Tuesday, May 30, 2006

RULES OF THE GAME: Winds Shifting On Campaign Finance Law? (05/30/2006)

Here is a well written explanation of what is at stake at the Surpeme Court regarding campaign finance. After three decades of increased regulation on campaign finance,
Now, it seems, the wind is about to shift. The court is poised to rule on a challenge to Vermont's campaign finance rules, which include both an unusual spending cap and very low contribution limits. Legal experts predict that the court may throw out both prongs of Vermont's strict campaign finance regime as unconstitutional.

It's the first key test of election laws to come before the high court since the arrival of newly installed Chief Justice John G. Roberts and Justice Samuel A. Alito. The key shift, of course, is the retirement of now-departed Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, who was the swing voter in a long string of narrowly-decided campaign finance rulings.

The Vermont case, known as Randall v. Sorrell, is significant because it asks the court for the first time in three decades to address whether spending limits tread on free speech. In its 1976 Buckley v. Valeo ruling, the high court threw out spending caps in the Federal Election Campaign Act, saying that such limits violated the First Amendment. (Links in original)
While people may think that the Court may address contribution limits with the Vermont case, I tend the Court may simply stick to the expenditure limits.

While I tend to believe that contribution limits are an imposition on free speech, there does not seem to be a great deal of good data on the impact of contribution limits on teh ability of candidates to get their message out. This is the gist of the Shrink Missouri case, that the Court should not be in the business of line drawing unless the line the legislature draws is so low as to inhibit the ability of candidates to dessiminate their message.

Certainly, the Court has room to delve into contribution limits in this case, I think external politics surrounding the confirmation of Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Alito may dictate a narrow ruling. Given their proclaimed stances as judicial, as opposed to ideological, conservatives, the safest move for the Chief is to seek a ruling based on settled precedent, that expenditure limits violate the First Amendment and leave contribution limits alone as voiding those limits in this case, without more, would be overturning a long-standing precedent. Given their short tenure, albeit a lifetime tenure, on the Supreme Court it may be judicially prudent to avoid reversing precedent.

Hat Tip: Prof. Hasen.

Men a Minority on College Campuses

Tis the season of commencement speeches in America's colleges (well actually it has passed for the most part). There is one thing just about every speaker appearing before college graduating classes had in common. Their audience generally contaned more women than men. Yesterday, USA Today carried an interesting debate regarding the status of young men in higher education. The editors took the position that something must be done, not in college, but earlier when boys begin to fall behind.
Although university officials tend to point to inadequate preparation in high schools, the problems begin far earlier. In preschools, more boys than girls get booted for bad behavior. In elementary schools, boys slip behind girls in reading skills. In middle schools, the gender gap widens. By high school, girls are so far ahead the boys don't feel like playing catch-up. At that age, trying too hard is seen as uncool.

Poor motivation and lackluster academic backgrounds follow many boys into college, where they find a mostly unsupervised living environment. Plenty of time for drinking, chasing girls, staying up all night and playing poker and video games. Not a recipe for academic success.

Many educators, especially feminists, say academic gender gaps don't matter because men end up running things anyway. Some conservatives argue that doing nothing about the gender gaps is better than creating a new class of "victims."

But doing nothing makes no sense for parents looking for answers, employers looking for educated workers or women looking for an educated mate. Until schools at all levels face up to the gender problems, they will only worsen.
So we must do something to help these poor boys get their act together so they can survive in the modern information age. O.K., what exactly? All of the reasoning I am seeing for the poor peformance of young men in college and in elementary and secondary schools cannot be fixed with some sort of goverment program or intervention by the schools. No, the solution is that we must once again ask parents and young people to take responsibility for their own education.

Heather MacDonald, in response worries that we are gearing up for another class of victims in education and society.
The moment is close at hand when the United States will be composed entirely of victim groups.

The news media have been sounding the alarm about a new gender crisis in education: Boys reportedly make up a declining portion of college students. And so the future is clear. Boys are poised to become the newest victim class.

That rustling sound you hear is the migration of university deans and "diversity" consultants to the next big employment bonanza: helping boys succeed!

The requisite bureaucracies are already in place: The professions and academia overflow with committees on the recruitment and retention of minorities and women; they will undoubtedly be only too happy to expand their mandate to boys.

Here's a better suggestion for the alleged gender gap in education: Do nothing. Or rather, do nothing in the name of boys per se. If boys are lagging in undergraduate enrollment, it's up to them to study harder and stay more focused. They don't need the inevitable new consulting boondoggles in order to pull up their own bootstraps.
MacDonald quickly jumps to a "feminized progressive education" as the "clear culprit" for the shortage of young men graduating. Hogwash! Hundreds of thousands of young men graduate from college each year, filling our workforce and graduate schools with bright young men who succeed in college. Why--because they wanted to succeed. It is as simple as that.

The real culprit, as with just about anything have to do with personal matters, is a lack of personal responsibility. Interestingly enough, MacDonald is right on the probability of expansion of the mandate to help young men by diversity committees, which again will only perpetuate the mentality that one is not to blame for their own lot in life, but everyone else is keeping them down.

The one thing that will help boys and girls prepare for college is the one thing that most elementary and secondary schools don't or can't teach--the traits of personal responsiblity, self-reliance and integrity. If such traits were taught in schools and at home, you wouldn't have a gender gap, you would have a class of students far superior in every way to the categorized victim classes we now see.

End of School Year Reflections--Where Are The Success Stories?

As another school year comes to a close and another class of graduating seniors prepares to leave the confines of high school, it is naturally a time to take stock in the academic preparation of yet another cohort of school kids. Of course, we can sit back a lament the poor state of American education, about the eroding confidence in our public schools, the distrust of administrators by teachers, the distrust of teachers by administrators, and on and on.

