Wednesday, March 31, 2004


Two Creighton University professors have applied simple economics principles to the controversy over whether gambling casinos help or hurt a local economy . . . and the answer has come up snake eyes.

The Omaha-based professors, Edward Morse and Ernie Goss, have found that bankruptcies are twice as numerous in counties with casinos than in counties without them. The statistic holds up in the 31 states that now have casinos.

Gambling creates bankruptcy, and all the ills that come with it, Morse said in a story published Monday by Focus on the Family’s ‘’Family Issues in Policy and Culture.’’ Search ‘’Gambling Tied to Bankruptcy’’ on www.family.org

One of the key dangers: when people go bankrupt, it severely impairs their ability to buy things, own things and pay taxes. Since most taxes go to support public education, it’s obvious that the introduction of casino gambling in Nebraska would pose a huge threat to the stability of the tax base for public education.

Even though that threat is now out in broad daylight, with the certainty that the bankruptcy rate will double wherever casinos come in, people are still for increased gambling in the state.

Maybe they’re still in denial. Morse said, ‘’It seems to me that, anecdotally, there has been long-standing belief that problem gamblers in particular have experienced bankruptcy, or financial meltdown,’’ he said. ‘’What hasn’t been shown as clearly is a statistical increase of this nature.’’

‘’Family Issues’’ also quoted Michael Geer, president of the Pennsylvania Family Institute, who is battling to keep 12 new casinos out of his state. The findings mean more ammunition for his efforts.

‘’It only stands to reason that you’re going to see bankruptcies increase,’’ Geer said. ‘’There’s really no other place where someone can go on a Friday night and lose their entire paycheck. That happens all the time at casinos.’’

A University of Illinois study suggests gambling costs society two-and-a-half times what it generates in new taxes, but politicians continue to drag their states into the gambling business.

‘’They do benefit analysis, without the cost analysis,’’ Geer said. ‘’And that's a shoddy way to do any analysis at all.’’

To learn more about the down side of gambling, see the book, ‘’House of Cards: Hope for Gamblers and Their Families,’’ by Tom Raabe (Tyndale House, Wheaton, Ill., 2001).

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Tuesday, March 30, 2004


Whenever I run into a teacher, I ask what one thing the general public should be asking our politicians to do, to make things easier in the classroom. Over the last few months, the answer has been the same: get rid of ‘’No Child Left Behind’’ make-work and paperwork.

Now, they’re not saying they don’t want accountability and they don’t want to improve. Of course they do. They just don’t want this bureaucratic quicksand to detract from their ability to teach any more. Can you say ‘’Giant Sucking Sound’’?

We all know that the nationalization of schools began with LBJ’s Elementary and Secondary Education Act and the establishment of the U.S. Department of Education. In the ‘80s, ‘’America 2000’’ was born. Then it became ‘’Goals 2000.’’ Now it’s ‘’No Child Left Behind,’’ which has been nicknamed ‘’No Family Left Alone’’ for its many social engineering components, and ‘’No School Left Alone’’ for the micromanaging that many educators say it subjects them to.

The apparent capstone of all this nationalization is the national test that the educrats want every child in American to be taking soon, the National Assessment of Educational Progress, the NAEP test, which has been nicknamed ‘’NOPE’’ by those who recognize that a national test will destroy the American model of diverse and excellent public education, and push us into the European / Japanese / Soviet model, which is a great education for the elite and a lousy one for everybody else.

No matter what you think of both sides, compromise doesn’t appear likely. The schools are complaining about being forced into compliance, and the feds are saying that shows they need to be forced. All this, over a mere 7 percent or so of the average school district’s budget; that’s how little comes from federal funding. The tail is definitely wagging the dog here.

Meanwhile, are we, the people, getting enough accountability for how our dollars are being spent? Are we in control of our schools?

I say we aren’t, but we could, if:

1. We withdrew from federal funding, right here, right now, and got out from under all these unfunded mandates.
2. We followed the simple, elegant and rational ‘’Ten Traits of Highly Successful Schools’’ suggested as a practical accountability guide by the Arizona-based education guru, Elaine K. McEwan.

We don’t need NCLB or federal funding, at all. We DO need local control, and to drive the decision-making and communication down to the grassroots level again. Right now, parents and taxpayers are completely out of this loop. That’s what’s wrong.

The surest way for parents to make sure YOUR child isn’t left behind is to get that book and evaluate your school for these traits. If you don’t see many of them, move your child to a different school -- perhaps a private school, where I believe these traits are most likely to be flourishing.

The surest way for taxpayers and policy-makers to make no child is left behind throughout Nebraska is for our lawmakers, educrats and school officials to get out from under the feds, and heed these common-sense accountability measures, as well.

These are explained much more fully in the book, but here are the Ten Traits from pp. 162-163:

1. Is the principal a strong instructional leader?

2. Are the teachers well-trained and highly motivated? Do they know their subject matter and respect students? Do they have high expectations for student achievement? Do they teach using methodologies that produce results?

3. Are the students motivated, disciplined, eager to learn, self-directed, and respectful of their peers, their teachers, and their parents?

4. Are parents involved in the life of the school in real and important ways? Are parents valued and respected by the principal and teachers? Do they work together with the educators to reinforce at home what is taught in school?

5. Are the school’s standards (the things which students are accountable to learn) academically focused, rigorous, comprehensive, clear, and measurable? Do the standards call for students to learn material and demonstrate skills that grow increasingly more difficult as they progress through school?

6. Are the curricula (teaching materials and methods that are used in the classroom) research-based and focused on student learning?

7. Are academic achievement and educational excellence top priorities?

8. Are all members of the school community committed to an academically focused mission?

9. Is communication open and constant between and among principal, teachers, students, and parents? Are everyone’s ideas, opinions, and information considered to be worthwhile?

10. Is the school a safe (high cleanliness and maintenance standards) and orderly (high behavioral standards) place in which to learn?

As we listen to both sides discuss, whine, gripe and criticize NCLB, let’s not miss the message: both sides really do want what’s best for kids. No doubt about that.

The thing is, how? Which is the better way to secure them -- submitting to federal regs that the local yokels hate, just to get a few extra cents on the dollar?

Or doing it a better way . . . our way?

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Monday, March 29, 2004


They call it ‘’The Blob.’’ It’s all those education staff members who aren’t teaching kids. I don’t know anyone who blames the problems of public education on teachers. Everyone blames The Blob.

Well, in Illinois, they’ve figured out a way to beat The Blob. They’re getting rid of its point people: the Illinois State Board of Education.

HALLELUJAH! Now, there’s an idea.

Gov. Rod Blagojevich called it a bloated, wasteful, ‘’Soviet-style bureaucracy’’ in his State-of-the-State address in January. He called it a ‘’big, monolithic, unaccountable, almost arrogant entity that ignores the will of the people’’ and a ‘’fiefdom’’ that has to go.

