"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, February 26, 2011

Michelle Obama's Quest for Non-Obese Students.

Soon the Federal Government may have to direct our attention to help the hungry public education students in America based on school food allocation set by the administration. The author makes same rather snarky but important points about current menus introduced by the "Healthy, Hunger-free Kids Act of 2010".
Check out Thursday's menu and the condiment for the      
2-oz. fish nugget.
The administration can't spell Libya correctly either.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Are unions really the underdog we should be rooting for?

Many eyes are on Wisconsin as public unions flex their muscle to demand what they say are their rights. The NEA claims the proposed legislation “strips away worker rights and destroys the collaborative partnerships that have been established between labor and management in Wisconsin.” Whether you believe this is one of several “union-busting bills” introduced in several states, depends on which side of the debate you are on. If you sympathize with the NEA, you believe that "the teachers are under siege”, that being asked to contribute more towards their health insurance and retirement plans is unfair to the teachers and devalues the work they do.

The view from this side of the debate looks like this (take from a teacher comment on the NEA Education Votes site):

“Governor Walker’s messages are so full of false innuendos…Especially the Republican lobbiest [sic] produced paid for TV commercials…Teacher’s [sic] have always paid their fair share… the reason they have good benefits is because they were asked to take those versesa [sic] pay raise…year after year . . . (cheaper for districts). Then For 10 years WI forced QEI no one mentions that…Forced to not get raises !”

Let us set aside for the moment the low quality writing skills of this person who is educating your children. Perhaps the heat of the moment caused all grammatical rules and decent vocabulary to absent themselves. She complains that teachers were forced into taking lower wages in exchange for good benefits. She, apparently, is unfamiliar with the history of employer-paid health insurance and 401(k). Most of the private sector’s lower wages are offset by employer contributions to health care and retirement, at least in the good companies. There are plenty of companies who simply don’t provide their employees with decent benefits because their overall profitability cannot justify those expenses. There is (for now) no profit in education so wages cannot be tied to similar formulas, but that also does not mean that wages cannot be tied to any measure of success or limitation.

The teacher went on to say,

Also the benefits (you say we get) to our pension fund were not paid by our districts in lean years, Many communities used the money elsewhere for other needs… What did The pension Board do with all the overdo [sic] IOU’s owed on our behalf ? Charge communities interest.? ..NO, we flet [sic] sorry for the communities and forgave their debt….But Oh No we are portrayed as Public employees who don’t pay our fair share… We have always overpaid and forgave our debtors their short comings…. …WE PAY the same taxes that everyone else in our income bracket does…We don’t get exempt [sic] like the ultra rich.”

Most companies with matching funds for retirement accounts use a formula that ties those contributions to the bottom line. So in lean years their employees don’t get much, or sometimes any, retirement funds except the ones they personally contribute. It is unclear how one can determine that they “overpaid” their pension funds since any contributions to such a fund simply place more in your retirement savings. The non sequitur about taxes is just more standard boiler plate from the liberals. Your tax level has nothing to do with insurance or pension contributions.

There is a pervasive sense among some teachers that they are treated differently from the average private sector employee. This is true. The average private sector employee must make their own case each year that their contribution to the overall profitability of the company warrants a raise in pay. Simply remaining in the company’s employ does not guarantee this increase, as it does with teachers. Most have no guarantee that if they have been there the longest they are in least jeopardy of losing their jobs. Quite the contrary, most long term employees face higher risk of being let go because their salary history makes them too expensive to hang on to. Thus it is true that teachers are not treated like everyone else.

On the other hand, where they like to think they are different from private sector employees they are in fact very similar or hold even slightly better positions. Private sector employees also work long hours, often bring work home from the office and have to pay all their own continuing education costs. Teachers will often site these as special hardships they alone face. Many in the private sector have taken pay cuts just to hold on to their jobs. And if you want to have a bragging rights competition for the toughest job, talk to the medical staff at any senior assisted care center who have to clean the incontinent residents day in and day out. Passing knowledge on to a group of students in a climate controlled classroom (for most) is a cake walk by comparison.

Missouri NEA staff traveled to Madison, WI this week to offer helping hands and show support for the public employees in Wisconsin. They are one of many unions being organized to show solidarity with their oppressed brothers. More union demonstrations are expected this weekend in state capitols across the country. This expansive plan to show a lot of support for the teachers in an effort to force their will may ultimately come back to bite the unions.

