Thursday, June 30, 2005

TN DOE awards assessment contract

The Princeton Review's K-12 Services Wins Tennessee Statewide Contract for Formative Assessments
Thursday June 30, 11:26 am ET

NEW YORK, June 30 /PRNewswire-FirstCall/ -- John Katzman, CEO of The Princeton Review Inc. (Nasdaq: REVU - News), announced that the Tennessee Department of Education has awarded the company's K-12 Services division a statewide contract to implement formative assessments. Tennessee's program will be one of the first in the country to provide formative assessments on a statewide basis.


The contract with The Princeton Review provides online delivery of formative assessments, which are tests in math and reading given at strategic intervals throughout the school year. The Princeton Review is also providing professional development for Tennessee's teachers to help them understand the data and how to use the results to make instruction responsive to students' needs. This project is funded under an agreement with the State of Tennessee.

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

School politics really can be cut throat

I wrote last week elsewhere that school politics can be some of the nastiest of all politics. The folks in Washington County (see previous post) are an example. But in Wyoming they've taken it a lot further:

[Superintendent of Public Instruction Trent] Blankenship told Riverton Ranger editor Steve Peck that [Governor Dave] Freudenthal told the group, "Don't ever cross me or your head will be in your lap before you even know I've drawn my knife." From Wyoming News

Yikes. Everyone to your corners, now.

The education field = stable employment

Stuck in the middle of a fairly mundane article about older workers going back to school for additional training when their jobs are phased out or outsourced came this very interesting quote in the Gallatin News Examiner regarding what training these older workers are choosing, According to Sumner ounty Director of Schools Benny Bills:

Education is a very popular choice because of its stability, he added, since people don’t have to worry about a company being bought out or a job being outsourced.

And so there you have it. I'm one who thinks that a bit of instability in the education system via some legitimate competition and accountability is necessary in order to encourage it to be excellent. There is a reason the phrase 'good enough for government work' is used.

Super lawsuit--can we have elections now?

Washington County Director of Schools Grant Rowland is the center of a battle with several parents in his district. Last week families initiated a $25 million lawsuit against the school district as a result. The issues as reported by and the Herald & Tribune include his decision to paint over a memorial mural honoring one teen who had died, a bullying policy that isn't being enforced to their satisfaction and vandalism of the signs one parent has posted in her yard calling for the ouster of Rowland and and other petty and childish retaliatory nonsense.

After the painting over of the mural parents banded togther to create the Washington County Concerned Citizens for Education and it appears that that is when things got ugly.

If half of this parent's story is true there is serious trouble with the leadership in this system. Looks like the failure of SB0217, SB1168, SB1780, SB1897 which all would have allowed the election of superintendents might have helped. Unfortunately, none of them even got a hearing.

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

A history lesson for the Maryville BOE

In a curious twist an African American man, suspended from the NAACP, will carry the confederate flag from Johnson City to Maryville to protest the June 13 decision by the Maryville BOE to the ban the Rebel Flag.

Using Dave Shearon's favorite quote, Mr. H. K. Edgerton says:

``It's like it was scripted,'' Edgerton said in the release. ``A school board bans Confederate symbols. The students or parents get in touch with us. We point out to the schools that they are violating the students' rights. Sometimes the school board listens; sometimes it doesn't. If it doesn't listen, we go to court.''

Edgerton claimed his group ``very often'' wins in court.

``You'd think they'd pay attention after awhile. But then, I'm reminded of a quote from Mark Twain: `In the first place God created idiots. This was for practice. Then he made school boards.''' From the Maryville Daily Times

Oh, and fair warning--Mr. Edgerton's web site, the Southern Legal Resource Center, will play Dixie over your computer speakers.

Summer school in math class.

Nashville is not alone in our budget crunch. From the Jackson Sun we learn that Jackson-Madison County Schools are having serious troubles of their own. Typically, the lead is about how teacher will suffer as a result of this lack of funds. The children do get a slight mention at the end.

The school budget trouble seems to be the natural result of the trouble the county, itself, is having.

Meanwhile, some county leaders went to Nashville on Friday to discuss the $5 million in loans with state officials. County officials warned the state they may be late making some payments on the loans - which total $3 million from the county's interdepartmental fund and $2 million from First Tennessee Bank. The County Commission will meet at 6 p.m. Thursday at the West Tennessee Agricultural Experiment Station, 605 Airways Blvd., to consider an amendment to the 2004-2005 budget to make it more accurately reflect this current situation. Options suggested by the state comptroller's office included extending the repayment plan and paying more interest or floating general fund bonds - which could give the county as much as 20 years to pay the debt but also could hurt its credit rating.

School Board Chairman Ben Rudd, who was part of the delegation that went to Nashville, said it should not be surprising that the schools have to cut the budget.

''We've cut it every year since I've been associated with the board. It is extremely rare to have a total budget request accepted,'' he said.

Shouldn't one of the first lessons we teach by example to our students be fiscal responsibility? Considering our dangerous debt load in this may be a much more important lesson than any that might be learned in an extra-curricular activities or via art and music.

Hip, Hip...ummm...hold that thought.

I was wondering if all the hoopla around Metro Nashville Public School's scores were to be believed. Seemed too good to be true when their budget was hanging in the balance. Dave Shearon actually took a few minutes to examine the issue and makes four good points we all ought to consider.