How come WE can’t have juicy rhetoric like that in OUR State-of-the-State?

Now there’s a big push on in the Illinois General Assembly to get rid of the state ed board, and move the state schools superintendent under the governor’s control, along with a Cabinet-level education department.

The goal: to significantly increase the percentage of state tax money that actually winds up in the classroom, not siphoned off by the bureaucracy. What a concept! Right now, estimates are that as little as 37 percent of Illinois tax dollars are applied to kids in school. The governor says it’s closer to 46 percent. But it’s still ‘way, ‘way lower than it should be.

You don’t suppose a goal like that -- more cost-efficiency, less useless bureaucracy -- would help Nebraska, in our current state of affairs?

It’s true, Illinois is a vastly different state. They spend over $6 billion a year on K-12 education. They have been rocked by horrible scandals, including the infamous meltdown of the Chicago Public Schools, the horrible ‘’Chicago Math’’ curriculum that has unfortunately spread across the land and into Nebraska, a lot of bad school violence episodes, and a lot of despicable financial corruption.

Illinois educrats argue back that those sorts of things will happen more if the important public policies on education are shifted to the governor’s office and become even more politicized than they are now.

Yes, the Empire Strikes Back -- the National Association of School Boards and other educrat groups are lobbying hard against this. They point out that all other states except Wisconsin and Minnesota have state boards of education.

Yeah, well . . . that may change. This idea has mojo.

Wisconsin has what I want for Nebraska: a state schools chief who is a constitutional, elected state officer like the state treasurer and auditor. That person oversees a small state department of instruction. The system leaves the real work of running schools to the people whose job that truly is, whose thunder is too often stolen by the union-controlled State Board of Ed in Nebraska -- the locally-elected school boards.

Could Nebraska Gov. Mike Johanns do what Illinois’ Blagojevich is doing?

Well . . . it makes sense.

So . . . why not?


Thanks to former Nebraska State Board of Ed member Kathleen Piller for the tip about developments in Illinois. If she and Kathy Wilmot of Beaver City were still on that board, things would be different. But they’re not . . . and Nebraska’s the poorer because of that. Cheers to you two ladies, anyway.

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Friday, March 26, 2004



I’ve been told many times that the main problem in K-12 education is that there’s a big battle for control of the schools. The players include administrators, unions and elected officials.

So far it looks like administrators and unions have engaged each other in an ever-escalating death grip over money and power. Meanwhile, elected officials are cuckolded, emasculated, defrocked and otherwise out in the cold.

Unelected, self-appointed control freaks are messing things up, instead of letting the people who are supposed to be controlling our schools -- the people we place in office for that purpose -- do the job.

The accountability yo-yo is off the string, in other words.

Control freaks are self-centered instead of other-centered. They meddle, are coercive, oversupervise, invade, obsess, are hypercritical and stubborn. They refuse to see their own mistakes and misjudgments. They’re selfish and choose everything from computers to curriculum based on what they want, not what’s tried and true as best for kids.

That’s how come school budgets have skyrocketed while it is apparent that our children can’t read, write, figure or think as well as generations past. That’s why they are subjected to aberrant, pointless and weird curriculum, behavior and activities that parents don’t want.

The takeover of public education by self-serving control freaks is why our kids’ needs are either not being met by schools, or in danger very soon of that being so.

I count government regulators as being in on this, by the way, and a big part of the problem, since they side with both the administrators and the unions, and against the legislators and school boards that the people vote to be in control.

The game is fixed.

But now the jig is up.

I’ve suggested in the past that one sensible change would be to make the State Commissioner of Education a statewide elected position. That job pays more than the governor’s and is highly influential on the lives, jobs and fortunes of every single Nebraskan. It’s silly not to elect this key public-policy maker in our state.

Since superintendents’ jobs are also so powerful and high-paid, it would be smart to make them a locally-elected position as well.

But there’s an even more powerful way to get back control of our schools:

Rewrite state law so that elected school board members take over the responsibilities of the superintendents. Pay them to do this.

If you now have five or seven elected school-board members, and your superintendent is being paid $100,000 plus bennies plus car plus annuity, etc. etc., you write the superintendent out of a job and split that leadership money into five or seven pieces.

Just look at the typical superintendent’s job description and you can come up with five or seven major duties that could be divided up. Then make this newly-empowered school board accountable to each other in decision-making, and ultimately to the voters for reelection, the way other elected tax-handlers are, such as a city council or county board.

All of a sudden, a very important but presently thankless, unpaid, part-time public-service job is worth over $25,000 a year . . . and you’d better believe there are neat people who would love to take on the unions and the regulators, and do what’s right for kids in order to serve the public and get re-elected.

So how ‘bout it, Nebraska?

Is it time for a breakthrough?

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Thursday, March 25, 2004


When I ran for school board in District 66 several years ago, union members who were district employees flagrantly opposed me and I lost. It hurt a lot. There was bad-mouthing and back-biting, mainly because I wanted to hold the line on taxes and get a handle on spending, and I also said bluntly that the kind of reading instruction we were using in the early grades -- whole language -- was not only ‘way too expensive and labor-intensive, but was causing the spike in reading disabilities that our district was experiencing. The union didn’t like me saying that one bit, even though it was true.

A group of union members, including several who had been my children’s teachers and whose classrooms I had volunteered many hours to support and help with, met voters at the door of the nominating caucus handing out flyers with a ‘’slate’’ of four candidates, all pro-union and pro-spending, of course. And not including me.

‘’My tax dollars at work, eh?’’ I said to them. Their political activity was in direct opposition to someone whose taxes helped pay their salaries -- a major no-no in American government and politics. They looked ashamed. There were whispers that they’d stuffed the ballot boxes, too. It was so ugly. I came in fifth out of nine candidates and from the way union members treated me, I made up my mind that we had to move away. It was that bad.

That’s the way it goes when a union’s involved: people get whipped up into polarization, and kind of take leave of their senses in a fit of self-absorption. You can see it happening in local, state and national education arenas. It’s just another reason unions have GOT to go, if we hope to keep public education afloat in this country.

Anyway, I wouldn’t describe what I felt as ‘’terror,’’ but it was bad. So I could understand the meaning behind the hyperbole recently when U.S. Education Secretary Rod Paige called the National Education Association a bunch of ‘’terrorists.’’ Other people around the country have gone through much, much worse experiences at union hands than I did.

Comes now a series of articles on http://www.cnsnews.com which reveals that former Nebraskan Randy Moody has become chief lobbyist for the NEA. I knew him, or at least of him, when I was with The World-Herald in Omaha and he was in the Washington bureau. I can guarantee he’s no terrorist. He’s a nice guy.

