Friday, October 29, 2004


ESU 6 – As per Thursday’s Go Big Ed story, Angie Eberspacher for this east-central Nebraska board. By popular request, since I called the move by board member Alan Jacobsen to help elect a fellow fiscal conservative to that board as being like Paul Revere’s midnight ride, here’s a poem parody I’d like to see on Wednesday morning:

Listen, my children,
You’re in for a shocker;
Elected Eberspacher!

(Note: Nebraska has already supplied the nation’s poet laureate, and it ain’t me.) :>)

Seriously, now, here are more recommendations, based in large part on the excellent service provided on www.voterinformation.org and also www.omahalwv.org:

District 2, John Murante
(Ann Mactier is one of my role models, and I’m very grateful for her longtime public service in advocating proper reading instruction. But this is a very tough bureaucracy, and I believe new blood is needed on that board in issues that go beyond reading. I believe Mrs. Mactier would be more effective promoting proper reading instruction to influential people outside of the education establishment, with whom she has fabulous connections, since those inside it have rebuffed her for so long, much to my chagrin, since she’s been sooooo right for sooooo long on reading. Let Murante battle in the front lines while she brings in the cavalry!)


District 2, Karen Shepard

District 6, Jim Enright

District 8, Mark E. Rosenquist


Paul Meyer


Dan Grieb


Rich Hansen


District 9, Scott Knudsen

District 13, Anthony FastHorse

District 31, Ben Thompson

If there’s a candidate in your area you’d like to recommend, please alert me with your reasons why, and I’ll add to this list on Monday.


NO to Nebraska expanded gambling issues

And last, but certainly not least, President Bush is far and away the best candidate in terms of making life better for American children and their families, in school and beyond.


Be sure to visit my feature blog, http://www.DailySusan.blogspot.com, for a series of stories this week about the expanded gambling measures that are on the Nov. 2 ballot in Nebraska, and the impact that would have on our state.

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Thursday, October 28, 2004


In a daring and unusual move, a board member of Educational Service Unit #6 in east-central Nebraska has taken out a full-page ad blasting the “fiscal irresponsibility’’ of that agency, and urging voters to support candidate Angie Eberspacher on Tuesday to help put things right.

He says he hopes this Paul Revere-like move “has ripples throughout the state’’ and ‘’wakes people up so that we take notice of where our money is being spent in education and how it is being spent.’’

Alan Jacobsen of Denton, Neb., is telling voters this week that the ESU board majority passed up an opportunity to save $77,943 in taxes. The contention is made in a trade publication blanketing the Seward, York and Milford areas, including many voters who were blasted by the tornado earlier this year. ESU #6 serves about 45 school districts in Seward, Fillmore, York and Saline Counties, and in Lancaster County except for the Lincoln Public Schools, according to the agency’s website, www.esu6.org

ESU #6, based in Milford, receives local, state and federal tax dollars. In 1997, Jacobsen says, it financed an addition to its building with a loan paying 5.35 percent interest; the balance is now approximately $307,000.

Jacobsen said in the ad that the ESU’s September financial statement showed a cash balance of $2.7 million. Those cash reserves earn only 1.39 percent interest, he said. So it seemed to make perfectly good sense to use some of the reserves to pay off the $307,000 building loan. But the board majority, led by chairman Clark Kolterman, sided with the ESU administration. Jacobsen voted to pay off the loan and said it could have been paid off years ago.

‘’At a time when rural communities in the region like Hallam, Firth and Wilbur are suffering through economic devastation it is difficult to justify taxing these constituents any more than is necessary,’’ Jacobsen wrote in his ad.

He said Angie Eberspacher is on record saying she would have voted to pay off the loan. She would represent voters in Seward, Centennial and Milford school districts. If she is elected, she will unseat Kolterman and form a fiscally-conservative board majority, Jacobsen said. Think of all the things that could have been bought with that $77,943 the move would have saved, he said, and that’s just one example.

He rejected arguments by the ESU’s board majority and administration that the decision to keep the loan on the books and tax people over and above the spending-lid was necessary to keep receiving federal funds. Jacobsen said, “I can assure you, that dog won’t hunt.’’

The former candidate for Nebraska governor added that he is certain the vast majority of Nebraska taxpayers want fiscal conservatism in all units of government. He pointed to the spending lid on property taxes in Nebraska which was imposed in the 1990s after an outcry by the people for tax relief. The move by the ESU board majority violated the spirit of that spending lid, Jacobsen said, even though it was technically legal because expenditures for capital improvements are exempted from the lid.

‘’We need to work harder at getting our tax dollars to the classroom, and not in some cash reserve pot losing interest,’’ he said. ‘’We need to throw the politicians out of office who think it is OK to tax us, not because they need the money, but because they can.’’


Be sure to visit my feature blog, http://www.DailySusan.blogspot.com, for a series of stories this week about the expanded gambling measures that are on the Nov. 2 ballot in Nebraska, and the impact that would have on our state.

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Wednesday, October 27, 2004


It’s parent-teacher conference time, a chance for both sides to do a little teaching and a little learning.

A quality school will have already sent home a note giving parents advance notice of what each teacher will be covering. There should be an opportunity for each parent to give the teacher a heads-up in advance of specific concerns or questions.

But if your child doesn’t go to a school that fosters good communication like that, you can be a ‘’do-it-yourselfer.’’ Come to the conference with two or three issues you want to address, and ask the teacher to reserve a little time for you to go over them. Remember never to criticize or scold the teacher; instead, ask questions and seek advice on how you can mutually solve any problems that are occurring.

Your two or three issues don’t have to do with your child’s progress, either: you might have a question on how the school is cracking down on Internet plagiarism, or how come there were two drug busts in the school but there was nothing about it in the paper, or how many of the kids who got 4’s and 5’s on the Advanced Placement calculus test last spring had outside math tutors, if you’re thinking of getting one for your high-school student . . . you know, if your child is doing well, skip the formal, artificial stuff, and get into real communicating, and both you and the teacher will gain from it.

Just arriving . . . on time . . . with no alcohol on your breath . . . will exceed the expectations of many teachers. See? It’s easy to do this right! But it’s a great idea to take down brief notes, and be sure and shake the teacher’s hand coming and going, smile, and be a day-brightener as much as you can.

Being a ‘’no show’’ at conferences can’t help but hurt that teacher’s feelings, and his or her perceptions about your child and the priority your family puts on education. It’s as much of a faux pas as failing to vote.

As for teachers, if you refrain from using ‘’edubabble’’ and instead focus on conveying the meaning of what you are saying, as clearly and efficiently as you can, you will exceed most parents’ expectations. I’d say the No. 1 reason parents stay away from conferences is that too many teachers talk down to them, are perceived as being mean to their child, or are so mired in their own professional jargon that they can’t get their points across to the average Joe . . . which, after all, is the whole point of this meeting. The only way to repair that kind of wound is to meet face-to-face and try to deal with it . . . not stay away and whine.

Both sides remember the 80-20 rule -- try to listen for 80 percent of the time, and talk for 20 percent of the time. Then maybe important things will be said . . . and more importantly, heard.

