"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, April 7, 2012

DESE and Governor Nixon Threatening School Districts?

......Including the state as well. Coming soon to your school district?

 Are DESE and Governor Nixon ignoring the foundation funding formula law for schools?  Say it isn't so.  From johncombest.com via Missouri Scout.  Wonder what this will do to your school district's budget?  Budget?  What's a budget?

Political theater once again.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Don't Worry about what the Legislature would do with Money from Higher Taxes. DESE, Governor Nixon and the State Board are Spending Money the State Doesn't Have Now.

The following was posted on HotAir's Green Room, written by Patrick Ishamel from the Show-Me Institute regarding a St.  Louis Post Dispatch editorial.  The Post Dispatch contends Missouri needs more money (tax increases) for government programs; Ishmael argues the expansion of government programs stifles the free market.  Ishmael believes it would be a nightmare if the Legislature had $4 Billion at its disposal to institute more governmental spending.  

Regarding education in Missouri (and other states), the outrage of the Institute should include concern about the incredible spending of money the state doesn't have for educational mandates that are unconstitutional, unproven, untested and underfunded.  It's  concerning to realize DESE, Governor Nixon and the State Board of Education have already signed us onto to at least $350,000,000 (or more) in unfunded mandates via Common Core standards via the Pioneer Institute study and a $1.6 BILLION early childhood program with Race to the Top type mandates. 

Perhaps the Show-Me Institute should do a study on the debt and mandates these agencies and politicians have signed taxpayers into funding without legislative approval.  Maybe there should be a followup article by the Post Dispatch entitled "Imagine (or, just sit back and watch it happening in real time) how much debt the governor, DESE and the State Board of Education can rack up with nary a legislative vote.

The legislature has become impotent. It cannot (or will not) stop the actions by governmental agencies, politicians and appointed officials which create more taxpayer debt.  This is evidenced in what has occurred in the signing onto RTTT (or RTTT like mandates), Common Core, and Early Childhood mandates.  It doesn't matter if citizens are taxed an additional $4 Billion; our agencies are instituting  programs (without tax increases) Missouri or the Federal government cannot possibly fund.   The state bill for education alone is approaching an unfunded $2 Billion. 

How's that for a nightmare?


The Post-Dispatch’s $4 Billion Tax Hike

Missouri’s major dailies have had quite a run over the past few days. Last week, the Kansas City Star told readers that the state’s governor needed “to promote reasonable revenue-enhancing measures” — taxes — and put more money toward state programs. The notion of “government investment” features prominently in the piece, as increasingly has become the case when “revenue-enhancing measures” are suggested, post-Stimulus. What the editorial board doesn’t say is that the city’s own local taxes are already among the highest in the region.
Stratospheric municipal taxes overlayed with an even higher state tax burden? This won’t turn out well.
But yesterday the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, The Star‘s cross-state peer, spectacularly one-upped the KC paper. Missouri lawmakers are constrained by law in how much they can tax and spend each year and are billions below the statutory limit. How much of that difference would the Post-Dispatch like to spend?
A lot of folks purchased Mega Millions lottery tickets last week dreaming about what they could do with $640 million. Imagine what $4 billion would do for Missouri.
Let’s be clear: That’s a radical tax hike proposal, tucked into what is otherwise an uninspired editorial about state and local governing responsibilities. Combined state and local tax rates have stayed roughly the same for decades in Missouri, but the Post-Dispatch would have those rates hurdle skyward to provide more public services and somehow, some way, improve the economy above the status quo.

Even the suggestion that raising taxes and spending would help the state makes no sense by the newspaper’s own standards. State and local tax rates have actually increased slightly since 1980, the apparent “good ol’ days” implied by the editorial, from 8.6% then to 9% today. The newspaper can’t even claim that plummeting tax burdens are why Missouri is suffering economically, since by its own metric, taxes have actually increased over the last 30 years.

