Sunday, November 28, 2010

Educational Nausea: The Systematic Retardation of Education

You may be wondering why I post more infrequently about education issues and the reasons are actually more complex than the following explanation may imply.

I'm hypnotized by Diane Ravitch and Leonie Haimson. Ravitch is a lifelong bureaucrat/educationalist who spent decades serving the conservative think tanks from Reagan until just recently on educational matters. And Haimson runs or is somehow a principal in a New York organisation called Class Size Matters. I follow them both on Twitter and they're a bit of a tag team and mutual echo chamber.

Haimson's a lawyer and I started following her on Twitter because she had initially posted some interesting references on educational matters. I also visited the website of her non-profit and the lone thesis there seems to be that small class sizes are the most important school reform she could imagine. Well, I did the homework on this years ago and examined their reference links. Lo and behold, Haimson largely cites a study whose findings have been the basis of billions of tax dollars being spent on smaller class sizes based on a totally disingenuous interpretation of the study itself (the STAR study). So I wrote Leonie and pointed out the obvious problem - um, class size does matter pre-k to say, grade four and in certain circumstances beyond that but... you know the story. Anyway, since then far more links have been added to that site but none substantially change the logical conclusion of the original study.

I didn't expect her to change the name of the organisation (though it would be a good idea). In big cities where classes are larger than the mid-twenties, Leonie's argument is absolutely correct - classes should get down-sized to reasonable sizes. But for most of America's schools the prescription not only rings hollow but it has proven to be a pyrrhic and ineffective remedy for public school mediocrity - something Haimson seems to remain blissfully ignorant of.

Diane Ravitch, on the other hand, is a more interesting study. Here's an education professional who spent decades prospering and personally profiting from becoming a willing partner in the ranks of the Reagan and elder Bush regimes. And she flew under the radar with Clinton and the rabid Bush years. Nor was she a minor character on the national education scene. She was at all times in positions of authority or influence to suggest or even direct constructive educational policy.

But in the past few years she authored a book on education that outlines the history of American Education from her point of view. And since then she's cashed in quite handsomely, not by explaining the government mandated reforms she helped craft but rather by acting shocked (SHOCKED! I tell you) at how bad those reforms are. In fact, Ravitch has become the Teacher Unions best performance artist. Best friend of the teacher who is about to be evaluated, defender of public education, and able to leap tall NCLB legislation with a single binder. She's not superman, she's Wonder Where You've Been Woman! Resolving this seemingly obvious exercise in logic as epiphany for Ravitch is hard to wrap one's head around. How can one so -cough- "educated" have ever believed that the conservative attacks on education had veracity? It's a modern day Pygmalion story. A marginal, unimaginative conservative think-tank wonk transforms herself into the avenging queen of the eternally complicit teachers unions. I'm just in awe of the phenomenon.

Haimson and Ravitch largely Tweet criticism's of Obama's reform initiatives in a way that makes even me root for the reformers (who I think are as worthless as the Department of Education). The reason is that Haimson and Ravitch offer no legitimate alternative to Obama's bleak and bankrupt ideas. They all (ever single one of them) operate from the same lowest, meanest, and self-serving standpoints - nothing will get better for our kids, the fight is political, and its already decided.

When Ravitch Tweets a criticism of, say, a Gates education initiative I tweet back asking her for a better idea - none is ever suggested. Given her experience I expect dozens of ideas. What follows are silly and expensive notions that teachers work hard, it ain't so bad, and reform won't work. Haimson cheers her on. It's a tired and intellectually vacant act.

You and I know that schools need to change but the education legislation Obama ram-rodded through State legislatures drooling for Federal money has doomed the public schools to a future of indentured servitude to federal standards and Draconian handouts that are as devoid of legitimacy as Obama's presidential campaign. Nothing good is going to come of all of this.

We have reached a tipping point in our democracy in which the looniest presidential candidate cannot be worse than the one we have. And the critics who get the most attention are all profiteers.

Our government is increasingly becoming a closed system with the insiders being a privileged class and the outsiders being an inferior class of citizen to whom any and all forms of torture, humiliation, and marginalisation of wealth and rights is sanctioned. And so it has become with our schools.

Resistance is futile.

Sunday, November 07, 2010

The Scientific Basis for Government Dysfunction

At Tuesday's BOE meeting, we received a letter from a minority parent who objected to the school reporting racial breakout data to the government. The parent was actually concerned about potential profiling and, predictably, what gives the school the right....

At the Saturday retreat, Lou reported that the government requires the data. I asked what would happen if we didn't report it and Bruce assumed we'd lose federal funds.

I'm against this silly collection data because its distorting educational policy. Uniform racial differences have long been erased. The numbers of mixed individuals and families has exploded. The government is asking a question that has no meaning any more. Yet policy is driven by this crazed and seemingly eternal practice.

Crazy shit. Almost as crazy as Obama's education initiatives.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Why I'm Voting NO on the EO Smith Field Construction

The last time this vote was taken the communities of Ashford, Mansfield and Willington voted No. And they did so largely because the project was too expensive. Although much has changed since then (the matter of a national economic meltdown that's politely called a 'recession'), relatively speaking we can still not afford to go forward with this.

Some personal insights:

After the last vote, the Board was slapped with a dose of reality and they briefly responded with the lucidity that the school budget itself needed to be brought under control. During that period of time, I was led to believe that teacher contracts would be negotiated with the realisation that we were in crisis and sacrifices would be made.

No meaningful concessions were made by teachers.

The same hope was held out in negotiating administrative contracts. No meaningful cost saving there either.

Surely cost savings could be realised with the maintenance staff! Nope.

The Board as a whole has no spine for sacrifice in the budget although they often make noises to the contrary. So when the last school budget was being debated I still held out hope that if meaningful wage and benefit concessions couldn't be realised at least we could stick to a zero or lower budget proposal. Nothing doing.

In fact the spreadsheets of possible lower than zero budget cuts turned out to be a red-herring. A small town in CT that actually tried to cut their school budget were told IT WAS AGAINST THE LAW!

That's right, the education industry wrote into legislation an immunity card for themselves that basically can be interpreted to read that no matter what happens to the economy of a community, that community in addition to suffering ALL of the economic woes that may befall them are responsible for maintaining the lifestyle educators have come to accustom themselves to during the best of times.

Sweet deal. That legislation was written by the same idiots who just passed Obama-inspired education legislation that will soon add millions in taxes to fund education initiatives that are failing all over the country as we speak ("its only money" - your money).

So. Athletic fields. Yes, they could use a lot of work. Can we afford them? NO.

I no longer trust the promises of Board members who claim to promote austerity while voting for ever larger budgets and stone-walling any attempts to restructure the school and its finances. We need to walk that walk first. We need to downsize staff. We need to stop doing the same things that have never worked over and over again in the magic thinking that this time it will be effective.

EO Smith is bloated with excess spending, micro class sizes, techno-phobic teaching practices, out of date equipment, and an aversion to improving the only thing that matters; the quality of learning for the students. For all of their good fortune, for all of their immunity from the economic woes of their neighbors, and for all of the empirical evidence that schools have to change, we are held hostage to begging for better education, for substantial change, and for our money's worth in what is being spent.

It's obscene. And athletic fields won't begin to solve those problems. Nor will more money, more empty promises, or one more attempt at trying the same thing over again expecting a different result, one more time.

We need change.

Why I'm Supporting Susan Eastwood and Joe Courtney

I've known Susan Eastwood and her family for a long time. The last time Susan ran she lost by just a small number of votes. Afterward she went through a period of time believing she should have knocked on a few more doors. She was tireless in that campaign as it was.

Susan and I have honest differences of opinion. That's the sign of an political integrity. She listens and isn't afraid to push back when she disagrees.

But the real reason I'm voting for Sue is because she works so hard at doing the right thing. She already is involved in a handful of great causes that has included getting legislation passed to ensure school bus emissions don't affect the health of our children, open spaces, clean air, and more. She's exactly the kind of voice that's needed in the State Capitol to serve as an advocate for the part of the State that plans on staying green and open and decent.

She is enthusiastic, qualified, and she works her tail off for all of us and all to come. She's earned our respect and deserves our vote.

Joe Courtney is another Democrat worth voting for. I met Joe at a fund-raiser after he had lost to Rob Simmons. In those days that loss was hard to take. It looked as though Simmons riding the then high-flying coat-tails of George Bush would never be unseated. Yet Joe managed to do just that.

And he has served this community well. He worked hard to salvage and triage Obama's Health care bill. It would have been worse without his involvement. Joe is also one of the few Democrats who walks the walk. Like Kucinich and a handful of other representatives who put the promise of the American Dream first and foremost in his votes, Joe is our voice of integrity to Republicans and a tone deaf Democratic administration in Washington.

