"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, December 28, 2012

Fiscal Cliff For Education

Whiteboard Advisors is a policy consulting practice that provides "policy counsel, strategic consulting, and market research for education investors, entrepreneurs, philanthropies, and government leaders." Their recent newsletter had this to say about the looming fiscal cliff.
"Fiscal Cliff May Cause School Closures: If a budget deal is not reached by January 1, there will be an 8.2% decrease in federal education spending which reduces funding by about $4 billion. These cuts could trigger layoffs, increased class sizes, and significant facility/operations limitations. While a typical district’s budget is 12% federal dollars, for some districts this figure is as large as 85.5%. These cuts would also seriously limit Title I funding, impacting a high percentage of low-income students."
That sure sounds pretty dire, but let's take a moment and look at the numbers White Board is mentioning.

We must assume that 8.2% decrease in federal education spending they are referring to is the amount that will automatically be cut as per the Joint Committee on Deficit Reduction (aka "the supercommittee"), a bipartisan committee which was charged with finding a way to slash the nation's government spending by $1.2 trillion over the next ten years if some other agreement is not met before January 1, 2013. Let's set aside the discussion of whether these are actual cuts to today's spending (which they aren't really) or whether they are cuts to future increases in spending (which is closer to the truth) and just assume they are cuts to what everyone has gotten used to spending on education right now.

That $4 billion becomes $400 million a year if we do some basic math and spread it evenly over ten years.  Now let's divide that number across the basically 14,000 school districts nation wide.  That cut comes out to $28,571 per district. Kind of puts it in perspective, don't it? It may mean a large district might have to slash one or two teachers, or have two to three fewer aids, but that's not exactly the picture the Whiteboard Advisors paints.

This was very simplistic math which doesn't paint an accurate picture for all districts. You have to look at the second part of WA's point to see how the impact varies for different school districts and understand why they predict some schools may have to close next year.

They claim the average school district receives 12% of its funding directly from the federal government. This is a little like saying the average weight of a class of first graders plus their teacher and bus driver is sixty one pounds.  According to the National Center for Education Statistics only ten states receive more than 12% federal funding, with a few outliers at 15% (Louisiana) and 16% (South Dakota). Twelve percent may be a statistical average, but the low number of states receiving more than 12% gives you an idea how much more those ten states get on the whole. Twenty three states receive less than 10%.  Missouri only gets 8.3%. A clear majority of states (40) receive below 12% of their education funding from Washington. Damage from federal spending cuts is going to be disproportionately felt by states who have been used to a higher portion of their education funding coming from the Feds. That makes WA's prediction regarding the fiscal cliff a minor bump in the road for New Jersey which has kept their federal input to the enviable 4.1% of their total education budget.

How much of that money makes it to individual districts is more complex to calculate. Title I funding, the main mechanism by which federal education dollars are allocated, was meant to improve equity for disadvantaged kids in all communities in all states. However, the formula used to calculate which districts get what actually tends to penalize smaller districts (which are typically rural and have higher poverty rates) because of a provision known as “number weighting.” You can read more about the effects of number weighting here, here, and here.  This accounts for about a third of the inequity in the formula.

The other two thirds occurs because they use “statewide average per pupil expenditure” to calculate where the money goes. Simply put, states that spend more per pupil get more money from Washington. In theory this appears to promote the agenda of those who think we need to make per pupil spending on education our number one priority. The reality is that states with better economies and higher local tax rates for education spend more per pupil because they can and they are rewarded for doing so.

This means that school districts most likely to be hit the hardest by any federal spending cuts to education are those in states with already low per pupil spending rates, small districts and those with high poverty rates. I feel for the districts that have 85% of their annual budget funded by federal dollars, but I am also tempted to ask "What were you thinking?"

In Missouri, our funding formula tries to counter some of this effect by essentially pooling all the district funds and reallocating them more evenly across all districts. That was the intent anyway. The problem comes back to decisions made at the very local level. To read a good summary of the impact of the funding formula check out this article by the Rural School and Community Trust. The upshot is this. Districts that decided to fund their school system primarily with money from outside their district (whether federal or state) are hit hardest by budget cuts from those entities and a down economy. Some districts in our state have as much as 60% of their budget coming from the state funding formula. The RSCT article refers to an Ozark school which is having to let go of several teachers because the state allocation dropped recently. It dropped equally for everyone in terms of real dollars, but dropped more in districts which, percentage-wise, used more of those dollars.

When districts rely so heavily on outside sources of income they are truly at the whim of their bankroller in terms of operability. They are put in the position of doing whatever the people/agencies holding the purse strings tell them to do, or trying to get away with whatever the rules tell them they can. In our state that means that there is incentive for smaller rural districts to overreport their total enrollment to keep their formula funding up to their current spending levels. Several of them do this. An education system that requires a teacher and a classroom must pay that teacher the same amount whether there are twenty students in her class or eight. A system that pays them in this way will squelch any attempts to investigate other delivery methods for education. With guaranteed money coming from the state, there is less incentive to try to collect funds from local taxes. It will also enable them to avoid consolidation which could help them in the long run.

