Robert A. Teegarden's Blog

July 23, 2012

Penn State NCAA Penalties: Not Good Enough

Filed under: Education,Ends of Education,Sports — by Robert @ 10:19 am
Tags: , , ,

The NCAA’s so-called sanctions against Penn State for the Sandusky/Paterno et al criminality simply doesn’t go far enough, not by a long shot.  Here’s the premise of the NCAA’s statement about their sanctions:

“No price the NCAA can levy with repair the damage inflicted by Jerry Sandusky on his victims,” he said, referring to the former Penn State defensive coordinator convicted of 45 counts of child sex abuse last month.

The NCAA concerned itself with collateral damage from this situation, mostly to the future.  The damage control seems to concern itself with present players, potential players and possible future activities.  It’s’ hard to undo what has been done.  But the point is this: the Penn State “culture” abandoned right reason and common sense morality in favor of its reputation and win-loss record.

Yes, Sandusky has been found guilty in a court of law. But the court records and the independent research indicate a far deeper and more troubling culture of deceit and cover-up. The sanctions admit that this “culture” goes deeper and has a much longer history than that advertised in the Sandusky trial. It’s to that “culture” that I address the following.

Penn State sanctions

• $60 million fine
• Vacation of wins from 1998-2011 (112 wins)*
• Four-year postseason ban
• Players may transfer and play immediately at other schools
• Athletic department on probation for five years
* Joe Paterno record now 298-136-3; fifth on FBS all-time list

$60 million fine         The NCAA said the $60 million was equivalent to the average annual revenue of the football program. The NCAA ordered Penn State to pay the penalty funds into an endowment for “external programs preventing child sexual abuse or assisting victims and may not be used to fund such programs at the university.”

With two or three phone calls, Penn State will have donors lined up to cover those costs.  But how does this address the deeper, institutional and “cultural” roots of such a disaster.  This behavior didn’t happen over night.  Records indicate that this took time.  How many more victims are out there who haven’t come forward?  If there is an institutional mindset that protects child abuse, what other kinds of “lesser” abuses have or are taking place as we speak?  If the Penn State win-at-all-costs “culture” shields these things, what else is being protected?  No, the roots go deeper.

Vacation of wins from 1998-2011 (112 wins)          I suppose that this is really the meat of the NCAA’s authority in this situation; it’s the best they choose to do. But it doesn’t make sense.  So the records are adjusted to reflect what?  You didn’t play fair? You weren’t living up to the NCAA rules and regulations?  From the point of view of the victims, I’d say, “So what?”  Future scholarships for players are not given based on the track record of the school.  They’re given for present performance, period.  But the sense of history here does indicate the need to go deeper into the culture that allowed and protected this kind of abuse.

Four-year postseason ban    There’s big money in the post-season play-offs.  But this attacks only the pocket book, not the “culture” that gave rise to such heinous behavior.  Penn State could easily arrange its own post-season games, eliminating the potential loss.  But the beat goes on.

“There is incredible interest in what will happen to Penn State football,” Ray said at the news conference. “But the fundamental chapter of this horrific story should focus on the innocent children and and the powerful people who let them down.”

The Big Ten fully supports the NCAA’s actions, saying in a news release it is officially hereby condemning and censuring the school for “egregiously” failing on “many levels — morally, ethically and potentially criminally.”

Of course they would.  But this is like the politician saying, “It’s for the kids.”  What they’re really thinking about is their own football possibilities.

Players may transfer and play immediately at other schools        Now this makes sense.  Present and future students may transfer immediately to other schools IF they are wanted and IF they have room. This acknowledges some of that collateral damage.  But what does this do for the victims known and unknown?  How does this help the “culture” that seems engrained in this institution?

Athletic department on probation for five years                This basically says don’t mess up for another five years. If you do, then this suspension/probation turns into what?  Expulsion?  The five years should be institutionalized a bit deeper.

Joe Paterno record now 298-136-3; fifth on FBS all-time list       Like the vacating of the school’s record, this is an empty gesture.  Leave the dead to bury the dead.  One cannot deny past victories or losses; they are a matter of history.  But so is the history of the institutional culture that allows these crimes to be committed.

There are some noble gestures directed at children:

Penn State’s proceeds from Big Ten bowl revenues from the four years, amounting to an estimated $13 million, will be allocated “to established charitable organizations in Big Ten communities dedicated to the protection of children,” the conference said.

But these gestures are only that: gestures…

Penn State, in a statement released less than an hour after the sanctions were revealed, said it will accept them and that the “ruling holds the university accountable for the failure of those in power to protect children and insists that all areas of the university community are held to the same high standards of honesty and integrity.”

Individuals and institutions don’t “bounce back” from tragedy, nefarious or otherwise, until they’ve hit rock bottom.  Penn State is at rock bottom, whether or not they recognize it. Now that needs to be institutionalized so that they can start over.  $60 million in finds, an erasure of past victories, future post-season closures, and probation are not rock bottom.

Except for some minor hand-slapping, these rulings don’t go anywhere near holding “the university accountable.”  What the Penn State should have added is, “In accepting these sanctions and in order for us to eliminate the viral infections of the past and build on what is right, we will not compete in intercollegiate football for four years. There will be no football at Penn State for four years.”