But surely there is some good news out there. Here is one that is touted as a public school success:
In the public schools, Joel Vargas has learned, the rules are sometimes nothing more than a starting point in negotiations. Take the rule that you have to spend a full year at a high school before transferring. Joel broke that rule twice in a single month. And it’s a big reason why he’s going to Yale next year.
But even the story of Joel Vargas is simply a veil for an indictment of the New York Public Schools.

So many of the public school success stories are presented like those of Joel Vargas, with the same plot line--"poor kid ignores the rules and against all odds goes on to ________ (insert name of top tier university here)." That is not to say that these stories are not worthy of publication and airing as there are always lessons to be learned from such stories, but they don't really reveal what is right, and hopefully replicable, in our public schools.

But good news travels slowly and bad news like the speed of light. This quote (from a Washington Post Magazine article on global warming skeptics--a good one by the way) is the best explanation for this phenomenon:
In a media-saturated world, it's hard to get anyone's attention without cranking the volume.


The news media -- always infatuated with doom (were it not for the obvious ramifications for ratings and circulation, the media would love to cover the End of the World) -- struggle to resist the most calamitous-sounding ... scenarios.
So the media, and I admit, people like me with a political agenda regarding schools, often portray only the worst about the schools, or couch the best about schools as an exception while building a case against the public schools.

Despite my predilection for much more choice in education, I have never advocated for the elimination of public schools. Rather, I see the government as one provider of education services among many. We all know, and I am constantly reminded by commenters to this site and others, that not all is bad in public education.

So what is good in public education? I am asking an honest, heart-felt question and looking for real responses. I don't intend to turn my quest for good news into an stinging rebuke of public schools.

by the way, while Joel Vargas's story and those like his are inspiring, give me something more, something systemic, not individual.

So what I would like is some links and pointers to good news about public schools. Please post in the Comments for all to see.

Friday, May 26, 2006

Stupid Is As Stupid Does

That is the title of my new column up over at Watchblog

Congressional Double Standard on Warrants � Outside The Beltway | OTB

One of the best lines about the whole Rep. Jefferson Office search can be found atOutside The Beltway.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006


The 68th Edition of the Carnival of Education is now open at NYC Educator

Climbing the Ivory Tower

Prof. Allison Hayward, at least that is what some first year law students at George Mason Law School will be calling the Skeptic in the fall.

Join me in expressing my congratualtions to one of the best (and few) writers on campaign finance out there. Almost makes me want to go back to law school--


What the hell was I thinking there?

Tuesday, May 23, 2006


Go check out the 21st Carnival of Homeschooling. This week, a progressive dinner is the theme.

As always, some very good reading to be had.

Search of Jefferson Offices Not Only Constituional, but Necessary

The case of Rep. William Jefferson presents such interesting political and legal dynamics. While certainly the case and the search of Jefferson's Congressional offices are unusual, I don't think that it rises to the level of a constitutional violation. According to the Washington Post,
Legal experts were divided on the legality and propriety of the FBI's raid, but many said that it could raise serious evidentiary problems for prosecutors at trial. In scores of cases of alleged congressional wrongdoing, federal prosecutors and FBI agents have most commonly sought to issue subpoenas for documents rather than conducting an impromptu raid on congressional property, experts said.

At issue is the "speech or debate" clause of the Constitution -- language intended to shield lawmakers from intimidation by the executive branch. Historically, courts have interpreted the clause broadly, legal experts said.
First, I seriously doubt that this raid was "impromptu" by any stretch of the imagination. Given that it took place on the weekend, so as to minimize disruption seems significantly well planned. Second, the FBI is looking for physical evidence, i.e. the alledged bribe money, simply subpoenaing documents would be insufficient.

But, fair enough, the issue is the Speech and Debate clause. As it bears significantly upon this case, let us go to the source document, the Constitution. The section relevant here comprises two parts, the immunity from arrest clause and the speech and debate clause. Article I, Section 6 reads:
The Senators and Representatives shall receive a Compensation for their Services, to be ascertained by Law, and paid out of the Treasury of the United States. They shall in all Cases, except Treason, Felony and Breach of the Peach, be privileged from Arrest during their attendance at the Session of their respective Houses, and in going to and returning from the same; and for any Speech or Debate in either House, they shall not be questioned in any other Place. (empahsis added)
The speech and debate clause is generally read to be pretty broad, encompassing not only speech and debate on the floor of the House, but also in committee and even speeches outside of Congress, including any speech or debate while tending to legislative duties. The clause also provides an umbrella of coverage for discussions with staff members, so that a Member of Congress or a Senator can receive fair, open and unqualified advice from their staff.

When it comes to a Member's legislative duties, I am fully supportive of a broad exemption from harassment by the other branches of government. But what legislative duty is being fulfilled in a bribery case? I have looked through Article I, Section 8 and 9 and in fact the entire Constitution, and I don't see bribary as a proper legislative duty.

But at the same time, we should not read the Speech and Debate clause out of context. Note that the speech and debate clause appears with the immunity from arrest clause. In plain English, a member of Congress can't be arrested while tending to official duties, except in cases of treason, felony, or breach of the peace. Let me say that again, a member can't be arrested except for cases of treason, felony or breach of peace.

Jefferson is under investigation for bribery, which in every state in the union, the District of Columbia, and under federal law, is a felony. Thus, Jefferson can be arrested, even while in session, for the felony of bribery.

The speech and debate clause is part of the same sentence as the immunity from arrest part. The whole sentence is designed to insulate the legislative branch from executive interference, assuming of course the Legislators are acting within the law. Congressmen are not above the law and are not exempt from the normal processes of law enforcement if they are suspected of breaking the law. More from the Washington Post article:
Many legal experts and defense lawyers agreed with Gingrich. Charles Tiefer, a University of Baltimore law professor who served as solicitor and deputy general counsel of the House for 11 years, called the raid "an intimidating tactic that has never before been used against the legislative branch."

