"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 28, 2012

Do Facebook Posts Illustrate the State of American Education?

It's been an interesting few days in education in St. Louis.  We listened to a School Choice Week panel discussion about closing traditional public schools in favor of opening alternative public schools (charters) with just a passing mention of the federal takeover of education by Arne Duncan.  We listened to a legislative panel presentation about a court decision or legislative "fix" that will allow students from unaccredited districts to attend schools in accredited districts at a projected tremendous financial cost to both the sending and receiving districts.

What's rarely asked in these discussions is why the schools are bad.  It seems to be an unspoken assumption that:
  • it's the teacher's fault
  • it's the administration's fault
  • there's not enough money
  • it's the union's fault
What I didn't hear from these panels on educational failures are these premises:
  • some children can't/won't learn
  • some parents can't/won't support their children
  • federal mandates take time away from actual teaching in the classroom
  • federal mandates smother innovation and creates teaching to the test 
  • parents that DO support children often are dismissed by teachers and administrators if parental vision differs from the school vision
What seems to be missing is a true sense of community.  Education reform has morphed into a war between parents, taxpayers, schools, administrators, teachers, unions, corporate interests, Federal agencies, politicians and students.  When education becomes so centralized and top down driven, the stakeholders become estranged from each other.  When students are moved around like pawns on a huge chess board so the interests of adults are reached (unions, charter school venture capitalists, data set completion, etc), it's the students caught in the crossfire of agendas. 

To close out this wild week in Missouri education, we are offering a bit of dark humor from various Facebook postings.  Do these postings represent the current crop of students from American educational institutions?  Is this what NCLB has wrought?  If it is, why are we subscribing to Race to the Top mandates (NCLB on steroids) which demand even more centralized control, standardized testing and less critical thinking skills?

From "Unforgivable Facebook Posts": (warning some strong language)




You can read the other "unforgivable Facebook posts" here.  These aren't all from young people.  There is a post from a dad apparently flummoxed by the internet and his son rescuing him from the avalanche of technology available.     

Friday, January 27, 2012

Senator Chappelle Nadal Struggles with the Right to an Education

Last night, the Washington University Brown School Policy Forum and Teach For America held a public forum to discuss St Louis Public Education. On the panel were: Senator Chappelle-Nadal (District 14), Senator Cunningham (District 7), Representative Dieckhaus (District 109), Representative Jones (District 63), Dr. Nicastro (Commissioner of Ed), and Dr. Senti (Cooperating School Districts of Greater St. Louis.) The discussion focused on the Turner Decision, the previous legislative stalemate on a solution, and the current legislative "fix" proposals. 

Quick review of the facts: In Missouri, according to the constitution, you have a right to a free public education.  Additionally, you have a right to go to school in a neighboring accredited school district if your district loses its accreditation. St. Louis City school district lost their accreditation last year. Families attempting to transfer into neighboring districts were denied entrance because the districts claimed they did not have the space to accommodate them. The Turner family sued to claim their right to attend the neighboring district and won. The fix that is needed must recognize the both rights of the unaccredited district students to an education, and the rights of the neighboring districts not to be overrun and undercompensated for all the students transferring in.

Senator Chappelle-Nadal, through her statements, made it clear that she struggles with this right guaranteed in the MO Constitution. It seemed as if she were confusing it with one's Miranda Rights which say, if you cannot afford a lawyer, one will be provided to you by the state. Notice the MO Constitution does not say, if you cannot afford to pay for your own education, the state will provide one for you. Senator Chappelle-Nadal seems to think that those families who are currently finding a way to pay for private education in the city, because the public education provided by the city was substandard, should not be afforded the right to a free education like everyone else.

This attitude may stem from frustration over what has been a bungled system for many years.  Students in private schools are not counted in the public funding formula. For those families to now have an avenue to exercise their right to a free public education means an increase in the number of students who have to be added to the funding calculation.  Missouri has not met its full education funding requirements for years and this just exacerbates the problem.  With the massive budget deficit the state is facing now, this just makes the legislature's job that much more difficult.  It is however, a reality, and the legislature cannot just ignore the rights of some families because it makes their job more difficult.  That was basically the decision in the Turner case.