July 20, 2012

Chip-Readers, Scanners and Stud­­ents­­­

On March 20,1933, the new leader of Germany (since January of that same year) established a concentration camp in the Bavarian town of Dachau, a camp for political prisoners—people who disagreed with his politics and that of the status quo.  In April of that same year, the new government of Germany entered into a relationship with the newly-named IBM company to use its developing technology to help identify and catalog the ethnic identification of the 41million residents of Prussia. The American parent company sent over 7,000,000 reichsmarks (about $1 million) to Berlin to build IBM’s first factory in Germany.  It’s estimated that over 60,000 German citizens were housed in Dachau by the end of April that same year.

Fast-forward about 70+ years and now we have Northside Independent School District in Texas planning to “track students” using technology “implanted” in their student identification cards.  They say it’s a trial.

Now these are not passive identification cards like your state driver’s license.  Swiping your driver’s license into an appropriate reader shares a lot of information about you.  But, at least, it requires a scanner then and there.  Not so these new student chips.  No, these so-called identification cards will include what are called RFID tags (Radio Frequency Identification System) somewhat like the GPS tags that are in most cell phones today.  With the appropriate scanner, not only can one identify your name, age, gender, nationality and any other data collected about you, but this chip allows the scanner to identify where you’re located.

The district says it’s all about student safety, but they readily admit that students can be counted more accurately (than their teachers?) at the beginning of the school day to help “offset cuts in state funding,” which is partly based on student attendance.  While they say it’s for safety, it’s more about money and, I believe, the loss of liberty.

The  district notes that this technology will also be for all special education students who ride district buses.

“We want to harness the power of (the) technology to make schools safer, know where our students are all the time in a school, and increase revenues,” district spokesman Pascual Gonzalez said. “Parents expect that we always know where their children are, and this technology will help us do that.” If student attendance is unknown to the professionals in this district now, having a machine count them doesn’t necessarily make kids safer.

The district also noted that the “chip readers on campuses and on school buses can detect a student’s location but can’t track them once they leave school property. Only authorized administrative officials will have access to the information.”  The problem here is that only the school’s scanners “can’t track” students once they leave school property.  Others can.  If only authorized administrative officials have access to the information, how are the teachers to know and/or confirm that students are present?  How does this make things safer?

Imagine a Tom Clancy type-novel where the bad gal gets a hold of a copy of Who’s Who in San Antonio.  It lists the richest families by name.  Our villainess cross references that data to the other data that she’s scans out there on these student identification cards and voila; she finds the exact location of her prey.  Far-fetched, you say?  The US military uses the very same technology to locate soldiers in the field.  It can be done.  It is being done.  If the school is providing a radio-frequency identification chip for their students, student safety might as well be thrown to the wind or the first drone to fly over.

Families weren’t asked if they wished to participate in this so-called pilot program. This isn’t a volunteer program. They’re getting the RFID-tagged cards.  And officials note that students could leave the card at home, which defeats the entire purpose for the system.  The school noted that the cards cost $15 each and, if lost, a student will have to pay for a new one. The article did not say whether parents were required to pay the initial purchase or not.  Nor did they say if a student were to leave their card at home whether they’d be taxed (penalized) for not carrying it.

Why these schools in this district? A district representative noted “the district picked schools with lower attendance rates and staff willing to pilot the tags.” It’s the “attendance rates” that are a problem, not student safety. They need more money.  I love the euphemism “pilot the tags.” Apparently the teachers are unable to motivate students to attend or to count the ones who do.  The problems experienced in this district have little to nothing to do with student safety. Do the teachers have to carry these tags as well?  Maybe that would help their budget problems in a much simpler way.  But if the teachers refuse to “pilot the tags” themselves, why should their students?

The RFID cards have been compared to security cameras. They’re really more like 24/7 drones with cameras.  I need to remind these citizens of the Fourth Amendment of their Constitution.  It says:

“The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”

It’s been noted in previous juris prudence that a child does not check their Constitutional rights at the school house door. Just because they attend a government/union school doesn’t mean that they must give up their right to be secure in their persons.  Being tracked electronically is not one of those reasonable exceptions to the rule.

The school district runs a terrible risk by mandating such a program.  They are putting their students at risk from outside sources. Whether the tracking is done by electronics or tattoos, it’s wrong.

February 22, 2012

When God Created Principals

Filed under: Education,principals — by Robert @ 12:45 pm
Tags: , ,

When the Lord created principals, the heavenly workshop looked like the aftermath of a great holocaust.

“What a mess!” exclaimed an angel.  “Who’s in charge here?”

“I am,” responded the Lord.

“Oh, excuse me, Lord,” said the angel, “but you see I was concerned about all the debris here, you know.  And, what with attractive nuisances and the children running around…”

“Not to worry,” said the Lord.  “I’ve got it all under control.  The children won’t be harmed from all this.  I’m creating a principal for them.”

“A principal?” asked the angel, “of a school?”

‘Well, that’s where you’d usually find one,” answered the Lord.  “But there’s more to it than that.  You see, there  are five basic designs and I’m just at the composite stage.”

“That they may all be one?” queried the angel.

“In a manner of speaking, yes,” said the Lord.

“Is this going to take long, Lord?” asked the angel.  “What with the next field trip coming through here in an hour, I don’t know if…”

“It’ll only take a minute,” said the Lord.  “But it will also last a lifetime.  It’s like the first model here. I call it the Hallmark.”

“The Hallmark?” asked the angel.

“When you care enough to send the very best,” said the Lord.  “You see, this is the one doctors and lawyers call ‘in loco parentis.’”

“Lord!”  the angel reacted.  “Such language, even here in the workshop.”