In his new book, “Underdogma: How America's Enemies Use Our Love for the Underdog to Trash American Power,” Michael Prell examines why we tend to root for the underdog. He describes underdogma as, “the belief that those who have less power are virtuous and noble - because they have less power – and the belief that those who have more power are to be scorned – because they have more power. This is a reflexive action on our part. If we gave thought to our position we might see that the minority is the minority precisely because what they stand for is wrong or at least not the most desirable.

Mr. Prell describes a University of South Florida experiment in which participants were given the exact same descriptive paragraph about the Israeli/Palestinian conflict and asked to state which side they supported. The only difference between the test subjects was that some were given a map of Israel and Palestine in which Israel appeared to be the larger geographically, and the others were shown a larger region of the middle east showing Israel as a small portion thereof. Test subjects consistently sided with whichever entity appeared smaller on the map.

Knowing this, if the unions insist on making themselves look big and powerful, public sentiment is highly likely to turn away from them because, we are conditioned to stand up for the little guy. Public sentiment already sways with governor Walker. Statistics support that what he is asking for in terms of contributions is reasonable compared with those in the private sector. The provisions for collective bargaining only apply to wages which shows that at least some in politics have learned from history, like that with the UAW, and know that pension obligations can be the elephant that sinks the fiscal boat. It will be interesting to watch the poll numbers after this weekend to see if, in puffing themselves up, the unions simply make themselves a bigger target to be taken down like the proverbial Goliath.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Your Child's Test Answers...Invasion of Your Privacy?

Do you know the extent and usage of information being gathered on your family and your child when your child answers certain tests? It's not just information learned from a textbook, it's also about your student's and your family life. From the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP):

Specifically, under the No Child Left Behind Act, NAEP is required to collect information on and report achievement results disaggregated by the following variables, when possible: gender, race and ethnicity, socioeconomic status (SES), disability status, and English language learner (ELL) status.

Sound benevolent? Maybe, maybe not. Read on:

One new approach NCES is currently investigating is the creation of a new and improved measure of socioeconomic status (SES). NCES commissioned a literature review of how SES has been defined and operationalized in other education studies and other fields such as health and marketing. This led to the idea of adopting a two-pronged approach to measuring SES. This approach involves (1) creating an enhanced student background questionnaire with items that probe resources in the home, parents’ education level, and parents’ employment status, among other variables; and (2) using geocoding software to link students’ home addresses to aggregate SES data available from the United States Bureau of the Census. Development of the new SES measure commenced in 2005, with the goal of piloting it in 2009 and possibly implementing it in 2011.

We know the Longitudinal Data System is to be linked to the Departments of Labor and Health and Human Services. The NAEP is already connected to the Census Bureau, so we'll see if the Census Bureau will be a repository for LDS data as well. Does that make you uneasy your child's address is geocoded to gather more information? Is anyone concerned about privacy issues?

We'll be highlighting what is in the data sets in different longitudinal data systems and tests the next few days. We know the government is asking personal questions in the NAEP. Here are two questions an 8th grader was asked on the test this week in Missouri:

11. How far in school did your mother go?
She did not finish high school.
She graduated from high school.
She had some education after high
She graduated from college.
I don’t know.
12. How far in school did your father go?
He did not finish high school.
He graduated from high school.
He had some education after high
He graduated from college.
I don’t know.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

MO State Board of Ed Reduces, Recycles & Reuses?

Peter Herschend has been named President of the Missouri State Board of Education, again. He has been on the State Board since 1991 and been President two previous times in 1994-96 and 2005-2007. Mr. Herschend is the founder of Herschend Family Entertainment which owns Silver Dollar City. They also own Dolly Parton's Dixie Stampede, Talking Rocks Cavern, and Showboat Branson Belle in Missouri. Their entertainment empire extends to Stone Mountain Park (GA), Adventure Aquarium (NJ), Dollywood (TN), Newport Aquarium (KY), and Classic Cable Car Sightseeing (CA), as well as Ride The Ducks operations in MO, KY, PA, GA, CA.

Mr. Herschend is well recognized as a leader and has served on numerous boards: Missouri Attractions Association, the Ozark Marketing Council, and the Missouri Tourism Commission, Board of Directors of the Missouri Chamber of Commerce, the Advisory Board for the National Multiple Sclerosis Society and the Board of Directors for Camp Barnabas, among others. He has been a loyal republican supporter of candidates such as Kit Bond, Roy Blunt and Jim Talent.

His talent for business cannot be denied and his twenty year tenure on the board, appointed by both republican and democratic governors, testifies to the fact that he is well thought of and connected. But the fact that the board has caved to the wishes of the governor many times in the past makes us wonder if his reappointment is really news at all.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Musings on Mr. Rogers, Achieving the Purpose of Your Being, and Human Capital

We are following up on our post from Sunday night, examining what's happened to the definition of education from 1939 to today. Seventy years ago it focused on the individual and "achieving the purpose of your being"; now it is focusing on preparing students to compete in a global society.