His views and activities might be more closely labeled ‘’schizo’’ than ‘’terrorist,’’ anyway. These articles report that he’s a Goldwater Republican, yet he works for the NEA, which made 95 percent of its political contributions from 1996-2000 to Democratic candidates whose platforms were to increase taxes and government spending and control, and are on record in favor of all kinds of radical left-wing stuff. That’s a weird combo for Mr. Moody.

Moody, a former lobbyist for the Nebraska State Education Association, also has been on staff for many of our state’s GOP leading politicians. He has done media work for the Republicans, most of whom are pro-life, even though Moody was a national board member of the pro-abortion Planned Parenthood from 1995-2002, and is now national co-chairman for that organization’s Republicans for Choice. That’s another weird one.

The NEA may need to claim mental illness such as schizophrenia if a tax case goes the way I think it will: they are being investigated for failure to pay taxes on NEA dues that were used for pro-Democratic, partisan political activity. It’s a big no-no that puts millions of dollars of teachers’ dues in jeopardy in the way of fines and so forth. The union may have trouble claiming it’s ‘’for the kids’’ if this happens.

Since I saw that kind of thing go on first-hand in my own one-and-only attempt at influencing the political process, I have a feeling they’re going to get nailed on it. And it’s too bad.

I wish Randy Moody well. But I wish he’d go back and re-read his Goldwater. The Arizona politician was a ‘’terrorist’’ in the good sense . . . he had a holy terror of government control and overspending, and he would never have been caught dead in a job stumping for the NEA.

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Monday, March 22, 2004


The consequences of widespread dumbed-down math instruction in California's K-12 schools are now showing up in colleges and the workplace, and the same problems are coming Nebraska's way. That's because so many Nebraska schools adopted California-style ''whole math'' textbooks a decade or so ago.

Also known as ''fuzzy math'' and ''rainforest math,'' the dumbed-down curriculum is in place in the Omaha Public Schools, Westside Community Schools, Millard Public Schools, Lincoln Public Schools and most other public-school districts. This math curriculum is characterized by fewer repetitions of problems, more group work, more guesswork, more illustrations and less challenge.

Those districts also give their students the same standardized tests as are given in California and other places where ''whole math'' is in place. That's because the curriculum is closely aligned to the tests, which increases the chances that the students will do ''well'' and look good on paper.

Therefore, if Nebraska students score relatively well on the standardized tests they're now taking, it doesn't mean they’re doing well in math -- just prepared for the tests. If they were to take a standardized test based on the grade-level math skills of a traditional math textbook such as Saxon Math, or perhaps a test from a generation ago when math instruction was more rigorous, they would most likely do much, much worse.

According to the Pacific Research Institute for Public Policy (www.pacificresearch.org), even though California is noted for its high-tech industries, the pipeline for people to fill those jobs is shifting to other countries, especially Asia, because California high-school graduates can't do the math any more. Meanwhile, fewer and fewer California college students are graduating with majors in mathematics, engineering and the physical sciences, again because of a lack of a foundation that should have been laid in public school.

Pacific Research Institute also reports that California school districts are now pleading with the state to waive the algebra requirement for high-school seniors to graduate this year. Judy Pinegar, manager of waivers at the state Department of Education, says the number of districts asking the state for waivers ''is increasing algebraically'' and that the department is ''getting tons of calls,'' according to the Pacific Research Institute report. State lawmakers will likely introduce legislation to postpone the algebra requirement for at least one year.

Pacific Research Institute's Lance T. Izumi reports that the state's retreat on algebra comes on top of its decision to reduce the difficulty of the math portion of the high-school exit exam, which students in the class of 2006 have to pass in order to graduate. Students no longer have to calculate the lower quartile, median and maximum of a data set. Instead, the number of questions asking students to calculate averages, a sixth-grade skill, increased.

Nebraskans ought to be watching for this trend, and resist the plea by educators to allow ''applied math'' and other dumbed-down alternatives to enable older students to bypass algebra, geometry and other grade-level math courses.

It would be helpful to chart how many students in your high school have passed the Advanced Placement Calculus exams over the past 10 years. If the number is tiny, or falling, you can expect to find the reason by examining the K-12 curriculum . . . and what bricks are missing from a solid math foundation.

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Friday, March 19, 2004


Students and business people sometimes get a congratulatory letter in the mail saying that you ''made'' it into a ''Who's Who'' style directory book, a huge honor. If you will just send them $75, you can get your very own copy and wow! Who WOULDN'T want to be listed?

The trouble is, another million or more other suckers get the same congratulatory letter.

Well, it's kind of the same thing with the National Board of Professional Teaching Standards (NBPTS) and its high-priced certification process, heavily influenced by the politically powerful national teachers' unions. Since it got started in 1987, an estimated $350 million in tax dollars have flowed to the organization and teachers who get involved with it.

And yet a major study just out acknowledges that NBPTS certification has little or no connection to improved student achievement -- except in the early grades of low-income schools, which need all the good teachers they can get, anyway. In the vast majority of schools, it makes no difference if the teacher is board-certified or not.

So basically, board certification doesn't tell us anything we dont already know. Most parents and hopefully all principals can tell in five minutes whether a teacher is good or not.

Yet the union is pressing for more and more dough for this, while continuing to block logical innovations for improving teacher quality, including merit pay, differential pay for hard-to-find specialties, ''combat pay'' for challenging teaching locations, and so on. Board-certification is just another way union-massaged school boards and legislators are blowing our dough in nonsensical ways in K-12 education.

The study, by Dan Goldhaber and Emily Anthony of the Urban Institute, is ''Can Teacher Quality Be Effectively Assessed?’’ and is available in full at http://www.crpe.org

Critics say it makes a lot more sense to track student achievement before, during and after kids have been in a teacher's classroom – to measure the teacher's ''value-added'' effectiveness -- than to pay big bucks just because a teacher has gotten the stamp of approval of some national organization.

Let's put the focus on the students, in other words, instead of the teachers. Isn't improving learning the whole point? Isn't any so-called measure of teacher effectiveness actually overly subjective and tweak-able if not tied to student achievement data? Isn't it more a check of how compliant a teacher is with the union-led standardization and nationalization of education, than with how ''good'' the teaching is? That's apparently what's going on here.

Some states have set policies whereby any teacher who gets the NBPTS credential gets a cushy pay bonus. Nebraska hasn't fallen for that quite yet. But plenty of local districts have paid up for NBPTS designations, and it's sad. Any Nebraska school board that pays a teacher any kind of a bonus or salary hike because of going through the NBPTS process ought to have their heads examined.

All it is, is a ''pretend credential.'' They’re trying to mimic what other professions do, such as physicians, engineers and certified public accountants. The knowledge required for K-12 education is nowhere near as complex and technical.

