Friday, January 31, 2003
Have you been following the “bureaucrat revolt” going on in Oregon now that voters have turned down a huge tax increase and units of government, especially schools, are actually going to have to . . . gasp! . . . cut spending?
After Measure 28 failed recently, the teachers’ unions were going bonkers, threatening all kinds of draconian measures – teacher layoffs, program cuts, kids stacked on top of each other like Lincoln logs in overcrowded classrooms – and indeed, the Portland School District has announced that it will end the school year in early May.
The Portland area’s Multnomah County sheriff announced the early release of 114 prisoners from jail in a move obviously designed to scare people.
I find a lot of scary parallels between what’s going on in Oregon and what’s about to go on in Nebraska – scary as well as funny.
It goes like this: some friends of mine stood slack-jawed in downtown Portland last summer as a protest march went through the street, pinning them in front of their hotel for a few minutes. The marchers were – I kid you not – senior citizen gay and lesbian nudists.
The scary and funny thing was that only the two Nebraskans were paying them any attention. As a matter of fact, as I’m sure I would have been, too, they were laughing and pointing. They couldn’t HELP themselves. I mean, that is just not the typical thing that you expect to see when you come out of your downtown hotel to go out to dinner.
All I can tell you is, they didn’t order prunes that night.
But I digress. The reason I bring it up is that that’s the kind of thing that goes on in Oregon and nobody bats an eye. Oregon has already made me laugh a number of times with regard to some of the things that have gone on there with public education. Cottage Grove, Ore., for example, is infamous in education research circles as the home of Outcome-Based Education and its evil spawn, School-to-Work. Parents there withstood years of rampant grade inflation, dumbed-down curriculum, silly graduation requirements, mounting “incompletes” and tardies for lack of any semblance of academic discipline, and the steady slide down into public schools becoming politically correct on-the-job training centers instead of hallowed halls of civilizing, empowering liberal-arts education.
Oregon is famous for being the place where Hilary Clinton’s little buddies, including Ira Magaziner and Marc Tucker, were unleashed to turn their public schools into the educational equivalent of socialized medicine. It was the first state to have goofy, nonacademic graduation requirements and politically correct learning “standards” in place.
I remember laughing out loud when I read about one high school student who successfully met the high school graduation standard for demonstrating that he understood the scientific process by making a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. You read that right.
Parents were tearing their hair out over the end of true academics in high schools, with the traditional diploma replaced by two Nazi-style “work paper” designations. The “certificate of initial mastery” was to be given to students who “passed” all those “rigorous” standards at what we used to call the sophomore level. That CIM gave them the right to work at jobs during their last two years of what used to be high school, and receive credit toward graduation. They would paint cars, clean motel rooms, flip burgers, deliver bedpans and do other menial entry-level work instead of sitting in French class or chemistry or history. They’d get class credit for doing this donkey work, of course. At graduation, they would be given a “certificate of advanced mastery” or CAM which was sort of like a passport into the workworld. As I recall, you couldn’t get in to college without a CAM, either.
It was the epitome of dumbing down academics into nothing more than a job training system. The student’s attitudes, values and beliefs were assessed, remediated and reassessed as if the kids were on a factory assembly conveyor belt, getting picked up and inspected, tweaked, and put back on again for a while.
Instead of calculus, they were encouraged to “study” teamwork. Instead of the metaphors in John Donne, they were tested on how well they appreciated diversity.
No wonder people in Oregon grow up to become senior citizen gay and lesbian nudists on parade! I think they are literally being driven bonkers in that state by a totally whacked-out education system . . . the poster children of what happens when the leftists get control of the schools.
Which brings us to Nebraska. Because there’s one more thing about what happened to Oregon’s schools with the institution of Outcome-Based Education and School-to-Work ideology. And that is: school spending skyrocketed.
You can’t believe the extra paperwork, personnel, training, coordination, monitoring, programming, transportation, yada yada yada that come with these nontraditional distortions of K-12 education.
And guess what? We’re seeing evidence of the same thing happening in Nebraska’s public schools as we speak.
OBE and STW are the main reasons that Oregon’s schools got into a spending crisis. Without all that social engineering and governmental interference, schools could operate on probably half as much dough. All that additional nonacademic, nonproductive expense has piled a mountain of extra salaries and health benefits and retirement costs on the backs of taxpayers.
In Oregon, it was a two-fer: they nuked their school finances, and they nuked any semblance of academic excellence in their K-12 schools.
That’s not funny. It’s scary. Here’s what is also scary: it’s starting to dovetail just like that in Nebraska.
We have a big school spending crisis, too. All across the state, we are seeing the incredible cost increases and drag on academics brought by Outcome-Based Education – all those state standards and assessments that have everyone tearing what’s left of their hair out – and School-to-Work.
It’s already entrenched, and getting more so. We're just a couple of years behind Oregon, but if we don't do something now, it's coming. And soon. Take the typical Nebraska community of York. On Wednesday, the York News-Times carried a story about how kids who get sent to the alternative learning center run by York public schools will from now on be given a job for up to four hours a day. They will receive credit for their work, and if they complete the program successfully they will receive a “certificate of mastery” along with their high school diploma.
There it is!
There’s the CIM, the crazy Oregon make-a-sandwich-and-graduate stuff!
Employers are getting sucked in by the opportunity for cheap teenage labor, and the kids are getting sucked away from their birthright – a good, complete, well-rounded, challenging liberal-arts education that will maximize their opportunity for higher education, a good career and a happy life as a solid citizen.
It’s enough to make me want to strip off my shirt and march topless in front of the Capitol in Lincoln until somebody puts a stop to this sort of thing.
With my luck, they’d arrest me for indecent exposure. And unlike any of those revolting bureaucrats in Oregon – and I do mean revolting – who ignored the nudists in downtown Portland, here in Nebraska they’d probably throw me in jail.
With my luck, they’d probably put me in the Nebraska Women’s Prison, which happens to be in . . . drum roll, please . . . York.
But then again, not to worry. Nebraska’s taxpayers have had enough, just like Oregon’s. They’re likely to ix-nay new tax increases. At least, I hope so. But then, Nebraska’s bureaucrats are just as used to living high on the hog as Oregon’s. They are likely to revolt just like Oregon’s and let loose their prisoners as a political statement. Including, I would hope, me.
So it’ll all work out in the end, somehow.
But it sure would be easier on my nerves AND the sensitivities of capital city pedestrians who don’t want to see me do what I just threatened to do, if we would just hold the line on school spending, make sensible reductions in state aid to schools, get rid of all that statewide standard and assessment stuff, and fight off OBE and STW before things get too “Oregon-y” around here.
Anybody want to toast that with a tall glass of prune juice?
TRUTH IN SCIENCE EDUCATION 1, EVOLUTIONAHOONIEISM, 0
Score one for academic freedom in Nebraska science classrooms. Last summer, a vote by the State Board of Education to basically censor anti-evolution content by Nebraska teachers because the state's science standards are pro-evolution was met with dismay and disappointment.
But in late December, Gov. Mike Johanns wrote a letter to Nebraska State Department of Education Commissioner Doug Christenson making sure that Nebraska's schools would continue to allow BOTH sides -- or should we say ALL sides -- of the controversial issue of evolutionary theory to be taught.
He has issued a letter to that effect, in response, which is a good thing.
Read more about it from the Nebraska Family Council which worked with the grassroots group, Concerned Citizens for Objective Science Education led by Omahan Maureen Fritts to try to get some sanity into Nebraska's science standards.