The proposed solutions in the legislature now include: 
  • Providing a business tax credit, as is done with the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship Program (FTCSP), which allows businesses that contribute money to nonprofit Scholarship-Funding Organizations (SFOs) to receive an income tax credit. SFO's award scholarships to students from families with limited financial resources. This fix is being considered because the St Louis Catholic Schools have already told the legislature they have 8,000 seats waiting in their schools and would love to take in  students from the unaccredited district. This gets around the Missouri Constitution's  Blaine amendment which prohibits funds from the public treasury to be used to fund schools with religious affiliations. So long as the money does not go through the state's hands, it is not in conflict with the Constitution.
  • Another option being considered is a clearing house where districts can list the seats they have available which can then be matched with students looking to transfer.  This option provides some stability for the receiving districts.  The biggest obstacle here is the issue of funding. There is no consensus yet on how much these transfers will cost the receiving districts.
And of course the state cannot just abandon the St Louis district. They have been making improvements and it is hoped that they can regain accreditation. That will take a minimum of five years so they don't have, as Senator Cunningham called it, the yo yo problem with district falling into and out of compliance every other year.  She assured parents that students taken into the transfer program would be allowed to stay for the duration of their k-12 education. That made sense.  Her next comment, not so much.

There is a true concern of a slippery slope with the failing school district. Families transfer out or move out of such districts which means there is less money still in the district to try to fix it. Once you get below a certain level, the district faces bankruptcy.  No family wants to move into an area without a school so there is tremendous pressure to fix the St Louis schools.  If not, you end up with the Detroit public schools, where urban flight has resulted in consolidation and class sizes up to 60 students. Senator Cunningham saw a silver lining in the St Louis situation and the Turner Decision.  She predicted that open enrollment would actually draw good families INTO St Louis, knowing they would have their pick of schools. The air must be getting pretty thin up there in the clouds to think that a lot of families would want to move to an economically depressed region where their children were guaranteed a long commute to school every day, twice a day, where something as simple as being a cheerleader would require tremendous family coordination to accommodate practice schedules and where there was no guarantee they could get into the specific district that they wanted. What exactly would the chamber of commerce put on its billboard? "Come to St Louis - where your child can go somewhere else to school!"

Senator Cunningham noted last night that the Kansas City schools, who as of January 3rd this year faced a similar dilemma due to the loss of their accreditation, have already solved their problem by having "collar districts", those surrounding the city district who may also be within the city's boundaries, annex the city schools and assume governance for them.  The Catholic schools have similarly offered their services there. The panelists blamed those supporting the status quo in St Louis for blocking progress on a fix here. Specifically they were referring to the Cooperating School Districts,  MO Association of School Board Superintendents,  and the Association of School Board Members.

Frederick Mann set us up for a whole host of problems back in the early 1800's when he pushed for free public education. It sets up a line item on state budgets that never goes away and is under constant pressure to grow. Free things are rarely appreciated. Frequently they are tossed away because their value is perceived to be very low. We know education isn't free, but when you're not specifically paying for it out of your pocket and it is described as free in the constitution it is easy for people to think of it as free of cost. And once you make it mandatory you take away a very useful tool, the threat of removing the item or service, which could be used to motivate those who are not putting any effort into their education.  It is a recipe for failure.

Representative Dieckhaus also struggled with the concept of a guaranteed right to an education, confusing it with a societal moral obligation to provide this service. That kind of language plays well on a campaign trail, but actually makes the legislature's job even more difficult because it enflames discussions like this and makes providing solutions far more tricky.