Joe is far more likely to give this administration a kick in the ass than Janet Peckinpah will. Joe's opponent is a career opportunist whose opportunities are often mired in controversy and scandal. For those of us who remember the stories of her adventures in New Haven while a news anchor there, it is hard to imagine she's got the kind of character Connecticut needs to represent it. And adding yet another opportunist to that already seedy environment seems like a bad idea.

I trust Joe Courtney and I feel safer that he's in Washington than someone whose only reason for running for office is little more than self-gratification.

And I hope that no one thinks these endorsements are partisan. I'm not happy with Democrats in Washington and in Hartford. The gutless and jaw-dropping stupidity being exercised in both places is inexcusable.

Susan and Joe aren't part of that mess and Republicans and independents need to take a deep breath and a leap of faith that all candidates aren't bad candidates. Courtney and Eastwood deserve your vote.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Why This Liberal Is Voting For McMahon

While it's true that Obama's education policy is wholly asinine, that's not why I'm endorsing Linda McMahon for the CT Senate seat. Fact of the matter is that Obama has treated Democrats and Liberals like dogs for the time he's been in office. It's our own fault that we were had. We spent years trying to rid this country of what had been the dumbest and meanest federal administration of our lives. That is until Obama started hitting his stride.

I'm ashamed to be a Democrat. The party in power bears no resemblance to the local Democrats all over America who voted for change, who believed in Hope, and who thought Obama would be a smart president. While the Obama administration demonizes Tea Party politics, Sarah Palin, Fox News, and so on, I struggle to find anything redeeming, smart, or graceful in what the Obama administration is doing. I've come to dislike these idiots more than I disliked the Bush administration.

This is just the first of my endorsements for this coming election and I want it to send a message. Liberals and Democrats have choices. We're told to fear the alternative candidates but I don't. I didn't fear Bush or Chaney or the rest of that sordid bunch. We survived and thrived only to be stabbed in the back by a grand charade.

You see, normally I would vote Democrat barring a candidate who did not sit well. But the recent rash of stories about Obama's fund-raiser in Greenwich and other encounters has given me pause.

FireDogLake reported on Obama mocking Liberals and explains what it might mean to the administration.
One thing is for sure. Obama never would have expressed this kind of contempt for the base prior to his own election. He — and the DNC — are playing Russian roulette with the rest of the party, belittling the very people who show up and vote and do all the campaign grunt work in every race in the country. And for what? It all appears to be little more than an egotistical, thin-skinned taunt aimed at those they feel aren’t giving them the accolades the Democrats think they deserve.

Nobody in the history of electoral politics, and I mean nobody, believes that telling people to “get over it” will get them to the polls. (Well, nobody but Spiro Agnew.) And you can bet your bottom dollar that come 2012, when Obama’s own electoral future is on the line, that won’t be his message.
Well, I'll be at the polls come election day. I get more motivated every time I read an article about what's happening.

The Suburban Guerrilla blog gets it right.
...those of us left living on a wing and prayer thanks to your “half full”, half-assed economic policies just don’t have a sense of humor about our continuing plight. I know it’s been a long time since your mom got food stamps, but you might want to give that empathy thing some thought.

Speaking of empathy, Bill McKibbon at the Huffington Post reports on the experience of some college students who delivered some of the White House's original solar panels to the Obama administration thinking that it would make a statement. It did.
Now, let me say that I already knew Jean Altomare, Amanda Nelson, and Jamie Nemecek were special, but my guess is the bureaucrats hadn’t figured that out. Unity is out in the woods, and these kids were majoring in things like wildlife conservation. They’d never had an encounter like this. It stood to reason that they’d be cowed. But they weren’t.

One after another, respectfully but firmly, they asked a series of tough questions and refused to be filibustered by yet another stream of administration-enhancing data. Here’s what they wanted to know: If the administration was serious about spreading the word on renewable energy, why wouldn’t it do the obvious thing and put solar panels on the White House? When the administrators proudly proffered a clipping from some interior page of the Washington Post about their “greening the government initiative,” Amanda calmly pointed out that none of her neighbors read the Post and that, by contrast, the solar panels had made it onto David Letterman.

To their queries, the bureaucrats refused to provide any answer. At all. One kept smiling in an odd way and saying, “If reporters call and ask us, we will provide our rationale,” but whatever it was, they wouldn’t provide it to us.

It was all a little odd, to say the least. They refused to accept the Carter panel as a historic relic, or even to pose for a picture with the students and the petition they’d brought with them. Asked to do something easy and symbolic to rekindle a little of the joy that had turned out so many of us as volunteers for Obama in 2008, they point blank said no. In a less than overwhelming gesture, they did, however, pass out Xeroxed copies of a 2009 memorandum from Vice President Biden about federal energy policy.

I can tell you exactly what it felt like, because those three students were brave and walked out graciously, heads high and kept their tears back until we got to the sidewalk. And then they didn’t keep them back, because it’s a tough thing to learn for the first time how politics can work.

To say that the party is in the hands of assholes would be an understatement.

I'm not in the mood to vote for yet another right-wing, get-ever-tougher, and screw the country Democrat for Senator. Dodd and Lieberman have so screwed the State of Connecticut that it is unrecognizable. We are job poor, tax heavy, and politically brain-dead.

The next vision Richard Blumenthal has will be his first. He is a fine Attorney General but nothing more. It is an understatement to say he is uninspiring. In a crowd of grey suited bureaucrats, one would be unable to find him. This is not who I want representing me in Congress.

If Obama so loves conservative politics then Linda McMahon will teach him and hold him accountable. And one can only hope that when she's elected with the help of Liberals that she'll ring his bell as a 'thank you' gesture from us to him.

Monday, September 06, 2010

Deconstructing Education

On Democracy Now, Lois Weiner identifies the origin of standardized testing regimes such as No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top. She traces one of the first such efforts to the Pinochet regime in Chile who instituted it under military rule. Obama's technique has been to exploit the ingrown greed of local government's to cut the throats of its children and taxpayers to get federal funding for standardized testing programs.

The teacher's unions have spent a decade playing along with this nonsense largely because they could stick their heads in the sand because although it adversely affected the students, it caused no ripples in the mass march toward retirement.

And even today, as can be heard in Karen Lewis's criticism of Arne Duncan, the teacher's representatives do little more than demonize-the-other with personal attacks on Duncan and claims that the data is "unscientific", that Duncan is unfit, and so on. These are shrill and empty arguments.

This leave the system alone (don't blame us) or change it badly (standardized testing/teacher performance) shouting match leaves everyone stuck with a dysfunctional duality of choices.

As a longtime critic of both NCLB and RTTT, I am forever disappointed in the response of teachers unions to the challenge of improving schools. The knee-jerk solution is inevitably "more money" with less evidence for the assertion than charter schools can provide for their arguments. And so the public and weary taxpayers are held hostage to this siren song knowing full well that the last increase in spending was no more effective in improving education than throwing money to the wind.

It seems to me that if teachers union representatives are going to argue for scientific evidence that the Obama/Bush policies are failing then they need to honor the scientific evidence that class size has little or nothing to do with student success in school past grade four.

To claim that Obama/Bush are attempting to de-professionalize teaching is true. But the argument needs to demonstrate some more veracity. A teaching profession content to perpetuate non-scientific myths that are comfortable for union purposes also expose the problem of actually teaching scientific method, ethics, good citizenship, and so on. If teachers can ignore fact then why not students, government officials, and special interests?

It is not enough to complain about de-profesionalization when the teachers unions prevent the possibility for re-professionalization. Teachers have for too long allowed union lawyers whose only interest is a larger paycheck to define what professionalism means.

Can it mean that industrial revolution ideas of unionization can give way to an enlightened set of working engagement? Can't teachers unions suggest better models than the Obama/Bush dross? If so, when will they present such arguments?

Teachers unions have yet to become part of a better solution. They have yet to arrive with better ideas. And this is largely because they have cultivated a siege mentality that fosters the idea that any change is a 'concession'. And a union that has long entitled its longest standing members special privileges and treatment is as unlikely to improve the profession as the Obama/Bush policies will.

Teachers unions need to reinvent themselves as agents of intelligent change based not on profitable myths about children and education practice but on innovative and meritorious alternative pedagogies.

Sunday, September 05, 2010

Running from the Global

Contrast this video to Obama W. Bush's educational polices.

And ask yourself why UConn's Education Department is such a lap dog for bad education policy.