Here’s more advice from my series, ‘’Show ‘n’ Tell for Parents.’’

Q. How can I get the most out of my upcoming parent-teacher conference?

Meet the teacher as early in the school year as you can. Don’t wait for the formal conference to start building a relationship.

Schedule an appointment or drop by on an “inservice” day, or stop in before or after school.

Keep your visit really short. Tell the teacher you would welcome phone calls and notes sent home.

A quick phone call in the first couple of weeks of school can be a good bridge-builder and time saver, too.

Keep all input to your child’s teachers at least 80% positive. Why? Because teachers get a lot of negative input. Be a friend and a shining light.

When the formal conference is scheduled, be sure to conference with your child first. What’s going well? What’s not? What is the teacher likely to say? Is anything or anybody bothering your child? What or who is helping, or not? What suggestions might work?

Come prepared with your own agenda to talk about. Use the “rule of three.” Come up with three issues and stick to them.

At a bare minimum, you should leave the conference knowing at what grade level your child functions in math and reading.

Both mom and dad should attend. If the other parent isn’t available, bring a grandparent or an adult friend.

But don’t bring your child if you want honest input. This is a performance evaluation between adults.

Words teachers love: “cooperate,” “help,” “create,” “innovate,” “adapt,” “make it easier.” Words they hate: “bored,” “forced,” “stupid,” “you’re not doing enough.”

Look the teacher in the eye a lot. Smile. Nod your head. Lean toward him or her.

Follow up with a thank-you note and any additional information or feedback the teacher has requested.

Bottom line: go by the Golden Rule. Make the teacher your friend . . . because the teacher is.

Homework: “Getting the Best Education for Your Child: A Parent’s Checklist,” James Keogh, Fawcett Columbine, 1996.

Be sure to visit my feature blog, http://www.DailySusan.blogspot.com, for a series of stories this week about the expanded gambling measures that are on the Nov. 2 ballot in Nebraska, and the impact that would have on our state.

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Tuesday, October 26, 2004


Nebraska No. 1! Ah, those halcyon days of yore on the football field. But that was yore. This is now. And THIS one makes our FACES go big red kind of like the team’s been doing lately:

Nebraska is ranked first in the nation in the percentage of statewide lottery revenues that are eaten up by administrative expenses.


You can check it out on www.taxpayersnetwork.org by clicking the “50 State Comparison’’ on the ribbon at the upper right, and asking for the gambling statistics that are compared state by state.

Nebraska spent 25.05 percent of every dollar brought in by the statewide lottery in 2002 on its own administrative expenses, according to this compilation. Most of the states spent single-figure percentages on those expenses.

And yet they SOLD the lottery to us for how much it was going to help our schools! They said our schools would be ROLLING in dough, if we’d just OK the lottery – that every dime would go for gold-plated computers and diamond-studded pencils and stuff. They didn’t say those gold-plated computers and diamond-studded pencils and stuff were going to be for the BUREAUCRATS and POLITICIANS who run the lottery!!!

Bah, humbug.

Let this be a lesson to all those who might vote for the casinos and slot machine proposals on next Tuesday’s ballot.

Thanks to the smart gentleman reader in Beatrice who passed along this news tip, and said it has relevance to the current expanded gambling proposals, which he opposes:

‘’In other words,’’ he writes, ‘’Nebraska receives some tax income, the promoters keep a great deal of the money wagered, a very few Nebraskans are lottery winners while most Nebraskans are losers.’’

Ain’t it the truth?

NOW . . . turning our full attention to Election Day . . . please send your “picks’’ for any education-related races you’re following, or your requests for background on any ed-related contests. I’ll publish my picks, with your help, this coming Friday. I’m especially interested in State Board of Education, State Legislature, ESU Board, and school board races.

Let me know what you think! And thanks!


Be sure to visit my feature blog, http://www.DailySusan.blogspot.com, for a series of stories this week about the expanded gambling measures that are on the Nov. 2 ballot in Nebraska, and the impact that would have on our state.

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Monday, October 25, 2004


What are you going to be for Halloween? How about something scary -- an educator who doesn’t believe in correcting kids’ spelling errors.

By all accounts, despite the fact that we’re spending enormous amounts more cash on K-12 education than in past years, academic fundamentals such as spelling are getting worse, not better.

People who dispute that might want to take a look at some student writing samples. They’ll have you howling at the moon. The ghosts and goblins of lackluster and downright lousy language arts instruction are apparent in student papers, and it’s getting scary.

My daughter played varsity softball this past season. I occasionally visited with the JV players as they did their homework during varsity games. Naturally, being snoopy, I peeked at what they were writing. It curled my hair, the spelling was so bad.

One girl actually thought ‘’husband’’ was spelling ‘’huzzbun.’’ And these are freshmen and sophomores in one of the state’s best-regarded high schools.

My softball daughter carried on a penpal correspondence with a couple of grade-school students during the season, set up by a teacher who wanted to encourage the younger students to do more writing. I totally approve of such mentoring. But I’m saddened by the utter lack of language facility I saw in their notes:

cryed for cried
allot for a lot
Hellow for Hello
movei for movie
lik for like
scard for scared
noise for nose
first for first
cetch for catch
realy for really
Tinnisy for Tennessee
none for known
hole for whole
qwit for quiet
werd for weird
were for where
costom for costume
probaly for probably
brot for brought
starded for started
springkool for sprinkle
wasent for wasn’t
minet for minute
pord for poured
lod op for load up
clos for clothes
woch for watch
iny for any
kam for came
dor for door
faforiet for favorite
naem for name
sester for sister

Scary, isn’t it? And yet teachers indoctrinated into ‘’progressivism,’’ ‘’constructivism’’ and Whole Language don’t believe it’s a good idea to correct misspelled words like that. Their theory is that the kids will learn the proper spelling later, on down the road. Suuuuuure they will.

Wish I could put this in every educator’s treat bag this Halloween: it takes a WHOLE bunch more effort to undo a bad habit than to teach it correctly in the first place.

No wonder spelling, vocabulary, reading comprehension, and reading enjoyment, for that matter, are in the cellar. We’re turning the English language into a secret code, and denying these kids the secret decoder ring!

This is no Halloween trick. This is serious. I say the kids deserve a treat . . . proper spelling instruction. And I spell that N-O-W.

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Friday, October 22, 2004


To finish this week’s series on alternatives to public school, let’s take a look at three news events taking place in public schools from coast to coast. Ask yourself whether these sorts of things are happening in Nebraska public schools . . . or what might keep them from happening here.

Think about the impact these events would have on students, teachers, parents and taxpayers you know. Could it be that those Nebraskans who already have their children in private schools or homeschools know something we don’t?

More than that . . . what are we going to DO about this stuff?