"Student's don't have to go to school..."

Hamilton County schools are utilizing the web instead of summer school and Education Week highlighted their efforts in the June 15 edition.

Students in Tennessee’s Hamilton County schools won’t trudge to classrooms in the syrupy July heat for summer school. Instead, they can boot up a computer at home or almost any place else with an Internet connection and take classes online.

The summer Web-based classes will supplant the 40,000-student district’s traditional summer school courses, according to a district official.

I'm always glad to see more education options being utilized. But as a homeschooling mom I had to smile when I read the following quote:

“Students don’t have to go to school, they don’t have to put on [school] clothes, and the teacher can sit with a cup of coffee or with a baby on her knee while [she teaches],” said Charlene Becker, the director of instruction for secondary schools for the Hamilton County district, which includes the city of Chattanooga.

Additional information can be read at

The convenience and flexibility of Hamilton County’s Virtual School program has made the program very attractive to students outside of Hamilton County Schools. Each year, the program continues to see an increase in enrollments by students from other public school systems in Tennessee, as well as private school students and home school students.

Now, let's see how far we can extend this legitimate educational delivery system in the State of Tennessee.

4th of July fireworks: NEA style

If you aren't on Mike Antonucci's Education Intelligence Agency e-list you'll be missing out on some of the most complete information about education generally, and specifically about the NEA convention held every year over the 4th of July.

EIA Coverage of NEA Representative Assembly Begins July 2.

For the eighth consecutive year, EIA will provide daily gavel-to-gavel coverage from the floor of the National Education Association Representative Assembly. The first communiqué will be issued from Los Angeles the evening of Saturday, July 2, and each evening thereafter until the convention closes on July 6. Subscribers will automatically receive those bulletins via e-mail as usual, and they will also be posted on the EIA web site shortly after transmission. The direct link is and there will also be a permanent link to the bulletins on the home page at
I will be available via e-mail for your questions and comments during the convention, but please make allowances for delays in my response. Delegates and guests are welcome to visit with me by the press section (left of the stage as you face it), but be aware I am restricted from wandering around the convention floor.

I'm not surprised they won't let Mike wander around. Do yourself and the children you know a big favor--subscribe at

Friday, June 24, 2005

Getting honest about grad rates

The Education Trust has published their findings on graduation rates and the news for Tennessee isn't good. In their "Getting Honest About Grad Rates: How States Play the Numbers and Students Lose" they report on page three that Tennessee is one of 31 states that have said "that any improvement in the graduation rate is sufficient to meet the Adequate Yearly Progress provisions of No Child Left Behind. " They also report that the state says that we have a 76% graduation rate while the "Cumulative Promotion Index (CPI) created by Christopher Swanson of the Urban Institute" considers the graduation rate to be 18% lower at 58%.

Page 13 reports that there was absolutely no change in the graduation rate in the 2001-02 and 2002-03 school year.

Page 14 compares state reported rates v. CPI rates for African-American, Latino and Native-American students--62, 64 and 77% respectively.

And finally page 15 compares rates for Low-Income Students, Students with Disabilities, and Students with Limited English Prociciency. However, all the columns contain report this information was available for Tennessee.

The introduction to this report is absolutely correct:

"The states that are reporting inaccurate graduation-rate data are doing themselves a huge disservice. They're depriving educators, policymakers and advocates of crucial information necessary to create a sense of urgency for high school improvements. And they're leaving educators vulnerable to accusations of dishonesty."

I would add that while we have pushed hard in our medical arena for 'informed consent' we have nothing comparable in the education field and it may be just as important considering that when a system fails to educate a child the cycle of frustration that results can often end in violence and a ruined life.

Maybe a bus monitor would have been wise.

It's stories like this one from Sevier County that make me wonder why we don't have a second adult on school busses monitoring the children. Who knows what good could come from having a few minutes with a friendly adult on the ride to school in the morning. Maybe a bit of help with the homework? Someone to confide in about an issue at school. Someone to keep order so the driver can concentrate on getting them back and forth safely.

Mother sues Sevier school system
$5.5-million lawsuit alleges racial hostility
KNOXVILLE - The mother of a Seymour Intermediate student filed a $5.5-million federal lawsuit against the county school system here Wednesday morning, claiming school officials failed to protect her son from racial hostility on the part of other students and school personnel.
Reports from the Sevier County Sheriff's Department confirm that in February, a white female student charged Shipwash's client [a black male] with exposing himself on the bus. [From the Mountain Press.]

How many school bus monitors can we pay for with $5.5 million?

He doesn't mince words.

I came across a new website called . And I thought John T. Gatto didn't mince words! This is Joel Turtel's site and yes, he is hawking a book. It's called "Public Schools, Public Menace". I haven't read it but I can agree wholeheartedly with this part of his site:

Watch out for these danger signals, and pay attention to them:

1. Does your child say he or she hates school?

2. Does your child come from school tired and cranky?

3. Does your child come home complaining about conflicts that they’ve had in school and unfair situations that they have been exposed to?

4. Has your child lost interest in creative expression through art, music, and dance?

5. Has your child stopped reading for fun, or reading or writing for pleasure? Is your child doing just the minimum for homework and going off for some escapist activity?