#YongZhao


No Child Left Behind and Global Competitiveness from New Learning Institute on Vimeo.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

A New School Year Begins

And, according to industry analysts, the stakes have never been higher, the responsibilities never greater;

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Youthful Indiscretions and Information Deformity

Google exec, Eric Schmidt assets that future generations will need multiple identities simply to survive. Just as "innocent until proven guilty" is no longer the case in America so will the life sentence become the paradigm for those who are unlucky, unwise, and too honest to lie.

In an interview Mr Schmidt said he believed that every young person will one day be allowed to change their name to distance themselves from embarrasssing photographs and material stored on their friends' social media sites.

The 55-year-old also predicted that in the future, Google will know so much about its users that the search engine will be able to help them plan their lives.

Using profiles of it customers and tracking their locations through their smart phones, it will be able to provide live updates on their surroundings and inform them of tasks they need to do.

"We're trying to figure out what the future of search is," Mr Schmidt said. “One idea is that more and more searches are done on your behalf without you needing to type.

"I actually think most people don't want Google to answer their questions. They want Google to tell them what they should be doing next."

He suggested, as an example, that because Google would know “roughly who you are, roughly what you care about, roughly who your friends are”, it could remind users what groceries they needed to buy when passing a shop.

The comments are not the first time Mr Schmidt has courted controversy over the wealth of personal information people reveal on the internet. Last year, he notoriously remarked: “If you have something that you don’t want anyone to know, maybe you shouldn't be doing it in the first place."

Sunday, August 01, 2010

Death March of the American Middle Class

While the government continues to lavish money on itself, self-insulate its spending habits, and ensure an uninterrupted stream of pay increases that the rest of the country doesn't enjoy. Count the CT education industry as part of this seedy brotherhood.

In one story after another, the depth of despair that America's middle class is experiencing is self-evident. Yet there is a law in CT that school budgets can NEVER BE lower from one year to the next. Sweet deal.

Meanwhile, Edward Luce of the Financial Times writes,
Dubbed “median wage stagnation” by economists, the annual incomes of the bottom 90 per cent of US families have been essentially flat since 1973 – having risen by only 10 per cent in real terms over the past 37 years. That means most Americans have been treading water for more than a generation. Over the same period the incomes of the top 1 per cent have tripled. In 1973, chief executives were on average paid 26 times the median income. Now the ­multiple is above 300.

The trend has only been getting stronger. Most economists see the Great Stagnation as a structural problem – meaning it is immune to the business cycle. In the last expansion, which started in January 2002 and ended in December 2007, the median US household income dropped by $2,000 – the first ever instance where most Americans were worse off at the end of a cycle than at the start. Worse is that the long era of stagnating incomes has been accompanied by something profoundly un-American: declining income mobility.

Alexis de Tocqueville, the great French chronicler of early America, was once misquoted as having said: “America is the best country in the world to be poor.” That is no longer the case. Nowadays in America, you have a smaller chance of swapping your lower income bracket for a higher one than in almost any other developed economy – even Britain on some measures. To invert the classic Horatio Alger stories, in today’s America if you are born in rags, you are likelier to stay in rags than in almost any corner of old Europe.

Combine those two deep-seated trends with a third – steeply rising inequality – and you get the slow-burning ­crisis of American capitalism. It is one thing to suffer ­grinding income stagnation. It is another to realise that you have a ­diminishing likelihood of escaping it – particularly when the fortunate few living across the proverbial tracks seem more pampered each time you catch a glimpse. “Who killed the ­American Dream?” say the banners at leftwing protest marches. “Take America back,” shout the rightwing Tea Party demonstrators.

Statistics only capture one slice of the problem. But it is the renowned Harvard economist, Larry Katz, who offers the most compelling analogy. “Think of the American economy as a large apartment block,” says the softly spoken professor. “A century ago – even 30 years ago – it was the object of envy. But in the last generation its character has changed. The penthouses at the top keep getting larger and larger. The apartments in the middle are feeling more and more squeezed and the basement has flooded. To round it off, the elevator is no longer working. That broken elevator is what gets people down the most.”

Unsurprisingly, a growing majority of Americans have been telling pollsters that they expect their children to be worse off than they are. During the three postwar decades, which many now look back on as the golden era of the ­American middle class, the rising tide really did lift most boats – as John F. Kennedy put it. Incomes grew in real terms by almost 2 per cent a year – almost doubling each generation.

And although the golden years were driven by the rise of mass higher education, you did not need to have graduated from high school to make ends meet. Like her husband, ­Connie Freeman was raised in a “working-class” home in the Iron Range of northern Minnesota near the Canadian border. Her father, who left school aged 14 following the Great ­Depression of the 1930s, worked in the iron mines all his life. Towards the end of his working life he was earning $15 an hour – more than $40 in today’s prices.

Thirty years later, Connie, who is far better qualified than her father, having graduated from high school and done one year of further education, makes $17 an hour.

Umair Hague, in the Harvard Business Review analyzes American jobs,
The median duration of unemployment is, today, more than double what's it been at any point in the last half-century, at 6 months and counting. It's what you might call the dwindling of the American Dream.

Reviving the ghost of the great John Maynard Keynes, economists from Paul Krugman, to Brad DeLong, to Martin Wolf, to Bruce Bartlett, are chalking up a jobless recovery to a lack of aggregate demand. I'd like to advance a suggestion: it's not just the quantity of demand that's problematic — it's also the quality of demand.
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So one might raise their eyebrows, then, and reasonably wonder whether it's American preferences that are killing the American dream. If America has changed so much that what Henry Ford thought was eminently practical is now seen as hopelessly naive — well, then perhaps it's not just bankers, bonuses, and bailouts that are really behind the Great Crash.

Here's what I mean by that. Every time I buy something from your local big-box retailer, it's not that, as protectionists and "patriots" often claim, that I'm destroying an American job. In fact, it's worse: I just might be helping stamp out the idea that there should be jobs as we know them.
Consider: the bulk of that stuff is made, when we cut through the triumphant rhetoric of globalization, by people who are "sub(sub-sub)-contractors," enjoying few, if any, of the benefits we associate with "jobs" — security, tenure, benefits, labor standards, etc. And, of course, when those privileges are gained, production is simply moved to countries, regions, and cities where they haven't been.

Low quality demand, then, means that we buy cheap, but the price is invisibly steep: it ignites a global race to the bottom, what a complexity economist might call a dynamic equilibrium of negative consumption externalities, consumption that results not just in joblessness but a loss in the quality of jobs. The quality of a job is sparked by higher quality demand; or, valuing more than just the dollar price of a thing, but also its human and social impact. When we have low-quality demand, we have low-quality jobs. When we value McDonalds, the result is McJobs.

Michael Snyder of Tech/Ticker writes the consequences,
83 percent of all U.S. stocks are in the hands of 1 percent of the people.
• 61 percent of Americans "always or usually" live paycheck to paycheck, which was up from 49 percent in 2008 and 43 percent in 2007.
• 66 percent of the income growth between 2001 and 2007 went to the top 1% of all Americans.
• 36 percent of Americans say that they don't contribute anything to retirement savings.
• A staggering 43 percent of Americans have less than $10,000 saved up for retirement.
• 24 percent of American workers say that they have postponed their planned retirement age in the past year.
• Over 1.4 million Americans filed for personal bankruptcy in 2009, which represented a 32 percent increase over 2008.
• Only the top 5 percent of U.S. households have earned enough additional income to match the rise in housing costs since 1975.
• For the first time in U.S. history, banks own a greater share of residential housing net worth in the United States than all individual Americans put together.
• In 1950, the ratio of the average executive's paycheck to the average worker's paycheck was about 30 to 1. Since the year 2000, that ratio has exploded to between 300 to 500 to one.
• As of 2007, the bottom 80 percent of American households held about 7% of the liquid financial assets.
• The bottom 50 percent of income earners in the United States now collectively own less than 1 percent of the nation’s wealth.
• Average Wall Street bonuses for 2009 were up 17 percent when compared with 2008.
• In the United States, the average federal worker now earns 60% MORE than the average worker in the private sector.
• The top 1 percent of U.S. households own nearly twice as much of America's corporate wealth as they did just 15 years ago.
• In America today, the average time needed to find a job has risen to a record 35.2 weeks.
• More than 40 percent of Americans who actually are employed are now working in service jobs, which are often very low paying.
• or the first time in U.S. history, more than 40 million Americans are on food stamps, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture projects that number will go up to 43 million Americans in 2011.
• This is what American workers now must compete against: in China a garment worker makes approximately 86 cents an hour and in Cambodia a garment worker makes approximately 22 cents an hour.
• Approximately 21 percent of all children in the United States are living below the poverty line in 2010 - the highest rate in 20 years.
• Despite the financial crisis, the number of millionaires in the United States rose a whopping 16 percent to 7.8 million in 2009.
• The top 10 percent of Americans now earn around 50 percent of our national income.

