Robert A. Teegarden's Blog

December 27, 2012

“Isn’t it rich. Isn’t it queer.”

Late Night Musings while Listening to Beethoven’s 9th:

  • Barry/Barrack Hussein Sorterro/Obama is the first (half-)black American President.  This is the best we could do?  Martin Luther King, Jr., would have to rewrite his dream to where kids are known only for the color of their skin and not for the content of their character. But he is the king of hyphens.
  •  That kids in Michigan cannot buy fake, bubble gum cigarettes but they can purchase real ones anywhere.  I guess the Internet sale of bubble gum will soon be banned in Michigan.
  • That folks in the state of Washington have banned smoking in public.  But the use of Marijuana is okay.  There must be something in the water up there and it better than Olympia beer.
  • The good folks in the government/union schools of Philadelphia installed condom dispensers in several of their high schools.  This was done in the dead of night, during Christmas vacation.  It was quietly announced on a Friday night. Hmmm.  They say that parents are to be blamed if the kids take these condoms without mom and dad’s permission.  And while the dispensers are in the nurse’s office or school office, they won’t be monitored.  Students will be on the honor system apparently.  This is worse than giving a loaded gun to a six-year-old.  Here’s a real weapon of mass destruction.  These folks are destroying the moral integrity of their own children.  But they say, “It’s for the kids.”

A German pastor announced that he believes that Jesus would have a Facebook account were He here today.  “Mein Gott in Himmel.  Ich denke nicht!”  (I don’t think so.)  Jesus didn’t send a message, he sent himself.  He didn’t wire ahead to Jerusalem, he road into town on the back of an ass.  He didn’t send gifts to the wedding at Cana; he came in person.   Presence is much more important than presents.  Our problems stem from our hiding behind technology–it’s hidden, it’s impersonal, it’s empty.  When the batteries drain, when the power fails, when the lights go out–all we have is each other.

Remember:  a network is NOT a community.

The vast majority of these were written by college graduates.  That should tell you something about the state of education in the USA.

  • You can get arrested for expired tags on your car but not for being in the country illegally.
  • Your government believes that the best way to eradicate trillions of dollars of debt is to spend trillions more of our money.
  • A seven-year-old boy can be thrown out of school for calling his teacher “cute” but hosting a sexual exploration or diversity class in grade school is perfectly acceptable.
  • The Supreme Court of the United States can rule that lower courts cannot display the 10 Commandments in their courtroom, while sitting in front of a display of the 10 Commandments.
  • Hard work and success are rewarded with higher taxes and government intrusion, while some slothful behavior is rewarded with EBT cards, WIC checks, subsidized housing, and free cell phones.
  • The government’s plan for getting people back to work is to provide 99 weeks of unemployment checks (to not work).
  • Being self-sufficient is considered a threat to the government.
  • Politicians think that stripping away the amendments to the constitution is really protecting the rights of the people.
  • The rights of the Government come before the rights of the individual.
  • You pay your mortgage faithfully, denying yourself the newest big screen TV while your neighbor defaults on his mortgage (while buying iPhones, TV’s and new cars) and the government forgives his debt and reduces his mortgage (with your tax dollars).
  • Being stripped of the ability to defend yourself somehow makes you “safe”.
  • You have to have your parent’s signature to go on a school field trip or take an aspirin at school but not to get an abortion.
  • An 80 year old woman can be stripped searched by the TSA but a Muslim woman in a burka is only subject to having her neck and head searched.
  • You need a license to drive a car, or ID to cash a check, or take out a loan.  But not to VOTE.  Somehow that’s unfair.

It was reported that one large city in America was handing out cell phones with 250 prepaid minutes to the homeless.  They justified this campaign because the recipients were literally “homeless.”

Wouldn’t it make a lot more sense to give the homeless a roll of quarters?  It would be a lot cheaper.  And if they need more quarters for phone calls to potential employers, all they have to do is document how they used the previous roll: whom they called, when, to whom did they speak and what was the job they were seeking.

Another solution might be to give them a personal 800 code number they can use to make “free” calls to potential employers.  If they want to phone, they’ll find a phone.

These technological give-aways (cellphones or shoes) don’t address the issue–they only exacerbate them.  If you give a man a fish, you feed him for today.  If you teach her how to fish you feed her for a life time.

It’s time to fish or cut bait.