The NBPTS process has been shown, over and over, to be unconnected to improving teaching skills or even accurately pinpointing good teachers. Just about half of those teachers who have received the NBPTS credential have WORSE performance records for their students than teachers who have not gone through the process. That means about half of the bonuses so far have been paid to below-average teachers.

What kind of an Alice in Wonderland pay scale is that?

One of the nation's leaders in the crucial area of measuring teacher effectiveness, ed professor John Stone of Tennessee, told his education listserv today (www.education-consumers.com): ''I have no polls of legislators, but I suspect few would have favored a program of salary increases in which below-average teachers are rewarded nearly half the time.''

For more on the NBPTS, see the March 15th ''Communiqué'' of the Education Intelligency Agency:


Let's tell our school boards and legislators our version of ''NBPTS'' -- ''Nebraska's Best Practice is To Steer (Clear).''

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Thursday, March 18, 2004


K-12 education cost Nebraskans $1.3 billion a year in 1992-03. Ten years later, that figure stood at just over $2 billion. That's an increase of more than 50 percent.

Meanwhile, enrollment increased a grand total of 304 students, approximately one-tenth of 1 percent. That's more than $2.3 million per extra pupil. And some people say we aren't spending enough on public education. . . .

Anyway, the point is, we need to analyze WHY this is so.

The answer comes down to one thing: outcome-based education.

If Nebraska had been smart and stayed the Sam Hill away from OBE (they call it ''standards-based'' or ''performance-based'' now, to try to conceal its ugly mug), we would never have had to hire the tsunami waves of additional employees in our schools.

That's because outcome-based education is not only a crummy way to teach. It's a horribly labor-intensive crummy way to teach.

Because it shifts the focus away from academics and onto social engineering, OBE in effect forces schools to hire more people to teach less actual stuff. When you hire more people, you have to pay more salaries, buy more health insurance, provide more parking spaces, yadda yadda yadda.

Meanwhile, kids can read, write and figure less and less and less.

Observe: employee benefits for teachers in Nebraska districts providing ''regular instruction'' in 1992-93 cost $137.4 million. Ten years later, those bennies cost taxpayers $221.9 million. That's a 61.5 percent increase, for regular classroom teachers alone.

It doesn't even count the incredible increases in salaries and benefits for additional school personnel we've been forced to hire to comply with OBE. They've been added in English Language Learning, special education, support services for staff and students, support services for safety and security, school improvement, standards implementation staff, administration, principals, business services, transportation, maintenance . . . you get the idea.

You can check these and other examples of the increases in categorical spending by school districts across Nebraska, reported as statewide totals on the State Education Department's financial website, http://ess.nde.state.ne.us/SchoolFinance/AFR/search/afr.htm

Only a handful of Nebraskans understood what we were getting in to, with OBE, more than a decade ago. Would that their voices would have been heard.

Now all we hear are the screams of how much it costs and what the impact is on the kids' academic progress.

We can't turn the clock back . . . but it's past time to get rid of OBE. And do it now, before we all get our clocks cleaned by this over-expensive, under-productive educational philosophy.

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Wednesday, March 17, 2004



The pro-rural schools grassroots group, Class I's United, has launched a late-season lobbying effort in the Nebraska Unicam to oppose LB 1048, which they see as destructive for the state's smaller schools.

The group, led by Marilyn Meerkatz (gmeerkatz@neb.rr.com), is urging citizens to beat the bushes to find people to send emails, write letters and make phone calls to senators, write letters to the editor, and take advantage of legislative recess days, March 26 and 29, to visit senators in their home districts.

The group is urging contact with alumni, relatives, community leaders, high school representatives, friends and anyone else who can make a cogent case for keeping the Class I schools from being consolidated against their will, in many cases.

Find contact information for senators on this and any other topic on:


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Tuesday, March 16, 2004


Take another look at the health insurance rates for Nebraska educators participating in the statewide risk pool that have been set for next school year: http://www.educatorshealthalliance.org/covrates.htm

If a district in this pool can get its employees to increase the deductible from $250 a year to $500 a year, it'll save that district $394 a year, per employee, in premiums.

Multiply that times the number of employees in that district, and you can see that tens and hundreds of thousands of dollars could be saved in Nebraska from this one modest move.

Talk about a sacred cow: essentially, that means that Blue Cross / Blue Shield has been charging districts $394 a year for that "extra" $250 per employee in deductibles. Wish MY business had moooooves like that. You don't SUPPOSE it's time to bid out educator health insurance, do you? Hmmm?

But here's what really has that "eau de feedlot" -- educators will SQUAWK about having to go to that "higher" $500 deductible. They'll say taxpayers are beating up on them again.

Oh, yeah? Name another workgroup in either the private sector or the public sector that has a better deal than a $250 deductible and a 10 percent copay, with a max per employee out-of-pocket of $2,000. I'm not sure educators have any idea how good they've got it. Sigh.

We're talkin' 1960s-level insurance here, folks -- cushy, cushy, cushy. Meanwhile, the health-care industry is notorious for NOT holding the line on spending and they're charging 2004-05 prices, for sure. Ouch!

A wise school board will order up a chart on the health insurance programs of neighboring and comparable private-sector and public-sector workgroups, and keep their fingers on that line in the contract during union negotiation time.

The alternative is to do away with district-provided health insurance altogether. And that might be the answer, with compensatory arrangements to the salary scale, of course.

What? No more "nearly free" health insurance?

Bet the very idea makes 'em have a COW.

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Monday, March 15, 2004


The bennies are here! The bennies are here!

Blue Cross / Blue Shield of Nebraska has announced its health-care insurance rates for the 2004-05 school year. These rates affect every public-school employee and taxpayer in the state.

Study the rates set by the Educators Health Alliance (EHA) Board of Directors at:


The rates represent a reported increase of about 10 percent for at least one mid-sized Nebraska school district, and possibly more in other locations.

Note that the premium cost of this important fringe benefit is the same to any school district, large or small, in Nebraska, on a per-employee basis. That's because the rates are negotiated for the state's public-school employees as a whole, year in and year out.

So in the big cities, where average staff salaries are a lot higher than in the smaller cities and rural areas of Nebraska, the health-care benefits represent a noticeably smaller percentage of the overall compensation package, per employee.

Another way of putting it: the city mice taxpayers are subsidizing the health-care benefits of the country mice, in the field of public education.

That's not good. Neither are consistently high cost increases, year after year.

Education is in a money crunch, no doubt about it. What to do?

Can you spell "self-insurance"?

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Friday, March 12, 2004

No. 5 in a series on school finance



The federal government's latest name for the nationalization of education is called ''No Child Left Behind.'' It used to be ''Goals 2000.'' Before that, it was ''America 2000.'' The whole deal started off under President Lyndon B. Johnson as the ''Elementary and Secondary Education Act,'' or ESEA.