Giant Sucking Sound

The reality is that no matter how smart, how strong, how educated or how hard working American workers are, they just cannot compete with people who are desperate to put in 10 to 12 hour days at less than a dollar an hour on the other side of the world. After all, what corporation in their right mind is going to pay an American worker 10 times more (plus benefits) to do the same job? The world is fundamentally changing. Wealth and power are rapidly becoming concentrated at the top and the big global corporations are making massive amounts of money. Meanwhile, the American middle class is being systematically wiped out of existence as U.S. workers are slowly being merged into the new "global" labor pool.

What do most Americans have to offer in the marketplace other than their labor? Not much. The truth is that most Americans are absolutely dependent on someone else giving them a job. But today, U.S. workers are "less attractive" than ever. Compared to the rest of the world, American workers are extremely expensive, and the government keeps passing more rules and regulations seemingly on a monthly basis that makes it even more difficult to conduct business in the United States.

So corporations are moving operations out of the U.S. at breathtaking speed. Since the U.S. government does not penalize them for doing so, there really is no incentive for them to stay.

What has developed is a situation where the people at the top are doing quite well, while most Americans are finding it increasingly difficult to make it. There are now about six unemployed Americans for every new job opening in the United States, and the number of "chronically unemployed" is absolutely soaring. There simply are not nearly enough jobs for everyone.

Many of those who are able to get jobs are finding that they are making less money than they used to. In fact, an increasingly large percentage of Americans are working at low wage retail and service jobs.

But you can't raise a family on what you make flipping burgers at McDonald's or on what you bring in from greeting customers down at the local Wal-Mart.

The truth is that the middle class in America is dying -- and once it is gone it will be incredibly difficult to rebuild.
Maybe you think that's the worst of it. No, its not. Chris Isidore of CNN recently reported on how corporate HR departments treat the unemployed,
"Most executive recruiters won't look at a candidate unless they have a job, even if they don't like to admit to it," said Lisa Chenofsky Singer, a human resources consultant from Millburn, NJ, specializing in media and publishing jobs.

She said when she proposes candidates for openings, the first question she is often asked by a recruiter is if they currently have a job. If the answer is no, she's typically told the unemployed candidate won't be interviewed.

"They think you must have been laid off for performance issues," she said, adding that this is a "myth" in a time of high unemployment.

It is not against the law for companies to exclude the unemployed when trying to fill positions, but Judy Conti, a lobbyist for the National Employment Law Project, said the practice is a bad one.

"Making that kind of automatic cut is senseless; you could be missing out on the best person of all," she said. "There are millions of people who are unemployed through no fault of their own. If an employer feels that the best qualified are the ones already working, they have no appreciation of the crisis we're in right now."

Given the economic crisis that's affecting tax-payers who aren't educators or government welfare queens, how can education costs be described as anything less than the looting of the unfortunate?

Thursday, July 29, 2010

HistoryPin

One of the more interesting new websites (HistoryPin) is a mashable application that allows individuals to add photographs of specific locations to that specific location.

The result is a set of photos that show a multiplicity of historical snapshots of a single place so that one can compare and contrast that place over time.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

We Not Only Lost the Race...

Connecticut's legislators sold out whatever shreds of integrity were left in the education system to -cough- compete for Race to the Top extortion money dollars. Our legislature licked the heels of Obama and Duncan and didn't even get a tip.

They convinced school boards across the state that they'd split the money up if everyone just shut up and played along. Having done the math, I knew and published what a load of malarkey that was. It was probably a key as to why Connecticut "lost" funding. The reason of course is that the state would have to live up to its deal and distribute the money.

Trouble is that the money is political funny money that is being directed at certain insiders but being laundered through the states to make it look like its going to, well, the other usual education crooks.

So the Feds instead did a back-door deal with CT funneling millions into the state in a side transaction that went unreported. That money has no strings attached.

Here's what the Courant reported;
Educators and legislators predicted that the state's failure to win a penny in the $3.4 billion Race to the Top education funding competition could delay some of the landmark educational reforms that the state legislature passed this spring.

Legislators and education leaders were uniformly disappointed to learn that Connecticut — for the second time — did not place among the 19 finalists announced Tuesday for federal school reform money.

The state had asked for $175 million, and is now worried that plans that include instituting a new high school curriculum and building a data system to track student achievement by grade will have to be postponed.

"It's obvious if the economy doesn't turn around and we continue to have dire fiscal straits in Connecticut, we will have to push back various reforms," said State Rep. Andrew Fleischmann, D-West Hartford, co-chairman of the legislature's education committee.

"We're going to have to find the dollars to implement this. We cannot create some kind of unfunded mandate for cities and towns that are already strapped."

Well, instead of feeling good that we dodged this steaming pile of education reform, all the knee-jerk idiots who passed L.E.G.I.S.L.A.T.I.O.N. that now encodes this stuff into CT law are wringing their hands about the inevitable TAX INCREASES this will bring and pretending that they "can't create some kind of unfunded mandate".

THEY ALREADY DID! Idiots! Our Bryan Hurlbert crowed in a recent mailing that he voted for money for education data collection. GEE. THANKS. I guess you never received the memo telling you to vote no because its a bait and switch scheme. We could use leadership with a backbone, not doormats for bad Obama policy.

Repeal these laws NOW.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Teacher Performance Pay

A number of articles have appeared in recent weeks about incentive pay for teachers in public schools.

In the Atlantic, Dwayne Betts in Some Notes on Education offers these observations;

About a week ago The New York Times ran this article on teachers juicing their students' test scores. Specifically the article is about Normandy Cross Elementary school just outside of Houston, where teachers awaited the results of state tests knowing success came with a nice little bonus for them: $2,850. Long story short the tests came back too good to be true and after an investigation resignations started coming in. But did they do anything that goes beyond expectation? Tying teacher pay to student performance in this way seems doomed to fail, and the Times article cites sufficient examples of teachers playing with test scores to support that. But the main reason I see linking raises to test scores as a plan doomed to failure is because that system seems not to acknowledge how whatever you can teach a kid this year is tied to what they learned or failed to learn last year.

Of the many things President Obama has done recently, I'm most frustrated with what rarely gets discussed on national television: his education policy. He's not calling for a fundamental shift in the way we do education in the United States. He's calling for, among other things, reforming the NCLB act through improved assessments and an improved accountability system. Check out his plan here. The push for more assistance going to early education, and expanding Head Start, pre-school, and child care tax credits are all welcome moves. I have no idea where the money to pay for these initiatives will come from, though, but that's a different issue. What I'm considering here is whether improving assessments, the piece of his plan most relevant to teacher pay, will lead to more teacher's looking to nudge test scores is an issue.

SchoolFinance101's blog, on the other hand, cuts straight to the chase - litigation:

There are (at least) two very likely legal challenges that will occur once we start to experience our first rounds of teacher dismissal based on student assessment data.

Due Process Challenges

Removing a teacher’s tenure status is denial of a teacher’s property interest and doing so requires “due process.” That’s not an insurmountable barrier, even under typical teacher contracts that don’t require dismissal based on student test scores. Simply declaring that “a teacher will be fired if he/she shows 2 straight years of bad student test scores (growth or value-added)” and then firing a teacher for as much does not mean that the teacher necessarily was provided due process. Under a policy requiring that 51% of the employment decision be based on student value added test scores, a teacher could be wrongly terminated due to:

a) Temporal instability of the value-added measures

http://www.urban.org/UploadedPDF/1001266_stabilityofvalue.pdf

Ooooh…Temporal instability… what’s that supposed to mean? What it means is that teacher value-added ratings, which are averages of individual student gains, tend not to be that stable over time. The same teacher is highly likely to get a totally different value added rating from one year to the next. The above link points to a policy brief which explains that the year to year correlation for a teacher’s value added rating is only about .2 or .3. Further, most of the change or difference in the teacher’s value added rating from one year to the next is unexplainable – not by differences in observed student characteristics, peer characteristics or school characteristics. 87.5% (elementary math) to 70% (8th grade math) noise! While some statistical corrections and multi-year measures might help, it’s hard to guarantee or even be reasonably sure that a teacher wouldn’t be dismissed simply as a function of unexplainable low performance for 2 or 3 years in a row. That is, simply due to noise, and not the more troublesome issue of how students are clustered across schools, districts and classrooms.

b) Non-random assignment of students

The only fair way to compare teachers’ ability to produce student value-added is to randomly assign all students, statewide to all teachers… and then of course, to have all students live in exactly comparable settings with exactly comparable support structures outside of school, etc., etc. etc. That’s right. We’d have to send all of our teachers and all of our students to a single boarding school location somewhere in the state and make sure, absolutely sure that we randomly assigned students, the same number of students to each and every teacher in the system.

