Clear thinking and straight talk from the top of a mountain.
Tuesday, April 06, 2010
The Problem With Teacher Unions in a Nutshell
Times are tough, and when that's the case certain obvious flaws become amplified. Take for example the challenges currently faced by the Albuquerque Public Schools (APS) as a result of the budget crunch. APS is looking at where to make cuts, and Superintendent Winston Brooks presented one suggestion that seems pretty reasonable on paper. Cut the double dippers (i.e. those who are already drawing a pension).
Albuquerque Teachers Federation President Ellen Bernstein said she understands why the district is targeting rehires, but that there are problems with the plan.
She said double dippers "have the same rights as all beginning employees," and that the district should conduct layoffs by seniority, regardless of whether employees are also drawing a pension.
Seniority. That's what it all boils down to for the union. Value to the kids - irrelevant. Teacher performance - irrelevant. Even that battle cry of the left for the greater good is irrelevant when compared to the union's commitment to protecting the status quo (AKA seniority).
Any wonder that this system continues its downward spiral?
The Governor's office and Lt. Governor Diane Denish appear to be in a he said / she said squabble about the state's failure to land a Race to the Top education reform grant from the Obama administration:
Richardson spokeswoman Alarie Ray-Garcia said that despite Denish's interest in education, she declined repeated invitations to help develop the proposal.
"Her only involvement was to write a letter in support of the state's proposal, which she praised as being 'innovative,'" Ray-Garcia said.
"Now, for whatever reason, she has decided to attack the hard work of a lot of New Mexicans, including Secretary Garcia and her staff, who dedicated a lot of time and resources into this proposal. It was a strong proposal and Governor Richardson was proud to spend considerable time in Washington D.C. last week lobbying Secretary Duncan on its merits."
Denish spokesman James Hallinan said Denish was never invited to participate in the grant-writing process.
Now, I admit to being a bit curious as to whom is telling the truth here. And, as it was pointed out to me by one reader, this should be relatively easy to prove one way or the other. Maybe Richardson spokeswoman Alarie Ray-Garcia would like to send us a copy of the emails or memos that were sent to the Lt. Governor inviting her to help develop the proposal, or maybe a copy of one of the written responses where she "declined repeated inivtations."
Alternately, maybe the Lt. Governor's spokesman, James Hallinan could send us a copy of the request the Lt. Governor made to actually be involved with the proposal writing. I'm just saying, if one of you is telling the truth, please back it up with a little written evidence.
As a relative tangent, you've got to love the fact that teachers' union representative actually wrote a letter AGAINST the state's request for $160 million from the feds:
And while the state's chances probably weren't helped by a letter from Albuquerque Teachers Federation President Ellen Bernstein criticizing the state's application, that likely wasn't a determining factor.
It may not have been a determining factor, but I do hope that when we have a second special session this year because revenue is less than projected, our state legislatures take note that the union went out of their way to keep money for education from coming into the state. Education cuts in the amount of $160 million should absolutely be on the table if a second special session is called.
We're going to have our New Mexico poll results out starting tomorrow- perhaps the most interesting thing we found is that Bill Richardson has become one of the least popular Governors in the country, with 63% of voters in the state disapproving of him to only 28% approving. He's even in negative territory among Democrats at a 42/47 spread.
I've always been amazed by Governor Bill Richardson's early popularity. Despite the rhetoric, the "successes" of this Administration have been nothing more than smoke and mirrors.
Where New Mexico departs from its regional counterparts is that it still looks favored to vote Democratic in its most significant statewide race this year. Lieutenant Governor Diane Denish leads her top Republican opponent, Pete Domenici Jr., by a 45-40 margin and has leads of 14-18 points over the rest of the GOP field.
Denish is by far the best known of the candidates running, with 41% of voters in the state holding a positive opinion of her to just 34% who see her negatively.
Keep in mind, the Lt. Governor has been campaigning for this position for going on two years. So, I don't know that those numbers are anything to celebrate about - especially, considering Pete Domenici Jr. just got in the race a couple of weeks ago.
It's going to be very hard for the Lt. Governor to start disengaging herself from the Governor after Denish has been so silent for so long. Only 34% of the voters see her negatively right now, but let's be realistic. She has operated in the shadow of Governor for the last eight years. His failed policies are bringing him down very quickly. It's not going to be very long before that same problem is encountered by Richardson's #2. This is particularly true when we consider that the Governor spent so much time out of state during his Presidential dream chasing, that the state was actually being run by Lt. Governor Diane Denish.
Huge budget issues continue to loom as the Legislature comes to a close today. So, you've got to wonder how the Hispanic Education Act can be a priority:
But with only hours remaining in the legislative session at the time of the Senate's 25-13 vote, House Bill 150 was sent back to the House, which needed to approve it before it could be forwarded to Gov. Bill Richardson.
The bill's sponsor, Rep. Rick Miera, D-Albuquerque, was optimistic Wednesday night that the House would concur on the amendment by today's noon adjournment.
The legislation, which is supported by Richardson, would create a Hispanic education liaison position inside the state Public Education Department. It also would require an annual report card on Hispanic performance in New Mexico schools. And it would create a Hispanic education advisory council that would provide input to the education secretary.
Whether a charter school is succeeding or failing in meeting its students educational needs, there is one component that is undoubtedly in play that does not exist at most regular public schools - parental involvement. In order for a child to be attending a charter school, a parent or guardian had to make a conscious choice and effort to get their child into that school. And, in the end, if they are unsatisfied with the results, they can move their child out of the school and to another.
Albuquerque Public Schools wants lawmakers to place a moratorium on new charter schools until existing schools are fully funded.
The request is one of the items on the district's legislative wish list, and it aims to help APS deal with a budget crunch.
"We need to stop putting in place new programs or schools that take away from the pie of money," APS lobbyist Joseph Escobedo said.
The theory that moving dollars from one education environment to another is "taking away from the pie of money" is absurd. It is a redistribution of money, but it doesn't shrink the overall pie. Kids are still going to be educated using the same amount of dollars. Actually, maybe I should reword that to say some kids will finally be educated using the same, and quite possibly less, dollars.