Cory Booker, mayor of a large New Jersey city, declared that welfare checks and cell phone programs are NOT government give-aways, but a safety net.  I once knew and worked briefly with Cory Booker and had respect for his attempts to help people.  But this video cracks that support; he seems to be selling his soul piece by piece to the latest Mephistopheles.  If he cannot distinguish honestly between a safety net and a hand-out, then he is doomed to the nether world of the Democrats.

My gosh, Cory.  When I was in the circus and fell from the high-wire act, I thanked God for the safety net beneath.  My fall was stopped.  But here’s the difference: a safety net has an exit. You eventually get off.  It catches you on the way down so you can bounce up.  What exists are there from the food stamp program?  None.  What incentives are there to get better, to exit the program, to bounce back, to rejoin the human race?  None. There used to be.  But your lord and dictator removed all of those avenues of respect and recuperation.

Let’s see… from whence does the food stamp program come?  The government.  What is the source of the revenues to pay for his program?  The government.  Where does the government get its money?  From taxes.  Whom does it tax?  You and me.  There is no program that collects funds voluntarily or by mandate specifically for food stamps.  There’s no box to check on one’s income tax that says “contribution for food stamps, check here.”  If there are no expectations, no encouragements, no end in site, it cannot be a safety net.  If each citizen doesn’t decide, then the government has stepped in.  Therefore… IT’S A HANDOUT.

What would happen if there was a box on your income tax form that said: “Check here if you would like to pay an additional $28 in taxes to fund the Food Stamp Program.”  Do you honestly think there would be more than $56 in the fund?

Truth is universal, regardless of the participants.  To enslave any people is wrong whether it’s done with chains, education/indoctrination or cell phones.

Business solution for the 21st Century.  Post a sign on your front door: “We reserve the right to refuse service to anyone.  Just because you come in doesn’t mean we have to sell it to you.”

Three Benghazi questions that haven’t been asked:

  • Who wanted Ambassador Stevens killed?
  • Who benefits from his death?
  • Who has the power to cover it up?

What’s the cost of maintaining an Army?  It’s the same as the first rule in Economics: Supply and Demand.  The cost of maintaining an army is to maintain an enemy.  If there is no enemy… you get the picture.

Which is more harmful to your health?  A plane full of cell phone talkers or a plane full of smokers? You be the judge

Only in America.

  •  Could politicians talk about the greed of the rich at a $35,000 a plate campaign fund-raising event.
  • Could people claim that the government still discriminates against black Americans when they have a black President, a black Attorney General, and roughly 18% of the federal workforce is black while only 12% of the population is black.
  • Could they have had the two people most responsible for our tax code, Timothy Geithner (head of our Treasury Dept) and Charles Rangel (who once ran the Ways and Means Committee), BOTH turn out to be tax cheats who are in favor of higher taxes for American citizens.
  • Can they have terrorists kill people in the name of Allah and have our media primarily react by fretting that Muslims might be harmed by the backlash.
  • Would they make people who want to legally become American citizens wait for years in their home countries and pay tens of thousands of dollars for the privilege while we discuss letting anyone who sneaks into the country illegally just ‘magically’ become American citizens.
  • Could the people who believe in balancing the budget and sticking by the country’s Constitution be thought of as “extremists.”
  • Could people demand the government investigate whether oil companies are gouging the public because the price of gas went up when the return on equity invested in a major U.S. oil company (Marathon Oil) is less than half of a company making tennis shoes (Nike).
  • Could the government collect more tax dollars from the people than any nation in recorded history, still spend a trillion dollars more than it has per year for total spending of $7 million PER MINUTE, and complain that it doesn’t have nearly enough money.
  • Could the “rich” people who pay 86% of all income taxes be accused of not paying their “fair share” by people who don’t pay any income taxes at all.

Dear Teachers:

I am a survivor of a concentration camp. My eyes saw what no person should witness. Gas chambers built by learned engineers. Children poisoned by educated physicians. Infants killed by trained nurses. Women and babies shot and burned by high school and college graduates.

So I am suspicious of education. My request is: help your students become more human. Your efforts must never produce learned monsters, skilled psychopaths, or educated Eichmanns. Reading, writing, and arithmetic are important only if they serve to make our children more human.    –Haim G. Ginott


**”Send in the Clowns” is a song by Stephen Sondheim from the 1973 musical A Little Night Music.

Isn’t it rich?
Are we a pair?
Me here at last on the ground,
You in mid-air..
Where are the clowns?

Isn’t it bliss?
Don’t you approve?
One who keeps tearing around,
One who can’t move…
Where are the clowns?
Send in the clowns.

Just when I’d stopped opening doors,
Finally knowing the one that I wanted was yours.
Making my entrance again with my usual flair
Sure of my lines…
No one is there.