6. Does your child procrastinate until the last minute to do homework?

7. Does your child come home talking about anything exciting that happened in school that day? If not, maybe nothing exciting is happening for your child in school.

8. Did the school nurse or guidance counselor suggest that your normal, healthy child has some strange four-lettered disease, like ADHD, and that they should now be given Ritalin or some other drug?

9. Does your child find it difficult to look an adult in the eye, or to interact with children younger or older than they are?

10. Does your child’s reading or writing ability seem far below what you would expect for his or her grade level?

And I have heard parents say the very things Mr. Turtel speaks about here:

However, I knew that the subject of education and public schools required a much fuller treatment. That is why I wrote my second book, Public Schools, Public Menace. I also wrote this book because I happen to love kids. I love their bright, creative, spontaneous minds and energy. After doing research for this book, I was appalled and frightened at how badly public schools can hurt our children. These schools can cripple childrens’ spirit, their love of learning, their ability to read, and teach them values that many parents despise.[ From his About page.]
They sent bright happy children off to kindergarten and sullen and dispondent spirits stepped off the bus.

Who would bully Bredesen?

An anecdote about Gov. Phil Bredesen's younger years starts this Nashville City Paper article on the new anti-bullying law which I blogged about in April. So far it looks like he turned out OK, despite that earlier rough treatment.

But for me, the most interesting part of this article comes at the end:

The Tennessee School Board Association plans to create a model policy that will be distributed to local school districts. The districts will then have the discretion to draft their own, [Sen. Diane] Black [R-Gallatin] said. Under the new law, school districts are required to file a copy of their bullying policy with the Commissioner of Education by Jan. 1, 2006.


Black says she would like to see how the law works for at least a couple years to allow for the system to develop statistical information regarding the problem. In addition, teachers would be able to provided input as to how well the law works, she said.

How about input from parents, eh?

Thanks for your support, but...

Sometimes your friends mean well, but it just doesn't really help. Chattanooga school board member Charles Love was indicted in Operation Tennessee Waltz. Coming to his defense and supporting his continuing to participate in school board business the following comment was made:

[Love & State Senator Ward Crutchfield] only been indicted," said school board member Debra Mathews. "We can look at Michael Jackson. He was indicted, you know... and he was found not guilty, so I'ma [sic] take a wait and see attitude. From Channel 9.

Do you really want the names of a two time indicted child molester and a school board member in the same sentence?

Sen. Crutchfield was serving as the school board's legal advisor but resigned once indicted. The news report continues with:

They say they have received resumes from people who want to apply for the vacant spot. But instead of filling the position, the board elected to take a step back. After some debate, they voted unanimously tonight to approve a legal committee. The three-person committee will decide whether a replacement for Crutchfield is necessary. Some say the board will do just fine without him, or someone to take his place.
Umm...maybe they could have figured this out before now, money being as tight as it is and all.

East TN Teacher does a lot of talking.

Duran Williams, principal of Cosby High and a member of the Tennessee Education Association board did a lot of talking to the Greene County Democratic Party the other night. All this is snipped from Greene County Online.

Speaking to members of the Greene County Democratic Party, Williams said the federal government provides only about 9 percent of the funding for his school system, but federal rules drive state-mandated tests and many other requirements. As a result, students are over-tested, he said.

And so why don't we consider doing what Utah has done and reject the money? Or is that last struggle with states' rights still a sore spot?

In the future, he predicted more emphasis will be placed on physical education in Tennessee schools, and also on better nutrition.


American children are usually compared to those of countries where only children capable of high levels of academic achievement are educated.

“It’s the top 30 percent of Japanese students” who are compared to all U.S. students, he said.

This made me laugh, maybe I shouldln't have but I couldn't believe he didn't see the obvious:

Charter schools “have a documented record of failure” in many places, Williams said, though he acknowledged that some charter schools also have done very well.

The same can be said of public schools.

And finally this on tenure and the state legislature:

“Don’t let anyone tell you you can’t get rid of a bad teacher” who has tenure, Williams said.

He said this can be done if a strong case is documented, over a period of time. Later, however, he said it has been 10 years since a tenured teacher was removed in Cocke County.

The tenure issue will continue to be debated, he said, and there is a bill before the legislature that would allow teachers to “sell their tenure for cash,” in effect a cash payment for teachers who would relinquish the protection.
I couldn't find such a bill filed during this 104th General Assembly. Maybe somene's still working on this? And who would sell their tenure? What's the upside to doing that?

But will the union let it join?

At the University of California - San Diego (UCSD), two robots are attending nursery school to teach songs, colors and shapes to one- and two-year old children. QRIO (for "Quest for Curiosity") from Sony, and RUBI (for "Robot Using Bayesian Inference"), developed at the Machine Perception Laboratory of UCSD, are there to study the uses of interactive computers for early childhood education. "RUBI is a three foot tall, pleasantly plump robot with a head and two arms. It stands on four non-motorized rubber wheels for moving it easily from place to place." Preliminary results show that the children like the robots, and even hug them -- until they're bored.
Not only is Rosie the Robot doing the housekeeping, she's got a job at a daycare. Please. No one does this most important task better than mom. Surely someone else sees that human interaction has no substitute. Do we want our children to start emulating Rosie or real people?It's so sad to see this child trying to hug a hunk of metal. How about we let the robots do the work and people validate the higher value of children by taking care of that most important job ourselves.

