"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 22, 2011

An Interesting Conversation Regarding Teacher Tenure

Hillbuzz.org has a great post regarding the subject of teacher tenure via a discussion between a teacher and a non-teacher. I think you can learn more from a subject listening to real people and their concerns vs discussions from policy wonks. This is a snippet:

(Teacher) Her: “You work for a company that’s job is making money. Schools aren’t supposed to make money, but educate kids. Money shouldn’t enter into decisions on who the best teachers are and if they should get fired or not.”
(Non-Teacher) Me: “Everyone has to stick to a budget, both private and public. Private companies have to stick to below what their products bring in and public schools have to stick to the budget sent to them by the state. Last year, the private sector was hit hard. Many companies had at least 10% cuts across the board. The public sector was rescued by the federal government last year, and they are now going to hurt twice as much because they thought the worst was over last year and they didn’t have to do any cutting. Now they do.”

Establishing a task force to study teacher compensation is being taken up in the Missouri Legislature in SB13:


January 26 2011 - Hearing Scheduled S Education Committee


Requires the Joint Committee on Education to oversee a task force on teacher compensation and effectiveness

It might be helpful if the Task Force had access to this conversation from Kansas and could refer to as they study this situation. These two people talking at a basketball game make sense talking about a subject sure to cause conversations in numerous venues, not just in the Missouri Capitol. It certainly caused quite a few comments on the hillbuzz posting from real people giving their experiences and opinion on teacher tenure.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Shattering Education Policy Myths

Liberal extremists, like Frances Fox Piven and William Ayers, more than predict violence, they call for it. Rioting in urban centers is predicted as the economic recovery remains jobless and those on the receiving end find their public entitlements running out. An article in The American Thinker claims that cities often hold off these explosive reactions by padding their budgets to supply education-related employment. The article goes on to list several options cities have to drastically cut their education budgets without necessarily affecting the number of jobs. It seems hard to imagine the suggested steps being implemented in today’s liberal public policy environment, but certain financial realities may ultimately lead to some of their adoption.

Dire predictions for the consequences of not maintaining established education systems is the eternal mantra of the left. But ask Thomas Dolusio of the Bethlehem PA school district whether such predictions are accurate. When he took the job as Superintendant of Schools in 1992, the district had a bilingual education program required by Title VII of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. He found that, under this program, it took non-native speaking students an average of seven years to complete their high school education. If his district wanted to continue to receive federal funding for education they would have to continue this obviously failing program. Superintendent Dolusio decided there had to be a better way.

He ended up moderating a racially heated debate in the district that ultimately led to the establishment of an English immersion program in the schools. At the time, eleven states outlawed such programs and federal funding was immediately lost if schools did not provide native language instruction. Mr. Dolusio prepared his district for this loss. They developed a budget that would continue to run the schools without the federal funding and it seemed the predictions of utter failure were "premature". Cries of “leaving minority students behind” and “sentencing them to a life of failure” died off as the district’s statistics showed that students learned basic subject material faster once they were able to be taught in English. Mastery of the material produced renewed interest in school and drop out rates of non-native speakers declined. The number of such students who went on to college also increased. And the district benefitted from an overall reduction in spending on education with no observable loss in student performance. In short, the federally mandated program was holding these students back. Soon other districts were coming to Bethlehem to find out their secret and thus began the end of required bilingual education.

Were more school districts willing to take the hard steps necessary and the leap of faith required to make policy changes that the public has been advocating for, despite the dire predictions of failure or violence, we might see more success stories in education.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Pushing Education Towards Federal Control

The policies being set, the curriculum being taught, the eroding sense of control –so much of it doesn’t seem to make sense. So often we read about failing schools and education reform and the dramatic need for change, yet the negative reports never seemed to go away. We were told that things were not improving, but THIS YEAR was going to be different. We would be heading down a new path for education in the United States. Much of this news was correct. Education was not improving though changes were constantly being made. We were heading down a new path, but that path was not headed where we thought it was. Charlotte Iserbyt, former Senior Policy Advisor in the Office of Educational Research and Improvement (OERI), U.S. Department of Education during the first Reagan Administration, discovered where that path started and where it actually leads. She wrote a book about what she found – a book that many more people need to read called, The Deliberate Dumbing Down of America, Conscience Press, 1999. From her bio

Iserbyt is the consummate whistleblower…she first blew the whistle on a major technology initiative [during the Reagan administration] which would control curriculum in America's classrooms. Iserbyt is a former school board director in Camden, Maine and was co-founder and research analyst of Guardians of Education for Maine (GEM) from 1978 to 2000.

