Wednesday, October 21, 2009


Three cheers for former Nebraska Attorney General Don Stenberg and his clients. They filed a lawsuit to point out that the Legislature's Learning Community is 'way off-road of the state constitution when it comes to assessing tax dollars. It's unfair, it's socialistic, and even though this would only chip away at its power, it's a good first step to get rid of it entirely.

Here's the lowdown:


Meaning no disrespect to the late State Sen. Ron Raikes and former state senator and now Learning Community board member Ernie Chambers, who designed the LC, but what a boneheaded idea the Learning Community was and is.

The problems with this socialistic model of educational governance go 'way beyond the injustices of inequitable revenue extraction, positioning the Elkhorn School District, among others, as a loser, and districts including Millard and Westside as the winners.

The real problem is how the revenue production and dispersion has NOTHING to do with local control, everything to do with consolidation of power -- which always leads to corruption and waste -- and nothing to do with educators "on the ground" making the decisions for how to spend resources.

What the LC has in mind is, apparently, fancy-pants, high-tech "focus schools" with all the bells and whistles that will make construction companies rich and "look good on paper" for the political hotshots and big-government, left-wing donors who will be involved -- BUT ARE NOT WHAT KIDS NEED TO IMPROVE THEIR READING, WRITING, MATH AND THINKING SKILLS.

I've read about 10 books by authors of all political stripes on how to improve academic achievement among low-income students. That's my passion, and it's the ostensible purpose of the Learning Community. But I've been gravely disappointed by the LC concept since it was first proposed. The creation of yet another level of bureaucracy and expense that distances the educational power elite and control over curriculum and instruction even further from parents and students is NOT one of the many, many practical and cost-effective solutions that are being tried in other states.

We need to drive the money source CLOSER to the students, their families and their teachers, not further away, if we hope to meet their needs.

It was encouraging to learn last summer that Chambers is a new fan of systematic, intensive, explicit phonics -- which I firmly believe is a key solution to the outrageous lack of literacy among all income levels of students right now, something that all schools should have had in place 20 years ago.

So I hope this lawsuit can dissolve the Learning Community bureaucracy while preserving the network of well-meaning citizens, including Chambers, who can devote their efforts to doing what will WORK:

-- phonics and other no-nonsense language instruction in the early grades with a return to quality children's literature instead of the senseless, pointless and disturbing stuff that's on the reading lists of most public schools today;

-- traditional, systematically-taught, computation-based math instead of "whole math" with its ineffective "spiraling" which makes kids jacks of all math trades, but masters of none;

-- a true market system with meaningful school choice for parents, involving the public, private and homeschooling educational communities, instead of a shell game that "allows" students to choose among cookie-cutter, overstandardized public schools only, and only if they have the "right" color of skin or income level;

-- the promulgation of creative innovations for K-12 education -- why not get rid of the pointless requirement for teacher certification? why not have school from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. four days a week and save money while being more efficient? why not let kids who can meet state standards get out of school at 1 p.m. and give them a stipend to do the fun, challenging learning activities they WANT to do in the afternoons, at far less cost than maintaining a school class day that is in large part pointless for smart kids;

-- reform curriculum and instruction to increase the students' knowledge base and decrease the amount of Political Correctness, distractions and non-academic activities;

-- and cut waste and fraud within the massive public school system. Spending per pupil per year has nearly doubled since our eldest child toddled off to kindergarten 20 years ago; that's outrageous.

For those whose heads spin over trying to keep track of the educationese and jargon about the Learning Community, here's a good synopsis:


For those who would like to contact Don Stenberg and compliment him, comment on his efforts, or join in them, see:


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Right on, Don Stenberg! The learning community came about as former state senator Ernie Chambers' price for overturning his previously passed bill to split up the Omaha school district into three seperate districts, mainly along racial lines. Increasing test scores among disadvantaged learners was secondary. Both OPS superintendent John Mackiel and learning community counsel Kermit Brashear have stated that no progress can be expected from the learning community for "a decade."

The learning community is mainly a taxpayer's money trap, with a paid director and an expensive lawyer, expenses of $1,500,000 per year as of now. If the legislature wants to improve the educattion of disadvantaged students, they should mandate the proven curriculum outlined in "GOBIGED", which would save taxpayers big bucks to boot.

Also, they should pass a charter school law. Some charters have proven that they can raise test scores dramatically among disadvantaged learners in four years, with no "skimming" of the better students. Charters operate, on average, with 62% of the tax monies received by regular public schools. Now that Sen. Chambers is gone from the legislature,and doesn't have to be appeased, Nebraska senators should cut their losses and abolish the inept and divisive learning community.
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