Don’t you love farce?
My fault, I fear.
I thought that you’d want what I want…
Sorry, my dear!
And where are the clowns
Send in the clowns
Don’t bother, they’re here.

Isn’t it rich?
Isn’t it queer?
Losing my timing this late in my career.
And where are the clowns?
There ought to be clowns…
Well, maybe next year.




July 27, 2012

Obama creating African-American education office – WRONG.

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama is creating a new office to bolster education of African-American students.

The White House says the office will coordinate the work of communities and federal agencies to ensure that African-American youngsters are better prepared for high school, college and career.

Obama is announcing his election-year initiative Wednesday night in a speech to the civil rights group the National Urban League as he seeks to rally black voters. Aides say his executive order, to be signed Thursday, will set a goal of producing “a more effective continuum” of programs for African-American students

Obama’s recent announcement about creating a new office to bolster the education of African-American students is a perfect example of why politics and education should never meet and why government agencies in America should get out of the business of education. The very suggestion of such an office is an affront to the American citizens in the black community because it relegates black students to the Jim Crow days of the antediluvian South, just before the Civil War and 58 years before Brown v. Board of Education (1954).  And there’s an answer to the needs in Obama’s own USDOE and staring him right in the face.  His decision to create such an office demonstrates how he will use anything, even children, as grist for his political mill.  But Obama’s efforts and announcement does admit one thing.  America’s government schools ARE failing students in the black community, among others as well.

Immediately one has to ask, “Why now?” Obama has been in office for three and one-half years.  Why does he wait this long to create such an office?  The much-tauted Arne Duncan, US Secretary of Education, has had the same time to establish programs and offices to meet these cited needs.  Have things deteriorated that much in such a short period of time?  Not in turns of educational outcomes, unfortunately.  It seems Mr. Obama is using students to regain lost prestige and influence in the Black community of Americans who have lost faith in their leader due to other unpopular political moves recently.  Politics and education just don’t mix.  But Mr. Obama hasn’t learned that lesson.

Some would argue that the entire US Department of Education (USDOE) was established for the very purpose Obama outlines.  Every mandate, every grant, every so-called “competitive grant” from the USDOE is designed to favor young American citizens of color. The department has failed consistent with the failure of their charges. Millions have been spent on programs, offices, equipment, and the employee of thousands of adults but not one cent in achievement or academic  results.  If all this money-spending had succeeded, then why the need for yet another office?  Millions of dollars have been spent but that money failed to achieve results except in two areas—private schools and voucher programs.

Besides the usurpation of the college grants program, the largest federal program for the USDOE is The Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) (of which the No Child Left Behind is only the most recent iteration). NCLB has spent over $130 Billion in the past six years to create level playing fields in America’s government schools, programs designed specifically to assist the poor among us. It has failed miserably—except in one area.  The only place where the learning gap between kids of color and all others in the US has closed has been for those attending private schools!  The services rendered under NCLB for poor kids and kids of color attending private schools have had a demonstrable effect: they gained academically. The success occurred because the grants/services went to institutions that knew how to use them.

But now Obama wants to target Black American students with a new office.  He’s basically creating a separate-but-equal office just for Black students.  I thought separate-but-equal was outlawed de facto and de jure in Brown v. Board of Education back in 1954. It was found to be illegal to create a separate program just for black students, separate from all others.  How about the rest of America?  Will he create an office for Hispanic students when he needs their parents’ vote?  How about Syrian-Americans or Muslim-Americans? Will they also get an office?   The very purpose of education is to bring kids out of that singular experience that is theirs into the greater whole of mankind’s experience. You know, e pluribus unum.  Obama hasn’t learned that lesson as well.

The greater irony in this case is that the answer lies right in front of him: the Opportunity Scholarship Program (OSP) in Washington, DC.  The OSP provides a voucher to needy students (kids of color) to attend the school of their choice, usually a private school. In order to give these students this opportunity, the political dynamics required the buy-out of the local teachers’ union.  But the program succeeded because the students succeeded.  Indeed, the USDOE’s own research has demonstrated the success of the OSP program. The students in this program were “better prepared for high school, college, and career.”  But Obama defunded the program.  Twice.  He put these kids and their families on an educational roller coaster than is unconscionable. Just as they were making progress he pulled the rug out from under them.  The problem was that they were succeeding and he wasn’t.