The proposal is mostly academic here in Missouri, as taxpayers and policy makers in the state would blanche at the thought of such a hike, but that doesn’t mean the suggestion isn’t troubling. If implemented, the plan would have awful real-world implications — giving families less to spend and taking capital out of the market for use in less productive government programs. It’s a roadmap to ruin, and yet the Post-Dispatch apparently doesn’t see it.

“Imagine what $4 billion would do for Missouri”? No, imagine if legislators took their cues from Missouri’s newspapers. What a nightmare that would be.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Civics Lesson in Voting. Your Vote DOES Count. Maybe Your Candidate will Effect Some Meaningful Contribution if Elected, Rather than Just Being a Mouthpiece for the System.

Missouri had elections on Tuesday and several of the races turned out to be whoppers.  The differences were razor thin in determining winners and losers.  The lesson learned from April 2, 2012: Every Vote IS important.  Take a look at some of these contests:

          (Vote for )  2
              (WITH 29 OF 29  COUNTED)
           ANDY STEWART  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .     3,401   31.90
           HAMID R. HAMRAH  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .       413    3.87
           SCOTT ANDERSON.  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .     3,414   32.02
           SARA KING  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .     3,405   31.94
           WRITE-IN.  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .        29     .27

 (Note: Hamrah withdrew shortly after filing)   

          (Vote for )  2
              (WITH 46 OF 46  COUNTED)
           JAMES GOSS .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .     1,000   11.44
           KAREN SCHUSTER.  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .     2,806   32.11
           KATE HOLLOWAY .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .     2,460   28.15
           GEORGE REZABEK.  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .     2,445   27.98
           WRITE-IN.  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .        28     .32 
          (Vote for )  2
              (WITH 50 OF 50  COUNTED)
           DRYVER HENDERSON .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .     1,179   30.46
           JOYCE R. McRATH  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .     1,186   30.64
           SHEILA WILLIAMS  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .     1,484   38.34
           WRITE-IN.  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .        22     .57
          (UNEXPIRED TERM)
          (Vote for )  1
              (WITH 104 OF 104  COUNTED)
           BOB BURNS  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .     6,209   49.61
           JOAN H. McGIVNEY .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .     6,233   49.80
           WRITE-IN.  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .        74     .59
More exciting election results from St. Louis County can be found here.

Students of civics (now I know I say that tongue in cheek since students rarely learn how government works these days) and jaded registered voters should look at these results and hopefully come away with the conclusion that indeed, "my vote DOES count."   Out of 10,220 votes cast for three candidates, 13 votes separated those candidates.  Barring any recounts affecting the difference, that is an amazing result.

So when it's a "cold, rainy, hot, you can find something else better to do kind of day"...and it happens to be Election Day, remember these races and get out and vote.  Your candidate might need your vote to put him/her over that edge.   Maybe your candidate will work hard to restore authentic local control to your school district, rather than just existing as a participant in the only roles available currently to school board members:

Maybe these lessons on voting and exactly how school districts operate need to be imparted to the 86 % of registered voters who didn't bother to show up and make their voices heard in this election.  If you didn't like the results, the manner in which your school district operates and didn't bother to vote...you have no reason to complain:

RUN TIME:03:46 PM     TUESDAY, APRIL 3, 2012

                                                       VOTES PERCENT

           PRECINCTS COUNTED (OF 817).  .  .  .  .       817  100.00
           REGISTERED VOTERS - TOTAL .  .  .  .  .   652,857
           BALLOTS CAST - TOTAL.  .  .  .  .  .  .    90,828
           VOTER TURNOUT - TOTAL  .  .  .  .  .  .             13.91


Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Is there really any such thing as local control?

Yesterday some Missourians went to the polls and elected new school board members. Aside from positions in your town government, this is about as local as control gets. And while we may complain about things like local property taxes or trouble with trash pick up, the decisions made by school board members affect the one most important thing in our lives, our children.  If tax payers are going to have strong opinions and want to have their voices heard on any issue, it is going to be on things that impact their kids, like school. So why are mid term elections for positions on the school board so poorly attended? Perhaps its because these elections feel like our chance to send people into Area 51.