DDOA chronicles the history of Progressive Education starting with its introduction in the early 1900’s by John Dewey who once said, High literacy produced that abominable form of independent intelligence which was basically anti-social… The plea for the predominance of learning to read in early school life because of the great importance attaching to literature seems to me a perversion.” What followed is a series of educational directives, federal boards, agencies and commissions all charged with improving education. Large not-for-profit institutions started by wealthy business tycoons like Andrew Carnegie began to make their influence felt in the field of education as they looked for a new source of trained workers. The Carnegie Foundation of New York funded the Eight Year Study in 1933 which pioneered the concept of Outcome Based Education (OBE). That report concluded, “…the state must guarantee that all citizens receive and achieve an educational outcome determined by the state.”

Enter the field of Social Science and the adoption of Skinnerian techniques (think behavior modification) to train children, as was done with lab animals, to think and behave in a desired way. This became the model for successful teaching. The focus shifted away from direct instruction of subjects to socializing the student and working on values clarification now relabeled “critical thinking.” General Brock Chisolm, Canadian Psychiatrist wrote in a paper presented to the United Nation World health Organization (WHO) in 1946,

“The reinterpretation and eventually eradication of the concept of right and wrong… these are the belated objectives of practically all effective psychotherapy.”

When schools talk about using psychotherapy on your children, keep in mind this is its goal.

School’s encroachment on issues typically taught at home is no accident. It is a deliberate attempt to socialize the child into thinking the way the state wants them to think. Professor Skinner, in his description of a utopia named Walden Two spoke of the role of the teacher:

We can arrange things more expeditiously here because we don’t need to be constantly re-educating. The ordinary teacher spends a good share of her time changing the cultural and intellectual habits which the child acquires from its family and surrounding culture. Or else the teacher duplicates home training, in a complete waste of time. Here we can almost say that the school is the family, and vice versa. [emphasis in original]

When we think of the considerable additional things that need to be taught by the school if its job is, as described above, to “be the family”, it is easy to see why the cost of education is rising exponentially without producing better performance in subject learning which is the focus of most standardized testing.

What has been missing for the general public is the big picture, the final goal of such policies and curricula. Iserbyt makes clear that what is desired by the government in the end is citizens who will react in predictable, if not predetermined, ways to concepts presented by the government. This would make the transition to a world order or world government a human revolution without a single bullet being fired. The only way this would happen is for the federal government to have complete control of education and for there to be coordinated global efforts to teach all children the same values. This was noted by John Ashbrook in 1961 when he reported to the House Committee on Education and Labor that the Health Education and Welfare Agency Report, A Federal Educational Agency for the Future, “laid bare the real nemesis of the Federal bureaucrats – the tradition of local control.”

The book is so full of citations and documentation that the author’s opinions rarely need be interjected. Even if one were to devalue the importance of the documents and statements given, the chronological layout of the book leaves little doubt that the recommendations contained therein were implemented.

At a time when the federal government is again pushing a new “education reform “package in the Race To The Top program and the state of Missouri seriously considers buying into the common core standards with it’s aptly named Educated Citizenry 2020 plan, it is time for the people at the local level to consider whether or not they agree with the direction the federal government wants to go with education, because signing on to any of these measures places the reins firmly in their hands. That debate has not happened to date. Those who read this book will finally be able to make sense of what they see in school today and will come away with a firm understanding of where we’re headed.

We encourage you to go to DDOA’s site and read for yourself. The book is currently out of print, but you can download it in pdf format from this site.

We will no doubt be referring back to this book in the future as more and more progressive education goals are pushed by the federal government and the school systems.

Economists Running Classrooms? Is This a Good Idea?

We've raised concerns in this blog about the current plan to change the educational system in Missouri to align with standards not set by the state, but rather by a consortium of states; signing onto underfunded mandates; and the increased privatization of the delivery of educational instruction.

We are supportive of competition in education. There is healthy competition between public institutions, particularly on the university level. What concerns us is the path the privatization is taking in the K-12 sphere on a national level. There is increasing alarm among individuals and groups on both sides of the aisle of the investment in schools from hedge fund and venture capitalist organizations. This is a growing trend in California, Washington state, New York and Chicago, to name a few areas.