No one on these panels ever comments on why these public schools are failing. They also don't make specific proposals on how to change them.  But the audiences at these types of events are not staying quiet on the topic anymore. You can hear them begin to address this issue in their questions.  Eventually the politicians are going to have to name the problems because that is the first necessary step to fixing them.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Dick Morris and School Choice Week Presentation in St. Louis. Beam Me Up, Scotty

Americans For Prosperity hosted a panel discussion on School Choice last night at Loyola Academy, a private Jesuit school for inner city young men. School Choice is blitzing the nation with the message "shining a spotlight on effective education options for every child."  The St. Louis panel touched on those options.

The panel consisted of Dick Morris (political strategist and commentator), Dana Loesch (Radio host and CNN commentator), Mike Podgursky (Professor of Economics University of Missouri) and Robbyn Wahby (Executive Assistant to STL Mayor Francis Slay).  The panel discussed educational topics such as:
  • charter schools
  • vouchers to private/parochial schools
  • the effect of teacher unions on public education
  • the rising cost of funding to schools with negligible rise in test scores
  • the reasons schools are failing
  • data to determine failing schools
  • the falling population in the city residential areas and how it affects the STL city public schools 
Podursky nailed it when he gave some of the reasons public schools are failing:
  • there is a lot of regulatory crust
  • no innovations and no free market
  • different kids have different needs and one specific school cannot meet all the needs of all the kids
  • schools are tied too heavily to standardized testing
As he was talking, I thought, "How is sending students to charter schools (schools supported by taxpayers dollars and under the same government mandates) freeing them from the regulations, lack of innovation, teaching to a student's need vs the system, and reducing the testing?"

THAT question was NEVER answered.  This is the problem with the School Choice movement in general and in Missouri with the funding of charter schools.  It never addresses the underlying fact that the government is still providing the blueprint and the rules and regulations for what the children are learning.  The money is being transferred to "free markets" (which conservatives love) but the system is still controlled by the government.  That's not really free market, is it?  That's not really an authentic choice for parents, is it?

Dick Morris stated, "Choice is where you send your child to school and the money follows the child." He outlined why this is a revolution in education and gave his reasons why this choice movement is needed:
  • In the 1960's and 70's the "Rankings of the States" was released by the NEA.  The states began to fund education more heavily: test scores did not change
  • In the 1980's, states were pushed to upgrade the curriculum and standards and demand better testing: results did not change
  • In the 1990's, NCLB was instituted focusing on which schools were failing and concentrating efforts to increase testing scores: no uptake occurred
Based on this dismal track record, Morris believes we need to be creative and provide options for education: school choice.

This really was an alternate universe I found myself in last night in St. Louis.  Morris stated, and apparently believes, education needs to be creative and innovative and released from NCLB type mandates. Amazingly, the subject of Race to the Top mandates (and those "mandates formerly known as RTTT" implemented in states which didn't receive RTTT money) and Common Core standards was never mentioned by Morris.  What the school choice advocates are advocating just doesn't make sense.  State educational providers are operating under NCLB on steroids and Morris is stating that you can choose your publicly funded school and it's a true choice in education?  How are more federal governmental mandates allowing more local control?  Is it that these folks just don't get it, or is it they just don't care?  Is the idea of "we have to do SOMETHING overrides a thoughtful approach to educational problems?"

Morris may have answered my last question.  He said, "We will never have the political will to close the failing schools.  We're just going to close the empty ones".  There it is.  Through choice, most parents will take their kids out of traditional public schools. The remaining public  schools are going to be populated with the kids who aren't motivated or who have undiagnosed disabilities, whose parents are disengaged from the education process and for whom an alternative school has not yet been opened.  Morris believes, in a free market, some group will step forward and bring those kids into their alternative school, and the now empty public school will be closed.

Morris may be correct, that we are seeing an education revolution, but it is on the delivery of education, not the education itself.  What kind of choice is this being foisted on and paid for by taxpayers?  Free Market or more of the same governmental control?  

What IS the magic bullet and allure of charter schools that allegedly makes them so much better in terms of education in the eyes of School Choice advocates?  Is it the delivery and school expectations from the charters that apparently doesn't exist in the traditional public schools? If it is, why aren't we pushing for those things from our public schools now?  It's not true free market competition since standards and assessments are still controlled by government regulations.  So what is it?