Education, while valued at a national level, is NOT a Federal issue. Nowhere in the Constitution will you find any reference to schooling… NOWHERE.  It’s not their job.  Likewise, when the USDOE was established under the then Carter administration, the lawmakers included exacting and express restrictions on the office from influencing and/or interfering with schooling at the local level in any way, shape, or form.  This includes creating “a more effective continuum,” whatever that means. That descriptor is vague enough to drive a truck through: it could allow anything.

More money is not the problem, that’s been proven time and time again. American schools have plenty of money; they just don’t spend what they have wisely. Classroom size reduction is not the answer, that’s been proven by research over 270 times. Early Childhood education isn’t the answer; Headstart research has demonstrated that all the skills learned in their program were lost by the time the student reached second grade in the government schools. A new bureaucracy is not the answer, that’s been demonstrated year-after-year since 1965.  Separating kids off into separate-but-equal programs is not the answer, let alone for the fact that it’s against the law. Mandates from Washington are not the answer; that’s like crowd control from the air—it never works.

The answer lies is in competition and parental choice at the local level.  Give parents the opportunity to choose what is best for their kids and they will. And those students will succeed.  We don’t need new offices, new systems, and more regulations.  Simply distribute the funds available per child each year and stick it into the backpack of every school-age student and have their parents decide where they should go.  All kids, regardless of their background or color, will succeed. The key is to get government out of the business and out of the way.

April 29, 2012

How Far We Have Come — Or Not



“Facts are Stubborn Things” – John Adams

What follows is a verbatim copy of an 8th grade test from 1954.  It is a test on the US Constitution. The teacher’s name is  Mrs. Mildred Niemiec and the student’s name is Kenny Hignite.  Here’s a Photostat copy.  Kenny did well; he score a 98.5%.  Can your 8th grade student/child do this well?  Is this material even being taught in your child’s school? High School? College?

1.-20. List the cabinet positions and the people who hold these positions at the present time.

20.-29.  Give the names of the justices of the Supreme Court

30.-51.  Tell the Provisions of each of the amendments to the Constitution.

52.       What is the Bill of Rights? ____________________ ____________________

53.       Who is the President of the U.S.? ____________________ ____________________

54.       Who is the Vice Vice-President of the U.S.? ____________________ ____________________

55.       What is an unwritten law? ____________________ ____________________

57.       Two things necessary to any good government are? ____________________ ____________________

58.       The plan of government for the U.S. is the? ____________________

59.       A constitutional law is? ____________________

60.       An unconstitutional law is? ____________________

61.       A law is declared unconstitutional by the? ____________________

62.       The President chooses a cabinet in order to? ____________________

63.       The Constitution grants all lawmaking powers to? ____________________

64.-65. The two houses of Congress are? ____________________

66.       The Constitution established two houses of Congress because? ____________________

67.       The number of representatives from each state is determined by? ____________________

68.       The Speaker of the House is? ____________________

69.       The number of Senators from each state is? ____________________

70.       A Senator is elected for? ____________________

71.       The presiding officer of the Senate is? ____________________

72.       The Vice-President does not have a vote in the Senate unless? ____________________

73.       A president pro tempore is? ____________________

74.       The life of each Congress is? ____________________

75.       Congress convenes in regular session on ? ____________________

76.       The President may call Congress into a special session? ____________________

77.       The power to enforce the laws is given to ? ____________________

78.       The President’s term of office is? ____________________

79.       If a President dies, he is succeeded by? ____________________

80.       The President must be a _______________ citizen.

81.       How old must a President be? ____________________

82.       The oath of office is administered to the President by ? ____________________

83.       The President takes office on? ____________________

84.       the President can make treaties if ? ____________________

85.       The highest law of the land is ? ____________________

86.       The Supreme Court may annul laws ? ____________________

87.       A quorum in Congress is? ____________________

88.       A filibuster is? ____________________

89.       The number of Supreme Court justices is? ____________________

90.       A writ of habeas corpus is? ____________________

91.       A bill of attainder is? ____________________

92.       An ex post facto law is? ____________________

93.       A reprieve is? ____________________

94.       A pardon is? ____________________

95.       Who regulates inter-state commerce? ____________________

96.       What is naturalization? ____________________

97.       What is piracy? ____________________

98.       Does a dictator consider the welfare of the people? ____________________

99.       Can a government function without the power to raise money? ____________________

100.    Do wealth and power alone make a nation happy? ____________________

Extra Credit:   Write the Preamble to the Constitution

How did you do?  How are your kids doing? Isn’t it about time we demand academics and not training?  If your school can’t/won’t, find one that will.  Hurry!

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.

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
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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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