Why is it that government entities always support redistribution of wealth from taxpayers to their budgets, but fight tooth and nail when the redistribution is from their budgets to another public entity budget? When that is proposed, it makes the pie smaller. Of course, we all know that it doesn't shrink the pool of money, it just allows it to move to potentially more productive uses. Something that really ought to be the focus of the upcoming legislative session as opposed to taking more from taxpayers. But, I digress.
This is yet another reason that taxpayer dollars allocated for educating our children should follow those children as opposed to making the children follow the dollars.
Disclaimer: Our kids attend a fantastic charter school, Family School. So, I've got an inherent bias here. Plus, it would be highly hypocritical of me to take advantage of school choice for my children, but say from this point forward other people's children should not be afforded the same opportunity.
Gov. Bill Richardson said Tuesday that he will work with state legislators to develop and pass a Hispanic Education Act in the 2010 session of the New Mexico Legislature.
This administration has a proven track record of spending hundreds upon hundreds of millions of dollars on budget breaking projects like spaceports and trains, but to expect them to make any gap closing changes in education is just ridiculous. For us to believe this is possible, we would have to forget the track record of education failures in student performance that have plagued this administration from day one.
And, am I the only one who finds it a little bit insincere for Governor Richardson to talk about closing the education gap for Hispanics by passing a Hispanic Education Act? Seriously, this may make sense for a state with a small percentage of Hispanics, but in New Mexico, we've got the highest percentage of Hispanics of any state in the nation - 45% of our state's population.
Richardson asked summit participants — students, teachers, administrators, politicians and others — to come up with solutions before the legislative session. He said he wants the recommendations to help shape a new Hispanic Education Act, similar to New Mexico's Indian Education Act. That act created a special state division, which compiles an annual report on the progress of Native American students and encourages communication between tribes, among other things.
Yeah, that's what we need. A new "special state division" to compile annual reports and encourage communications. That'll solve all of our problems. Maybe we should bring back the efforts to create a Department of Hispanic Affairs as well?
A new report released by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce gives New Mexico a "C" as its overall education grade. Sounds good, right? I mean we usually get an "F' on these things. Actually, not really as good as it sounds.
Last year, "Leaders and Laggards" focused on student test scores rather than innovation, and New Mexico ranked 49th, better only than Mississippi and Washington, D.C.
See, this year focused on "education innovation" to determine overall ranking. When the only thing that matters (defined: student performance) is measured, we're still way down there at the very bottom of the ranking. The exact same place as the year before.
Considering the budget crisis we're facing, it is interesting to note that one of those measurements in which New Mexico got a worse in class score, a big red F, was in the return on investment category. I've been beating this drum for years. We spend, spend and then spend a lot more, and have absolutely nothing that matters (defined: increase in student performance) to show for it.
Student achievement in New Mexico is very low relative to state education spending (after controlling for student poverty, the percentage of students with special needs, and cost of living). This dismal return on investment earns the state a failing grade.
But it got an "F" and was ranked 44th for removal of ineffective teachers.
To determine that grade, the report cited a survey of principals, most of whom reported that personnel policies and unions are barriers to removing ineffectual teachers. Garcia said such policies are determined by districts, not the state.
"Districts have their local policies, whether they work with teachers or give them another chance," she said.
Ellen Bernstein, Albuquerque Teacher Federation president, said she doesn't think New Mexico deserved such low marks. She said principals have discretion to fire ineffective teachers as long as they show cause.
"Is it hard? Yeah. It should be hard to fire someone," she said. "But it's not impossible."
I'm sorry I don't understand this position. Why should it be hard to fire someone? Why should it be harder to fire a teacher than say an accountant or a doctor or a retail clerk? What am I missing?
This mentality is why unions in general are struggling to find relevance. People who can't do their jobs need to find other work. If unions decided to focus on improving the situation for the high achievers versus protecting the status quo for the underachievers, they would find they had more relevance.
More importantly, as it relates to school, they would find they were actually being advocates for children as opposed to depriving an entire generation a quality education.
Richardson has proposed a 3.5 percent cut to state agencies and a 1.5 percent cut to public schools, which would amount to about a $40 million reduction in the state budget for kindergarten through 12th grade.
The money involved in the transfer to the discretionary account came from funds meant for technology and transportation, Balderas said. About $3,500 of it came from federal Head Start money, in violation of the federal rules, the audit states.
Among the items allegedly purchased by the northern New Mexico school district through the discretionary account were:
More than $2,800 in lobbying expenses.
$200 spent on 20 bags of beef jerky for lobbying at the Legislature last March.
$742 spent on food at the Bull Ring in Santa Fe for a legislative meeting last February.
More than $900 spent on flowers for funerals and other events.
Jackets for all district staff for staff appreciation in January 2007 costing $3,299. More jackets for staff and also for legislators in March 2007, costing $290.
Gift certificates from Wal-Mart for three retiring employees in May 2006 costing a total of $150.
A $302 gift from Zales Outlet for the district's retiring superintendent in August 2006.
Another $1,200 for items for conference rooms from a vendor called "Nambe" in August 2008.
For district staff: more than $1,300 for hams in December 2007, more than $1,600 for turkeys in February 2009 and more than $900 for denim shirts in April 2009.
And more than $2,400 spent on jackets for district leadership in March 2009.
The audit said that depositing money into the discretionary account resulted in less money available for school district operations. Auditors looked into transactions from the discretionary account from fiscal years 2006 to present.
Consider that's just one finding, and it accounts for almost 1.5% of the district's annual budget. Let's roll up our sleeves and get the job done.
Governor Richardson's mantra going into the Special Session this weekend is a simple one: "Budget cuts shouldn't hurt kids." It's one that I wouldn't be surprised to learn had been voter tested and approved:
But most interesting was $38,353 paid for "research/polling" to a company called Fairbank, Maslin, Maullin & Associates in Santa Monica, Calif. Nearly all the money was paid in June, a much smaller chunk paid in September.
