"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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Friday, July 29, 2011

Are You A Progressive?

The tragic news from Oslo brought to light a problem with definitions in America. Anders Behring Breivik was correctly named as a right wing extremist. But this term has a different meaning in Europe than it does in America. In his 1500 page manifesto he clearly stated that he does not believe in religion and is himself not a follower of Christ. Americans can be forgiven for not knowing the original definition of right wing as the progressives worked very hard in the 20's and 30's to confuse it's definition as well as the definitions of liberal and progressive.

Hillary Clinton classified herself as a progressive, in the original meaning of progressive. We would do well to learn what that definition is because it is the progressives who seem to have control of the American political system right now. They are defining policy and especially education policy.

To get a clearer picture of what being a progressive means, try taking this quiz from the Center for American Progress to find out whether you are a (their definition) conservative or progressive. Let us know how you rated.


Thursday, July 28, 2011

Warning to Iowa citizens: Beware Advice from Former NC Gov James Hunt

Do you like canned educational speeches? If you do, you'll enjoy Governor Jim Hunt's recent education speech in Des Moines:

Iowa must change its entire education system if it wants to be a world leader in education, former North Carolina Gov. James Hunt Jr. said Monday during the state’s education summit.

That change should include raising classroom standards, investing in early education programs, strengthening the leadership at schools, and increasing community involvement in education, said Hunt, who is also the chairman of the James B. Hunt Jr. Institute for Educational Leadership and Policy.

“The issue for you is how you do make your schools more effective, and I know you can do it,” said Hunt, whose wife graduated from an Iowa school in Jasper County. “There is no state in America today that is focusing on improving its schools like you all are doing here in Iowa.”

Iowa’s main focus in reforming education and restoring its standing as an educational leader needs to be improving teaching. That includes strengthening teacher preparation programs, providing new teachers with good mentors, using targeted professional development and improving teacher evaluations, Hunt said.

Education leaders need to develop a statewide evaluation system that judges teachers based on student achievement and classroom observations, as well as student input. Schools should then use the evaluations in determining teacher pay, he said.

“It’s about really thoroughly changing schools and improving them,” Hunt said. "You can’t have great schools if political leaders are constantly fighting with teachers. Teaching is the most important and toughest job in the world. We need to work with teachers and we need to respect them. We need to help them be their very best.”

Work is also required to bolster early childhood education in the state, Hunt said. Most brain development happens by age 3, and states need to ensure that there is a focus on providing those children the best educational opportunities possible.

Specifically, they need to focus on improving parenting skills, providing high quality caregivers and addressing health issues, he said.

He urged participants at the summit to make Iowa a leader in early childhood education.

“It is the best money you will spend,” Hunt said.

Finally, Iowa needs to work with other states to develop tests that will measure whether students are learning what’s expected of them. Iowa was one of 44 states to adopt a set of common core standards and is in the process of infusing them with the Iowa Core Curriculum. States have yet to determine a way to measure student learning, Hunt said.

“The people of Iowa need to devise the change, support it and work together to make it happen,” Hunt said.

Readers of this blog understand this is progressive drivel. Education now needs to provide child care and healthcare. But wait! You, too, can be part of the plan. The last sentence reads: “The people of Iowa need to devise the change, support it and work together to make it happen,” Hunt said.

Really? With all due respect, Governor Hunt is spinning the issue. How can the people of Iowa devise the change? The state boards of education and/or legislators have adopted the common core standards, not the people. Many of these educational initiatives he implores Iowans to institute are to be mandated by federal grants and RTTT like goals. These changes were never voted on by citizens. No, a better statement would be, "the people of Iowa have to accept the change we voted in, support it even though they've had no voice in this change and pay for the billions it will cost." (Does this remind you of the Health Care bill?)

Here's a little background on Governor Hunt:

  • His Hunt Institute received $3,868,000 from the Gates Foundation to "generate PR noise" in support of the Common Core State Standards Initiative:


  • One of the Board of Directors on The Hunt Institute was a director at the Open Society Institute:


  • He supports progressive educational mandates espoused by this present administration and Arne Duncan:


Are you hopeful more constitutional laws in education (such as states should be driving education and local communities should have more say in programming) will occur with an administration change? If so, you might not want to vote for Tim Pawlenty and it may have been a blessing Mitch Daniels didn't run:


What is the moral of this story? Look beyond the talking points and get the facts. Ask the tough questions and point out the fallacies of the canned speeches...how can Iowans "devise the change" when it's already been decreed? And start exposing this type of statement from these progressives (both Democrat AND Republican):

“It is the best money you will spend,” Hunt said.