(Thanks to Ben.)

We took a bridge to where we didn't want to go.

The news is full of articles and opinions on the latest Supreme Court decision Kelo, et. al. v. New London, CT, et. al. The opinion essentially says that your property can be taken from you by the government for the use of for-profit companies that will provide the government with more tax income that you have been. It's an outrageous decision. But considering how often this has been done in Nashville, it's not real surprise. It's just that you put your hope and trust in the Supreme Court actually consulting the highest authority in our land--the Constitution. Obviously, I'm a literalist and don't understand that the meaning of plain words don't mean what they used to.

You can read the Kelo story, and those of her neighbors and others across the county, in the Heritage Foundation's Insider Winter 2005 edition. The story starts on 24 of their .pdf document. It didn't seem right then, it doesn't seem right now.

The folks at the Tennessee Center for Public Research can do a much better job of explaining the legalities via their Friend of the Court Brief. And Blake's Nashville Files has many more details and links to other information.

The first time I spoke to a city council it was about this issue. I was about 21 and had just returned to my home town after military service. It was a small town of 29,000 and change and was dominated by the shipping port and railroads all moving iron ore and grain on to the rest of the world. Our neighborhood was mostly isolated from the rest of the town by either water or the railroad tracks. We had two very long viaducts that connected us to the rest of the city and I spent my junior high years walking across one of them on my way back and forth from school. It was the replacement of that viaduct that introduced me to my own city council and eminent domain.

Also in that neighborhood was a sweet old woman who had lived about two blocks from the foot of that viaduct. She and her chickens (and a rooster we all heard in the morning) had lived there for years and we all expected that she'd live out the remainder of her life there. Well, the city decided that the viaduct needed to be replaced and having seen it first hand/foot for many years I couldn't have agreed more. It's unsettling to put your feet one foot in front of the other only to discover that the weight of the semi-tractor passing has caused the wooden sidewalk that was supposed to be there to have been displaced and you stumble a bit regaining your sense of balance. It also interrupted the reading I usually did on those one and a half mile walks.

So the plans for the new bridge and approach were drawn up and unfortunately our elderly neighbor's property was required. Folks were astonished that so much land would be needed and balked and tried to defend this woman's property to no avail. She and her chickens were relocated. I never knew where.

So the bridge is built. It's obviously a great improvement over wood wood/asphalt original and we return to the rhythms of our life until a small notice appears in the paper announcing a zoning variance to let a liquor store put in a drive through. It seems the city hadn't really needed the elderly lady's land after all and had sold it to someone who intended to set up a liquor store. The neighbors were outraged. Not only had their dear friend been unnecessarily displaced but replaced by a liquor store! We gathered together and attended the meeting. For my part I told the council that this was our neighborhood and the folks across town had no right to vote against what we wanted in our own backyard. The council was not persuaded by any of us and the liquor store got their permit and promptly installed a drive-thru window...the only one I've even seen.

I've seen too much of this sort of thing in Nashville. People displaced because bigger economic entities than they want what they have. They've got the lawyers and money to pretty much get their way. And when the government is more concerned about their own financial circumstances instead of safekeeping our rights it's an even bigger problem. And now, they've got the Supremes on their side. I may actually want that bigger entity moving in and improving the place, but we've run headlong into trouble when we don't honor the individual rights. But I guess that's what our Native American citizens have been telling us for a good long time.

Thursday, June 16, 2005

More on liberty in education.

Jeff Jacoby's opinion piece only touches on the huge separation of school and state issue. Here's a snip from Jeff's essay to whet your appetite:

There is nothing indispensable about a state role in education. Parents don't expect the government to provide their children's food or clothing or medical care; there is no reason why it must provide their schooling. An educated citizenry is a vital public good, of course. But like most such goods, a competitive and responsive private sector can do a much better job of supplying it than the public sector can.

Imagine how diverse and lively American education would be if it were liberated from government control. There would be schools of every description -- just as there are restaurants, websites, and clothing styles of every description. Parents who wanted their children to be taught Darwinian evolution unsullied by leaps of faith about an Intelligent Designer would be able to choose schools in which religious notions would play no role. Those who wanted their children to see God's hand in the miraculous tapestry of life all around them would send them to schools in which faith played a prominent role.

Unfortunately, too many citizens have begun to expect the government to provide food and medical care. That may be the direct result of the government schooling we have. That 'soft bigotry of lower expectations' having been alluded to in recent comments in the Tennessean and the Nashville City Paper.

Regarding the second paragraph I'm not sure that this is the sort of diversity that the folks who cooked up public education wanted to create. It seems clear to me that a primary goal was to bring about conformity, to 'socialize' the students to further their 'professional' opinion of what the world ought to look, act and be like. Fortunately, especially here in the US, we just keep wriggling out of that mold.

I'm really curious to know if the objections to this will be anything more than the usual baseless "we're the professionals, you can't trust parents, this is too important to democracy (on par with national security I suppose) to be done by anyone but the government, those charter/private schools are only in it for the money ". (I'm reading the MNPS budget now and I'm thinking there are plenty of folks in it for the money.)