Area 51 is in plain sight.  There are government signs all around it telling you it's there and defining its boundaries. There is historical information about it was well as public speculation regarding what takes place behind its closed doors. Officials from there tell us that things that look really ominous are really just weather balloons.  We're asked to believe the official reports. There is always some fear that they are covering up something really sinister even though the public image, an image people seem to be working awfully hard to project, is notably benign. The one thing we're sure of, because you can't miss the signs, is that the public is not wanted there. The public must Keep Out.

Your local school board may feel like Area 51. You know it exists.  It's likely got its own tab on your school district's website. There are meeting notices at least once a month so you know they do something. There are historical records or minutes of what they did but most of these are so scrubbed of any really useful information that the meeting could have as easily been about the local farmer's market as the institution your children attend, by law, for 7 hours a day, 180 days a year. Business at the meetings is conducted in an orderly, if not jovial, manner usually with 100% agreement on each vote, as if the conclusion were so obvious the vote could not have gone any other way. Such lock step agreement, far from being reassuring, lends itself to speculation about wrong doing and cover ups as it does not reflect the reality of other diverse groups functioning.

People you thought you knew when you elected them are taken behind the closed doors and emerge as a Stepford version of their former selves, participating in the mutual admiration and complete unity of the school board. They have entered restricted space and business continues as usual, without public input.  So its easy to see why much of the public has given up worrying about who gets voted onto the school board. District residents are told on the one hand that they are stakeholders, but in reality they are offered no seat at the table. The Rockwood Stakeholders for Real Solutions reported that one school board member actually said the public meetings are for the public "to observe, not participate."

Those who are pushing back against Common Core Standards and other education reform measures say they don't want to lose local control. But if we are truly honest, do we even have such local control?  Are there procedures in place to allow public input to our schools?  Right now it looks like the answer is "No."

DESE answers to no one and signed the state up to Common Core Standards that hadn't even been written yet. The local school boards, in many cases, say they just do what DESE tells them.  That may explain their aversion to public input.  They have no mechanism to reject what the state is telling them so why listen to people complain about what the state requires. There is absolutely no pathway for public input to DESE decisions, so the local school board can't even tell people to take it up with their "boss." Even our elected officials in the state capitol appear to have no say in DESE decisions, sometimes even using them as the mechanism to do what they cannot do in the legislature.

A return to local control right now would mean turning over control to a governor appointed board with no checks and balances, and no procedures for public comment. The time to begin laying the tracks for local control is now, before the Common Core Standards kick in. We must begin by getting our local school boards to open up and become more transparent. They should adopt the open checkbook policy that other states like Alabama, Massachusetts and Arkansas have. Far from being a source of consternation for public officials, such policies have calmed public fears and even saved money.

School Boards must also begin to address the reality of public input.  I'm willing to bet it will be far less onerous and contentious than they believe. Doing this now while the list of issues they actually can address (like school policy) is relatively short will get everyone used to the process so that when they need to use it for things that matter, like standards, they can handle public input with relative ease.

Despite their promise that the consortia standards would only dictate what is taught not how it is taught, the main proponent and architect of the Common Core ELA Standards, David Coleman,  is in fact going around telling teachers how to teach reading:

The Common Core documents clearly state the following on page 6 of the introduction. (It’s point #1 of the What is NOT Covered by the Standards):
The Standards define what all students are expected to know and be able to do, not how teachers should teach.
And yet, as an author of Common Core, David Coleman is now completely violating this promise. In fact, part of the only reason so many people are willing to buy into CC is expressly because the documents swear to define the “what” and not tell teachers the “how”.
And now David is telling us how? And it’s still only 2012, two years before the Standards officially hit.
How many more promises of Common Core will be broken before they finally hit our schools? There will be a real need for open communication at that point. But if we are set in our ways of school boards not taking responsibility for what happens with curriculum in the classroom and parents have no one to go to when their child's teacher admits at the parent conference that they hate teaching this way but are being forced to by the CCS, things will fall apart quickly.

