Friday, March 31, 2006


Jon Crisp's column in this morning's Tennessean points out, again, that there are some serious issues in the MNPS that must be addressed.

Let's first present the facts as the Metro Nashville Public Schools (MNPS) and the Tennessee Department of Education published them. Nashville spends more than $9,000 per student per year to educate each child, an amount that puts us near the top of the 135 public schools systems in Tennessee and well above the national average. The graduation rate for MNPS is second from the lowest in Tennessee of all reporting school systems. MNPS is in last place in Tennessee in the number of students determined to be "proficient" in math foundations.

Did you know that there are Metro high schools from which your child has only a one-in-three chance of graduation? Did you know that a large number of our students are unable to meet minimum graduation requirements and will receive an "attendance" certificate at graduation rather than a diploma?

This just ought not to be so.

Jon says we need to "declare war on our deficiencies" and "Why not offer financial incentives to our teachers..."? Yes and yes again. Go read the rest and then start asking the current School Board and the candidates running "What exactly are you going to do to fix this?"

A crippling education

This morning's City Paper wastes ink and trees and tells us the MNPS School Board opposes vouchers. That's not news. It's more of the same protectionism that is expected from a school board that is all too unwilling to hold 'the professionals' accountable.

According to the story Stacy Campfield's (R-Knoxville) legislation (HB2687) will 'cripple' the system.

Lisa Hunt, a school board member, said the nine-member body opposes vouchers that allow public school monies to go to private schools.

“Right now, Tennessee is one of the states with the lowest funding for public education, and allowing vouchers would seriously cripple our system,” Hunt said.
What has seriously crippled the public school system is its monopoly status. What has crippled the system is its inability to meet the diverse needs of the students. What has crippled the system is its inability to actually empower parents and aid them in finding the right educational services for their child's needs.

This legislation doesn't kick in until the public school system fails. If they'd get their act together they wouldn't need to be concerned about losing students and funding.

and here's an interesting 'coincidence':
The board’s effort comes on the heels of the Tennessee Education Association (TEA) and the Metro Nashville Education Association (MNEA) denouncing the proposed legislation.
The MNPS got their marching orders and complied.

I wouldn't have thought that the 'crippled' quote could be topped but School Board Member Marsha Warden managed to do it.

“Our school system provides ample choices for our families to find schools in our district that meet their academic and philosophical needs,” she said. “And there is really no need to move unless your inherent belief is that private schools are just better.”
If the system provided 'ample' choice we wouldn't have the abundance of private schools in this area that we do. As it is those private schools are flourishing, expanding and have long waiting lists.

Interestingly, both of these women are NOT up for election this year. I suppose that's why they were willing to be quoted.

Rep. Campfield--This school board does not speak for me. Please, continue in your efforts to ensure that children and their parents have ample choice regarding the education of their children.

Monday, March 27, 2006

Plagiarism is stealing even if you're the AP

This story about MSM plagiarism (via Glenn Reynolds) hits just too close to home. I know a bit about how this feels and it's maddening. You work hard at becoming knowledgeable about a topic, you put it out there for folks to utilize and then you discover that someone bigger than you has snagged it and published it as their own without so much as a 'how do you do'.

Larisa Alexandrovna writes:

We contacted an AP senior editor and ombudsmen both and both admitted to having had the article passed on to them, and both stated that they viewed us as a blog and because we were a blog, they did not need to credit us. What we are or are not is frankly irrelevant. What is relevant is that by using a term like blog to somehow excuse plagiarism, the mainstream press continues to lower the bar for acceptable behavior. It need not matter where the AP got the information, research, and actual wording from. What matters is that if they use it in part or in whole, they must attribute properly. A blog or a small press publication or grads students working in the corner of a library all equally deserve credit for their work, period.
And that's really all I ask. About the only payment I get is letters of thanks, a bit of notariety (yes, I'm a legend in my own mind) and an occasional Google ad check.

