Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Money for Memphis schools. Where?

The Memphis Commerical Appeal is reporting that their school board has pledged to fully fund their school budget and like Nashville it now comes down to where will the money come from?

"It's not clear where that extra $17 million will come from -- $11.5 million for city schools, $5.5 million for county schools -- though.

One possible source would be another 12 cents on the county's property tax rate, which is already higher than it should be and could be bumped by another 14 cents to cover a $20 million debt service payment."
The Commercial Appeal also opined: "The pledge was admirable and courageous. With an extraordinary effort, it might be kept."

And the Metropolitan Nashville PS's effort will also need an extraordinary effort.

I expect the Stand for Children and the Memphis Education Association folks will soon be placing yard signs in Memphis as well.

From my point of view, observing the Memphis contingent on the various education committees in the Tennessee Legislature, I always thought it odd that while the DOE was reporting the Memphis area schools as being some of the worst in the state that their legislative contingent was weilding so much power across the state via their seat on those education committees. Seems to me they should have been helping to correct the problems at home before attempting to "help" other districts across the state.

We're all stakeholders, all the time.

What started as a nice little article by John Branston about the White Station (Memphis) graduation ended with a paragraph I can't help but comment on.

"When I read the thoughtful editorials and columns about improving public education in The Commercial Appeal on Sunday I just shook my head. For the first time in 15 years I was no longer a stakeholder in the Memphis public school system. And the only people who can improve the public schools are the parents and teachers and administrators of the 163,000 students in the city and county schools."
I really believe that we never quit being stakeholders in the public education system. I understand that some of us aren't as intimately involved in the system once our children graduate or move on to another education choice, but the truth is that we still have to pay taxes to support that system and we still will be living in a world of those who've been in the public schools. Making sure that our tax money is spent wisely, that the children are really educated and safe are responsibilities that remain as long as we live in this world. We cannot and must not shirk our responsiblities once our children are out of that public system. Former parents, non-parents, and people of other education choices can provide valuable perspective and insight and have some responsibility to provide their viewpoint to current parents, teachers and administrators. This is a huge task that needs the help of the entire community, not just those currently involved.

I hope Mr. Branston, and others that have found themselves in his situation this spring, will seriously consider how they can contribute to the well-being of the system and the children. One afternoon a week or month as a teacher's aid, reading to children, painting a classroom or caring for the grounds will help keep you involved and be appreciated.

More "Waltzing" in Memphis?

This morning Darrell Phillips, Memphis television reporter and blogger has posted that some on the Memphis School Board are "jittery" about having partaken in an E-Cycle trip in Miami. E-cycle was the bogus company the FBI used in their Tennessee Waltz sting to expose corruption in the Tennessee legislature.

It'll be hard to work on raising that $17 million for schools AND money for a defense fund at the same time. I hope they were honest, but let the housecleaning continue.

Monday, May 30, 2005

Dropping out or getting on with life?

I'm working on a longer essay on education choice but this seemed too timely to wait.

Break from the herd

(Registration is required.)

Bill Gates did it. So did Brad Pitt, Michael Dell and Louis Armstrong.

07:07 PM CDT on Saturday, May 28, 2005

Maverick education reformer JOHN TAYLOR GATTO advises today's ambitions young people to cut loose from convention, drop out of college and tune in to America's greatest export: creativity.

It's an equation we've all heard many times: College graduates make more money, therefore they are happier, therefore send more people to college to find better lives for themselves.

Not a single press account I read or heard bothered to point out that Mr. Gates himself dropped out of college after a single year. Or the even more provocative detail that he hasn't bothered to go back. Not even $40 billion or so in the bank represents security enough for him to take time off from the office to improve himself?

Paul Allen, co-founder of Microsoft, was a dropout, too. He never bothered to go back for a degree either.

Steve Jobs, the big man behind Apple, dropped out of Reed College after one semester. In all the years since, a pressing need for a diploma hasn't surfaced yet. Steve Wozniak, co-founder of Apple, abandoned college and never looked back.

And whatever Michael Dell of Dell Computer owes his dazzling success and his billions to, it isn't college. He, too, dropped out. Larry Ellison, CEO of Oracle ... you guessed it!

Some measure of the gross disinformation peddled on high can be guessed at if you realize that nobody in the computer business believes that high school or college training has much to do with success in the design or operation of the things.

It turns my stomach to say this, but we owe more than we know to our dream team: David Geffen of Dreamworks (flunked out of Brooklyn College), Yoko Ono (dropped out of Sarah Lawrence), Blockbuster founder Wayne Huizenga (logged only three semesters), Ted Turner (kicked out), Bill Murray (dropout), Sharon Stone (dropout), Brad Pitt (dropout) – hey, I could go on until Christmas.

Go read the rest. Take a holiday from conformist thought and ruminate on what an education is really for.

Friday, May 27, 2005

Love on TSBA and national committee

Thanks to Simply I for pointing out that Charles Love of our recent "Tennessee Waltz" corruption investigation is not only a member of the Hamilton County School Board but also a member of the Tennessee School Boards Association (TSBA).

Charles Love
Southeast District Director

Charles has served on the Hamilton County board since 1996, serving as vice chairman in 1998 and chairman since 1999. He serves as the Southeast Regional Coordinator on the TLN and has been recently elected as regional representative to the FRN. He is active in the community, serving on various committees. He is the owner of Charles Love and Associates lobbying firm. Charles and his wife, Sandra, have two children.

Article II of the TSBA Code of Ethics:

My Relations to My Community

Section 1. I will endeavor to appraise fairly both the present and future educational needs of the community and to support improvements as finances permit.
Section 2. I will represent at all times the entire school community and refuse to represent special interests or partisan politics. [emphasis added--ed.]
Section 3. I will endeavor to keep the community informed about the progress and needs of the schools.

How can a lobbyist avoid representing 'special interests or partisan politics'? I would have thought his job would immediately disqualify him for service. Instead the TSBA includes the fact in his bio and moves on.

A few links to clarify the acronymns follows.

TLN is the legislative arm of the TSBA.:
The Tennessee Legislative Network (TLN) was created to accomplish TSBA's legislative goals. The network is composed of school board members representing each of the school districts in Tennessee and governed by a board of directors, which is charged with setting TSBA's legislative priorities.
This webpage shows Charles Love as the "Chairman Elect". If I read correctly their next scheduled meeting is June 19th in Gatlinburg.

FRN is part of the National School Board Association's Federal Relations Network according to the TSBA.
TSBA's federal legislative efforts are supported by the Federal Relations Network, or FRN. The FRN was established by the National School Boards Association and consists of board members from each congressional district. Each year TSBA takes part in the NSBA Federal Relations Network Conference, where Tennessee school board members visit the nation's capitol to meet with the state's senators and congressmen to discuss the needs of local school systems.

$40K and a living wage.

This from Education Intellegence Agency via Daryl Cobranchi's blog.

"The National Education Association Representative Assembly will open July 3 in Los Angeles and the union will use the occasion to launch its latest initiative: a campaign to establish a minimum teacher salary of $40,000 nationwide and a "living wage" for education support employees.