“I can see your Latin has slipped since the vernacular,” answered the Lord.  “loco parentis means you send yourself…  the best that you can give. The Hallmark is the loving, caring parent in all principals.  You see, it has broad shoulders to help with the swings, a large set of  hands to hold all the contents of a six-year-old’s pocket, a lap like a mother’s, that disappears when it stands up, and when it has to do some thinking, intelligent feet that…”

“Intelligent feet?” chortled the angel.  “I suppose you’re going to say next that it has four sets of eyes.”

“How observant you are!” scolded the Lord.  “That’s the Bionic model over here.  You see, this is the model with the photographic memory for remembering all those names, personalities, and families.  It has a set of eyes here for long-distance yard duty and the x-ray set for seeing behind the field buildings.  Then it has the set in front here that listen to every detail of situations.”

“Eyes that listen?” wondering the angel out loud.

“And eyes that speak!” retorted the Lord.  “Eyes that say, ‘you’re wrong and you know it, but I love you just the same.’  Eyes that say, ‘you blew it,’ ‘you’re out!’ ‘no,’ ‘you can’t.’  But eyes that always say, ‘I’m for you.  You can do it.  Try.’”

“But Lord,” challenged the angel.  “The drain on that one would need an energy source as large as Hoover dam.”

“True enough, my friend,” said the Lord.  “But it, too, does not live on bread alone.  Look here at the Univac model.  This one knows all the names of all the graduates of the school,  knows where they are and what they’re doing in life, and gives a welcome ear of support.  It also has an insatiable appetite to learn new ways of solving age-old problems:  problems like loneliness, heartbreak, failure, mistrust, and greed.  It has all these things and can yet support and encourage.”

“I think you overloaded this one,” said the angel.  “The hands are a nervous twitter.”

“Oh, that’s the Xerox model,” said the Lord.  “It has to type 200 words per minute, balance all ledger accounts, keep track of student council funds, be a master printer, a resident postman, a speed dialer on the phone…”

“How come there’s no hair on the hands?” asked the angel.

“That’s from getting burned too often,” said the Lord.  “You know, those cold winter mornings when the furnace goes out and you get a frantic call about the temperature in Room 3. Later on it’s  parents, teachers, school boards, district boards, government intrusions, police, fire and a host of other departments.”

“There’s a leak in that one, Lord,” said the angel.

“That’s the Humilitas model,” answered the Lord.  “It’s not a leak; it’s a tear.”

“What’s it for?” asked the angel.

“It’s for the ain of sometimes knowing too much and not being able to share.  It’s for standing alone, even among your friends.  It’s for realizing there’s so much to be done, and so little time in which to do it. It’s for seeing too much time being spent on making a living and not enough on making life.  It’s for the job of birth and the pain of death.  It’s for letting children in small bodies and in large bodies know that their onceness with me doesn’t really count as long as their isness really am.”

“Your grammar, Lord!” exclaimed the angel.

“That, too,” said the Lord.

February 18, 2012

Outcomes in Education

Outcomes in Education

 Parents, have you ever thought about why you send your child to school? Is it because the law says you must? Is it because everyone else does?  Or are there more substantial reasons why you send your sons and daughters off to learn their 4 Rs?

The second question undergirds the first. In today’s world you either pay for your child’s education with your taxes and/or with cash.  Parents who send their children to private schools wind up paying twice.  They pay their taxes for a service they don’t redeem and they pay tuition.  Now that just doesn’t seem fair at all.  Parents who send their children to the government (“public”) schools don’t pay tuition (although there are more and more charges for labs, sports, AP classes, etc., today) but they do pay upwards of 50% of their taxes for their child’s education.  This so-called “free education” is not really free at all; in fact it’s pretty expensive compared to the outcomes in private schools.  Are you getting your money’s worth?  If you had to shell out a monthly payment instead of the hidden costs and payments through the tax rolls, I wonder if you might make a change.  Here’s why…

Following are 22 possible outcomes for K-12 education.  Read through the list.  This is a mental exercise to help clarify your choices and ambitions with regard to your child/ren.  Rank your choices!  Rank them from the highest, most important, as #1 and the least important as #22.  Granted many of them are intrinsically linked—but the choice is yours.  Push is coming to shove in our world.  Only certain things will be taught, caught, encouraged and allowed.  Schooling is not just about what is being taught, but what isn’t being included.  Which do you want for your child/ren?  When things get tough, when we get down to brass tacks, what is the ultimate outcome you would wish for your children’s K-12 schooling?

[    ]          Behaves appropriately at all times.

[    ]          Knows about/appreciates peoples of other races, ethnic groups and religions.

[    ]          Can enjoy a number of cultural activities.

[    ]          Has the basic skills for acquiring and communicating knowledge.

[    ]          Can get along with teachers and classmates.

[    ]          Has a desire to learn; more intellectually curious.

[    ]          Respects authority; understands duties and obligations.

[    ]          Is informed of occupational opportunities and how people prepare for them.

[    ]          (For faith based) Knows basic doctrines and commandments of the church.

[    ]          Has good health habits and an appreciation of the body.

[    ]          Is prepared to enter personally worthwhile programs in high school/college.

[    ]          Learns material given by the teacher.

[    ]          (Faith based) Attends services regularly and is engaged in faith community.

[    ]          Seeks service to others: family, church community, wider community.

[    ]          Capable of figuring things out alone—an independent thinker.

[    ]          Can manage personal finances and has wise buying habits.

[    ]          Has an individual sense of values; has high personal moral standards.

[    ]          Loyal to the American way of  life.