The folks at the Whiteboard Advisors will provide, for a fee, advice on policy, strategic planning and market research. Their main customers are education investors, entrepreneurs, philanthropies, and government leaders. Districts who will be hit hardest by any spending cuts are not likely to have the money to pay WA's consulting fees even though they are the ones most likely to need "strategic" advice. They will have to rely upon the education philanthropies and government leaders to help them out of the financial bind. I wonder if anyone will advise them to restructure their local funding formula to be less reliant on other people's generosity.

Sources: http://febp.newamerica.net/background-analysis/school-finance

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Compare and Contrast The Holy/Unholy Relationship Between Jesus and Mary

Here's an assignment for you over the holidays as we are still in the Christmas season: compare and contrast the relationship between Jesus and The Virgin Mary.  You will need two points of view on their relationship.  From the University of North Carolina at Wilmington's Writing Center:

COMPARE Focus on all important similarities between the two concepts or
topics presented. Some professors may use just “compare” when
they really mean “compare and contrast,” which calls for
examination of differences as well.

DEFINE Give a clear meaning of a term or issue, with detail to indicate you
really understand it. A good definition should show limits or
restrictions of the term as well as some comparing and contrasting
elements. You may also use examples, but an example alone is an
inadequate definition.

There is a reason I used UNCW Writing Center's link.  One of the points of view on the Jesus/Mary relationship comes from a newly hired English literature professor at the university.

The first view (as heard in the Gospel lesson in the Fourth Sunday of Advent) Luke 1:39-45:

In those days Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country, where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth.  When Elizabeth heard Mary's greeting, the child leaped in her womb.  And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy spirit and exclaimed with a loud cry, "Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb.  And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me?  For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leaped for joy.  And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord."

The second view on the Jesus/Mary relationship is from Alessandro Porco, newly hired English literature professor at UNCW,  From PopMatters:

Tell us about your latest book:
My latest collection of poetry is Augustine in Carthage, and Other Poems (ECW Press), which will be officially released in late March / early April. It’s been four years since I finished writing The Jill Kelly Poems (ECW Press)—my book-length ode to the adult-film star affectionately referred to as “the anal queen.”

Basically, these little artifacts began as a dare and evolved into something quite lovely (albeit, depraved, too). As a whole, these limericks make The Jill Kelly anal-sex poems seems like a rather Victorian G-rated affair—hence, my nervousness. While I certainly don’t want to spoil anything (here’s my pitch: by the book to read what I’m talking about), I can give a hint of what I’m describing: e.g. the Holy Mother Mary satisfying Jesus and, maybe, just maybe, there may be some sexual intercourse involving amputees. If that sounds like something you’d be into, please do pick up the book (and, then, maybe you should see somebody)!

To compare and contrast, it is important to evaluate the information from your sources.  From the Writing Center:

EVALUATE React to the topic or problem in a logical way, applying theories or
principles learned in the course. If available, use other reliable
sources as well as your own reaction to support your statements.
Include reasons for your opinions and how and why you formed
your evaluation.

In researching the first view from the Bible verse, it would be helpful to research other verses and scholarly works about why Mary is considered blessed because of her relationship with Jesus.

In researching the second view of "the Holy Mother Mary satisfying Jesus", here is some information on Professor Porco from campusreform.org:

The University of North Carolina-Wilmington has hired an English literature professor whose pornographic poetry verse include fantasies of sexual relations with freshmen female students, an education watchdog (John William Pope Center) reported this week. (MEW note: for more poems by Porco and discussion on the professor's writings, access this link)

Professor Alessandro Porco, who was just hired by the UNC-Wilmington, has authored a number of explicit pornographic poems.

In Prof. Alessandro Porco’s poem “Hot Girl-Girl Action University” the fictional university president Jill Kelly offers a welcome to the freshman class.

“Who would say No to a gang-bang?
Who would say No to Prof. Poon-Tang?
Who would say No to my scholarly toungin’?
Thank you fathers for your daughters.”

That poem is part The Jill Kelly Poems, ranked 3,963,932 on Amazon, which chronicles the life of a porn star through poetry.

In another collection, Augustine in Carthage (MEW note: where Mary/Jesus poem appears), Porco included what he describes as the “21 of the filthiest limericks I could think to write.”

Does it seem to you that Professor Porco thinks women are used to satisfy others and themselves regardless of their relationships?  How would you feel about your 17 year old freshman daughter being taught by a man who might just view women as sexual beings used for his pleasure?  Oh, silly me!  It's based on a fictional female university professor so I take that to mean it isn't the professor's true beliefs and young women should welcome a different way of behaving and thinking about themselves, right?