"The Framers, who were familiar with King George III's disdain for their colonial legislatures, would turn over in their graves," Tiefer said.
Let us be clear, just because a search of a Congressman's office has never been done, does not mean it can't be done. The fact that the search occured itself is so unusual that I am sure the Department of Justice made sure they had an iron-clad search warrant before proceeding. But let's look at the search in the context of the investigation. According to news reports, Jefferson is allegedly on an FBI video tape taking a $100,000 bribe. A search of Jefferson's home reportedly turned up $90,000. It is not an unreasonable stretch of logic to believe that the remaining funds might be in his office.

If this had been an ordinary citizen, the fact that his office was searched would never even be a question. If a person is being investigated for bribery, his home, his car, his office, everything would be searched and no one would consider it unreasonable. But just because Jefferson is a Congressman, the rules should be different?

The Framers may very well be turning over in their graves, but not because of this search. Rather, I am sure the Framers would be appalled at the scope of corruption in Congress today. So far, we have had three former Members of Congress sent to prison in the past five years, Jim Trafficant, Duke Cunningham and William Janklow. We have three members of Congress under active investigation, Alan Mollohan, Bob Ney, and Jefferson. Literally dozens of others are combing their records and recollections about Jack Abramoff. Corruption is a real concern and that is what the Framers are likely more worried about.

The real victim in this whole scenario is the American people. Instead of pledging cooperation to ensure the integrity of the institution, when a search like this happens, the first Congressional thought, in a rare bipartisan fashion, that appears in the papers is "this search is a constitutional violation." Have we forgotten that a search would not have been necessary if one of their own had not possibly crossed a line into illegality? Where is the concern for the image of Congress, for the image we give all America and the world? Right now, we must be the laughingstock of the world when Congressional leaders circle the wagons instead of upholding a rule of law. If a Congressional office has never been searched in 219 years, what does it say when this one is searched? That the crime involved is so significant that the DOJ felt compelled to break what is a very long streak and take heat for a non-existant constitutional violation.

What has been wrought upon us by a Congress that thinks, more and more, that it is beyond reproach? The righteous indignation for executive and judicial branch activities appears nowhere when the crosshairs of the media focus on the nefarious acts of legislators. Where is the concept of being held to a higher standard? Where is the shame?

Testing fatigue, the SAT, and preparation

Ms. Cornelius has an interesting post on testing fatigue and the SAT that has me thinking. The comments to the post are well worth reading as well and helped to crystallize my thinking on this score.

Ms. Cornelius asked, is the new SAT too much of a Brainnumbing exercise? Well, in many ways, yes, but that is not the topic of this post. The New SAT lasts for 3 hours and 45 minutes, and I will admit that such a time is significant and may be difficult to concentrate for such a long period of time,if one were forced to do so for the entire time frame in one sitting. One way to look at a solution is the one being offered by Ms. Cornelius and the commenters, that of breaking the time down, allowing for onger breaks or spanning the test over two days. I will concede that giving more and longer breaks may help somewhat to ease the tension. Instead of one or two 15 minuted breaks or a series of 5 minute breaks, why not have longer--say 20-30 breaks between each major section.

However, longer breaks may actually prolong the agony. But still, time managment during the test administration is a minor issue and one that can, quite frankly, be solved by the College Board.

But what if we look at the problem from a different angle. Instead of changing the test environment, why not change the test taker?

One of the accusations implicit in the arguments for changing the test environment and time is that students are incapable of concentrating for such lengthy periods of time. This is utter hogwash. I have routinely seen 18 and 19 year old men and women concentrate for 10-12 hours or more in an extremely hazardous environment, that of an aircraft flight deck, where a break in concentration can mean you life--literally!!. I have seen kids concentrate on everything from sporting events to enjoyable books for the necessary length of time, all the people making arguments stating the concentrating on a book, movie or video game is different than concentrating on a test, clearly have not spent much time around modern video games.

Thus the issue is not capacity to conentrate for three or four hours. The issue is that we don't teach kids to operate on that level. Even with what I have seen called "block scheduling," we rarely, if ever, ask our high school students to concentrate for more than an hour an half at a time. We routinely parse class days, and therefore exams, into one or two hour chunks at most, thus robbing them of an important skill, that of long-term concentrated tasks.

While I realize that the comparison is nearly the same, I can say that, having just sat for the Maryland bar exam, taking a test over two days in four test sessions is brutal. But the test preparation includes simulated exams, right down to the time frames involved, so that no one walking into a bar exam is unfamiliar with the strain.

Preparing for the SAT is no different. I would imagine that if a study were done to examine those students to take a test prep class and those that don't, those without the test prep do much worse. Not only do those students without a test prep class under their belt have little foreknowledge of the exam structure, they have not been exposed to even a simulated test environment. Whereas, if we regularly structure some testing in high school with the same intensity, the mystery and stress of the SAT would be diminished.

Furthermore, I don't buy the assertion, made by one commenter, who stated that kids taking the SAT don't understand the life implications as say LSAT, GMAT or GRE test takers do. Once again, we are assuming that high school students are idiots, incapable of understanding the implications of the test. What I do agree with is that adults often make the implications seem much bigger than they are, but not that kids don't understand the importance of the test.

In summation, rather than completely altering the test environment, why don't we actually prepare kids for such an arduous task. Kids take tests in school all the time, why not use that time to simulate SAT test taking?

Monday, May 22, 2006

Politically Correct Elementary School

Hat Tip: The Grandy and Andy Morning Show on 630 WMAL in Washington DC.

What happens when an elementary school decides to commemorate their first, by depicting a Libertynickel on the front of their yearbook? Well, what you don't get is an accurate representation of U.S. Currency!! 'In God We Trust' goes missing: School plays it safe with yearbook cover photo. According to WFAA-TV news:
The freedom of religion at Liberty Elementary School has gone too far for some parents at the Colleyville school.

The cover of the Keller ISD school's annual depicts the 2005 Liberty Nickel – complete with the face of Thomas Jefferson – but the words "In God We Trust" are missing.