[    ]          Has a realistic understanding of responsibilities/opportunities of family life.

[    ]          Is an emotionally stable person

[    ]          Is a good person.

[    ]          Is able to get a job.

If you could only choose five, which would they be?

If you could only choose three, which would they be?

If there had to be one, which would it be?

Interesting!

June 15, 2010

Bailout for Public Schools – Every Man/Woman for Himself/Herself

Randi Weingarten, President of the American Federation of Teachers, authored a missive a week before last for the Wall Street Journal entitled “Public Schools Need a Bailout.”  She advocated for the  swift-boat passage of $23 billion in bailout funds for America’s schools, government schools only.  Weingarten posits that failing these bailout dollars would be tantamount to robbing “an entire generation of students of the well-rounded education they need and deserve.”  One has to ask about the two or three generations that have been failed thus far by the system she wants to bail out–one of three students won’t make it from ninth to twelfth grade, 50% of those who graduate with honors and matriculate at a state college or university will have to take remedial courses just to survive entrance, and 60% of the students attending community college will have to do the same.

When I hear the word “bailout” I’m immediately reminded of the likes of Spencer Tracy having to leave his burning B-25 aircraft after a treacherous but successful raid on some synthetic rubber plant in Tokyo during World War II.  One after the other, the crew leaves the crippled ship, each gliding to safety and a hopeful future under the open canopy of their parachute.  The parachute silk in WWII was white; I’m thinking Ms. Weingarten was thinking more along the lines of a golden parachute, one that protects the adults, but not the students.

 The other image is of that forlorn lifeboat adrift in mid-Pacific.  In high waves and troubled seas, the captain gives the order for everyone to “bail.” All hands muster the energy to remove water from their craft and thus save them all; all try to avoid this harmful situation.  The first rule of sailing is that you cannot run from the wind, you face the music, trim your sails and carry on.  But in the case of Weingarten’s ship of state I have to ask, “Who’s really being saved by this magic bullet bailout?”

Since the early 50s, state teachers’ unions have lobbied, threatened and sued to place their funding (salaries that amass into union dues) as a percentage of each state’s fiscal budget—automatically.  They’ve spent years bloating their budgets to provide what he describes as this “well-rounded education.” Now that the states experience the need to tighten belts, spend less and be more transparent stewards of these fiscal responsibilities, the unions cry, “That’s not fair; we need more.” Why?  It’s for the children.

The author echoes her worst fears throughout his piece.  There will be “sharp reductions (in teachers),” “cutting to the bone,” “eliminating classroom teachers,” “teachers and other school personnel will receive pink slips.”  A good crises is, indeed, a terrible thing to waste.  Ever notice that so-called cuts never seem to occur to the credentialed teachers who don’t have a classroom; in some states there is one “extra” teacher for every classroom teacher.  How come the cuts never reach into the higher echelons of administrators and directors… or union representatives?

Weingarten acknowledges, however, that school reforms are under way, though, “some of the most effective reform efforts in decades.”  Her conclusions about these reforms, however, just don’t follow.  Money is the key to Weingarten’s reforms; money, more money is needed to bring about the changes necessary.

When confronted with the legislative process that government spenders have developed over the years, she cries, “Foul.”  Forget the add-ons, forget the earmarks, forget “everyone’s favorite education initiatives.”  We need a clean bill.  We just need more money.  The funny thing about educational reform and the cry for more money is that we never hear what “enough” really is.  What is adequate? What does it really cost? When is enough enough?   We’re spending close to $25,000 per student in the nation’s capitol and reaping what?  Number one in spending, 51st of 51 states and the District of Columbia in academic progress.  How much more is needed to achieve these taunted reforms of which she speaks?

They had a solution to the academic achievement  problems in DC up through this year; it cost about one-third of the current spending.  When Congress and the Obama administration cancelled the Washington Scholarship Fund, they rang a death knell for the next generation of students in DC.  They cancelled it for political reasons.  So much for the education of the public.

The union boss goes on to suggest that “public schools” are like Wall Street—they’re too big to fail. But failure in this case is not so much due to the recent downturn in the state economies.   Failure has occurred because of the four-fold spending increases that have occurred since 1983, a period in which the student population only increased by about nine percent.  This “well-rounded” spending matrix is at the heart of the problems/crises experienced by schools.  To suggest that they’re too big to fail borders on the height of arrogance and chutzpah. This is one of the problems.

Now don’t get me wrong.  We must support and protect the education of the public in America. But that doesn’t mean that we continue to make the same mistakes year after year.  Our students deserve better; we all deserve better  The problem is that the monopoly that is called “public education” in American has absolute no resemblance to the economic conditions that make this country great.  There is little to no competition and there is no choice in the matter.  What we have in American schooling more closely resembles the nineteenth century Prussian state, or more recently the five-year plan of the failed Soviet Union.  Coerced attendance, forced placement and no recourse are not the stuff of the American dream.  Most government schools and school systems have become iatrogenic: they tend to foster the very problems they were designed to overcome.  But look at what Florida’s achieved.

Florida’s fourth-grade, low poverty Hispanic kids are currently scoring higher in reading and math than the entire fourth grade averages of at least 15 other states.  They didn’t achieve this remarkable success because they kept asking for more money.  On the contrary, the legislature and governor got behind a complex serious of reforms that attacked the core obsolescence of years of draconian spending, false reporting, and coerced failure.  They ended social promotion, they linked promotion to the passage of certain testing protocols, they gave parents transparent measures about their own school’s progress and they gave families a broad and real choice in the education of their children.  It’s a model I highly recommend.