School districts are gigantic employers in Nebraska, with the larger ones eclipsing even the largest of the private employers in the state, according to the Nebraska Department of Economic Development with its annual rankings of public and private employers.
The Omaha Public Schools maintains 8,073 jobs, making it much larger than the largest private employer in the state, Walmart of Lincoln, with 7,400 jobs.
Lincoln Public Schools' 4,970 staffers would make the capital city's school workforce rank eighth if it were a free-enterprise concern.
And only 18 private firms in Nebraska employ more people than the Millard Public Schools with 2,488.
Questions are being raised by tax watchdogs such as Joseph Elster of Millard about how come there have to be so darn many staff members per pupil in our public schools. He sent a letter to the Millard School Board this week, asking why taxpayers have to foot the bill for nonstatutory school activities -- things that schools don't HAVE to offer kids, but LIKE to.
Only the state, the feds and Offutt Air Force Base employ more public employees than the Omaha Public Schools. The combined total workforce of just the three largest districts in the state is 15,531, which would make just those three districts, combined, second only to state government in total employees.
Are our schools overstaffed?
Are we on a course that will engulf taxpayers with so many public jobs there aren't enough private salaries around to pay for them?
Does it have to be this way?
Can we drive education costs back to a reasonable level?
Couldn't our schools RIF employees who are NOT working in statutory, "must-do" jobs, and then seek donations from philanthropists, private companies and parents to cover the extras and pay those people on a contract basis?
If not, why not?
Thursday, January 23, 2003
SCHOOL PROBLEMS IN NEW YORK AND NEBRASKA: DITTO!
Be sure to catch the great essay by Sol Stern on New York City's educational woes, and Mayor Bloomberg's fascinating proposed solutions, on City Journal as picked up by the New York Daily News and other places.
Stern reports that New York City is spending $12 billion a year on its K-12 schools, or $10,000 per pupil, and yet 1,000 of its 1,200 schools are failing.
The mayor is proposing the elimination of 32 community school districts, the removal of redundant bureaucrats, stiff new controls on the procurement system, a lot more power to principals, and renegotiation of stifling union work rules.
I love this strong statement from Stern and see direct connections to Nebraska's educational situation:
"Bloomberg's speech is a vindication of sorts for those of us in the radical school reform movement who have insisted that the school system has plenty of money but not nearly enough accountability and competition."
BY POPULAR DEMAND:
TAKING NEBRASKA'S SCHOOLS PRIVATE: A 10-YEAR PLAN
By Susan Darst Williams
Comments and suggestions: firstname.lastname@example.org
Nebraska should become the first state in the nation to go back to the original American model of privately provided education.
Over a 10-year period, Nebraska’s K-12 public schools and educational infrastructure should be weaned off federal sources of funding entirely, and state sources in large part, and redirected to local control and funding.
What we now know as public school districts would be transformed into private, nonprofit corporations. They would contract for local property tax dollars as their key source of funding on an enrollment basis, as they do now. But they would in large part be free of two other layers of regulation by the significant reduction of federal and state funding.
It is believed that the system transformation, though massive, could be effected through changes in state law and would not require a change in the Nebraska Constitution.
It is also believed that the reduction or elimination of nonproductive and counterproductive regulations, mandates and bureaucracy would significantly improve conditions leading to academic excellence and significantly reduce spending per pupil across the state.
The purpose is to make Nebraska’s educational system the best in the country by giving schools the structures and strengths of private enterprise while avoiding the political and logistical problems of school-choice voucher systems.
In addition, the plan is geared toward reducing nonessential costs, eliminating a significant amount of regulation and paperwork, and freeing up funding for higher salaries for educational personnel.
State aid to education would be reduced by 10 percent per year until it reaches a level of funding to provide an acceptable level of statewide monitoring and regulatory infrastructure, but no more. It would likely stabilize at about 10 percent of existing levels.
The State Board of Education would be eliminated since there would be no more statewide control of curriculum, instruction or other K-12 educational pursuits.
The State Commissioner of Education would become an elected, rather than an appointed, position, reflecting the nature of the job and the constituency as provided in state law.
Accreditation and teacher certification regulations and processes would be streamlined into pro forma protections that focus on children’s basic safety and statutory academic requirements. The State Education Department’s rules and regulations would be similarly streamlined. This would minimize government interference in, and definitions of, educational goals and objectives, leaving that crucial responsibility to the private sector.
Nebraskans would not be subjected to federal education regulations beyond the general protections afforded by the U.S. Constitution. This would be the only way to avoid many of the onerous restrictions and requirements of the federal education legislation, No Child Left Behind, particularly the assured creation of a nationalized curriculum through the legislation’s provisions.
By withdrawing from federal and most state funding, then Nebraska’s controversial statewide learning standards, assessments and regulatory personnel would become moot and would be repealed.
Educators and taxpayers in each district would be free to set their own standards, choose their own methods of measurement of academic quality, and be subject to a sharply-reduced degree of governmental oversight. They would experience a lot less interference with curriculum and instruction, but basic health, safety and statutory compliance mechanisms would remain in place.
K-12 education would remain free of charge as long as the private, nonprofit school continued to accept property taxes, under the state constitution. However, it would be permissible for the school to charge tuition reimbursement for offerings that exceed the statutory minimum requirements in academics.
Local taxes would resume their status as the main funding source, although the private, nonprofit corporations would be free to seek private-sector grants and charge supplementary tuition for those programs and offerings, such as sports and extracurricular activities, that exceed statutory minimums. New and existing children’s scholarship funds could subsidize low-income families whose children wish to participate in those extra activities.
As another example, to make up for the loss of federal subsidies in the school breakfast and lunch programs, schools could charge parents the full price for those meals, and would be free to seek donations and grants to help cover food costs for low-income families that truly need it. Charges could be assessed for sports participation, field trips, debate competitions and all other non-core activities that enhance a student’s educational experience but are not minimal requirements thereto.
Nebraska would end the procedure of “option enrollment” which allows students whose parents live and pay property taxes in one district to “opt in” and attend another district, requiring those property taxpayers to subsidize that student. This system is unfair, un-American and has damaged parental control of schools and unity within the student body. Students who live within the boundaries of a school district should be free to attend any school within that district, but not to attend a school in another district without paying full tuition reimbursement.
Doesn’t that mean that students in low-income districts are “stuck” in substandard schools? No more than they are now. But the privatized system does give those children a better chance at obtaining the educational basics that they need, with the social engineering and political correctness stripped away for lack of federal and state funding. It is hoped that private children’s scholarship funds will continue to grow in donations and influence, making it possible to send more and more students to the truly private schools, such as parochial schools, and if the inner-city schools can’t deliver academically or economically, then they shouldn’t be operating in the first place.
It should not be assumed that the entire K-12 system in Nebraska would be forced to change to the new design. The changeover would be made a matter of local choice. Voters in each Nebraska school district would be given the option to keep their district the way it is or to undertake a 10-year plan of transforming the district into a private, nonprofit corporation. If they vote for the former, then state aid would continue in its present form, only it would be collected solely from the residents of that district. Those residents of districts that have voted to “go private” would no longer be subject to the full degree of statewide taxes bound for educational regulation, but merely a fraction of the former amount of state taxes they used to pay, to be reserved to provide continuing infrastructure monitoring and regulation of all Nebraska schools as needed.
