Ken's Project Blog

September 21, 2011

Education Secretary Arne Duncan, Political Hack

Filed under: Education,In The News,Politics — Ken @ 12:20 am


Shortly after Gov. Rick Perry announced his run for the Republican nomination to run for President against Arne Duncan’s boss, Arne Duncan decided to inject himself into the political debate and slam the educational system in Gov. Perry’s Texas. Interestingly, Arne Duncan failed to point out that the Chicago Public School System, the very school system he personally ran before being tapped by President Obama to become the federal Education Secretary, posted worse results than the Texas school system he holds in such low regard. As but one comparison between Texas and the Chicago Public School System, let’s take a look at graduation rates – in Texas the graduation rate is about 73%, the Chicago Public School System has a slightly lower high school graduation rate… about 56%.

I wonder if Secretary Arne Duncan if he also feels “very, very badly” for the children he claims to have educated in Chicago?

Probably not.

And let’s not forget, Secretary Duncan’s boss President Obama was also a reformer trying to improve Chicago’s public schools when he led the Chicago Annenberg Challenge with his neighbor (and some would argue ghost writer), Bill Ayres.

Sources:

youtube.com: Bloomberg TV’s Al Hunt Interviews Education Secretary Arne Duncan

time.com: Arne Duncan Can’t Quite Explain Why He’s Dissing Texas

wsj.com: Obama and Ayers Pushed Radicalism On Schools

nytimes.com: Obama and ’60s Bomber: A Look Into Crossed Paths

americanthinker.com: Who Wrote Dreams From My Father?

September 20, 2011

Charter Schools Considered

Filed under: Education,In The News — Ken @ 11:43 am

In my local paper, The Times, a reporter wrote a very thought-provoking two-part article (Part 1, 2) about charter schools and why they fail. While the article focused on the idea of mis-management leading to the closing of charter schools and the frenzy of activity that ensues when the hundreds of children are removed from a charter school and thrust back into the public schools they left, I felt it down-played what was to me the most interesting statistic in the piece:

According to the Center for Education Reform’s 2009 Accountability Report, of 19 charters that closed in New Jersey, 42 percent were shuttered for mismanagement, 37 percent for financial, 16 percent for academic and 5 percent for facility problems. [emphasis added]

Source: nj.com

The issues that plague charter schools are, in my opinion, easy to fix: charter school administrators should be required to attend the same training and have the same certification requirements that their peers in the public schools have – they are managing public expenditures, they should meet the same standards, period. In addition, oversight of charter schools should be greater than an established public school’s, not less, until a proven track record is established. Those two simple reforms would go a long way towards fixing what is wrong with many of our charter schools.

A few years ago, a local charter school was shuttered because they couldn’t seem to manage the “attendance problem”. It is inexplicable that a group of “educational professionals” were able to petition the state, put forward a plan, and then when given millions of dollars and responsibility for educating a few hundred children couldn’t even figure out how to report how many students were attending school each day to the state! This “challenge” befuddled them for months and persisted despite repeated warnings from the state. There were, obviously, other challenges at this school – this is but one of many failings – but since attendance translates directly into state aid, and it is arguably one of the easiest activities in running a school, this points out the failure of the vetting process used to decide who gets to start a charter school.

I work part-time at my local school district, and every year our district is audited, yet it seems that charter schools are reviewed every five years? Why are charter schools held to a lesser standard regarding financial oversight? The tw-part article mentions there are currently some 70 charter schools in New Jersey, yet the office tasked with overseeing these schools has a staff of seven – I suggest that each charter school be forced to budget for one full-time “inspector” that will be part of the oversight office at the Department of Education, and once the charter school demonstrates they are succeeding, the inspector position would come off the books of the charter school and then be replaced by a fractional inspector funded by the state.

Public school teacher unions like to hold up every failure at charter schools as an indictment against wasteful spending of precious educational dollars, but they ignore the reality that it is the failing or middling performance of many public schools that led to the creation of charter schools, and the rules that close failing charter schools are not applied to public schools. I’d like public schools to be held to the same standard charter schools are, with the same consequences for failure – I wonder how many public school teachers would agree with me? How many of their union leaders would agree with me? If not, why not?