Obviously, that’s not going to happen. Students are not randomly sorted and the fact that they are not has serious consequences for comparing teachers’ ability to produce student value-added. See: http://gsppi.berkeley.edu/faculty/jrothstein/published/rothstein_vam2.pdf

c) Student manipulation of test results

As she travels the nation on her book tour, Diane Ravitch raises another possibility for how a teacher might find him/herself out of a job by no real fault of actual bad teaching. As she puts it, this approach to teacher evaluation puts the teacher’s job directly in the students’ hands. And the students can, if they wish, choose to consciously abuse that responsibility. That is, the students could actually choose to bomb the state assessments to get a teacher fired, whether it’s a good teacher or a bad one. This would most certainly raise due process concerns.

d) A whole bunch of other uncontrollable stuff

A recent National Academies report noted:

“A student’s scores may be affected by many factors other than a teacher — his or her motivation, for example, or the amount of parental support — and value-added techniques have not yet found a good way to account for these other elements.”

http://www8.nationalacademies.org/onpinews/newsitem.aspx?RecordID=1278

This report generally urged caution regarding overemphasis of student value-added test scores in teacher evaluation – especially in high stakes decisions. Surely, if I was an expert witness testifying on behalf of a teacher who had been wrongly dismissed, I’d be pointing out that the National Academies said that using the student assessment data in this way is not a good idea.

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act Challenges

The non-random assignment of students leads to the second likely legal claim that will flood the courts as student testing based teacher dismissals begin – Claims of racially disparate teacher dismissal under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Given that students are not randomly assigned and that poor and minority – specifically black – students are densely clustered in certain schools and districts and that black teachers are much more likely to be working in schools with classrooms of low-income black students, it is highly likely that teacher dismissals will occur in a racially disparate pattern. Black teachers of low-income black students will be several times more likely to be dismissed on the basis of poor value-added test scores. This is especially true where a statewide fixed, rigid requirement is adopted and where a teacher must be de-tenured and/or dismissed if he/she shows value-added below some fixed value-added threshold on state assessments.

So, here’s how this one plays out. For every 1 white teacher dismissed on value-added basis, 10 or more black teachers are dismissed - relative to the overall proportions of black and white teachers. This gives the black teachers the argument that the policy has racially disparate effect. No, it doesn’t end there. A policy doesn’t violate Title VII merely because it has racially disparate effect. That just starts the ball rolling – gets the argument into court.

The state gets to defend itself – by claiming that producing value-added test scores is a legitimate part of a teacher’s job and then explaining how the use of those scores is, in fact neutral with respect to race. It just happens to have the disparate effect. Right? But, as the state would argue, that’s a good thing because it ensures that we can put better teachers in front of these poor minority kids, and get rid of the bad ones.

But, the problem is that the significant body of research on non-random assignment of students and its effect of value added scores indicates that it’s not necessarily differences in the actual effectiveness of black versus white teachers, but that the black teachers are concentrated in the poor black schools and that student clustering and not teacher effectiveness is leading to the disparate rates of teacher dismissal. So they weren’t fired because they were precisely measurably ineffective, they were fired because they had classrooms of poor minority students year after year? At the very least, it is statistically problematic to distill one effect from the other! As a result, it’s statistically problematic to argue that the teacher should be dismissed! There is at least equal likelihood that the teacher is wrongly dismissed as there is that the teacher is rightly dismissed. I suspect a court might be concerned by this.

Reduction in Force

Note that many of these same concerns apply to all of the recent rhetoric over teacher layoffs and the need to base those layoffs on effectiveness rather than seniority. It all sounds good, until you actually try to go into a school district of any size and identify the 100 “least effective” teachers given the current state of data for teacher evaluation. Simply writing into a reduction in force (RIF) policy a requirement of dismissal based on “effectiveness” does not instantly validate the “effectiveness” measures. And even the best “effectiveness” measures, as discussed above, remain really problematic, providing tenured teachers reduced on grounds of ineffectiveness multiple options for legal action.

Additional Concerns

These two legal arguments ignore the fact that school districts and states will have to establish two separate types of contracts for teachers to begin with, since even in the best of statistical cases, only about 1/5 of teachers (those directly responsible for teaching math or reading in grades three through eight) might possibly be evaluated via student test scores (see: http://schoolfinance101.wordpress.com/2009/12/04/pondering-the-usefulness-of-value-added-assessment-of-teachers/)

I’ve written previously about the technical concerns over value-added assessment of teachers and my concern that pundits are seemingly completely ignorant of the statistical issues. I’m also baffled that few others in the current policy discussion seem even remotely aware of just how few teachers might – in the best possible case – be evaluated via student test scores, and the need for separate contracts. But, I am perhaps most perplexed that no-one seems to be acknowledging the massive legal mess likely to ensue when (or if) these poorly conceived policies are put into action.

But the high-stakes testing regime affects more than teacher pay. Administrators too are pressured to meet scoring quotas that challenge their ethics. In a NYTimes piece called, Under Pressure, Teachers Tamper With Tests, Trip Gabriel reports on the NCLB's unethical and legally questionable underbelly:

For seven years, their school, Atherton Elementary in suburban Atlanta, had met the standards known in federal law as Adequate Yearly Progress — A.Y.P. in educators’ jargon — by demonstrating that a rising share of students performed at grade level.

Then, in 2008, the bar went up again and Atherton stumbled. In June, the school’s assistant principal for instruction, reviewing student answer sheets from the state tests, told her principal, “We cannot make A.Y.P.,” according to an affidavit the principal signed.

“We didn’t discuss it any further,” the principal, James L. Berry, told school district investigators. “We both understood what we meant.”

Pulling a pencil from a cup on the desk of Doretha Alexander, the assistant principal, Dr. Berry said to her, “I want you to call the answers to me,” according to an account Ms. Alexander gave to investigators.

The principal erased bubbles on the multiple-choice answer sheets and filled in the right answers.

Any celebrations over the results were short-lived. Suspicions were raised in December 2008 by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, which noted that improvements on state tests at Atherton and a handful of other Georgia schools were so spectacular that they approached a statistical impossibility. The state conducted an analysis of the answer sheets and found “overwhelming evidence” of test tampering at Atherton.

Crawford Lewis, the district superintendent at the time, summoned Dr. Berry and Ms. Alexander to separate meetings. During four hours of questioning — “back and forth, back and forth, back and forth,” Dr. Lewis said — principal and assistant principal admitted to cheating.

“They both broke down” in tears, Dr. Lewis said.

Dr. Lewis said that Dr. Berry, whom he had appointed in 2005, had buckled under the pressure of making yearly progress goals. Dr. Berry was a former music teacher and leader of celebrated marching bands who, Dr, Lewis said, had transferred some of that spirit to passing the state tests in a district where schools hold pep rallies to get ready.

Dr. Berry, who declined interview requests, resigned and was arrested in June 2009 on charges of falsifying a state document. In December, he pleaded guilty and was sentenced to probation. The state suspended him from education for two years and Ms. Alexander for one year. (Dr. Lewis, who stepped down as superintendent, was indicted last month on unrelated charges stemming from an investigation into school construction, which he denied.)

Dr. Lewis called for refocusing education away from high-stakes testing because of the distorted incentives it introduces for teachers. “When you add in performance pay and your evaluation could possibly be predicated on how well your kids do testing-wise, it’s just an enormous amount of pressure,” he said.

“I don’t say there’s any excuse for doing what was done, but I believe this problem is going to intensify before it gets better.”

And to bring this all into perspective, Seth Godin ponders the economics of education in The coming melt-down in higher education (as seen by a marketer):

For 400 years, higher education in the US has been on a roll. From Harvard asking Galileo to be a guest professor in the 1600s to millions tuning in to watch a team of unpaid athletes play another team of unpaid athletes in some college sporting event, the amount of time and money and prestige in the college world has been climbing.

I'm afraid that's about to crash and burn. Here's how I'm looking at it.

1. Most colleges are organized to give an average education to average students.

Pick up any college brochure or catalog. Delete the brand names and the map. Can you tell which school it is? While there are outliers (like St. Johns, Deep Springs or Full Sail) most schools aren't really outliers. They are mass marketers.