It's a simple message, and a nice diversion tactic. Governor Richardson gets to avoid taking ownership for spending New Mexico into a crisis. He gets to pretend to be the great savior of our children, while trying to turn the legislature into the big bad wolf:
Gov. Bill Richardson late Tuesday rejected legislative proposals to plug a state budget gap that's now expected to top $650 million, saying at least two of them would cut too much money for public schools.
Richardson called for lawmakers to try again before a special legislative session on the budget starts Saturday.
"Governor Richardson has studied the legislative proposals and finds the cuts to education unacceptable because of the severe impact to teachers and kids," Richardson spokesman Gilbert Gallegos said. "The governor wants one proposal from the Legislature, not three, that makes fiscally responsible cuts without hurting schools."
But, here's the thing. The Richardson Administration, and to a great extent the rubber-stamping majority in the legislature have done more to damage education in New Mexico over the last seven years, then anything some cost-cutting could ever do. They've herald one supposed "great" education reform after another without ever actually doing anything to improve education for our children. Worse yet, they've refused to ever take ownership of their repeated failures:
A new batch of testing results shows New Mexico students' math scores are among the nation's worst, with little change from previous years.
The data, released by the National Assessment of Educational Progress and often called the Nation's Report Card, shows New Mexico's fourth-graders with an average math score of 230 out of 500. The national average was 239.
The New Mexico average score for eighth-graders was 270, compared to a national average of 282.
The achievement gap between New Mexico's Anglo students and students of other ethnicities remained wide, without significant change from 2007.
Secretary of Education Veronica Garcia said the overall numbers may not provide a fair comparison because of the small sample of students tested. About 11 percent of New Mexico's fourth-graders and 10 percent of eighth-graders took the test.
Garcia also said students and teachers in New Mexico often do not take the test very seriously because scores are not broken down by district or school. She said other states use incentives to raise awareness about the test's importance.
Oh yeah, that's the problem with the test scores. We don't have a big enough media campaign to let our kids know that tests are important. They actually know all of the information, there just not taking the test seriously. GIVE ME A BREAK! Here's a novel idea... How about taking ownership for the education failures?
Look, year after year, we've thrown ever-increasing pots of money at education with ever-worsening results. How about we try something different? Go ahead and cut education spending. Let's stop pretending the children are going to get hurt. Based on the test results released year after year, it can't get much worse for them.
And, as long as we're making cuts, how about getting rid of the hundreds of governor created and appointed positions drawing down comfortable salaries for absolutely no work. In fact, let's fire everyone who can't seem to get their department to actually provide the services they are supposed to be providing.
Heck, why stop there? Let's just fire everyone who refuses to take responsibilities for seven years of failures and fiscal mismanagement. Start with Governor Richardson and don't stop until you find someone who says, "I've totally and completely messed up, and this is how I'm going to fix it." My guess is that before you find that person, the budget will actually be balanced.
Lt. Gov. Diane Denish is asking New Mexicans to restore civility to state politics — by contributing money to her gubernatorial campaign.
In an e-mail sent out to supporters Wednesday, Denish, the sole Democrat to enter the 2010 race thus far, said many New Mexicans have told her they're tired of the name-calling and negativity of current politics.
"Stand with me against the screaming and the insults," said Denish, who added that a contribution of $25, $50 or $100 would help her "put her foot down and say 'enough is enough!'"
Sorry folks this isn't news. There are lots of candidates out there asking for money, and unless the Journal plans on giving each and every one of them equal time, I think they ought to revisit their editorial policy.
As to the content of the Journal's in-kind contribution to Lt. Governor Diane Denish's campaign efforts, I can't help but wonder what exactly the Lt. Governor wants everyone to stop screaming about? Does she want New Mexicans to stop screaming about the fact that this administration's tenure has been marked by more criminal indictments and pay to play scandals than any other administration in recent history? Maybe she wants New Mexicans to stop screaming about a public education system that is failing more and more children every year?
Sorry, but if you ask me, there's not near enough screaming going on in the Land of Enchantment. In fact, I hope the "screaming" grows louder, and I'm really not going to lose any sleep if the crooks, or their enablers, are insulted.
Today marks the eighth anniversary of the attacks of 9/11. It is a day that should always serve as a reminder of two irrefutable facts:
There are people in this world that hate America and the freedom it represents, and would do anything to destroy us.
There are unsung heroes that everyday put their lives on the line to safeguard our communities.
Let me first acknowledge that second point by thanking the firefighters and police officers that step up everyday when no one is looking to protect and to serve. Thanks for what you do.
As to the first point, I can't help but be concerned about the direction our country is heading. On 9/11, the terrorists failed to destroy America, but since that time, a greater and greater number of those elected to lead our country have made, and are making, decisions that might well accomplish what the terrorists failed to do those eight years ago.
The state's boating law says the operator of a vessel has 48 hours to provide information about an accident, and Condit complied with that, according to Jodi McGinnis Porter, spokeswoman for the energy and minerals agency.
Porter said Fay, the boat's owner, stayed at the scene and provided information to investigators, while Richardson, Condit, Miller and the state police officers left. They were not required to remain there, she said.
What's been largely missing from this discussion is not what is legal, but what is ethical. Legally, the perpetrators of the accident may not have been required to remain at the scene of the accident, but ethically, they should have remained.
Think about it.
There are only two reasons that the Governor and his staff fled. First, there was alcohol involved, and it would have been determined that a crime had been committed. Or second, they wanted to avoid the unfolding public relations nightmare that would have been made worse by having their pictures taken at the scene of the accident. I'm reasonably confident that if cell phone records were checked, one of the individuals in the party will be shown to have called for advice on whether or not they "had" to remain at the scene of the accident.
There is always a lot of gratuitous talk about the need to legislate ethics in this state. But, this is just another example of why you can't legislate ethics. Unethical people will act in their own self-interests, and the shrewdly unethical will do it in within the letter of the law. You probably also noticed that not one Democrat running to lead our state in 2010 condemned the blatantly unethical act committed by Governor Richardson and his staff.
