Private and public sector workers fight over table scraps

When people complain about the unsustainablity of big government it makes me cringe and shake my head in disbelief. I think to myself, how can people be that gullible. Here in Florida, a pro business state with a low tax base and no income tax, we currently miss out on billions of dollars because we give certain industries and individuals’ tax breaks. We don’t have to fix the problems on the back of government workers, which include, prison guards, the police, firemen and teachers all we have to do is demand those people that do business in Florida pay their fair share. These big businesses with their powerful lobbyists, bought politicians and talking heads have convinced enough of you that they should get a free ride and that it is your neighbors the teacher, the police officer and the government worker that hasn’t had a raise in five years who is the problem.

When the tea party and teachers argue over wages and benefits, over pensions and collective bargaining, all they are doing is fighting over table scraps, while Governor Scott and his ilk travel the state in private planes sipping Champaign and eating caviar.

The economic downturn was the best thing that could have happened for big business. Not only were many bailed out but it created a climate where they could scare people into believing those that would stand in their way, take their money to pay for services such as education and protection, or prevent them from making even bigger profits were the problem. Even Fox news admits it. They talk about businesses making record profits and having huge cash reserves. Sadly they do this while taking every pot shot they can at the public sector worker and unions. Oil barons and fat cats, speculators and high priced lawyers aren’t the bad guys any more. Now they have been replaced by teachers and rank and file union members. We used to shake our fists at the super rich but now we shake our fists at our neighbors.

The same average Joe and Judy who railed against the bailout are now saying the solution to the problems should come on the backs of our neighbors. Friends, the solution should not be, it sucks for me let me vote for people and support policies that make it suck for everybody (except a privileged few). The solution should be to hold those responsible, responsible and make that top 5-10% of society pay their fair share. Ladies and gentlemen the average person is not too big to fail, the powers-that-be who have bought your votes through fear mongering will let both you and me do so and then buy our houses cheap and sell them at a profit.

You may have been convinced the super rich shouldn’t lose their hard earned money. Well friends you have been conned. The reason they have that “hard earned money” is because they have convinced you that their job is worth so much more than yours. The thing is an executive making a million dollars is not going to suddenly quit because the government takes half to work at a book store and if they did there would be dozens ready to take the job. In the fifties and early sixties we had tax rates for the top wage earners that were way over fifty percent and you know what, there were still super rich people then too and it’s ironic that spin doctors will point to those times as idealistic, when a son and daughter could expect to do a little better than their parents, well friends and neighbors the highest tax percentage is now just a little above mine and kids for the first time are expected to do worse.

Then take for example our governor. What did Rick Scott do to earn his 300 million dollar pay out other than run his company in such a fashion that they had to pay a 1.7 billion dollar fine? That’s two billion dollars that could have gone to doctor’s fees, pay employees more and heaven forbid lower the costs of medical care. Two billion dollars that could have helped average families, many pay check to pay check but instead those on the far right the tea party are okay with all that wealth being concentrated in the hands of a few. Is an executive at a health care agency, a glorified middle man worth more than a teacher who educates our youth or are they worth more than firemen, the police or soldiers who put their lives on the line. Well our system says yes because we have allowed ourselves to be convinced it’s so. Well friends we have the power to say enough is enough. We have the power to say wealth is better when more people have it.

What’s better for society; one person making a million dollars and twenty five making forty thousand, or one guy making a hundred thousand and twenty five making seventy-six thousand?. If that one guy doesn’t want to do it anymore, he thinks he is underpaid I think I could find twenty-five applicants who would jump at the chance to have his position. Friends are you on the side of the one or on the side of the many? Are you for a democratic society that works to benefit everybody or an oligarchy that seeks to benefit just a few? I don’t want socialism, I want fairness.

Fox news, the republican legislature and Rick Scott have tried to scare you that jobs will move elsewhere. Well friends where are they going to go. What they haven’t told you is companies need people to buy their goods and use their services and they need markets for this to happen in. What markets are they going to go to that aren’t experiencing the same problems we are? Do you really believe that Tampa, Miami and Jacksonville will suddenly dry up? But say some companies did move the effects would be diminished and they would be replaced because business like nature, abhors a vacuum. Other companies and individuals will see the need and fill their shoes; we would just have to hope these new businesses would be satisfied with just making big profits instead of obscene profits. Besides don’t we want businesses that are pro society, not pro swimming pool, yacht and big bank accounts for their CEOs anyways?

Scott then says business won’t come to Florida if we don’t make it business friendly, well friends if they aren’t coming now with all the pro business aspects Florida already has, what makes you think they are going to come when we gut the education system, severely reduce government services, close our parks and destroy our environment. How about as an alternative let’s make Florida the education state, the park state, and the environment state. Let’s do that instead of having Florida be the state where a few get rich and the rest muddle through and the state that doesn’t really care about its children. Are their changes we can make, sure? Are there things we could be doing differently and better, my answer is yes but let’s make Florida a state we can be proud of and ensure that it is a state that we want to live in.