While she does tug at the heart strings, Ms. Weingarten’s piece is biased toward her own agenda not necessarily the truth, her sense of the social structure of America’s government education is skewed only toward adults, her grammar and syntax lean on hyperbole, and a Clintonian-spin of the facts.

It’s time for a change. But change won’t occur in a magic-bullet sort of way.  Real, systemic change can only occur from within—from the people—the parents of kids in school.  Legislatures might flirt with the ideas, but fundamental adjustment and changes will be born at the local level when people exercise choice to educate America’s public. It’s time we abandon the man-overboard drills every funding cycle and finally invest in every child in America by giving them the wherewithal and the ability to choose a school they wish for their children.

May 25, 2010

Arizona’s Parent Rights Bill

In the waning days of the Arizona legislature this year, the lawmakers passed an extraordinary law—S.B. 1309.  Quietly, without fanfare or spotlight this new law slipped into place.  Parents now have a new chapter in the Arizona Codes, Chapter 6 of the Education Code.  The new insert falls right in between the chapter on School Employees and the chapter on Instruction… as it should.  The chapter is entitled “Parents’ Rights.”  This new code outlines remarkable things and fundamental relationships.

The authors indicate that what follows are a parent’s fundamental rights as a parent in this state.  They even go so far as to say that the contents of this new Chapter 6 are not exclusive, that is, they are only part of a parent’s inalienable rights.  Now those are heavy-weight words, constitutional-type words.  Inalienable means these rights cannot be transferred to another or surrendered except by the person possessing them.  The only person who has these rights is a parent.  No one else can presume to share in this authority unless a parent specifically transfers that right.  What are these rights?

Only parents may direct the upbringing, education, health care and mental health of their children.  This means that only parents may direct their children’s education without obstruction or interference by any official of the state.  Parents have the right to access and review all records relating to the child… all records.  It means that only parents are responsible for the moral or religious training.  All health care decisions fall to the parent.  Government agencies must seek out a parent’s signed permission prior to exercising anything that would infringe on these rights.

Obviously, this does not allow a parent or guardian to engage in any behaviors that are unlawful or that abuse or neglect children in violation of the law. 

But Chapter 6 goes a bit further.  It specifies that any attempt to encourage or coerce a minor child to withhold information from his/her parent is grounds for the discipline of an employee of the state.  It seems that no one or nothing should stand between a child and her/his parents.  Wow!

There are restrictions on the procedures used to include materials and programs in a (government) school’s curriculum.  Parents have the right to opt in to specific sex education curriculum for their children; opting in means that the district cannot presume to include their children without prior written permission. Parents have a right to know of the competency requirements to promote a student from one grade to the next.  Parents have the right to review all courses of study and textbooks.   

The authors include a prohibition against what is called “mental health screening.”  Without a parent’s permission, this exercise could constitute a Class 1 misdemeanor; this is serious stuff.

Chapter 6 requires (government) school districts to establish procedures whereby parents may be apprised of their rights under this new code as well as all the laws of the state.  They are also directed to develop the process by which children may be withdrawn from any learning material or activity that is deemed harmful by the parent because it questions beliefs or practices in sex, morality or religion. I only hope that whatever procedures are chosen are better than that two inch thick envelope given on the first day of school, a day fraught with confusion and chaos.  And I pray that permission slips are distributed and collected as needed throughout the year, not once-and-for-all up front in the beginning of the year.

Arizona’s new chapter could as easily be called “parenthood.”  This is a lot of the stuff of being a parent.  But the code is correct in this regard: it places this awesome responsibility clearly on the shoulders of the primary educator—the parent—and no one else.  I believe the Arizona Legislature got this one right. It seems rather obvious. I encourage you to read the entire section.

One has to wonder, though, why the voting record in both the House and Senate were split on this issue and the reasons why the lawmakers had to author this common sense language in the first place.

April 28, 2010

Stakeholders in Education

There’s a lot of talk these days about the stakeholders in education.  The first round losers in the Obama Administration’s Race to the Top, a federal carrot to tempt reforms out of the states, were told they lost points for not securing the support of the local stakeholders. Just who might these stakeholders be?

When I think of stakeholders several images and ideas come to mind.

The first image is that of the crusty sourdough miner from the 1800s in California seeking his fortune in the Sierras.  When he discovers a lode, he promptly pounds a stake into the ground with the dimensions of his claim and other personal information. He then scurries off to the closest agency through which he can register that claim. “This is my dirt; whatever’s in it belongs to me.”

 For me, this is probably the simplest paradigm for education, your own education.  It’s solitary, it’s entrepreneurial. It’s what you make of it. Your hard work is the stake; your future is what you make of it.  It was the status of education in American from pre-colonial through post civil war times. It was singular, private and familial.  If you happened to choose to attend a school, that was your doing (or your parents’). But there was no obligation, no force, no compulsion of law.  Common sense told you that this claim was the root of your future and fortune.  But there are foreshadows of third-party claim-jumpers hidden in this history.

 The second image is that of the Oklahoma Land Rush.  In 1893 certain tracts of land were available on a first-come-first-served basis for free…to anyone.  All the contestants had to do was be at the starting line by such-and-such a time, race to the aforementioned territory and, upon finding your dream lot, secure it by driving a stake in the ground in each of the four corners… this while the other 99,999 folks raced for the same 42,000 plots of land.  It’s interesting to note that the land “given away” was Cherokee tribal land once granted by the US government to the native Americans, but which became the spoils of war after the native uprisings. “Sooners” were the folks who cheated and snuck in the night before to stake a claim to the choicest lots.