Instead, the $16 yearbook contains a sticker with the credo and directions on how to apply it to the cover if the owner chooses.

Debbi Ackerman was one of the parents who questioned the missing phrase when her daughter brought the annual home from school.

"She said the teachers told them there was some people who didn't believe in God, and that when they got home – don't do it at school – but affix it when they got home," Mrs. Ackerman said.

"We are just shocked and saddened that it's come to this and it hit right in our back yard."

The Keller school district's policy is to remain neutral on religion.

A spokesman for the PTA, which produced the book, says it simply adhered to that rule.

"I have heard both sides of the argument, so we decided to not step on anybody's toes and take it off," PTA spokesman Tom Gardner said.

A spokesman for the district agreed.

"In this case, I think it was the principal making every effort to make sure that all faiths were respected," Jason Meyer said.
So in order to not offend anyone's religious sensibilities, the school decided to offend lots of people by not accurately depicting official U.S. Currency because it contains the words "In God We Trust." Because some atheist or person subscribing to a non-Christian, non-Jewish faith might be offended the school just photoshops out the phrase.

So I have a question, do atheists not use money? Do atheists refuse to used quarters in parking meters or soda machines? Do atheists not pay for things in cash because the currency they use refers to God?

The entire United States uses currency that says In God We Trust and no one that I know of gets offended.

According to the Dallas Star-Telegram
Janet Travis, principal of Liberty Elementary School in Colleyville, wanted to avoid offending students of different religions, a district spokesman said.


District policy states, in part: "The District shall take no action respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech."
This is of course appropriate for public schools to strive for this kind of religious neutrality, but really--does including an accurate depiction of a nickel really respect the establishment of religion? the United States Government includes the words ON THEIR CURRENCY and that is not a constitutional violation--but this principal--who is probably not a lawyer or constitutional scholar--thinks that such language is "establishing a religion." Making my point even more is the local American Civil Liberties Union, again from the Dallas Star-Telegram:
Michael Linz, a Dallas attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union, said the district's move was appropriate, sensitive and constitutional.

"Sometimes administrators and schools are really caught trying to make appropriate decisions with respect to people's views. Someone is always going to complain," he said. "I think that the school administrators were drawing the appropriate line by trying not to offend others." (emphasis added)
Yes, someone is always going to complain, but here is a bet I am willing to place. If the school had put an accurate depiction of the Liberty Nickel on the cover, I believe no one would have complained about "In God We Trust" because most people do not equate the phrase with the establishment of religion or the free exercise thereof.

For a school names Liberty Elementary, they certainly don't have much of a concept of what the word means.

Jenny D.: A Voucher Experiment

Jenny D has a wonderful thought experiment relating to vouchers and private schools. Lots of comments and worth the reading.

Friday, May 19, 2006

Some Pretty Sexist Stuff Here

Outside the Beltway posts on a new medical guidelines that asks that all women of child bearing age be considered Pre-Pregnant regardless of their personal intention to bear children in the near future.

10News.com - News - Where Does Brian Bilbray Really Live?

This is kind of an interesting story. Where Does Brian Bilbray Really Live?

Brian Bilbray is a candidate for the 50th District of California. One thing that seems to be omitted from the story is that the Constitution states that representatives shall be "when elected, an inhabitant of that State in which he shall be chosen." Everyone assumes that a candidate must live in the district he/she represents, but that is false, they merely need to live in the state.

Now the twist here is not whether Bilbray's California home is in the 50th District, but whether his home of record is in Virginia. If he is determined to be a resident of Virginia, he may be prohibited from running for Congress in California. Of course, all he may have to do is disavow his residency in Virginia.

On a more macro level, given the nearly year-round nature of Congress, how does one rectify a DC area living arrangement and a district home, particularly when one has children you don't want to move around so much.

Breathing While White

All too True.

Appropriations Committee Term Limits

Grover Norquist, king of the budget and spending hawks, has come up with an interesting proposal to cut down on the run-away spending coming out of Congress--term limits on the Appropriations Committees. Accusing the members of those two very powerful committees of groupthink, Norquist thinks that term limits will keep people from becoming too enamoured with the power and influence of those committees.

for the uninitiatied, there are two types of committees in Congress, authorizing committees and the Appropriations committees. Since Congress has the sole constitutional power of the purse, and the power that comes with working on the committees that determine which programs get how much money. As Captain Ed notes:
This proposal intends to create a rule for Appropriations that once applied for the intelligence committees. Prior to 9/11, members could only serve a certain length on those panels due to a history of arguably excessive collegiality between the intelligence communities and their oversight committees. After 9/11, however, those rules were suspended when it clearly showed that the lack of experience in intelligence by members of these panels had kept significant issues from being recognized before disaster struck.

Will that same law of unintended consequences strike the appropriations process? Norman Ornstein of the conservative American Enterprise Institute thinks it will, as does the spokesman for House Appropriations chair Rep. Jerry Lewis (R-CA). It's difficult to see why, however. One can hardly equate budgeting with the complexities of intelligence work, and if there is one skill that appears to be universally possessed by members of Congress, it's the ability to spend money. Much of the actual skilled work in this process gets accomplished by staffers anyway, while the political decisions get made by the members.
One of the implicit assumptions, however, in Norquist's is that it is only the appropriators who need to be reined in. Just about every member of Congress has been guilty, at one time or another, of asking for an earmark, of seeking appropriations, rightly or wrongly, for their district. After all, one of the jobs of a Member of Congress, in the eyes of their constituents, is to bring home the pork.

But as an idea, I think the proposal has some merit. The problem of course is getting the change through both Chambers. Good Luck.