If a district’s residents vote to “go private,” however, then the assets of that district would be transferred from government accounting funds to the newly-formed corporation. Fiduciary responsibility would be vested in the elected school board.
The plan would require a funding structure that would require a continued flow of state dollars to cover existing long-term costs of the districts, including debt service and pension obligations. But beyond that, each private, nonprofit corporation would be funded with equity in the form of existing school lands, buildings and contents to be “gifted” from the public trust.
What’s envisioned is the collateralization of the more than $3.7 billion worth of public-school buildings and contents that Nebraska taxpayers have invested in the schools, as recorded on
Part of the enabling legislation would require a significant increase in public accountability with regard to sources and uses of funds, and educational performance as measured by objective data, which are not now readily obtainable by voters and taxpayers. Each district would be required to be subject to a performance audit each year, with the costs borne by the State Lottery Fund.
Examples for expanded publication of facts and figures to ensure better accountability to the public for expenditures of the public schools: spending per pupil, staff-to-child ratio, ratio of full-time classroom instructors to total staff, administrative spending per pupil, vehicle and computer allocation, the percentage of children who are not reading at grade level, the percentage of dropouts, the percentage of that district’s graduates who have to take remedial courses in college, and the percentage who eventually graduate from college.
Districts could take advantage of economies of scale with buying co-ops, training co-ops, and other consortia. Educational personnel would be free to accept or reject union representation, and school leaders would have significantly more freedom and flexibility to offer employment packages that combine salaries, benefits and working conditions as they see fit.
As far as higher education is concerned, two provisions of the plan would help in the preparation of new teachers: (1) collapse the University of Nebraska’s College of Education into the College of Arts and Sciences and make education a major within that college, but an education degree would no longer be a prerequisite to be hired in any Nebraska school, and (2) require a semester course in teaching reading with systematic, intensive, explicit phonics for any education major.
Three special student groups would especially benefit from the changeover, although it may seem paradoxical that receiving less funding -- no federal or state tax dollars – would actually be beneficial for these groups. They are: low-income children, special education children, and non-English speaking children. Ironically, it would be in the best interest of these student groups to withdraw from federal funding and, because of the incentives within it to perpetuate mediocrity, state funding as well:
-- It has been demonstrated that Title I, the chief governmental aid source for disadvantaged children in our schools, has actually been counterproductive. The achievement gap between rich and poor has actually widened in recent years largely because federally-funded Title I programs use remedial strategies that have been shown countless times by empirical research not to work. Disadvantaged children need the same academic foundation that all children need: learning to read with systematic, intensive, explicit phonics in a traditional, teacher-directed, orderly classroom in the early grades. By continuing Title I funding in our grade schools, we are perpetuating the whole language, constructivist, chaotic, child-centered system that has obviously failed and has delivered neither academic nor social benefit to any children, and especially has hurt our disadvantaged children, whose homes can’t begin to compensate for the skills they are no longer receiving in schools the way middle- and upper-class homes can. There is nothing wrong with disadvantaged children that the proper methods of teaching reading, writing and arithmetic won’t fix. That doesn’t require extra funding and it doesn’t justify accepting all the strings attached to federal funding.
-- Special education students in Nebraska fall into two camps: the legitimate, medically-diagnosable special-needs child with demonstrable medical conditions such as mental retardation, physical handicaps, or speech and language difficulties. Facilities and programs are already in place in schools to serve their needs, although there is contention over whether these services are adequate. The reason funding for legitimate special education may indeed be inadequate is the explosive growth in the largest special-education category –- “specific learning disability” –- which didn’t even exist a few years ago. The public knows them as Attention Deficit / Hyperactivity, Dyslexia, Behavior Disability, Oppositional Defiance Disability, Conduct Disorder, and so on. These so-called learning disabilities, both cognitive and behavioral, are ironically caused, provoked and exacerbated by failed methods –- whole language, whole math, constructivism, child-centered education, and others -- and are not “caused” by children having anything wrong with their brains or coming from troubled homes. That explains why students used to be able to read, write and figure so much better in the past despite much greater levels of poverty in the past. It’s because the right methods were being used in their classrooms. It’s true that there have always been problem homes, but at least there used to be good schools. Now, many kids have problem homes AND problem schools. Ths is largely because of the “bounty system” of special education, in which districts are “rewarded” with more federal funding for diagnosing more and more students with “learning disabilities.” As a result, the “learning disabilities” category is threatening to collapse the whole system. A child said to have “dyslexia” may cost the system tens of thousands of extra dollars, K-12 . . . but the cure for dyslexia is systematic, intensive phonics -- which the child didn’t get because the schools aren’t teaching with it. So many boys are said to have “learning disabilities” and get into behavioral problems simply because of the frustration and dissonance of not being able to keep up academically. But there is nothing wrong with those boys – they just were denied the skills they need, in early grade school. There is nothing wrong with SLD students that proper teaching methods and disciplinary techniques won’t fix. Local districts are much more able to come up with strategies for handling students with serious behavioral difficulties on their own, including development of their own in-house alternative learning settings and contracting with regional schools set up for this purpose; these schools may indeed be federally- or state-funded, and by sending problem students to them the problem of inflicting expensive solutions on all just to serve the needs of a few can be solved. Proper academic and disciplinary methods do not require extra funding. Therefore, we can end federal funding for SLD without harm or damage to any student, and ironically improving the educational opportunities for all. The needs of the legitimate special-education categories can continue to be met in their individual schools, and part of the 10-year plan is to transfer administrative and regulatory control over special ed in Nebraska to the Educational Service Units for specialized expertise.
-- One of the biggest new expenses in Nebraska’s K-12 schools is service provided to students whose main language is not English, or who don’t speak English at all. These immigrant children bring in federal grants for English as a Second Language program. But ESL funding carries with it enormous extra local expense, mandates and adjustments. Provision of extra staff and space can be onerous and intrusive of the educational needs of the children of American citizens and taxpayers. The ESL programs generally are on a “bounty” system which discourages the quick, efficient delivery of language proficiency, but instead rewards schools for keeping more students in the language programs for longer periods of time. Ironically, ESL programs appear to violate the Nebraska Constitution, which mandates that English shall be the language of our public schools. It is time to separate that function from the K-12 schools, and the funding that goes with it. It is not unreasonable to require a minimum level of English proficiency before enrolling a child in a public school, the way we require a minimum level of health protection in the form of vaccinations before we will allow enrollment. Those special schools could continue to receive the federal funding for language proficiency purposes, but the general public schools would not have to deal with the regulations and problems caused by that federal funding. Again, special schools could be set up to receive federal and state funding for bringing immigrant children up to speed so that they can participate in the general education classroom, but those schools should not be part of the K-12 structure.
Comments and suggestions: email@example.com
Go Big Ed has announced an open debate on the question of school choice for Nebraska. If you have thoughts pro or con, please email them to firstname.lastname@example.org for posting on this website. By way of introducing the series:
The key danger of school-choice vouchers is that the government will use them to infiltrate private schools and homeschools with the same brand of failed regulations and assessments which are now threatening to ruin our formerly-good public schools.
Many education advocates like the idea of putting the power and control of the money into individual parents' hands. But they fear the effect of the strings attached to money that originates as tax dollars. Even though government interference was minimal with the GI Bill after World War II, which would be a similar scheme, many education reformers don't believe the huge educational bureaucracy can resist its own nature and stay out of the process adequately.