The time is now to take your newly elected school board members aside, before they are led behind the closed doors, and get their commitment to changing the way the school board operates, to opening the lines of communication, to making operations more transparent and public meetings that are less of a show and more of a working opportunity.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Paper and Ink, Brick and Mortar - Make way for digital delivery

Last week CEOs from technology companies and text book publishers met with senior officials from the DOEd and FCC to talk about the digital revolution in education.  Also present at the table was the LEAD (Leading Education by Advancing Digital) commission, whose goal is to harness technology as a catalyst to education reform.  The four members of LEAD are:
  • Columbia University President Lee Bollinger- A liberal bastion in higher education
  • Co-Founder of TPG Capital James Coulter- Private equity funds management company because, as Tim McGraw head of McGraw-Hill Financial stated recently, "The growth outlook is really quite healthy for the education business and we expect that to continue." 
  • Former Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings-  Her consulting company leverages the many public private partnerships she has forged along with the insider experience of the many former capitol hill experts she employs to drive public policy nationwide. Seeing as how, as Secretary of Ed under George Bush, she was a leading proponent of No Child Left Behind, we must question whether her ability to affect national policy is really all that desirable.
  • Common Sense Media Founder and CEO Jim Steyer- perhaps a reasonable member, but he may have drunk the kool aid too."The great news is that technology provides us with an opportunity to leapfrog decades of simply maintaining the status quo and to truly revolutionize education in this country quickly, which is exactly what’s needed to remain economically competitive in today’s global economy."
Key quotes from this meeting:

Duncan said "We need your expertise, your leadership, to figure out how every single child has access to content 24/7. I see amazing pockets, islands of success, but it's on the margins. The question is, can we get to scale as a country?" IMPLEMENTATION ON A MASSIVE SCALE THROUGH GOVERNMENT INTERVENTION

James Coulter, "Our goal with this commission is to help policy makers to more swiftly and effectively integrate digital learning into our national curriculum.”  SPEED WITHOUT CONSIDERATION

FCC Chairman Genachowski said, "I’m confident the LEAD Commission’s blueprint will chart a course to ensure that education technology will help prepare students to compete in the 21st century global economy.” GLOBAL FOCUS, SCHOOL TO WORK PROGRAMMING

One of the digital companies represented at the meeting was McGraw-Hill who plans to push for learning programs related to vocational training online and is working on making more learning material and textbooks available across various digital platforms. The company is looking to strike joint ventures with companies to impart skills learning in India and skills training in China. Having perfected such programs in these massive markets, it will be very easy to bring such digital training to America.  And with government's focus on providing 21st century global workers, and businesses like Margaret Spelling's working to push such policies nationally, McGraw-Hill will have a ready made entree to the American market.

That's what all of this is about.  The government helping private business create new markets by making their products mandatory.

LEAD's goal is to produce a blueprint by the end of the year, based on input from teachers, parents, local government and school officials, students, and ed-tech industry leaders, which will include:

  • a fact base of current efforts, trends, cost implications, and other obstacles regarding technology adoption in schools; Note they are not evaluating its effectiveness or desirability
  • an examination of how tech-driven transformation in other sectors could be carried over to education;  Education is not a business model and applications in other sectors do not necessarily translate to correct application to education.
  • the types of policies and funding vehicles that may be needed to ensure that school systems can successfully incorporate technology. It is unclear who is funding the LEAD report or what deals have already been struck to ensure compliance with the policy and funding recommendations developed in the report.
If these people have their way, what will the future classroom look like? It may be much smaller as many students may choose to stay home and work on-line on their own. It will be staffed by less experienced teachers because the software will adapt and challenge each individual student in a way that a teacher never could. The interim, and most immediate step, will be what techsperts are calling "blended learning" where children spend part of their classroom time on computers doing endless worksheets.