They are telling us how OUR money will be spent for OUR children. And don't worry, it's for the best. It's because it's for the children and really, they know how best to spend your money for your child.

Are we living in a representative democracy these days or a totalitarian democracy?

I Love Neal McCluskey's Observations on Twitter

As seen on Twitter:

Neal McCluskey
When's my "off-the-record chat" with Arne Duncan? I blog, and I'm interested in "clever" waivers:

McCluskey's remarks remind me of the Educational Roundtable Talks this year with Claire McCaskill.

I guess parents and taxpayers shouldn't take it personally. It's our totalitarian democracy at its finest.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

What Isn't Missing from the Common Core Standards?

The "Me Too"ing has begun. Continued data collection on US student performance, so that we may compare ourselves with other countries (a flawed practice that has been discussed many times in this blog before), is developing a picture of education "deserts", if I may borrow the first lady's phrase. Voices are popping up from all the various disciplines crying about the lack of focus on their field. The data, rather than developing a clear picture about what we should be changing in the curriculum to fill in the blanks, is producing developing an image of US education as a giant sieve.

A sampling of recent article headlines shows all the areas that are supposedly missing from the development of Common Standards.

  • Social, Behavioral Sciences Left Out of Standards Blueprint
  • Gay History Taught Now Required in CA
  • ELA Standards Lacking
  • Advocates Lament Computer Science Gap in Standards Push
  • Proficiency in Social Studies Eludes Most U.S. Students
  • NRC Framework Sets Stage for New Science Standards
  • Significance of Pre-Kindergarten Standards

You'd think our children go to school all day and learn nothing. In fact, this is nothing more than an opportunity for special interests to get their foot in the door and get funding. At the end of the day, if ALL this material is crammed into a common curriculum, the school day would be twelve hours long and no adult could win "Are you smarter than a 5th grader?"

In theory, we could try to teach children everything about every topic, but is this the point of public education? We need to start asking that question, "What is the purpose of public education?" And until we reach some sort of consensus, maybe we should put the breaks on a common core curriculum.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Paying Top Dollar for Former Bureaucrats at MSU

As long as we're looking at the Federal government spending too much, let's also look at the publicly funded Missouri University system who has been paying top dollar for former administrative staff who return to teaching within the university. A committee on post-administrative appointments will examine the appropriate change in compensation, work assignments, expected productivity, and course release and severance packages, wrote interim president Clif Smart in an open message to the campus last week.

This practice of adminstrators staying within the university system has led to discrepancies in teacher salaries. For instance, Provost Belinda McCarthy stepped down to join the faculty at an annual salary of $174,778, or nine-elevenths of her provost pay per a university policy.Former President Mike Nietzel also retreated to the faculty at an annual salary of $160,000, or 60 percent of his presidential pay per his contract. James Cofer, who gave up his presidency after 11 months, will become a faculty member at the College of Business Administration at a salary of $165,000. All three top administrators are taking large cuts in salary in order to get back into the classroom.

But their sacrifice is diminished when you consider that the average MSU professor makes just $75,420 a year. This has caused grumbling among staff for a number of years. It might have caused grumbling among the public had the practice been more widely known. The salary disparity is not the only reason to question this practice.

In medicine, the chief of a particular specialty is typically not the best person to go to for your surgery. They have risen in the ranks because of their ability to administrate, not because of their specific medical expertise. It is not too far a stretch to consider that administrators in the school system have risen to their posts not because they are experts in a particular field or because they are excellent teachers. They have proven adept at managing people and budgets. Therefore, their previous salary history as an administrator should not used as a base to determine their teaching salary.

The State University has formed a six-member committee to examine university policies regarding administrators who leave the positions but stay with the university to teach. The committee is expected to provide a report to the Faculty Senate and the university administration by Oct. 1st.

For more information, go to the News Leader

Monday, July 25, 2011

A 12-Step Program for Successful Schools...and the Way to End the Addiction to Federal Money and Mandates.