An education watchdog group is not too happy with Porco's hiring at UNCW:

Jay Shalin, of the watchdog group the John William Pope Center for Higher Education Policy pointed out the controversial hiring in an opinion piece earlier this week and argued that parents should be wary of placing their young adults in the classroom with Porco.

“Parents should think twice about placing their impressionable offspring into the hands of Dr. Porco and his UNC-Wilmington colleagues who found him to be an acceptable,” wrote Shalin.

“[T]here is something disturbing and predatory—and all too real—about that line, when written by the lascivious Dr. Porco,” he added.

The university's response?

Campus Reform was unable to reach Porco for comment, but a spokesperson for the University of North Carolina -- Wilmington said the school had hired Proco based on his expertise.

He "was hired based on his record of scholarship, experience, subject matter expertise, and references,” Janine Iamunno, executive director for university relations, told Campus Reform in a statement on Friday.

“[W]hile some may disagree personally with the content of an individual’s writings, the content of those writings constitute protected speech,” Iamunno added.

Compare and contrast the two points of view on the Jesus and Mary relationship.  Is Mary The Holy Mother and Blessed or should she be seen to satisfy Jesus?

We would love to hear your comments.  One reader did point out that protected speech may only flow in one direction, but that's a subject for another day:

Mary Creekmore · Top Commenter · Toccoa Falls College

Disgusting that taxpayers have to support this. But let a conservative Christian professor try to get hired at UNC. Court Denies Conservative Pundit-Professor's Bias Claim Against University.
By Peter Schmidt.

A federal court has rejected a claim that the University of North Carolina at Wilmington committed viewpoint discrimination against Michael S. Adams, a prominent conservative commentator and associate professor of criminology, by denying him a promotion based partly on its review of online columns and other expressions of opinion that he included in his application to move up the ranks.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

How Public Education Got "Robert McNamara'd Into Submission" by the Elites/Intellectuals

Simon and Garfunkel were McNarmara'd in the 60's.  Taxpayers are currently being McNamara'd in education reform.

Neither Conservative Thomas Sowell or Liberal Mark Naison are happy with governmental control and the plan of the elites.   

Sowell thinks the intellectuals are to blame for our troubles...from Althouse:

"The more I study the history of intellectuals, the more they seem like a wrecking crew, dismantling civilization bit by bit — replacing what works with what sounds good."

Writes Thomas Sowell, in a column called "On Christmas, Liberals Are By No Means Liberal."
After watching a documentary about the tragic story of Jonestown, I was struck by the utterly unthinking way that so many people put themselves completely at the mercy of a glib and warped man, who led them to degradation and destruction. And I could not help thinking of the parallel with the way we put a glib and warped man in the White House.
Wow. That's harsh.
Here's the documentary about Jonestown. And here's Sowell's excellent book "Intellectuals and Society."

What caught my attention was Sowell's hrase "replacing what works with what sounds good".  Common Core Standards immediately came to mind.  Education reform wants to dismantle the 93% of Missouri school districts that were performing well so they can all be "common".  These standards may sound good...but why are we implementing standards that are unproven, untested and unfunded for those districts testing well?   

One of the reasons why CCSS is important to implement might be so the definition of what is historically important can be decided by private consortia.  (The history standards are currently under construction).  If your student doesn't know who Robert McNamara and McGeorge Bundy were, then he/she doesn't have the capability of linking of these mens' roles in the Kennedy/LBJ administrations' Vietnam War strategy to the roles of the elites in supporting Teach For America.  Liberal Mark Naison chimes in on the educational aspect of elitism and his apprisal of TFA, the "elite" cadre of teachers funded primarily by private corporations:

Teach for America Leaders-Are They the Robert McNamara's and McGeorge Bundy's of This Generation?

Increasingly, the leaders of Teach for America remind me of the Ivy League efficiency experts who brought us the Vietnam War, a war their children never fought in, just as the schools that TFA corps members are sent into, or the charter schools they found, are ones their own children would never attend. Here’s why: ********Robert McNamara, in the summer of 1965, recommended that the US send hundreds of thousands of ground troops into Vietnam, knowing that they could at best produce a stalemate, knowing that 10,000 American soldiers would be killed per year, to help protect its reputation as a "guarantor" of nations facing Communist aggression. However, would he have made that recommendation if he had know that his own son could have been one of those killed? Similarly, TFA leaders would never send their children to a school where the bulk of teachers have 5 or 6 weeks training and would be even less likely to send them to a school like KIPP where students spend an hour looking at the wall if they are disrespectful in class. ********Policies which claim to be in the “public interest” that only affect other people’s children and affirm race and class privilege, should be subject to the most careful kind of scrutiny. And that goes for the alternative certification route to teaching that only affects schools in poor neighborhoods, or hyper-segregated charter schools which promulgate a “no excuses philosophy” and implement a prison like discipline. 