From Schools Matter blog
Now Vander Ark is leveraging his connections from 7 years as check delivery boy for the Gates Foundation to shape the education agenda in ways that will pay a handsome return on Bill and Melinda's beneficence over the years.  It's called blended learning, and it represents a poisonous mixture of bad pedagogy and big business; it is gaining footholds in the poorest schools (or in KIPP schools that pretend to be poor) where resistance is the weakest and resources are in shortest supply.  And yes, it does involve computers and computer software and computerized assessments, with the added value of cutting the teaching staff by as much as half while potentially doubling class size.  More tech aides and fewer teachers.

The way it works is to have children taught in shifts, and while one shift has the attention of a flesh and blood teacher, the other shift of children is de-minded by an endless stream of digital worksheets handed out by an indefatigable bank of endlessly-cheerful computers.  In the example of the KIPP kindergarten (a scary prospect, indeed), children are plugged in for half their time in school.  Note, too, that the KIPP "school leader" claims a lack of funds as his rationale, even though KIPP, Inc. has a stash of corporate cash in the hundreds of millions an unlimited stream just for the asking.  The fact is that these most vulnerable children are guinea pigs in an unproven experiment intended to benefit corporate bottom lines, not children.  Note, too, that these children are particularly sensitive to the learned helplessness treatments that are applied during Kipp-notizing summer sessions to maintain total compliance, with or without supervision.
 Like so many things coming out of Washington these days, this seems to be rushing something through that sounds good, but has great potential for unintended consequences.  It attempts to push a business sector that should be able to market itself quite effectively without DC mandates. It shows the trap laid by establishing power bases (like DOEd) in Washington. They cannot resist the temptation to use their power and "make a difference."

Monday, April 2, 2012

Arne Duncan's Education Reform = Doublespeak Nonsense

Following yesterday's April Fool's posting comes a tongue in cheek, yet serious post on the education reforms set forth by Arne Duncan and the DOEd and how they impact education.  The author sets forth a much different scenario than does Arne Duncan.  While he states this reform is America's blueprint for educational success, this is not the belief of the blog writer; she believes this system is designed to fail.

 The only suggestion I would make would be the revision of opening sentence.  Instead of "don't panic"....it should read:

"We have a crisis on multiple levels!  We need a dramatic change!" (quote from Arne Duncan)  This cry is the permission (apparently circumventing legislative approval on the federal and state levels) for this administration to put forward reforms including mandates that are unconstitutional, unproven, untested and unfunded.

In the video below, Duncan states the US became complacent and this is the reason for our drop in global test results.  Maybe the US educational system became so top heavy with mandates and unrealistic goals for testing results, the education system stopped innovative growth and became stagnant.  Duncan even talks about having to sue the DOEd when he was in Chicago because of the "top heavy" mandates.  So what does he do?  Establish even more mandates and Federal control!  (Maybe we're in a perpetual April Fool's Day mode).

From  policy.mic and "If You're Designing a Nation and Want it to Fail, Follow America's Education System":


Don't panic. To err a nation, please pay close attention and follow the steps described below:

1. Design a No Child Left Behind program to standardize students’ academic achievement to minimal skills. Make unrealistic “measurable goals” and punish schools failing to do this task properly by gradually redistributing marginalized, low-performing populations (especially black and Latino) so that they learn the lesson. In the process, close schools to punish the poor so that they are twice as likely to go to the overcrowded ones.

2. If that is not enough to homogenize the system, cut funding for programs for the gifted so that they drop out the same rates as the normal kids.

3. Privatize education. Give states incentives to give teachers bonuses and open charter schools with a Race to the Top program so that the ones behind are where they should be: behind. That way, you can also be segregated without segregation since it so happens that the schools behind are also those filled with the poor and minorities.