 This second image starts to resemble the modern reality of education in America. Those sod-buster stakeholders include kids and families, but like the modern reality, they also include government and union agents.  The two-party system in American education was born here. There was subsidy for the rich(er)—the “Sooners” got the best choices because they moved into the best neighborhoods; and there was free enterprise for the poor—the rest had to do with whatever lots were left. The parents who get the best lots today tend to get the best school  districts (or so we’re told).

 But it was the government who defined the race, defined the conditions and determined the outcome. Part of that independence and entrepreneurial spirit of the sourdough miner is being worn away by government definitions and government doings.

 The modern experience of government largesse—government grants, especially from Washington, is truly a dash for the cash.  And when it comes to education in America, that’s all Washington can do—give away money.  But it’s always a Faustian bargain because with the shekels come the shackles. Government local and state superintendents compete with Washington for the money that was theirs originally—it was state money, state taxes which came from private enterprise–but it’s been redistributed to those with the fastest horses and rigs.

 No longer is it the individual who stakes a claim on the future. It seems somebody else stakes the claim; students are just along for the ride.  The government has established the starting line, game time, pre-planned plots of expectation and outcome, and rules of the race.  Tally Ho!

 The Law Dictionary defines a stakeholder as:  “a third party chosen by two or more persons to keep in deposit property or money the right or possession of which is contested between them, and to be delivered to the one who shall establish his right to it.” When John Stygles and I used to wager on the outcome of our feats of strength and tests of courage in the 7th and 8th grade, it was usually Susan Walker who held the coins; she was our third-party stakeholder.

 Who are the educational contestants in today’s modern America?  Who holds the wagers? It’s sad to say but I believe the core of educational efforts in American in the 21st century comes down to a contest between students and teachers. But I don’t mean teachers individually, as professionals.  I’m referring to “the teachers” when they gather and are mentioned in government documents and by their union leaders.  The policies of today come down to a consideration between who wins: students or teachers.  And isn’t that sad.  It’s either educational success for kids or full-employment for some adults.  The problem is that the government unions (teachers’,  school board associations’, and superintendents’) all hold the wagers.  No matter who wins, they make a living—make a profit.  I don’t think the unions are stakeholders as much as they are bookies.  

 According to the Investor Daily, other than traditional business, “a stakeholder may also be concerned with the outcome of a specific project, effort or activity, such as a community development project or the delivery of local health services. A stakeholder usually stands to gain or lose depending on the decisions taken or policies implemented.  Therefore, a stakeholder is anyone who may be affected by a decision.” In the modern world that’s just about everyone.

 But how do you sort out the various beliefs and define the “good” in American education?  Who gets to make that decision?  Who gets to choose the curriculum or textbooks? Who is the ultimate stakeholder?  The battle for governance in America has spilled over into education.  Educational futures are being held hostage to the politics of the day.  It’s each parent who has to make this decision on behalf of their child/ren.  It’s the parent who holds this soul in the palm of their hands.  It’s the parent who should be holding the stake.

 As education goes, so goes America.  The authors of the Declaration of Independence and Constitution knew that a Constitutional Republic would not stand the test of time without an educated citizenry.  They knew that America itself would be a stakeholder in this contest.  What did those framers do about it?  Nothing!  That’s right, nothing.  They left this extraordinary opportunity and obligation exactly where it belonged—with the first stakeholders–parents and individual students.  It’s up to them to choose—common sense demands it.  But unfortunately, the bureaucrats and politicians have turned the education of the public into “public education.”  The former is not happening; the latter is well funded.

 Finally, according to Marios Alexandrou, “stakeholders are the end-users or clients, the people from whom requirements will be drawn, the people who will influence the design and, ultimately, the people who will reap the benefits of your completed project.”   The project is education. Who reaps the benefits? Students.  Who will influence the design? Students.  From whom will requirements be drawn?  Students.  Who are the end-users? Students.

 When one examines the various Washington government grants to the states, there’s hardly a mention of these end-users.  There’s hardly a mention of the voices of their parents.  They might collect an opinion from a PTA organization, but this is not the voice of parents. Union teachers’ voices are heard.  Superintendents are heard.  Principals are heard.  Directors, leaders, associates and assistants are heard.  But not the students.

 Because of the vast amounts of money involved, I think Washington may be confusing a stakeholder with a shareholder.

 Solution:  Since we are all stakeholders in the education of America and because students are the ultimate end-user and stakeholder, the best and only role of the government is to provide opportunities not solutions.  Give each sourdough student a grubstake with which to make something of himself/herself.  Give each student the opportunity to choose an education and it doesn’t matter where it occurs.  Other stakeholders will scramble to provide the opportunity and share in the riches of that success.

April 27, 2010

Hawaii’s Days of Infamy: Redux

Or… “Robbing Iniki to pay Pele.”

For those not familiar with either, Iniki is the name of the famous hurricane that passed dead-center through the island of Kauaii on 9/11/1992.  We’re told that one could not find a frog on that devastated island for five years hence.  Pele is the goddess of the volcano. Prior to the arrival of Captain Cook in January of 1778, the Hawaiians held blood-letting sacrifices to Pele by tossing virgins (male and female) into the fiery calderas—this was to atone, appease, or appeal. Kids in Hawaii are still being thrown into the fires today, albeit political fires.  I’m not sure which burns brighter but a sacrifice is still a sacrifice.