Stop for a second and consider the impact of that choice. By emphasizing mass and sameness and rankings, colleges have changed their mission.

This works great in an industrial economy where we can't churn out standardized students fast enough and where the demand is huge because the premium earned by a college grad dwarfs the cost. But...

InflationTuitionMedicalGeneral1978to2008 2. College has gotten expensive far faster than wages have gone up.

As a result, there are millions of people in very serious debt, debt so big it might take decades to repay. Word gets around. Won't get fooled again...

This leads to a crop of potential college students that can (and will) no longer just blindly go to the 'best' school they get in to.

3. The definition of 'best' is under siege.

Why do colleges send millions (!) of undifferentiated pieces of junk mail to high school students now? We will waive the admission fee! We have a one page application! Apply! This is some of the most amateur and bland direct mail I've ever seen. Why do it?

Biggest reason: So the schools can reject more applicants. The more applicants they reject, the higher they rank in US News and other rankings. And thus the rush to game the rankings continues, which is a sign that the marketers in question (the colleges) are getting desperate for more than their fair share. Why bother making your education more useful if you can more easily make it appear to be more useful?

4. The correlation between a typical college degree and success is suspect.

College wasn't originally designed to merely be a continuation of high school (but with more binge drinking). In many places, though, that's what it has become. The data I'm seeing shows that a degree (from one of those famous schools, with or without a football team) doesn't translate into significantly better career opportunities, a better job or more happiness than a degree from a cheaper institution.

5. Accreditation isn't the solution, it's the problem.

A lot of these ills are the result of uniform accreditation programs that have pushed high-cost, low-reward policies on institutions and rewarded schools that churn out young wanna-be professors instead of experiences that turn out leaders and problem-solvers.

All of this spells an unhappy ending for a system that is already bankrupting the country.

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

These Days

CNN has run an interesting article that reports on the status of children's lives by Elizabeth Landau called, Children's quality of life declining, says report.
Children living in families in which neither parent has secure employment will rise to about 20 million this year, up 4 percent from 2006.

Also, many children live in households where all members do not have access to enough safe and nutritious foods. From 2007 to 2010, an additional 750,000 children are estimated to live in food-insecure households, the report said.

There is also potential for an uptick in obesity as families with tight budgets move toward lower quality food because of the recession, Land said. Healthy foods tend to be expensive, while processed and fast foods are cheaper and more readily available to some families.

Community engagement will go down as school districts reduce the employment of teachers and cut back programs. The amount of time spent in school may even go down; in 2009, Hawaii became the first state to move to four-day school weeks to save money in the recession.

One piece of good news is that health insurance coverage for children will not significantly fall, the report said, thanks to publicly financed health care programs. About 90 percent of children will be in families with some form of health insurance, the report said.

Chaotic childhoods have enormous implications for physical health, said Dr. Alan Kazdin, professor of psychology at Yale University and researcher at the Yale Child Conduct Clinic. Higher rates of cancer, liver disease, respiratory disease and other conditions have been found in people who grew up under stressful conditions, said Kazdin, who was not involved in the study.
I'm not sure that children's lives will, in fact, decline. Cutbacks in school budgets may simply serve to reverse or deter the damage education politics are playing on educational policy. Libraries may become more frequented. Children may actually have less disposable income to pour into vapid designer clothes and unhealthy fast food.

Which is not to say the recession is a good thing.

Sunday, June 06, 2010

John Wooden Remembered

I love this tribute to John Wooden. Boy, schools have forgotten everything he says in this piece.

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

The New Skinner Box

Tonight we had a guest speaker from the UConn Department of Education who was selling a "framework" called PBIS. It's a massively scaled up version of the Skinner Box.

The theory seems to be that by treating schools as Operant Conditioning Chambers whose primary operating principle seems to be homogenizing the behavior of the more unruly population by assuming that the unruly are in fact behavior problems or worse and subjecting them to intensified peer group pressures in the form of a velvet glove token.

In education, three variables are always present: teacher, curriculum, and student. These days the student wears a target on their back as the agent to be changed - one way or the other. The feds have already hi-jacked curriculum decisions, and the States have passed laws that will soon lock-down teachers.

Some critics compare the Skinner Box to a cage. By the time educators are done with the model Guantanamo will look like a country club because at least the prisoners can pray.

Random Stuff

I've had to restrain myself from posting about some recent incidents that disturbed me deeply.

It's a funny thing. Years ago, when certain political forces wanted to demonize liberals, I decided to defend that point of view vigorously. I simply stated what I believed would be a true liberal viewpoint and stuck to my arguments.It wasn't a knee-jerk union point of view nor was it a particularly wide-eyed caricature of the genre. It was simply respectful of people who were and are intelligent and politically disenfranchised.

Over the years I've been called all kinds of names and got banned from the old Charlie Rose forum, the Talking points Memo forums, and got bored with a dozen others. Freedom of Speech is no more protected in this country or on the internet than in most wannabe totalitarian territories. In my experience, it was never the right wingers who wanted to shut me up for giving voice to unpopular opinion, it was the rank and file democrats and republicans who are quite comfortable with a world they've learned to take advantage of. Don't upset the gravy train. Don't ask us to think and don't question the cultural myths.

These days I'm surrounded by individuals who purport to care about education but have no stomach for anything more than the status quo and spending money (money never cures anything because we always have to spend more and more is never enough). Many simply count the days until they're safely free of it, pensioned, and ready to promote the union line while serving on their school boards.

The news is awash with the horror that the oil and gas industry watchdogs were eager and willing lap dogs when it came to rigorously being vigilant about small things like safety, ethics, and conflicts of interest.

But I'm not surprised at all. The oil and gas industry watchdogs are no different than most organizations expected to oversee highly profitable enterprises. Floating downstream is an American way of life for a lot of people and its a career path as well. Go along to get along to go along.

I've been writing for years about the student debt reality and looming crisis. Very few parents ever read to warnings and fewer care. Washington wants every student to go to college (and incur backbreaking debt). It's all in the name of equality.

This NY Times article by Ron Lieber spells it out;
Like many middle-class families, Cortney Munna and her mother began the college selection process with a grim determination. They would do whatever they could to get Cortney into the best possible college, and they maintained a blind faith that the investment would be worth it.

Citibank gave Cortney Munna $40,000 in loans, though she had already amassed debt well into the five figures. It was like the “no doc” loans that home buyers used to get in over their heads.

Today, however, Ms. Munna, a 26-year-old graduate of New York University, has nearly $100,000 in student loan debt from her four years in college, and affording the full monthly payments would be a struggle. For much of the time since her 2005 graduation, she’s been enrolled in night school, which allows her to defer loan payments.

This is not a long-term solution, because the interest on the loans continues to pile up. So in an eerie echo of the mortgage crisis, tens of thousands of people like Ms. Munna are facing a reckoning. They and their families made borrowing decisions based more on emotion than reason, much as subprime borrowers assumed the value of their houses would always go up.

Meanwhile, universities like N.Y.U. enrolled students without asking many questions about whether they could afford a $50,000 annual tuition bill. Then the colleges introduced the students to lenders who underwrote big loans without any idea of what the students might earn someday — just like the mortgage lenders who didn’t ask borrowers to verify their incomes.

Ms. Munna does not want to walk away from her loans in the same way many mortgage holders are. It would be difficult in any event because federal bankruptcy law makes it nearly impossible to discharge student loan debts. But unless she manages to improve her income quickly, she doesn’t have a lot of good options for digging out.

It is utterly depressing that there are so many people like her facing decades of payments, limited capacity to buy a home and a debt burden that can repel potential life partners. For starters, it’s a shared failure of parenting and loan underwriting.

But perhaps the biggest share lies with colleges and universities because they have the most knowledge of the financial aid process. And I would argue that they had an obligation to counsel students like Ms. Munna, who got in too far over their heads.

How many people are like her? According to the College Board’s Trends in Student Aid study, 10 percent of people who graduated in 2007-8 with student loans had borrowed $40,000 or more. The median debt for bachelor’s degree recipients who borrowed while attending private, nonprofit colleges was $22,380.

The Project on Student Debt, a research and advocacy organization in Oakland, Calif., used federal data to estimate that 206,000 people graduated from college (including many from for-profit universities) with more than $40,000 in student loan debt in that same period. That’s a ninefold increase over the number of people in 1996, using 2008 dollars.

I've also blogged long and hard about the perils of the Bush/Obama education reform scam. most recently gullible legislators passed a slew of bad law pertaining to educational policies that are being coerced by Washington bureaucrats. They dangle lotto ticket chances to receive parts of federal dollars aimed at education.