For openers, I’ve been saying for years that the feds are not SPOSED to be involved in K-12 education under the U.S. Constitution, and we need to get our schools OUT of federal funding or they'll be ruined. It's happening right before our eyes, though most people are still blind to it. WAH! Fed-ed programs are 'way too expensive, strip us of local control, the standards and assessments they force on us are baloney, and they take the focus off academics and put it on to a philosophy of K-12 education that is a lot closer to socialism than the American way.

However, we're STUCK with fed-ed, for the time being, until state legislatures and school boards wake up and withdraw from federal funding. Until they spit out the federal teat, we'll have to deal with NCLB. It's drawing quite a bit of fire from both liberals and conservatives, for different reasons. There's a good, moderate explanation of common propaganda about the bill from the American Legislative Exchange Council, ''Myths & Facts on No Child Left Behind'':


Today, we’ll share selected items from that piece that cover school finance issues with NCLB. Don’t miss #10:


MYTH #1. NCLB is an unfunded mandate that forces states to comply with a one-size-fits-all education system.

FACT: The President and Congress have not only fully funded these higher standards, but states are also empowered with a great deal of flexibility as they implement these goals. With the high standards for public elementary and secondary education that NCLB sets forth comes a $6.4 billion or a 28.5 percent increase in federal education dollars. Instead of binding funding to many specific programs that are not proven effective to increase academic achievement, federal funding is now correlated to several broad areas, such as academic achievement, high quality teachers, parental choice, and accountability, for states to find methods that best suit them.

MYTH #5. Seeking advanced certification will put financial burdens on teachers.

FACT: The federal law includes new tools and flexibility for teachers. Federal funding for teacher programs is being increased by 38 percent, from $787 million to $2.85 billion, to help states train, recruit, and retain quality teachers.

MYTH #7. Schools in need of improvement will lose federal funding.

FACT: To the contrary, there are no financial penalties for schools that do not make adequate yearly progress. In fact, states must set aside a portion of their Title I funds that is expressly marked to provide schools in need of improvement additional assistance.

MYTH #8. Schools must pay for tutors, instead of using money on general school improvements.

FACT: If a school is deemed in need of improvement for three consecutive years, the district must provide a supplemental education service option. This service can be paid for with a portion of the Title I funds that states that will have explicitly for schools in need of improvement. States can choose from a variety of options regarding supplemental services, including public or private sector providers, to offer students tutoring, additional classes, or individualized education assistance. These new options for families and students are significant steps to help children trapped in failing school systems have a chance at a successful education.

MYTH #10. More money will fix the nation's education problems.

FACT: The problem with America’s education system has not been a lack of funding, but a lack of accountability for the money our schools spend. Despite America's multibillion dollar investments in public education, students still have lower performance records than their foreign counterparts, and the achievement gap between rich, poor, white, and minority students is still wide. In the past 20 years, per pupil funding has increased by an average of $2,269 in real dollars, but Scholastic Aptitude Test scores have declined, and 74 percent of public school eighth graders who took the National Assessment of Educational Progress in mathematics failed to reach the proficiency level. In response to this discrepancy, NCLB takes significant steps to fundamentally change the education establishment that has seemed to be content with stagnant test scores and rigid programs. NCLB creates a partnership between the state and federal governments to create higher standards and increase accountability so to increase student academic achievement.

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Thursday, March 11, 2004

No. 4 in a series on school finance



Another suggestion for schools and education bureaucracies to be more financially accountable to the public would be for them to post their job titles, salaries and value of benefit packages on their websites.

There wouldn't be any names, but there would be functions and how much they make. You know: each individual teacher, health aide, janitor, clerk typist and so forth would be listed, and for each job title, it would show X number of days worked in a year, X amount of salary, and X amount of benefits.

I know, I know, it would be embarrassing, especially in small towns, for everybody to know how much the superintendent makes since there's (hopefully) only one superintendent . . . but tough. It's our dough. We deserve to know how it is being spent.

This needs to be done for school districts and all levels of governmental agencies or organizations which support schools, and are funded by our tax dollars.

This would go a long way toward exposing where noninstructional bureaucracy is weighing things down. Imagine if all the salaries being paid to people who work in the humoungous administrative building in the Omaha Public Schools were listed individually, for example. It would be instructive indeed. Imagine if people knew how much was going out for salaries in the ESU's and the State Department of Education, too.

Since personnel costs are such a major influence on school expenditures, it's hard to understand why this isn't already happening.

It's hard to imagine who would be against this . . . except bureaucrats who have something to hide. And what can be good about letting bureaucrats continue to hide how they're spending our dough?

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Wednesday, March 10, 2004

No. 3 in a series on school finance



Taxpayers have bent over backwards, and then some, to buy our public schools an incredible array of computers and information systems.

So why in the Sam Hill aren't we making them use technology for our benefit, and tell us how they're spending our money?

Public schools are pathetically ''unaccountable'' in their financial dealings because of an uninformed public. That's partly our fault, for putting up with the secrecy in public education for so long. But these days, it's downright ridiculous, given the advances in technology that they could be using to inform us better -- technology we bought for them, after all.

It's long past time for school districts to be posting a record of the checks they cut for all to see . . . especially the people who provide the money to cover those checks, which is us mice.

Small-town schools use to publish their checkbooks in the local weekly newspaper, a smart and great way to keep everything on the up and up.

We could go back to that at a nominal cost where it makes sense. Or, in larger districts, we could assign a couple of students in computer class or business class to design a simple spreadsheet to show the amount of each expenditure, who to, what for, and a memo for what budget category it's in. All kinds of other helpful information could be reported as well. It would make a slick senior project for some student or group of students to input on a regular basis.

Would this boring financial data be of interest only to cranky old retirees with nothing better to do? Well, gee. Cranky people are GOOD when they can help hold the line on overspending and save our tax dollars. Maybe this could give them some PURPOSE in life, to be the watchful, productive citizens we truly need to make our schools the best they can be -- which, in anybody's book, includes cost-effectiveness.

Publishing school expenditures would go a long way toward eradicating the unconscionable and the goofy:

-- Placing early-retirement buyout costs under “Board of Education.”
-- Counting administrative costs as ''costs of instruction.''
-- Paying $1,000 for a secretary’s office chair.
-- Sending the staffer who happens to be the union representative to an education conference that happens to be in Boca Raton, Fla., in the dead of winter.

And on and on and on.

All it would take to get this going in your district is a school-board resolution. How 'bout it?

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Tuesday, March 09, 2004

No. 2 in a series on school finance



I call it ''the doi factor.'' Nebraska taxpayers fork over hundreds of millions of dollars every year in state aid to education. Not a dime of that money is ever audited in any meaningful fiduciary way.


That's what our problem is. We're just writing the checks . . . and never reconciling our accounts. Financial accountability that is clear and meaningful is just almost nonexistent in public education.