 Governor Lingle, the state School Board and the teachers’ union are at it… again.  Most of the story was covered in my first blog. But this week’s works again strain credulity. If the state lawmakers would approve, funds would be shifted from the Hurricane Relief Fund to “restore 11 teacher furlough days” next year.  The Hurricane Relief Fund is Iniki, and Pele is the cartel of the teacher’s union, state School Board et al.  The equation is elementary: education + politics = $$$.

 The Hurricane Relief Fund was established as a cushion to provide insurance policies specifically in the event of hurricane damage, insurance that was jeopardized and almost extinct after the fiscal disaster that was Iniki. but something required by law.  If you have a mortgage, you have to have it.  Now, the state policy folks are going to shift $57.2 million of those dollars over so that teachers will go back to work for 11 days next year.  Wow!  Sounds reminiscent of Social Security.  What happens if there is another hurricane in the near future?  Will the teachers and their organizations pay the damages?

 But there’s more to it than the crass politics.  It seems the very “Aloha Spirit” that was once common to the islands is itself being swallowed up by politics.  The politics and reporting seem one-sided.  The Honolulu Advertiser noted that parents in the Save Our Schools organization praised Governor Lingle’s actions and hoped that she would tap into more restricted funds and chase after the stimulus funds from Washington.  No where did they speak about site-by-site investigations to determine where costs could be cut further. It’s been three months.  They noted that the Governor wants “to get the kids back to school this year and the next.”  What about the teachers and the unions?  The governor noted that “they want to return to the classroom.”  But have they?

 There has been a lot of hurt.  Healing is needed.  “Good faith” is being tested in every corner.  More than gestures of support are needed to recapture that Aloha Spirit, that trust that once marked an entire culture.   Above all, there needs to be clarity in their analysis and deliberations. As an example, if parents took their children out of school for the times suggested they could be brought up on charges; but when the unions do that, there’s no consequence. Why is that?  What about the promise of (at least) 180 school days and a “world class education?”  Where’s the voice of the young ones sacrificed in this caldera of conflict?

 Everyone needs to start asking much larger questions?

  • What happened to the $600 million surplus in the education budget in 2006-07?
  • Isn’t  $12,786.83 per student spending enough to get the job done?  Or maybe we should ask: When is enough enough?  $200,000 per classroom revenues should be sufficient.  Maybe should look elsewhere for cuts.
  • Are you getting your money’s worth:
    • 4th grade reading – 46th of 50 states; 8th grade reading – 46th of 50 states
    • 4th grade math – 41st of 50 states; 8th grade math – 48th of 50 states.
    • Why would the government want to force children to attend obviously inferior schools when cost-effective alternatives are available, usually on the same block?

 The Enquirer also noted that Hawaii made national news when a group of parents “began a sit-in at the governor’s office in protest of the teacher days.”  They seem to have also forgotten that in education it takes three to teach:  a parent, a student and a teacher.  In government schools, if takes even more: student, parents, teachers, unions.  Why were there no sit-ins at the union offices, at the school board’s offices or outside faculty rooms? You may not have elected them, but they’re part of the government just the same.  Just because they are your neighbors doesn’t make them right!   It’s too easy to find and target a political scapegoat in these matters; the reasons are as complicated as the many kapus in the Hawaiian tradition.

 The history books say that Captain Cook died over an argument dealing with a stolen rowboat.  I think not; he was the captain.  To the people of Hawaii he was considered a god.  I believe Cook was invited to witness one of their sacrifices, the invitation from one god to another; when asked his opinion of what he just saw, Cook probably responded in clear, unambiguous outrage and disdain. They killed him because now he knew.

Like Captain Cook of old, we can no longer allow kids to be sacrificed on the altars of politics and greed.  Parents need other choices.

April 26, 2010

21st Century Skills

Filed under: Education — by Robert @ 4:10 pm
Tags:

There’s a lot of talk these days about the skills necessary for the 21st century and the “global economy.”  We’re living in the land of Google, e-mail, texting, Facebook, Twitter, international consortia, and GPS.  We have resources at our fingertips that were unheard of just twenty years ago, let alone a century ago.  In 80 short years we’ve flown from the 12 seconds and 120 feet at Kitty Hawk to the moon and back. We have trains that travel underwater to link different cultures. We have machines that can consume the earth ten times over.  We’re connected, concerned and care about tomorrow.  What do my kids need?

 The pundits and politicians tell us we need more money to provide them with 21st century skills.  After a lot of consideration, I offer the following as a benchmark for those skills as one proceeds into high school in America.  This is a 21st century entrance test to the high school of your choice.  Good Luck

Just go to this Link and proceed:  http://www.digitalhistory.uh.edu/quizzes/highschool_test.cfm

 

When you’ve finished, come back here.

Don’t peek before you’re done……

Welcome Back!

Here’s the point.   The 21st Century skills necessary are really no different than those expected in the 20th, 19th, 18th… centuries.  There are fundamentals to be known in each of the liberal arts.  There is a truth in each.  But our expectations have changed or slipped over time.  We’ve inflated grades and the importance of our associations.  We’ve come to rely more on the technologies of education than the fundamental facts of hard work, dedication and purpose.

All those wonderful gadgets that we experience and use today weren’t created in a vacuum.  Someone thought them up.  Someone developed them. They learned from those who went before and built upon it.  But it’s not just the wonders of these new technological tools.  Developers also had to be able to communicate their ideas to others and “sell” them on the idea. 