I can't recall when I ever denied anyone permission to reprint my stuff if they'd just do the decent thing and let folks know it was my work product. Usually I do that because if there is a mistake I want to be responsible for it. Or if someone needs more information they can check back with me. And I heartily welcome the use of snips and links.

Every now and then it's some newbie who doesn't have a clue about basic copyright rules and I'm willing to provide a primer. But lately it's been publishing professionals who ought to know better. Last week I wrote a publisher and got a long diatribe asking why was I being so selfish and uncooperative. It took most of the day but they eventually got word from their lawyer that I was right. It was my stuff. I'm still waiting to hear back from another publisher. I guess they'll just blow me off assuming I don't have the means to fight for my words.

I certainly hope that the AP doesn't waste anymore time being high and mighty. They need to own up to this, change their policies and profusely thank and pay Larisa for her work.

UPDATE: If you've had any trouble with this sort of thing on the web I've found Shawn Hall's tips at to be very effective.

Political families

I've been in Nashville 25 years now and still, nearly every election cycle, I discover a new thread in the web of political connections that I was completely cluelss about.

For example: Candidate A is married to Justice B and Candidate B is the cousin of Political Appointee C who is also the sister of Candidate D who has brother working in Justice B's office. We may be a town of over half a million people--but our political dynasties seem to be so thoroughly entrenched that attempting to run outside of the clan is very difficult. I remember holding up signs for a political candidate one year outside of a polling station. I was there all day and chatted up the opponents workers. Not one of them knew the candidate they were working for. But they knew their daddy, worked for their daddy, their daddy had helped them out and so they were there returning the favor--or creating one.

What I would love to see is someone create political family trees to help voters know who and what these connections are. I could sure use a scorecard right about now.

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Focus is good

This morning's Tennessean (page 3A) contained a highly edited version of the New York Times article about schools being forced by No Child Left Behind to focus on the core subjects of reading and math.

What jumped out at me in the Tennessean version, which bemoaned the loss of courses like social studies, science and art, was this quote:

"Experts warn that by reducing the academic menu, schools risk giving bored teenagers the message that school means repetition and drilling."

Wait a minute. If students don't have basic math and reading skills down by the time they're teenagers I don't think your average social studies or science class is really going to be the 'hook' that keeps them engaged in school. Ditto for sports participation. Taxpayers and parents understand that knowing the Monroe Doctrine or the difference between a Renoir and a Monet is good, but knowing how to balance your check book, figuring out your odds of winning the lottery and being able to read that car lease, are more important for every day life.

And of course this article is jumping the gun a bit. The survey upon which the entire article is premised upon won't be released until Tuesday by the Center on Education Policy. This Center makes it quite clear on their website that they are public school proponents and so I don't anticipate much more than the party line in their findings.

If it's Sunday--

the front page of the Tennessean will contain some article of controversy about the Christian church. This habit is one of the reasons I unsubscribed from the paper for such a long time. Their current good investigative work drew me back but it may not be permanent.

Really, I don't appreciate dragging in that big bundle of newprint, culling out the ads and, useless to me, classified and sports sections and then the first thing I read of the less than half that is left is some controversy as I head out to my own house of worship.

I don't recall regular Friday edition articles about divisions in the Islamic faith or Saturday exposes about the local Jewish congregations.

IF these discussions between faith members need front page coverage, and they usually don't--why are they routinely saved for Sundays?

Saturday, March 25, 2006

What's in those books?

I've discovered a tool for parents who, like me, wonder "Just what's the uproar about?" when book controversies come to light. The Parents Against Bad Books In Schools (PABBIS) provide some answers. You can go to their site and they actually have a list of books that these parents have issues with and then they go one better by providing the actual offensive text so you can judge for yourself.

At you'll find a disclaimer, the list of books with questionable content and then a link to a downloadable file of the actual text. If you're looking for a particular book use the Find feature of your browser (usually CTRL +F) and search for its title. Unfortunately, the downloadable file contains all the texts and not just links to the problem paragraphs of each book.

Sometimes it's the parents that have to do the homework. Here's a tool to help you make wiser decisions for your children.