1. ‘’Students Disciplined for Displaying American Flag’’
Tuesday, Oct. 19

Two Sonoma Valley (Calif.) High School students were suspended for refusing to surrender American flags they displayed during a class photo session. The week before, students had been told not to bring flags ‘’or other props’’ to the photo shoot. The students said the flag is not a prop. Nearly 30 of them cut class for a pro-American demonstration outside school. Officials said they were trying to keep out inappropriate items from the school picture, so they felt they had to keep out appropriate items, too. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich is among those who came to the students’ defense.

2. Superintendent Receives Severance Package of $510,562; headline in the Ft. Worth Star-Telegram: “Tocco to End Service With Vacation’’
Friday, Oct. 22

The local public-school superintendent was “reassigned” after a billing scandal caused the district to lose nearly $16 million. He will be paid $196,350 in unused leave time on top of his annual salary of $314,212 for a total severance package that exceeds a half-million dollars. Meanwhile, one of the nation’s best-known teacher advocates, Donna Garner of nearly Waco, says in a private email that Go Big Ed receives that she retired in the year 2000 after 27 years in the classroom and now receives $1,398.16 a month in retirement pay, after $295 a month is taken out for health insurance. She writes, “With the stress placed upon classroom teachers because of increased accountability, discipline problems, litigation, and at-risk students, it is hard for classroom teachers to understand why there is such a broad discrepancy between administrative and teacher salaries.’’

3. “Muslim Re-Education’’
Wednesday, Oct. 20

Children in third, fourth and fifth grades in a public school in Herndon, Va., will play-act being Muslim alongside kids from a local Muslim school under the direction of a “multicultural trainer.’’ The trainer will explain the religious rituals of Ramadan, including fasting, how to imitate sacred Muslim prayer postures, and will lead students in praying aloud sacred Muslim words that confess a belief in Allah. It should be noted that voicing a belief in Allah, even if the person doesn’t understand what the words mean, is considered an irrevocable conversion in Islam. Among the 14,000 other things wrong with this picture, note that, to later confess belief in some other God -- such as the God of the Bible -- would require that child to be killed under Islamic law.

SCHOOL DAZE . . . ?!?!? . . . no kidding!

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Thursday, October 21, 2004


Nebraska put in place a set of homeschooling laws that were fairly good . . . but that was 20 years ago, a national homeschooling advocate says. ‘’In dog years, they’re 140 years old,’’ quipped Scott Somerville, staff attorney with the Home School Legal Defense Association (www.hslda.org).

Twenty years of experience has shown that the tight regulation and oversight of homeschooling that state government thought it should have a generation ago is basically pointless. Nebraska doesn’t require detailed record-keeping or testing, the way some states do, but it does require information to be reported about the curriculum scope and sequence, number of hours of instruction, parental background, and other matters. Furthermore, the State Board of Ed has the option, although it has not exercised it, of requiring testing and home visits by state government officials. Having that option in place is always a worry.

But the legislative trend has been more favorable toward homeschoolers in recent years. There’ve been good moves, like the one by State Sen. Pam Redfield last session to ensure that the extension of the age of compulsory education from 16 to 18 didn’t hurt homeschoolers. Now their parents can decide whether the child had met graduation requirements, instead of going by chronological age. This was a nod to the fact that homeschoolers are commonly a grade level or two ahead of their public-schooled peers.

Homeschooled students are consistently on Nebraska’s lists of top scholars on the SAT and ACT, have won numerous academic contests over their public-school peers, and have gradually gained acceptance into the mainstream of Nebraska education. See the Nebraska Christian Home Educators Association (www.nchea.org) for more.

The track record shows that any government requirements that homeschooling moms and dads have to be certified teachers are groundless, and any thought that homeschooled students should take the same curriculum-based assessments that public-school students have to take is ridiculous, since homeschooling curriculum is different and, most observers would say, based on results, better.

Meanwhile, concerns about the public-school environment, and the desire to instill more religious and moral instruction for their children, have contributed to the growth of homeschooling in Nebraska, with little or no muss or fuss. Two main reasons to be exempted from public schooling are used, which pretty much cover the bases: religious reasons, and nonreligious reasons.

Fears about whether the kids will be able to blend in to the greater society have been assuaged, not only by the good college and career track record of the past generation of homeschooled kids, but also by all kinds of group activities and opportunities that have arisen for them, such as sports leagues and choirs, to provide purposeful socialization with peers.

Homeschooling has grown to the point where now, if all Nebraska homeschooled kids were gathered into one group, they’d form one of the largest districts in the state. Note that 4,200 people attended a Christian homeschooling convention in Denver in mid-June. That’s mainstream, by the numbers.

‘’Homeschooling is growing about 7 to 15 percent per year,’’ Somerville said. ‘’It’s growing more visible and more accepted every year.’’

Somerville said the regulations are not great, not good, but ‘’fair’’ in Nebraska, and could stand an update. For example, he pointed to a Lincoln family who last year couldn’t, in good conscience, turn in all the personal information the State Department of Education requires. This information, Form B of the State Board of Education’s Rule 13, calls for various personal data beyond name, rank and serial number. The form is an example of what today’s homeschooling leaders call an ‘’outdated’’ regulatory approach, since homeschooling’s track record has shown that homeschoolers generally do as well or better than highly-regulated public-schooled children.

The Lincoln family contacted the HSLDA to help them navigate the choppy, uncharted waters of what the educrats might call ‘’noncompliance.’’ They faced possible truancy or child neglect charges. After exchanging letters, the State Department of Education turned the matter over to the Lincoln Public Schools, recommending that they prosecute this family.

But LPS wisely declined. What’s the point? So it looks like all is well.

Good job, LPS.

Good job, homeschoolers.

Micromanaging regulations: you’re an old dog, and a dead dog. You’re a dog that won’t hunt. Look at the facts: homeschooling’s doing fine without a lot of state interference. HOWL-eluia!


NEW HOMESCHOOLER ORIENTATION MEETING is scheduled from 3 – 4:30 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 26, by the Omaha chapter of the Home Educators Network. Persons residing in the greater Omaha area and western Iowa are encouraged to attend. Support will be offered for those who want to homeschool for both religious and nonreligious reasons. Contact Phyllis Titus, 895-0817, or Board@OmahaHEN.org for location and details.

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Wednesday, October 20, 2004

Third in a series about alternatives to public schools

On this day in 1982, 450 fundamentalist preachers flocked to Louisville, Neb., barricading themselves inside Faith Christian Church in protest of the fact that the church’s pastor, the Rev. Everett Sileven, had been jailed for running an unauthorized Christian school.

I didn’t have any kids then and was working for the local daily in Omaha. I think like a lot of people, I was kind of sneering at them. Won’t use state-certified teachers? Won’t submit to accreditation standards for educational quality control? To jail with them, then. Take ‘em in the wacky wagon.

Boy, is my face red today.

The fight between Rev. Sileven and the State Education Department, prompted by the Nebraska State Education Association, dragged on from the time the Christian school opened in August 1977 ‘til a 1984 state law supposedly formed an acceptable compromise.

And all that time, probably like most Nebraskans, I didn’t understand what was at stake. I thought it was a stuck-up, big-haired, extremist preacher trying to throw his weight around against the professional education establishment that my tax dollars supported.