If you want to delve more into the concept of separation, I'm not sure you could find a more passionate group of folks than those at the Alliance for the Separation of School and State.

(Thanks to Ben for the link to Jacoby's essay.)

Friday, June 10, 2005

Lies, danged lies and statistics.

This will be either enlightening or maddening.

How Schools Cheat
From underreporting violence to inflating graduation rates to fudging testscores, educators are lying to the American public.
Lisa Snell


The amount of information about schools presented to the general public is at an all-time high, but the information isn’t always useful or accurate.

So we're discovering.

Poking the Hornet's Nest.

Nashville Councilman Eric Crafton, and a few other folks with a sturdy backbone, is poking the hornet's nest called the Metro School Board Budget and I fully expect they'll be some action. While all this pertains to Nashville, I suspect the story is about the same in district after district across Tennessee.

Let's start with the Nashville City Paper that highlights a Council meeting on Wednesday 6/8/04.

Several Council members say they’ve tried to get information from both the school system and some Metro departments, only to be ignored or given information that isn’t relevant.

The latest example, they say, is Metro Nashville Public Schools budget presentation to the Council Wednesday during which Councilman Eric Crafton presented numbers that he believes show Metro’s per-student expenditures are above the national average while student achievement is below the average of surrounding counties.

There is no way that any of these council members can adequately do their job if the information they need to make informed decisions isn't available. It's a shame on the city that researchers have to go to third party organizations, like the state or think tanks, to cobble together information about what's going on in our own backyards with our money. Thankfully, Bill Hobbs has graciously uploaded both the original PowerPoint presentation as well as provided screen shots for those of you without MS PowerPoint on your computers so that we can all see what the Council saw that night. (I can highly recommend OpenOffice as a great free alternative to the several hundred dollar MS Office suite.)

Schools Public Information Officer Woody McMillan said the school system is understaffed when it comes to answering the hundreds of requests from parents, community groups, media and other citizens.

Anyone, anyone, who is demanding you hand them money ought to spend some of that money ensuring that they can quickly and accurately account for how every dime is spent. Frankly, it ought to have been easily available all along. It shows poor management when information that could have been anticipated, like how many teachers we have, wasn't prepared and available in anticipation of these hearings. Maybe they thought we were too distracted earning the money they're demanding to think of asking. And School Board Finance Committee Chairman Kathy Nevell ought to be the one holding Director Garcia's feet to that fire.

Apparently, the system's culture of lax accountability has filtered down and this morning's Tennessean is reporting that an audit by the State has revealed that some 25% of the schools are keeping such poor financial records that tens of thousands of dollars are missing and unaccounted for.

"Anytime you accept public funds, you also accept the responsibility," said Dycus [Dennis Dycus, director of the municipal audit division of the state's Comptroller of the Treasury], who wrote a letter to district officials this week. "The principals and the teachers serve as role models for the students."

Metro schools officials respond that, while they're not happy about the report, there was no suggestion of theft or fraud.

No suggestion of theft or fraud, what would you call it if your bank did the same thing, or your employer? "Oh, Tim, I'm sorry. I lost your time card. You'll have to work for free this week." It doesn't matter that it wasn't 'tax money' that went missing. The point is it wasn't their money they couldn't keep track of.

Nashville's WTVF continues the story.

State law specifically excludes support organizations like booster clubs and PTO's from audit.


In December police arrested PTA officer Julie Buchanan for stealing $140,000 from Granberry Elementary. And a school receptionist in Manchester was indicted in March for stealing $38,000 from her school's PTA account.

So if all this money goes missing...who makes it up? Ah, that's where the 'tax money' part does come in I'll bet. Should we give them more? I don't think so. Not until they prove they know where what they already got has gone and that more will do the job they're charged with. Yeah, that's gonna make 'em mad. They'll probably swarm and it'll probably sting but maybe a year in the 'school of consequences' will show them we're serious about accountability. And if they can't keep track of the money, how do we know they're keeping track of the children?

AND I don't want to forget to thank Mr. Dycus for doing his job and brining this to our attention.

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Liberty in education

Last night I was reminded of why I spend so much of my life advocating for education choice. It's because I believe in liberty.

Last evening I was able to hear Larry Reed of the Mackinac Center for Public Policy speak on "Liberty and the Power of Ideas". The low key event was hosted by our own Tennesse Center for Policy Research. It was a very encouraging night for me and I appreciate TCPR's invitation.

His talk was mostly an expounding of "The Seven Principles of Sound Public Policy".

And while I'd heard all these before and agree with them, I began to hear them with different ears. I began to relate these principles to our education system and realized that we violate all these principles with that system.

1. Free People are not equal, and equal people are not free. For the most part of our education system tries hard to take children, created as individuals with different talents and interests, and force them to learn via the same model. The system strives to provide equal resources, apply them to individuals equally and has started to avoid elevating any one scholar above the other so as not to hurt the self-esteem of any. The result is that children are regularly not free to be who they were created to be. They are, all too often, not free to be their own unique and precious personalities in order to conform to the system and get through it with a minimum of fuss.