It would be a calculated risk to create a vouchers system which would be sending tax dollars into new educational settings such as private schools and homeschools. Taxpayers would have to analyze the likelihood of such a system being able to ascertain cost-efficient use of those tax dollars without damaging or destroying the educational freedom and flexibility of
private schools and homeschools.
Another warning: government programs that start out sounding so good on paper, and assuring their status as "voluntary" or having a light paperwork load and so forth, have almost without exception proven in the long run to be harmful, expensive and intrusive. Many education analysts believe that would be the fate of any innovations that would use vouchers.
With these dangers and risks in mind, consider these points from Kevin Cassidy, a stay at home dad, and an inactive member of the Nebraska Bar. He offers a thoughtful endorsement of vouchers:
WHY VOUCHERS MAKE SENSE
By Kevin Cassidy
I think the answer to all the school issues is vouchers. The state government should collect taxes specifically for the education of children. That money should then be distributed to the parents for the education of their children from 5-18, ONLY. No more money for birth to twenty-one! The parents could then use their $4,000 voucher (for example, not $8,000)
to send their child to a public school or a private school or a homeschool. Homeschools need to be checked to prevent fraudulent use of money intended for educating children.
I think this system would make everyone happy.
1) The schools would have to compete for the students.
2) Unruly students have the money from the government but it would be their own fault if the schools refuse to enroll them. This particularly would make teachers happy because it answers the discipline question at all levels of education, public and private. You have a right to the money, not the right to be enrolled. If your kid is a pain, then you homeschool him!
3) Just as I have the right to use my Pell Grant to go to Creighton, one can choose Trinity or St. Margaret Mary's as well as Swanson or Harrison schools.
4) It would remove a whole level of bureaucracy from the government and cut down on costs. It would make each school a separate player and if you stink and can't get the kids you go out of business.
5) It also would expose the reality that many urban schools fail not just because of the teachers, but the horrible parents and students. King Elementary in OPS stinks just as much because of the attitude that getting an education is "acting white" as it does because of any deficiencies of its faculty. It is NOT all the NEA's fault although they aggravate many a bad situation.
6) We need to remember that the parochial school systems teach kids to read without all the extra and expensive bells and whistles of their public counterparts. If we had a bottomless pit of money it would not be such a big deal but it is wrong to keep spending more and more to fix the problem.
7) Some schools would try to fill the need for Special Ed. They have their right to $4k but not from birth to 21 and putting them all in one school would cut costs and offer them more help.
So what do you think about school choice? Sound off at email@example.com
Tuesday, January 21, 2003
MIDTOWN OMAHA TO SPOTLIGHT SCHOOL TAXES JAN. 27
Residents of central Omaha will have an opportunity to voice their concerns about taxes and where they think school spending can be cut at a town hall meeting Monday, Jan. 27. The 7 p.m. meeting is planned in the St. Edward's meeting hall at the northwest entrance to Holy Cross Church, 48th and Woolworth.
Sponsored by Taxwatchers Inc., the meeting is intended to draw taxpayers in subdistrict 8 of the Omaha Public Schools. The area runs from Dodge Street south to Grover Street, and from 33rd Street west to 72nd Street.
The OPS board member from that district, Mary Ellen Drickey, has been invited, as has State Sen. Chip Maxwell.
If you cannot attend but wish to share your ideas, contact Taxwatchers care of Wally Fritsch, firstname.lastname@example.org
DO YOUNG RETIREES HAVE THE ANSWER -- START THEIR OWN SMALL SCHOOLS?
(A 60-year-old grandmother in northeast Nebraska was listening to me talk on Omaha radio station KCRO, 660 AM, Monday about the future of public education, and how I think the system is broken and we need to privatize it and get kids into private schools and home schools. Here's her response:)
" For several months now I have felt . . . I don't know if I should call it a 'call' on my life or what . . . but it's getting more overwhelming by the minute as I observe the stuff going on even right in this tiny town . . . to grab whatever child I can get my grandmaw hands on and set up a homeschool right here in my house.
"I am 60 years old, with only a smattering of college education as a Licensed Vocational Nurse and that was 40 years ago. And sometimes I can be a real basket case if I get overwhelmed with stuff.
"But I want to do this. Am I nuts???
"Here's why . . . I was visiting with my neighbors last night. They have four children, ages 10 to 13. The subject of home schooling came up. The 13-year-old girl promptly stated that 'there is no socialization for a home schooled child.'
"OK . . . where did she hear this? At school? Sure makes me wonder.
"The 10-year-old has been diagnosed with ADD and put on Ritalin, and after two months told by the family physician she had to 'wean herself off it' as it was damaging her liver!
"I watched the three girls most of last week while their brother was having surgery on an ear in Omaha. The 'socialization' they were talking about consisted of trying every way they could to sneak around and get boys over to their house alone . . . on the phone or internet constantly . . . every time I was not right there riding herd on them.
"There is a continual whirlwind of football games, basketball games, volleyball games . . . and they have the 'gotta have its' . . . like Nikes and Skechers (or is it Screechers?) and ad nauseum.
"It's the same with every young child in this town. By 15 when they get their learner's permits you can find them cruising all night in their or their parent's cars, at least 50 MPH down our residential street, looking to pick up some member of the opposite sex.
"Socialization, huh? Can you spell 'anarchy,' out of control, materialistic, God-forsaking little hedonists who can't even read???
"And yet I see in most of them a spark, still, of innocence . . . of 'reachability' if that is a word, for Jesus. I see tender hearts that are not quite yet set in concrete. I want get to them before the hardness sets in.
"Again I ask . . . am I nuts???"
Well? Is she? Share your thoughts: email@example.com
Monday, January 20, 2003
(I was on a radio station this afternoon, Omaha's KCRO, 660AM, to talk about my plan to take Nebraska's public schools private over the next 10 years. I received many thoughtful emails (firstname.lastname@example.org) and wanted to share this one. My plan is based on the belief that the public school system is broken and can't be fixed, but that private schools are doing the things that should be done. But here is a slightly different point of view from a mother of four.)
"I have had experience with two different public schools and four different private schools. I am not all that happy with the private schools anymore and wonder if the money is worth it!
"The things people complain about with a public school education -- sex, drugs, and unruly, obnoxious kids as well as parents -- are in the private schools as much as in the public! My 14-year-old daughter one day mentioned that (her private) school wastes time talking about not smoking (cigarettes) when they ought to be talking to them about not smoking pot or not having sex as she knew kids doing both! (Yes, I took that opportunity to have an indepth discussion about that!)
"My 11-year-old son was invited to a birthday party last year of a (private) school friend . . . but it turns out that the parents were taking six boys to Hooters! I have friends who have told me horror stories of the kids 'making out' in the school halls . . . drinking at grade school dances . . . and this is in PRIVATE grade schools with 13-year-old kids!
"The education doesn't appear to me to be any better than what I have seen in public school. For example, the private school has gone the way of requiring Spanish (starting in kindergarten!) when the kids haven't learned English, computer training when they cannot write yet, and while I don't have a problem with those subjects fundamentally, they take away from the curriculum and the kids are not learning basics.
"My kids can't speak Spanish but they've had three years of it. Their spelling went right down the tubes when they no longer had Spalding (a phonics program). The religion education even leaves something to be desired. They may go to Mass once a week but young kids watch PG-13 movies on the weekends and play Teen- and Mature-rated Nintendo games at home. My own boys were banned by me from not going to one of their friends' houses whose dad has Playboy all over the place! They are not being taught morals or ethics or even just manners anymore.