Some legislators and educators believe the present school choice reform and open enrollment options will ensure great education for public education students. These reforms offered by school choice advocates seem to focus primarily on children trapped in inner city failing schools. Others believe these are mandates that take away local control of school districts and do not solve the underlying problems of educational failure. What are sensible solutions for failing schools?

Apparently the current thought by many state legislators and pro school choice lobbyists is the failing schools cannot be saved. Here are some of the solutions offered by the school choice reform lobby:

  • The teachers, administrators must be fired and new ones hired
  • Charter schools opened and traditional public schools closed
  • Inner city children have the option of open enrollment into a successful school district, usually in the suburbs.
What is so different about inner city schools and suburban schools? Is it all teacher and administrator difference? Standards are the same and it's not for lack of federal funding to the inner city schools. So what do you think the difference is and how do you think failing schools can succeed?

One belief I have is parents and taxpayers are so far removed from the school process, they just don't care anymore. Their voices don't matter; they have no say so in curriculum. If they have ideas or concerns, they might as well as be shouting into the wind. Chances are no one is listening on the administrator level. If they ARE listening, there might be a good chance nothing can be done due to policies that are dictated from a federal level. Another scenario is some parents turn their children over to the public school and ask no questions or come to meetings to see how their children are progressing. Those are the apathetic parents who may not even attend to the child's basic needs.

So what do you do with parents who can't/won't care and children who can't/won't learn for various reasons? Do you think open enrollment will fix those problems? It might help those kids who have terrible teachers, but again, is that the main problem?

Here's a blog from the Troy Record that addresses the failing school question. The writer has some interesting thoughts. Unlike most of the school reforms offered by the legislators and the DOE, this author believes that federal and state legislation will never, never improve schools. He gives a common sense 12 step plan that doesn't involve RTTT mandates, common core standards and other federal intrusions:

Pulse of The People: How to fix education

Since the launch of Sputnik in October of 1957, America has been trying to “fix” its public school system. Educators, politicians, even U.S. presidents have committed a great deal of time and effort to improving public schools, and it has all been for naught. As a matter of fact, every attempt to improve the schools ended in abject failure. Among these failures are: The National Defense Education Act in the 1950s, A Nation At Risk in the 1980s, America 2000 in the 1990s, and No Child Left Behind in the 2000s. None of these federal laws nor the billions of dollars attached to them did much to improve public schools. Further, the new plan from President Barack Obama, Race to the Top, will amount to nothing more than The Race to Mediocrity. It must be understood that federal and state legislation will never, never improve schools. Legislating school improvement is tantamount to legislating morality. It would be nice if it worked, but it will not. (emphasis added)

First of all, we should not be trying to improve schools, we should be trying to improve student performance. Student performance is linked to three essential elements: student attendance and effort; family support and school program. School personnel can have some impact on the first two elements, but at the end of the day, the students and the families have the most control in those arenas, so I will leave those areas for another day.

The recipe for school improvement is a relatively simple one. However, like all recipes, this one must be followed step by step and in proper order. Steps cannot be skipped, and until the previous step is accomplished the next step cannot even be considered, or like the cake that flops, the school improvement effort will fail. Just as cakes are baked one at a time, schools must be improved one at a time. Federal, state, even district improvement efforts will continue to fail. If you don’t believe me just look in the media any day and see how we are doing.

Follow this simple recipe, step-by-step and schools and ultimately student performance will improve or we can keep doing what didn’t work yesterday and expect it to work today. Your choice.

- A safe and orderly environment — without this, we have nothing. Students must feel save in their schools at all times both physically and intellectually.

- A functional and well-maintained physical plant — it does not have to be a brand new building, but there is no excuse for a poorly maintained building. The condition of the building shows the kids if we care about them or not. Additionally, the students should help with upkeep of the building. It is “their school.”

- Adequate instructional equipment like computers, books, libraries, etc — we need to invest in the tools of education. This is not a huge cost but a necessary expense.

- Good attendance by both students and staff (95 percent or higher) — you have to be in it to win it is the old expression. If attendance drops below 95 percent, achievement suffers.

- Atmosphere of high expectations of students and staff — no one ever lived up to low expectations!