The skills that are necessary today are the skills that occasionally get lost in the glamour of new inventions and over time.  According to research, 50% of the students in most of the state colleges and universities require “remediation” courses in order to enter and/or continue.  Research also says that at least 60% of the students entering community colleges today require “remediation” courses.  These are usually in English and Math.  How can it be that B and A average students graduating from high school require remediation of any kind?  

Somewhere in this sad statistic are the skills necessary and are necessary not only from students, but from their teachers and schools as well.

April 7, 2010

The Race to the Top — The New America’s Cup

Filed under: Education — by Robert @ 7:21 pm
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There are a lot of similarities between sailing and schooling. 

  • The shadow of the captain/administrator falls on the entire boat/institution. 
  • “You can’t run from the wind. You trim your sails, face the music, and keep going.”
  • Boats weren’t designed to stay in port and bob at anchor; schools weren’t designed for the adults who work there. 
  • If you have a surplus of something on board, you surely have a serious shortage of something else.  
  • A successful voyage is to sail from point A to point B; a successful education is the seamless matriculation to the next level of challenge—and is measurable by standardized testing. 
  • Sailors know that they must make minute and constant adjustments to their sails; good teachers know that instantaneous adjustments occur every moment of every day—despite the lesson plan. 
  • All boats in the water rise and fall with tides.

One of the great sailing contests of all time has become known as the America’s Cup.  One of the great “races” in American schooling has been called The Race to The Top.

The America’s Cup started in 1851, when it was known as the Royal Yacht and Squadron Cup, predominantly a race among and between (wealthy) yacht owners. The new name stuck when the schooner America won in 1957.  The America’s Cup reached its high water mark between 1930-37; this was when the famous J-Class schooners dominated the field.  The America’s Cup between 1930 and 1937 was a race between sailors.  All entrants had the same deck under their feet—success was a measure of what they did with it—the mark of a true sailor. Some won, some lost. 

The Race to the Top is a federal government, 2010 carrot and stick, $4.35 billion competition among the 50 states and the District of Columbia. This is a race among educrats. The “awards” are given to those judged to champion the most “robust changes in their educational practices; 40 states and the District of Columbia applied in the first round (of races).  Two states “won.”  This “race” is managed by the US Department of Education (USDOE).

The USDOE had its origins in 1867.  Its stated purpose was to provide data collection and research to provide school districts and schools on best practices throughout the US.  It moved on to provide resources to land grant colleges in 1890 and focus on the serious need for Vocational Education in America’s schools. The USDOE reached its zenith just before WWII.  Since then and like the folks at the America’s Cup, it has developed “races” for designers, fund-raisers and managers.

In 1941 the USDOE oversaw the distribution of Impact Aid; this was assistance to local schools to compensate them for the influx of children into their districts because of the presence of military bases.  The department’s oversight and involvement expanded in the 60s with the Civil Rights agenda of that era, culminating in the establishment of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (the Johnson-era law that is known in its most recent iteration as the No Child Left Behind Act)—the largest heretofore distribution of money from Washington back to the states. .

Since WWII, the America’s cup has not so much been a race for top sailors but a race for yacht designers, fund-raising acumen and management skills.  American education followed in that wake.  Trophies are given not so much for your sailing ability, but your ability to out-design, out-market and out-manage your opponent.  What once had been a noble tradition to test the skills, wisdom and luck of the sailor deteriorated into a contest of technologies.  They lost sight of why they sailed ships and what the true nature of the sailor is/was.

Finally, in 1980, the Carter administration established a cabinet post for the USDOE in the person of its Secretary of Education.  No longer content to be a lighthouse for schools and educators, the USDOE emerged as the chandler[i] for almost all schools in the US.  Not content with providing sound navigational aids by which to chart a course for schools, the USDOE now wants to design the institutions, define the rules of engagement and determine who gets to sail these ships of state. 

American education sailed into the rocky shoals of politics and favors.  The answer to the question “Why?” is ever so simple.  Religion and education have the two institutions closest to the home.  Since the First Amendment excludes the government from interfering there, they chose the next best thing—the coerced and captured audience known as K-to-12th grade students.  Politics is now being brought home in the backpacks of America’s kids through programs like The Race to the Top.  Is there a (federal) Constitutional mandate for this involvement?  No!  Is there a Constitutional provision for these “services?”  No!  What’s the wind that fills these sails? Politics.  

In the Race to the Top, one must ask “Who really benefits from these awards?” “All local unions in Delaware backed the state’s bid, while 93% lent their support in Tennessee”—the two top vote-getters in round one. “By comparison, Florida—which is otherwise engaged in one of the country’s most sweeping school overhauls—had the backing of only 8% of its unions.” Florida didn’t place.  But nowhere in this contest is there the mention of students or parents or families.  How were they engaged in the process? 

Remember: If you have a surplus of something on board, you surely have a serious shortage of something else.

Schooling in America used to be about kids, about their success, about their future. American government schooling is more about designer programs, vaulted promises and behind the scenes trading.  Except for the political platitudes spouted around election time, the schooling of kids is incidental to the efforts.

Florida is a fine example of what can be done when the purposes are clear, when the captain gives clear directions, when those who signed-on stay on board through the winds, waves and fog.

We don’t need more designers, fund-raisers or management types on board, we need sailors. Maybe we’ve forgotten why these boats were built in the first place.   Where are the sailors?  Where are the students?


[i] Chandler – a supply organization that provides all materials and goods for sailing vessels.
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