But recently Connecticut was awarded some federal money. Everyone thinks it stays in the state and creates or -cough- saves jobs here. No such luck. NCLB/RTTT appears to be a finely tuned money laundering scheme that awaards money to individual states giving the impression that the staes are dictating the terms of the engagement but the CT DOE website reveals the money is funneled to, um, TEXAS!

Read it and weep. And if you connect a few more dots you'll realize that RTTT is a covert, up from the bottom establishment of a National Identification database that not only identifies you from school age activity on but tracks you as an individual. Your freedom to re-invent yourself will not be tolerated, the data the government collects - good, bad, or indifferent - will forever define your freedom.

Here's a anti-Nazi propaganda piece produced during WWII. It may as well be the RTTT blueprint;



No, I have no interest in Hitler, or nazis, or any of the militarism involved in the cartoon. Strip those themes out and you expose a framework of state controlled education that is intolerant of "failing" students, the weak will be left in government [school] hands, and "marching and heiling" could easily be "memorizing and being tested" for global competition.

We are already far down the road to a reality that is a centralized control over school, curriculum, and personal identity that will doom our children for decades.

Maybe if we pretend its not happening it will go away.

My guess is that no one cares about what the government is doing with Race to the Top but I'll get a dozen complaints about the Disney YouTube video.

IT'S A METAPHOR!.

Sunday, May 02, 2010

CT Legislature Poisons the Schools

Yesterday, the CT legislature passed more poison pill education laws.  Grace E. Merritt and Amanda Falcone of the Courant report:
The bill establishes a more rigorous high school curriculum designed to better prepare students for college and to compete in a global economy.

The new standards mean students would have to earn a minimum of 25 credits to graduate, up from 20, including two language credits and one more credit each in math and science.

Students also would have to take end-of-year exams for core courses to ensure that they've learned the material. Seniors would be required to complete a multidisciplinary "capstone project" before graduation — which would spell the end of coasting during the second semester of senior year.

The new requirements wouldn't take effect until the Class of 2018, a concession made to make the bill more palatable to opponents who characterize it as another unfunded mandate in a poor economy.

"We certainly are not going to be in this economic condition … too much longer," Gaffey said.

Besides, he said, the bill is designed to help the state win millions in federal stimulus money from the Race to the Top competition, which officials hope might bring as much as $192 million to Connecticut.

Having failed to win any of the federal money in the first round of the Race to the Top competition, the state is revising its application to try again June 1. The state is hoping the new bill will strengthen the application by demonstrating the state's commitment to school reform.

The bill would also establish a new framework for teacher evaluations that would use indicators of student academic growth in assessing performance. The State Board of Education would work with an advisory board of representatives from teachers unions, school boards and state and local education leaders to develop the evaluations.

"I believe that this is a very reasonable approach to teacher evaluation at the present time," said John Yrchik, executive director of the Connecticut Education Association, the largest statewide teachers union.
There is no doubt that Connecticut politicians will sell their souls and the wallets of their constituents on the flimsiest excuse to spend more tax money. There are no responsible adults involved. Nor do they seem to read the newspaper.

On that same day, Steve Goode of the Courant reported on Hartford's Rawson school (Parents, Students Say Hartford School Spirals Out Of Control).
Tamara Golding moved into a house across the street from Rawson School last March, feeling lucky that her son and daughter would attend a beautiful school that just completed a $33 million makeover.

These days she has a different view of the school.

"Pretty on the outside — hell on the inside," she said.

Parents and teachers say student behavior at Rawson, a pre-kindergarten through Grade 8 school on Holcomb Street, has spiraled out of control.

Fights are commonplace: boys fighting boys, girls fighting girls, even boys fighting girls.

Current and former students say that alcohol and marijuana are being brought into the school and that students are engaging in sexual activity in stairwells and isolated areas.

Bathrooms, frequent sites of assault, are locked. Students are escorted to the bathrooms, which students and parents say are decorated with gang symbols.

There are three security guards for the 750 students, and parents say they fear for the younger children's safety.

Bullying inside and outside the school is a regular occurrence, students and parents say. Last Wednesday, according to one student, a group of students committed random assaults inside the building. The day culminated with an after-school assault on a teenager who came to Rawson to pick up his younger brother and escort him home.

The boy, Andrew Manning, 15, was beaten by four young men at the corner of Holcomb and Cornwall streets and taken by ambulance to St. Francis Hospital and Medical Center, where he received a dozen stitches to close a gash in his forehead. He also had a concussion and an eye injury. The attack was interrupted by a man who stopped his pickup truck.

"If we don't stop this, something really tragic is going to happen," said Golding, who acknowledged that her daughter, Jazzman Smith, an eighth-grader, is currently suspended from the school for a disciplinary problem.

Let's see, where's the disconnect?

The legislature wants to up the ante in terms of required credits. How will this close he achievement gap we see in full bloom here? The THIRTY-THREE MILLION DOLLAR renovation apparently hasn't helped. MAYBE MORE MONEY WILL HELP! But I don't think so.

Oh, and what about that idea of preparing more and more kids for college? Seth Godin's blog has an interesting response (The coming melt-down in higher education (as seen by a marketer)). He lists five reasons higher education's desirability is fading
1. Most colleges are organized to give an average education to average students.

Pick up any college brochure or catalog. Delete the brand names and the map. Can you tell which school it is? While there are outliers (like St. Johns, Deep Springs or Full Sail) most schools aren't really outliers. They are mass marketers.

Stop for a second and consider the impact of that choice. By emphasizing mass and sameness and rankings, colleges have changed their mission.

This works great in an industrial economy where we can't churn out standardized students fast enough and where the demand is huge because the premium earned by a college grad dwarfs the cost. But...

2. College has gotten expensive far faster than wages have gone up.

As a result, there are millions of people in very serious debt, debt so big it might take decades to repay. Word gets around. Won't get fooled again...

This leads to a crop of potential college students that can (and will) no longer just blindly go to the 'best' school they get in to.

3. The definition of 'best' is under siege.

Why do colleges send millions (!) of undifferentiated pieces of junk mail to high school students now? We will waive the admission fee! We have a one page application! Apply! This is some of the most amateur and bland direct mail I've ever seen. Why do it?

Biggest reason: So the schools can reject more applicants. The more applicants they reject, the higher they rank in US News and other rankings. And thus the rush to game the rankings continues, which is a sign that the marketers in question (the colleges) are getting desperate for more than their fair share. Why bother making your education more useful if you can more easily make it appear to be more useful?

4. The correlation between a typical college degree and success is suspect.

College wasn't originally designed to merely be a continuation of high school (but with more binge drinking). In many places, though, that's what it has become. The data I'm seeing shows that a degree (from one of those famous schools, with or without a football team) doesn't translate into significantly better career opportunities, a better job or more happiness than a degree from a cheaper institution.

5. Accreditation isn't the solution, it's the problem.

A lot of these ills are the result of uniform accreditation programs that have pushed high-cost, low-reward policies on institutions and rewarded schools that churn out young wanna-be professors instead of experiences that turn out leaders and problem-solvers.

Even the village idiot can do this math. Herding students into a lifetime of debt for higher education makes no sense. Nor does upping the ante for admission.

And chasing Race to the Top dollars is like passing legislation to give the federal government a new way to tax you.

This legislature needs to be fired. Every stinking one of them.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Tea Party Revisited

I received a response to a previous post about the more responsible Tea Party voices across this nation. And ConnecticutMan1, a fellow blogger, laments that
...and I note that while we could find common ground on what the important issues are we certainly have a huge chasm between what we see as the solutions. But not all of them are even willing to have that rational discussion. They are purposely disruptive and just shouting over others.

I am less interested in the shouting matches than the issues themselves. Regardless of how much any two people may disagree about a solution, if a solution actually resolves an issue then who cares who suggested it? I think the point I'm trying to make is that I hear legitimate concerns being expressed by Tea Party advocates and as much as I wouldn't want to socialize with certain people, that doesn't mean they don't deserve to be heard.

I've grown tired of the attack politics of all sides. It's fair to parody and satirize about anything. It's wholly a different level of disagreement that has each group trying to personally destroy the other. If a group of people want to identify themselves as something new, I say have at it.

On the other hand, the too-large-government issue IS a concern to lots of people. As is excessive taxation.  And while I strongly disagree with the more militant Tea Party enthusiasts to threaten violence, I can understand their growing frustration and contempt for the existing political parties.

Runaway government spending has to stop.  And mean-spirited government spending cuts that hurt the innocent and dispossessed is not a solution.  Government and education can be modeled to scale back without sacrificing quality.  But that means that we all grow up.  That means that protecting the fat cats in government and education needs to be addressed.