They rich are the ones that create jobs their spin doctors shout. Well friends if they are the ones who create jobs then they are doing a pretty poor job at it. We are getting a pretty poor return on our investment. I am not saying government should be the main creator of jobs but we shouldn’t just dismiss its role and say the people that work there should take it on the chin for the rest of us.

Though Friends on the right I completely agree with you taxes are way too high. The thing is they are way too high for me and you while for others they are way too low. Imagine if you had more money, maybe you or you and your friends could start the business or come up with the next great idea. Right now so many of us are just getting by exhausted from the day, worn out deciding if we get new tires or fix a tooth, scared that we or a family member will get sick and that we won’t be able to do anything. Better benefits, greater pay and a secured retirement will do much more for the state than additional tax breaks to the top few.

Furthermore it’s not true that a third of the nation does not pay taxes either. Buy gas? You pay a tax. Buy clothes? You pay a tax. Scrape and save and buy an appliance you pay taxes and you pay the exact same amount whether you make seventeen thousand, thirty-five thousand or a million dollars. And let me say it hurts those on the far end of the spectrum a lot more than those at the top. Think about a speeding ticket, its 129 dollars whether they pull you over in a rusted out clunker or if they pull you over in a Porsche, one driver doesn’t even notice it while the other eats nothing but ramen noodles for a month. That is the real tax structure in America.

I am not against the wealthy. I wouldn’t mind being rich or barring that not live in fear of an emergency. I am against those that see society as an object with which they can express their wills upon. I am against closing schools and giving children sub standard educations. I am against polluting our rivers and closing our parks. I am against the elderly, and the disabled being neglected for the benefit of a small minority and I am against the menial existence of the many for the extravagant existence of the few.

If we bring our tax structure in line and then still need cuts, I imagine your public servants, your teachers and your prison guards would all step up. After all they beleive in serving the public or they wouldn’t be doing those jobs. On their backs however is not where we should start.

I am reminded of the Dukes brothers from Trading Places. Mortimer old chap, I can have workers battle workers over table scraps, while increasing our profits at the same time; except there would be no bet because they have already been doing it for years. Think about that the next time you shrug your shoulders or even smile at the prospect of a neighbor losing their benefits or their pension because times have been tough for you, or think, sure, we can get by with cutting education a little bit more.

The Teacher of the Year Verses the Tea Party

From the Times Union

by James Howell

While I can’t argue with the sentiment of “we deserve a raise,” this was in fact a suggestion by a colleague, and not words of my own. Clay County is a “high performing school district,” no school in the county was marked at less than a “B,” and Florida ranked 10th in quality educational systems in the nation. All this is in spite of Florida being 50th in the nation in terms of educational spending … meaning Florida is already spending the minimum amount of money in the country on education, and this is BEFORE Governor Scott’s proposed cuts. I’d say we produce a significant return on the investment of the taxpayer, since the definition of quality is getting a lot from investing very little.

However, in spite of all of this, Clay County teachers are not asking for a RAISE. A raise would be a revisitation to the salary terms in the contract, and an increase for every level of pay from the beginning teacher to the longest serving educator. All we want, and all we have asked for, is our STEP in salary, or the next level that has already been agreed to in our salary scale. (This amounts to $300 to $500 dollars per year for most). This is NOT A RAISE, but the adjusted increase for experience. Furthermore, the county HAS the money to pay for this right now. They received over $7 million from the federal government for the specific purpose of salaries and boosting the economy of the community…and they have done nothing with it. This is in addition to the $14 million they have in the reserve fund, which is far above the necessary minimum, or even a reasonably conservative increase. Furthermore, our top-earning teachers have taken a pay cut, some upwards of $20,000 per year, to help finance the STEP increase for those beneath them on the salary scale. Given our high levels of performance, the amount of money the School Board has in reserve and from the federal Government, and our own people sacrificing for it, I’d say we deserve our STEP.

Clay County teachers understand the current economic crisis as well as anyone. We understand that every cent counts right now, and why some people are looking for cuts to make in government spending. What we do not understand is how people consider our profession to be in the same group as government entitlements, or that because our very job requires personal sacrifice we should just keep on sacrificing because we are not real human beings, since we do not pursue the levels of reward that might be available elsewhere in the private sector. Ironically, these same people who wish to curb entitlements are seeking to cut their perceived problem’s only true long-term solution: education. Without education empowering the next generation, they will seek further government assistance, thus increasing the tax burden on the public. Somehow, the government employee who serves the public interest, the one in the trenches actually making a day-to-day impact, not isolated in the corridors of power, has become the “wage-grazer,” or “freeloader” that takes taxpayers’ money without sufficient contribution, in the eyes of some of the public.