Hat Tip: Captain Ed

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

The Carnival Of Education: Week 67

Check out the action on the Midway at The Ed Wonks

Edpol - Your Education Policy Resource: Smaller classes for new teachers

Here is a twist on the argument for smaller class sizes that I think makes a great deal of sense--smaller classes for newer teachers.
During a recent discussion about where the resources should be spent to truly maximize impact, I realized where the biggest impact of smaller classes can be felt. A teacher with 15 years of experience can handle a classroom of 30 students. They can handle it quite well and address individual differences. I have seen it in action within my own school and I am confident that with more years of experience, I could handle my own classroom of 30 much better. So perhaps the solution is not smaller classes across the board, but instead smaller classes for new teachers.

Also, check out the comment by Ed Researcher, who also factors in the pay issue in a unique way.

Hat Tip: Carnival of Education--Week 67.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

The Ultimate Authority over Children

Henry Cate has an excellent post regarding who is ultimately responsible for children? Teachers or Parents?.

Exploring the history and development of public edcuation, Henry notes:
I find it sad that many involved with public schools, as administrators or teachers, feel that because they have been "educated," they can do whatever they want to the students. They do not want to be accountable to the parents, or even allow parents to have a voice in the process. Public schools are often trying some new fad in the way various topics are taught, in reading, math, or so on. Often there is a new fad every year or two. If the new approach doesn’t work, or inflicts harm on the children, there is no accountability.
This is true no matter what occurs in the classroom, because coming the end of the academic year--students move on to a new teacher who may or may not remediate the students and not matter what the student has suffered some consequences of poor teaching.

Homeschool Carnival

Check out the 20th Edition of the Carnival of Homeschooling.

This week's theme--animals. Those homeschool carnivalers are quite creative.

My Ten Commandments for Education

Last week, I posted a little commentary about NEA President Reg Weaver's Ten Commandments for Education. This week, here are my Ten Commandments for Education.
Commandmant One. Thou shall never forget that the most important people in schools are the students, first, last and always. Nothing trumps their importance, not your job or your cousin/uncle/aunt/mistress' job, not your favorite policy, not the school principal, not the school board, not even the teachers. Nothing!!
Far too often, the adults involved in the education of our children look upon their role as somehow more important than the kids. Any policy or program that employs more adults should be looked up skeptically and properly disposed of. Educating kids, while a noble vocation, does not make your personal profession more important than those you serve.
Commandment Two. Thou shall not oppose any one-size-fits-all testing scheme with one breath and advocate for any public school only education model with the next breath. Should thou do so, thou shall be branded hypocritical and disingenuous at best and stupid at worst.
Public education advocates and anti-NCLBers never seem to recognize the hyporcrisy of their statements. If one-size-fits-all testing is bad, then all of one-size-fits-all education is bad, including a lack of school choice. Frankly, one-size-fits-all testing is the only way to ensure that we have an objective method of determining if schools are doing their job. For more, see Commandment Six.
Commandment Three. Thou shall not treat your job in education as a sinecure or as a property right, they are neither. If you are a bad teacher or bad administrator, then you should be terminated, as soon as possible, so as to minimize the damage to students. Procedures should be put in place to make this happen, yesterday.
Just because you have tenure, you should not be protected from your own incompetence. This Commandment goes hand in hand with Commandment One. Teachers, administrators, and politicians are not more important than students and are, quite frankly, expendable if you cannot do your job. Children are not expendable, but adults in education are expendable.
Commandment Four. Thou shall remember that choice and liberty have a longer history as an American institution than public schools. The fact that we have public education shall not deny parents and students the right to vote with their feet if their school is failing.
We can choose our church, our elected representatives and just about everything else in life, but we can't choose our schools or choose to change schools when they fail? How purely socialistic is that? School choice is not a panacea to all that ails the education system in America but it will go a long way to solving many of the problems. Market forces produce improvement in all market participants--this is an economic fact long proved. Monopolies produce no improvements and actually deteriorate over time.
Commandment Five. Thou shall not embrace and adopt every educational or pedagogical fad that crosses your desk. Changes to pedagogy and instructional methods should only be undertaken when supported by verifiable, reliable, and repeated research and testing.
Just because it is new does not make it better. There is a reason why students who learn math through drill and kill do better on tests--because it works!!! New fads in teaching children come along all the time. Unlees they have been solidly tested and work for a majority of students, I don't want to see them in wide use in classrooms. Education is not a progressive movement or an experimental test bed, it is by nature a conservative movement, seeking to retain the best practices. It should be slow to change in methods and quick to change in keeping up with the latest knowledge.
Commandment Six. Thou shall remember the immortal words of President Ronald Reagan, "Trust, but verify." Thou shall trust teachers to do their job, but understand that parents and the public have a right to verify.
We entrust our children to the care of teachers and school administrators every day and for the most part they do their job well. But when it comes to the verify part, we, the public, receive a great deal of resistance when parents seek verification of the job the teacher is doing. That verification may come from regular meetings, phone calls and emails to standardized tests. The slow nature of education requires regular updates and school officials and teachers must understand that parents want something more than platitudes when it comes to their kids.
Commandment Seven. Thou shall not ask for more money unless you can show the previous money has been properly spent. Money will no longer solve the ills of education, better management will.
For decades we, the public have been told that if we just spent a little more money on education, we could educate children better. Yet, no results, no improvement and now, I say, no more money. School systems can no longer look to the public as a giant piggy bank for their fads and infatuations. Prove to me that you are spending money wisely and I will consider, consider, your request for more. Until and when the schools can show robust financial management, rather than robust spending, the bank is closed.
Commandment Eight. Thou doth not need all that bureaucracy. Schools are a place of learning for children, not employment for adults.
Every time the teachers unions talk about paying teachers more, I want to scream. Every time school systems complain about poor funding, I want to scream. No school system needs as many administrative personnel as they have teachers. There is a great deal of talk about smaller student-teacher ratios, but what is the student-administrator/district staff ratio? I am willing to bet when you take all those district level employees/school support staff/bureaucrats and add them up, you will probably have a student-administrator ratio better than teh student-teacher ration and that is wrong. Catholic schools system in Washington, DC reportedly operates with a district staff of about 10 and that is for dozens of schools. If they can do it, so can public schools.
Commandment Nine. Thou shall not make excuses based on your students socio-economic status, race, alienage, or any other classification. It is your responsiblity to teach all students equally.
I am sick and tired of listening to every apologist out there who says we can't teach poor students or minority students because of XXXXXXXXXX. For every one of those stories, we hear of success stories, kids who "defied the odds." Every kid is capable of "defying the odds" and can be done if just stop calculating the odds and start working with each kid.
Commandment Ten. Thou shall not forget Commandment One--ever.
Thus endeth the sermon.