Sources:

nj.com: Once-promising charter schools go off course – They’re favored by reformers, but have a high rate of failure and Charter schools caught in the middle of ideological fight

September 4, 2011

Seven Hundred Thousand Teachers

Filed under: Education,In The News,Politics — Ken @ 11:02 am

[DRAFT – need to ‘fill in the blanks’]
On “This Week, with Christian Amanpour” Paul Krugman, noted, Nobel Prize-winning Princeton University economist declared that we have lost “seven hundred thousand teachers in the last few years” (rough quote, I’ll check it later tonight)… Can that be possible?

As we’ve seen before, Paul Krugman is not so good with math, but that number seems so extreme, so large, that it simply cries out for scrutiny. Allow me to scrutinize that number.

According to the NEA, they have 3.2 Million members (of which nearly one million are Education Support Specialists, College or University professors, or retired), and the AFT claims 1.5 Million members (of which 330,000 are either retired or are Preschool Professionals, with an undisclosed number of other professionals in the Healthcare, Higher Education, and School Administration professions) – 700,000 lost teachers would represent __% of all teachers – if we lost __% of our teachers, wouldn’t average class sizes have have gone up by a similar percentage?

According to my best numbers, we have seen class sizes increase _%

What Mr. Krugman forgets is that for every teacher that is ‘lost’ (either fired or retired), new teachers are hired if the next year’s number of enrolled students supports it. Total number of students enrolled in K-12 has decreased by _% over the last _% years.

Sources:

nea.org: Our History and Our Members pages

aft.org: About page

August 18, 2011

Central Falls Teachers and President Obama

Filed under: Education,In The News — Ken @ 2:48 pm
Tags:

While researching my previous posting Providence Teacher Dismissals I was reminded of the President’s reaction to the reports about a year and a half ago regarding the planned mass termination of teachers at the failing Central Falls high school in Rhode Island:

“If a school continues to fail its students year after year after year, if it doesn’t show signs of improvement, then there’s got to be a sense of accountability,” he said. “And that’s what happened in Rhode Island last week at a chronically troubled school, when just 7 percent of 11th-graders passed state math tests — 7 percent.”

Source: washingtonpost.com

The school was failing its students – there is no other way to put it. With only 7% of the eleventh graders at Central Falls High School passing the state math test, to call what was going on at that school, year after year, “education” is an insult to teachers everywhere. When twelve out of every thirteen students in the eleventh grade can’t pass the math test, it’s time for a dramatic change.

Unfortunately, that change didn’t happen – it seems the teacher’s union successfully negotiated the return of all the teachers and agreed to strict reforms that were put in place, and, shockingly, by most measures things got worse, not better.

I wonder what the Central Falls school district has planned for the coming school year…

Sources:

YouTube video: gist cf teachers won’t be retained

Ken’s Project Blog: Providence Teacher Dismissals

Washington Post: Rhode Island school nears compromise on mass teacher firings and Obama angers union officials with remarks in support of R.I. teacher firings

npr.org: Changes At R.I. School Fail To Produce Results

July 13, 2011

Gov. Christie: Destiny shouldn’t be determined by zip code

Filed under: Education,In The News — Ken @ 5:18 pm

A great YouTube post by Gov. Christie of New Jersey, apparently in response to a question from a Fair Lawn, NJ educator who is proud of her efforts and (I’m guessing) feels the Gov. doesn’t value her efforts and contributions. (It’s a popular refrain from the teachers that go to his town hall meetings.)

I hope to follow-up with a post on the various funding levels of various school districts in New Jersey, but in the meantime, let me give you this to review – the New Jersey School Report Card and NCLB reports.

Sources:

YouTube: Governor Christie: Destiny Should Not Be Determined by Zip Code

education.state.nj.us: New Jersey State School Report Card and NCLB reports

Education in the News

Filed under: Education,In The News — Ken @ 4:40 pm

Randi Weingarten, President of the American Federation of Teachers, has been thinking about the state of education in the United States, and as she describes in her recent speech, she thinks she may have found the answer to what ails our public schools: (more…)

July 12, 2011

Concord cracks down on truancy

Filed under: Education,In The News — Ken @ 11:31 pm

Out in Concord, California (near my old stomping ground of Walnut Creek) they apparently have a serious truancy problem, and the city council think they have found the answer – hold the parents responsible…

It seems the city council has come up with a plan, they want the ability to fine parents of first-time offenders as much as $100. A second offense could cost the parents $200, and a third offense could result in a fine of as much as $500. (I wonder what happens when a parent can’t pay the fine – is the student able to “work off” the fine, or is the debt the responsibility of the parents? It doesn’t take long to see how this program could become a way for a rebellious teenager to “get back” at his parents by skipping school if the student gets off without any serious repercussions.)