"Our private grade school, in my humble opinion, hires the low end of the teachers because they simply cannot afford to get better. The better teachers go to the public school system for more pay which is entirely understandable given the fact that if you were mixed in with both types parents and kids you wouldn't be able to tell any difference.
"My point here is that parents have turned into 'wienies.' They don't pay attention, they have dropped their standards, they want to be their child's best friends. The school just goes along . . . I don't know why, but they have turned into 'wienies' as well! The voice of a parent with standards and ethics and morals is in the minority. (Money does NOT talk, in my experience.) I can't tell you how many times I have had my child's friends here overnight and no parent calls to check into who I am, if I'll be here the whole time, etc. Most don't even call -- they just drop their kid off and come back the next morning to get them. (I have buddies who say they run into the same thing.)
"I complained about an R-rated movie being shown to seventh graders on a (private) school bus trip! The parent chaperoning brought it and the school ignored me when I complained. And yet our family has given generous donations over the years. It just doesn't make sense.
"I won't say I am entirely innocent, either. It is tough to police kids when the whole world seems to have lost their minds.
"So, I don't know. The ideas you have are great as far as funding but there's a real problem in society today . . . and I really think it's apathetic parents . . . and the same apathetic parents who haven't the energy to police their children are ironically the ones who'll be yelling loudest at you to lighten up and stop being so straight-laced. You'll find them in both school environments.
"Parents not only need to get involved in the education system, they need to get involved with their own kids, and I don't mean making sure Johnny is the number one soccer player! Our priorities are messed up and until that's fixed . . . I don't think the schools can get fixed."
Friday, January 17, 2003
TAKING NEBRASKA'S SCHOOLS PRIVATE
TOPIC 2: AUDIT STATE AID TO EDUCATION
It’s not just ludicrous that the State of Nebraska doesn’t carefully audit state aid to education. It’s downright stupefying that we don’t, especially with our gigantic state budget deficit, fed-up tax climate, iffy economy and nasty drought.
These are the times when we should be measuring and moderating the money flow from state tax coffers out to the public schools. But instead, it’s as if we’ve left the Hoover Dam gushing out money on its own for years . . . and now it’s about to break.
The amount of waste and fraud in K-12 education that proper audits are uncovering in other states is enormous. The mismanagement and lack of accountability those audits are disclosing should be red flags to Nebraskans that it is time to find out if the same sorts of things are going on here.
Ah, but Nebraskans are so honest, you say. True enough. But think about it: Nebraska’s K-12 schools are spending $1.9 billion altogether this school year, and nearly one-third of that was funded by state tax dollars -- $662 million in state aid this school year. You can’t say, with a straight face, that not a dime of waste, fraud or mismanagement was involved in all that spending.
But how would we know for sure? We don’t audit all that money. We can’t. We need a change in state law to do that.
Ah, but districts already do their own audits, you say. No, they don’t. They do pro-forma checks. Their “audits” just check that they spent what they said they spent. They don’t get in there and dig and spot the inconsistencies. They don’t follow the money trail and report on its twists and turns – they just confirm to the people who are spending all the money that the money trail is there.
Well, we need a whole new road crew of inspectors, that’s for sure. We need much more businesslike accounting methods for our K-12 school districts and state education bureaucracies, and much more accountable financial reporting to the public about how our tax dollars are being spent. What’d we buy them all that technology for, if not to keep better track of where the money’s going?
Shed the light of day on their spending, and poof! Watch a lot of the stupid stuff disappear.
And here’s how it could be done:
State Auditor Kate Witek is already totally up to speed with the need for performance audits for state spending. Her office is where the power to audit state aid ought to be placed – never with the state education commissioner or state board of education. This is a management oversight function, not a political football. State ed officials have already demonstrated with excruciating clarity that fiscal accountability to the public is not their “thing.”
But how to pay for the additional staffing such an audit system would create? Easy. Stop giving away bonehead fluff grants through the State Lottery Fund -- $84.7 million of absolute waste since the lottery began nearly 10 years ago frittered away through the Education Innovation Fund, as you can see on the Nebraska Lottery Website -- and devote that money to a K-12 accountability fund controlled by the State Auditor.
State lottery grants to K-12 schools are supposed to be for “innovative” programs. Hah. Instead, lottery grants have funded many of the dumbest “school deforms” in Nebraska, all across the state. Most of it has gone for Goals 2000 social engineering and political correctness programs that have damaged and destroyed many of the solid, traditional academic programs that kids need and parents want the most.
But here’s what’s worse: lottery grants are one-year grants. It’s bad enough that the bonehead stuff can get funded for one year, through lottery proceeds. What has happened, almost without exception, though, is that after the lottery grant runs out and the money dries up and is gone, the local school district has just stepped in and picked up the tab and added it to their budgets and kept the newly-hired staff on board and kept the bonehead new fluff program going even though it hasn’t added a particle of quality to the educational in-baskets of the kids.
So lottery funds have actually DAMAGED educational quality and INCREASED educational budgets. That doesn’t do a LOT for me. Does it you?
Much, much better to spend our “vigorish” from the lottery on finding out how districts and the state ed department are spending our dough.
They wouldn’t have to audit every district every year. A spot-check basis will do. They wouldn’t have to audit every dollar spent in every department of the targeted district. They would just look for those “Colombo Clues” that suggest that something is not quite right.
If you are skeptical that auditors of the nearly $2 billion in K-12 school spending in Nebraska would never find a thing amiss and that everything is hunky dory, just glance down the attached list of what audits in OTHER places is turning up.
We oughta audit, people. We really oughta.
WASTE, FRAUD, MISMANAGEMENT, EMBEZZLEMENT, ETC.
The following six examples are from the Chicago-based Heartland Institute in a July/August 2001 article entitled “Accountability, Fraud and Mismanagement”:
-- A 1999 audit revealed that there was a $6 billion discrepancy between what the U.S. Department of Education said it spent, compared to what the U.S. Treasury said it spent. This was in the wake of charges against 11 federal education employees accusing them of defrauding the DOE of more than $300,000 in property and more than $700,000 in false overtime.
-- The FBI is investigating the San Francisco School District after an audit revealed that $27 million of “school improvement funds” was spent on administrative salaries and overhead without school board approval, another $14.6 million of construction funds is unaccounted for, and the district bought three properties with no demonstrated use for them.
-- A former deputy education commissioner for the State of Kentucky was alleged to have embezzled more than a half-million dollars in state education funds because of shoddy accounting practices within the state education department.
-- A state audit of the Massachusetts Department of Education revealed that the technology division may have wasted as much as $9 million on questionable expenses, including parties and trips.
-- The Miami-Dade County Public Schools overpaid for land in 11 out of 14 cases for a total overpayment of $7 million, according to an audit.
-- The former business manager of the Bay Path Regional Vocational High School in Charlton, Mass., pleaded guilty to embezzling $5.4 million from school accounts to build a stable of 40 racehorses.
There are many more examples:
- From Education Intelligence Agency: an FBI investigation triggered by an audit showed well in excess of $2 million has been diverted from the District of Columbia teachers’ union by union officials. While health-care premiums, pensions, rent and utilities went unpaid, union staff apparently purchased for themselves art, jewelry, furs, custom-made clothing and shoes, $150,000 in purchases from Neiman Marcus, $25,000 in dry cleaning, $57,000 in Tiffany silverware, a 50-inch, $13,000 plasma TV, and other goods.
