Robert A. Teegarden's Blog

February 24, 2010

Arizona House panel OKs bill to link AIMS, passing 3rd grade

Filed under: Education — by Robert @ 6:20 pm

House panel OKs bill to link AIMS, passing 3rd grade

It’s about time!  Congratulations to the law-makers who made the leap and linked these two obvious educational milestones. Maybe the next step would be to link passing 4th grade with passing the NAEP test (National Assessment of Educational Progress).  That would link and compare Arizona’s AIMS test to a uniform national standard—NAEP.

This says we’re serious about schooling.  We’re serious about the burdens placed on the shoulders of students, teachers and parents.  We’re serious about achievement and success.

This could go a long way to eliminate social promotion, inflated grades, gerimandered test results, educational double-speak, and honors recognitions in high school that equal remediation courses in college.



February 20, 2010

We Don’t Need No State Education

Filed under: Uncategorized — by Robert @ 4:15 am

Sheldon Richmond gives us pause ( What is this thing called schooling all about?  What are its ends?

If we quibble around the fringes of process, curriculum, ownership and control we fail to fathom the depths of why we educate our kids.  Is it not to produce good people… people of character and fiber?  Who can really do that but parents?

The pause has us ask fundamental questions that are not part of the current debate.  With sheckles come shackles.  The source of the funding too often determines the direction one travels. Maybe it’s time to examine why we do what we do and for whom we do it.

The task of education is too precious to leave in the hands of the state and too previous to leave at the behest of politics and power. 

We all need to heed Socrates’ dictum that the unexamined life is fraught with peril.

February 19, 2010

Private-Public Schools

In the 1992 somewhat dark, crypto-comedy, Sneakers, good-guy Marty (Robert Redford) is caught in the lair of bad-guy gangster Cosmo (Ben Kingsley). After a nostalgic rehash of old dreams (they were once classmates), Cosmo confronts Marty with what’s wrong with this country. “It’s money.” Cosmo goes on to say that “We have pollution, crime, disease, immorality, despair, that we throw gobs of money at them, yet things only get worse. Why?” Cosmo says he learned why. “Everything in this world operates not on reality, but on the perception of reality.”

This couldn’t be truer than in American education.

A recent article, Inside School Research article, points this out so very well. Its premise is this:

“There are private schools and then there are private public schools. We’ve all come across the latter. These are public schools that enroll so few students from low-income families that they might as well be called private.

Simply stated, private schools don’t education students from low-income families. That’s why they’re called “private.” Somehow ‘private’ and ‘poverty’ have become oxymorons in the American lexicon of educational objectives; the twain shall never meet. But again, the facts don’t support that presumption.

This article demonstrates so well the problem with the names that have been given to America’s educational institutions and the historical myths that have grown up around them. What makes a public school “public?” What makes a private school “private?” If the label is based on who (really) runs them, then public schools are really union schools and private schools are, well, private. If the name is based on who is served, then public schools are public and private schools are public. If the moniker is based on goals and outcomes, the facts about private schools put the public perceptions to shame.

Government schools don’t necessarily do the “best” of the government’s intentions just because they’re called “public” or run by the unions. Private schools, likewise, just because they’re called “private” doesn’t mean they don’t serve the public very well. Heck, their parents are part of the larger public on April 15th each year. Why are their kids not considered part of that “public” when they attend private schools? The arguments about whether a school is “public” (government) or private are just too simple anymore. We need to get beyond the politically-correct perception of reality and myths to look at the facts and judge accordingly. Some schools have become iatrogenic–they have become the source of the very problems they were designed to remedy.

The characterization of “private” schools in the recent Flypaper piece on America’s Private Public Schools is a case in point. The presumptions drawn from popular opinion, the descriptors gleaned from union tracts and the conclusions cited seemingly from history all characterize America’s private schools as “enclaves of the rich”, select communities that fail to serve America’s broader communities (or the noble goal of uniformity), or separatist defense zones. Nothing could be further from the truth. I think the authors juxtapose these examples (almost tongue in cheek) in order to shake the government-school tree and supposedly help them realize that there are so-called “public” schools in their midst/mix that live on the taxes of all, discriminate against poorer kids (due to zoning covenants—nothing personal) and fail in Horace Mann’s ideal of serving the wider community of America’s youngsters somehow uniformly. As obvious is that conclusion for the government schools is the false dichotomy in painting all private schools as Choates or Sidwell Friends. They’re simply not. This kind of sketch, while seeking to dispel the notion that all government schools serve all the children in a community—as laudable as that might be, goes a long way to counter the myths about America’s private school community and who attends them.