- Engagement of student families — school is not just about students. It needs to be a team effort including students, their family members and their teachers.

Mentoring and support system for students — everyone needs someone to look up to and to show them the way. Ideally this comes from home, however, any adult can be a mentor.

- Insistence upon the recruiting, hiring and retaining of the best staff in all areas — every hire should be the best possible candidate period. Look far and wide and find the best.

- Ongoing, job embedded staff development — hiring good staff is the first step, keeping them up on current educational practices is mandatory. Would you go to a doctor who has not been to a medical conference in over 20 years?

- Up to date, rich curriculum — now we can get to the important parts of instruction. The curriculum must be reviewed and updated on a regular basis. Most schools hardly ever to this.

- Implementation of best practices in instruction — teachers need to be on the cutting edge of their craft just like all other professionals.

- High student achievement — when steps one through 11 are in place number 12 is a snap. It is even easier than baking that cake we were talking about earlier.

Dr. John Metallo

Retired principal of Albany High School and adjunct faculty member at the University at Albany and SUNY Plattsburgh

Sunday, July 24, 2011

"School Choice" is Aptly Named.

We welcome Scott Kerr as a guest commenter:

Born and raised in South Louisiana. Proud father of one daughter. Owned several companies that are now closed due to technological advances. Self employed in new ventures.

His comment caught my attention on an educational thread:

Public school issues go deep. NCLB was a failed attempt at increasing literacy and societal preparedness. It was a prime example of government's inability to correctly solve problems. It ignored the core issues of correctly educating children in public schools and, in essence, forced graduation upon students. It's purpose was solely to have statistics that made the public school system look better. It took the priorities of educating our youth away from good teachers and schools and replaced them with assembly line graduation rates.

The voucher system will be another failure. The end result of that will be more government regulation into private schools which in turn will make them resemble the failing public school system. The long term results of such programs are obvious.

The distinction between education in this country and other countries is simple. We are concerned with looking good and they are concerned with being good. The desire to look good encouraged all the corruption we witness in schools today and merit based pay slammed the point home. It's message to teachers, both good and bad : Graduate students with high test scores because your pay depends on it. Americans used to say, " We're # 1". Now they say, " I'm #1". If America continues down the path of looking out for #1 instead of the country and its future, we are destined to crumble.

NCLB has been described by both conservatives and liberals as being flawed. Its goal by 2014 was that 100% of students would be proficient. That goal was and is unattainable. Students aren't treated as individuals any longer, they are divided into subgroups and tested and taught to those labels. Educators and those interested in education have been calling for alternatives to NCLB for years. What is the answer? Arne Duncan's reauthorization of ESEA has been described as "NCLB on steroids".

So we have even more standardized testing and mandates and now let's throw in "school choice". It's aptly named, I'll give it that. You can choose your child's school, but you can't choose the type of education your child receives. That's left up to a consortia of states...not YOUR state or local district...no, no. Missouri's consortia is based in Washington state. It's no wonder it's labeled school choice and not educational choice. There is a huge difference, isn't there?

Administrators in true private education of choice have the capacity to deliver the type of education to their students as they deem fit. The parents are paying them for their decision making abilities to provide an excellent education for their children. If the parent does not like the education provided, they will take their child out and place them elsewhere. They will find the education most appropriate to their child. The private schools are autonomous and so can alter their educational goals, curriculum, teaching, etc to do what's best for the child. That's true private education and choice.

All the talk about providing a great public education under the guise of public "school choice" should be examined for what it is: it is the same educational blueprint in a different location. It's not like private school. The mandates are the same from charter school to traditional public school to virtual school. The administration does not have the authority to amend curriculum or teaching methods to reach kids who are struggling or those who are bored. They have to stick to that common core.

What do YOU think about education reforms? What really constitutes "choice"? Is it just a choice on where to send your child...not the education plan behind the choice...but just the building? Private and home schooling parents now make the educational choice for their children with little governmental involvement. That ability does not and will not exist under the current school choice reforms with the implementation of common core standards.

If Scott's contention is true and governmental vouchers demand governmental educational mandates, what choice does that constitute: solely the physical location of the school?
And that's the "reform" that will fundamentally change the face of public education?

Thanks to Scott for his comments and thoughts. We welcome yours as well.
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