More Brilliance from Barone

Once again, Michael Barone shines:
As Washington insiders pore over the latest low job-approval ratings for George W. Bush, and as aficionados of British politics ponder the latest low ratings of Tony Blair, let's take a longer look at the political ebb and flow in America and Britain over the last quarter century or so. There is a certain parallelism.

In the late 1970s, both countries experienced something like collapse -- a collapse of the Keynesian economics dominant in the post-World War II years, a collapse of the accommodationist foreign policy prevailing since the setback in Vietnam.

From that collapse arose two improbable leaders on the political right: Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan. By conventional standards, they were unacceptable: Thatcher was a woman, Reagan a septuagenarian -- and both were too far to the right. Their policies were attacked as hardhearted and reckless. But they worked. Economic growth resumed, Britain triumphed in the Falklands, and America prevailed in the Cold War. Thatcher lasted 11 years in office, Reagan eight -- both were followed by lukewarm but clearly right successors, John Major for seven years and George H.W. Bush for four.
Read the whole thing.

Hat Tip: Instapundit

Women Casualties in War

Great post over at Outside the Beltway on female casualties in Iraq. While the post notes
aside from a spike during the Jessica Lynch story, the public has been remarkably uninterested in this issue, accepting the death of female troops as natural as that of males.
In the past, the argument against female soldiers in combat is that America and male soldiers would not be psychologically equipped to handle female deaths.

I have always thought such a theory to be complete bunk. Admittedly, there are some vestiges of male chauvanism in the military, I find the military to be largely egalitarian on this issue. For most soldiers, sailors, Marines and airmen, the most important facet of the person next to you is whether they can do the job. Clearly female soldiers are capable of most of the jobs in the military and thus America is willing to accept the fact that they have volunteered to be where they are and that they understand the potential consequences of their choice.

By the way, OTB has some great stats compiled regarding female casualties of war.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Demographic Challenges Ahead

Hat Tip: Brett at The DeHavilland Blog

Brett cited a story in the Washington Post that notes 50% of the children under age 5 in this country are minorities. Brett notes to significant problems raised by this demographic reality:
That throws two tremendous challenges into the face of public education – challenges that will manifest on an epic scale.

First, we have a poor track record of educating African-American and Hispanic children. They consistently trail whites and Asians on NAEP tests, and they also have much higher dropout rates than other populations. If we don’t learn to reach these audiences much more effectively, our problems will only accelerate and intensify.

Next, this brings up real issues of school funding. As Andrew Rotherham has noted, as the population ages, they will feel less inclined to outlay more and more money for public education. As the article states, some older people will be even less inclined to lend their support if the school population looks less and less like them.
Indeed, a couple of important points.

On the first question, I don't have much of solution, other than to say that we must, as a nation, move beyond the simple excuses of poverty, minority status and victimhood that are constantly bandied about as the reason for the poor showing. Admittedly socio-economic status may impact education, but it certainly does not in any way determine the success or failure of a child. I do not endorse social programs to help these students stay in class or get better grades, I simply expect them to do so. I refuse to buy into the situation that if we just make classes "more relevant" to their "cultural heritage" they will do better. If relevance to cultureal heritage is so important, why do Asian American students succeed when the curriculum is supposedly not geared to their heritage either?

The funding issue presents a very difficult situation indeed. Generally, those without school age children are loathe to support any tax or bonding measure for schools. The impact will be on aging school facilities.

But interestingly, I have not seen much antipathy for school funding as many people suspect. Just as people continue to pay taxes to support programs they don't use or agree, I am not sure so sure that people without kids in the school system will cease funding school initiatives. If anything, I believe the incentives to be reversed. In areas where the population is not comprised mostly of families with small chilren, I think you are more likely to find a government and a school board that is more likely to think twice before proposing a school construction bond issue. It is far more prudent to ask only when money is needed (and more likely to be passed) than to routinely ask for bonds and be defeated regularly at the polls. Thus, geographic areas with fewer children, while not needing as many schools, may actually have more fiscally prudent school systems--for the very reason that they know frivolous spending on schools will not be well received by the electorate.

Latest Watchblog Post Is Up

My latest Watchblog post "Fox: Troops Would "Militarize the Border"--So What?" is now up.

Watchblog is a great site to get lots of different opinions since the site includes Democratic, Republican and Independent writers. Always good reading there.

Friday, May 12, 2006

Florida wants feds to compile national teacher pay figures

This sounds like a good idea, for the feds to compile national teacher pay figures for accurate comparisons. Right now the most "reliable" means has either been states compiling data or using the NEA figures. The latter is rife with conflict of interest issues, and the former is a little to piecemeal. As standard federal measurement will give everyone a solid basis of understanding.

Plus you would also get a better idea of teacher pay and benefits compared to the rest of the world.

Hat Tip: Edspresso

NEA: Reg Weaver's 10 Commandments for Public Education

NEA President Reg Weaver has 10 Commandments for Public Education that he wants followed. Here are those commandments and my comments to them. I will follow up with my own "Commandments" about education.