Twenty-five percent of the schools in America are private schools. They educate approximately 11% of the public of America. 81% of those schools are religiously-affiliated. In a 2006 Census Report, it was demonstrated that of the families whose combined income was greater than $100,000, 80% of those families were in government schools while only 20% enrolled their children in private schools. Clearly, the government sector is the enclave for the rich (statistically). The only research that I’ve found that can somewhat correlate the relative wealth or poverty of so-called public versus private schools, is a 1995 report from NCES which compares student ethnicities, percentage of enrollments and extended care programs. If this data is accurate, then, clearly, the world of perception is tossed on its head.

We all do a serious disservice to private school educators when we paint them with a brush so broad as to whitewash away their dedication, commitment and passion to serve those who are less fortunate than most; the evidence just doesn’t support the premise. We do an even greater injustice to presume that just because an institution is called “public” that it serves the same. It’s time for intelligent choices for our kid’s education. We need to move way beyond what we think is going on or what we hope is going on or what we perceive to be going on; let’s look long and hard at the facts. It’s no longer a world of either/or (if it ever was meant to be), it’s a world of both/and. The question for us and our children is not where children are educated… it’s if they are educated.

So, who really serves the poor? Who really educates a cross section of the community? Who has that “public” interest at heart? If one considers the facts and not the myths, I believe you’ll find that private schools serve the public very well.

Now we need to take these facts to a higher court… the people in charge.

February 10, 2010

The Choices in Education: Reflections on the Rhetoric of Reform

Filed under: Uncategorized — by Robert @ 4:44 pm
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The Choices in Education: Reflections on the Rhetoric of Reform

 In his first State of the Union address, President Obama had the following to say with regard to education:

Fourth, we need to invest in the skills and education of our people. 

Who’s the “we” that needs to invest?  Clearly, for Mr. Obama “we” is the federal government. He goes on to laud the $4.35 billion “invest(ment) in reform.” The problems with this threat of funding is that it removes the reform from the local to the national level; it undermines subsidy, one of the (former) guiding principles in America (and especially in schooling)—that government closest to the people governs best.  It sets up a dialectic between the haves and the have-nots and pits one sector against another: it’s a Race to the Top.  “We” should be the people—parents of children who are of school age.  “We” used to be before schooling got organized for other purposes.

And who are “our people” in the area of schooling in America. If the Race to the Top is any indicator, the current administration excludes kids in private schools and home schools from “our people.”  Private school and home school parents are part of the “public” on April 15th.  The federal government should represent all of the “public”, not just those who attend government schools.  After all, these are not federal government schools; they are state government schools. 

I wonder.  When Mr. Obama says we should invest in the “skills… of our people”, is this the first slight indicator that he might realize that college is not for all?  That not all students are college-bound?  That to suggest that is only to reduce the once proud collegiate standards to the least common denominator? I wonder.

This year, we have broken through the stalemate between left and right by launching a national competition to improve our schools. 

I’m not sure the “stalemate” was “broken through” as much as it was trampled once again with the threat of funding: $4.35 billion with the promise of $4 billion more.

The idea here is simple:  instead of rewarding failure, we only reward success. 

If that’s true, then why did the administration stand by, no, obfuscate the successes of the OSP program in Washington, let alone ignore its own measures of that program’s success?  Either these kids aren’t part of the “we” or the “success” of this program is not part of the quo of whose status he wishes to protect.  How can that be?  There are ten studies that unequivocally demonstrate that school choice works.  Then why are they these kids being punished?  Why are these kids being forced to attend failing schools that “steal the future of too many young Americans?”

Instead of funding the status quo, we only invest in reform – reform that raises student achievement, inspires students to excel in math and science, and turns around failing schools that steal the future of too many young Americans, from rural communities to inner-cities.

But that’s exactly what they’ve funded:  the status quo.  Private schools weren’t included, only the union schools.  And since some states have said they will not compete because of the political strings attached, Obama now suggests that the next go-round for federal funding will allow school districts to apply, by-passing that status quo.

In the 21st century, one of the best anti-poverty programs is a world-class education.  In this country, the success of our children cannot depend more on where they live than their potential. 

This is so true in any century.  But education is what one does to self, it’s what one achieves in a lifetime of experience and work.  Schooling is only a small part of that education.  The problem with this federal proposal, like most, is that the government is trying to guarantee outcomes when it should be in the business of guaranteeing opportunities.  Instead of funding schooling, the government should be funding education.  Instead of funding institutions, the government should be funding people. Then the people will choose the institutions that succeed and meet their educational needs.

When we renew the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, we will work with Congress to expand these reforms to all fifty states.  

If that’s true, then I’m afraid that all of the above will become enshrined in a law that was designed exactly to break the cycle of poverty that consumes so many Americans.  If the Race to the Top is used as the template for the renewal of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, I’m afraid that some of our citizens will be left out—kids who are not schooled in the government institutions. 

… Instead, let’s take that money and give families a $10,000 tax credit for four years of college and increase Pell Grants

Now here’s an interesting idea. Remove the hierarchical bureaucracy and return the funding directly to parents in the form of a tax credit.  But it, too, has a shortfall.  What about the kids who don’t attend four years of college?  How about the students who work to obtain an A.B.? Or technical training?  What about a tax credit for opportunities in post-secondary schooling opportunities instead? 