So as the State padlocked that church, and talked of using tear gas to drive out the 100 supporters inside, and repeatedly jailed Sileven and, finally, seven fathers on Thanksgiving Eve, and held them in jail for 44 days plus for refusing to answer questions . . . during all of that, I still thought the State was right.

I can’t BELIEVE I did. We nearly had a Waco on our hands, or a Ruby Ridge.

Now I see that it was a clear violation of those church members’ First Amendment rights, to say that their church school had to be government-regulated beyond basic fire and safety issues.

Now that I have children who’ve gone through public schools, and realize that the quality in them is not always so hot, that teacher certification is a joke (don’t believe me? ask any teacher), and that it was really unconstitutional for the State to be demanding compulsory attendance records and teacher ‘’competency’’ testing from that little church school, I owe Sileven and his supporters a big apology.

Oh, well, though: we’re all lifelong learners, aren’t we?

Anyway, I think it was the following winter, when I had quit my job to stay at home with our firstborn, but was free-lancing, that USA Today called to assign me to go down to Louisville to cover a development in that story. I think one dad had cracked and was to be released from jail.

Well, with my head packed full of pro-government propaganda, ready to go down there and expose those church-school proponents as the cuckoos I just KNEW they were, I arranged child-care for my baby, and hopped into my car.

And then I proceeded to get high-centered on a pile of snow in the driveway . . . and never did get down there to cover the story. (Great Moments in Dignity. So much for the product of a public school, eh?)

Remember how harsh that winter was? About as cold and stinging as most Nebraskans’ view of unaccredited, unapproved church schools, I’d say. It’s a good thing I never made it down there, after all. I never have liked how USA Today glosses over complicated stories, and that would have been what I would have had to do, in 500 words or whatever they’d give me.

Plus I wouldn’t be happy, now, if I’d been among the pack of wolves who snarled and snapped at our fellow Americans who just wanted to run their church school and be left in peace . . . but the government couldn’t stand to yield them their freedom.

Because that’s what that story was really about: freedom of religion, and its essential twin, freedom of education. You can’t have one without the other. I think the bottom line about Louisville is that the State wants to control all education, including the private schools and homeschools. The more success that is found outside the State’s control, the less money and power will flow through the State. To them, that’s scary. To us, it should be exciting. And increasingly, I think people are waking up to that fact, that freedom in education is the way to go.

I’m sad that Nebraska’s name was smeared by being the scene of such an assault on religious liberty. But I’m happy that, as far as I can tell, the vast majority of Nebraskans now believe that church schools should have to right to teach kids their way, in peace, above and beyond State control except for simple safety issues. And why? Because church schools are performing a ministry that outranks government, without receiving a cent of tax dollars, and by all accounts, like homeschoolers, church schools are doing a better job of educating kids than the public schools, which have voluminous regulations and heavy tax support, anyway.

Read more about Sileven and how all this fits together in a long article by respected education activist Samuel Blumenfeld:


And next time you’re thinking of Nebraska heroes and Hall of Famers, think of the Rev. Everett Sileven. Sorry I didn’t ‘’get it’’ back then, Pastor. Hope to make it up to you, and meet you someday, in that totally unregulated, unaccredited place . . . where The Roll is Called Up Yonder.

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Tuesday, October 19, 2004


When I rode my dinosaur to public school in what’s now central Omaha, there were three choices: public school, private school or parochial school. Once you got started in one of those choices, you pretty much stayed with it all the way to graduation.

Now there are dozens of ways to get the education job done. Diversity and change are the way of the world, you know. In the olden days, the typical career went like this: you’d work in one basic capacity for one employer all your life . . . but now you might have 10 different kinds of jobs for 10 different employers. Lots of change going on. Well, it’s the same thing now with schooling.

If you browse through websites such as the Alliance for the Separation of School & State (http://HonestEd.com) you begin to see the amazing variety of options and combinations for schooling these days:

Public school

Private, nonsectarian school

Private, faith-based school

Charter school (a hybrid of public and private education; not allowed in Nebraska)

Academies, public or private, with a more tightly-focused curriculum, such as technology or the arts


Private kindergarten (often associated with a child-care center)

Private tutors

Private mentors

University model schools

Community schools (attend private school for two or three days a week and do home studying with parental guidance for the rest of the week; see www.gfi.org)

Online schools (some are narrowly-focused and supplemental, such as focusing on classic books that are no longer taught in public schools)


Homeschooling co-ops, in which parents share the teaching duties and may go together to pay a teacher as well

The last few options are the ones that interest me. My husband and I are older than the average parent and have enough income so that we aren’t dependent on public education. My work is also very time-flexible. From talking with homeschoolers, they say that, because there are so few distractions, they can get their teaching done in a couple of hours, versus having a child off to school for seven hours or more. It’s not that hard to work an adult schedule around a couple of hours. And I’m beginning to think it’d be worth it for my child, unless I can find something better within an existing school.

I just believe very strongly that vocabulary is destiny, and the way to get a great vocabulary is by becoming a great reader. I don’t think that happens very often in a formal, organized setting such as a public school. So reading instruction is my top priority. That isn’t shared by many kindergarten teachers or education administrators, who value socialization and behavior above academics. Of course, I value them, too, but not at the expense of the 3 R’s.

Who better to teach a child ALL of the above, than her own Mom?

I could teach in the mornings, put her in child-care in the afternoons, and still have enough time to do all the adult-world stuff I need to do. Homeschooling might be impossible for someone who needs to work full time, but it makes sense for someone like me. The main driver is what’s best for Maddy.

I can see tremendous advantages for homeschooling her for her kindergarten year and maybe first grade so that she gets the basics of reading, writing, math and penmanship down pat. I believe 1-on-1 is the ideal way to instill the basics correctly. I mean, you can’t beat that staff-to-child ratio.

There also are a growing number of group activities being offered for homeschoolers that will make sure she keeps building up a big circle of friends and experiences beyond our family’s four walls.

Then maybe we could put her in a private school part-time for a few years, and homeschool her a couple of afternoons a week, for example, not only to keep up that individual attention, but also to expose her to cool learning experiences that no formal, organized school can do. I’d be interested in getting with a few other parents to do that on a cooperative basis, to spread out the burden beyond myself, and also to take advantage of the diversity of skills and interests that different parents would like to share.

After that, if she wants to, she could go to regular public or private school, maybe through high school, and supplement any watered-down curriculum with some distance learning options or maybe a tutor or mentor in the area she might be interested in studying in college.

The ‘’factory model’’ for education -- the one-size-fits-all, cookie cutter approach -- is dead. Choice and creativity are much, much better for kids . . . though they’re a little more work for parents.

The point is, you used to make your educational choice between two main options, public or private, and then stick with it.

Now we’re no longer stuck. Isn’t that great?

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Monday, October 18, 2004


A friend sent a passionate article by a California woman, Debbie O’Hara, published Oct. 5 on www.NewsWithViews.com, ‘’The Sinister Agenda Behind America’s High Illiteracy.’’