A GAO report finds that illegal immigrants constitute more than one-third of all Medicaid-funded pregnancies in California. Elsewhere in the country, the GAO found: "From 1992 to 1995 in Texas, the number of Medicaid-funded births to undocumented alien mothers more than doubled, while the total number of births remained fairly stable." People respond to economic incentives. Even when the people and the incentives are illegal.
Missouri attorney general Chris Koster has estimated that one in ten Medicaid claims is fraudulent. How much of that fraud diverts money to illegal immigrants? Nobody knows for sure and don't ask the state bureaucrats for help in finding out: When the federal government passed new rules demanding better documentation of legal residency for Medicaid recipients, the states resisted. In California, officials representing the state's Medicaid program, Medi-Cal, wanted to use such lamentably inadequate documentation as insurance records and school report cards in place of passports and birth certificates. We are entitled to question their motives, and their prudence.
So, Representative Wilson could use a visit from Miss Manners. But he is telling the truth, and President Obama is not.
Of course, President Obama's dishonesty on this topic is not limited to the question of whether or not illegal immigrants will benefit from the healthcare changes being proposed. There were numerous inaccuracies his speech. For example, take this:
OBAMA: "Nothing in this plan will require you or your employer to change the coverage or the doctor you have."
THE FACTS: That's correct, as far as it goes. But neither can the plan guarantee that people can keep their current coverage. Employers sponsor coverage for most families, and they'd be free to change their health plans in ways that workers may not like, or drop insurance altogether. The Congressional Budget Office analyzed the health care bill written by House Democrats and said that by 2016 some 3 million people who now have employer-based care would lose it because their employers would decide to stop offering it.
In the past Obama repeatedly said, "If you like your health care plan, you'll be able to keep your health care plan, period." Now he's stopping short of that unconditional guarantee by saying nothing in the plan "requires" any change.
Considering how much effort goes into writing a presidential speech, these careful manipulations of the English language cannot be considered accidental. Again, we deal with a question of ethics. Is it ethical to put something forward as factually truthful that is actually intended to deceive?
Of course, these unethical manipulations of language are not limited to our elected officials. They are also being used by "community organizations" to confuse the issues. Consider this taken directly from the ACORN site:
The Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now does not apply for nor does it receive any federal grants.
ACORN has had contracts with other nonprofit organizations to perform work on projects which received federal grant support.
In illegal circles, what ACORN is describing is called money laundering. Organized crime has been doing this for years. In the case of organized crime, dollars from an illegal activity, take prostitution as an example, are flowed through a third party entity before making its way to a "legitimate" business. In this way, the business has deniability about the illegal source of the funds. Much the same way as ACORN has deniability about the federal source of its funding.
Two staff members of the Baltimore office of ACORN were fired Thursday after they were captured on hidden camera appearing to give advice on evading tax laws to a man and woman posing as a pimp and a prostitute.
The video depicts a man and a scantily dressed female partner visiting the Charles Village office of the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, where they appear to ask two employees about how to shield their work from state and federal tax requirements. The supposed pimp also appears to ask the employees how to conceal underage girls from El Salvador brought into the country illegally to work for him.
"If they don't have Social Security numbers, you don't have to worry about them," the employee says.
Of course, the only problem is that this isn't a comedy skit. It's actually real. Now, factor in the economy, our increasingly uncompetitive educational system, the ever-growing size of government, and the you'll see why I'm so concerned that America may be doing to herself what the terrorists failed to do on 9/11.
Aren't you a little curious? Did this right-leaning blogger, who criticizes just about everything this administration does, allow his young impressionable children to watch the President of the United States give his "first day of school" speech.
Teacher Lauradean Morganti used some of the U.S. Department of Education's lesson plans for the speech. She required students to complete the homework assignment: "Are we able to do what the president is asking of us?" "Does the speech make you want to do anything differently?" "What would you like to ask or tell the president?"
Suggested lesson plans had drawn fire, particularly for a section that said students could write to the president and tell him how they could help him meet education goals. That section was later removed.
I had a conversation with a fellow blogger the other day after I put up my last post on this matter. His thoughts were I was overreacting about the "you must listen to politicians" indoctrination being pushed by the federal government on school children. He felt this was especially true regarding young children. His argument was that elementary school children should be taught to listen to authority figures like police and politicians. It is not until they get older that they should be expected to think critically.
I disagreed. I think all children should be taught to be respectful of others, especially their elders. However, being respectful does not mean blindly following whatever an adult says. I shared the following story with my friend.
One day, a couple of years after 9/11, our family was driving north on I-25 by the Sunport. A plane was flying in low and getting ready to land. Our oldest son was looking out the window and commented, "Look at that plane, it kind of reminds me of when the Iraqis flew those planes into those buildings."
My wife and I looked at each other, and I responded, "It does. But, it wasn't Iraqis who flew the planes into the buildings."
Our son thought about this for a few seconds, and then asked, "If it wasn't the Iraqis, why are we fighting a war in Iraq?"
He was seven.
Kids are inherently curious. They constantly question the logic put forth by adults. The questioning starts shortly after they learn to talk. Anyone who has ever been around a very young child knows has heard, "But why?" more times than they can count. We don't need to teach our kids to submit and be blind followers. We need to teach our kids to respect, but to question.
Albuquerque parents will be able to opt out if their children's teacher wants to tune into President Barack Obama's back-to-school address next week, APS Superintendent Winston Brooks said.
"This is a politically fired issue," Brooks told the school board Wednesday during its regular meeting. APS offices received four phone calls and "a handful" of e-mails from parents concerned about the address, and officials checked to see how other urban districts were responding to the issue, Brooks said.