Continuing from Dr. John S. Brubacher's book "Modern Philosophies of Education", page 93:

This does not mean that individuality is to be unconfined in education. Basically, the pupil becomes in time what he eternally is. The child is not to be educated for self-expression, to express the self he now is. That self may be a weak, narrow, unlovely self. Rather is he to be educated to become the self which he was meant to be. To realize such a selfhoood will require much denial and restraint of the present self. Yet the discipline so imposed is not an end or measure of education, but only a means or a result. Only if the child's nature were in the order which obtained before the fall from grace and the exit from Eden would self-expression be a satisfactory aim of education. If the child is an immortal spirit, it is his eternally progressive soul-life that is to be cultivated. The soul instinctively strives for perfection and rejoices in its attainment. Moreover, it is as a soul and not as a citizen or worker that he is to be permanently known. He is to be educated for himself, just because he is educable. In Kantian fashion he is to be treated always as an end in himself and never as a means merely. His powers are to be developed because that is their destiny. Of course, there will be political, economic, religious, and social consequences of his education, but these will be effects and not objectives.

I think about tributes to Fred Rogers when he died in 2003. NPR replayed a conversation previously recorded with him in which a woman called and talked about the difference he had made in her autistic son's life. She indicated Mr. Rogers was the first conduit to the "real" world in her son's life. Mr. Rogers had the wonderful capacity to turn compliments from himself onto the other person, and he complimented the caller for the wonderful work she had done as a parent.

He then said something so profound that I remember it as if was yesterday, sitting in my car, listening to the radio. He said, "Children need to be allowed to be the people they are meant to be in the time they need to become that person". As Dr. Brubacher wrote in 1939: "Rather is he to be educated to become the self which he was meant to be".

I wasn't able to find the transcript of that interview, but I did find a link to a couple of others which expresses the 1939 idea of education and the emphasis on the person. Tom Juneau, a writer at Esquire Magazine told NPR after his death:

"He figured out quickly what people needed. He had a radar into people's hearts and souls and with his death, a light had gone out of the world. He was a power of goodness and personified grace....he tried to humanize each person."

In this additional interview Mr. Rogers said:

"So much what is spontaneous is what is truly inspired and all that I've done that is truly good has been inspired".

Reading about common core standards and reducing children to "human capital" and data sets is completely antithetical to what was written in 1939 and what Mr. Rogers lived. Can a computer that spits out the same assessments to multiple students nationwide capture the joy and caring of a teacher like Mr. Rogers....or a beloved teacher from your past? Nothing spontaneous can come from teachers in that framework. Inspiration and innovation can't exist in such a contained system and set of expectations and mandates. However, if the state and federal educational goal is to supply the workforce, rather than to "be the person you were meant to be in the time you were meant to be that person", I suppose the evolution of the spirit is a moot issue.

Monday, February 21, 2011

President's Day Questions...and a Bonus Quiz on Facebook

Here's a President's Day Quiz from the Washington Post. See how much knowledge you have about the presidents. Have fun! (For an alternative version of Presidents' words, check out our additional posting on Facebook at Missouri Education Watchdog. Our presidents are not always well spoken or politically correct!)

A Presidents' Day quiz

By Valerie Strauss

Here are a dozen questions to test your presidential knowledge on this Presidents' Day, with answers and explanations below.

1. How many presidents have served the United States?
a) 42
b) 44
c) 45
d) 49

2. Who was the oldest President?
a) George Herbert Walker Bush
b) John Adams
c) Harry Truman
d) Ronald Reagan

3) Who was the youngest President?
a) Theodore Roosevelt
b) George W. Bush
c) John F. Kennedy
d) Bill Clinton

4) What is the president’s annual salary?
a) $200,000
b) $250,000
c) $400,000
d) $500,000

5) What was the salary of the first president, George Washington?
a) $10,000
b) $18,000
c) $22,000
d) $25,000

6) What is the birth state of the most presidents?
a) Virginia
b) Massachusetts
c) New York
d) Illinois

7) How many presidents died in office (by assassination or natural causes)?
a) 4
b) 6
c) 8
d) 9

8) How many former presidents are still living?
a) 2
b) 3
c) 4
d) 5

9) Who was the first President to live in the current White House?
a) George Washington
b) John Adams
c) Thomas Jefferson
d) James Madison

10) Which president had a pet cow named Pauline Wayne who lived on the White House lawn?
a) Thomas Jefferson
b) Abraham Lincoln
c) William Taft
d) Theodore Roosevelt

11) Who was the only president to serve two nonconsecutive terms?
a) John Quincy Adams
b) Theodore Roosevelt
c) Grover Cleveland
d) Abraham Lincoln

12) Who was the first president born in a hospital?
a) George Washington
b) Jimmy Carter
d) John Quincy Adams
c) Theodore Roosevelt

To see the answers go here.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

How Did Education Change from "Achieving the Purpose of Your Being" to "Being Able to Successfully Compete in a Global Society"?