The gist of it is that closet socialists have made Americans dumb on purpose and reversed our formerly high rates of literacy by installing boneheaded teaching methods in our public schools over the past several decades.

I don’t buy all of that. But I do believe it was a grievous error to wipe out the proper instruction of phonics in the early grades to teach reading, and switch to the ‘’Dick and Jane’’ picture book style. Phonics is text-based and builds intellect and vocabulary. Whole language, in stark contrast, is image-based and makes children less facile with text. They don’t read as well, they don’t spell as well, they don’t understand as many words, and presto! They don’t think as well.

Whether you think there’s a massive anti-American conspiracy behind this or not, the article provides an astounding reference list for anyone who, like me, might be researching the alternatives to public education. We have a 4-year-old, and things have changed a whole bunch since our oldest, now 21, was going into kindergarten.

This week, I’ll give short reports on some of these, with a Nebraska connection where I can make it:

Alliance for the Separation of School & State:

SepCon2004: SepCon2004 is the conference for those who recognize that school-by-government simply cannot be reformed. If we are to ever achieve honest education -- where teachers can honestly tell parents what they are teaching -- we must end government involvement in schooling: http://sepcon.org/index.php

Considering Homeschooling:

Exodus Mandate Project:


Homeschooling from a Biblical Worldview:

Let My Children Go:

Nehemiah Institute, Inc.:

Parents United in Responsibility for Education (PURE):

Rescue 2010:

SBC Christian Education Resolution:

Related Article Web Links |||

21 Ways "Public Schools" Harm Your Children:

America's Failing Public Education System:

Education: What Pastors and Parents Need to Know:

The Failure of American Education:

How Government Control -- Even Local -- Has Ruined Education:

Teachers, Curriculum, Control: A "World" of Difference in Public and Private Schools:

The Underground History of American Education:

What’s Really Wrong with Public Schools?:

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Friday, October 15, 2004


Nebraska Education Commissioner Doug Christensen said at Chadron State College the other day that more than 50 percent of the state's Indian youth will drop out of school, and absentee rates approach 50 percent for some Native American youngsters (source: StatePaper.com).

That compares to a statewide dropout rate of 1.93 percent, according to State Education Department figures (statistics: http://ess.nde.state.ne.us).

Even in the Omaha Public Schools, the district with by far the most dropouts, with 1,031 reported in the 2002-03 school year, the rate was 5.17 percent.

There are far more dropouts, proportionately by race, among Indian students than among African-American and Hispanics in the Omaha Public Schools and Lincoln Public Schools. But the Indian dropout problem is most apparent in the Indian schools within the state.

Two caveats: urban schools are notorious for manipulating dropout data as much as possible to make themselves look good when that’s best for them financially, and to look bad when THAT’S best for them financially. So it’s within the realm of possibility that these figures don’t show the real story. Short of tracking down all 2,911 kids who dropped out of Nebraska schools that year and interviewing them, though, these numbers are the best we have.

The other warning is that the vast majority of Nebraska school districts are so small, with minority populations even smaller, that one decision to stay in school or drop out by one individual can greatly skew the percentages.

Now, here’s why the Native American dropout rate is instructive:

When the federal education monolith known as Goals 2000, now No Child Left Behind, was first being drafted, people who were in favor of going back to the traditional model of locally-controlled public schools pointed to the appalling state of the Native American schools on reservations in this country. The Indian schools were said to be a snapshot of where we’re headed with fed ed.

Why? Because they are essentially national schools, not local ones. The money comes almost entirely from taxes paid into, and regulated by, federal agencies.

Nobody can establish without a doubt that that’s why the Indian schools are so disappointing. But nobody can disprove it, either. Though the sociological problems are very difficult, I’m convinced that Native American kids come to kindergarten just as smart and just as eager to learn as any other kids. It’s what happens while they are in school that apparently is causing 25 times more of them to drop out than the statewide average.

Because of increased federal funding and strings attached, such as graduation requirements, benchmarks and mandated assessments, Goals 2000 and, now, NCLB were seen as another step toward nationalized schools, along with the U.S. Department of Education and other federal forays into K-12 schooling that really shouldn’t have been allowed, since they’re unconstitutional under the 10th Amendment.

But the 10th Amendment isn’t very good for business, if you’re an educrat. All kinds of federally-funded “at risk” programs are being put in place for kids thought to have special needs in schools around the country, including Indian students. Again, the traditionalists argued that what at-risk kids really need, just like all kids, are the 3 R’s and tried-and-true school management principles instead of weenie, socialistic progressivism. But the 3 R’s and simple rules don’t bring in a whole bunch of money and employ a whole bunch of educators the way the federal programs do. So the federal programs won.

The Native American schools reflect that most of all. They are essentially government schools. Other public schools in Nebraska are headed that way, but aren’t there yet. If people knew what fed ed does, they’d never want it for our kids. So maybe stats like this can keep nationalization of our schools from happening.

The bottom line: putting the money and the power in Washington, D.C., destroys local schools. The model we have for that -- the sad example -- is our Native American schools. The model for success is a school in which parents and teachers have the most say-so. So the model school program, the one we should be demanding, is one which minimizes all governmental influence, especially at the federal level.

Honest Injun . . . this is a horrible scandal. We ought to be calling for the cavalry to bring academic excellence back into all of our schools, but especially for those that are supposed to be giving our first Americans an equal chance at the American dream.

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Thursday, October 14, 2004


For those who have been bothered by the ethics of the fact that Nebraska public schools have taken a cut of some $80.2 million from the statewide lottery in the past 10 years or so, take heart. A school in Idaho has become an outstanding role model that the Cornhusker State’s schools could emulate.

According to a report published Wednesday on MSNBC.com, the North Star Public Charter School in Boise, Idaho, turned down a check for $10,000 because it came from the Idaho State Lottery.

The article said “school officials decided that taking gambling money would conflict with the school’s mission of developing virtuous citizens.’’ They also said that gambling preys on the less fortunate in our communities, and that “children are the ones who will pay for it.’’

Well, what do you know? Isn’t that JUST what I’ve been SAYING?

The report said that a check with several other states turned up no other examples of schools that turned down the ‘’filthy lucre’’ of gambling proceeds.

How about it? Is there some trustworthy, honest, courteous, brave, clean, kind and reverent school official in Nebraska with the backbone to do this? To put character education in practice as an example for those innocent little eyes that are watching our every move?

I hope a lot of educators are mentally awake and morally straight enough to do this.

Way to go, Idaho!

(Source: “Idaho School Turns Down Lottery Check’’ on www.msnbc.msn.com/id/6237303/ )

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Wednesday, October 13, 2004


I just read a scary article about what happened when they put in expanded gambling in Michigan. It was supposed to be ‘’for the kids.’’ You know: to help education. Gambling proceeds were forecast as providing so much for the public schools, there’d be new computers stacked to the moon, a staff-to-child ratio of 1:1, and tenderloin and Dove bars on those green cafeteria trays every lunch hour.