Can we agree that what it takes to support body and soul in Tennessee isn't the same as what it takes in New York? Can we agree that there are some unquantifiable benefits to living in Tennessee that some of us value above cash? Can we agree that the taxpayers wallet isn't bottomless? Can we agree that no national organization ought to make policy decisions for our neighborhood? Can we agree that great teachers ought to be given great salaries and others should either be willing to retrain so they can become great teachers or encouraged to find another line of work?

If you have children in the public schools or are a taxpayer wondering where you're money is going, you really should subscribe to Mike Antonucci's weekly reports. It's a quick read about what's going on across the nation with special focus on the unions. Do it soon so you don't miss his insightful and pithy comments about the NEA convention over the July 4th holiday.

"Waltzing" school board member

Hamilton County School Board member Charles Love was missed at last evening's board meeting according to this News Channel 9 (Chattanooga) report.

"The board members sat facing the crowd in their assigned seats.
All were present but one. Charles Love's empty seat confirmed what folks had been hearing all day long.
The board can't say what will become of Love's school board seat.
The school board says they realize the scandal may hurt their credibility, but they hope and pray the allegations against their fellow member won't prove true. "

Ummm, those'll have to be private prayers, I'm sure.

And from the Knoxville News-Sentinal comes the first person account by Rep. Joe Armstrong of the moment Sen. John Ford was arrested. And also this:

"Armstrong said he has also known "for years" Charles Love, also indicted in the TBI-FBI sting, and had signed on as a co-sponsor at Love's request.

Love, who serves on the Hamilton County Board of Education, has registered as a lobbyist for several years with clients ranging from Memorial Hospital of Chattanooga to Homebuilders of Tennessee, according to Drew Rawlins, director of the Registry of Election Finance."

Here's a .pdf of the charges against Mr. Love courtesy of Nashville's WTVF television.

If true these actions will have an impact on these people, their families and their communities that far exceeds the cheap payoffs made. Corruption is sad, but to sell yourself, your family and your community for so little money is beyond that. What were they thinking?

Thursday, May 26, 2005

Sting has education link.

Legislators were arrested this morning in a sting operation conducted by the FBI, TBI and USDOJ. The sting involved a bogus computer recycling company trying to get legislation passed to their benefit.

Along with several legislators one of those arrested was Hamilton County School Board member Charles Love.

From the Tennessean this morning comes this paragraph:

"The bill would have allowed electronic recycling companies to contract with the state to dispose of surplus state computer equipment not claimed by school districts. Newton said it was pushed by E-Cycle Management Inc., an Atlanta-area company, and Charles Love, a Hamilton County school board member and lobbyist."
There were two bills filed this year that may have been used in this sting:

*HB0037 by *Newton, *Jones U, *Sargent, *Bowers, *Miller L, *Stanley, *Armstrong.
Surplus Property - Broadens types of surplus computer and electronic equipment available to LEAs; requires all surplus computer and electronic equipment not disposed to LEAs to be disposed of by a qualified electronic recycling company by negotiated contract for sale to be disposed of out of state. - Amends TCA Title 12, Chapter 2. (This bill was withdrawn just yesterday.)


HB0631 by *Jones U. (*SB0028 by *Ford.)
Surplus Property - Provides an alternative method for disposing of certain surplus computer and electronic equipment. - Amends TCA Title 12, Chapter 2.
Oddly, in this morning's Chattanooga times-Free Press there is is this:
School board member Love files for bankruptcy
Hamilton County Board of Education member Charles Love said Wednesday he filed for bankruptcy last week. BY ASHLEY ROWLAND AND MICHAEL A. WEBER STAFF WRITERS
Unfortunately, I can't get the Times-Free Press to allow me to read the article.

There is BIG money in education, as this sting so clearly proves.

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

And so the battle begins.

The Tennessean's article titled "Schools feel insulted" is one thing but the photo of Dr. Pedro Garcia, the Director of Schools is surely insulting. Very tabloid. Wonder how long they had to wait to get that precise look?

But back to the important things. The first half of the article is whining about how there won't be enough money for pay and benefits. The children are mentioned in the article, by Mayor Purcell, in the article's paragraph 16.

"School board Chairwoman Pam Garrett was indignant that Purcell singled out schools among city services for criticism."
Well, Ms. Garrett, maybe schools were singled out because schools make up so much of the budget. Maybe because some of those school proponents were running around saying "education is the most important thing we do as a community". The problem with pushing yourself to the front of the line is, you're going to be the first to get the sharp words.

And so those public school proponents, wrapping themselves in 'it's for the children" are already gearing up for the fight over the contents of the taxpayer's wallet.
"He further placed responsibility on school officials to help rally support for a sales tax increase saying it will give them "the opportunity to prove to us all they can and will deliver for our children."' Nashville City Paper
So instead of laying out the facts to the taxpayers, voters and parents of how well the system has utilized the resources we've given them and what their plan of action is for the future, the local Stand for Children organization has already e-mailed folks urging them to "come and write pre-addressed postcards to Metro Council members and make a few phone calls to our database of community members interested in taking action. You can also pick up your yard sign and bumper sticker while you are here." They're even offering free pizza and childcare (up to age 10). But if you can't make those meetings you can pick up yard signs and bumper stickers at the Metro Nashville Education Association (teacher's union) headquarters.

I expect they'll be a few outraged letters to the editor about how some of these yard signs are disappearing and being defaced. Welcome to politics in Nashville.

Gov. Pre-K poll: last known numbers

An e-mail from a Tennessean reporter got me thinking about that AWOL poll from Governor Bredesen's blog. I checked with some of my 'associates' across the country and it looks like from among them, the last time the poll was seen was just before 2:00 a.m. Sunday 5/15/05. According to a source I trust, you don't have to, the results at that time were:

43% for government pre-K (957 votes)
54% against government pre-K (1180 votes)
3% undecided (48 votes)
And according to my 'sources' the poll was gone by about breakfast time that same Sunday morning.

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Nashville Mayor suggests tax hike.

From the Mayor's State of the City address this morning:

"This year the schools completed a comprehensive survey of funding options available for education. They made it clear that they desire more certainty in their funding as well as increased investment. That is why I will recommend that the Metro Council endorse an increase in our local sales tax in the amount of a half cent.

While state law requires only half of these funds be directed to local schools, I will recommend that these funds be directed to two purposes only, and the largest portion be directed permanently to our schools.

This will require a vote of the people of Nashville, which I think will be a very good thing for our city and for our schools. It will give our schools an opportunity to share more broadly what they have accomplished with the investments we have made and it will allow our school system to explain what they can accomplish with future investments.

We all know that the promises and expectations established by the school system and school director three years ago have not been met. That does not mean that we should abandon the 70,000 school students who will end their school year today. But even more certain, we should not abandon those expectations.

This public referendum and the year ahead will give the school board and our director of schools the opportunity to prove to us all that they can and will deliver for our children.

The school board and council can and should decide the date for this referendum, but I think for our schools as well as our children, sooner is better and I hope it can be done in the opening weeks of the coming school year."

There is no 'right' to a summer vacation.

This issue comes up on a regular basis since our society became less agricultural and local economies began to rely on this long summer break for cheap student labor and additional summer caretaking. Our society is so geared toward the public school calendar that any amount of tweaking always causes friction between competing interests.

Here are links to an article in the Nashville City Paper telling us the Nashville school board will hear a local professor on the pros and cons of a balanced calendar which " includes the same number of instructional days — 180 — but disperses them more evenly throughout the school year."