It all comes down to what the government does or should guarantee: outcomes or opportunities.  When one rewards a competition with winners and losers, our government is trying to guarantee outcomes.  One has to ask what is the proper role of government in education?  Is it coerced attendance in schools that “steal the future of too many young Americans?” Or should it reach past requiring to inspiring?

If a government closest to the people governs best, then perhaps the best funding cycle might be simply to return these tax dollars to the various states and encourage them to grapple with the demonstrable signs of success right in front of them; they can then make a choice. The funding should be returned to the people.


February 9, 2010

Hawaii’s Days of Infamy

Filed under: Uncategorized — by Robert @ 4:32 pm
Tags: , ,

Hawaii’s Days of Infamy

By Robert A. Teegarden

In the early days of the 2009-10 school year, Hawaii’s Governor Lingle, the teachers’ union (HGEA) and the state board of education all agreed to a new contract. There was going to be a 14% spending restriction and a 7.9% paycut; like so many other states, Hawaii is reeling in red ink because of overspending and poor planning.  But for so-called professional educators, their solution is a disgrace; one might even go so far to say that it borders on infamy.

What was the quid pro quo for these spending and pay cuts?  What did they exchange for the so-called budget “shortfall?” Teachers got 17 furlough days; students lost 17 days from their ever-shrinking academic calendar—they’re down to 163 “contact” days—days when they can come into contact with teachers.  This has to be a worst case scenario in the world of compulsory government education. The students had no choice.

This is kind of like buying a new car.  Two weeks after you’ve driven it home, the dealer calls up and says, “Oh, but the way… we’re coming by next week to take back your two front wheels and tires.”

A myriad of questions jump to mind.  The union, the state board of education and Governor Lingle all agreed to this furlough idea.  But who represented the students in all these discussions?  Who represented the consumers/customers? I don’t recall seeing them at any of the bargaining tables. Last year students in Hawaii only attended 178 days a year.  At this rate we may soon have double-digit days in school.  I wonder how much the test results will improve then?  The state’s compulsory education codes provide a variety of specific options for students to miss school days; nowhere does it allow furlough days due to budgets. The interesting thing about compulsory attendance laws is this.  A parent can suffer a misdemeanor if s/he does not provide for their children’s education.  If the teachers’ union does not provide, it’s called a furlough.  The voice of parents (and students) is only now just being heard—after the fact, after the deeds have been done.  But in the original contract negotiations, the parents and students had no choice.

Hawaii’s measures of academic progress are abysmal. They hover near the 50th of 50 states in most measures of academic progress. So what is the answer to these academic challenges and the current fiscal crises?  Minimize student-contact by 17 more days.

 “Furlough” is an interesting choice of words.  Sounds like they kind of have to. Sounds like time off for good behavior.  I wonder if any teacher just said, “These are lean times. I want to be a teacher. I’ll teach for less—though I’m worth more. Keep the kids in school.”  Just how many got shouted down by their peers when they suggested that this is one of those down times that comes with civil service?  How many teachers are going to teach anyway?  Or will they be crossing a picket line.

It’s amazing to me.  The bulk of educational journals today stress the importance of the teacher-student relationship. So what’s the first thing we cut during lean economic times?  And in order to make ends meet what’s the #1 thing the professionals agree to—time away from the students they asked to serve. How about the vast majority of  “teachers” who aren’t teaching? How about the five-fold increase in administrators and directors?  Why is classroom time the last thing to get funded and the first thing to get cut?

Why didn’t the school department have a rainy day fund for exactly these kinds of days?  Why didn’t the state?

By the way, which day did they take off?  Friday, of course. Let’s see… who does this benefit?  It creates a three-day gap of academic discontinuity for the students but it does give the teachers 17 more three-day weekends. Being in Hawaii, what more could one ask?   

What about all those Friday night football games?  If the teachers are furloughed on Fridays and students aren’t in school, how can they have a school-sponsored event on the same day?  Exceptions were made.

Will eight percent of the sports programs be cut as well?  Will so called “field trips” be cut as well? Will administration and central services be cut?

All of the above is argument to get government out of the business of providing education.  Because of politics school policies take drastic reversals every four years. The soulcraft called education should not be subjected to the vagaries of partisan politics, political irresponsibility, or economic roller-coasters.  This year’s education dollars should be stuffed into each student’s backpack and it should follow that student to the school of their choice.   We need to cut out all the middle men who say they speak on behalf of students—but who really don’t. 

            Next year they’re planning 24 furlough days, they say, because of the budget.  Why don’t they just close all the schools for the year.  That’ll save a tremendous portion of the budget.  And if they tested all the kids upon adjournment this year and coming back to school a year from now, I’m wondering if the test results might improve.

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