Commandment Number One: Thou shalt not claim that a single piece of legislation can solve all of the problems facing public education — especially when it's underfunded by billions of dollars. We educators aren't stupid. We know the difference between real school reform and a law that's actually punishing and weakening public schools across the country, while claiming to do the opposite!
Hmmm! So accountability is bad, right? I don't think anyone ever claimed that NCLB was a panacea to all that is wrong with public education, but it did make everyone talk about achievement of all groups. I believe that schools that fail our students should be punished and if that weakens public education, so be it. The measure of success of public schools is not whether the schools are publicly funded but if the students are actually learning what they should.
Commandment Number Two: Thou shalt not determine a student's entire future based on one set of one-size-fits-all tests! There is a whole range of education techniques, innovations, and measurements that should be used together to make sure that each child can read, write, think critically, and be productive. We teachers know them — and thou shalt use them!
O.K. So the only people who should be assessing our students are teachers? How about the conflict of interest inherent in that? A student's entire future is not hitched to the outcome of one test, but that one test can certainly determine if the student is on the right education path. Admittedly, there is a wide range to educational tools to teach kids, but how will you know if those tools are working? Oh, yeah--assessments.

Commandment Number Three: Thou shalt not establish a set of standards without input from the teachers who are actually going to have to teach them! Or without giving them the help and the resources they need to meet them! Or without aligning them with the curriculum!
Weaver is actually on pretty solid ground here. Teachers should be consulted, but they should not have veto authority. The primary stakeholders in education are the kids and their parents, not teachers. But, the curriculum is the standard. If the curriculum is not designed to meet the necessary standard, the solution is not the change the standard, but to change the curriculum.
Commandment Number Four: Thou shalt not claim that children are America's top priority when 20 percent of our nation's children are born into poverty, 15 percent have no health insurance, and eight children are killed by gunfire every single day.
This is a choice non-sequiter and the pot calling the kettle black. If children are such a priority for the NEA, why then to do contracts limit the workday to 6.5 hours? Why do teachers' unions oppose almost any and all innovations in school managment of which they are not a part? If you want to correct these cited problems, then the NEA needs to make sure every kid gets a good education, for on that path is the solution to these problems. The NEA cannot claim that their top priority is children and then take steps to protect its members over the children's interest.
Commandment Number Five: Thou shalt not spend more money on prisons than on schools. The more great public schools we have, the fewer prisons we'll need. Educate, so that we don't have to incarcerate.
Can I see some numbers here!! This is a complete blanket statement with no support. The last figures I saw on education were somewhere upwards of $600 billion a year at the federal, state and local levels. I am not sure about much, but if we are spending that much on prisons, I would probably have a heart attack.
Commandment Number Six: Thou shalt not kid thyself that paying teachers and support staff a measly salary is in any way going to attract and retain the kind of folks we want working with our kids. Thou shalt support current and future teachers and support staff — not insult them.
Thou shalt not keep returning to this issue when you negotiate these terms every few years. I don't see Mr. Weaver living on that kind of a salary, nor do the NEA staff. No one seriously believes this not to be a problem. Stop making union membership or support a condition of employment in teh schools and you would save members several hundred, if not thousands of dollars each year.
Commandment Number Seven: Thou shalt honor education support professionals — the people who drive the buses, clean the hallways, serve the lunches, counsel the students, take the attendance, nurse the injured, assist in the classrooms, and run our nation's schools with dignity and dedication and grace. ESP stands for "extraordinarily spectacular people" — don't you ever forget it.
This gratuitious little statement is simply a sop to non-teaching professionals in the education system. He needed to get to ten commandments and couldn't afford to irritate non-teachers in the system. I don't anyone disrespects these people and if they do, they should be corrected immediately.
Commandment Number Eight: Thou shalt honor thy teachers, too, not bash them — especially when thou hast never walked a day in our shoes yourself. Thou shalt not claim that anybody can teach just because they have a pulse and a bachelor's degree.
When teachers earn respect, they get respect. When teachers don't do their job, abuse our children, they have neither earned nor deserve respect. When teachers' unions stop standing in the way of real reform efforts, then they too shall earn respect.
Commandment Number Nine: Thou shalt recognize that in order for a child to be well-educated and a school to succeed, everybody has got to be involved. Communities can't just send their kids off to kindergarten, then come back 12 years later and find a bunch of Einsteins! Public schools require just that — the public!
Mr. Weaver, please put your money where your mouth is!! When teachers and schools send mixed messages about the value of the community, how can anyone really be expected to support schools. Not 200 words early, you explicitly said that teachers know best!! Make up your mind. Either teachers know best or education is a community responsibility--you can't have both.
Commandment Number Ten: Thou shalt remember that our public schools are critical for homeland security. A free, safe, and democratic society requires a well-educated population. Public schools must not be demonized, privatized, or voucherized. Public schools must not be sold to the highest bidder. Instead, we've got to invest in them.
True, an educated citizenry is necessary for a democratic society. But public education is not the only way to achieve an educated citizenry. "Invest" in public schools--we are doing so, to the tune of $600 billion a year--and my investment is not paying off. Time to invest in different ideas as well. Any investment portfolio with only one option is not a wise investment. A free, safe and democratic society also means that the society has options--and public schools can be one option. But without choices, what do you have--oh yeah--a socialist society.

If there is enough money to bail out the airline industry…

If there is enough money to stage a multi-billion dollar war in Iraq...

...then there's certainly enough money to invest for great public schools!

So there you have it, my friends -- Reg's Ten Commandments that will make a truly extraordinary difference for children and public schools all across America!
And we have been doing all three, airline, war and education. Now if we could just figure out how to make the NEA a truly democratic organization, we may be on to something.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Latest Watchblog Post is Up

My latest Watchblog post on the NSA phone call data collection scheme is up. Please stop by that site.

It has been too long since I posted and I am surprised that I still have rights to post.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

A Rovian Dive?

hat Tip: Instapundit.comThe tanking of the GOP is a Rovian plot to put Nancy Pelosi and Hilary Clinton in teh spotlight for two years and thus be in a better position to say the GOP is better than the Dems.

An intereting theory--not sure if it is real. Human nature, despite Machiavellian schemes, is loathe to relinquish power once attained.

