to college and ascertain whether they are able to sustain themselves with the 12 years of education the public gave them.

Instead, we have developed surrogate metrics that try to get at these goals. Take, for example, the requirement that students attend school for a minimum number of days. This requirement recently caused the Francis Howell district, which lists itself as “accredited with distinction,” to add 5 minutes to every day in order to make up for 5 lost days in their new traditional school schedule. The case could perhaps have been made that additional learning would take place if they added those 5 days to the beginning or end of the school year. But adding two minutes to the start time and three minutes to the end time of each day can hardly be argued as a case for additional learning time. It did, however, meet the surrogate metric for learning.

The St. Louis School District has proposed requiring kids to be in school from age 5-18. Here again the focus is on an arbitrary assignment of age that is supposed to guarantee successful education, but in fact merely defines the terms for graduation. Why does the 5 year old, who not only knows his alphabet and numbers, but can maybe even read a little, need to be in school when the majority of students there will be focusing on learning what he already knows? One assumes that the school district is trying to get to the kids who arrive at school at age 7 without basic knowledge of letters, numbers, colors etc. and who become a drag on the 1st grade teacher’s ability to get to their curriculum while they try to catch those kids up. This is laudable, but the proposed requirement is a contorted means of achieving that goal. A truer focus on education might instead say, bring your 5 year old in to take a test of basic skills. If they pass the test, we don’t need to them to come in for another year. The school district could then focus their efforts only on the kids who needed the help, saving time and money, and retaining the commitment to education.

A lot of this stems from the disconnect between intentions and implementation. This disconnect is part of being human. Any mother who has chaired a PTO or other volunteer type committee has seen this played out when volunteers are given instructions for accomplishing a task. Interpretation, misreading, lack of time or personal opposition to the source of the instructions can all lead to a result that is far from what you intended. It’s why it is so important to have those writing rules be as close as possible to those implementing the rules.

And THIS is why Common Core Curricula and RTTT, no matter how well intentioned or written originally, are doomed to fail. Because implementation of them will take place far from the creators and is likely to produce a whole host of unintended consequences. It will foster a system whose goal is destined to become its own perpetuation and comfort, not education. It's why you can bet that future polls of the popularity of our education system are likely to have the same results as the current poll of the war in Afghanistan.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Is Your Legislator on a Committee for Educational Policy, Budget or Appropriations?

Many thanks to a watchdog for forwarding me the list of house committee assignments of state legislators involved in crafting educational policies, budgeting, and the appropriation of educational funding. Please contact your senator and representative regarding your views on the educational plan proposed via Educated Citizenry 2020; but the legislators listed below will also be important to contact as well.

Below are the House Committees that were appointed this week by Speaker Steve Tilley. These committees will be instrumental on setting the educational direction of the state. Determine if YOUR State Representative has been assigned to any of these committees. President Pro Tem of the Senate Rob Mayer has not yet appointed committees.

Should a Minority Stakeholder in Education be Making All the Rules?

I'm curious. This report was released from Chris Nicastro's office as a general information letter to taxpayers.

Near the end of the letter, there are several graphs illustrating the source of educational funding for the state. My question is: Why are we giving up total control of our curriculum to Federal mandates when our state receives only 23% of our funding from the Federal Government?

Does this make sense to you? The federal mandates under which we've been operating haven't been successful so why would additional and more controlling mandates be considered the answer to ensure higher test scores?

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Field Trip to Jefferson City! It's Truly an Educational Experience.

This is from the Missouri State Senate page:

JEFFERSON CITY — Dates and times of the seven work groups encompassing the Missouri Senate's "Rebooting Government" initiative were recently announced. These working groups are responsible for examining state departments and programs in order to reduce costs and maximize state resources. Please note the date and time change in the Courts and Public Safety work group below as well as the dates and times for the other Rebooting Government panels:

Tuesday, Jan. 11, 2011 Senate Committee Room 1
11:00 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Sen. David Pearce, R-Warrensburg; Sen.-elect John Lamping, R-St. Louis; Sen. Jane Cunningham, R-Chesterfield; and Sen. Victor Callahan, D-Independence

The other groups can be found on the Senate site. If you are concerned or curious about the educational legislation being proposed for Missouri, this is the time to hear the specifics from the senators whose names appear on the bill.