Let the Sun Shine

Some lessons for all public officials can be learned from J. C. Bowman's critique of the Hamilton County School Board.

It astonishes me that any political body could continue to operate like the Hamilton County Board of Education. It appears to even the most casual readers or observers that BOE members often exhibit irrational thought. Real leaders have no problem ensuring transparency by reporting accurately, clearly and comprehensively on their activities, maintaining objectivity and remaining free of conflicts of interest.

Most state and local governments have adopted freedom of information acts in order to have a more open government. However, despite the laws gaining public access to data and information takes great effort. Removing unnecessary bureaucratic hurdles should be the goal of every candidate for public office. Strangely calls for greater openness have strangely encountered fierce resistance from some quarters. Taxpaying citizens can make better decisions when they are well-versed on the issues that concern them the most. Institutions reliant on taxpayer support cannot flourish in an atmosphere of widespread public distrust.

It appears to me that many times these officials and school boards assume that the public needs caretaking more than we need information. Those involved in education especially seem to creepily treat us like we're still in First Grade and not adults with children, mortgages and successful careers of our own. The fact is if they've done their jobs correctly we're quite able to process information and come to conclusions. Of course, I'm sure the fear for some is that we've learned outside of their classrooms and so will come to the 'wrong' conclusions.

Either way, we've paid for the information. Let go of it--all of it and in a timely fashion.

Friday, March 24, 2006

Be careful what you pray for

Once I started attending legislative hearings and interacting with the folks at the capitol about 5 years ago it didn’t take me long to realize that heavy prayer was an essential component in dealing with the folks and issues up there. Along with pleas for wisdom and discernment for myself and the other participants my consistent prayer has been that truth will out.

Well, I had no idea how much truth needed to be outed. I had no idea how prideful and self-serving some of the people in authority and entrusted with the care and concern of our citizens have become. I did not imagine how pervasive the evil intentions of some could be. I still don’t understand how the simple truths of not that long ago have been abandoned and the contorted logic of what can only be called ‘New and Improved!’ wisdom is so fully embraced. It’s been almost overwhelming and I’ve had to take a break from even reading or seeing any more of the shenanigans that are going on in our state. I’m very thankful that this information is being revealed, but I truly couldn’t handle any more.

And like a lot of things that just push it over the top it was a relatively small thing. What started this whole self-imposed news hiatus was the demand by (current) Senator Ophelia Ford that we pay her legal fees for daring to question an election that was severely flawed. It’s my opinion that she should have been leading the charge to ensure that every rule was scrupulously followed and complied with so that she could start with a legitimate and absolutely spotless record. But that didn’t happen and somehow citizens across the state will again pay for the nonsense that is called ‘politics as usual’ in Memphis.

I’ve always had a heart for children and what occurs in our schools but to read about so many incidents of abuse by authority figures was heart wrenching—seriously heart wrenching. I couldn’t take it anymore. I had to step back and hug my own children and thank God that my children are in a safe place. I shook my head in amazement that our society requires compulsory attendance but does not ensure that these students are safe. How dare we demand one without providing the other? Currently the educrats are whining because giving families any real choice (choices, choices) is going to put a dent in their monopoly. Too bad, so sad. What’s more important protecting the system or educating children? It’s not YOUR money and they’re not YOUR children. Let go of both.

And then too many of the very folks that are charged with running these schools and their associations have lost their focus and instead of remembering that it’s ‘for the children’ and serving them they pretty much made it clear that it’s for their bank accounts and personal empowerment. It’s as if folks have completely forgotten that all this money does actually come from somewhere and that the reality is not everyone getting taxed to pay for these thefts can easily do without the money. When you steal and waste money from the public coffers you steal from me and my children and other parents and their children and the thousands of classrooms, hospital rooms and homes across the state.