On the mountain side of the state an editorial in the Mountain Press from Sevierville encourages the legislation (HB0625, HB0623) proposed by Rep. Joe McCord (R-Maryville) to create the same school calendar across the state. "McCord has in mind a school term that doesn't start before Aug. 21."

You'll hear the usual outcry from parents whose working routine will be impacted, day cares, summer camps, the tourist industry and other folks providing summer care, activities and diversions. Let's also not forget that summer is also the prime time for overhauling some of those facilities that are heavily used and aging.

A Call for Honesty.

This seems an interesting difference of opinions.

We have Carol Johnson of Memphis saying:

"Given an almost 20 percent dropout rate (as calculated by the Tennessee Department of Education), it is obvious that our schools are not meeting the challenge to effectively educate all students." Commercial Appeal of 5/22/05
and this from Tri-Cities.com
"Tennessee’s graduation rate of 60 percent is well below the national average."
"State leaders claim official graduation rates that are much higher – about 89 percent for Tennessee..."
We can always blame fuzzy math, I suppose.

The Tri-Cities.com editorial says that whatever the number we need to rethink "the typical classroom experience" and go "further to keep intelligent but under-motivated students from falling through the cracks."

Be honest about true dropout rates
May 24, 12:31 AM EDT

Interesting last line from Mr. Huth.

Interesting last line from Eric Huth the Metro Nashville Education Associaton negotiator is provided by the Nashville City Paper on 5/23.

“I think we’re all glad to have it behind us and ready to work together to get a tax increase for the boys and girls of Nashville” Huth said.

This is the top of the article:
Teachers to get raise
By Katharine Mosher, kmosher@nashvillecitypaper.com
May 23, 2005
The Metro Nashville Education Association (MNEA) and Board of Education closed negotiations last week settling contract items including salary issues and non-instructional time.

Metro schools employees will receive a 3 percent pay raise inclusive of the state raise as long as sufficient local funding is available.

I don't think the mayor checked the Fox 17 poll this morning before his speech.

What kind of tax would you support?
5% Property tax
9% Sales tax
7% Wheel tax
80% None

[Thanks to Ben Cunningham.]
Apparently Mr. Huth knew something we mere citizens had to wait until this morning to hear:

Purcell asks property, sales tax hikes
By Craig Boerner,
May 24, 2000
Posted: May 24, 8:50 a.m.
Mayor Bill Purcell today proposed an 84-cent property tax increase and a half-cent sales tax increase to meet the cost of running the city.
The majority of the half-cent sales tax increase would go to schools and the rest would be used for tax relief for senior citizens.

"I guess we'll pick her."

Physical Education in schools is the subject of this Nashville City Paper editorial from 5/23/05.

"Right now, Metro schools require two days of physical education a week for grades K-4. P.E. is an elective in middle school. In high school, students are required to take one year of P.E. and one year of lifetime wellness."

"The value of physical education classes is they not only teach athletics, but they teach a healthy lifestyle that students can then take into adulthood."
From my point of view PE taught many of us that our self-esteen was going to take a severe hit when it was time to choose up sides, that your otherwise impressive GPA suffers when you aren't able to do 20 laps of the pool or create a modern dance that looks half-way graceful and that the wait in line to get your turn at bat only interrupted your ongoing gossip about whatever clique you weren't in.

In my opinion, there needs to be plenty of wiggle and "outdoor voice" time in elementary schools, every day, a couple of times a day. No young child I've ever met was hardwired to sit quietly in one place for very long. Later on the emphasis should beless on learning a new sport and more on finding the physical activity that the child likes that will lead to maintenance of life-long fitness. Maybe if we retrofit treadmills and stationary bikes with PS2 controllers or book racks we'd make some progress. Wouldn't some love to get that equipment contract! Of course, bringing back neighborhood schools and providing safe sidewalks that children can utilize on their walk to school might work too.

She knows what works.

Sue Johnson, superintendent of Memphis City Schools is quoted in this Commercial Appeal article from 5/22/05. In this article she appears to acknowledge that they know the answer is smaller schools, more individualized instruction and teacher quality. Unfortunately it seems she offers the usual excuse, taxpayers are demanding

"economy of scale" resulting in the closing of existing smaller schools and merging them into larger school organizations. . . .
And she offers her own measuring stick of success:

"The true measure of success is increased high school graduation rates and higher post-secondary enrollment."
I'm sure parents and taxpayers will be glad to hold her accountable to that standard.

Pre-K Post-vote

The Tennessean education writers were very busy putting together a series of eleven articles on Pre-K . Maybe I wasn't paying attention, but shouldn't we have gotten this series before the legislature voted? I'll list the headlines with links to the articles. If you have any interest in reading them do so, or e-mail them to yourself quickly as the Tennessean has recently begun requiring payment for archived stories.

From the Sunday, 5/22/05 edition:

Head Start wonders how it will fit into Tennessee's pre-K plans
Day cares fear losing children to public pre-K
In the long term, Tennessee's pre-K wouldn't depend on lottery proceeds
South may lag in education overall, but it leads in pre-K
Governor: Pre-K gives kids an even chance
Pre-K studies
and from the Monday, 5/23/05 edition:
Agencies must play nice for pre-K plan to work
Pre-K not popular with everyone
Pre-K teachers in short supply, and new program demands more
State's pilot pre-K started small but set high standards
Price tag may limit what areas add pre-K

I sure hope I'm wrong, but I suspect this will go the way of kindergarten. That, too, was just for at-risk children, but now it's universal.

I grieve for all those young children who really need to be at home during those tender years. I'm amazed that the public school system hasn't educated parents to the point that they can pass on fundamental skills to their own children. This isn't rocket science and can be done by parents for the vast majority of children. We should be enabling parents to be their child's first teacher. The suggestion that simple lesson plans for parents to follow should be included in the "Imagination Library" was a great one and should have been tried first. But our education experts know best, or so they tell us.

And so while failing to get some 25% of their charges through a basic high school education, and somehow managing to successfully flip that failure, the educacrats have been rewarded with the care of even younger children. I'll bet you didn't even get one of their yellow "Pre-K Now" mugs, didja? Well, they haven't forgotten you. You will get the bill.

For those of you who'd like to explore alternatives check out http://universalpreschool.com/. From their main page:

"Yet, the demand for child care that stems from the increasing proportion of families that have both parents in the workforce, along with the agenda of special interest groups, have resulted in a national campaign to institutionalize all preschoolers through government mandated and funded "universal preschool." While government "preschool for all" programs may be convenient and profitable for adults, we need to stop and consider, "'What is best for young children?'"

[Added after initial posting]

Folks may also want to check http://www.cato.org/pubs/pas/pa-333es.html
"Public preschool for younger children is irresponsible, given the failure of the public school system to educate the children currently enrolled. The desire to "do something" for young children should be tempered by the facts, and proposals for universal preschool should be rejected."
And I'll repeat the URL for the Tennesse Center for Policy Research's article titled "Hard Lessons Learned: Applying 40 years of government pre-K to benefit Tennesse's children today".

Friday, May 20, 2005

A little help here, please.

My state senator, Joe Haynes and I disagree on a regular basis. Here is another instance.