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Can You Choose a Good School If You Don't Know What One Looks Like?

This is National School Choice week and the major players are striking hard to move this ball down the field in SOME direction.  School choice is a hotter topic than the republican field of presidential candidates for most because, education affects everyone; from the parents, to students, to teachers, to state budgets, to businesses who supply goods and services to education, to the regular childless taxpayer. We all are impacted by America's public education system. Education reform is no doubt needed, but a vision of it is still as clear as mud some 80+ years after it was first talked about.

The Atlantic wrote a good piece about School Choice, which covers the history of this piece of education reform.  Here is the first part of that article:

How School Choice Became an Explosive Issue
By Kevin Carey

Conservatives champion it. Liberals loathe it. But both sides have distorted the cause, and students are paying the price.

Bill Cosby and Dick Morris presumably disagree about most things, so it's instructive to note that both have officially endorsed "School Choice Week," which began yesterday with a series of rallies and events around the country celebrating the idea of parents being able to decide where their children go to school. Indeed, school choice seems like such an obviously good idea that the most interesting thing about School Choice Week is why it exists at all.
That school choice is valuable is beyond dispute. That's why there's a multi-billion dollar private school industry serving millions of students. And it's why there is a much larger system of school choice embedded in the American real estate market. While some parents pay school tuition directly, many more pay it through their monthly mortgage and property tax bills. Anyone who has deliberately purchased a home in a "good" school district is, by definition, a beneficiary and supporter of school choice...
A key concern that Carey brings up is the idea that, while many parents would like to be able to choose a different school for their child other than the public one they are geographically districted for, they often lack the skills necessary to make a good decision about which school that is. 
Choice requires both information and consumers who are well equipped
to use it. Schools are highly complex organizations whose workings aren't
always apparent at first glance. It's very difficult for parents who have no
personal experience of having attended a good school to pick and choose among
school choice options for their children. Looks can be deceiving--shiny new
facilities and well-organized classrooms can mask poor teaching and incoherent
curricula. Schools vying for students in the market tend, like any competitor,
to present a self-interested view of themselves. Parents need much better
information about school performance, and education in its interpretation, in
order to make good choices on behalf of their children.
Reputation takes a while to build and many charter schools do not survive long enough to develop a good reputation.  We know that 37% of charter students perform below their public school peers on standardized assessment.
Opening up K-12 education to the free market does not magically conjure from the air organizations that know how to educate children.
What is guaranteed to fail is any program in which parents have not taken an active role.  In Californi,a where parents have the "trigger option", which essentially allows them to fire what they deem a failing school, public schools are rapidly being turned into charter schools.  Many look at this as the way for parents to finally have a say in how their child is educated. Another way to look at it, however, is parents continuing to shuck their responsibility for their child's education by firing one nanny and hiring another.   Expecting any outside organization to magically transform a neighborhood of serially disengaged children into both enthusiastic and successful learners is like expecting a one time visit from a professional organizer to cure the chronic hoarder.

One school in California that was recently turned into a charter, previously had mice in the cafeteria, clogged drinking fountains and urine puddles in the bathrooms. Now, unless you have the world's hardest water, drinking fountains only get clogged by people putting gum, paper and other objects into them.  Human waste that does not make it into the waste removal system only occurs if you have: a) students with palsy or, b) lie on a constantly active fault line or, c) students who don't care to aim. If the janitor weren't constantly having to clean out the drinking fountains, he might get to those messes. Exterminators would be called if budgets weren't spent on security measures to scan the kids as they enter school and on a security force to deal with the violence children choose to bring into a school. In other words, if the students and their parents actually took ownership of and responsibility for their school many of these problems would go away. But the parents of this school simply voted to give someone else a shot at civilizing their children.