While we know this is not the current trend in Missouri, we are concerned we will follow the same trajectory. I'm not the only one who questions the action of turning over failing schools or opening charters for the idea of competition without thinking through the ramifications of this action. Educator Historian Diane Ravitch from the Washington Post Answer Sheet and "The Pitfalls of Putting Economists in Charge of Education":

It is astonishing to realize the extent to which education debates are now framed and dominated by economists, not by educators or sociologists or cognitive psychologists or anyone else who actually spends time in classrooms. My bookshelves are chock full of books that analyze the teaching of reading, science, history, and other subjects; books that examine the lives of children; books that discuss the art and craft of teaching; books about the history of educational philosophy and practice; books about how children learn.

Think back when you were in school. Did you ever think a banker or an investment manager would be the best person to manage a school? Probably not, because those individuals didn't know education theories; they were trained in the financial sector to learn how to invest and make the best turn on said investments. Ravitch continues:

Now such considerations seem antique. Now we are in an age of data-based decision-making, where economists rule. They tell us that nothing matters but performance, and performance can be quantified, and those who do the quantification need never enter a classroom or think about how children learn.

There are many references in new educational reform to rate teacher effectiveness based on "value-added assessment". These assessments will be heavily based on student performance. Ravitch questions the teacher assessment process:

So the issue of our day is: How do we measure teacher effectiveness? Most of the studies by economists warn that there is a significant margin of error in "value-added assessment" (VAA) or "value-added modeling" (VAM). The basic idea of VAA is that teacher quality can be measured by the test-score gains of their students. Proponents of VAA see it as the best way to identify teachers who should get merit pay and teachers who should be fired. Critics say that the method is too flawed to use for high-stakes purposes such as these.

Last July, the U.S. Department of Education published a study by Mathematica Policy Research, which estimated that even with three years of data, there was an error rate of 25 percent. A few months ago, I signed onto a statement by a group of testing experts, which cautioned that such strategies were likely to misidentify which teachers were effective and which were ineffective, to promote teaching narrowly to the test, and to cause a narrowing of the curriculum.

Ravitch continues with her argument and details how the Gates studies promoting the effectiveness of this teacher assessment is questionable. She concludes with this:

If we step back a bit, don't you think there is a certain kind of madness in thinking that economists who never set foot in a classroom can create a statistical measure to tell us how best to educate children? It seems some will never be satisfied until they have a technical process to override the judgments of those who work in schools and are in daily contact with teachers and children. I don't know of any other nation in the world that is so devoted to this effort to turn education into a statistical problem that can be solved by a computer. It is not likely to end well.

I happen to fall in the Ravitch camp vs the Arne Duncan and Gates group. I know many legislators are for much of the Duncan style reform, but like Ravitch, I don't think education is a "statistical problem that can be solved by a computer". The good teachers will leave when they are rated "ineffective" because they have a class of low performing children who are unable or unmotivated to learn and perform badly on testing. It may have less to do with the teacher and more to do with the child's temperament, IQ or family situation. In that scenario, is it the teacher's fault the child can't and/or won't learn? The statistical model doesn't take into consideration those types of variables.

We have an important educational decisions in Missouri. Do we believe education should be the status quo it has been the last 20, 30, 40 years? No. Federal spending has increased 180% and test scores have flatlined. Do we believe we should turn schools over to private financiers who have no educational experience? Ravitch has her reservations about them; Gates sings their praises. What is a parent to think about all this?

If you think this is true competition, I would ask you what competition really means. Does competition of a product mean the selling of a same product in different packaging, or does competition mean some unique feature sets a product apart from another that makes you want to purchase one over another? If the uniqueness is innovation in education, I'm on board. If the product includes the same mandated content, then maybe it's not true competition.

Charter schools can be viable options. They need to have the legal protections of local control of ownership and board positions so they are not co-opted by financiers who have no community connection. They should operate autonomously as charters were intended to operate. Thinking about autonomy, teachers in all educational settings should be given the freedom to teach, rather than parrot pre-conceived lessons and tests. Bad teachers should be shown the door, but perhaps should be done in a manner that measures effectiveness in many ways, not just from test scores from unwilling and/or incapable students.

What is our hope for Missouri children? We hope our children are seen less as human capital in which to invest and more as individuals whom we have been charged to educate.

We'll talk about our concerns about the enormous ties of charters to billionaires, both Democrat and Republican, in another post and hopefully you will begin to understand our growing concern of educational changes wrought without due and careful diligence.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Missouri State Legislators Invited to Private Screening of "Waiting for Superman". Question: Who is the Organizer of the Event?