However, in the current environment, it is not surprising that some folks are feeling somewhat wary of the President's address to our nation's school children. The current focus on increasing the size and scope of government beyond it's already fantastically bloated and overreaching levels has made many people uneasy. Tactics used by the White House to track opposition to these efforts have done nothing but make people more suspicious:
The “flag” service was introduced Aug. 4, with a White House blog post saying: “There is a lot of disinformation about health insurance reform out there, spanning from control of personal finance to end of life care. These rumors often travel just below the surface via chain emails or through casual conversation. Since we can’t keep track of all of them here at the White House, we’re asking for your help. If you get an email or see something on the web about health reform that seems fishy, send it to firstname.lastname@example.org.”
There have been numerous occasions in world history when what appeared at the time to be an innocent action, turned out in hindsight to be part of a larger plan. I am not saying that President Obama is hatching a big devious plan. I am just saying that as a nation, it is in our best interest to question the motivation behind any and all actions which expand government reach and influence. This is true regardless of which party is in control.
Now, if we take tomorrow's Presidential address to the nation's children as being exactly what it is stated as being, there is still a problem. States have their own standards. Why is the federal government "pushing" a lesson plan for the first day of school. Why does the lesson plan for children k-6 ask?
Why is it important that we listen to the president and other elected officials, like the mayor, senators, members of congress, or the governor? Why is what they say important?
Sorry, but I've taught at the those age levels, and this does smell a little like indoctrination. I can tell you first hand that a lot of what I've heard elected officials say is not important. And, there are lots of times when they SHOULD NOT be listened to under any circumstance. Again, many of you may think everything that our current political leaders are saying is just great. But remember, it wasn't that long ago when you felt otherwise.
I was taken to task yesterday in a comment for not providing a plan for education. Now, it is true that I've spent a lot of time on this blog over the years bemoaning the constant increases in education spending. But, let me clarify my position for a moment. I don't actually have a problem with making large investments in education. However, I expect those investments to yield results. If you ask me for more of my money, it better improve student performance. To date, this hasn't happened. Nor do I believe under the current system it ever will.
So, what's my plan. Well, it basically boils down to five points. I'll try and make my points and give you some insight into the thinking behind them. Keep in mind, that aside from having children currently enrolled in public school, I also have ten years of experience in education. Five as an educator in the classroom, and five running a not-for-profit organization that brought economic education programs into schools.
Parents need to take responsibility for the quality of their children's education. That means attending school meetings. Finding time to help out at schools. Acting as their child's advocate. Turning off the T.V. and video games and making sure their children are reading and doing their homework. Schools for their part need to provide opportunities for parental involvement.
For those of you who think this is only something the wealthy can do, think again. I've worked in schools serving some of the poorest communities, and have seen parent involvement that would rival any private school. What's always amazed me is that a great many private schools (and charter schools for that matter) require parent involvement as part of attending the school. Yet, so many public schools do not.
Here's another thing to consider. Go watch children's competitive sports one weekend. I don't care if it's soccer, baseball, football, or whatever. You'd be amazed at what parents do to get their kids on a "good" team. They'll drive from the mountains to the Westside, or vice a versa. They'll ask time off from work, so they can take their child clear across the state to that important competition. Again, not an income dependent situation. You'll find the poorest and richest side by side. They're all hoping their child is the next fill-in-the-blank star. Of course, we know very few will be. More importantly if they put that effort in supporting their child's education, they're children are more likely to succeed.
Let good teachers teach, and fire the bad ones. People who are lousy educators don't belong in the classroom. If they fail to perform at one school, they should not be moved to another. Teachers' unions top priority are protecting teachers' jobs, increasing teachers' pay, and getting the best benefits package they can for their members. Okay, fair enough, that's what unions do. But, please note, improving student performance does not enter the equation. Everyone likes to talk about the need (or failures of) business and industry to police their own, it's time for teachers' unions and education systems to do the same and remove the non-performers from their ranks.
As to letting good teacher's teach, how long has it been since you've actually observed the inner dynamics of schools? If it's been awhile, you'd be amazed. Schools get their reimbursement from the state based on the number of bodies they have in the seats on a given day. Student performance is irrelevant. In fact, the worse the performance, the greater inflow of dollars into a given school. What is it they say happens when you reward bad behavior? That's right, you get more bad behavior. Ask any great teacher, and they'll tell you that. This is a broken system.
There was a time when a disruptive child was sent out of the classroom and to an administrator's office for discipline. The administrator would in turn call the child's parents, and there would be consequences when the child got home. Those days are long since gone. Teachers are strongly encouraged to manage the behavior of disruptive children and keep them in the classroom. This is not conducive to teaching, nor does it prepare the child to be a contributing member of society.
Along this same lines, we need to change how public education is perceived. The benefits of a quality education is a privilege. It is not an inherent right. Children and families from all backgrounds are given a unique opportunity in this country that can level the playing field for the rest of their lives. If they don't take advantage of it, then they don't belong in taxpayer funded schools. By the way, get great teachers in the classroom, re-introduce discipline, and you'll be surprised how many kids opt on their own to take advantage of this privilege.
Pay teacher's based on performance, not based on artificial tiers or longevity on the job. In every other profession I'm aware of paying on anything but performance results in mediocrity. Why is education any different? It's not. Yet, a high performing teacher can't make more than a poor performing teacher. You can thank the unions and the poor performing teachers for that.
How do you measure student performance? Simple. You measure what a student knows when they enter the class. You establish an individualized educational plan (IEP) for every student (for the life of me I never understood why only special ed students get these), and you measure what that student knows when they leave the class compared to that IEP.
You eliminate waste. School budgets operate under the rule guiding all governmental budgets - use it or lose it. This is a practice that encourages waste. If you've got children in public elementary school in APS, I'm willing to bet any amount of money that the school has adopted at least two different math curricula between the time your child entered 1st grade and left at 5th grade. Each time they do this, they buy all new textbooks. Do you have any idea how wasteful this is. The irony is if you walked into a given classroom of any great teacher, you'll see that they pull different lessons from different books. Why? Because contrary to whatever the popular text is that year, one size does not fit all, and great teachers know this.