And speaking of stealing and contorted wisdom—have you seen the latest lottery commercials? The one bragging about $2 BILLION dollars in sales, how much money has been awarded and with the tag line “Do the math!” as if the calculations would prove that participating in this bad idea actually makes sense mathematically? We saw a bumper sticker one day that the lottery was a tax on people with bad math skills. It’s absolutely true. The problem is that the very people with these bad math skills probably got whatever math skills they have from public schools. Why are there not hundreds of educational malpractice lawsuits? Attorneys should quit ambulance chasing—surely there’s a bundle to be made in this niche market and there’s no chasing involved. Potential clients are waiting in line at the local Kwiki Mart lottery counter. We’re bamboozling money from poor people and the lottery CEO brags about the integrity of the games.

And I haven’t even touched on the shameful conduct of too many State Troopers, or the DCS or the inability of certain legislators to at least schedule the people’s business let alone step out of the way so that our representatives can represent us. Well, you can see I’d just had my fill and it was a good thing I stepped back, focused on what was true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent and praiseworthy for a change.

Unfortunately, I don’t think the season of revealing which made its big debut via the FBI’s Operation Tennessee Waltz scandal is quite over. I suspect there is more to come and I want to encourage everyone out there to continue the good and necessary work of bringing folks to accountability in public matters. I understand it can be overwhelming and discouraging but we’ve got to take back our state from those who wrongly think they own it and that we’re their servants. Winter is over and it’s time for a thorough spring cleaning.

Monday, March 13, 2006

Let the number crunching begin--

The MNPS proposed budget is now out there for review. And heavy review it should get.

You can download .pdf versions of the budget, their comparison of last year's to this proposal and the PowerPoint presentation from the MNPS website:

If you don't have MS PowerPoint on your computer download Open Office (free) and their Impress will do the job for you.

The MNPS blurb about the budget does start by saying it's a 2.58% increase but quickly uses the word "cuts". It's new math, I suppose, that allows an increase to be a cut.

"The proposed budget totals $556,250,500, and reflects an increase of 2.58 percent from the 2005-2006 operating budget, which totaled $542,250,000. It includes cuts to staff, programs and materials throughout the district, with some new elements to improve academic achievement. "
It's more than half a billion dollars. We could buy a new convention center with all that money.

Maybe next year they'll publish this as an Excel file so we can actually manipulate the numbers. Happy reading everyone.

Where'd I put that extra roll of calculator tape?

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

This is no geography class

Colorado teacher Jay Bennish is in a lot of hot water. People are shocked that his teaching tactics are being questioned. People are shocked that he would say the things he said. Count me among the latter.

I don't think he's actually doing what he's paid to do--teach 10th grade geography. We're not talking about adults who've paid for this abuse in order to get a higher education degree. We're talking about 15/16 year olds who are compelled to sit in that class and be subjected to this. The father of the boy recording this didn't believe what his son had said about this 'teacher'. The only chance at freedom from this was bringing home proof. And this boy did--in spades.

The right wingers are getting blamed for trying to control the curriculum. But it's obvious to me that lots of people are upset that someone has entered the educational sanctuary and dared to hold a teacher accountable for their words. They've never liked anyone daring to question their absolute right to rule every aspect of this process. They have fought accountability since the day Horace Mann created his accredited schools to ensure that teachers would follow his plan for our society.

I've listened to the 20 minutes (thanks to Michelle Malkin's link and she's got a transcript. ) and this was not thoughtful back and forth between a passionate geography teacher and his inquiring and participating students. This was 'eerily similar' to just about any cult leader I've ever heard. Most damaging was his insistence that we 'don't know' and so a different point of view isn't valid (about 12:15 into the recording). THAT small question, imo, is very akin to the snake in the garden saying 'Hath God said...'. It will knock the pins out from under these students for a long time. And let me make it absolutely clear I'm not equating the Bush administration with the voice of God. I'm pointing out that the teacher didn't say--"Let's dig further and discover the truth." He just left them doubting. No good teacher does that.

It's been routine for parents to be refused the opportunity to observe their child's classes. They're told it would be disrupting to the class. Maybe. Maybe not. Perhaps what would be disrupted is 'teaching' careers instead.