According to a June 9th report, the local police perform a once-a-month sweep and pick up about 40 truant students – as the school year winds down, the numbers increase – as you would expect.

The previously mentioned fines are part of a daytime curfew that is being proposed to address three problems: the truant students tend to get involved in minor crimes (either as the perpetrators or victims), to keep students in class, and, finally, to make sure the school district doesn’t lose out on state funding:

“But there’s indeed a cost tied to playing hooky, as school funding hinges on attendance, which is recorded each period. Students out on the town during classroom hours take money away from already-decimated instructional budgets.”

But here’s an interesting twist – the fines collected as penalties from the proposed day time curfew, as a municipal not school district offense, go to the city, not the school district with its “decimated instructional budget.”

Sources:

sanfrancisco.cbslocal.com: Concord Could Fine Students For Cutting Class

contracostatimes.com: Concord squad tackles truancy as proposed daytime curfew gathers steam

March 15, 2011

For the Kids

Filed under: Education,In The News,Politics,Taxation,Uncategorized — Ken @ 12:03 pm

For a while I sat and tried to think of how to discuss what I saw in the above video, depicting state workers (presumably teachers), repeatedly asking the children “What does Democracy look like?”, then I came across the following Wall Street Journal Op-ed piece from Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin:

Why I’m Fighting in Wisconsin
We can avoid mass teacher layoffs and reward our best performers. But we have to act now.

In 2010, Megan Sampson was named an Outstanding First Year Teacher in Wisconsin. A week later, she got a layoff notice from the Milwaukee Public Schools. Why would one of the best new teachers in the state be one of the first let go? Because her collective-bargaining contract requires staffing decisions to be made based on seniority.

Ms. Sampson got a layoff notice because the union leadership would not accept reasonable changes to their contract. Instead, they hid behind a collective-bargaining agreement that costs the taxpayers $101,091 per year for each teacher, protects a 0% contribution for health-insurance premiums, and forces schools to hire and fire based on seniority and union rules.

My state’s budget-repair bill, which passed the Assembly on Feb. 25 and awaits a vote in the Senate, reforms this union-controlled hiring and firing process by allowing school districts to assign staff based on merit and performance. That keeps great teachers like Ms. Sampson in the classroom.

Most states in the country are facing a major budget deficit. Many are cutting billions of dollars of aid to schools and local governments. These cuts lead to massive layoffs or increases in property taxes—or both.

In Wisconsin, we have a better approach to tackling our $3.6 billion deficit. We are reforming the way government works, as well as balancing our budget. Our reform plan gives state and local governments the tools to balance the budget through reasonable benefit contributions. In total, our budget-repair bill saves local governments almost $1.5 billion, outweighing the reductions in state aid in our budget.

While it might be a bold political move, the changes are modest. We ask government workers to make a 5.8% contribution to their pensions and a 12.6% contribution to their health-insurance premium, both of which are well below what other workers pay for benefits. Our plan calls for Wisconsin state workers to contribute half of what federal employees pay for their health-insurance premiums. (It’s also worth noting that most federal workers don’t have collective bargaining for wages and benefits.)

For example, my brother works as a banquet manager at a hotel and occasionally works as a bartender. My sister-in-law works at a department store. They have two beautiful kids. They are a typical middle-class Wisconsin family. At the start of this debate, David reminded me that he pays nearly $800 per month for his family’s health-insurance premium and a modest 401(k) contribution. He said most workers in Wisconsin would love a deal like the one we are proposing.

The unions say they are ready to accept concessions, yet their actions speak louder than words. Over the past three weeks, local unions across the state have pursued contracts without new pension or health-insurance contributions. Their rhetoric does not match their record on this issue.

Local governments can’t pass budgets on a hope and a prayer. Beyond balancing budgets, our reforms give schools—as well as state and local governments—the tools to reward productive workers and improve their operations. Most crucially, our reforms confront the barriers of collective bargaining that currently block innovation and reform.

When Gov. Mitch Daniels repealed collective bargaining in Indiana six years ago, it helped government become more efficient and responsive. The average pay for Indiana state employees has actually increased, and high-performing employees are rewarded with pay increases or bonuses when they do something exceptional.