According to this morning's Nashville City Paper, Sen. Haynes refused to allow an amendment to his bill (SB100) that would require voters to prove their US citizenship. I'm with Sen. Norris, I don't understand what could possibly be the objection to making sure that only citizens get to vote.

“Some of the fears that some of my democratic colleagues and I have are that this will make it difficult for some people to register to vote,” Haynes said. He added he did not believe every person could recall immediately where their birth certificates are.
Um...it's not like elections sneak up on folks and they're caught unaware of the event. I would think that any voter who took this responsibility seriously, would know that an election were coming, have researched the candidates and made sure their registration status was current. It's not that difficult to obtain your birth certificate. I suggest that everyone have a certified copy handy.

And don't we want to make it difficult for 'some people' (non-citizens) to register to vote? While we don't need to make voting unnecessarily difficult, something as basic as making sure only citizens elect our representatives seems an essential foundation to our republic. Proving you're a citizen is a long cry from our history which has required a poll tax be paid or land ownership.

Trying to work it out.

Those of you in Memphis don't want to miss Sen. Mark Norris' (R-Collierville) comments in the Commercial-Appeal this morning regarding the special school district legislation, SB2062.

To whet your appetitie:

The legislation would allow Memphis and Shelby County Schools to establish permanent, fixed boundaries and raise funds beyond those appropriated by Shelby County, subject to legislative approval.

Q: Explain exactly how the districts would operate if these proposals are ever approved.
Q: How has Memphis Mayor Willie Herenton's consolidation campaign affected the situation?

Q: How would these changes benefit students in the two school systems?

Q: Where have you found support for this proposal in Memphis?

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Where have I heard this before?

MNPS spokesman Woody McMillan is expressing the system's displeasure at the recent Newsweek rankings of schools which I blogged about last Thursday. Apparently, the magazine limited their study to public schools that 'take all comers' and not those that cherry pick students.

[Author Jay] Mathews said in an e-mail that he purposely chose not to include those schools because he wanted to develop a ranking "to honor schools that have done the best job in getting average students into college-level courses. It does not work with schools that have no, or almost no, average students."
It's a hard pill to swallow when your education choice keeps you on the outside, isn't it?

Failing the final exam.

If you're in Nashville and you're a taxpayer facing a property tax hike and wondering why the schools need more money, you're not alone. David Shearon has been asking hard questions and getting no answers. My questions to board member Marsha Warden on the NashvillePTOTalk list have gone unanswered. My personal e-mail to my board representative Lisa Hunt has been ignored. And this article from the Nashville Scene relates that the School Board is unable to answer the Mayor's questions also.

It's not that we don't want to provide schools with money they need but before we start peeling off money from our own tight budgets, we have a right to know where the money is going, why and if there is a better/cheaper way to do this. A lot of obfuscating and looking at each other for the answers isn't building confidence that the system knows what they're doing with the money they've already got.

Can't anyone answer these questions?

TSSAA rulings: Part II

I've been following with interest the influence the Tennessee Secondary School Athletic Association (TSSAA) has on students lives. There was an incident last week where one player spent five minutes playing with a local recreational team and his whole team was kicked out of tournament play per a TSSAA rule and now we have another incident where coaches came to a compromise about a baseball game in Greene County, but TSSAA in Nashville has the last word.

Joe Byrd of The Greenville Sun provides details and a good question.

The situation seemed pretty evident as early as about the second inning Monday night that there was a problem. Knowing it was unlikely a full seven innings could be played and a one-run game with youngsters’ seasons on the line, could the umpires have not suspended the game after four innings where it would not have been complete?

If the South Greene — who beat Unicoi County 13-8 during the regular season — had been trailing by eight or nine runs, it might have been a little easier to take, but it was a tie game in the middle of the sixth thanks to some heroics by the Rebels.

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Pet Peeve: lack of bill numbers.

A pet peeve of mine is when news outlets manage to go on and on about a piece of legislation without ever mentioning the bill number as if they can't afford the additional 8 characters worth of ink or 1.5 seconds worth of air time. That's a disservice to citizens who want to investigate the matter further and comment to their legislators.

To their credit, I've noticed the Tennessean has been doing a better job of including bill numbers this year and gone a step further by frequently including contact info for legislators.

The rest of you professional journalist: give the average citizen a bit of a hand and include those bill numbers. Thanks.

In the meantime, here's the State of Tennessee's search page for legislation. Ya might wanna bookmark that page.

Memphis/Shelby school consolidation--not this year.

I'm a bit handicapped here, not living in Memphis and, frankly, just not understanding Memphis politics generally, but I see this 'consolidation' issue is a hot topic out there.

My first notice came when doing a bit of research about Nashville's budget issues and came across this little gem from Memphis School district's publication, The Staffer dated Winter 2005. It seems almost gleeful in pointing out the Nashville system as the best evidence of why it shouldn't be done in Memphis. They also mention Knoxville, Jackson & Chattanooga. Specifically check pages 10-14 of this .pdf document.

The Commercial-Appeal in Memphis has what appears to be a good overview of the dustup.

"A week after the bill passed the state Senate 31-0, its sponsor, Rep. Tre Hargett, R-Bartlett, asked the House K-12 Education subcommittee on Tuesday to defer the bill to the 2006 legislative session. The panel agreed. It likely would have defeated the bill otherwise because the Memphis city school board decided Monday night to aggressively oppose the measure."
For further info on HB1982/SB2062 see their legislative info page.

With friends like this...

Showing a video is molestation.

This Davidson County teacher 'befriended' children with self-esteem issues and now, it appears, he's only compounded their problems. God help them. My heart is too full of grief for these children, anger at the adults in their lives that missed this, questions wondering how this can be stopped to think or write very clearly.

I know the number of teachers who take advantage of children is small, but it seems that not a month goes by without another one popping up. It's almost not news anymore. We've got to do better at preventing these sorts of people from having that position of authority in the lives of our children. Is it any wonder that good parents are becoming more and more uncomfortable with leaving their children with a system that regularly has to deal with this issue? How can we continue to compel people to enroll their children when incidents like this occur?

Our schools may have gotten too big. Too many strangers lumped together. Too many parents too disconnected from their children. Our natural societal accountability has broken down.

What should have and will be done to prevent this from happening again? For now, the teacher is on unpaid administrative leave. For now these children have a long road of healing ahead of them.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Choice = Renewal

Here's an interesting thought from our neighbors in Kentucky. The Bluegrass Institute looks at the numbers of parents fleeing the Kentucky public school system and asks us to consider Edmonton, Alberta, Canada's solution.

"Naysayers claim offering parents a choice of where to school their children will destroy public education. Instead, Edmonton’s entrepreneurial approach that centers on choice – which has been in effect for more than 30 years – has resulted in the closing of most private and charter schools. Only six private schools remain in Edmonton and several Christian schools have even asked to be included under the public-school system’s wing."
Don't overlook their "Ten Great Reasons Why Kentucky Children Deserve School Choice".

Proctor problems.

This Tennessean article by Claudette Riley highlights an incident that is being investigated in Robertson County. Incidents of teachers cheating on testing have become commonplace across the nation as their impact on teachers and school systems rose. I'm surprised that no one figured out long ago that the very teacher that was prepping the students, and would be accountable for the grades they get, shouldn't be the one proctoring the test.