2. What belongs to you, you tend to take care of; what belongs to no one or evereyone tends to fall into disrepair. There is a huge debate over whose children they are. I believe, strongly, that they belong to the parents and the vast majority of parents want the best for their children and more frequently than not, they know what is best for their children. Without degrees in child development or education they know their children, how they tick and what works for them. However, the education system, too often, considers the children theirs. With only token parental input they make sweeping decisions about the lives of these children that will impact them for years. They try one experimental program after another and demand from us the time to prove that it works when time, for a child, is very limited. And, oddly, when it's their own children...they often remove them from the schools they know are poor and place them in much better public or private schools.

3. Sound policy requires that we consider long-run effects and all people, not simply short-run effects and a few people. Can there be any better example of this that our recent pre-K initiative? For the sake of a few 'at risk' students we've initiated an entire program, ignored other less costly and perhaps more efficient delivery methods, endangered the jobs of competent caregivers and grabbed a bit of the lottery scholarship money for its first years' finances and have no solid plan for future financing and implementation. In Nashville, several years back, for the sake of a few hundred 'at risk' children, kindergarten became mandatory. The impact on the lives of all young children was, as a result, forever changed. They left their mothers, imo, too soon. They were thrust into company with strangers requiring too much from them at that age. And our taxpayers were required to provide even more funding which meant they had to live on less. I have no doubt pre-K will follow that same path if not stopped soon.

4. If you encourage something, you get more of it; if you discourage something, you get less of it. Tennessee has an excellent track record of discouraging education choice. According to Principle 2 parents earnestly desire to take care of the children that belong to them but they cannot do the best job of that because Tennessee has made it a state policy to discourage private and individual solutions to effectively educating students. The state takes our money and if we don't have enough left for private alternatives our children are left being compelled to attend schools that none of us, let alone many of those teachers and administrators, would choose for their own children.

5. Nobody spends somebody else's money as carefully as he spends his own. The further away from the pocketbook we get the less it pains someone to spend the money. Around here I don't think of what things cost in terms of dollars. I think of it in terms of how much time our Breadwinner must spend away from the family in order to provide for that item or service. And so now we have districts across the state examining their budgets and 'needs' but they throw around figures in the millions of dollars and I'm not convinced that when they say 'the children need' they understand that my children also need. Can school administrators and city financial managers making twice (or more) the average income in Tennessee really understand the penny pinching their actions will require?

6. Government has nothing to give anybody except what it first takes from somebody, and a government that's big enough to give you everything you want is big enough to take away everything you've got. In my mind this is two pronged. Obviously, there is the financial part of this. Government doesn't earn any income, they just take money from us, pass it through a bureaucracy and return a much smaller portion to us in the form of some service or welfare. Whether the service is really appropriate, efficient or helpful is widely debated. But also they have, via their compulsory attendance laws, taken away our freedom to educate our children as we see fit. And to placate a few of us rabble rousers, they have begrudgingly doled out small permissions to deviate from what they, aided by various entities that make their living from controlling the education system, from what they have decided is the best way to educate children. Well, to quote Dr. Phil: "How's that working for ya?" For too many children, it not working for them.

7. Liberty makes all the difference in the world.
And so liberty in education can make all the difference in a child's life. It can be the difference between finding their talents and destiny and excelling and leaving school out of frustration and that being only the beginning of a dangerous downward spiral that they may never recover from. Why, oh why, would we continue to deny parents every option available? Out of fear that it won't be done 100% correctly? We're already failing to do this correctly 100% of the time. Because these options may fall outside of the control of the present system? Who are we trying to protect, the system or the children? Because it doesn't look like what we've seen before--neither did our own nation 229 years ago.

If you're interested in further reading, I found Mr. Reed's essay called "Liberty and the Power of Ideas" to be a good adjunct for what he shared last evening. Again, my thanks to TCPR and those folks who took a few minutes out their busy lives to speak with me about their own passions. You all helped make it a very encouraging evening.

Sunday, June 05, 2005

To Miss Young and her colleagues,

I wrote this last summer to the NashvillePTOTalk list. And I'm sharing it now in hopes that you will forward it to teachers and administrators that you know who are working on the lists for this coming August.

This isn’t a story about us…it’s a recounting of the struggle of two other families and my hope that by my telling it, something better can be done.

"This afternoon two of my daughters and I were in Wal-mart at Rivergate looking for a pencil sharpener. Last week their shelves had been crammed with supplies and the aisles filled with parents jostling with lists in their hands and their faces displaying the earnestness of Christmas Eve shoppers. Everything you could have wanted or needed was there. But by today…

Today, the shelves were uncharacteristically barren. I’ve never seen their shelves in such disarray and empty. Today, standing in the aisle, alone, was a Hispanic man holding a pencil intently looking from the paper he also held to the shelves before and behind him. It was obvious that he was having trouble. He approached me and he asked “What is…” and pointed out an entry on the list that said “ Elmer’s glue sticks”.

I read the line out loud for him. It didn’t register. Obviously, he wasn’t fluent in English. I’m not fluent in Spanish. How on earth do you explain glue sticks to someone…and then explain that Elmer’s is a brand? I looked around at what had become a “Mother Hubbard” school supply aisle and there wasn’t one to be found. I sent my 14-year-old daughter to the next aisle hoping she could locate them.