Several taxpayers representing Missouri Education Watchdog and other groups were visiting senators and representatives in Jeff City about educational matters, and we noticed “Waiting for Superman” movie notices in their offices. We asked a legislative assistant if he/she was going to go see it, and the LA indicated “it was a private screening for the legislators”.

We went to the “Waiting for Superman” website and did confirm there is a private screening for this group and others connected to state government agencies:

This is from School Choice Week:


Event Type:

National School Choice Week Event


1614 Jefferson St.
Jefferson City, MO 65109


Monday, Jan 24 06:00PM


3 Hours

A Private Screening for State Legislators, Government Officials and

Community Leaders. Discussion panel to follow screening.

This is a private event, you must have an invitation to register for this event

« Back to Events

If you follow this blog, we believe “Waiting for Superman” does have some valid points:

· It is unconscionable children are caught in failing schools;

· Teacher unions make it difficult to rid schools of poor teachers;

· Charter schools can offer an alternative to some of these children.

What the movie doesn’t address are some of these facts:

· Mandated curriculum stifles innovation and true education;

· Common core standards do not allow adaptation, and in fact, the mandates are more restrictive than “No Child Left Behind”;

· Many of the charter schools starting up are financed by hedge fund investors and venture capitalists who know nothing about the education of children.

What do the groups who are concerned about the questions the movie doesn’t address want the Missouri legislators to know?

· If charters schools are to be expanded in Missouri, which we support, there must be an exemption for these schools from the common core standards. In fact, we ask for the revocation of the common core vote by the State Board of Education for ALL educational institutions—private, home school, virtual, and public school;

· Charters must not be funded by hedge fund companies and venture capitalists. These schools MUST, by law, be Missouri based and not-for-profit, there must be some local control;

· The legislators must understand one main problem faced in schools may not be so much the teachers, but rather the oppressive mandates from the Federal Government. The current plan in front of the Missouri Senate, Educated Citizenry 2020, is practically identical to Race to the Top, which is filled with mandates and loss of local control;

· Parental choice means true choice, not just a move to one location to another that has the same curriculum and same mandates. This is not a valid choice;

· Any unfunded mandates created by common core standards MUST be defunded. In the Education Budget Committee meeting on January 19, 2011, several of us heard from a non-partisan accounting employee the bad news: Missouri is facing an approximate $900,000,000 shortfall in Education next year. As we are dealing with $500,000,000 shortfall this year, we cannot afford a plan such as Educated Citizenry 2020;

· The Legislature must take authority away from DESE to make educational decisions which throw the state into unfunded debt without legislative oversight.

We ask the legislators, as they watch this movie, to keep these thoughts in mind. The movie is indeed, very moving and everyone detests the situations these children face. But “Waiting for Superman” is a movie. And movies sometimes skew the facts to make their points. Watch the first 10 minutes or so and watch the map displayed in the movie with all the cities targeted, and Guggenheim (the director) talks about “all the local laws and municipalities involved in school decisions” or words to that effect, intimating that local districts are hindering educational progress. That’s how schools are supposed to operate. The failure of education may have NOTHING to do with localities operating their schools as they are charged to by their state constitutions. They are supposed to have local and state autonomy and not be mandated by federal rules or state consortiums.

We wish we could arrange a private time for the legislators to listen to the other side of the story. Regarding education, we would ask the legislators for:

· True parental rights and parental control

· True and fair competition for charters

· Decentralization of the federal government in state educational matters

If you are in Missouri contact your legislator and ask his/her position on school choice and if he/she approves or common core standards. And ask who is organizing this event. Why isn't this listed? If you google "Waiting for Superman" many of the special screenings show the organizer. Most of these screenings show the organizers in those listings; they are governors' offices, Chambers of Commerce, and charter school organizations, to name a few. If the Jefferson City showing is being sponsored by a special interest group, ask the legislator what agenda that group may have in showing this movie to the legislators. Why is the organizer not advertising its interest in sponsoring this movie for our lawmakers?

And one more question: why aren't parents and taxpayers invited to this showing? They are the ones providing their children and their money for this plan. They are the groups most directly impacted (after the children) by the decisions of DESE and the Legislature.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

College Students are Having Problems with Critcal Thinking Skills

This is an interesting article about the problems college students are having with critical thinking skills. It chronicles difficulties of students not only with critical thinking but also other communication modes:

An unprecedented study that followed several thousand undergraduates through four years of college found that large numbers didn't learn the critical thinking, complex reasoning and written communication skills that are widely assumed to be at the core of a college education.