If they, as the Atlantic author suggested, don't even know what a good school looks like, then maybe the first effort of school reformers and choice advocates should be to start educating the parents about how a school is supposed to work and what the expectations are for them and their children once in it. Otherwise school reform will be a never ending cycle of replacement babysitters for schools in the worst neighborhoods.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Thoughts on the Costs of the New Apple Education Revolution. Who Pays for it? Who Can Afford it?

This is an article on Apple's wonderful new revolution in the delivery of education in terms of how much money this will cost individuals and/or taxpayers.  It will be quite a bit.  Where will the money come from?  Tax increases?  Have the taxpayers had any say in any such tax increase to cover new educational deliveries and technology which create substantial financial return for private companies?

Apple may have an innovative product that makes learning faster and easier for students.  The question is can districts/taxpayers afford such costs in our present economy? How many trillions of dollars of debt is the United States in currently?  $16 Trillion?

I can't wait for the numbers to come out on how much the underfunded mandated Common Core standards will cost the taxpayers.  I expect we can't afford the Federal Government's or the consortias' Education Revolution costs either. 
From Gizmodo:

You Can’t Afford Apple’s Education Revolution

What Apple showed us today was nothing less than the future of education. The future we'd all been imagining for decades, no less. Harry Potter stuff. It's going to change the way we learn, the way we think, the way we live.

But let's remember that right now, today? It's entirely out of reach for all but a few of us.

Let's start with the good. There's a lot of it. Fifteen bucks for an interactive textbook is an amazing price; they'd normally cost a hundred new, about half that gently used. The features that Apple's introducing—particularly those instant flash cards that might have gotten me through Chemistry unscathed—are indisputably an improvement over stale highlighters and multi-colored Post-Its.

All of this represents the best kind of progress, a paradigm shift in education. That is, if you can afford it.
I've argued before that iPads are cheap for what they are. And that's true, assuming that what they are is a secondary device on which people with healthy disposable income can watch their YouTubes and send some emails and play Sword and Sworcery for hours and hours. But while iBooks are very affordable textbooks, the iPad makes for one insanely expensive backpack.

Under the best case scenario, you're a teenager in a district that has bought iPads for every single student. It's free for you, which is great! But even with a healthy discount, all those tablets carve a multi-million dollar, taxpayer-funded chunk out of the education budget. Money that could be going to dozens of other in-classroom aids, teacher salaries, healthy lunches, etc. They'll come from somewhere, at the expense of something else.

Which would be fine if that iPad were a standalone device that could accommodate four years of curricula. It's not. Not even close.

Standalone? Try writing a 20-page term paper on an iPad. Or better yet, try telling every student they need to buy a $70 wireless keyboard. Oh, and it's going to be spending a lot of time in your backpack, so better tack on a $40 Smart Cover. The reality is that no matter how far Apple has pushed into the cloud, iPads still need laptops to complement them. And those accessories, those laptops? Whether it's the student or the schools, someone's paying for them.

Which might even be worth it if the iPad could disappear textbooks from your life altogether. But it can't, not remotely. While Apple's got three major textbook partners lined up, at the moment the selection is treacherously limited. Which means that for now, and potentially for a long time, backpacks across the country are going to be loaded down with hefty Pre-Calculus and AP Physics tomes no matter how many iPads schools buy.

And even the ones that exist have their pitfalls. You can argue that they only cost $15 a pop—money that under Apple's plan can also come from schools, not individual students—and that those savings alone make them worth it. Which would be true, if publishers hated money. But publishers are businesses, and the business model in this place is clear: instead of selling an updated textbook every 5-10 years for $100, update and sell every year for $15. And it'll work; it's not like you can hand down an iBook from year to year. In fact, you expressly can't.

And then consider this: these iPad textbooks are every bit as big as their dead tree counterparts, and you need a lot of digital storage to lug them around. The eight books on display in the App Store today average out to about 1.5GB each; a full year's course load would quickly fill up a 16GB iPad, which means either schools/students will have to shell out for the more expensive 32GB version, or students are responsible for their own external storage options. My wallet hurts.