Teachers are not alone in this misrepresentation. No one cares for the firemen until their house is burning down, no one cares for the plight of the policemen until they are being robbed or threatened, and no one cares for the teacher until the country itself implodes from within.

Read more at Jacksonville.com: http://jacksonville.com/community/clay/2011-02-17/story/update-clay-county-teacher-year-proposed-2010-11-teacher-contracts#ixzz1EGcV5zL5

The Corporate Takeover of our Schools Continues

With a nod to the blog Modern Schools, from Solidaridad

by Robert D Skeets

” The education industry represents, in our opinion, the final frontier of a number of sectors once under public control… represents the largest market opportunity… the K-12 market is the Big Enchilada.” — Montgomery Securities prospectus quoted in Jonathan Kozol’s “The Big Enchilada”

If we ever needed more evidence that the entire charter-voucher charade is about market share and money making, Expand a Proven Finance Solution for All Charter Schools, by Ricardo Mireles, the well heeled Executive Director of Academia Avance, provides us with clear insight.

In the piece Mr. Mireles, without any regard to the fact that he’s discussing public money, advocates “sell[ing] our state receivables to private companies.” Let’s bear in mind that the state receivables that Mireles refers to is our tax dollars. The last thing the public needs is unelected boards of privatized charter schools gambling with our hard earned tax dollars in cockamamy schemes smacking of the exotic mortgage derivatives market that crashed the economy and made a handful of Wall Street plutocrats even more rich.

By and large, nearly all charter schools (charter schools are schools that take public money, but are run by private entities including corporations), get huge grants from ideologically biased foundations like that of the neoliberal Broad/Gates/Walton Triumvirate. When charters cite studies by far-right think tanks that they tend to get slightly less public funding than public schools, they invariably leave out the fact that they more than make up for such minor shortfalls with a deluge of plutocrat funds to spend with little or no oversight.

No wonder hedge fund managers like the vile Whitney Tilson espouse charter-vouchers schools like they’re the next bubble to profit from. Here’s what the predatory parasite of Tilson Funds had to say in regards to the extremely lucrative charter-voucher industry he helped create:

“hedge funds are always looking for ways to turn a small amount of capital into a large amount of capital.” A wealthy hedge fund manager can spend more than $1 million financing a charter school start-up. But once it is up and running, it qualifies for state funding, just like a public school… “It is extremely leveraged philanthropy,” Mr. Tilson said. — Joel Klein’s Lesson Plan

Curiously Mireles says “CCSA is a great advocate.” [1]. He doesn’t say what they advocate, but we all know CCSA’s advocacy story. Here’s a few reminders:

CCSA and Market Share: Setting the Table for Vouchers
Racist Anti-Immigrant Speech from California Charter School Association
The real question is, does the CCSA disseminate any information that isn’t biased and incorrect?

At first I was intrigued as to why Mireles would be pushing a very risky, but lucrative financial shell game. Turns our Mireles is somewhat exceptional in the highly paid charter-voucher CEO world. He only pays himself $65,327 according to his 2009 990 Part VII A, while most charter executives help themselves to lavish six figure salaries. So it isn’t surprising he’s on board with AIG style dupe-the-public financing. Such schemes give him a chance to further increase his fortunes at the public’s expense via clever investing. We can all be sure that companies like Charter School Capital (CSC), discussed in Mireles’ article, will be investment vehicles for all the vultures looking to profit off the privatization of public education.

Charter schools are notorious for gross malfeasance and financial mismanagement. Charter School Scandals is probably the best resource for viewing the scope of this endemic and ever growing problem. The site introduces itself with the following:

A compilation of news articles about charter schools which have been charged with, or are highly suspected of, tampering with admissions, grades, attendance and testing; misusing local, state, and federal funds; engaging in nepotism and conflicts of interest; engaging in complicated and shady real estate deals; and/or have been engaging in other questionable, unethical, borderline-legal, or illegal activities. This is also a record of charter school instability and other unsavory tidbits.

We don’t need to look too far for charter schools scandals though, it turns out that “[f]ormer employees and parents accuse[d] Ricardo Mireles of improprieties because of financial pressure at Academia Avance” , this is detailed in a Howard Blume piece Critics assail director of L.A. charter. The article details how Mireless, a Coro Fellow [2], was embroiled in a major scandal at his school. Why LAUSD renewed Academia Avance’s charter defies comprehension. Mireles must have gotten his financial advice from the notorious Mike Piscal of ICEF ignominy.

Privately managed charter schools are so rife with malfeasance, that the very birthplace of charter schools — Minnesota, recently placed a moratorium on them. This is because it was found that “75% [of charter schools] had a least one irregularity noted in their financial audit.” — Minnesota 2020 (2008 Report). Rest assured, whenever you put public money into private hands, corporate charlatans will find a way to pocket it. All the while saying that they are doing it for the kids, and that theirs is a kids centered agenda.