We can't demand that there be a CPA on every school board. But we CAN demand that our money be accounted for . . . at least, to a degree.

Nebraska law needs to be changed YESTERDAY to direct performance audits of state aid to school districts. It doesn't have to be every one, every year. We couldn't afford that.

But here's what I imagine:

A big press conference. A huge fish bowl with the names of all Nebraska school districts. The governor's there. The state senators are there. Here comes Miss Nebraska . . . to draw three school districts' names.

They're the ones who are then subjected to a no-holds-barred analysis by the State Auditor. She will have, say, three months to issue a detailed report with all the nitty-gritty details on how those three districts are choosing to spend their dough.

I'm talking about a detailed, professional performance audit that crunches numbers, names names and raises questions, not the half-baked ''a lick and a promise'' audits school districts pay for themselves. With them, an accounting firm simply certifies that, yep, the district spent all those millions it says it spent. That's not too instructive if the goal is cost-effectiveness.

What we NEED is a report that tells us that district spent X amount on nonclassroom salaries, and X amount for staff members to travel to Japan to find out what they could have found out from a $10 book, and X amount on laptop computers for first-graders that are fancier than what professional writers use, and X amount in checks that wound up in the post office box of a school official's brother-in-law's dummy corporation.

Are you catching my drift? That's the kind of stuff that goes on. People don't know. We need to put the brakes on school spending somehow. This is how.

But isn't this meddling with local control? Well, nooooooo. Since at least half of most school districts' budgets comes from state aid, which in turn comes from taxes that Nebraskans pay in to state government, then Nebraska taxpayers have a huge stake in how well each district is budgeting, because at least half of it is our dough.

Right now, we have no idea where it goes. Doi.

If an audit reveals a few areas of obvious waste or even fraud -- and believe me, a thorough audit of ANY organization that's spending other people's money will -- then that will be exposed and corrected. That's a win-win. A key benefit is that the public will learn a lot more about school finance than we know now, which is just about zilch.

But the real leverage comes from the fact that our school districts won't know if it's their turn to be audited. With a spot-check system, they'll never know when they'll be on the spot. So they'll all have an incentive to clean up their act. Right now, they don't. In the absence of meaningful outside audits, school overspending, fraud and waste are highly unlikely to be caught.

That needs to change, bigtime.

It's time to burst some bubbles about school spending. It's time to give them a business bath.

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Monday, March 08, 2004

No. 1 in a series on school finance



Today, we learn two things of interest to all those who want to make our public schools as cost-effective as they can be:

First, in 1998, when the San Antonio Independent School District bought out the contract of their former superintendent, Diana Lam, it cost those taxpayers $781,000. And she still left a budget shortfall of $24.9 million in her wake, according to today's San Antonio Express-News. You know, you could buy a LOT of No. 2 pencils for $781,000.

Second, we learn from Uncle Warren (that's Omaha investment brainiac Warren Buffett, the man with the billion-dollar twinkle in his eye) in his annual report to stockholders that the worst thing about the Wall Street scandals and financial losses is that rubber-stamp boards of directors let it happen, instead of holding the feet to the fire of incredibly high-paid managers and making them work for the owners' best interests.

Combine these concepts: big, big, big bucks unrelated to managerial performance, for top administrators . . . wussie, weenie, weasel-out, do-nothing boards of directors . . . and what do you get?

In corporate America, scandals, corner-cutting and bankruptcy.

In educational America . . . the same?

According to the American Association of School Administrators, the average school-district superintendent salary is now $170,024. Their annual salary hikes are more than three times as high as teacher salary hikes; nothing new about that, but it's still a sad commentary on how your education dollar is being spent.

Of course, that salary average isn't germane to Nebraska; most superintendents are in big urban areas with tens of thousands of students, lots more difficult problems, and lots more legitimately taxable infrastructure compared to our heavily farming foundations. But still, the peer pressure of those big salaries on rural and small-town Nebraska can be crushing to taxpayers who want to compete for the best possible school leaders in this Alice in Wonderland environment.

We've got to listen to Uncle Warren, though. If we're going to be paying these big bucks to our top school leaders --- the best jobs in town, much more than better-qualified managers can make in the private sector --- we need to realign the chain of command and the way the power supply is divvied up.

We can't afford to disarm our school boards the way we've been doing. We've blocked them mostly out of decision-making except for minutia and rubber-stamping, because of the ''overpowered superintendent / under-powered school board'' structure, and so many state and federal mandates that rob us of local control.

We can't continue to make school boards completely toothless by allowing the educators and educrats bargain with THEMSELVES for salary packages, and to set their own ''accountability'' systems that actually enable them to AVOID accountability.

I have nothing against paying big bucks for good management. In fact, I think it's essential. But I don't think we have it, many places, in Nebraska education. And throwing more money at it isn't going to get it.

I think we could, though, have the best school leaders in the country . . . if we did these three things:

1. Elect superintendents to terms of service instead of having school boards appoint them, and make the superintendent / school board relationship more like a mayor / city council arrangement than a highly-paid top dog / unpaid rubber stamp one.

2. Withdraw from federal funding for education and get out from under those nasty, unnecessary, damaging unfunded mandates. You wouldn't NEED Title I if you felt free to teach reading and writing correctly in the early grades, for example. It's a red flag of bad management to even be TAKING outside grants for providing basic education. Isn't it?

3. School boards should hire the toughest labor negotiators they can to bargain both with the teachers' union and with the superintendent and other administrative staff. Read my lips: private-sector lawyers should be handling this and representing taxpayers. Who do we have now? Education insiders, who represent . . . education insiders. If you're going to bargain at all, you have to untie at least one of your hands.

And it goes without saying that there shouldn't be any incredibly cushy buyout clauses regardless of performance in those contracts with our public servants charged with educating our children. Education is too important to get involved with gamesmanship and induce school managers to become ''playuhs.''

What do they think this is . . . Enron?

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Friday, March 05, 2004

No. 5 in a series on parental involvement in schools:



When I rode my dinosaur to Oakdale School in what's now central Omaha many years ago, I had the time of my life. I loved school, loved my classmates, and loved my teachers . . . except one.

She was a meanie. She called a weak pupil in our class a ''dummy'' in front of everyone. She accused another one of cheating, in front of all of us, and we knew he hadn't. She never did anything overt to me, but I was upset about what was happening in that classroom. There were other things she did that I didn't even know about.

The thing is, my mom was among those parents who ''marched'' on the principal . . . and that teacher was G-O-N-E.

We got a great long-term sub for the rest of the year, and everything was rosy.

Especially my opinion of my mom. Wow! I was impressed. She loved me enough to get involved to protect me . . . and she loved those other kids, too.

Guess what her major was in college? Education. It takes a good parent and a good educator to recognize professional incompetence . . . and have the guts to do something about it, for the benefit of children.