"One major change, said Springfield High Principal Rick Highsmith, is that teachers will no longer be able to give the tests to their own students because there's so much riding on the exams. The test scores determine who is eligible to graduate, how well a teacher is rated at doing his or her job, and whether or not a school makes enough progress from one year to the next."

This conflict of interest was made obvious to me many years ago when my son was required to take the 2nd grade TCAP as a homeschooler in a large group of miscellaneous public and home schooled students. I had a lot of problems with that whole incident but one of the biggest was that the proctor would read the question and then would provide some reminder to the students of what they had covered in their public school preparations. This sort of help I considered completely out of line. While this had no impact on my son's score, there is no way of knowing if her prompts unfairly raised the scores of her students and so invalidated any serious examination of their weak points for remediation.

I applaud this change and would hope that this is done across the state.

Meeting the expectation of excellence.

Wendi C. Thomas, writing for the Memphis Commercial-Appeal offers her opinion on what schools need. According to her, it's more AP classes.

"The point I want to make is that at least a few public schools are doing what taxpayers expect them to do.

White Station is consistently a singular stellar example of what's possible in public education."
"Too few city schools offer the number of AP courses that would garner them a spot on Newsweek's list and, much more importantly, give students a distinct advantage in an increasingly competitive college admissions process."

Ms. Thomas isn't alone in her opinion. Many public school supporters have been saying for a long time that what these schools need to do is to focus on academics and raising the bar instead of being satisfied with just getting the children through the system. The thinking being that when children are expected to do well, they can, and do, meet the challenge. And when parents see that those public schools are committed to providing an excellent education they'll be less likely to move to the 'burbs which can have a devestating impact on the tax base and the school's support system.

See my related blog entry about Newsweek's list.

Monday, May 16, 2005

Gov. Pre-K poll is gone.

It was a silly attempt, imo, but once started shouldn't have been removed without reporting the results.

As of a moment ago, it's just gone without a word either on the front page or the education section.

A testing revelation.

Education Next has published their findings on state tests. The results are in and we're not as good as we think we are.

Because there is such a wide disparity between what is proficient in one state vs. another they decided to do some comparing. Their findings can be found in their Summer 2005 edition titled "Johnny Can't Read...In Some States".

"Because each state selects its own testing system and sets its own passing scores, there is no direct way to compare the proficiency levels established by one state against the others. However, NCLB does require each state to administer the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) to a sample of students in 4th and 8th grade in reading and in mathematics. Comparing the percentage of students achieving proficiency on state tests with the percentage achieving proficiency on the NAEP suggests how demanding each state’s standards are.

For instance, if only 50 percent of a state’s 4th graders are proficient by the nationally determined NAEP standard, but the state claims proficiency for 80 percent, then the state should be given an F for its failure to establish high expectations for its students. But if a state with an equivalent score on the NAEP says only 45 percent are proficient, then it should be given an A for having standards that exceed even those of the NAEP."
Tennessee is listed dead last. Well, 10 0ther states and DC may actually be last, but since they don't test their children, yet, we can't know for sure.

...or gallon of Purity milk.

Today's Tennessean carries quotes that are just so disconnected from our reality that I cannot let it pass without venting a bit. The article, which seems very pro-property tax increase makes the case that the increase is quite small:

"By the week, the increase is $4.33 — about the cost of a fancy cup of coffee at Starbucks."
...or a gallon of Purity milk. But we don't by Purity, we get Kroger brand 'cause it's cheaper at $3.19 a gallon according the freeware I use to track our grocery expenses. AND we go through 5 of those gallons every week. Shall I set up a rotating schedule of who doesn't get milk each week?

The article continues:
"That perspective on a tax increase is exactly what Metro needs as it decides whether to pay more money for schools, said Jim Pfeiffer, a parent whose children attend schools in Bellevue."
Mr. Pfeiffer's views on the budget are certainly welcome. But let's not put a lot of weight in this one "Bellevue view" of what families across the city can or cannot afford. However, Mr. Pfeiffer may have come upon the very problem with this discussion. Some seem to be insisting that we need a Starbucks budget when in reality we can only afford the store brand. So far my children are doing fine on the store brand milk. Maybe a budget that would force schools to concentrate on just the basics could be as effective for our school children.

Friday, May 13, 2005

Maybe it's the test that's inadequate.

Chattanooga City Judge, Russell Bean thinks the schools should take on the additional job of providing driver's education for teens in this Chattanooga Free-Press article.

"If this could not be implemented in our school system through a wellness program then maybe it could be at the drivers’ license testing centers prior to the granting of a learner’s permit, intermediate license, or driver’s license.
Sure it could be 'implemented in our school system' but don't schools already have enough to do? And where will the additional money come from sir? I'm thinking that maybe the driver's license examiners, who are already getting paid to make the judgment about the fitness of the applicant, ought to do their job and deny anyone who isn't capable.

Frankly, you couldn't pay me enough to get into a car with a complete stranger and be at their mercy. It's tough enough for me to sit in that front passenger seat with my son who is, in reality, doing a fine job of driving. Recently he participated in a program called "Driver's Edge" and both he and his father learned a few things that Mother's Day morning. I was happy to have this resource available and knowing he'll have a better understanding of what to do was a present to myself. This Tennessean article highlights the program's visit in Nashville. Maybe local car dealerships or insurance companies could meet this need, garner goodwill and offer a discounts to successful participants.

As a local councilman frequently says: "Government isn't the answer to everything."

Pre-K goes to conference committee.

Pre-K has now passed in both the House and Senate and will go to a conference committee to iron out the differences, back to each body for the expected "Ayes" and then on to the governor for his signature. Here are a few snips from local newspapers covering the issue.

Critics said the measure could eventually cost the state more than $200 million.

The Senate fought off a number of Republican-backed amendments that would have restricted the proposal and given private preschools more of the money.
He [Sen. David Fowler] said the program's own criteria calls simply for the teaching of such easy tasks as learning to use scissors and glue. The program is more about "baby-sitting" and was part of the state's efforts to "socialize" children, Fowler said. Knoville News Sentinal

I agree with Sen. Fowler. As I've said before, how is it that folks who've been mostly educated in the public school system cannot teach their own children the basics of colors, counting, matching and the proper use of scissors. All this sure comes across as an expansion of a system that has yet to provide a consistently successful track record.

[Clarksville's] Schools Director Sandra Husk said in March that if the district receives approval to operate preschool classes, $96,000 would have to be added to the school system's 2005-06 budget proposal for each class.

One main hurdle for the school district is finding available space for the classes, Wallace said.

"If we have the room, it's not going to be a huge impact on the budget," she said. "However, just because we apply does not mean we will be approved." Clarksville Leaf-Chronicle

Let's not overlook the fact that this $25 million from lottery funds is only the beginning. Local districts, already strapped for cash, will have to pony up also.

The administration is comfortable with the amendment, [which says that if there aren't enough 'at-risk' students non-at-risk children may be enrolled] said Patrick Smith, liaison to the governor's legislative office.

"We believe that it maintains the integrity of the program's high standards [with] a focus on serving at-risk children by allowing slots to be filled by other children when space is available," Smith said. Nashville City Paper
So, there may not even be enough at-risk students to fill classes? Then why create the program? I remember when all day kindergarten came to Nashville. The number of 'at-risk' 5 year olds was in the hundreds but for the sake of that small number all the children were compelled to leave their homes and spend the day away from moms and dads, g'mas and g'pas and private day cares that were, for the most part, doing a fine job caring for and training them.