Allow all families to take advantage of school choice. The wealthy already do. Is there any reason that poor and middle income families shouldn't be given choice? I don't think so. Moreover, give people choices, and you'll be surprised at how involved they become. Take away their choice, and they will quickly lose interest. Give the money to the parents in form of vouchers, and guess what? We solve three problems all at once.
We have a proven means of involving parents. We make schools accountable for student performance in order to receive funds. We break the cycle of use it or lose it.
Come to think of it, maybe we don't break the cycle of use it or lose it. We just change the "it." It now becomes the actual education. Use the vouchers to get the best possible education for your child, or lose it.
The test scores are in and once again the vast majority of New Mexico schools are failing to make the grade. In fact, in what is quickly becoming an annual tradition more schools failed this year than last year:
Schools repeatedly failing to meet adequate yearly progress could face sanctions, including restructuring. Results released Monday are preliminary and school districts have several weeks to appeal their designations.
The results show that for the 2008-09 school year:
69.3 percent of New Mexico's schools were labeled as failing to meet AYP, up from 67.7 percent the previous year.
124 out of 147 middle schools failed to make AYP, meaning a failure rate of 84.4 percent.
Of the state's 157 high schools, 129, or 82.2 percent, failed to make AYP.
The results are based on standardized tests taken by about 162,000 students in third through eighth grades and in 11th grade.
Schools are judged in 37 categories, including whether English language learners, students with disabilities and different ethnic groups are meeting standards. If a school misses even one of the 37 standards, it is labeled as failing to meet AYP.
Roughly half the students who should have graduated with the class of 2008 failed to do so, prompting a call to action by the state's education secretary.
"It is alarming," Education Secretary Veronica Garcia said during a news conference Monday at which the state unveiled its four-year graduation rate, along with results of the latest round of tests required under the federal No Child Left Behind Act.
New Mexico's cohort graduation rate for the class of 2008 is 54 percent compared to the national average of 70 percent, according to the Public Education Department.
The cohort rate tracked individual students from the ninth grade through the summer after their senior year in 2008 to show how many graduated.
For Albuquerque Public Schools, the state's largest school district, the 2008 graduation rate was 46.2 percent, according to the state report.
Gov. Bill Richardson, who has made education reform a priority during his 6 1/2 years in office, plans to unveil another batch of reforms as early as this week.
"We will push very hard so that the main legislative agenda item in January and in my remainder of the term will be education, to finish what I believe is a good start and good progress," Richardson told the Journal last week. "We recognize that we still have a ways to go."
Hmm, let's see if we can follow the logic here. The Governor has made education reform a priority for 6 1/2 years, and each year we fail to make any progress. Heck, we actually lose ground year after year. I don't know about you, but as the parent of school age children, I don't think I have the stomach for any more of Governor Richardson's style reforms.
New Mexico students did not improve their academic performance during the Richardson administration. The evidence suggests a very slight decline. The prestigious American Legislative Exchange Council, using many factors of evaluation, ranked New Mexico 48th in the nation in 2007, the same ranking it gave New Mexico in 2002. It ranked New Mexico 49th during most years of Richardson’s administration.
During the late 1990s New Mexico routinely scored in the low 40s, so the last few years represent a definite decline. And the U.S. Chamber of Commerce this year gave New Mexico an “F” in its report card for overall academic achievement, an “F” for the academic achievement of low income and minority students and an “F” for the return on investment per dollar spent.
Fewer than six in 10 students graduated from New Mexico's high schools in 2006, giving the state a rank of 48th in the nation for high-school graduation rates, according to a report released Tuesday.
Education Week's "Diplomas Count" report found New Mexico's graduation rate was 56 percent for the class of 2006. The study also showed an average of 73 students dropped out each school day.
The state ranked ahead of Georgia (55.9 percent), the District of Columbia (48.8 percent) and Nevada (47.3 percent). The national graduation rate was 69.2 percent.
The state Public Education Department said the report showed a slight improvement over the class of 2005, when New Mexico ranked 50th nationwide at 54.1 percent.
The state Secretary of Education Veronica Garcia said in a release that the progress was "good" but pointed out that the low rate meant "far too many of our children take too long or fail to graduate from high school."
Wow, talk about trying to put on a positive spin. The Secretary of Education called moving from the worst in the nation to third worse in the nation "good" progress?
I have two kids in public school in New Mexico. If they brought home a test score of 54.1% on one test and then 56% on their next test, I don't think we would be using the word "good" anywhere in the discussion.
So it was curious that when President Obama recently allowed 1,716 of Washington's neediest schoolchildren to keep, until graduation, the vouchers they use to escape their failed public schools for higher-quality private ones, he also closed the program to new applicants. All this occurred as the Education Department reported that voucher participants show superior skills in reading, safety and orderliness. The news was buried in an impenetrable study released without a news conference.
Why the ambivalence? Because teacher unions, fearing loss of jobs, have pushed most Democrats to oppose vouchers and other options that invite competition for public schools. Put another way, they oppose giving poor parents the same choice that the president himself — along with his chief of staff and some 35% of Democrats in Congress — have made in sending their children to private schools.
Vouchers have improved the math and reading of inner-city children from Dayton, Ohio, to Charlotte, N.C., various studies show. The Washington vouchers improved the reading of girls and younger kids by about half a school year, though results for other groups were iffier. Yet opposition is so fierce that few voucher experiments survive past the seedling stage.
Isn't it time we put kids first? I thought the last election was all about CHANGE?
An article in last week's Albuquerque Journal noted that CNM has surpassed UNM:
For the first time, Central New Mexico Community College has edged out the University of New Mexico as the state's largest higher-education institution.
CNM had 172 more students enrolled this spring than the University of New Mexico.
"I think it is a true testament to the quality of this institution. And of course I might be taking it a little too far, but the reality is that we're flexible, and we create opportunities for students to do distance learning and to come in the evenings and come on the weekends," CNM President Katharine Winograd said.
I'm not quite sure I agree with CNM's President. I think this switch has a lot more to do with the state of the economy than education quality of the institution. It's pretty simple when you think about it. People have less money right now, and it's cheaper to attend community college than it is to attend a traditional university.
