Saturday, April 30, 2005

TEA opinions on...

I've made the TEA legislative report a weekly stop in my online surfing. Some of it is very predictable. Occasionally, it's enlightening. Usually, they at least provide links to legislative committees and I utilize them to make my opinions known to those legislators. Feel free to do the same.

This week's report is:

FOR: Pre-K

AGAINST: Charter schools, advertising on the outside of school busses, death threats against school personnel (something we agree on)

and, curiously, doesn't take a stand on Caitlin Nolan's anti-bullying legislation (see previous post). I'm wondering how bullying teachers is a clear no-no to the TEA but not bullying students.

Caitlin Nolan: Never give in.

ABC News has named 15 year old Caitlin Nolan of Oak Ridge their Person of the Week. Instead of remaining a victim of bullying Caitlin has managed to get legislators to support the creation in every Tennessee public school of a formal policy prohibiting harrassment, intimidation and bullying and setting up consequences for such ill behavior via SB1621/HB2114.

I witnessed Caitlin's testimony in the Senate Education Committee on 4/13/05 and was impressed by her presence and knowledge of the legislation. Obviously, along with being an excellent high school student she's also been a good student of her father, lobbyist Bill Nolan. During the hearing Sen. Steve Cohen (D-Memphis) was concerned that penalties for false accusations weren't provided for and an amendment to cover that was written and approved.

What's amazing to me is that these sorts of situations, apparently, haven't been appropriately handled in local schools already. "Back when I was in school" this would have happened one time, and one time only. Of course, we still had smaller neighborhood schools and every teacher knew every family and every family knew each other which allows for a lot of accountability that we no longer have in our school systems and neighborhoods.

This situation should never have gotten so out of hand that it required the time and attention of the state legislature. Where were the parents, teachers, principals, superintendents, school boards and community members? How is it that they could't deal with this on their own and long ago? So will this really solve the problem? In my opinion all that really happened was the legislature is telling the schools systems "handle this". Something they should already have been doing.

A side issue is the fact that in the adult world, if someone harasses you you have legal recourse and you aren't compelled by law to stay in the same building with your harasser 5 days a week for 6 to 7 hours. Our children don't always have the ability to leave their harasser behind unless there are other education options available and the parents can afford to utilize them.

One young woman learned that sometimes you have to repeat your story over and over before the grownups really listen. I'm glad she didn't give up. I certainly hope the grownups do more than listen. It's way past time to act.

Field trip death: Knox County pays

The legal issues are settled from this April '04 accident.

The Knox County School system has agreed to pay a quarter million dollars to the parents of a 12-year-old boy who drowned on a field trip last year.

A Park Service report found the drowning was an accident but said the school system made some errors, including not mentioning swimming on the permission slip sent home to parents.

However, a child is gone. No amount of money can compensate or console. Hopefully, changes have been made so this never happens again. Sometimes learning a lesson is too expensive.

Friday, April 29, 2005

Balancing privacy and parental concern.

I was in the Senate Ed committe when SB0098 was heard on 4/20/05 and recommended for passage. This bill essentially says that anyone who is paying even part of the tuition for a college attendee can, after getting the child to sign a permission form at orientation, obtain information about that student's status at the school. Heretofore federal privacy laws prevented the school from disclosing this information which could include everything from grades to visits with counseling staff.

This legislation sets up a pilot program at MTSU that, in my opinion, ought to be quickly adopted by every college and university across the nation. While the student does have the right to refuse to have the school share this information with that payee, those of us listening to the presentation at the hearing quickly agreed that any child of ours would quickly be on their own financially if such permission weren't immediately given. Knowing how well your child is doing grade-wise is important but more importantly, you'll be able to discover if they've been missing classes, ill or worse.

According to Dr. Rob Glen, VP of Student Affairs at MTSU at the 4/20 hearing the Federal Education Rights and Privacy Act of 1974 says a 'student is guardian of record" from about 16 or 17 years of age. Which is an interesting bit of information to me. I know that in our life I had a good bit of trouble just picking up one of my 16 year old's reserved library books one day. The library told me that despite the fact that I was financially responsible if my child lost the book, I wasn't allowed to pick it up without their permission. Something is wrong when I have to be responsible for my child's actions but am denied the information necessary to fully guard them or myself from those actions. I can be trusted to have my own child's best interests at heart. And so can the vast majority of those parents paying for that college education.

This Nashville City Paper article gives details on this bill.
Track the bill at this state webpage.

The Senate will vote on this on 5/2/05 according to the current schedule. And it's scheduled for the House Education Committee to hear on 5/4/05.

Charter Schools: moving through legislature

This Tennessean's article has a few more details about the Senate Ed hearing on charter schools that took place Wednesday (4/27/05).