I’ve got a better idea. “If corporate charter-voucher schools were obligated, like public schools, to educate every child, we would see the proliferation of charters disappear almost overnight. Take the profitability out of the equation, and charter schools would return to their original mission.”

To join the fight-back against corporate charters and the privatization of public schools, join your local chapters of Coalition for Educational Justice (CEJ) and Parents Across America (PAA). Together, collectively, we can stop the privatization of public education by demanding people before profits.
___
NOTES
[1] According to Critics assail director of L.A. charter Mireles worked for the CCSA, he “helped set up computer and phone systems for the California Charter Schools Ass[ociation].
[2] Poverty pimping and privatization pushing Coro Fellows list includes: Caprice Young, Yolie Flores-Aguilar, Ryan Smith, Jordan Henry, Ricardo Mireles, Gabe Rose…

It’s poverty

The guest article by Robert Neid in the Times Union about the country falling behind other industrialized nations in education was pretty accurate in many regards. He was right we are falling behind and we should be alarmed. Furthermore I agree with him that we are costing ourselves both economical and socially by doing so. However he failed to mention the number one factor for the reason we currently find ourselves in the hole we are and that’s poverty.

Twenty-one percent of our children live in poverty. Another fifth aren’t that much above it and poverty is the number one measurable statistic which determines how well a student does in school, not teachers as Mr. Neid seems to imply. Simply put, children in poverty do not do as well as those who are not.

He went on to quote several impressive statistics about where our nation and our children find themselves when compared to our industrialized counterparts but once again he doesn’t mention that when we factor out poverty and just use the scores of children not living in it our scores rise tremendously. He also doesn’t mention that places like Finland, long considered a model of education excellence have very few children that live in poverty (one half of one percent) and have made education a national priority not an afterthought as we have done.

I get it that Mr. Neid wants our children and our nation to do better. I just think in order for us to improve we need to address our children and nations real issues.

Chris Guerrieri
School Teacher

Florida education reforms punitive not helpful

From the Hiffington Post

by Rita Solnet

I summarized Florida’s Education Summit yesterday indicating that the event may have moved us a step forward towards genuine dialogue on education reform. We are certainly better off than if the summit never occurred!

What we haven’t looked at — as a state or nation — is the big picture on some of these proposed reforms. Let’s take a step back and away from the intense debate and ask this question:

Who are these reform initiatives really intended for?

The triumvirate of reforms being aggressively pushed right now are: 1) ending teacher tenure; 2) merit pay based on standardized test scores; and, 3) closing schools/firing staffs.

1) How will ending a teacher’s right to due process (consistently mischaracterized as lifetime employment) help to improve the quality of education for children? Short-termers will teach without mentors or seasoned teachers to assist them? Who will you attract to the teaching profession when due process is gone? Corporate America has due process with upper management levels on day one of employment.

2) Merit pay will merely ratchet up the stakes surrounding standardized tests even more. High stakes on tests — your pay or job riding on one test — increase the dependency on mind-numbing bubble tests. That doesn’t enrich the curriculum. In fact, it narrows it and creates more weeks of test prep, drill and practice.

3) How does closing neighborhood schools help improve the quality of education? Even when the handful of a few good charters acquire rights to open up, many children whose English is a second language or who are dubbed “hard to teach” are left in the dust of the closed school. That’s reality versus rhetoric, Real world versus propaganda.

None of the reforms being touted and legislated in some states will truly enhance the quality of education. Isn’t that what we set out to accomplish? When, where and why did we take a wrong turn?

Instead, this grand illusion of three reforms impedes improvement to public education. Hidden under the smokescreen of “tough love” reforms, these initiatives are destroying public education in our nation. Celebrities signed on to this front and the media bought it, hook, line and sinker.

Let’s call a charade, a charade.

These reforms are specifically intended to acquire power or control over unions. Some may think that’s the right fight. Some may think that’s the wrong fight. But many will agree it’s being played out in the wrong ring — the classroom. The children of our nation, particularly in impoverished areas, are the ones being sucker punched.

Take your fight outside of the classroom! Settle it across a negotiation table or in a conference room or challenge each other to duels. Take a step back and realize that’s what this has been reduced to. Then, for the love of all that’s good and holy, please take this feud out of the classroom. These particular initiatives will cause irreparable damage to the future of our children. Don’t let this administration be remembered as the one that sacrificed children’s futures to seek revenge on unions.

Ending tenure reduces the candidate pool; merit pay further narrows the curriculum; and closing schools and firing staffs leaves many children in impoverished areas without a choice and devoid of hope.

I’m a business woman, a parent, a non union member who hails from corporate America. My only “skin in the game” is seeing my tax dollars disappear. I don’t enjoy seeing my money transferred to private entities who think they can run a school, nor do I relish watching area schools open and close like check-cashing stores. If I want to invest in privatized education, I will. I want my tax dollars to go towards public education as I’m told they do.