What really happened is that lottery proceeds now make up 4 percent of Michigan’s education tax burden. The overall burden is much, much higher than before gambling came in. So the net gain has been next to nothing, from the taxpayers’ point of view.

The vast majority of the educational funding still comes from local, state and federal taxes. And when you count all the social costs of expanded gambling that far exceed gambling revenue by an estimated 300 percent, the truth is, it didn’t add to education . . . it subtracted from it.

Michigan, like just about every other state in the union, including states with far more gambling than Nebraska has, is in a spending crunch right now. Like Nebraska, it doesn’t have enough money to cover its expenses . . . but gambling isn’t making things better there. It’s making them worse, especially on the citizens who are already having the hardest time getting ahead educationally and financially.

See the June 3, 2002, article, “State Lotteries Vs. Truth-in-Advertising’’ on www.mackinac.org/article.asp?ID=4379 and see if you don’t recognize that what happened there is bound to happen here, if casinos and thousands of slot machines are OK’ed by Nebraska voters on the Nov. 2 ballot.

But here’s what really scared me about the Michigan results:

The average player there spent $313 a year on lottery tickets. But those with an income of less than $10,000 a year spent far more -- an average of $597.

African-Americans spent an average of $998 per year, vs. a $210 yearly average by whites.

More than half the lottery tickets were bought by 5 percent of the players -- obvious evidence of compulsion there, ya think?

But here’s what really got me: high-school dropouts spent four times as much as college graduates.

So the people who have the least amount of money to lose are basically the ones losing the most.

Years ago, when they wanted to get a lottery into Nebraska, and succeeded, I was against it. It was because I had read a study about what happened in inner-city Baltimore when the lottery came in there. Gambling was supposed to be the Second Coming of Government Funding -- put in gambling and it’ll help our schools and be “for the kids.’’ An elaborate grants program was set up, like Nebraska’s.

Riiiiiiiiiight. What really happened is that most of the money came from the poorest Census tracts -- wagered away by those least likely to be able to afford it. And yet the vast majority of the grants went to suburban school districts, which were more likely to be savvy about grant-writing and have frills they wanted. Not needed, but wanted.

And now Baltimore public schools, despite this marvelous gambling boon, are in a world of hurt financially, and basically the district is falling apart.

See the regressive aspect of gambling? The “government as Robin Hood’’ character of it?

Casinos and slots would be just one more sack of rocks on the backs of Nebraska’s lower-income people, the very ones who need to be providing good homes and help with college for their kids, not frittering away their cash into slot machines.

Can you really feel good about getting yet another computer in your suburban school from gambling proceeds, knowing that it came out of the hides of the poor, pretty much?

I’m betting the Nov. 2 gambling measures will fail, for one simple reason:

We don’t have anywhere near enough high-school dropouts in this state to buy the idea that gambling is good, thank God. The vast majority of our people are smarter than that. Let’s hope those smarts translate to the polls, or what happened in other states is going to repeat itself, and that’s tragic . . . ‘’for the kids.’’

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Tuesday, October 12, 2004


One of the outrageous claims made by the pro-gambling forces who want to foist casinos and nearly 5,000 slot machines onto Nebraska is that the vast mountains of money gambling amasses will ‘’help our schools.’’

Suuuuuuuuuuure it will.


Imagine each dollar wagered as a pile of 100 pennies. Now, something like 90 of those pennies will be returned to the people who are duped into thinking that, somehow, if they bet money, they’ll wind up with more. Ain’t-a gonna happen; that’s programmed into the deal. The house always wins.

But anyway, of the 10 remaining pennies, several will have to go for local operating expenses, and then there’s the profits, which of course will NOT stay here in Nebraska, but will flow back to the Nevada-based casino owners.

That will leave maybe a penny on the dollar for state officials. And after they take their “cut,’’ and then divvy up the minuscule amount that’s left for various good causes, then maybe, if we’re lucky, one-fourth of one cent per dollar wagered will wind up ‘’helping our schools.’’

As if more money is what they need, anyway. According to a report on school budgets compiled for State Sen. Ron Raikes by the State Auditor’s Office earlier this year, and duly reported on Go Big Ed, the total adopted budget requirements per student in Nebraska for the 2003-04 school year was $13,843.66.

If they can’t get K-12 education done for that, then do we really believe that another quarter-cent per dollar wagered in a sea of irritatingly noisy, nasty, destructive slot machines in bars, restaurants and casinos from Nebraska’s east coast to west is going to make a particle of difference?

Come on, now. Let’s go to school on this. Give yourself an ‘’F’’ for “Foolish’’ if you still buy that hype, that gambling helps schools.

Besides, according to the professionals in gambling addictions counseling and recovery, the average cost per year to taxpayers of just one addicted gambler is between $14,006 and $22,077, and that’s above and beyond his or her gambling losses.

That’s in unemployment compensation, bad debts, theft, civil court procedure costs, criminal justice costs, welfare, treatment . . . all kinds of new costs that wouldn’t have been ours to bear, most likely, if not for legalized, addictive gambling.

(Source: economics professor Earl Grinols, University of Illinois, December 2001 report, quoted in ‘’Gambling: 2004 Nebraska ballot,’’ by Chad Hills, posted online last week at www.family.org/cforum/fosi/gambling/gitus/a0034036.cfm)

Now, just think about the home life that a child would have, in a household with that kind of stuff going on. What kind of a learning environment would that be? How on earth could it “help our schools’’ to put a bunch of kids through that hell?

You’d have to be crazy to support gambling now, realizing that it will burden us with all those additional, negative, unnecessary social costs, and make things so hard for a lot of kids to succeed in school. Meanwhile, when we’re paying those additional expenses and trying to help those kids, try to find more money for schools THEN.

THAT’S how to ‘’help our schools.’’ Don’t allow expanded gambling in Nebraska in the first place.

Vote casiNO on Nov. 2.

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Monday, October 11, 2004


Over the weekend, I learned of two lousy choices made by public-school teachers involving biased, propagandistic movies that they showed to their students. Parents are going to have to ask teachers and principals to control themselves in movie selection, or do away with in-class movies altogether, which wouldn’t be a bad move, anyway.

In Beaumont, Texas, a high-school English class watched ‘’Fahrenheit 9/11,’’ Michael Moore’s scathing and inaccurate anti-American Bushwhacking, according to a Saturday article on HoustonChronicle.com

A businessman and veteran whose son was in the class is objecting, especially since the film is R-rated, yet no parental consent was obtained for the showing. In addition, there are some kids in the class who are of voting age. That’s bad, too, the businessman was quoted as saying, since he called the film “spun’’ with a radical leftist slant and shown shortly before a national election.

The father said he went to see the film a while ago, to see if it was something he wanted his family to see, and judged it as not worth their time. So he was “livid’’ when the teacher chose to use class time to show it without his knowledge, and deny an equal rebuttal so that the other side of the story – the pro-Bush side – could get an equal footing with the kids. Biased curriculum is nothing less than censorship, after all.