Education is one of the top priorities in the state this year, and the proposed plan is quite sweeping in its intent on reshaping the delivery of educational services to students. It includes many of the mandates and goals found in Race to the Top, and praises the adoption of common core standards. Missouri did not adopt RTTT, but did sign on to common core standards, giving away the state right to set curriculum. This is a sweeping change in the idea of local control and the further dependence on the Federal Government for funding. The proposed plan is Educated Citizenry 2020 and you may find it here.

Note how you can make your suggestions to the senators:

The work groups, established by Senate President Pro Tem Robert N. Mayer, R-Dexter, are charged with collecting citizens’ submitted ideas through the Rebooting Government website (www.senate.mo.gov/RebootMO) and examining how to make state government more efficient through control, alterations and deletions.

Citizens may submit their ideas on how to “reboot” state government by visiting the Missouri Senate’s Rebooting Government website (www.senate.mo.gov/RebootMO). The site will be available throughout the 2011 legislative session.

If you are concerned about unfunded mandates and increased federal control in education, now is the time to alert the senators. Please attend this very important meeting and I hope to see you on Tuesday, January 11, in Jefferson City.

When Republicans Sound Like Democrats and Democrats Sound Like Republicans. It's True!

This should be an interesting session in the Legislature. Here is a quite informative article from the Missouri News Horizon quoting Republican and Democratic lawmakers on the subject of educational reform.

Here is the Republican stance:

Rep. Scott Dieckhaus, R-Washington, chairs the House's Elementary and Secondary Education Committee. He said he wants his committee to be aggressive when considering reforms to the state's education system.

"Everything is on the table," Dieckhaus said. "Whether it's tenure, whether it's making sure we're not sneaking kids through the system by social promotion, whether it's...vouchers and open enrollment, and all the things that have been pulled off the table in past legislative sessions, I want to have a true dialogue on those issues this session."

That sounds on its face exciting and visionary. Some of it is. Some of it isn't so wonderful. Open enrollment will kill local school district autonomy for setting their student make-up. Open enrollment will cause deficits to schools as reimbursement will not cover the full amount necessary to educate the child at the district's set rate. Who will pay for the additional resources necessary for an influx of students? The district? The state? How can a district set a realistic budget? Charters weren't mentioned, but they are a big item in Educated Citizenry 2020. If a true dialogue is desired by the lawmakers, perhaps taxpayers should understand they may very well be under the same mandates as public schools having to adhere to common core standards.

Robyn Wright-Jones, Democrat from St. Louis said this:

But one of the Senate's leaders on public education, Sen. Robyn Wright-Jones, D-St. Louis, warns that moving too fast on controversial topics such as open enrollment and tenure reform takes the focus away from a root cause of educational deficiency in the urban core -- the lack of economic opportunity for parents of school children.

"When we have a decent wage in every household, and we have our parents working, they can do a traditional family plan, where there's money to do the things they need to do, then test scores will improve," Wright-Jones said.

She said open enrollment is not the answer to educational inability. She favors keeping students close to home.

"We need to put our neighborhood schools back on the block, down the street from where our children live," Wright-Jones said. "You send a very bad signal to a kid when you put him on a bus at five in the morning and take them off at seven (at night) and tell them they just got a better education."

She's right. She sounds like a traditional Republican (jobs, jobs, jobs and traditional family) and fostering community pride. The Republicans sound like traditional Democrats (curriculum mandates, increased spending and unfunded mandates created by common core standards).

House Speaker Tilley said:

...the status quo is not good enough anymore.

"Every year, people who are opposed to educational reform say 'No, this isn't a good idea, this isn't a good idea...' Tilley said. But they don't come up with alternative solutions and we continue to shuffle thousands of kids through schools that just aren't doing their jobs."

We have our ideas on educational reform. Return the majority of educational decisions to the state and reduce our dependency on the federal government for funding. Could it be we are in trouble because we are going broke trying to fulfill the endless mandates coming out of Washington? After all, for every dollar we send to the Department of Education, we get back 80 cents. That doesn't seem like a very good investment for taxpayers and students.