My only motivation is to be a voice for all children who cannot be heard. Parents of America’s only focus is children. We no longer choose to sit in ringside seats and witness endless bouts. Our children. Our schools. Our voices.

Follow Rita M. Solnet on Twitter: www.twitter.com/ritacolleen

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/rita-m-solnet/whos-kidding-who-with-the_b_820509.html?ref=fb&src=sp&comm_ref=uopx#sb=1169570,b=facebook

A smarter way to spend education dollars

I don’t agree with all the ideas but they generally seem less punative than the ideas our leaders here are proposing. Notice how the author sites how studies say merit pay doesn’t work, so much for data driven reforms. This is from South Carolina. -cpg

From the state.com

by Paul Thomas

Education Superintendent Mick Zais’ recent proposals for the state education budget present an ideal platform for considering how best to move forward in difficult economic times.

First and foremost, political leaders need to set aside politics and partisanship when debating policy and funding for education. Instead, we should be guided by evidence.

Here are some evidence-based decisions that would benefit our schools and address the budget crunch, which reveal both the wisdom and the flaws in some of Dr. Zais’ proposals.

Cut funding for SAT preparation. This is his best proposal, but we should go further. Decades of data and research have confirmed that test scores are far more linked to out-of-school factors, such as poverty, than in-school quality. Exit exams have shown virtually no benefit despite huge amounts of money spent designing, implementing and scoring the tests. South Carolina should reduce or eliminate funding for test-prep and testing itself when there is no evidence that those tests are producing positive results. The only people who have benefitted from the rise in testing are test designers, test producers and companies scoring those tests.

Defund the National Board certification process, and reallocate funding to programs that are fair and match the wealth of evidence about the conditions that support teacher improvement (teaching conditions, class size, administrative support, teacher collegiality). A major study supported by National Board for Professional Teaching Standards itself has revealed that we have no evidence that board certification causes superior teaching; in fact, it is likely that board certification is attracting those teachers already excelling in the field. The board certification process is not fair (not all teachers have access to the opportunity), and it has nothing except advocacy to support the huge investment by our state.

Beware investments in technology and on-line education. Technology often widens the equity gap that disproportionately hurts students living in poverty. Since South Carolina already is suffering the inordinate burden of poverty — a fact reflected in the schools but not caused by them — massive commitments to technology are likely to increase, not decrease, our equity gap. As well, classrooms are littered with out-of-date technology and unused technology, untold money wasted, while children still lack adequate access to books in their homes.

One caveat on technology: We should work to replace traditional textbooks with electronic texts that can be quickly updated and slash the physical cost of production. Textbooks always have been the worst books in any child’s hands, lining the pockets of textbook companies at the expense of students. We can do better, and now is the time to consider something different.

Reject performance-based teacher pay, since the evidence clearly shows that it is neither motivating nor fair. Teacher accountability linked to student outcomes is flawed since teachers have no full or direct control over student behavior and test scores are a reflection of dozens of factors (and years of teachers). To characterize the teaching/learning process as a singular and direct relationship between one teacher and one student (or one class of students) is to misrepresent the process entirely.

South Carolina today and historically faces the overwhelming weight of poverty that is reflected in our schools. We must stop scapegoating schools and teachers, since neither caused our state’s poverty. Schools alone cannot erase poverty, but we can improve our schools and reshape our education budget if we are guided by evidence instead of ideology.

Thirty years of education reform in South Carolina has wasted millions and millions of dollars by trying the same things (accountability, standards, tests) over and over. If Superintendent Zais will apply the same evidence-based logic he has offered for eliminating our focus on the SAT to the rest of the education budget, I believe we can both weather the economic storm and reform our schools positively in the coming years.

Read more: http://www.thestate.com/2011/02/03/1676497/thomas-smarter-ways-to-spend-education.html##ixzz1CvoIHuAB

Can we get some skill centers now???

From Bloomberg news

by Janet Lorin

The U.S. is focusing too much attention on helping students pursue four-year college degrees, when two-year and occupational programs may better prepare them for the job market, a Harvard University report said.

The “college for all” movement has produced only incremental gains as other nations leapfrog the United States, and the country is failing to prepare millions of young people to become employable adults, said the authors of the Pathways to Prosperity Project, based at the Harvard Graduate School of Education in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Most of the 47 million jobs to be created by 2018 will require some postsecondary education, the report said. Educators should offer young people two-year degrees and apprenticeships to achieve career success, and do more to ensure that students who begin such programs complete them, said Robert Schwartz, academic dean at Harvard’s education school, who heads the Pathways project.

“For an awful lot of bored, disengaged kids who are on the fence about completing high school, they need to see a pathway that leads them to a career that is not going to require them to sit in classrooms for the next several years,” Schwartz said yesterday in a telephone interview.