What all this adds up to is a education revolution for the landed gentry. Or even worse, schools that can't afford it chasing a wave that's years away from cresting. Millions of dollars spent on a supplementary learning tool. A distant horizon mistaken for the here and now.

Let's be clear; this is indisputably the future. What we saw today is what our classrooms will look like once iPads are far cheaper, once digital textbooks can be handed down as easily as physical ones, once teachers of every subject have several educational material options to choose among. For now though, it's important to remember that "new" and "different" always come at a premium. One that the vast majority of us can't afford.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Polar Monitors Used to Track Student Depression, Suicide, Cancer, Alcohol/Drug Use, Sexual Activity? Public Student Data Stored on polargofit.com website

Polar Monitors may not only measure and provided data to schools about physical activity and heart rates in PE classes, there may also be assessments relating to student suicide, depression, cancer and diabetes risk.  It can even track student sexual activity, drug and alcohol use.  The company states this these invasive assessments are only suggested for those students 18 years or older, but is this the type of information that should be gathered by educational institutions on students of any age?  

The circumvention of FERPA law will allow this information to be disseminated on your student to various federal agencies and private companies.  The article contains a nifty link so you can see how this information will be gathered and how with the click of a mouse, broadcast to the cloud(s).

You can also read how school districts are funding these expensive monitors while cutting teachers and support staff.  We'll be writing more about this in the future and provide links so you can determine if your school district is signing onto this program providing your student's data and personal information to entities, probably without your knowledge or active permission.

This is from "Is the Privacy of the American Student at Risk" at The Revered Review:


School:  A place where children learn to read and write. A place where they learn mathematics, science and history. Moreover, a place, away from home, where children are supposed to be safe.

Yet now it’s a place, across the country, where children’s hearts are being monitored, their activities are being tracked, and it’s being determined if students are obese or overweight. In addition, health risk assessments are being made on students and the information can be stored or saved as a PDF file.

In this physical education class, students are training using spin bicycles. However, in many schools, students are using Polar monitors in physical education classes. (Photo Credit: MJMonty)
Some students across the country, including in many small towns—are now wearing heart rate monitors and activity monitors—sometimes, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week—as part of their schools’ phys ed programs. The New York Post reported that three schools were using these monitors and some, including the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and parents, questioned the possible intrusion into students’ privacy.

(Link here to continue reading the rest of the article from Revered Review)

Sunday, January 22, 2012

The Sunday Education Weekly Reader 01.22.2012

Welcome to the Sunday Education Weekly Reader for January 22, 2012.  

This week we thought we'd pass on some interesting tweets pertaining to Education for you to review.

  • Sit down with a cup of coffee and read about the meaning of "choice".  Do these opinions on education and what determines a good education remind you of "what IS the meaning of IS?"..... Charter schools. Vouchers. Choice. That's all good, right? Or maybe not...
  • Oh my goodness, are students now going to be held accountable for their success....or failure?  We thought that was reserved only for the teachers.... Aren't students also responsible for their own education, former teacher Walt Gardner asks?  
  •  This won't adapt well to Common Core Standards because, well, it's not "common"....A Group Of Schools In Sweden Is Abandoning Classrooms Entirely  
  •  Arne Duncan just can't keep his mandates to the states, now the Federal Government wants to micromanage local school districts.  Can you define "smother"?.....What's next for ? says it's time for a district-level competition:     

Educational thought for the week from Cary Grant:

My first great chance came in 1936, when I was borrowed by RKO for Sylvia Scarlett playing opposite Katherine Hepburn.  This picture did nothing to endear its female lead to the public but it helped me to success.  For once, the audiences and the critics did not see me as a nice young man, with regular features and a heart of gold.  After this picture I made one after another, probably too many.

I know I'm sticking my neck in saying this, and the ill-fortuned won't agree with me.  

But I do believe people can do practically anything they set out to do--if they apply themselves diligently, and learn.  Few people recognize opportunity because it comes disguised as hard work and application.

Too often people are afraid of disappointment--or of making the mistakes that lead to disappointment?  How else can you grow?

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