President Obama announced new steps to help unemployed Americans on Friday, targeting people who are out of work and want to go back to school.
The president outlined a plan under which the Department of Education will send colleges legal guidance, encouraging them to increase financial aid packages for the unemployed so they can enroll in educational and training programs while keeping their unemployment benefits.
That last part gives me pause... collecting unemployment while going to school. As it is, the cost of public education is subsidized by the taxpayers. Now, we're going to pay unemployment benefits on top of this subsidy? Community colleges have no entrance exams. Anyone can attend. Will some people take classes in order to avoid going to work. Will there be any penalty if they do not pass the classes with a "C" or higher?
Data showing Albuquerque Public Schools elementary proficiency rates by classroom apparently miscounted the number of students in some classrooms.
Several teachers reported to the Journal that the number of exams that APS reported for their classrooms was inaccurate. The data, which was prepared by APS, was posted on the Journal's Web site in late February.
Fourth-grade teacher Cathy Jordan said she and her principal sat down and tried to figure out how the district's numbers were different from her own.
"I had 21 students last year, and all the students took both the reading and math tests," wrote Jordan, a teacher at SY Jackson Elementary. "So, I should have 42 tests or 21 tests. How could there only be 32?"
The APS results show the number of math and reading tests, according to the district, so 42 tests in most cases reflects 21 students.
A spokesman for APS said in some cases, tests were considered "spoiled" and not counted, so it looked like there were fewer students who completed the test than were in the class.
In other cases, students' tests may have been mistakenly assigned to the wrong classrooms in the school.
The troubling part here is that those accountable for accountability are not able to give a straight answer. Overall, our school systems are a mess. That is not to say there aren't some great public schools. There are. Nor, is it intended to mean that all teachers are bad. The VAST majority are very good. But, the system is broken. It has grown and evolved in a way that no longer makes sense.
Essentially, the education industry is asking for a larger bailout every year to fix problems that cannot be fixed by money alone. And, this is not a New Mexico only problem. This is a national crisis that threatens our future ability to compete globally, and the worst part of all of this is that this inequity impacts those among us with the least resources the most. Consider what is going on in D.C. with regard to the successful voucher program:
The students, almost all of them black and Hispanic, patched together the voucher money with scholarships, other grants and parents willing to make sacrifices to pay their tuition.
What happened, according to a Department of Education study, is that after three years the voucher students scored 3.7 months higher on reading than students who remained in the D.C. schools. In addition, students who came into the D.C. voucher program when it first started had a 19 month advantage in reading after three years in private schools.
It is really upsetting to see that the Heritage Foundation has discoverd that 38 percent of the members of Congress made the choice to put their children in private schools. Of course, Secretary Duncan has said he decided not to live in Washington, D.C. because he did not want his children to go to public schools there. And President Obama, who has no choice but to live in the White House, does not send his two daughters to D.C. public schools, either. They attend a private school, Sidwell Friends, along with two students who got there because of the voucher program.
This reckless dismantling of the D.C. voucher program does not bode well for arguments to come about standards in the effort to reauthorize No Child Left Behind. It does not speak well of the promise of President Obama to be the “Education President,’ who once seemed primed to stand up for all children who want to learn and especially minority children.
My kids are in APS schools, but they have never gone to their "designated" school. We've placed them in schools that we felt would best match their educational needs. When those needs have changed, we've moved them to other schools. We've been advocates on behalf of our children. I spent ten years in education, so I know how to get the most out of the system. But, others are not as fortunate, and the one size fits all approach just doesn't work - no matter how much money we throw at it.
Since the 2000-01 school year, public education funding in New Mexico to this year has increased by $949 million, or 57 percent, according to the Department of Finance and Administration. During that same period, enrollment has remained relatively flat, growing about 1 percent to nearly 324,000, according to the state Public Education Department.
Yet, despite the facts above "education advocates" would like to sue the state under the premise that they aren't being sufficiently funded. Am I missing something here? There has been a 57% increase in funding. I can't seem to find the report that indicates that indicates there has been a 57% increase in student performance. Oh right, it's because it doesn't exist.
The good news: Most students at Central New Mexico Community College won't pay more for tuition during the upcoming academic year.
The bad news: They'll begin paying a $3-per-credit-hour technology fee, raising the cost of attending the state's largest community college by $36 a semester for a student taking 12 credit hours.
CNM's governing board approved the new tuition and fee rates Tuesday.
The board also approved a $187 million budget for the college, which enrolls close to 25,000 students.
Because of statewide budget cuts, the budget the governing board approved includes no salary increases.
According to a CNM news release, this is the third year the school's governing board has not increased in-district tuition, which is $41 per credit hour.
It's that last line that really gets my goat. No matter how you slice it, "a $3-per-credit-hour technology fee" increase is a 7% increase in tuition. I'm not quite sure who the governing board at CNM think they're kidding, but it is wrong for them to pretend that they are not increasing tuition costs (i.e. the cost to attend) when they absolutely are.
Ouch. Two readers took me to task yesterday for a post I put up last Friday not buying into the Chicken Little global warming scare:
Come on Mario, you're not really dumb enough to believe that global warming means that every day will be warm do you? This is the stupidest meme that the GOP ever came up with. The day-to-day weather effect of global warming is a higher incidence in extreme weather and climate scientists have never claimed otherwise. Dan | 03.16.09 - 10:23 am | #
I think this display of scientific ignorance is made all the more alarming that he is home schooling. qofdisks | 03.16.09 - 12:33 pm | #
As I understand it most of the home schooling crowd is doing so specifically to keep their kids from being exposed to scientific theories they don't agree with.
They sure do crank out spelling bee champions(who have no social skills whatsoever)though! Dan | 03.16.09 - 1:54 pm | #
Now, that I got that off my chest I can deal with the hurtful part of the posts. Namely, attacking my parenting abilities - low blow folks. There's a lot that I've gotten wrong in this life so far, but I think that's what department in which I'm doing okay.