So what about those at-risk three year olds? Are they next?

Thursday, May 12, 2005

All in the name of "fairness" I'm sure.

From Murfreesboro's "Daily News Journal" comes this amazing bit of unsportsmanslike conduct.

A Riverdale player participated in a Rutherford County Recreation League game for five minutes Saturday, which is a violation of the TSSAA's independent game rule.
1 player, 5 minutes, and the penalty is the that the entire team is out of the tournament. Seems to me it's the TSSAA that ought to be charged with unsportsmanlike conduct.

Here's the rule. Section 10 of the TSSAA Handbook, page 14.

Independent-Game Participation

Section 10. After a student’s name is listed on the school eligibility report, the student shall not participate in an independent game until the season has closed or his/her name has been removed from the eligibility report at the request of the school principal.

Any game in which players not registered with TSSAA participate – regardless of whether admission is charged – is considered as an independent game. Violation of this rule will render the student ineligible for 25% of the number of contests allowed in that sport by the sports calendar or for the remainder of the season in that sport, whichever number is the least. Violation of this rule a second time in the same sport in the same season will render the student ineligible in that sport for the remainder of the season. Page 14

A student’s name may be removed from the school’s eligibility list upon written request of the principal. After such a request has been filed with the state office, a student may then participate as an independent without penalty. If a principal requests the state office to remove a student’s name from the school’s eligibility list, such student may not again be certified during the season of that sport.

Smaller class sizes: TN study

This week the American Psychological Association reports on a study published by the Journal of Education Psychology which found that smaller class sizes "yield big rewards at graduation time -- especially for at-risk students".

Study authors Jeremy D. Finn, Ph.D., and Susan B. Gerber, Ph.D., of the University at Buffalo-The State University of New York and Jayne Boyd-Zaharias, Ed.D., of HEROS, Inc., tracked nearly 5,000 students from kindergarten through the 12th grade in 165 schools in connection with Tennessee’s class-size experiment of the 1980’s. The experiment, known as Project STAR, involved randomly assigning students entering kindergarten to a small class (13-17 students), to a full-size class (22-26 students), or to a full-size class with a full-time teacher aide within each participating school. The class size was maintained throughout the day and all year long. Students were kept in the same class arrangement for up to four years, with a new teacher assigned at random to the class each year.

Results show that for all students combined, four years in a small class in K-3 were associated with an 11.5 percent increase in high school graduation rates. This effect was even greater for low socio-economic students (students who were receiving free lunches). In fact, after four years in a small class, the graduation rate for free-lunch students was as great as or greater than that for non-free lunch students (more than doubling the odds of graduating). The study also revealed a strong relationship between mathematics and reading achievement in K-3 and graduation from high school.

“Our results contradict arguments that just one year in a small class is enough to reap long-term academic benefits,” says Dr. Finn. “Three or four years of small classes are needed to affect graduation rates, and three or four years have been found necessary to sustain long-term achievement gains.”

This just makes good sense to me, especially in the younger grades where vital foundational skills are being taught. Smaller classes mean more individualized attention and encouragement. Maybe all those 'consultant' teachers Jon Crisp mentioned should be sent into classrooms.

Here's an idea, trim the budget.

Kudos to Monroe County for, apparently, living within their means. From the Monroe County Advocate & Democrat.

Director of Sweetwater City Schools Dr. Keith Hickey told city school board members Monday the central office staff is still trimming on the 2005-06 budget.

Hickey said for the third year in a row, employee insurance costs increased by more than 10 percent and the amount the school system pays into the retirement fund increased this year as well.

The director of schools also said the school system has lost more than $170,000 (total) in revenue during the last two years because the city system’s enrollment has stabilized.

I'm not sure how you lose money when you haven't lost students. Maybe someone can explain that one.

Best high schools: only 4 in Tennessee

Newsweek magazine's cover article this week is about the best 1000 public high schools in the US. Sadly, Tennessee has only four of those top 1000.

Those four are:
#339--Brentwood High
#360--Oak Ridge High
#621--White Station (Memphis)
#812--Hillsboro High (Nashville)

Troubling for me is the emphasis on how prepared these students are for the "workforce" as is mentioned several times in this series of articles. Being able to meet the needs of employers shouldn't be the major factor in deciding what consitutes a successful education system. Is the system designed to meet the needs of employers or students? Some, like John Taylor Gatto, a former NY State Teacher of the Year, say yes. I'm reminded of the Metro Nashville Public Schools guarantee.

"Recognizing that the economic well-being of our community depends on a skilled workforce, Metro Schools offers local business and industry a guarantee for the
skills of its graduates. Employers of Metro Schools' graduates who find that their
employees are in need of additional training in basic skills may refer that person
back to the system for additional training.

All services are free and include individual assessment, counseling and
computer-assisted instruction. Employers may call the Assessment Counselor,
298-6750 for information about making employee referrals."

Why is there no guarantee available to the student, or their parents, or taxpayers? I'm waiting for a malpractice suit to set this all straight.

[Edited 5/12/05 10:45 a.m. to include school names and correct headline.]

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Pre-K poll on Governor's new blog

Governor Bredesen's new blog is getting a lot of hype. He includes a poll about Pre-K. You're welcome to vote at:


It's been my experience that these sort of Internet polls are a lot like high school popularity contests. The results are really no surprise, voting for Pedro notwithstanding. If Governor Bredesen really makes policy and monetary decisions based on polls, we've got bigger troubles than we knew.

If you've got a moment stop in and vote. Might be kinda fun if the outcome were a surprise.

(Thanks Ben)

Invitation: Book Discussion: Underground History of Public Education

Virtual friends of mine are hosting a Yahoo group that will read and discuss John Taylor Gatto's "Underground History of American Education" and you are encouraged to join. I highly recommend reading this book. It's not your usual light summer beach read, but you'll be a better advocate for your child's education as a result. It's long, it's wordy, it's enlightening, it's nearly impossible to believe at times but its well worth your time. My own pre-publication copy is filled with notes I was compelled to scribble down as I read some of this astonishing material during my read through several years ago. I've joined the list and I hope to see you there.

Join the group at: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/EduTalk/

You can purchase the book or read it online at: http://www.johntaylorgatto.com/chapters/index.htm

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

News flash! The unions support bigger budget.

Oh, yeah, that was a given, wasn't it? ;-)

A press release from the Metro Nashville Public Schools tells those just now crawling out from under their rocks that the three unions whose members' jobs depend on an increased budget, are all for-- an increased budget.

The release dated 5/10/05 from their Public Information Officer Woody McMillin is titled "Key Stakeholders Endorse Proposed 2005-2006 MNPS Budget" I would have defined 'stakeholders' as the children in the classrooms.

MNEA President Ralph Smith: "With this budget, we will have more of the tools and services we need."
Notice he says only 'more'. It will never be enough money, I'm sure.
SEIU President Don Driscoll: "When people think of a school district, they tend to think mostly about teachers and principals."
I would hope they think mostly of children.
United Steel Workers Union, Local 9426's Mary Eady : "Representing the men and women who are responsible for safely transporting thousands of Metro Nashville Public School students every school day, our USW chapter is pleased to support the proposed 2005-2006 budget."
Who's representing the children? See below.