In the meantime, this father pointed to the next entry on his list: “Box of highlighters”. Box of highlighters? How big a box? What color? What brand? All these questions zoomed through my brain. How on earth was I going to be able to help this man without a few more specifics?

Then came “Fiskar scissors”. I asked how old his child was. “Five”, he said. Great, at least I know to get safety scissors…at least that’s what I’d send my child to school with at 5. Who knows what was really intended. He picked the lime green ones and put them in his cart.

Next on the list was “School supply cigar-style box”. Searching around again, up and down all three office supply aisles yielded not one school supply ‘cigar box’. Lots of plastic school supply boxes. Why did it have to be a ‘cigar-style’?

Next came “headphones (Dollar Tree)”. He knew Dollar Tree was down Gallatin Road a ways but he didn’t know what headphones were. Cupping my hands over both my ears I bobbed my head up and down as if to a musical beat…that he seemed to understand. But why he should have to drive 4 miles down the road to attempt to obtain headphones that may not even be there while he was already at a Wal-mart remains a mystery.

My daughter returns with a package of off-brand glue sticks. That was all she could find. A month ago you could not have counted the number of Elmer’s glue sticks in that store but today…we couldn’t discover one. I handed them to this obviously bewildered man and apologized. He seemed to understand.

And on down “Miss Young’s List” we went. Either we were unable to find the stated item or the entry wasn’t clear enough for me to figure out what exactly Miss Young had in mind so that a similar substitution could be made. Several times the father repeated “Money OK, money OK” as if to say he’d pay whatever it cost. I began to realize that if *I* was having a hard time filling this list this man might be in big trouble if left to his own devices.

Eventually, Mama and the 5-year-old daughter found us. They were carrying party hats, balloons and goodies. Neither the mother nor the daughter spoke English. Papa did manage to convey that tomorrow was the child’s 6th birthday. We smiled and said nice things trusting that they knew we were hoping she had a great day.

By now we’d gone through the whole list and despite our best efforts we did a pitiful job of obtaining all the items required. I apologized. He thanked me. We moved on. But my heart was nearly breaking for this family. I got only a small glimpse of how difficult their life might be. I was amazed at how inadequately the school system their daughter was entering had communicated to them about this task.

We came back around that area of the store again on our way out. Papa was still begging help from strangers to fill the rest of the list.

And so here I offer, for any in the system that have ears to hear, a few practical suggestions that might make next year easier for families like this and for those kind Samaritans that attempt to help.

1. Pictures would be great. It’s not hard to capture copies of these items from the Internet, paste them onto the list and write Arabic numerals next to them or make photocopies of what is needed. Even English speaking kindergarteners can help shop if they’ve got pictures to refer to. If you’ve never even seen a cigar box style schools supplies box…you might be able to read the words…but what sense does it make?

2. Lacking pictures, more specifics and perhaps some reasoning behind the selection. “Box of highlighters” might be better described as “Box of 6, fluorescent yellow, wide, Avery brand hi-liters”. If I can’t find a box of six at least I know how many and what color. If color or width doesn’t matter say so. Why Dollar Tree headphones? How long could those last? And we’re assuming 1/8” plug, right? What happens if Dollar Tree doesn’t have any more? What is a reasonable substitute?

3. And while I’m all for English as our national language…I don’t see a big downside to providing this list in Spanish, Kurdish or any other language that a goodly number of these families speak if you actually want to get the supplies you request. And you may need to provide a bit of explanation about who Elmer is and that the children aren’t actually going to smoke in class despite having ‘cigar-style’ boxes.

My apologies to Miss Young if she’s reading this. No offense was intended. I don’t know you. You’re probably a fine teacher. Your name just happened to be at the top of the list this man was working from.

We never did find the pencil sharpener we were looking for…I’ll probably have to pick it up at Dollar Tree.

Same song, second verse. This happened again the following week.

This time it was a young Asian couple that needed help with their school supply list in the Wal-mart aisle. Their understanding of English wasn’t really any better than last week’s Hispanic couple. “Jumbo Crayons, box of 8” was the stumper for them…along with "1st grade writing tablet”. "

I sure hope someone is listening and making plans now to improve the lists for this coming August. It's scary enough handing over your children to strangers, without also being completely frustrated and stumped by this first big requirement from the system. These parentls obviously wanted to do everything they could to make this beginning for their child the best possible. Maybe we could do more toward communicating better and make this start easier. The upside will be actually getting the supplies needed and a better start for everyone.

Friday, June 03, 2005

More Waltzing.

Hamilton County Board of Education member, Charles Love, recently indicted in the "Tennessee Waltz" sting is now in trouble with the Registry of Election Finance. According to Chattanooga's WTVC-TV, Mr. Love tried to amend his registration to include the bogus FBI E-Cycle Management company the day before Mr. Love was arrested.

Too little, too late.

And from WMCTV in Memphis comes these quotes:

"In our country, a person is innocent until proven guilty," [Hamilton County School] board member Janice Boydston said. "Accusations don't make it so. At this juncture, I think its premature to do anything." But board member Marty Puryear thinks both men should be let go. "Under the circumstances, I think they probably should step aside until they are either cleared or a verdict is rendered," Puryear said.
I think it's clear that Mr. Love's job as a lobbyist already violates the TSBA rules and he ought to never have been on the board in the first place. Both of these gentlemen will be quite busy in the near future. I don't know how they could continue to focus their energies on the needs of the children in their schools and defend themselves against such a large federal investigation. It would seem best for the children if they allowed someone else to pick up these responsibilities during the time they, understandably, must focus on their defense.