But, this is not all bad. There is some humor to be found in these attacks. First, let me set the record straight on two counts. My own kids are not home schooled in the truest sense of the word. My youngest attends Family School and my oldest will start going there next year for Middle School. Surprise, surprise, Family School is an APS Charter school. The second thing is that I don't credit for meeting the parental committment to this education partnership. That credit belongs to my wife.
Now, with that cleared up, let me state that's not what actually has me grinning. No, I've saved that for last. You see the problem with personally attacking me is that you run risk of looking like a total fool. Criticize my positions. That's fair game. Actually, it's encouraged. However, ad hominem attacks just make you look foolish.
For example... the comments were left as a response to the fact that my kids and several of their home schooling friends (some truly home schooled) went up to Santa Fe to serve as legislative pages for the day. But, as luck would have it, it was the second time this legislative session that my older son, a fifth grader at San Antonito Elementary (an APS school), had reason to go up to the Roundhouse.
His first trip, a couple of weeks earlier was for a rather special occasion. Wait for it.... See, every fifth grader in the school was invited to come up to the Legislature. Wait, it's coming.... They were invited up to be honored. Are you ready?... Honored for the fact that as fourth graders the year before, they scored the highest in state on the standardized science tests.
My two boys and a group of homes school friends headed up to Santa Fe early this snowy late March morning (how's that global warming thing working out?) to serve as pages. Special thanks to Representative Taylor and Representative Gardner.
So, you folks up in the Roundhouse today reading this, you know who you are, make sure to go over and say, "Hi" and a few nice things about me.
The U.S. economy continued to hemorrhage jobs in February, bringing total job losses over the last six months to more than 3.3 million, and taking the unemployment rate to its highest level in 25 years.
The government reported Friday that employers slashed 651,000 jobs in February, down from a revised loss of 655,000 jobs in January. December's loss was also revised higher to a loss of 681,000 jobs, a 59-year high for losses in one month.
Yet, the Albuquerque Journal has an article on a poll with the headline, Poll Shows Support for School Tax. For the life of me, I can't imagine who in their right mind would want two tax increase under these circumstances:
Proponents of a proposed new public school funding formula hope that results from a new poll will breathe life back into legislation stalled in a House committee.
The poll, conducted this week, found that 59 percent of registered voters surveyed statewide support a gross-receipts tax increase to pay for the new formula. The formula would add about $360 million to school budgets.
Amazing, a majority of registered voters surveyed support two tax increases. Wait a minute. Let me look at that again. Hmm, something's not right. Oh, I see.
Voters weren't asked about a proposed increase in personal income taxes, which is another component of the house bill.
Nice. A poll that only asks about one part of the proposed tax increases. Isn't that convenient. Funny how they didn't think to poll whether folks would support increasing personal income taxes on everyone in the state of New Mexico earning under $8 an hour.
What's even more interesting is the actual breakdown of those strongly supporting this half truth:
Of those polled, 23 percent strongly oppose the measure while 13 percent somewhat oppose it. Strongly supporting it were 36 percent, and somewhat supporting it were 23 percent.
Now that's interesting... only 36% strongly support it. I wonder how many of those somewhat supporting would drop if you asked them how they felt about the tax increase if they knew it was only part of the equation? I wonder how many of those somewhat supporting the gross receipts tax increase would still support it if you helped them do the math, and pointed out that the tax increase proposed would increase the percentage they pay in taxes by more than 10%.
If I were legislator considering this bill, I wouldn't let this polling change my mind. When it come time for re-election, you can be sure that the facts around this tax release will be presented in a lot more factual light. The 36% that strongly support it may still vote for you, but last I checked, that wasn't even close to a majority.
As a reminder, this bill proposes the gross receipt tax rate (GRT) be increased by .5%. In addition the bill also proposes an increase in the personal income tax rate (PIT). The PIT would increase in tax year 2010 from 4.9 percent to 6 percent for married persons filing jointly with taxable income of at least $24,000 and for single persons with taxable income of at least $16,000. The additional revenue would be earmarked for public education.
That's right this one bill raises not one, but two taxes - a double whammy. And, before you folks jump in and say it's about time rich people invest in education, please review just who is getting hit with higher taxes right now.
The PIT is being raised on folks making $16,000 per year or more. That comes out to an hourly rate of less than $7.75. Of course, these same people are going to be hit with higher gross receipts taxes if this bill goes through. Talk about hitting people when they're down.
Among those speaking against the measures was Terri Cole, president and CEO of the Greater Albuquerque Chamber of Commerce.
Cole said the proposed funding formula doesn't contain enough accountability. She said the amount the state spends on public education has doubled over the past 12 years to $2.4 billion, yet the dropout rate remains high. She noted that the number of students has, for the most part, remained flat during that time.
More evidence was provided recently b the findings of the American Legislative Exchange Council, the limited government-oriented national legislative umbrella organization based in Washington, DC.
That organization's recent study, the 15th edition of their "Report Card on American Education," shows that New Mexico's K-12 government-run education system is not only behind other states, but is falling further behind as time passes. According to the New Mexico-specific pages of the study which can be found here, The Land of Enchantment has fallen from 43rd to 48th since 1998 in ALEC's overall ranking. This, despite a more rapid increase in per-pupil spending than was found in other states (42% to 36.6%).
Of course, I left the best part for last. The rationale for introducing these increased regressive taxes on the poorest amongst us is to fund a new public school funding formula to help make up for a supposed underfunding for schools. The thing is that the new funding formula bill got tabled. This has spurred speculation that the new INCREASE YOUR TAXES BILL will be amended to remove the language to use the revenue for education and instead be used as a revenue generator the budget.
Yeah, that's just what we need during a time of economic crisis - more taxes.
I was born a New Yorker and have lived in more places than I can count on one hand. My wanderings included a total of more than two years in Ecuador and nine years in California. The latter being significant as that is where I met the love of my life. Of course, she determined that our progeny would be the tenth generation of her family to be raised in New Mexico. So, this is where my roots will grow long.