That’s how I would feel, too, if I were the eastern Nebraska parents I talked to, whose daughter saw a recent version of the great American classic movie, ‘’The Scarlet Letter,’’ in school . . . but it bore no moral comparison to the real story line.

In the new movie, a romantic taint is put on the two main characters, and they ride off into the sunset together, getting away scot-free with their adultery.

In the book, you’ll recall, there were all sorts of moral complexities, and the adulterers paid for what they did very dearly.

But parents mostly have noooooo idea that the two versions are so different. When this mom and dad first learned that their child watched that movie, they thought it was a good assignment. Now that they know of the ‘’spin’’ in it, they’re livid. I think it might have been “R” rated, too. But it’ll take all kinds of work on their part to make sure the kids get the straight scoop on the moral consequences of adultery. As of now, it’s been effectively censored out of their classroom.

The damage may have already been done, too. With this generation, movies have been shown to be far more powerful than textual readings.

So which story will the students in that classroom remember, learn from, and act upon?

And will those Texas kids always mistrust President Bush and other Republicans or conservatives . . . or Christians . . . because of that nasty film? Is that fair?

Of course not. Parents and taxpayers, let your school officials know your feelings about these supplemental videos that can do so much damage. You have as much a right to inspect them in advance as you do with any textbook or learning material given to your child, and paid for at taxpayer expense. Demand advance parental notification of video presentations in the classroom -- or make educators wear a different kind of scarlet letter -- ‘’C,’’ for ‘’Censorship.’’

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Friday, October 08, 2004


Isn’t it nice to know that today’s students are still smart and witty? Go Big Ed has reported on some pretty negative topics lately, so I thought I’d send a TGIF anecdote about parental involvement, school spirit and a cute student wisecrack from the local high school.

For our daughter’s softball district tournament, to go with the many signs we parents made to spur on the team, I made a 15-foot tall bat out of some PVP pipe, poster board and landscaping plastic. It looked awesome. The significance was that they needed BIG STICKS to do well. Nyuck nyuck.

I wanted a big softball to go with it, of course. A friend suggested one of those rubber bouncy balls people use for exercise. Perfect! I got a four-foot one, and spray-painted it fluorescent yellow-green, just like a softball.

I spray-painted the ball on Tuesday. On Wednesday, it still wasn’t dry. I figured it was because it was rainy and pretty humid out in the garage. The ball’s surface was sticky, but my husband was still able to draw lacing on it with red magic marker.

At 6:30 a.m. Thursday, when I loaded the bat and ball into the back of our pickup to put them up outside school, the paint was still pretty sticky. Oh, well. It still looked great.

Well, after school, I guess some boys had gotten the ball out of its moorings and were playing with it. The principal had to come over and get them to stop. Yep, the paint was STILL wet.

One of Eden’s friends cracked me up when he said:

‘’Since it was still so sticky, we can tell exactly who moved it. They were caught . . . GREEN-HANDED.’’

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Thursday, October 07, 2004


The disturbing merger between public schools and health care was set back a little bit this week. Omaha’s Westside Community Schools canceled its subsidized $20 flu shots for students, staff and families in the wake of the vaccine shortage caused by a British company’s manufacturing problems.

As Go Big Ed reported Sept. 17, Westside and Children’s Hospital were collaborating on the program, seen as another foot in the door for the morphing of schools into all-around social-service centers. The plan is to offer ‘’one-stop shopping’’ at school to replace parents in covering the health, education, welfare and job acquisition needs of children and their families.

Socialism, in other words.

Now Westside is stuck having to return everybody’s money, and it’s a big mess. That’s the thing about mission creep: once you get off course of your basic mission -- in this case, academics -- you generally have trouble.

Financially and medically, the subsidized flu shots didn’t make much sense, other than serving as a loss leader to start indoctrinating parents into thinking of the school as the leader in meeting their child’s health-care needs instead of preserving that job for themselves.

It’s the same thing that has happened with the government-subsidized free or reduced lunch program. Parents have washed their hands of a huge responsibility of parenting -- providing food -- and a huge amount of regard and respect by their children, for pennies a day in government subsidies.

Now public schools are attempting to shift that transfer of power and allegiance into health care, as well. That’s despite enormous difficulties in areas such as teenage sexuality and whether it’s proper for a school clinic to be handing out condoms and making referrals to abortion providers.

From the medical community’s perspective, the clinic format is a vast departure from the usual standard of care, in which the health-care provider has a longstanding professional relationship with the patient and family. This kind of takes the doctor out of the loop, and puts the school superintendent, who negotiates these sorts of contracts, in the driver’s seat.

It’s also a big question mark how the school-based flu shots were going to work out under federal medical privacy regulations. Volunteers were going to be handling a lot of medical-related paperwork that isn’t supposed to veer beyond the health-care provider and the patient. You can find out alllllllll sorts of things that way. Not good.

We’ll take another look soon at the status of school-based health care in Nebraska. There are some big, big bucks involved, and some things going on that are causing concern.

Healthy children is everybody’s goal, of course. But what’s happening in this area, or could happen in the near future, is enough to make you . . . sick.

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Wednesday, October 06, 2004


An unbelievable story emerged Sunday from WABC-TV in New York. A middle-school teacher in Monmouth Junction, N.J., says she was fired for hanging a picture of President Bush on her classroom wall. The Bush picture was alongside pictures of other presidents, the American flag and the Declaration of Independence.

Shiba Pillai-Diaz was quoted as saying that three parents confronted her at Back-to-School night and demanded that she add a picture of presidential candidate John Kerry, or take the Bush picture down. She said she took the entire display down, but was told by her boss that she had disrupted the whole school with her ‘’inflammatory politics.’’ She said she was asked for her keys, and told to leave the building.

You can see it for yourself on www.abclocal.go.com

So what’s the Nebraska connection? Just a little preventive move.

If this happens here, I would hope that taxpayers would then cut off ALL images of U.S. presidents that would have any contact whatsoever with public schools and school officials. That includes MONEY . . . since there are U.S. presidents on our money.

If you’re going to censor, no more cash. Fair enough?

While we’re at it, we should demand that images, logos, symbols, pictures or other representations that are anti-American or which are explicitly contrary to any particular religion should be immediately stripped from classrooms and all taxpayer-provided office space, hallways and windows, immediately.

That includes all Halloween decorations, any yin-yang or other New Age symbols, stuff about yoga, stuff about homosexuality, stuff about the war in Iraq, stuff about Middle East strife over Israel, any U.N. symbols, and of course, any materials, brochures, certificates or plaques from the National Education Association, which is a two-fer – anti-American and anti-Christian.

But I’m not a censor. If THEY don’t try to make us take down legitimate symbols, like a picture of our current President, then WE won’t make THEM take down their illegitimate ones, even though they probably should.

Fair enough?

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Tuesday, October 05, 2004


I heard the other day that the zip code around Millard West High School is the highest-income zip code in the State of Nebraska. That’s why it was surprising that only one senior out of a class of 413* at Millard West has been named a National Merit Semifinalist. That’s one of the poorest showings in the state for a big high school, and yet they say that money talks on standardized tests and the richer the student body, the better the test scores.