Passing our budget-repair bill will help put similar reforms into place in Wisconsin. This will be good for the Badger State’s hard-working taxpayers. It will also be good for state and local government employees who overwhelmingly want to do their jobs well.

In Wisconsin, we can avoid the massive teacher layoffs that schools are facing across America. Our budget-repair bill is a commitment to the future so our children won’t face even more dire consequences than we face today, and teachers like Ms. Sampson are rewarded—not laid off.

Taking on the status quo is no easy task. Each day, there are protesters in and around our state Capitol. They have every right to be heard. But their voices cannot drown out the voices of the countless taxpayers who want us to balance our budgets and, more importantly, to make government work for each of them.

There are those that think that Gov. Walker has “trumped-up” these budget issues to “bust the unions, kill the middle-class and pay off his rich supporters with tax cuts” – well, I’d direct you to the news report last June about Megan Sampson and her layoff, along with 480 other teachers at the end of last school year, and how the teachers now protesting could have spared every one of those teachers, including Megan Sampson, by simply opting for a lower-cost medical plan which would have save the Milwaukee Public Schools $48M, or enough to retain the 480 teachers.

From the report last June:

[Milwaukee School Board President Michael] Bonds said if all teachers switched to the lower-cost plan, about $48 million could be saved, enough to pay for 480 educators.

“I’m not aware of any place in the nation that pays 100% of teachers’ health-care benefits and doesn’t require a contribution from those who choose to take a more expensive plan,” Bonds said.

Pat O’Mahar, the interim executive director for the MTEA, said it was unfortunate the district believed the solution to budget pressures was to lay off hundreds of educators.

Uh, Mr. O’Mahar, the decision was put in the hands of the teachers, and they choose the more expensive health care plans, not the jobs of 480 co-workers… Funny, I don’t remember anyone discussing that “sacrifice” by the teachers during the protests in the state house…

Sources:

YouTube Video: Wisconsin protesters get children to chant

Wall Street Journal: Why I’m Fighting in Wisconsin

Milwaukee Wisconsin Journal Sentinel: Walker brings unwanted attention to local teacher and Seniority system cuts fresh MPS teachers amid budget crunch

March 3, 2011

To Surly, With Love: Are Teachers Overpaid?

Filed under: Education,In The News — Ken @ 6:07 pm

Remember back in the early seventies when teachers were poorly paid and the promise was, if we only paid teachers better, we’d be able to attract better teachers to the classroom, our kids would get a better education, and all would be right with the world. Well, flash-forward to today, and we see imperceptible improvements in student test scores that can’t be reconciled with the inflation-adjusted tripling of per-student costs in public schools.

Bottom line, shoveling ever-increasing dollars into the furnace of public school education has not given us students better-prepared to enter the workforce – it’s time for a change, and the collectively bargained for first in, first out policies and refusal to measure teacher performance and weed out under-performing teachers must be reconsidered.

Sources:

Reason.tv: “To Surly, With Love:Are Teachers Overpaid?”

February 24, 2011

What’s it all about, NEA?

Filed under: Education,In The News — Ken @ 10:04 am

The above video is Bob Chanin the former top lawyer for the NEA, the largest teacher’s union in America, with over 3 million dues-paying members, explaining what the role of the NEA is (from 2009):

Despite what some among us would like to believe it is not because of our creative ideas. It is not because of the merit of our positions. It is not because we care about children and it is not because we have a vision of a great public school for every child. NEA and its affiliates are effective advocates because we have power.

And we have power because there are more than 3.2 million people who are willing to pay us hundreds of millions of dollars in dues each year, because they believe that we are the unions that can most effectively represent them, the unions that can protect their rights and advance their interests as education employees.

…This is not to say that the concern of NEA and its affiliates with closing achievement gaps, reducing dropout rates, improving teacher quality and the like are unimportant or inappropriate. To the contrary. These are the goals that guide the work we do. But they need not and must not be achieved at the expense of due process, employee rights and collective bargaining. That simply is too high a price to pay. [emphasis added]

Source: transcript of NEA Counsel Bob Chanin Says Farewell video

So, got it? Here are the NEA’s priorities:

  1. Due Process
  2. Employee Rights
  3. Collective Bargaining
  4. Closing Achievement Gaps
  5. Reducing Dropout Rates
  6. Improving Teacher Quality (and the like)

Sources:

NEA website

YouTube video: NEA Counsel Bob Chanin Says Farewell video

Michelle Malkin website

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