If young people don’t have a degree or credential that helps them begin a career, the U.S. will continue to lag behind in educational attainment and preparing the next generation of workers needed to keep the economy strong, Schwartz said.

‘Middle-Skilled’

About 14 million new job openings by 2018 — or about half of all positions for people with postsecondary education — will go to those with an two-year associate’s degree or occupational certificate, the report said, using a job estimate from the Center on Education and the Workforce at Georgetown University in Washington. These “middle-skilled” jobs include registered nurses, dental hygienists, construction managers and electricians.

Demand is “exploding” in health care, while construction, manufacturing and natural resources will provide about 2.7 million jobs that require a postsecondary credential, the report said.

Two studies released in the last two months raised concerns that the nation’s students aren’t prepared to compete in the global economy. In January, the U.S Department of Education said fewer than half of U.S. students are proficient in science. In December, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation & Development, which represents 34 countries, released the 2009 Programme for International Student Assessment in December, showing 15-year-olds in China, Korea, Singapore, Hong Kong and Japan outperformed the U.S. in a test of reading, science and math.

To contact the reporter on this story: Janet Lorin in New York jlorin@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Jonathan Kaufman at jkaufman17@bloomberg.net.

http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2011-02-02/four-years-of-college-isn-t-for-everyone-harvard-study-says.html

Blog monitored by thought police

Disclaimer, sometimes my stories are almagamations of things that happen to me and my peers, the blog mentioned below is an example. Does this mean I have a fan at the school board buildin? -cpg

Regarding your blog dated January 9, 2011, titled “My 19 year old sophomore says, Jail is Cool”, I am writing to remind you that school employees may not disclose “personally identifiable student information” regarding students without the written consent of the student’s parent (or the student once he/she turns 18). Under FERPA, personally identifiable student information includes any information that either alone, or in combination, is linkable to a specific student that would allow a person to identify the student.

I write simply to remind you of this requirement. I will be out of the office beginning tomorrow through Monday, however if you would like to discuss this matter further, please contact me next week. Thanks.

Sonita Young
Executive Director, Policy and Compliance
Duval County Public Schools

My response:

Thanks for the heads up but just so you know it was actually (as often my blogs are) an amalgamation of experiences I and my peers have had throughout the years and wasn’t describing any student in particular.

Do you think I should put a disclaimer on it or other blogs where I talk about the trials and tribulations of teachers and students? let me know what you think and thanks for looking out for me.

Chris

Obama’s State of the Union speech found lacking

I have to say I am very disillusioned with the presidents education policies. -cpg

From the blog ZhaoLearning.com

“It makes no sense”: Puzzling over Obama’s State of the Union Speech

“It makes no sense” is perhaps President Obama’s favorite phrase, using it twice in his 2011 State of the Union speech. I like the sound of it and what lies behind it—a simple way to point out the obviously illogical things that need to change. That is how I feel about the education section of his speech. It makes no sense.

President Obama wants to win the future by “out-innovate, out-educate, and out-build the rest of the world.” “[I]f we want to win the future -– if we want innovation to produce jobs in America and not overseas -– then we also have to win the race to educate our kids.”

How to win the race to educate our kids?

More math, more science, more high school diplomas, more college graduates, more Race to the Top, more standards and standardization, more carrots and clubs for teachers and schools, and no TV.

Why?

Because China and India “started educating their children earlier and longer, with greater emphasis on math and science;’” because “[t]he quality of our math and science education lags behind many other nations;” and because “America has fallen to ninth in the proportion of young people with a college degree.”

None of these makes much sense to me because they are either factually false or logically confusing. For one, President Obama suggested that parents make sure the TV is turned off. If every parent followed his suggestion and turned off the TV, there would be no one to watch his State of the Union next year. As with everything else, there is good TV and there is bad TV. More seriously, I did some fact checking and logical reasoning and here is what I found out.

Is it true that “China and India started educating their children earlier and longer, with greater emphasis on math and science?”

No, China has actually started to reduce study time for their children, with less emphasis on math and science

I am not familiar with education in India so I will stick to China and I assume President Obama meant education in schools, not education at home. Unless he meant 50 years ago, the statement is completely false. The school starting age in China has remained the same at age six since the 1980s when China’s first Compulsory Education Law was passed in 1986. Since the 1990s, China has launched a series of education reforms aimed at reducing school hours and decreasing emphasis on mathematics. According to a recent statement from the Ministry of Education (in Chinese):

Since the implementation of the “New Curriculum,” the total amount of class time during the compulsory education stage (grades 1 to 9) has been reduced by 380 class hours. During primary grades (grades 1 to 6), class time for mathematics has been reduced by 140 class hours, while 156 more class hours have been added for physical education. In high school, 347 class hours have been taken out of required courses and 410 class hours added for electives. (People’s Daily, http://edu.people.com.cn/GB/10320480.html)

Is it true that “the quality of our math and science education lags behind many other nations?”