Cutting our strings to Washington would be a good first start. Isn't that what the Health Care Freedom Act was all about? How about we start an Educational Freedom Act? We don't like the health mandates OR the educational mandates. There is no difference in the amount of control in either healthcare or education. Decrease federal control and spending. Sounds like a good plan to me.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Lesson of the Day for DESE. It's a Doozy.

The new state senators and representatives were sworn in today and here is a video and link about the issues in education funding facing these legislators. One senator said:

"It's going to be a challenge," said Sen. Victor Callahan, an Independence Democrat.

"We'll have to make a lot of cuts in different areas."
Callahan, the Senate minority leader, said the state probably won't be able to fully fund classrooms as required by state law.

This last sentence is particularly important and expresses the gravity of the financial situation the Legislature is facing. The Legislature is mandated by law to balance the budget, even in poor financial years.

What is DESE's view on the budget shortfall? It's quite stunning:

In its funding request to Nixon's budget office, the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education sought state money to fill the hole left by the federal stimulus money, plus a $255 million increase to fully fund the school aid formula.

This is a fascinating request from Chris Nicastro. DESE wants the state to fill a federal money hole created by one time stimulus funds and another $255 million the state doesn't have. I didn't read anything about DESE employing budget cutting measures and working within reality.

The legislators have a tough job making cuts and it's difficult to believe DESE is actually asking for additional funds that don't exist. Legislators have a duty to produce a workable budget. They are not magicians and they don't print money.

That's the lesson of the day for DESE.

Memo to Legislators and DESE: Even Monty Python Understands Common Core Standards Are Deadly.

Here is a somewhat humorous yet realistic look at the ramifications of the adoption of common core standards from Monty Python. It's worth the 2:48 time it takes to see what happens to those who don't know the answers to the standardized questions. The ending exemplifies what ultimately happens to the system administering these questions to the knights.

Enjoy this bit of dark humor. We'll follow up tomorrow on a more serious discussion of common core standards and why they literally do mean the death of educational innovation.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Update: "Who REALLY Writes Legislation"? The Civics Lesson for the Day Evolves into a Mystery?

Please reread this previous blogpost which asked the question, "Who Writes Legislation?" We were asking specifically about the legislation being drafted by the Missouri Association of School Administrators (MASA) and Missouri School Boards' Association (MABA) entitled Vision for Missouri Public Education, questioning why DESE was not writing state legislation and instead, leaving such a proposal to be written by lobbying groups.

In researching this legislative writing practice, we linked to experts who were concerned the Department of Education's agenda was exactly the same as Bill Gates. They raised the question of who really was driving federal legislation. Lobbying groups and millionaires influencing and/or writing public policy is troubling and deserves scrutiny.

After reviewing "Educated Citizenry 2020", we began wondering if our state legislators crafted this language or if they received help from any outside groups. We wondered if one non-profit group, American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), which promotes charter schools, school choice, utilizing tests reflecting national standards, and pre and full kindergarten programs could have influenced the current educational legislative plan. Many of these same goals are listed in the Educated Citizenry 2020. This is a fair inquiry as ALEC has written "model" bills for state legislators to take back to their states in different areas such as education and health care.

Here is a story and transcript on ALEC from NPR aired in October 2010. Note this information from the story:

Much about ALEC is private. It does not disclose how it spends it money or who gives it to them. ALEC rarely grants interviews. Bowman won't even say which legislators are members.

Is it lobbying when private corporations pay money to sit in a room with state lawmakers to draft legislation that they then introduce back home? Bowman, a former lobbyist, says, "No, because we're not advocating any positions. We don't tell members to take these bills. We just expose best practices. All we're really doing is developing policies that are in model bill form."

At least one Missouri legislator involved in drafting the current education policy is a member of ALEC. The question we asked about the Vision for Missouri Public Education should also be asked about Educated Citizenry 2020: "Who Writes Legislation?" Has this legislation been crafted by our Missouri legislators or was it already modeled for the legislators? The goals of ALEC sound quite similar to those listed in Race to the Top and adhere to the use of common core standards, and these are the goals listed in our current state plan.

We don't know who authored this legislative educational plan. It might be prudent to ask those legislators listed as sponsors if they crafted this legislation and why. None of these goals create more local/state control or decreases spending. Parental choice is not expanded as the charter schools will be held under the same standards as public schools. Autonomy in curriculum and testing will not exist in the charter system.