The poor are not our enemy, the entrenched obsolete bureaucrat who is self-insulating and feather-bedding their own position and paycheck are the ones that need to surgically removed from further damaging this country's ability to economically heal.

The issues of the Tea Party don't go away by demonizing them.  And this country doesn't recover by ignoring the problems so painful that even hermits are marching in the streets.

The best way to dissolve the Tea Party is to effectively address the issue of reducing the size of government and its attendant spending habits.

Let's all stop shouting and get serious about solving this crisis before some misguided idiot starts getting trigger happy.  Quite frankly, while I abhor the Palin-ization of that movement, I think their concerns are as important as any we face.

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Educational Black-Ops?

Every once in a while the math doesn't add up or something is so subtly out of place to be unnoticeable but like a paper cut refuses to stop throbbing.

I was reading a Rick Green's Courant blog about the Avon school budget called, Avon Parents Support Public Schools -- and Higher Taxes.

Intriguing.   And there in the comments section I found a cliche that is like that paper cut.
In any event, the median property tax burden for those in single family houses in Avon is 5.56%. That is 70th highest of CT's 169 towns for FY 2008-09 tax payments. Their median state income tax burden rank is 11th highest of CT's towns.

This is the fuzzy math of the education entitlement funding myth. In other words, someone out there is gaming the economic statistics to imply that any of our communities are obligated to tax a certain percentage of income for public education whether it needs it or not.

And worse still, tax whether the town can afford it or not.

In Region 19, we have such a pattern of tax abuse. Because towns pay per student ratios of the regional school budgets, there are always towns paying more or less than the other. And the game is that no town should ever pay less than the year before. For example, this year, an EO Smith budget that desperately needs pruning isn't getting it. The magic reason? Mansfield already has reached a zero increase in EO Smith funding.

Heaven forbid that the finance committee actually consider what is best for all three towns regardless of such nonsense.

But all across Connecticut, taxpayers are being bludgeoned by a tax engine that works just this one way - always spend more and more and more.

You've been conditioned to believe that's better for kids.

That's not always the case.

More on the Black Ops soon (still fact finding).

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

A Tea Party Worth Listening To

I am proud to announce that the Region 19 BOE Gazette is a link on the page of one of Nebraska's most prestigious Tea Party blogs; Don't Let Me Stop You.

I've linked to them under the political links section here as itself the Nebraska Tea Party.

This has forever been a blog that celebrates the disenfranchised voices in politics, culture, and education.  And I ruthlessly skewer the status quo with as much satirical candor as I can muster on a tired evening.

But this blog started during the Bush/Cheney regime and something I have never said but need to is that as fiercely as I objected to their policies I cannot say that this blog was ever threatened in any way, implicit or explicit.  Not once.

First this speaks to the strength of the First Amendment and those of us who exercise it with religious trust.  But secondly, it speaks to the American character - even the hard-core neo-cons back off from trying to muzzle another citizen speaking their mind.

As I said, I'm proud that Tea Partiers link to this, a most-liberal blog.  Not because they agree but because we can agree and disagree and fight through issues that move us.

It is important for those of any party or persuasion to lighten up enough to recognize our common interests so that we can be sure that those things don't become collateral damage.  And its important for us to disagree enough to create the sparks that illuminate a step in the right direction.

And for as often as this blog has been called provincial and partisan, the truth of the matter is that it has always represented those whose voices represent a broad and rich spectrum of people who have every right to be heard and respected.  I'm proud of that too.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Modeling Academics

There is a common practice that seems to be a pattern that takes on mythical significance. And that is that last year's school budget expenditures with the exception of co-incidental changes dictate next year's curriculum and budget make-up.

Furthermore, next year's budget is considered flat when it entirely accommodates the slope of increases in staff salary and benefits. So it is not unusual to hear Board members euphemistically say the the budget stays the same from this year to next or it doesn't cost us any more. In fact the unconscionable increases in salary not only increase costs, they compound the cost year over year assuming there's no intervention.

But given the economic environment, suburban schools in CT need to get smarter about school. In other words, we need to begin modeling every school every year. That means that the tight coupling of curriculum to spreadsheet budgets needs to be decoupled.

Based on the local fiscal tea leaves, communities need to determine what they can afford and settle on a figure that is fair to the average taxpayer.  That's the budget part.

Whatever this sum, the skeleton key to creating next year's academic infrastructure needs to be a school model of what's important to the school.

A Captain Obvious list of necessities includes:

  • bare bones services mandated by law
  • mandated curriculum offerings
  • fixed and inevitable costs (heat, water, fuel, books, supplies, consumables)
  • core sports costs
  • bare bones enrichment curriculum offerings
  • bare bones administrative costs
A second tier of expenses might include near and dear offerings and special programs that are successful and unique.  Also included may be periodic offerings such as a bi-annual AP course in an esoteric subject.

The final component might be:

  • non-core sports
  • supplemental courses
  • poorly performing courses or departments
  • vanity offerings or department silos that can be pruned without a loss of fundamental mission
This kind of modeling ensures that the quality of the school's academic offering can degrade gracefully in terms of cost without affecting the quality or integrity of the school's mission.

Schools that are growing can scale up intelligently and scale back equally intelligently.  This is different but related to strategic planning.  Modeling is about generating cost effective education and agile academic year-to-year continuity so that curriculum stay s fresh and vital.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Mary Glassman Gets It!

Mary Glassman not only gets it but she gets it right the first time.

Do any of you appreciate that as much as I do? OMG, a politician that advocates for children to read at the third grade level because that is scientifically sound. That's right, she looked at the facts and is advocating policy based on the facts.

Not feelings, not what's politically popular, but facts. Obviously she has no chance of winning but I want to be one of the first people to endorse her. Christ, it's like winning the lottery to find somebody who knows what the hell they're talking about AND is running for office.

Check out CT Bob's video (if you listen to one political video this year, this is it) ;



WE ARE NOT WORTHY.

Really.

How much?

This, a twitter from Diane Ravitch about an hour ago.
The case against NCLB: no gain in NAEP reading scores for 8th graders from 1998 to 2009. The NCLB generation. Billions wasted.

Small comfort. Obama's Race to the Top is little more than re-branded NCLB funded to the hilt. More tax dollars being shoveled into a money sink that is pointless.

Our educators lecture us about math and science yet are incapable of actually using it themselves. And accountability is for other people's failures not programs like NCLB that have empirically done more harm than good for children.

Billions. Educational Fraud. No relief in sight.

What a country.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

My ADTC Resignation Letter

March 24, 2010

Dear friends and others,

Please accept my immediate resignation from the Ashford Democratic Town Committee. Until very recently, I have had the great pleasure of sharing the good company and goodwill of many of you. I plan on remaining a lifelong friend of those who are.

However, I can no longer support national candidates who solicit my time, money, and psychic energy to get elected and then turn around and marginalize or wholly lock-out points of view near and dear to my heart. I plan to dedicate those resources to ensuring that those people never again take advantage of my concerns as a citizen.

More importantly, as a Board of Education member I find myself serving with other members of the Democratic persuasion who chronically misrepresent our community. I find their indifference to the community of Ashford's best interests AND Region19's best interests unconscionable. Again, as someone who has dedicated time, energy, money, and goodwill toward both the Democratic party and the election of said individuals, I can no longer justify continuing to to so.

Our Region is being fiscally bankrupted by Board members whose cynical disregard for the plight of children in their own communities is obvious and unrelenting. I cannot and will not support any candidate from any town who is willing to stab the people who depend on them in the back.

Furthermore. our regional economics need to be addressed seriously and with all due haste. No one in any town, regardless of how complacent they may believe they are, can afford *not* to have the ability to vote for a reduction in the coming year-to-year budget. Families already hard hit by the national economy have a Constitutional Right of Self-Defense (the vote) to protect themselves from bureaucrats who are indifferent to watching their families suffer.

Every thinking citizen in our towns needs to demand that the right to vote on a one-percent decrease in the Region19 budget. The voters trusted me when I was elected and I trust them to do what's right for themselves.

The time is now. The pickpockets are at your door and on your Board. You can choose to save your communities or not. You can choose to play politics or not. But once the money is spent and the clouds roll in - DO NOT CLAIM YOU DID NOT KNOW THIS IS THE CASE.

With great memories and great regret,

Frank Krasicki

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Best. Movie. Ending. Ever.

I saw Samson and Delilah as a child and it was one of those stories that stuck with me.

There's a moral here.

Cartoons (click to site of ownership):