It depends how one measures quality. If measured in terms of test scores on international assessments, yes, but these test scores do not necessarily indicate the quality of math and science education and certainly do not predict a nation’s economic prosperity or capacity for innovation.

When he says that “the quality of our math and science education lags behind many other nations,” President Obama ignores the fact that American students performance on international tests have been pretty bad for a long time, and believe it or not, has got better in recent years. In the 1960s, America’s 8th graders ranked 11th out of 12 countries and 12th graders ranked 12 out of 12 countries on the First International Mathematic Study. America’s 12th graders’ average score ranked 14th out of 18 countries that participated in the First International Science Study. In the 1970s and 80s, America’s 12th graders did not do any better on the Second International Mathematics study, with ranks of 12, 14, 12, and 12 out of 15 educational systems (13 countries) on tests of number systems, algebra, geometry, and calculus respectively. On the Second International Science Study, American students’ performance was the worst (out of 13 countries with 14 education systems participating, America’s 12th graders ranked 14th in Biology, 12th in Chemistry, and 10th in Physics) (Data source, National Center for Educational Statistics). In 1995, America’s 8th graders math scores were in 28th place on the Third International Mathematics and Science Study. In 2003, they jumped to 15th , and in 2007, to 9th place.

Obama also said in his speech:

Remember -– for all the hits we’ve taken these last few years, for all the naysayers predicting our decline, America still has the largest, most prosperous economy in the world. No workers — no workers are more productive than ours. No country has more successful companies, or grants more patents to inventors and entrepreneurs. We’re the home to the world’s best colleges and universities, where more students come to study than any place on Earth.

So who has made America “the largest, most prosperous economy in the world?” Who are these most productive workers? Where did the people who created the successful companies come from? And who are these inventors that received the most patents in the world?

It has to be the same Americans who ranked bottom on the international tests. Those 12th graders with shameful bad math scores in the 1960s have been the primary work force in the US for the past 40 years. The equally poor performers on international tests in the 70s and 80s have been working for the past 30 years now. And even those poor performers on the 1995 TIMSS have entered the workforce. Apparently they have not driven the US into oblivion and ruined the country’s innovation record.

Is it true that Race to the Top is the most meaningful reform of public education in a generation?

Again, it depends. It depends on how one defines “meaningful.” If defined as the scale of impact without questioning whether the impact is beneficial or not, it may be true but considering the actual consequences, Race to the Top is neither meaningful nor flexible. It does not focus on “what’s best for our kids” nor spark “creativity and imagination of our people.”

I wonder if Obama knows what Race to the Top actually does because it is just the opposite of what he asks for. He says:

What’s more, we are the first nation to be founded for the sake of an idea -– the idea that each of us deserves the chance to shape our own destiny…It’s why our students don’t just memorize equations, but answer questions like “What do you think of that idea? What would you change about the world? What do you want to be when you grow up?”

“Our students don’t just memorize equations, but answer questions like “What do you think of that idea? What would you change about the world” perhaps explains why the American students scored poorly on tests but have been able to build a strong economy with innovations.

But Race to the Top is about killing ideas and forcing students to memorize equations by imposing common standards and testing in only two subjects on students all over the nation; by forcing schools and teachers to teach to the tests; and by forcing states to narrow educational experiences for all students to a prescribed narrowed defined curriculum.

Race to the Top is precisely what he said it is not: “We know what’s possible from our children when reform isn’t just a top-down mandate, but the work of local teachers and principals, school boards and communities.” It is nothing but a top-down mandate. Race to the Top applications required states and schools to be innovative in meeting the top-down mandates: adopting common standards and assessment, linking teacher evaluation/compensation with student test scores, offering more math and science learning, and allowing more charter schools. In the first round of competition, Massachusetts was penalized for not wanting to rush to adopt the common standards. Pennsylvania was penalized for proposing innovative practices in early childhood education (Source: Let’s Do the Numbers: Department of Education’s “Race to the Top” Program Offers Only a Muddled Path to the Finish Lin By William Peterson and Richard Rothstein)

Race to the Top is anything but what Obama says “the work of local teachers and principals, school boards and communities.” States that were desperate for cash had to use all means to coerce teachers, principals, and school boards to sign on to the application because participation of local schools was a heavily weighted criterion. And if teachers and school leaders did not agree, they risked being accused of not supporting children’s education.

And with regard to common standards, while it is true that they were not developed by Washington, but Washington definitely helped with billions of dollars to make them adopted nationwide.

Is it true that “America has fallen to ninth in the proportion of young people with a college degree?”

It depends for a number of reasons. First, different countries have different definitions of a college degree. Second, not all college degrees are of equal quality. Third, the changes in rank do not necessarily indicate America’s decline. It could simply other countries have caught up.