Do you want to read about ALEC? The following information was taken from a pdf file as the website has disappeared and was still inoperable as of 10:50 PM EST. Perhaps this site will be back online soon:

The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) is the nation's largest nonpartisan,
individual membership organization of state legislators, with over 2,000 legislator members
from all fifty states, and 85 former members serving in the U.S. Congress. www.alec.org

Monday, January 3, 2011

Why are "Conservative" Legislators Embracing Arne Duncan's Educational Vision?

We've raised some questions in our last few postings about the actions of the Missouri Legislature members, especially those under the banner of "conservative" and "supporters of state's rights". We've wondered why those politicians promising to uphold state's rights and the Constitution when it comes to health care would suddenly buy onto an educational plan complete with federal mandates and federal money, meaning increased federal control.

What's happening educationally in Missouri in this dominant Republican legislature? We've been scratching our heads trying to figure it out and we believe we've found the trail that explains it all. We'll be detailing our investigation the next several days and then we'll ask the questions: do you believe the senators elected under the conservative banner are upholding their promises to the voters and why do they want to create educational plans that increase federal control and unfunded mandates?

Here is an article from the Washington Post refuting many of Arne Duncan's contentions about education. Arne Duncan is the bearer of Race to the Top which allows no local control of: curriculum, the hiring, firing or placement of teachers. One of the most important concepts to understand about Duncan and RTTT is the word "redistribution". What will be redistributed? Money, teachers, administrators, and students. Local districts won't have control over who they hire, who is placed in their classrooms/administrative offices, or the students who make up their classrooms. Total control. That's the name of the game of RTTT.

We don't have RTTT in Missouri, but we do have Common Core standards. By giving up state control of our curriculum, we received money in which to implement them. It was apparently of no interest to our State School Board, Commissioner of Education, or Governor that this would cause increased unfunded mandates to our state. It apparently is of no interest or concern to our legislature that these mandates violate state sovereignty. From the "Educated Citizenry 2020" report:

Commissioner Nicastro provided the Committee with a statewide context for issues of
standards and accountability. Missouri is one of many states that has adopted the
national Common Core Standards. DESE is also collaborating with other states in the
development of common assessments both as a complement to the Common Core
Standards and as a measure of cost savings. Commissioner Nicastro shared DESE’s
top priorities with the Committee which include early childhood education and effective
teaching and leadership. In addition, their aspiration is for Missouri to be a top 10 state
in academic performance, and the Committee supports this goal.

I question this sentence from the report: "DESE is also collaborating with other states in the development of common assessments both as a complement to the Common Core Standards and as a measure of cost savings". First, the common assessments ARE a complement to the Common Core standards BUT they take away the right of Missouri to set its own state standards for Missouri students. Second, I question the comment that Common Core standards will result in a cost savings to the state. Missouri received $248 Million in stimulus to begin implementing the standards, but as our proposed cost for RTTT was $400 Million, it is doubtful this initial funding will be sufficient to cover the entire cost. Common Core standards necessitate the implementation of a nationwide data system which will be quite expensive. I am curious if the legislators received cost estimates from DESE for the installed system.

As Homeschooling United noted in a previous blog, Scott Dieckhaus, the Chairman of the Elementary and Secondary Education Committee tweeted the following while attending a conference on Education:

Scott <span class=Dieckhaus" width="48" height="48">
sdieckhaus Scott Dieckhaus
Ready to spend three days with some of the greatest education reformers in the world. Better education is coming to Missouri soon!
Scott <span class=Dieckhaus" width="48" height="48">
sdieckhaus Scott Dieckhaus
At #EIA10 and excited to hear from Jeb Bush, Chris Christie, Eva Moskowitz, Arne Duncan among others.
30 Nov Favorite Retweet Reply

Conservatives and libertarians need to be asking themselves this question: why would "conservative" Republicans be jumping on the Arne Duncan education bandwagon? Read the Washington Post article. There are valid points from the author questioning Duncan's basic tenets about educational theory. Aren't the theories of Duncan and conservatives miles apart when it pertains to the matter of funding and mandates? Why are our Republican legislators so eager to embrace this plan?

What does the representative mean when he says "better education is coming to Missouri soon?" If he embraces Duncan's vision, is he for redistribution of "human capital"? Is he for districts not having any control over curriculum or staffing decisions? Is this the better education he envisions?