Sowell and Naison agree on one issue: the intellectuals/efficiency experts are cut from the same cloth and cross political affiliations to control the lower class and maintain power. The takeover programs of education (Race to the Top, Common Core State Standards, Teach for America) are driven by a small number of private individuals/corporations propped up by public officials using taxpayer money without any taxpayer input and/or little legislative action. Whether or not you agree with the goals of these programs, many of these are mandates that have not borne the test of voter approval, even as taxpayer money is being used for implementation.

A foreshadowing comment McBundy made about the war may prove prophetic about current educational reform (unproven, untested and unfunded) policies of the elites (Obama, Arne Duncan, Michelle Rhee, David Coleman, Jeb Bush, Bill Gates):

He was crisply articulate, but there was one persistent young man, who resembled Trotsky, needling Mac with questions about the war. Mac finally cut him off saying, "Your problem, young man, is not your intellect but your ideology."

Later, as we were clinking highballs, the Trotsky look-alike cornered Mac: " What about Vietnam?" 

Bundy: "I don't understand your question." 

Trotsky: "Mac, what about (italics)you(end italics) and Vietnam?" 

Bundy: "I still don't understand."

Trotsky: "But Mac, you screwed it up, didn't you?" 

Glacial silence. Then Bundy suddenly smiled and replied: "Yes, I did. But I'm not going to waste the rest of my life feeling guilty about it." 

When he died, McGeorge Bundy was working on a book about the war whose main message was that Vietnam was a terrible mistake.

It's a loss that he did not live to write in full what he had learned from the Vietnam calamity.

Young men died in Vietnam fighting a war the elites knew could never be won.  Are students stuck in public education with elitist/intellectual reforms (that won't work to improve education) about to be sacrificed for a vision that cannot and will not work (for students) but create wealth for the educational reformers?  Do you think the elites and intellectuals will "waste the rest of their lives feeling guilty about it"?

Simon and Garfunkel's "A Simple Desultory Phillipic" or "I was Robert McNamara'd into Submission".

Monday, December 24, 2012

Peace in the Storm

Reprinted with permission from my friend Ed Martin.  

Dear Friend, 

This year, the pending holiday season found me feeling out of sorts. Black Friday turned into Black Thanksgiving Day, a sure sign we are losing our balance. Then came a raft of bad news, sad news, and outright horrific news that made this December feel bleak and ugly.

The economy is performing worse than was reported in the runup to the election. The president seems determined to run us over the fiscal cliff. Then reports came in from Newtown that broke our hearts.

In these weeks before Christmas, I kept asking myself how exactly can we honor what is the great mystery of the birth of Christ?

This is how I felt last weekend as I was shuttling kids to basketball practice, birthday parties, and other assorted activities. This cloud followed me as I ran my own errands shopping for a Christmas gift or two. It was a stone in my shoe I could not get rid of, which is a sure sign the Father is trying to get something through the distracting din of life.

Scanning the radio, I stopped on a Christian station. The preacher was explaining the story about the storm on the Sea of Galilee and the reaction of the men at that time. The preacher painted a vivid picture of making a living on the sea in that day. It was perilous, and storms were fierce and destructive. He explained how seasoned fishermen feared these storms. The preacher then brought to the listener the application. 

The preacher said, "The storms will be all around us. Our problems will seem beyond solving. But God can settle it all down. We will want to panic - or at least we will feel panic - just like the guys in that boat on the Sea of Galilee."

Indeed. I am not panicked, but I can see panic on the horizon. I can feel the drop in temperature as the wind of fear begins to pick up. The preacher continued his thought.

“But we need to have faith.” he said plainly.

That night, I read the verses in Mark (4:35-41) to the kids and talked about storms and boating. Our four children are under 8 years old. They somehow believe I know EVERYTHING, including all there is to know about seamanship and meteorology! Oh the questions they asked!

The question I asked myself is this - “Why am I afraid, do I not have faith?”

This man had the power to silence the wind and the waves. This man slept soundly in the storm, at peace knowing the Father had His loving hand on him. This man when roused from slumber rose up, calmed the storm and challenged his disciples to believe in His sovereign power and provision. The Christ was not indifferent to the storm, he was setting the example of knowing peace in the midst of the storm.

Our world is always at a critical moment. 2000 years ago was critical. So is today, and so will be tomorrow. We need to trust that the abyss of fear is not for the faithful. The storms have no power over the life we have been given by the Holy Master of the Sea.

The sweet baby boy heralded by angels, worshipped by wise men and shepherd alike, is the same man who broke the power of the storm, the man who destroyed utterly the eternal power of sin. We are offered peace in abundance. May you have His gift of peace on earth within your heart.

All the best.



Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays and Abundant Peace.
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