President Obama may be drawing the figures from a report published by the College Board recently. The report cites OCED data and suggests that “the educational capacity of our country continues to decline.” But the data actually do not support the statement.

According to the report, in 2007, America ranked sixth in postsecondary attainment in the world among 25-64-Year-Olds. It ranked fourth among those ages 55 to 64. But for the 25-34 age group, America ranked 12th. Simply looked at the rankings, America is indeed in decline. But looking at the percentages of postsecondary degree holders shows a different picture. For the age group of 25 to 64, 40.3% of Americans held a college degree. The two countries that were immediately ahead of America, Japan and New Zealand, had a lead of less than 1% at 41%. The other three leading countries were Russia (54%), Canada (48.3%), and Israel (43.6%). For the young age group (25-34 year olds), America had 40.4% and five out of the 11 countries led by about 2%. The countries with over 10% lead were Canada (55.8%), Korea (55.5%), Russia (55.5%), and Japan (53.7%). For those ages 55 to 64, America ranked fourth, but the percentage was 38.5%. The countries ahead of America were Russia (44.5%), Israel (43.5%), and Canada (38.9). Based on this data we can draw two conclusions. First America was never number one. Second, the percentage of college degree holders in America has actually increased.

How many more math and science graduates does the US need?

President Obama wanted “to prepare 100,000 new teachers in the fields of science and technology and engineering and math.” This is driven by the belief that America does not prepare enough talents in these areas. But according to a comprehensive study based on analysis of major longitudinal datasets found “U.S. colleges and universities are graduating as many scientists and engineers as ever before.” The study was conducted by a group of researchers at Georgetown University, Rutgers University, and the Urban Institute. “Our findings indicate that STEM retention along the pipeline shows strong and even increasing rates of retention from the 1970s to the late 1990s,” says the report. However, not all STEM graduates enter the STEM field. They are attracted to other areas.

“Over the past decade, U.S. colleges and universities graduated roughly three times more scientists and engineers than were employed in the growing science and engineering workforce,” one of the study’s co-author Lindsay Lowell was quoted in the study’s press release, “At the same time, more of the very best students are attracted to non-science occupations, such as finance. Even so, there is no evidence of a long-term decline in the proportion of American students with the relevant training and qualifications to pursue STEM jobs.”

What America really needs?

President Obama actually got the destination right when he said “the first step in winning the future is encouraging American innovation.” But he chose the wrong path.

To encourage American innovation starts with innovative and creative people. But a one-size-fits-all education approach, standardized and narrow curricula, tests-driven teaching and learning, and fear-driven and demoralizing accountability measures are perhaps the most effective way to kill innovation and stifle creativity.

What America really needs is to capitalize on its traditional strengths—a broad definition of education, an education that respects individuality, tolerates deviation, celebrates diversity. America also needs to restore faith in its public education, respects teacher autonomy, and trusts local school leaders elected or selected by the people.

In addition, America needs to teach its children that globalization has tied all nations to a complex, interconnected, and interdependent chain of economic, political, and cultural interests. To succeed in the globalized world, our children need to develop a global perspective and the capacity to interact and work with different nations and cultures, the ability to market America innovations globally, and the ability to lead globalization in positive directions. That includes foreign languages and global studies.

Even the National Defense Education Act (NDEA), a direct result of Sputnik and a product during the Cold War, was broader in terms of areas of studies than conceived in Race to the Top and the blueprint for reauthorization of ESA. It included funding for math, science, foreign languages, geography, technical education, etc. Moreover, it did not impose federal mandates on local schools or states.

Heading north for south: A Chinese story for the President

A Chinese story best illustrates the danger of choosing the wrong path for the correct destination. This story was recorded in Zhan Guo Ce or the Records of the Warring States, a collection of essays about events and tales that took place during China’s Warring States Period (475-221 BC). Here is my recount of the story.

The king of the state of Wei intends to attack its neighboring state of Zhao. Upon hearing the news, Ji Liang, counselor to the king rushes to see him. “Your Majesty, on my way here, I met a man on a chariot pointed to the north,” Ji Liang tells the King, “and he told me that he was going to visit Chu.”

“But Chu is in the south, why are you headed north?” I asked.

“Oh, no worry, my horses are very strong,” he told me.

“But you should be headed south,” I told him again.

“Not to worry, I have plenty of money,” he was not concerned.

“But still you are headed the wrong direction,” I pointed out yet again.

“I have hired a very skillful driver,” was this man’s reply.

“I worry, your majesty, that the better equipped this man was,” Ji Liang says to the King, “the farther away he would be from his destination.” “You want to be a great king and win respect from all people,” Ji Liang concludes, “You can certainly rely on our strong nation and excellent army to invade Zhao and expand our territory. But I am afraid the more you use force, the farther away you will be from your wishes.”

“It makes no sense:” Puzzling over Obama’s State of the Union Speech