We believe we know and we'll share it with you in subsequent postings. It truly is a bipartisan push, but it's not really for the children.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

What ARE These Politicians Thinking? Lesson for the Day: Watch What They Do, Don't Listen to What They Say.

Apparently you can't believe politicians when they make campaign promises. Here's an article from the SE Missourian chronicling the broken campaign promises of Missouri Governor Jay Nixon.

The article chronicles Nixon's plans for the state in his election bid:

Nixon wrapped most of campaign proposals in economic terms. Expanding government-funded health care, college scholarships, public school funding and life sciences research were all billed as ways to boost the economy. His 34-page platform listed scores of specifics, including about two dozen ideas for "Turning Missouri's Economy Around" and about 30 education proposals.

The SE Missourian details the broken promises due to financial conditions of the federal and state government, but then notes his successes:

Nixon has signed legislation expanding some business tax credit programs while pushing to rein in others because of budgetary concerns. He has followed through on campaign pledges to direct more money to job training programs and expand high-speed Internet service in rural areas. Nixon's administration teamed up with telecommunications companies to win federal economic stimulus grants for Internet service. He used federal work force development money to provide summer jobs at state parks for more than 1,000 youths.

Is this politics as usual? Do politicians make promises which may be out of their reach due to unforeseen circumstances or sheer impossibility? Lt. Peter Kinder may be Governor Nixon's opponent in the upcoming election and he says this:

Kinder uses a baseball analogy to describe Nixon's performance. He puts Nixon's success at a level that likely would get a batter benched.

"He's not batting 1.000, he's not batting .300, he's not batting .200," Kinder said. "So it would appear that in an '08 campaign he was able to promise anything and get away with it."

I am wondering if this same statement could be provided to the Republican legislators voted into the state body under the auspices of conservatism and fiscal responsibility. Based on the educational report for our state, "Educated Citizenry 2020", it is neither conservative nor fiscally responsible. The plan emphasizes the creation of more charter schools under the guise of creating parental choice. What the plan doesn't disclose is charters will be operating under the same standards as traditional public schools, thanks to the State Board of Education signing on to common core standards. Innovation in curriculum and testing will be non-existent. This is a false choice and the legislators are not disclosing this fact to the taxpayers. This doesn't provide "reform"; it only provides opportunity for the private sector to make money from schools that subsequently will deliver the same product as public schools.

When studying legislation proposed for any aspect of our lives, taxpayers should ask:

  • Does this legislation create more federal control or more local/state control?
  • Does this legislation create unfunded federal mandates or is it fiscally responsible?
The educational plan set forth by the Republican Speaker of the House and the Republican Education committee leaders creates more federal control and creates unfunded mandates. Perhaps the constitutionally minded voters who voted these Republican legislators into office should look at their political rhetoric and their subsequent actions. Voters need to hold ALL public officials to their promises.

Kinder accuses Nixon of being "able to promise anything and get away with it". In the educational realm, the Republican legislators are following the same political trajectory. The Republicans ran on the platform of reasserting state control and demanding fiscal responsibility. Republican Senators and Representatives portrayed themselves as upholding and defending Constitutional values. Many of them campaigned in support of the "Health Care Freedom Act", which passed overwhelmingly with more than 71% of the votes. This Act was in direct opposition to federal health care legislative mandates and control.

Why have these values of these Republican candidates and now elected officials disappeared when talking about the deliverance of public (and quite possibly homeschooling and private) education? Why is the plan asking for more federal control and unfunded mandates? Why are they turning their backs on the conservative mantra on which they were elected?

I posed the question, "Do politicians make promises which may be out of their reach due to unforeseen circumstances or sheer impossibility?" These Republican legislators on board with this plan could have set forth a plan that was Constitutionally based and fiscally responsible; this plan is neither.

One may argue Nixon cannot keep many political promises because he is caught in a financial dilemma from which there is no escape and no avenue to uphold those promises. I believe the elected Republican legislators made promises to their conservative and libertarian supporters based on political expediency. They won their offices because of their constitutional and fiscally responsible platforms and they are woefully under delivering on those promises concerning the educational direction of Missouri. This is a dilemma of their own making.

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