That's the attitude that parents are being forced to take, more and more, in dealing with poor and mediocre teachers in our public schools today. They used to be an anomaly that you'd run into maybe once in your child's K-12 experience; for a myriad of reasons, though, they are becoming more and more common. Since so many people believe that teacher ''tenure'' is unbeatable, many parents just let their children ''take it'' from a bad teacher. But that has repercussions that can last for years, and maybe forever.

You have to be smart about this. You can't just go off half-cocked, and you can't make a judgment based on one ''bad hair day.'' It has to be incompetence that is significant and habitual.

Recognize that incompetence is never deliberate. Nobody MEANS to be a bad teacher. Personal problems are almost always the culprit. Bad teachers deserve empathy and kindness, not arrogance and cruelty. Lots of times, things outside a teacher's control are at play, too: bad teacher training, bad curriculum and instructional methods, bad district communications, etc. But I have yet to meet a GOOD educator who DOESN'T want the bad apples weeded out. I have yet to hear about a bad apple who WANTS to be weeded out, either.

So here are the two things parents with backbone need to know:

It'll never happen unless WE make it happen.

And it's perfectly legal, under state law, to dismiss an incompetent teacher, even if they have
''tenure'' and have worked for that district for more than three years. Here's how Nebraska statutes define the justifiable firing of someone who has been substantially and habitually incompetent, under Section 79-824(4):

(4) Just cause means:

(a) Incompetency, which includes, but is not limited to, demonstrated deficiencies or shortcomings in knowledge of subject matter or teaching or administrative skills;

(b) neglect of duty;

(c) unprofessional conduct;

(d) insubordination;

(e) immorality;

(f) physical or mental incapacity;

(e) failure to give evidence of professional growth as required in section 79-830;

(h) other conduct which interferes substantially with the continued performance of duties.

You can check out all the education statutes on:


If there's a teacher in your school who shouldn't be teaching, use these laws. That's what they’re for. Document what's wrong. Get a copy of your district's teacher evaluation form, and analyze what sections the bad teacher doesn't live up to. Make photocopies of papers that show his or her incompetence. Get together some dated notes of phone calls. Obtain the concerns of other parents. If you have to -- and sometimes, you have to -- get a tape recording or videotape of the teacher having a screaming fit, improperly touching a student, calling students (and, often, their parents) horrible names, cursing, and so forth.

Then take these materials up the chain of command, starting with the teacher's boss -- the building principal.

If the district won't do anything, or puts you off, you can lodge a complaint with the State Board of Education, and through due-process, they can make things happen, too.

The only thing you SHOULDN'T do is nothing. There are children, including your own, depending on you.

Before your last child graduates and you ride your dinosaur off into the sunset, make a difference in our schools, and help make the teaching profession better by weeding out its weak links.

If they won’t do it, somebody's got to.

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Thursday, March 04, 2004


Congratulations to Dryden Meints, a homeschooled seventh grader, who won the Douglas County Spelling Bee earlier this week.

In second place was a seventh-grader from a private school, St. Robert Bellarmine, and in third place was an eighth-grader from another private school, Holy Cross.

There were 22 spellers from public and private schools and homeschools in the countywide competition, though winners of the two largest public school districts, Omaha Public Schools and Millard Public Schools, were not there because they received a "bye" to the regional contest.

Top spellers will face off in the Midwest Spelling Bee on March 20.
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No. 4 in a series on parental involvement in schools



A former Bellevue, Neb., resident who is prominent nationally in attempting to improve reading curriculum and instruction has identified four ''sacred cows'' of education.

Myrna McCulloch of the Riggs Institute says these four have caused 90 million American adults to be functionally illiterate despite higher and higher spending on K-12 education:

1. Ineffective textbooks
2. Ineffective teacher training
3. Pointless certification standards
4. Counter-productive course time requirements in accreditation

Read her article, ''The Four 'Sacred Cows' in American Education'' on www.riggsinst.org/cows.htm and you'll see how rampant corruption and conflicts of interest have allowed these four ills to persist.

Also compare HER ''essentials of education'' -- good textbooks, good teacher training, logical teaching quality standards, and smart time management -- to the bonehead make-work social engineering of the ''essentials'' promulgated by the Nebraska Department of Education (www.nde.state.ne.us).

Now a resident of Oregon, Mrs. McCulloch said that years ago, her oldest child was a third-grader in the Bellevue Public Schools who tested at the seventh-grade level in vocabulary and comprehension, but spelled atrociously. The district labeled the child ''semi-retarded'' and wanted to put her in the special education program. There also was blame put on an ''intermittent hearing loss'' and ''environmentally-caused allergies.''

Instead, the McCullochs put her in a private school that used Spalding phonics, acknowledged to be the best. Voila! A miracle! Simple, proper instruction ''cured'' the girl's retardation, hearing loss and even her allergies – because they were all just bogus excuses the public school made up to cover its own ineffectiveness. She became a good speller, too.

How does this sort of thing happen? Laziness and greed, apparently.

Mrs. McCulloch also had served on a Bellevue reading textbook selection committee, and discovered that a ''scholarly report'' praising one particular reading curriculum that the district gave to the committee had been written by a Michigan reading professor – the senior author of the same reading curriculum! That obvious conflict of interest had been hidden from the committee. When Mrs. McCulloch blew the whistle, she said she became ''unpopular.'' But she has gone on to spot many other self-serving conflicts of interest in K-12 education which hamper progress in all facets of schooling.

Mrs. McCulloch met reading guru Oma Riggs and went on to develop an inner-city Omaha grade school into a beacon of reading excellence using correctly-taught phonics. First-graders were diagramming simple sentences, able to read the encyclopedia, and writing long book reports with correct grammar, spelling, punctuation, handwriting and so on.

The school became ineligible for Title I funding within 2 1/2 months, Mrs. McCulloch said, because it was able to bring half its students to grade-level literacy in that short amount of time.

The following year, the school deliberately added 18 children the public schools had labeled ''learning disabled.'' All but one was reading at grade level within the year.

All it took was the proper textbooks, proper teacher training, proper evaluation of effectiveness, and proper time management, Mrs. McCulloch said. All of those are not only far, far cheaper than what public schools are doing – but kids do far, far better with her methods.

She moved to Oregon, but continues to work on reading issues. Among other things, she has a fine website: www.riggsinst.org

Things are even worse today than when her children were small. There's even more of a need for parents like her. So where are the Myrna McCullochs today? Maybe YOU?

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Wednesday, March 03, 2004

No. 3 in a series on parental involvement in schools:



The Nebraska Department of Education and the State Board of Education have produced a document that they say defines the ''essentials'' of education. But it reads a lot more like an educrat / union policy than anything Nebraska citizens would want from our schools.