Our researchers here at Missouri Education Watchdog are rather disheartened at what we've discovered over the weekend about the connections and proponents of common core standards and the delivery systems for those standards. It's no wonder we and others in different states are running into brick walls when we talk to our conservative legislators about common core standards and their lack of interest in how they will affect public education. The reasons go back as much as 10 years and involve significant financial involvement by many players on both sides of the aisle.

Conservatives have been betrayed by those who espouse the Constitution as their guiding principles in politics and business, and progressives have been betrayed by those who espouse protection for the masses. The educational reform currently offered to the American people is nothing but a smoke screen for the dot com billionaires (who lean progressive) to make even more money and the conservative billionaires to move the money away from the unions and public education structure to line their pockets. As we have stated in previous posts, this is not about reform, it's about the restructuring of public education into "edubusinesses" complete with standards and assessments that can be neatly packaged into a national box of learning...and perhaps in the future can be aligned to a global standard.

It's not as difficult as you may think. Dangle money in front of cash strapped states and tell them they won't get Title 1 money unless they sign onto standards. Pretend it's voluntary and just close your eyes to the fact that the Federal Government is designing curriculum. Presto. The Federal Government has now taken over education. And what is the goal of the Federal Government's grab of education?

One stated goal would be to profile children and share information with not only the Department of Education, but also the Departments of Labor and Health and Human Services. Why in the world would your human capital be important to the Department of Labor? Here's a report entitled "Linking Data Across Missouri's P-20 Data System" from Jason A. Grissom at the University of Missouri and this information is contained on slide 7:

These data also can be linked to external data sets on employment, labor needs across sectors, economic development, community assets, and so forth.

This plan has been in the works for a long time and we will spend the next several days writing about the history of common core standards and systems, and what is in the future for American public educated school children. The education sector is being overtaken by billionaires and those who know nothing about educating children. They know how to make money and are manipulating the system with children and taxpayer funds. The Constitution is being circumvented and the legislators are silent.

It's up to the people to start asking questions. What has happened to education's purpose in 70 years? It has been stated one of the reasons of education today is to supply the work force. Let's examine the purpose of education as written in the book "Modern Philosophies of Education" by John S. Burbacher, Associate Professor of History and Philosophy of Education, Yale University in 1939:

Now what is the attribute or function of the human learner which sets him off from all else? Is it not his rational nature, his capacity to reason? If this abbreviated analysis be accepted, then the cultivation of the intellect becomes the supreme good. The hierarchy of value is graded according to the opportunity afforded for the development of man's rational nature. Social studies and chemistry will be more valuable than stenography or shopwork, because they involve more opportunity for reasoning. Not only selecting the best curricula, but conditioning the child and positing the preferred social system in which education is to operate, will be evaluated according to whether they help or hinder the child in achieving the purpose of his being.

Some draw different educational conclusions from an argue which, in the main, resembles this perfectionist doctrine. Instead of selecting reason as the cardinal value of distinction, they make all values relative to individual self-realization, which is to be gained through the only eternal values, truth, goodness, and beauty. As he is, the child is immature, imperfect. His lifelong purpose will be a quest for maturity, perfectability. But each self is different from every other self. Therefore the curriculum that will help one realize the eternal verities may prevent another. No subject or type of study, then, can be picked and assigned absolute value, and all the rest arranged in some order of precedence with reference to it.

We will write more about the goals of education as put forth by Dr. Brubacher on Tuesday. You might want to reread those two paragraphs about the meaning of education again and contrast them with the stated goals of common core standards that most states are finding themselves under:

our mission

The Common Core State Standards provide a consistent, clear understanding of what students are expected to learn, so teachers and parents know what they need to do to help them. The standards are designed to be robust and relevant to the real world, reflecting the knowledge and skills that our young people need for success in college and careers. With American students fully prepared for the future, our communities will be best positioned to compete successfully in the global economy.

Is education facilitating the "achieving the purpose of his being" (1939) the same as being able to "compete successfully in the global economy" (2011)?

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