-- From Education Week: An FBI investigation in the Dallas Public Schools produced 15 convictions, including one for the former superintendent, as district employees illegally collected millions of dollars in phony overtime, the superintendent spent $9,440 in district money to buy herself bedroom furniture, and a roofing contractor was shown to have improperly billed the district for $380,000 (Dec. 12, 2001) . . . and one of the largest school embezzlement schemes ever prosecuted took place in Sumter, S.C., resulting in 15 people convicted, including a popular state-champion football coach and the assistant superintendent for fiscal affairs in a case involving at least $3.5 million misdirected into New Orleans call girls, 80 gambling junkets to Atlantic City and other places, phony student travel vouchers, phony post-office boxes and so forth (Jan. 31, 2001).
-- "Grand Theft Education: Wasteful Education Spending in California” by Lance Izumi, Pacific Research Institute, November 2002.
-- A jury in California last month delivered a multi-million dollar judgment against the former state superintendent of public instruction and her department for persecuting and demoting a whistleblower who uncovered misappropriation and disappearance of federal funds from 1995 to 2000; that official allowed her own audits division to conduct no on-site audits of any school district for four years (Orange County Register, Jan. 13, 2003)
Also from the
Friday, January 10, 2003
DON'T BE DISMAYED BY NEBRASKA'S LOW RATINGS IN 'QUALITY COUNTS'
The major education newspaper, Education Week, publishes an annual report on the status of K-12 public education with tons of rankings state by state. It's called "Quality Counts." You can see it for yourself at:
This year, Nebraska fares very poorly on several measurements because of our "unique" assessment system. Instead of succumbing to the pressure of the federal educrats to knuckle under to the new federal curriculum and match a statewide, high-stakes assessment to it . . . the absolute bonehead thing to do, but unfortunately most states have done it . . . Nebraska took the Gomer Pyle course of action: sooprise, sooprise, sooprise -- we're going to develop our OWN bonehead system. So each district in the Cornhusker State is mutating its own assessment system in its own bonehead way and now it's a horrible mess that doesn't provide parents any accountabilitiy at all and is hurting kids.
But I digress. The point is, because Nebraska hasn't adopted the same nationalized, matchy-poo "standards" enforced by Politically Correct, Nazi-style national "assessments" pushed by radical left-wing socialists the way most other states have, Nebraska gets a crummy rating in "Quality Counts." So does Iowa, for the same reason.
But it doesn't matter.
Largely because of the qualities of Nebraska families -- solid demographics, good educational attainment by parents, not so much poverty, not so many immigrants, relatively stable family life compared to other states -- our schools actually have a pretty superior performance compared to those in other states on straight-up comparisons, such as the ACT.
Indeed, Nebraska seniors averaged a 21.7 score on the ACT test last time, while Louisiana seniors averaged a pitiful 19.6. Now compare their Quality Counts scores: Nebraska 52, Louisiana 92.
See? It's balderdash.
Similarly, New York got a 97 on the standards and accountability ratings in Quality Counts, but only 64% of its eighth-graders went on to graduate from high school in one recent measurement . . . while 84% of Nebraska eighth-graders got that sheepskin on time.
We have plenty of problems with our assessment system in Nebraska, and in fact, I have two strong recommendations for it:
1) Scrap it.
2) Buy Iowa Basics tests from pre-1965, when the nationalization of America's schools began, and give THOSE to kids as a true measurement of academic achievement.
It's OK to let Nebraska be a laughingstock for the unique way we've screwed up our assessment system. But let the record show: we haven't screwed ours up anywhere near as much as most states have.
Thursday, January 09, 2003
TAKING NEBRASKA'S SCHOOLS PRIVATE:
THE 'WHY' AND THE 'HOW'
As the Legislature reconvenes and begins to grapple with Nebraska's gigantic budget deficit, I begin a series of stories about public education in Nebraska, why we should begin a 10-year process of privatization, and how that can be done.
Topic 1: Special Education
In the 1992-93 school year, Nebraskans spent $128.1 million on special education in our K-12 public schools. That zoomed up to $205.2 million by the 2000-01 school year, a 60.13% increase.
Special education spending amounted to 17.7% of total K-12 education spending in Nebraska in 1992-93, but in the eight years since then it increased to 21.1% of the total ed bill, fueling the lion's share of the increase in expenses for public education.
The sad thing is, an estimated 80 percent of the kids labeled "special ed" do not have a medically-discernible physical disability at all. They aren't deaf, mentally handicapped or physically disabled. They just can't read very well. But it's not their fault: brain scan research is showing that the scans of dyslexic children transform into identical patterns with kids who read well, once the "dyslexics" have been taught to read properly, with systematic, intensive, explict phonics and a content-based curriculum.
"Learning disabilities" and their accompanying problems, both behavioral and social, miraculously disappear once the child is taught to read, in other words.
In the few schools around the country where kids are taught to read properly, with phonics only, the referrals to special ed by teachers who think a child is "learning disabled" drop to nearly zero.
There are significant financial incentives for getting more and more kids labeled "LD," with the most-often cited "advantage" the fact that there is federal reimbursement for some of the expenses. But think what we're doing: making kids dysfunctional and more expensive to educate, just because there's money in it for the education system.
Shame on us. Shame, shame.
We just cannot, will not, must not let this "phony special ed" continue, not even one more year. It is one of the chief reasons Nebraska's K-12 funding is in such a mess. Cutting off the funding for what is hurting kids would not only save tens of millions, but makes the most sense from a public-policy standpoint . . . especially if you care a rat about kids.
Now, the most compelling argument I have ever heard for sticking with our system of public funding for public schools is that to shift everything to the private sector would be disastrous for the real special education students -- the medically-disagnosed ones -- and their families. I totally agree.
Under my plan for privatization, over a 10-year period we would reduce state aid to education by 10 percent per year, per pupil, to zero in the 2014-15 school year. That's shocking, I know, and I'll report more on that idea later.
But for now, with regard to special ed: under my plan, statewide tax dollars would continue to pay for the needs of each special ed student that is above and beyond the annual cost of educating a nondisabled student, as figured from statewide totals reported to the State Ed Department. Accountability and policy for special ed students for those services that are specifically special-ed services would transfer from the locally-elected school boards, to the regionally-elected Educational Service Unit (ESU) boards. Those boards, by the way, now number 19 in Nebraska, but they should be reduced to three, one for each congressional district.
The point is that medically-diagnosable special education students would not be abandoned, under privatization. Responsibility and funding for them would be maintained at the state level with the state department of education and ESU staffs working in oversight with local districts to make sure their needs are met.
The difference would be this: there would no longer be a penny of state aid paid out for NON-medical special education.
I'm talking about the totally preventable and totally reversible conditions often labeled "specific learning disability," that are increasingly being exposed as not truly a physical, medically-diagnosable disability at all . . . but the consequence of boneheaded instructional methods in kindergarten and first grade.
Whole language, whole math and child-centered education have created this epidemic of "learning disabilities," and we need to cut off all funding to all schools which inflict those methods on kids and create this expensive dead weight that is dragging us all down in a sea of debt and overspending.
Bottom line: not a dime more state tax funding for any district that is not using systematic, intensive, explicit phonics, traditional classroom style, and content-based curriculum over the next 10 years, 'til we can wean our schools off the public teat once and for all.
For background, track your district's special ed spending on the State Education Department's financial website:
Annual Financial Reports
CONSENSUS IS GROWING . . . SPECIAL ED IS A BLACK HOLE
The author, a special education reading teacher in Michigan, granted me permission to reprint this article. I hope you'll send it to every educator and every parent you know.