Look on http://www.nde.state.ne.us for the ''Policy on Essential Education'' dated Aug. 8, 2003. It's now being jammed down our throats as if these are OUR needs and desires through a phony-baloney ''survey'' by the government's Mid-Continent Regional Educational Laboratory's propaganda machine.

See the survey, too, although it's reportedly no longer available for educrat dupes to rubber-stamp:


You're likely to see lots of things that give you pause: forcing tiny rural schools out of existence with unfunded mandates of dubious worth . . . forcing rural kids into having to move or sit in soul-crushing TV classrooms with ''distance learning'' . . . forcing school managers to give staffers 250 minutes a week of idle, on-duty planning time . . . forcing lots of technology, when the evidence shows that, dollar for dollar, technology does very little to aid real academic progress . . . forcing all-day kindergarten down taxpayers' throats when the research shows kids are far better off OUTSIDE of school than in it, at that age. . . .

Note the three things the state says are essential for education:

1. centrally-planned standards and ''essential learnings''
2. transitions between early childhood educational settings through post-secondary settings, replacing ''K-12'' with ''pre-K – Grade 16''
3. producing people who are ''effective in functioning in and contributing to our culturally diverse democratic society''

Are the sirens going off yet? Or is it no longer ''essential'' that children be taught to read, write and figure to a high degree of competence, using cost-effective and empirically-proven methods of curriculum and instruction?

Isn't it true that ''central planning'' is what wiped out the former Soviet Union and would be certain to wipe out any hope of quality for our schools in the future?

Isn't it true that the evidence is overwhelming that concepts like universal preschool and post-secondary education as a welfare entitlement are exactly the opposite of what a free-market society needs?

Isn't it true that one of the most segregated areas of American culture right now is superintendents' offices and leadership in statewide education bureaucracies and unions, including right here in Nebraska?

It looks from this end like these ''essentials'' are what the educrats and power brokers consider ''essential'' to CRASH the independence of our schools and neuter local control once and for all.

Concerned parents and taxpayers ought to hand these birds a printout of the E.D. Hirsch Core Knowledge sequence -- www.coreknowledge.org -- as specific educational ''essentials'' that the people who pay their salaries want. Any private school or homeschool I've ever seen could come up with a better list than the state's, in a flash.

Bottom line: the true essentials of education are so obvious, they needn't be codified in bureaucratese. The very notion that our schools need ''marching orders'' is a sad, strange sign of a system that's strangling on a hairball of its own power lust.

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Tuesday, March 02, 2004

No. 2 in a series on parental involvement in schools:



Yesterday's story about North Platte kids who missed out on third grade content and bombed standardized tests because their teacher was used to teaching second grade brought this common-sense suggestion from a Go Big Ed reader:

Those parents should buy the book, ''What Your Third-Grader Needs to Know: Fundamentals of a Good Third-Grade Education'' from the Core Knowledge series by E.D. Hirsch (available for $10.36 on www.amazon.com or www.coreknowledge.org).

This is a solid, concise listing of curriculum items that should be basic building blocks for third grade. It will guide the parents to find out what their children apparently missed. You can preview the table of contents for an idea of its quality and scope:

Learning About Literature
Sayings and Phrases
Learning About Language
World Geography
World History
American History
Early Explorers in North America
English Colonies in North America

. . . and on and on, through math, science, the visual arts, music and so on.

There's one for every grade level. They are excellent and just what parents want, but there's an enormous ''disconnect'' between them, and what educrats THINK schooling is all about. Translation: forcing a false consensus, compromising longstanding moral principles, groupthink, politicized curriculum. . . .

So a copy of this book makes a great gift for a principal or a teacher, but isn't that a sad commentary on public education today -- that despite going to teacher's college, being certified, being well-paid, and undergoing countless hours of staff development, mentoring, workshops, etc., many educators don't even know what the basics ARE any more.

Suggestion: using the Core Knowledge book, those North Platte parents can ''afterschool'' their children in these essentials. That means you leave them in your public-school fourth grade so that you can work at your job during the day, and then you tutor them in third-grade essentials that they missed, in the evenings.

That cuts into your family's leisure time, but it beats illiteracy, doesn't it?

Then, and this is the most important part, you send a bill for the book, any other materials required, and for your time as a tutor -- and note that public-school teachers in that district average over $41,000 a year, so judge your worth accordingly -- to deliver this essential content to your child, since our tax dollars in the public schools was supposed to, and didn't.

Be sure to send a note about it to your local newspaper's letters to the editor, too, so that everyone will know what's REALLY going on in our public schools.

Tomorrow, we'll talk about essentials in education – and what a sad, strange ''take'' on them the Nebraska Department of Education is pushing.

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Monday, March 01, 2004

Another series begins today on parental involvement in schools:



Go read a saga on StatePaper.com today about teacher incompetence in North Platte that resulted in a room full of children who literally missed out on third grade:


This time, the students didn't skip a grade and move forward with their educations -- the TEACHER ''skipped'' a grade and moved them BACK.

Apparently, the teacher had been teaching second grade for a long time and then switched to third grade in a different school. She chose to use worksheets and other curriculum that she had used in the past -- second-grade materials for her new third graders. Results: they scored a dismal 57 percent on the Iowa Test of Basic Skills, compared to the 80 percent posted by that grade level in that school the year before.

Parents said there was little in the way of actual instruction in reading, writing and arithmetic, but the kids watched an hour of TV a day and did a lot of art work.

Parents are scrambling now, many on their own time and at their own expense, to try to bring their children up to speed and give them the third-grade knowledge and skills they missed.

Parents interviewed said they had hints last year of what was going on, but didn't act on them very forcefully.

Well, in light of the fact that research shows it takes from two to five years for a pupil to overcome the ill effects of a poor teacher, they should have.

They should have gone up the chain of command and rattled it, but good: from the teacher to the principal to the district to the school board to the State Education Department, there are channels for parents to share important information like this and get incompetence stopped. And if it isn't, within a reasonable amount of time, you yank your child and enroll him or her in private school, or homeschool, and send the bill to your school board.

Here's another Nebraska parent; this same thing happened to her daughter several years ago in an Omaha public school classroom. She writes:

''This is exactly what happened to (her child) in third grade with the lovely Mrs. ______, the cute and charming redheaded new teacher. Cursive wasn't taught at all until second semester; she opted to teach keyboarding first semester. I would have welcomed an opportunity to see the third-grade curriculum guides or a syllabus for the year, but was told they didn't exist. Now of course they have 'standards and outcomes' that parents cannot understand. Sigh.''

Along the way, she found out that this weak teacher was the daughter-in-law of a powerful, longtime district employee, so nepotism was involved, too. Likelihood of getting anything changed: zilch.

Solution: they moved their child to private school, are delighted with the quality, and have never looked back.

What does this mother suggest the North Platte parents do?

Get some backbone.

''Somebody should tell them to find a good private school and sue the school board for education malpractice.''

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