4. Now that you have homogenized those who go through the K-12 system to their lowest potential, shovel 70% of them to college and make sure they do not learn anything in their first two years. Noone will pay attention since college is all about 41 hours weekly of leisure activities and 8 hours of studying – just like a middle school student.

5. Inflate grading to meet the students where they are at, so that the difference between a 3.60 GPA and a 2.79 or lower GPA equates the difference of one hour studying.

6. Pretend that the top institutions embrace diversity and redress pass mistakes by admitting affluent, well-educated Nigerian students to create an illusion of affirmative action.

7. When someone realizes that only 46% of those enrolled in college actually graduate, lower than the former Soviet bloc country of Slovakia (Oh horror!), make a goal of producing 8 million college graduates by 2020. No one cares if you will meet your goal or not.

8. Now that you are on the way to underproduce 1 million college graduates in STEM fields, make the cost of education increase 50% in a decade. If students are indebted and cannot graduate, it does not matter because one third of those graduated would hold jobs that do not require one any way.

9. Since few realize how they have erred all along, the even better result is a generation of delusional optimists.

Arne Duncan's thoughts on education from Need to Know (PBS):

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Let's Make a Common Core Video featuring Herrings and Doves! The Sunday Education Weekly Reader 04.01.12

Welcome to the Sunday Education Weekly Reader for April Fool's Day 2012!  We're really not doing a video for Common Core standards as so many teachers have, but if we did do a video, we'd probably sing about how they are:
  • unproven
  • untested
  • underfunded
  • unconstitutional
Today is April Fool's Day and two explanations of this minor holiday are appropriate when thinking about the "reforms" trotted out by Arne Duncan.  Think of the DOEd as the agency playing sinister April fool jokes on the American public.  We have been the fools kicked hard by expensive and overreaching mandates and regulations, resulting in a centralized agency controlling all educational decisions and programs:
  • When someone has been fooled in Sweden, to disclose that it was a joke, the fooler says the rhyme "April April din dumma sill, jag kan lura dig vart jag vill" (April, April, you stupid herring, I can fool you to wherever I want") for April 1st jokes
  •  In Spain and Ibero-America, an equivalent date is December 28.  After somebody plays a joke or a prank on somebody else, the joker usually cries out, in some regions of Ibero-America: "Inocente palomita que te dejaste engaƱar" ("You innocent little dove that let yourself be fooled")
In the spirit of April Fool's Day, and as the American taxpayers, parents, students, teachers and administrators have been reduced to herrings and doves, here is a tongue in cheek blog about the common core and the general state of education reform.

Just put this video to song and it would put to shame any video singing the praises of the ed reform mantra.  Be sure to watch the youtube video at the end.  The dialogue is PERFECT.  Do these soundbites sound like the ed reformer scripts you hear when you talk to legislators and read about in various articles on DOEd sites?


From Jay P. Greene's blog "Why I Now Support Common Core":

I don’t know how I could have been so foolish for so long.  It just struck me today that I really should support Common Core national standards.  Here are the reasons I’ve changed my mind:

1) I learned from Diane Ravitch and Sol Stern that dramatic reversals in views generate a lot of attention.  For some reason my new support for Common Core will have credibility and influence no matter how weak my reasoning for switching is.

2) If I play my cards right, there may be big money to be made with my new support for Common Core.  In addition to book royalties and lecture fees, I see a big grant from the Gates Foundation in my future.  Evil pays better than good.

3) I won’t get blacklisted by the U.S. Department of Education for opposing their favored policy positions.  Yippee! I’ll get a piece of a big evaluation whose findings they can delay or distort.

4) Standards probably don’t matter anyway, so little harm can come from supporting mediocre standards being imposed on all states.

5) Did I say imposed?  Darn, I have to get used to saying it’s voluntary.

6) Being bothered by the empty and manipulative language used to support Common Core has driven me to drink.  Switching my view on Common Core will give my liver a much needed break.


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