Dedrick Briggs, executive director of the Tennessee Charter School Alliance, said the waiver is needed because of the high standard of accountability. If a charter school doesn't make progress for two consecutive years, then the district has the option of shutting it down.

''All we're saying is that if we're under that level of accountability, give us all the autonomy that you can to help us meet that goal, because we are dealing with a challenging student population,'' Briggs said.

So far, Tennessee charter schools seem to be doing well. First-year scores of students attending the schools were higher than similar children who stayed in public school, according to Steven M. Ross, director of the Center for Research and Educational Policy at the University of Memphis.

How many of our regular public schools haven't made progress in two consecutive years? Is anyone shutting them down?

Of course, the TEA spokesman, Jerry Winters, disagrees. Accurately the Tennessean describes him as a representative of teachers and not students or their parents. That TEA mission statement has always bothered me.

"The Tennessee Education Association promotes, advances and protects public education, the education profession, and the rights and interests of its members." (Adopted by the Representative Assembly, 1996)

Senate Bill 2167 is waiting to be heard by the full Senate for a vote and its companion, House Bill 2137, will be discussed Tuesday by the House K-12 Education Subcommittee. 10:30 a.m. Room LP 29. Check that K-12 link for committee member names and links to their contact info. You can also get a copy of the agenda from that same link so you can follow along with the committee.

Attendance at one of these hearings is always an eye opener for me. You should go at least once to see these folks in action and get an understanding of just what they are doing as your representatives. A homechooling parent described their recent visit this way:

"In all, the atmosphere there is just electric, with pols, visitors,
lobbyists etc all over and lots of activity. And it is cheaper than the zoo."

For those of you who can't make it to Nashville many of these hearings are streamed online thanks to Speaker Naifeh (who may be rethinking that decision due to recent events).

Thursday, April 28, 2005

Charter schools: It's for the children

Also from the Jackson Sun is a note that Sen. Jamie Hagood got her bill on expanding the charter school rules through her Senate Education committee on a 5 to 2 vote. Currently, students must be enrolled in a poorly performing school before they can choose this option, if a charter school is even available. This would change that and focus on the needs of the child instead.

The downside to the current law has been that, at least in Metro Nashville, the Board of Ed has looked at charter applications and denied them based on the BOE understanding of how many of their own schools will fail and not on the needs of individual children system wide.

It's another stept closer to choice and educational freedom.
Contact Sen. Hagood here.
View the bill's status here SB2167.

Sen. Hagood's got a better plan than Sen. John Ford's (D-Memphis) bill (and bill) which attempts to further restrict charter schools, and thus options, for the children in his district and ours.

Pre-K passes House, Senate is next up.

The House passed the Governor's Pre-K program with all the Democrats voting yes and 21 Republicans voting no for a final vote total of 75 to 21.

Here's the link to the actual legislation SB2317 and the fiscal note...which ought to be a HUGE 'wait a minute' to legislators and local governments who'll also have to kick in money.

And I'm going to include a link to the Tennessee State Constitution which clearly says that

"The excess after such allocations from such net proceeds from the lottery would be appropriated to:
(1) Capital outlay projects for K-12 educational facilities; and
(2) Early learning programs and after school programs."
Have we fully funded all the 'best and brightest' that are qualified to go to college? No. Homeschoolers and non-accredited private schoolers were shutout in their attempt to qualify for Merit Scholarship money because, while their SAT/ACT scores were great, they didn't have a GPA that educrats and their legislative partners would accept.

And yesterday, according to the Jackson Sun, the House Higher Ed subcommittee expanded the pool of students that could apply for these scholarships to include "non-traditional' students over 25 years old who had a 2.75 GPA in their sophomore year in high school. This GPA is lower than current students must have. Additionally, legislators are looking at increasing the needs based supplement to $2,000. So as we read, the funds are yet to be fully utilized by people wanting/needing these scholarships. There is no excess yet.

And, as I read the Constitutional amendment in Article XI, Section 5 IF there is excess it next goes to capital outlay projects for K-12 educational facilities. Doesn't it make more sense for the state to leave 4 year olds with loving families and get their older siblings out of portables and into suitable spaces for learning? Apparently, not to legislators and educators. They want to provide services for those 40,000 or so 4 year olds despite the pressing needs of the students currently in their system.

Read details on the House vote from the Tennessean here. [Why the Tennesseans provides House legislative contact information after the vote and when its on its way to the Senate Finance Committee on 5/3/05 is beyond me. ] You can read the roll call of who is going to be responsible for this problem there also.