The 'Black Hole' of Special Education
by Linda Schrock Taylor (email@example.com)
Recent news articles have discussed the possibility that two black holes might collide in a few million years. Although an interesting concept, this potential danger pales in the face of a real 'black hole' -- that of SPECIAL EDUCATION.
Every year, thousands of our children disappear into the vagueness of special placements, never to be released from the labels and stigma; never to escape and again be seen as "normal." Many teachers must notice this engulfing, this entrapment, of our children; some teachers must surely strive to defeat this grave and senseless closure on potential, but the problem is rarely mentioned or discussed.
A few months ago, the superintendent of our district stopped to ask how things were going. I said that it had been a good year; that I had just released three students from special education -- a 7th grader, a 9th grader, and an 11th grader -- and hoped to release more in the Fall. His surprise and shock were clearly evident. Mr. S. said, "Linda, these things never happen! -- well almost never! I recently asked a fellow superintendent if he ever heard of any kids getting OUT of special education, and that fellow said that it is very, very rare for that to happen." (That is an accurate assessment.)
My superintendent expressed regret that he had not known, and said that he would have attended each exit meeting to shake the child's hand and commend them for such hard work. I acknowledged his compassion, but noted that neither my building principal, nor the director of special education, saw importance in attending any meetings to congratulate these children who had earned their way out of special placements and labels. "They KNEW of the meetings?" he asked. (Of course they knew -- they always receive invitations.)
When I was next ready to release another student -- a 10th grader now reading at a 12.5 grade level -- the director removed the student from my caseload and enrolled him in a math class with mentally impaired students, even though this young man was in pre-algebra last year, and looking forward to algebra this year. His mandatory re-evaluation meeting was held without me and without the educational consultant -- but the meeting did include a general education teacher who had only known the boy for a couple of weeks. All might have been lost, but I not only teach my students to read, I teach them to believe in themselves and to advocate for themselves. This young man asked his mother to refuse to sign the paperwork, and to demand a new meeting, to which I would be invited. The new meeting was held, but we won only part of the battle. This student is back on my caseload so I can supervise his progress, and I am allowed to teach him algebra, on an Independent Study basis. However, even though this intelligent young man is no longer enrolled in any special education classes, he is still labeled "Learning Disabled," despite evidence to the contrary, and remains on the headcount for educational and Medicaid funding.
So, do not underestimate the strength of this black hole, and the power of federal monies -- education and Medicaid -- to create and sustain the energy force that entraps and holds these children.
Do notice how few honest steps are taken to bring about real reform -- ones that would actually, and effectively, educate American children in general, and special education students, in particular.
The most shocking and inexcusable aspect of the pretense, the lip-service, given to "accountability," is the dearth of professionals who actively attempt to get students OUT of Special Education. Few see any value in specifically structuring special education programs towards "repairing" and releasing children; few feel any urge to commend an exiting child; few see the importance of choosing curriculum and methods that would prevent the need for such programs in the first place.
My advice to parents of special needs children is to become knowledgeable about service models and what can be accomplished through closure-oriented instruction from a well-trained teacher. Understand that only a small percentage of American children are really disabled -- truly deaf, blind, physically impaired, etc. The majority of those enrolled in special education classes should only remain in special placement for a limited time -- just long enough for problems to be corrected and delays remedied.
I have a sign on my classroom door, "THIS IS A STEPPING STONE, NOT A RESTING PLACE." If, after testing and observation, it appears that a child's problems have been brought about, rather than being an aspect of the child's physical make-up, I tell the student that they probably have nothing "wrong" with them and that good gains can be expected. We have a "joke" in my room -- that most labels should probably read "TD" (Teaching-Disabled). I honestly believe that if most of these students had been taught to read in 1st and 2nd grades, and had been taught a knowledge-based curriculum, they would never have been labeled and ended up in a special class.
Changes in special education enrollment/entrapment will never come from the top, because a centralized government needs us to be dependent on the State in as many ways as can be invented, encouraged, legislated, and forced. Change might begin, though, when parents arrive at IEPC meetings prepared to ask tough questions; demand date-specific, written plans; and hold districts accountable for effective remediation and RELEASE:
What EXACTLY will be done to remediate my child's weakness?
What are the skills and success record of the teacher who will be in charge of my child's remediation?
Which measurable instruments of assessment will be used?
Please be sure to provide me with baseline and subsequent scores, in terminology that I can understand, preferably giving age or grade level equivalencies.
When do you expect to complete the remediation, remove the label from my child, and remove my child from special education placement?
Change will also begin when schools teach reading within appropriate time frames, using successful methods, rather than progressive fads. Change will begin when all children enter third grade, at the very latest, literate and prepared to "use reading to learn," rather than to still be "learning to read." Change will begin when everyone -- parents and educators -- reduce the number of students who come to the attention of those who gain by increasing special education enrollments. With any luck, the subsequent loss of monies will slow the spin, and weaken the strength, of this most dangerous and engulfing black hole -- "SPECIAL EDUCATION."
Linda Schrock Taylor [firstname.lastname@example.org] lives in Michigan, where she is a special education teacher, a free-lance writer, and the owner of "The Learning Clinic," where real reading and real math,are taught effectively and efficiently to all ages. Read more stories by her on LewRockwell.com
OMAHA WESTSIDE BIBLE CLUB CASE OFFERS OPPORTUNITIES
FOR FREE-SPEECH LEARNING BY KIDS
A federal lawsuit was filed Monday in U.S. District Court in Denver against a Colorado high school’s officials, who allowed a wide range of noncurricular clubs to operate there, including a Gay/Straight Alliance . . . but refused students’ requests last September to start a Bible Club.
The suit was filed against Monarch High School in Louisville, Colo., part of the Boulder Valley School District.
The American Center for Law and Justice appears to have smooth sailing toward a victory in its suit, alleging violations of the Constitution’s First and Fourteenth Amendments, and of the Equal Access Act.
Their case appears to be a winner, too, because of the 1990 U.S. Supreme Court case, Board of Education v. Mergens (110 S.Ct. 2356) in which officials of Omaha’s Westside Community Schools sued a girl named Brigid Mergens. She wanted to start a Bible Club at Westside and have the same access to the school newspaper, bulletin boards, public address system and annual club fair as other student-led clubs. Those clubs, such as the chess club, various political clubs and social clubs, involved students but do not directly relate to the body of courses offered at the school the way the Math Club and Spanish Club, for two examples, do.
Westside had egg on its face, bigtime, for opposing the Bible Club because of the Equal Access Act of 1984. It was passed specifically to prevent discrimination against religious and other types of speech. The Supreme Court ruled that Miss Mergens’ Bible Club could and should go on, with equal rights to all other clubs, as long as it didn’t become disruptive of the normal school day. If some clubs are allowed to put on panel discussions and hold meetings during school hours, it was reasoned, then ALL clubs must be given that same right, and all must be permitted to be pictured in the school annual and so forth.
Free-speech rights of students don’t end at the schoolhouse door. Far from it, as a matter of fact.
Besides the Omaha Bible Club case, a recent incident in Ann Arbor, Mich., clarifies the student club picture even further. Gay activists and certain school district employees at Pioneer High School tried to force the students’ Christian club there to censor their view that homosexual behavior is wrong and sinful. Their basis? The Ann Arbor school board had a “non-discrimination” policy, which the pro-homosexual activists argued was violated by the Christian kids’ assertions. But this past October, the Ann Arbor school board realized that what the homosexual activists wanted would amount to erasing the Christian students’ constitutional and federal statutory rights to free speech. You can’t put the political agendas of adults over the constitutional rights of students, in other words. Fortunately, the school board saw that and changed their policy, avoiding a lawsuit.