Many of the students graduated without knowing how to sift fact from opinion, make a clear written argument or objectively review conflicting reports of a situation or event, according to New York University sociologist Richard Arum, lead author of the study. The students, for example, couldn't determine the cause of an increase in neighborhood crime or how best to respond without being swayed by emotional testimony and political spin.

Dr. Arum has a great idea:

For that reason, Arum added, he hopes his data will encourage colleges and universities to look within for ways to improve teaching and learning.

Arum co-authored the book with Josipa Roksa, an assistant professor of sociology at the University of Virginia. The study, conducted with Esther Cho, a researcher with the Social Science Research Council, showed that students learned more when asked to do more.

I wonder if establishing common core standards and providing a "one size fits all" curriculum will help critical thinking skills. Do you really believe that by state establishing common core standards will take care of critical thinking problems college students are having when the emphasis is teaching to the test? Teacher pay will be tied to test results. Teachers will teach to the test to ensure good results for both them and their students. You can hardly blame the teachers; they don't have the autonomy or the authority to teach any curriculum other than what's mandated.

Let's go back to the previous sentence explaining when students performed better: students learned more when asked to do more.

Now, don't you feel better about teaching students with "one size fits all" standards?

Sunday, January 16, 2011

What is Character Education?

First a little background. The word for character comes from the Greek word charakter which literally means “to engrave.” Moral (from the Latin root moralis) character is the engraving of the code or customs of a people which is the social glue that allows them to live together. The family is the first wave of character development or engraving of virtuous principles onto the child. Society is expected to support this process by modeling behavior of good character. The schools also influence character by reinforcing high moral standards and redirecting behavior that deviates from those standards and strains social cohesion.

Character education seems like a relatively modern catch phrase, but it has a long history. If you want to know more about its history in America, a good place to start is the StateUniversity.com website. Highlights from this article are this:

  • character education has always been a part of our public schools;

  • early schools used the Bible as the primary tool for teaching character, but other moral texts were also used;

  • the religious diversification of society, as waves of immigrants populated the country, sensitized the public to the use of specific religious texts for teaching character, so a more secularized approach was developed;

  • this secularization of character education led to moral relativism and “value-free” teaching and the almost complete breakdown of character by the 1960’s;

  • by the 1980’s a lack of discipline and academic achievement in public schools was believed to be the motivation for parents who loudly petitioned the government to recommit to character education in the public schools for their children’s sake.
Today after more than a dozen years of Presidential emphasis, from Clinton to Obama, character education is once again firmly ensconced in our schools.

To the extent that such education achieves the goals of maintaining discipline and providing children with the moral code of conduct necessary for living in society, most people support character education in public school. Moral virtues, such as honesty, responsibility, and respect for others, are shared values that would meet little resistance by parents if taught or upheld by the school. One need only turn to the Boy Scouts for a realistic list of character traits to be promoted in schools: [from the boy Scout Law] “A Boy Scout is; trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean and reverent.”

There was, however, a derailing of the definition of morality that took place in the twentieth century. German intellectuals and writers like Karl Marx and Frederick Nietzsche, Austrian Sigmund Freud and English scientist Charles Darwin introduced concepts like humanism and moral relativism and were instrumental in the founding of the Progressive Movement. Their influence was felt in the education reform movement as well. As a result, among parents today, there is less confidence about which morals would be taught, and an overriding skepticism about public school character education.

In addition, there are many teachers who feel very uncomfortable with the tools they are required to use or the message they are required to teach in their school’s character education program. When voiced, their concerns have been routinely belittled or rebuffed. One teacher even confided to us that she is now embarrassed to tell anyone she is a teacher because of what she is required to do in the classroom. Many are afraid to speak up because they fear losing their job as a result.

For administrators, who are pressing for character education, to be disrespectful or patronizing of the educated professionals in their employ who wish to question a rationale or offer an alternative, is reason enough for everyone else to question their credentialed ability to teach character or values to others. Children learn best by example and this certainly does not seem like an example of good character.

For Missouri teachers who share this sense of disenfranchisement from the process of teaching, we recommend you submit your experiences with local school administrations or school boards who rebuffed your complaints about character education to the 24th State Blog at pm@24thstate.com (you may request anonymity in your e-mail).

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