Thursday, June 02, 2005

"Enough Already"

And they say homeschoolers have socialization issues---sheesh!

Today's USA Today has an article titled "Enough Already with Kid Gloves" which goes into the lengths educators are taking now days to save children from hurt feelings. All of which completely overlooks the fact that no employer, landlord or spouse is going to be so kind and accomodating. Talk about setting them up for failure in the real world. Lavender pens, tug of peace, juggling with (non-threatening) scarves instead of balls are accomodations that are all likely to hit them hard when they step out of the cocoon of public education.

In the meantime this family is still using red pens, expects a job done right the first time, doesn't extend credit and will continue the practice of pointing out that yes, that attempt by the child was a complete flop--but we still love them.

(Thanks to Elizabeth.)

Summer reading

Another example of schools extending their authority and being reminded they don't have it 24/7/365 over all of our young people.

The Bedford County Board of Education instituted required summer reading but were reminded that:

Requiring summer reading for students creates a number of legal problems. It imposes costs on families which some may not be able to pay; it creates an unequal situation for students who move into the school district over the summer and don't know about the required reading, and so on. School board members applauded the concept of summer reading programs but voted that all should comply with legal guidelines. Shelbyville Times Gazette
I'm of the opinion that parents ought to be requiring summer reading. I'm not found of the local public library's reading lists. A great list of '1000 good books and 100 great books' can be found at the Classical-homeschooling site. It is a Christian site but this list isn't limited to just Christian literature.

And in case you don't know many of the classics are available free on the Internet. Check or Project Gutenburg.

Summer is a great time for kids to read what they want and without the pressure of a grade or caring what is 'cool' or not. A little bit of 'bubble-gum' reading is fine but with a little encouragement (like mom and dad maybe reading the first chapter out loud during dinner dishes) you might be surprised at how fun the classics still are, even for 21st century families.

Oh, what are we reading?

Well, I'm reading: Men in Black by Mark R. Levin, Is God to Blame? by Gregory A. Boyd and The Underground History of American Education by John Taylor Gatto.

The children are reading: Pride & Prejudice by Jane Austen, Uncle Tom's Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe, Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson, Silmarillion by J. R. R. Tolken. I promise, they picked 'em, I didn't assign them.

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Attorney and client.

Senator Ward Crutchfield is the attorney for the Hamilton County School Board members. Fellow Operation Tennessee Waltz indictee Charles Love is one of those board members. Thanks to Adam Groves of Simply I for pointing that out.

According to this Tennessean article Sen. Crutchfield's position as their attorney is, understandably, in jeopardy.

Joe Conner, a member and former chairman of the board, said he would not speculate on what action will be taken when the board meets next on June 23 but said Crutchfield's contract will be on the agenda.

According to the article Sen. Crutchfield has been their attorney since 1988 and it's worth about $50K a year.

And concerning Mr. Love's status on the board:
Conner said Love is a chairman of the group's Facilities Committee. "The board may suggest something along those lines. That's within the prerogative of the chair, to ask him to step aside from any leadership role at this time. That could very well happen," Conner said.
Mr. Love won't be required to forfeit his seat unless he is actually convicted.

More details in that Tennessean article.

For details on the Hamilton County School Board operation you can read their policy document approved in December of 2004--288 pages in .pdf format. It calls for members to be of "recognized integrity" (page 5) and page 11 talks about conflicts of interest and penaties.
"...he/she shall forfeit all pay and compensation and shall be dismissed from the Board and be ineligible to serve in the same or similar position for ten (10) years." Their citation is TCA 12-4-101 and TCA 12-4-102.

Maybe they can teach, but what do they think?

It happens everytime. You get a new car and suddenly you're seeing that car all over the place. A legislator files a bill about academic freedom and you begin to notice instances. You start reading a book about the trouble with our education system and connections jump out from everywhere.

So Glenn Reynolds ( posts a link to the New York Sun's article on their local Brooklyn College's School of Education this morning and it's another of those moments.

The School of Education at the CUNY campus initiated last fall a new method of judging teacher candidates based on their "dispositions," a vogue in teacher training across the country that focuses on evaluating teachers' values, apart from their classroom performance.

Driving the new policies at the college and similar ones at other education schools is a mandate set forth by the largest accrediting agency of teacher education programs in America, the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education. That 51-year-old agency, composed of 33 professional associations, says it accredits 600 colleges of education - about half the country's total. Thirty-nine states have adopted or adapted the council's standards as their own, according to the agency.

"It's political correctness that has insinuated into the criteria for accreditation of teacher education institutions," a noted education theorist in New York, Diane Ravitch, said. "Once that becomes the criteria for institutions as a whole, it gives free rein to those who want to impose it in their classrooms," she said. Ms. Ravitch is the author of "The Language Police: How Pressure Groups Restrict What Students Learn."
Just what Horace Mann had in mind. You may want to read the rest of that article. And you may find the Education Next article on accreditation with the NCATE interesting as well.

Oh and here's the NCATE's list of their accredited schools in our backyard.