And finally this from a person charged with advocating for the children:
Pam Garrett, Chair of the Metro Nashville Board of Public Education, said the support from MNEA, SEIU and USW “demonstrates a unified voice to work for children.”
Ms. Garrett, these voices may be unified but they're not the only voices that count, in fact they ought to be discounted. I'd encourage you to stay tuned into the voices of parents, and especially those taxpayers who are going to have to cough up that extra money. Some of us are wondering if we'll have much left to take care of our own children. Oh, yeah, and we vote too.

And lest this be considered some sort of anti-teacher rant. It's not. I know very well that we have hundreds of self-sacrificing, dedicated, and child loving people in our public school system. I'm just amazed at the public statements their representatives make. Perhaps some time in detention is in order.

Hamilton County Board member speaks out.

Refreshingly blunt comments from Hamilton County School Board member Rhonda Thurman.

She said teachers should give up their memberships in the Hamilton County Education Association, an affiliate of the state and national education associations. Unions view education as an employee opportunity, she said.
Mrs. Thurman said more money could be kept in local schools if parents joined parent-teacher organizations instead of parent-teacher associations, which she called negotiating arms for teachers.
Mrs. Thurman said she was asked to talk about what she would do in the school system if she were "queen" for a day.
"Besides firing some people at the central office, the second thing I’d do is turn maintenance over to the county," she said. Chattanooga Times-Free Press
If I remember correctly, the fastest growing segment of the National Education Association and its affiliates is support personnel, like custodians, drivers, cafeteria workers, office staff and something called 'paraeducators'. I'm sure the TEA would will fight hard to prevent a loss of maintenance system employees from their union, regardless of whether it's more efficient or not. But I think it's something we ought to seriously consider in this time of very tight money.

(Thanks to Ben.)

Testing scored by computers.

After reading about how the SAT essays are scored (below) are computer graders the answer?

Software now scores everything from routine assignments in high school English classes to an essay on the GMAT, the standardized test for business school admission. (The essay section just added to the Scholastic Aptitude Test for the college-bound is graded by humans). NewsMax.com


Prompted to write on workplace injuries, [UC-Davis lecturer Andy] Jones instead input a letter of recommendation, substituting "risk of personal injury" for the student's name.

"My thinking was, 'This is ridiculous, I'm sure it will get a zero,"' he said.

He got a five out of six.

A second time around, Jones scattered "chimpanzee" throughout the essay, guessing unusual words would yield him a higher score.

He got a six.

Maybe not.

Looking for local resources.

I've had a request for local public school resources for parents. I'd like to help parents find local lists, blogs, websites and resources. If readers of this blog will e-mail me with the URL or contact info for their local resources I'll be glad to list them in the right margin of this blog.

Thanks for your help.

Charter schools: House K-12 committee today

I encourage parents and taxpayers to support charter schools as a way to expand our system, bring some accountability to the system, and allow families to choose a public school that meets their child's needs. The system ought to exist for the children not the other way around.

Nothing could be a more dramatic retelling of this battle than the difference between Sen. Jim Bryson's weekly update and that of the Tennessee Education Association (TEA).

From Sen. Bryson weekly update of 5/8/05:

Tennessee Education Association (TEA) fought the bill at every level. In committee, the TEA testified that in other states charter schools had not been successful. They cited statistics stating “charter school students did no better than students from other public schools.” They neglected to mention that charter schools typically enroll at-risk students; therefore, reaching the performance level of other schools is quite an accomplishment!! It was almost sad to sit on the Education Committee and watch the TEA struggle to come up with arguments against charter schools. Their arguments were weak at best and groundless in general.

More than any other vote this year, the vote on charter schools showed the strength of the TEA in this Senate. With only 10 votes against charter schools, it is obvious TEA’s influence in the Senate is waning.

The charter schools bill will have more difficulty in the House. The TEA is stronger and Democrats have a numerical advantage. However, the Senate has made a statement that we are willing to try some new things in education.

We can’t continue to be 47th in education. We owe it to our children to find ways to improve the system. By their nature, charter schools are education laboratories where innovations can be introduced, tested and evaluated. I’m proud to serve on an Education Committee and in a Senate that is willing search for new ways to improve education.
From the TEA's weekly Legislative Report dated 5/6/05:

Charter School Expansion Bill Rammed Through Senate
Gives “Blank Check” to Experimental, Unproven Schools

This means that 25% of the school’s enrollment can be “cherry picked” from any population of students! For the following reasons, the Senate-passed bill potentially will have a very negative impact on public schools:

  • It makes thousands of additional students eligible to attend these unproven schools.
  • It very dangerously waives rules, regulations, and even statutes – the waiver (with some limited health and safety exceptions) would be automatic, and would not have to be approved.
  • It allows unlimited numbers of these experimental schools to be created.
  • It takes away virtually all local school board control of charter schools.
  • A charter school would have complete fiscal autonomy from the local education agency. (Note: Several charter schools in other states have been closed due to fraud and financial mismanagement.)
  • It drains much needed funding from the education budget.

The TEA regularly uses the phrase 'cherry pick' as if it was a pre-meditated federal crime. It's not. These schools are PUBLIC schools and but they operate under a different set of rules as determined by the representatives of the citizens of our state. Throwing around words like unproven, dangerous, blank check and unlimited as a fear tactic fully demonstrates to me how factless their position is. Professional educators, who have tried a whole host of experimental educational plans on our children, have begged us for years to allow their experiments the time and finances necessary to be proven as valuable. Let's do the same for charter schools. At least, this time, it's an experiment that parents are choosing.

A slew of charter bills are scheduled in the House K-12 committee this morning. I hope folks will e-mail and call legislators expressing their support for educational freedom for our children.

Parents urged to investigate local schools.

I always encourage parent investigation and participation in their local education system. A resolution is being offered for examination and vote in the next Southern Baptist convention and some folks will get their undies in a bundle. Hopefully, what really comes of this is a serious, non-emotional discussion of just what ought to be taught in our public schools. There is a lot in the curriculum that does displease parents and taxpayers.

From Dr. Voddie Baucham Jr.,: "I am convinced that if government schools had to recruit students by sending out brochures outlining the academic, moral and spiritual aspects of their curriculum, most Baptists would throw it in the trash without a second thought. However, when these schools can hide behind stealth phrases like tolerance, safe schools, multiculturalism and safer sex, parents are often unaware of the dangers lurking beneath the surface. Moreover, parents who speak up are often branded as narrow-minded bigots with outdated values.
It's always seemed odd to me that this system spends so much of it's time and energy on touting multiculturalism and diversity but the heritage of some is more considered and valued than the heritage of others and that's a huge problem.

Charter schools is one answer. No they're not yet perfect, but neither is the current system. Nothing ever will be. That's why parents, who by and large, really do have their children's best interests at heart, ought to be placed in the driver's seat and provided options. It's one thing for a system to teach math and reading, it's another when they 'socialize' children to leave the heritage and faith of their families.

Thursday, May 05, 2005

SAT essay: Go for length.