However, another lawsuit against that Michigan district is pending over the same issue: because school officials allowed pro-homosexual adults purporting to be clergy to monopolize a panel discussion during school hours for students on “homosexuality and religion,” and specifically denied the right of those with other points of view a voice in the event, the Thomas More Law Center (www.thomasmore.org) filed suit on behalf of student Betsy Hansen and her mother on constitutional grounds.
That suit also appears to have smooth sailing toward victory.
In the words of the ancient scholars: duhhhhh!
These cases just point to excellent learning opportunities for students, parents and educators, about our most precious freedom, the rights guaranteed by the constitution’s First Amendment. There are plenty more places for parents and taxpayers to educate themselves about students’ free-speech rights, especially with regard to the important and controversial clash over whether it is good or bad to allow homosexual activism inside public-school buildings. See especially:
American Center for Law and Justice (click “Student Rights”)
The Rutherford Center (click “Students’ Rights in Public Education”)
But here’s the key opportunity:
Since these court cases make it clear that it violates an individual student’s constitutional rights to freedom of speech and association to ban both a non-disruptive, student-led Bible Club and a non-disruptive, student-led Gay-Straight Alliance, school officials need to wake up, back off and let the free speech rock ‘n’ roll, as long as it doesn’t disrupt school or violate discipline policies.
Then let the ones who really matter in all of this get in there and do some actual learning – and teaching – within these clubs.
By that, I mean Christian students ought to be joining the Gay-Straight Alliances with an intent to find common ground and point the way toward truth as they see it. And pro-homosexual students ought to be joining the Bible Club . . . with an intent to find common ground and point the way toward truth as THEY see it. Get the adults and the political activism out of the picture, and focus on the learning and the students. Watch the decibel level come 'way, 'way down. Both views of the truth would have an opportunity to influence the clubs’ activities so that nobody’s rights are infringed and the truth can come out.
Guess which truth will win out?
Give the kids and the conflicting points of view a level playing ground. Believe in kids, and let them work together. You’ll be glad you did. So will our country.
MATH FACTS GURUS COMING TO NEBRASKA
Does your district suffer from "chimp math"? If so, how can you get rid of it? Around the country, the model has been that one parent investigates a bad math curriculum and makes it a personal mission before the school board to get it stopped so that the district can go back to a real math program, such as Saxon Math (www.saxonpub.com).
Is that you? If so, go for it!
Good news: one of the best staff development companies in the country for teaching teachers how to teach math the correct way is coming to Nebraska twice this spring. Otter Creek Institute comes to Lincoln Jan. 17 and to Omaha April 21.
For more, see: /a>
'CHIMP MATH' Slips On a Banana
Are children in your school getting real math? Or math so easy that a chimpanzee could do it?
The old term was "fuzzy math. Now the term "chimp math" refers to the pervasive "whole math" philosophy that censors the teaching of math facts and practical foundational skills from students, including memorization and lots of repetition. Unfortunately, "chimp math" is in place in schools all across Nebraska now.
Sure signs: students will be engaged in a lot of dreary, hands-on "projects" in which students supposedly teach each other, group discussion is valued over individual concentration and problem-solving, there are non-math assignments such as essays about math, textbooks with lots of color pictures but not too many problems to work and no explanations so that parents might help with homework, and lots of brain teaser-type questions that would never translate to a real-world application.
The national wave of outrage against curricula like Everyday Mathematics and Interactive Mathematics continues to build to tsunami force. Be sure to check out /a> for more.
Wednesday, January 08, 2003
SCHOOLS ARE FOCUSING ON THE WRONG MOLD
They've found a whole bunch of mold growing in some portable classrooms in Papillion, Neb., and have had to shuffle kids off to makeshift locations while they clean and disinfect to prevent further health problems. This has been going on for some time now in public schools in the South, and raising concerns, as it should, about school maintenance practices and basic environmental health for our most vulnerable citizens, our children.
It's good that they're getting rid of the mold. But guess what? They're missing a much bigger infestation of it . . . in the way our public schools are structured and governed.
That's right: the mass production model of education is as moldy as a loaf of bread left over from the 1960s. That's when LBJ's Great Society got the ball rolling in everything from education to health care to start us on the road toward socialism. Unfunded federal mandates, counter-productive federal entitlements, onerous federal regulations and expensive federal bureaucracies have made a thick, diseased coating around what used to be the cheap, simple process of educating our young people.
It was never supposed to be this way: the Tenth Amendment bars the federal government from getting involved in local matters, chiefly education. Fed ed and fed aid are unconstitutional and never should have gotten the chance to damage our schools in the first place.
Sometimes, you can clean mold away and if it hasn't been growing too long, it'll stay away.
But sometimes, whatever has gotten moldy -- like last month's bologna -- is no good any more no matter what you do, and has to be thrown away.
Have our schools reached that stage?
Can you spell "Oscar Meyer"?
We don't need a whole bunch of new taxes and staff and assessment systems and all that kind of money-draining, time-wasting stuff to turn our schools from mold into gold.
We need to do one simple thing: privatize.
I came across this free, fun website by a longtime teacher, Rory Donaldson. I have one caveat: he is a fan of the Direct Instruction method promulgated by Siegfried Engelmann, and I don't really like that because it's too scripted and based on a mind-numbing stimulus-response style of teaching. But I still like a lot of Mr. Donaldson's content:
Tuesday, January 07, 2003
'FED ED: THE NEW FEDERAL CURRICULUM AND HOW IT'S ENFORCED'
If you've been wondering what the heck is going on with increasing federal involvement in local public schools, this book is for you. It's a well-written, well-organized two- or three-hour read available for $12, and I highly recommend it.
-- Taking Control of the Curriculum
-- Politicizing Education
-- Redefining the Media
-- Bringing in Private and Home Schools
-- Defining the Curriculum as Themes
-- Undermining National Sovereignty
-- Redefining Natural Rights
-- Minimizing Natural Law
-- Promoting Environmentalism
-- Requiring Multiculturalism
-- Restructuring Government
-- Redefining Education as Job Skills
. . . and many more.
The book has 153 pages and is published by NuCompass Publishing, Glencoe, Minnn.
The author is Allen Quist, a college professor in Mankato, Minn., and a former Minnesota school-board member and state legislator, homeschooling champion, Republican activist, and father of 10.
The book is available through the excellent education reform website, Maple River Education Coalition, www.EdWatch.org or through www.amazon.com
If I have one beef, it's that the solutions chaptoid is skimpy. I gather that the author is calling for a public information campaign in order to try to head off the nationalization of our schools. I'm for that, majorly. But he gives no practical advice, steps to take, ways to go about it, people to contact, arms to twist, etc. Let's face it: most people are just not set up to do all the backgrounding that it takes to understand something this huge, much less organize and advocate for an alternative to it. They are 'way too busy making a buck, raising their families and what all.
I wish the author had come up with a checklist of, say, 10 do-able things that the rank and file could undertake or at least get together with like-minded citizens and delegate. But all he exhorts us to do is to spread the word.
Guess that's better than what most people are doing to save our schools . . . which is just 'bout nuttin'.
This book could change that.
Hope you had a very merry Christmas. Happy New Year!