Sunday, June 01, 2008

When Times Get Tough, The Tough Get Weird

The title of this entry is a Dr. Hunter S. Thompson quote but it applies to an article in today's Courant called, High School Doesn't Have To Take Four Years by Lewis M. Andrews.

The argument Andrews makes is based on Leon Botstein's argument:
Botstein's original case for early graduation was based on academic and social concerns, not fiscal issues. With a rigid structure inherited from the 1830s, he argued that the "traditional high school is an out-of-date strategy and system" that accommodates neither fast nor slow learners, leads to boredom and even delinquency, ignores the relative physiological maturity of modern adolescents and fails to take advantage of new learning technologies.

But today we can add to Botstein's list of reasons the tax savings that could flow from providing high school students with incentives to voluntarily graduate early. Consider:

With per-pupil costs for high school ranging from a low of $9,000 in distressed cities like Bridgeport to nearly $18,000 in wealthier suburbs, the Yankee Institute did a study in 2007 ("Free College for High School Students," available at showing how much each Connecticut town could save by paying its students to graduate in three years.

Using the latest available census and per-pupil expenditure data from the Connecticut Department of Education, the Institute found that if just 25 percent of all the state's secondary students received a full, two-year community college scholarship (or $5,000 cash equivalent) for finishing high school early, more than $58 million would be left over annually to reduce property taxes.

Like most other states, Connecticut sets high school graduation requirements in terms of courses met, not years attended, and towns as diverse as Middletown, West Hartford and Westport already have written policies on early graduation, although none yet offer an incentive.


Unfortunately, the political price for enacting most dual-enrollment programs has been the creation of a redundant payment system. Municipalities still include money in their high school budgets to pay for the places of students who have skipped their senior year and gone to college with the funding provided by taxpayers. For property taxpayers to benefit, the school budget must reflect the reduced cost when a student has either graduated early or, if still technically enrolled in high school while taking a full college course load, is no longer receiving district services. A school will not realize any saving until a large enough number of students skip senior year to allow for a reduction in classes.

True, some school districts might initially resist rewarding early graduation because of the state's Education Cost Sharing program, which supplements education budgets in distressed cities on a per student basis. The fear would be that graduating a substantial numbers of students early could mean a loss of revenue from the state. Prosperous towns get little ECS money, but might worry about damaging popular athletic programs, if some students left after three years.

In fact, Connecticut education statutes give school boards considerable flexibility in offering credit for outside learning. A senior could theoretically move on to the first year of college while remaining technically enrolled in high school at no instructional cost and even participate in sports programs — much the way home-schooled students are currently entitled to participate.

While the national education debate focuses on such contentious issues as vouchers and national testing standards, a simple policy of incentivizing Connecticut high school students to effectively graduate early could expand educational opportunity, combat classroom boredom and help the most disadvantaged afford at least two years of college — all the while providing tax relief to hard-pressed homeowners.
What I find fascinating about almost all the education arguments that are heatedly discussed in the public forums of the Main Stream Media is that the discussions virtually never involve the argument that something might be good for the students except as a co-incidental by-product of a let's save money argument.

Here, the argument that the "traditional high school is an out-of-date strategy and system" that accommodates neither fast nor slow learners, leads to boredom and even delinquency, ignores the relative physiological maturity of modern adolescents and fails to take advantage of new learning technologies." is entirely accurate yet it is not until real estate prices in wealthy suburbs are threatened that anyone from the Department of Education on down uses it.

What's important is that high schools are out-moded but largely because of government policies that treat children like prisoners of war in a battle between neo-con iron-fist tactics and sensible and humane education theory.

A front page story in the same issue of the Courant examines the code of silence among the medical profession when it comes to charges of pedophilia against a professional peer. Entitled Reardon Victim Goes Public, Blasts St. Francis Hospital it describes the nod-and-wink collusion:
There are much higher stakes than money here — like truth, accountability and healing. That's why I'm handing in my John Doe card today. Too much of the money, unfortunately, goes to the lawyers.

"This," one of them told me, testily, referring to their legal assault on St. Francis, "does not concern you."

What a coincidence. St. Francis Hospital has been taking the same dismissive tone for years. I know what the lawyer meant; I'm not the one who filed the sworn statement. But my mother, now 75, may well be the lawyers' winning Powerball number because her testimony could elevate the 100 or so lawsuits already filed against the hospital into a monster payout.

Going public with my story, I hope, will mean substantially more than money for all the victims ignored or discredited for so many years — all those afraid to speak up or whose stories were rejected, sadly, by parents too horrified and shamed to admit they delivered their child to a pedophile.

The deluge of child pornography discovered last year behind a false wall in the basement of Reardon's former home on Griswold Drive in West Hartford isn't the only evidence to corroborate the horrors of the past four decades. Among the hidden reels of film and boxes of slides, West Hartford police also discovered a manila envelope, in a brown cardboard box, containing incriminating documents that, until a month ago, I did not know existed.

My name is on those documents.

They include: the sworn complaint filed by my mother, Marcia Hunt of Wethersfield, detailing the afternoon Reardon photographed me and another boy; a formal letter to Reardon from Joseph S. Sadowski, then a St. Francis neurosurgeon and chairman of the Hartford County Medical Association's Ethics and Deportment Committee, who handled the complaint; an undated "memorandum" from Sadowski summarizing the complaint in greater detail; Reardon's 15-page rebuttal; and, finally, a terse statement from my mother's attorney, the renowned Hartford criminal lawyer James N. Egan, saying criminal charges would not be filed.

A boy's word against a prominent physician would have had no chance in court in 1970. Sadowski, who died in 2001, assured my mother Reardon would be stopped. My mother trusted Sadowski. He was her doctor, a respected neurosurgeon who had operated on her back recently. She told him what happened to me as she sat in his office adjacent to the hospital at 1000 Asylum Ave. during a follow-up visit after her surgery. He's the one who suggested she file a complaint with the ethics committee.

Sadowski was a prominent, powerful physician at the hospital and within the Hartford medical community. My mother believed she had taken the ultimate action — until 1979, the medical association was the top agency governing physicians.

Only in 1993, after multiple complaints against Reardon prompted state health department hearings, did we realize the hospital's chief of endocrinology and growth-study mastermind had gone unchecked for decades.

We were devastated. But without the documentation of our complaint, what could we do? How do you avoid losing when you know you can't win?
Professional educators in this country are in a similar predicament today. Complaints about NCLB are largely ignored because too many in the education profession play the collusion game with the demented but all-powerful Bush administration.

Our high school students and taxpayers are being mis-served but money isn't why. It is this country's children who bear the brunt of this society's conditioned reflex to distrust the schools by blaming them for all of society's ills.

Schools need to change, yes... a thousand times yes but because it is right, because the system is dysfunctional as nothing more than a test dispenser, because our children are being intellectually and psychologically maimed by it.

Our political system is broken when today, just as years ago with the medical profession, educators can ignore good practice and continue to cover up the cancer that is NCLB because it's easy... no one will know... it will never happen again... it will go away on its own...

When I think about wasted money I think about the profession I care about turning its back on the facts, on the children, and on their own integrity.

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