MIT's Dr. Les Perelman crunched the numbers on the new SAT essays and:

He was stunned by how complete the correlation was between length and score. "I have never found a quantifiable predictor in 25 years of grading that was anywhere near as strong as this one," he said. "If you just graded them based on length without ever reading them, you'd be right over 90 percent of the time." The shortest essays, typically 100 words, got the lowest grade of one. The longest, about 400 words, got the top grade of six. In between, there was virtually a direct match between length and grade." NY Times 5/4/05
Just amazing. "What a waste of money", parents are thinking. But their children have known all along how to flesh out an essay. Who knew the answer was in the funny papers.

[Thanks to Tracy and SS for the cartoon link update.]

Truancy and push outs.

This report is out of Lansing MI, but it's remarkable that this attendance officer 'gets it'.

Patrick Wilson [Attendance Coordinator]: "Some say they will homeschool their child, and it does 2 things- avoids me the chance to prosecute them any further, and #2, it ruins homeschoolers reps that are trying to do the right thing." WLNS television, Lansing, MI

For years homeschoolers have noticed an increase in what we call 'push outs'. When there are discipline issues with a child, the public school may suspend them for the year. So the parent registers as a homeschooler because they cannot afford a private school, or the school won't accept a child with a discipline problem and so homeschooling is the only option. The parents are completely unprepared for this sudden lifestyle change. They resent the fact that the system they assumed would do the job, won't. They've already got a full time job and they write me desperate to know how to enroll their child in a 'homeschool' where they can drop their child off for an education. I have to give them the bad news that they may have to quit their jobs and educate them about the rules and give them resources to begin this job themselves.

The downsides are, as homeschoolers have seen and this attendance coordinator testifies, the child isn't really educated and the name of homeschooling suffers unintended collateral damage.

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Coming to a middle school near you.

A new video is being produced aimed at keeping children from starting on a very dangerous drug path. "Meth is Death" is a product of the Tennessee District Attorney's Conference according to this Knoxville New-Sentinel report.

It was deemed "too graphic" to be shown to elementary school pupils, [Knox County Schools Superintendent Charles] Lindsey said.

"You can call it a scare tactic, but it needs to be scary," Lindsey said. "We are willing to try just about anything to encourage kids to stay away from meth ? it is an extremely dangerous drug."

Parents may want to decide for themselves if this is too graphic for their own children. It's a serious subject and maybe knowing the movie is on the way to your child's classroom will encourage some frank conversations between parents and their children.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse has the medical facts, the White House Office on Drug Control Policy is also helpful with a lot of additional links, and the Tennessee Association of Alcohol and Drug Abuse Services has a less technical fact sheet for us mere mortals.

How about legislative trading cards instead?

This report from the Knoxville News-Sentinel says legislation to require current photographs be included with lobbyist registrations, which would then be posted on the web, has died.

As a visitor at the legislature I understand how hard it is to know who the players are. Legislators wear tiny lapel pins (I guess we're supposed to know who they are) and lobbyist wear ID on lanyards which are frequently turned backwards or hidden by ties or scarves and so rarely allow their ID to actually be read.

I think everyone who works down there ought to wear a big name badge on their shoulder so we'll know immediately who it is we're passing in the halls or talking to and we'll know if they're a legislator, lobbyist, the press or a hard working intern. It shouldn't take an entire session of hit and miss interaction and homework for mere citizens to get the lay of the land in that underground world.

It's little things like this accomodation to lobbyists that is so discouraging to the public concerned about understanding who is really doing what in their capitol.

Was it not big enough or yellow enough to see?

Things like this seem to happen on a regular basis. I don't know how. This from the Knoxville New-Sentinel:

A Murfreesboro woman was cited for following too closely by Knoxville police after her 1998 Nissan Maxima rear-ended a Sevier County school bus on the University of Tennessee campus Tuesday afternoon.


Three students on the bus were sent to Children's Hospital of East Tennessee "just to be checked," DeBusk said. There were 32 students from Seymour Intermediate School on the bus on a field trip to McClung Museum.

Charter schools: Our children need options.

Jerry Winters (TEA spokesman) expressed his concern about the inconsistent performance of charter schools in an article from the Knoxville News-Sentinel and further:

"Given the unproven history of these schools, I don't understand why the General Assembly is so enamored with the concept," Winters said. "I'm not totally objecting to charter schools, I just think they should serve as laboratories."

The General Assembly is 'so enamored' because American's love freedom and the public school monopoly runs counter to that independent streak.

I read his comments as very protectionist of the current system that benefits his organization's agenda and members more than it does the students in their charge. Schools have been laboratories of current educational programs for decades. My brother was the victim of one educational experiment in education and it took quite a while for him to overcome it.

The only problem with this charter experiment is that it doesn't allow the current constraints, so ably protected by Mr. Winters and his associates in the legislature, that maintain their control over the children to remain in place. Remember, these are still public schools, funded by tax dollars and required to show that they work or they can be closed. When was the last time you heard of a public school being closed for failure to educate?

The current public school system doesn't work for all children. I point to the poor graduation rate of our children, somewhere between 57 and 75%. I point to the fact that instead of funding a college education for the seniors that do manage to graduate the governor wants to take a big chunk of that money to finance a Pre-K program because 13 years under the care of the current educrats isn't enough time to teach children the basics. I point to articles in papers yesterday saying shocking things like 40% of Memphis seniors have yet to pass all three Gateway exams.

Parents, who know their children best and have their best interests at heart, are desperately needing options for their children. Why should we deny them those option? Because 'experts' don't want their expertise questioned or shown up by others not in their clique? Not good enough.

Dedrick Briggs, executive director of the Tennessee Charter School Alliance, has fought long and hard to give parents options for their children. He needs our support, as do the children of Tennessee.

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

Gateway test week or weak?

Gateway tests are the focus of many high school seniors and their parents this week. If a student fails any of the three Gateway tests in mathmatics, science and language arts they will not receive a diploma.

Opinions in the press range from the optimistic in Knoxville to the nearly dismal in Memphis.

When the results come back the blame game will begin. Fingers will be pointed at the students themselves, teachers, parents, curriculum, local superintendents and even the graders. Regardless, the fact will remain that despite 13 years in the system these students still don't have the background necessary for many of today's jobs, let alone skills for just living in our world. While we'll say 'they failed' in reality 'we failed' to provide the education they needed.

And then to turn this around a bit, why can't a student who manages to pass these tests much earlier, say 11th grade, get their diploma and move on to college or technical school?

For those of you who aren't sure what these are you may want to start with Claudette Riley's article in the Tennessean and then move on to the State of Tennessee Education page.

So how much teacher abuse is there?

It must be sweeps time in the television world. This teaser, from the AP out of Nashville, is being reported by WMC-TV in Memphis, and WBIR-TV and WATE in Knoxville and contains just enough info to catch your ear/eye but not enough to satisfy.

Between the three of them there is very little hard information. "Forty six Tennessee teachers have lost their licenses because of sex crimes against students in the past five years. One hundred fifty cases are still pending. " And an unnamed entity is studying the issue.

Parents are trusting the system with their precious children and need the facts about this serious issue not alarmist headlines. How do these reports fill any community need at all? Too many unanswered questions. For some perspective there are some 59,000 public school teachers in Tennessee. Over a five year period46 is a small number. Granted, we need to work hard at getting that number much closer to zero.

These television stations have, imo, been very self-serving in throwing out these headlines. As professional journalists, they ought to know, and do, better.