*Added 12:38 p.m. 4/28/05: Rep. Stacy Camfield (R-Knoxville) has a good bit to say on this subject. Check his blog. Scroll down.

And check for more details and comments.

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Aspiring for a government handout.

U.S. Rep. Harold Ford, Jr., D-9th comments to an Oak Ridge, TN audience are related in this Oak Ridger newspaper item.

"Ford feels that the Aspire act is essential to teach Americans the value of acquiring assets and using them to build a future."
"Each account would provide a one-time $500 contribution, and children in households earning below the national median income will be eligible for a supplemental contribution of up to $500. "
I'm unconvinced that teaching children to look to Uncle Sam for a handout is the best foundation for financial health. Maybe if mom and dad didn't have to send so much money to Washington they'd have enough to set up this sort of account themselves.

Read Sen. Ford's webpage for his point of view.

TBI: Crime on Campus report for 2004 is out.

The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation's 2004 report of "all crimes reported on all the campuses of Tennessee's instutions of higher education" is out. You'll find all 178 .pdf pages at this link.

Maybe one day we'll get one for Pre-K through 12 campuses also.

Someone needs mental health screening, and I don't think it's the children.

Highlighted in today's City Paper is the fight over screening children for mental health issues.

“What is happening now in several states, they are proposing mass screenings,” Effram said. “It is a mental health screening evaluation using very vague and objective questions.” [Dr. Karen Effram, a pediatrician from Minnesota who lobbies nationwide for laws preventing mandatory screenings of children]

The Association of American Physicians and Surgeons has entered the fight, warning that parents should decide what’s best for their children and not a school official.
It's SB545 and the state's webpage for its current status is here.
Contact information for Sen. Fowler is here.
Contact info for your legislators can be found at , left margin click on the appropriate body and click on members. It's a convoluted navigaton system that isn't very accomodating to mere citizen input.

PRE-K barrelling ahead: It's for the children, ya know.

The number of 'at-risk' children is very small. However, there are several very powerful lobbying groups behind this push. Most make their money from either educating or supplying educators, so this will be a boon to them. Some weeks back when I attended the first Senate Ed Meeting the halls were filled with folks carrying yellow coffee mugs with "PRE-K NOW" in bold black print. The last Senate Ed meeting I attended the room was very populated by folks wearing big bright yellow stickers on their lapels saying "PRE-K Now".

I have some very strong feelings about a public school system that most probably 'educated' the largest part of the parents that now have children 'at risk'. Seems to me if the system didn't, at minimum, teach them to read, write and cipher well enough to pass on the Pre-K basics to their own children why should we give the system even younger children to, perhaps, also fail with?

Sen. Steve Cohen (D-Memphis) was right in saying that a program that is this important shouldn't be funded on as unstable a foundation as lottery losings (my word, not his).

Additionally, we've accepted what I believe is a skewed view of exactly what our government should be doing. Education has become job one and one that by many reports isn't being done well enough.

Take a few minutes to read Drew Johnson's piece at the Tennessee Center for Policy Research.

Hard Lessons Learned: Applying 40 Years of Government Pre-K to Benefit Tennessee's Children Today by Darcy Olsen and Drew Johnson

Adult 'needs' include the care of their own children.

This quote from Metropolitan Nashville Public School Board Finance Committee chairman Kathy Nevell is just appallingly inconsiderate of family budgets in the here and now:

''We're going to have to build support between now and the end of June,'' when the Metro Council votes on the schools budget, Nevill said. ''We're going to have to continue to build our case over and over and over again about the needs of the children in this city. It's about the class of 2010 and the class of 2015. We don't want to get bogged down with the needs of adults in 2005.'' Tennessean 4/27/05

But what if the ‘needs of the adults in 2005’ include the need to pay their own mortgages, grocery bills and pay for gasoline to ensure that their own children are housed, fed and Papa can get to work to earn a paycheck? A no vote on these budget increases does not equal lack of concern for the needs of the students of 2010 or 2015. It’s just acknowledging the reality of the current financial situation of many taxpaying families in Nashville.

Don’t make families choose between the children of 2010 and their own. You’ll lose every time.

Here are links to the

Tennessean article:

And the City Paper article:

Welcome! :-)

I hope that you'll find the information and comments here helpful. Education issues have been a part of my life since my own four children came along. While I choose to homeschool I have a heart burden for every child and parent who is searching for the right educational choice for their child. Too often the system isn't able or will not accomodate the individuals that our children are and the children suffer the consequences.

While I may rant on occasion at the public system what I hope to accomplish is to empower parents to take back the land and fight for their own children. We have them for such a short amount of time and none of their childhood should be wasted on programs that don't work or to further the agenda of the adults that control their lives.