On the other hand, tiny little Duchesne Academy in inner-city Omaha had four Merit Scholars out of a senior population of 67* students. That’s 6 percent, just about double the rate for Omaha Westside High School, thought to be one of the wealthiest, highest-spending districts in the state.

And Creighton Prep logged even more: 14 of the 222 in Prep’s senior class earned the nation’s highest designation for academic success, or 6.3 percent, the highest in the state. That compares to the roughly one-half of 1 percent in the Omaha Public Schools and the Lincoln Public Schools who made the National Merit mark. More than 12 times as many, in other words.

So is the difference really richer demographics among student families?

Or is the difference-maker good, old-fashioned, traditional, toughly-focused academics, plus discipline and the good staff-home relations that all come with private education and, unfortunately, not so much any more in the public schools?

If you have smart kids and you want them to have the best crack at good test scores and scholarship offers, plus a good shot at getting in to the college of their choice, private schools appear to offer the best pathway, at least in this statistical comparison.

Private School / # Seniors Enrolled* / # 2004-05 National Merit Semifinalists / %

Brownell-Talbot / 28 / 1 / 3.6%
Creighton Prep / 222 / 14 / 6.3%
Duchesne Academy / 67 / 4 / 6%
Gross / 127 / 1 / .78 of 1%
Marian / 157 / 6 / 3.8%
Mount Michael / 28 / 1 / 3.6%
Skutt / 142 / 3 / 2.1%

Public School / # Seniors Enrolled* / # 2004-05 National Merit Semifinalists / %

Lincoln Public Schools / 2,602 / 15 / .58 of 1%
Millard Public Schools / 1,516 / 13 / .86 of 1%
Omaha Public Schools / 2,688 / 14 / .52 of 1%
Westside Community Schools / 357 / 11 / 3.1%

Statewide combined / # Seniors Enrolled* / #2004-05 National Merit Semifinalists / %

Public & private schools / 24,099 / 135 / .56 of 1%

NOTE: There were also 3 homeschooled students in Nebraska named to the National Merit rolls, also a significantly higher rate in the total homeschooled student body than in the public schools.


• The National Merit Semifinalist totals, announced last week, are for this year’s seniors based on the PSAT exam they took last school year. Because schools have not yet reported their 2004-05 enrollment data to the State Department of Education, the 2003-04 data was used, figuring that this year’s senior class sizes won’t vary that much. Find enrollment and other statistics on the State Ed Department’s statistics website under “Data & Information,” http://ess.nde.state.ne.us

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Monday, October 04, 2004


It’s nice to know that a national organization sees the same problems Go Big Ed sees with computers in the classroom. Not only is there a disturbing change in intellectual processes caused by ‘’screen-based learning,’’ but there’s a disturbing wedge driven into the teacher-student relationship. Then there’s the commercialization and trivialization of school curriculum. And there’s the wooing by vendors using fancy trips and whatnot to get lucrative contracts for school materials, including computer equipment, out of school officials.

See last month’s ‘’Laptops of Luxury’’ series on educational technology on Go Big Ed, and then check out the report ‘’Tech Tonic: Towards a New Literacy of Technology’’ on

The Alliance for Childhood is a nonprofit partnership of educators, health professionals, researchers, parents and other child advocates, based in Maryland. Here are excerpts from their press release:

‘’New report says government and high-tech industry foist expensive and unproven technology on schools, hurting children and undermining real technology literacy

‘’Sept. 30, 2004—The high-tech, screen-centered life style of today’s children—at home and at school—is a health hazard and the polar opposite of the education they need to take part in making ethical choices in a high-tech democracy, according to a new report released today by the Alliance for Childhood.

‘’Tech Tonic: Towards a New Literacy of Technology challenges education standards and industry assertions that all teachers and children, from preschool up, should use computers in the classroom to develop technology literacy. That expensive agenda ignores evidence that high-tech classrooms have done little if anything to improve student achievement, the report says.

‘’The report strongly criticizes the extensive financial and political connections between education officials and school technology vendors. It urges citizens to wake up to the increasing influence of corporations in policymaking for public education.

“The lack of evidence or an expert consensus that computers will improve student achievement—despite years of efforts by high-tech companies and government agencies to demonstrate otherwise—is itself compelling evidence of the need for change,” Tech Tonic states. “It’s time to scrap . . . national, state, and local policies that require all students and all teachers to use computers in every grade, and that eliminate even the possibility of alternatives.”

‘’’To expect our teachers, our schools, and our nation to strive to educate all of our children, leaving none behind, is a worthy goal,’ Tech Tonic says. ‘To insist that they must at the same time spend huge amounts of money and time trying to integrate unproven classroom technologies into their teaching, across the curriculum with preschoolers on up, is an unwise and costly diversion from that goal. It comes at the expense of our neediest children and schools, for whom the goal is most distant.’

‘’’It is within the context of relationships that children learn best,’ adds Dr. Marilyn Benoit, past president of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and vice president of the Alliance Board of Trustees. ‘As we shift more towards the impersonal use of high technology as a major tool for teaching young children, we will lose that critical context of interactive relationship that so reinforces early learning.’’’

What’d I tell you?

We ain’t just whistlin’ Dixie on this, sports fans.

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Friday, October 01, 2004


The Milwaukee school-choice program just gained a PR boost with a study that nearly twice as many students in the choice program graduate than in the regular public schools.

According to Jay Greene of the Manhattan Institute, 64 percent of the students who used vouchers to switch from public schools to private schools graduated, compared to 36 percent of students who stayed in the Milwaukee public schools. Note that the family backgrounds, income levels and parental educational attainment of the two groups of students are essentially the same.

The news doesn’t necessarily prove that school-choice systems are better than what we have now, just that private schools are better than public schools in the key measurement, graduation rates.

There are lots of problems and hazards with voucher systems. The most critical is that the ‘’strings’’ attached to public money are too dangerous. By “strings,’’ I mean accountability measurements such as government assessments that would likely be mandated in private schools that accept voucher revenues. If the kids don’t do well on those assessments, the voucher revenues would be cut off. This would at the least mutate, and more probably, destroy, private-school curriculum.

The reason: private schools would have to change their ‘’input’’ into students so that the kids’ ‘’output’’ on government assessments would be satisfactory. If private schools keep teaching the good, objective, traditional academics they now deliver, the kids won’t do well on the subjective, nonacademic, Politically Correct government assessments. So vouchers may wind up strangling the alternatives to public education instead of helping more kids get a better education.

I’m not calling for a voucher system in Nebraska, because of that likelihood, and also because I don’t think the public schools in Nebraska are anywhere near as bad as they must be in Milwaukee. Think of it: two-thirds of the kids in that city’s public schools don’t graduate. That’s certainly far afield from the results in even the poorest neighborhoods in the Cornhusker State.

What I am calling for, though, is more scrutiny of how much better private schools are than the public ones in this state. I think they’re better -- in some cases, a lot better. And if they are, how can we get more kids into private education? That’s the study I’d like to see.

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