Blueprints for improvement

I wouldn't count on DC learning from a Boston school district's Success. But one can always hope.

Half of Teachers Quit in 5 Years

While not particularly news, at least in my book, the NEA has released a study that says half of America's teachers quit after 5 years of service. Of course the NEA blames teaching conditions and pay, which may indeed by the immediate causes of most departures. But my suspicion is that the root cause of many departures has to do with dealing with not one but two bureaucracies, the school system itself and the union, while at the same time battling other forces, such as student apathy, parental apathy (or over-involvement) and so much more.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Common Sense at the FEC: Normally an Oxymoron, but not Always

Last week, I wrote about the story of Florida Congressional Canddiate Nancy Detert, whose treasurer had abscondended with nearly $100,000 and fled to South America. The treasurer's parents offered to pay back the loan. Detert was told by the FEC initially that the parents couldn't do that since it ouwld be a violation of the limits.

While the FEC usually moves with glacial slowness, apparently someone at the Commission has a little common sense. According to Brad Smith, guestblogging at Skepticseye.com
The Commission has issued draft Advisory Opinion 2006-16, regarding Florida State Rep. (and current congressional candidate) Nancy Detert. Early last month, Detert’s campaign treasurer, Randy Maddox, headed off to Argentina after transferring $94,000 and change of campaign funds to his personal bank account. Maddox’s decision to live the Robert Vesco life was a short one, however, for just 10 days later he returned to the U.S. Short, but sweet - in those 10 days, he had managed to spend a bit over $27,000. (Maddox says he "lost" the $27,000. What does that mean? Gambling? Or did some pickpocket in Buenos Aires hit the jackpot?) Maddox returned the cash he had left to the Detert campaign, and his parents took out a home equity line on their house to make up the difference, thus hoping to mitigate any criminal penalties against their son.

Anyway, in this draft AO, the General Counsel is recommending that the Detert Committee be allowed to accept the funds. The Counsel’s draft reasons that the contribution is "not for the purpose of influencing an election," but merely for the purpose of "mitigat[ing] potentially severe criminal liability and financial jeopardy for their son."
Apparently common sense in government, while an endangered species is not entirely extinct. Of course, I wonder what the reform community will say about these actions by the Commission.

Monday, May 08, 2006

A Public Service Academy.

Joanne Jacobs has a problem with a public service academy, similar to the military service academies. From the Washington Post
The proposed United States Public Service Academy would offer an all-expenses-paid education to 5,000 undergraduates. Its liberal arts curriculum would emphasize leadership development, analytical thinking and service to others, with requirements for summer service internships and a year of study abroad.

Graduates would be required to work for five years in public service. They could choose from jobs in state, local or federal government, law enforcement, public health, education or nonprofit organizations.

"The idea is, you promote and you try to create an intensive campus culture of service, where everybody is oriented philosophically towards the same goals," said Asch, 33, who lives in Sunflower County.
Joanne' problem:
Maybe I just don't want to see civil service workers with esprit de corps. And I don't think most government, law, health or teaching jobs are comparable to military service.
But I must hearitly disagree.

One of hte fundamental basis of military service is teh setting aside of personal aggrandizement and goals for a group goal. Public service is the same thing. It takes a special person to do this.

Finally, military service often includes the professions listed, as there are doctors, lawyers and even teachers in the military. Not everyone carries a gun or drives a tank.

ABC 7 News - Stafford County Considering School Bus Fees

This idea from Stafford County Virginia, to require school students who ride the bus to pay a fee each year, it just phenomenally stupid, but not for the reasons I have been hearing.

School board members say that many parents and teachers support the idea of paying fees if it means not increasing class size. According to a local news station:
Among the proposed fees is a $100 dollar fee per student or $200 dollars per family for regular bus service. Also being considered is a $50 dollar fee for high school athletics and $75 dollar per-car charge for parking permits.

Exceptions would be made for children of school system employees and for students who get free or reduced lunches.
The impetus behind these fees is that the school board is facing a roughly $12 million shortfall in its funding. Thus the new fees.

On the face of it, it looks like simply another tax, called a user fee, levied upon the residents of a county to pay for the schooling in that county. I, of course, object to such a tax out of simple opposition to taxes.

However, there is a different issue all together. Let us suppose the fee goes forward, what the school has done is failed to address the root problem of the budgetary shortfall that is behind the need for the fees--poor fiscal managementment.

By implementing a user fee or whatever it is called, the school board does not have an incentive to improve the manner in which is handles its finances. The county simply dips into the well for more money from residents, without a question of accountability, without any review of why the school system cannot make due with less.

Thus, the typical response to school problems is to ask for more money. If you don't get it from the federal government, the state government or the country government, the school just gets it from any source--without questioning if the actually need the money.

Friday, May 05, 2006

Teacher Fired For An 11 Year Old Decision

I first heard this story on the radio this morning via WMAL 630 AM, when they were taking calls about this story. A teacher in Paducah, KY (in the western part of the state) was suspended and will not have her contract renewed because of something she did 11 years ago.
A teacher in Western Kentucky has been suspended and will not have her contract renewed after administrators found out she appeared in an adult movie more than a decade ago.

Tericka Dye, a science teacher and volleyball coach at Reidland High School in Paducah for the past two years, was suspended Wednesday.

"Your presence in the classroom would cause a disruption to the educational process," McCracken County Schools Superintendent Tim Heller wrote in a letter to Dye. "I fear there would be less than a serious approach to schooling by students who viewed the video or know about it."
Alright, from a justification standpoint, at least the school is on solid ground as it will no doubt cause a disruption in the classroom among high school students. Why then no simply reassign Dye to teach, say elementary kids, who are of course far less likely to have viewed the video or know of its existence?

Several of the callers this morning on the Grandy and Andy Morning show said that this was the right move to fire the teacher because of moral issues. One caller even cited the likelihood of morals clauses in teacher contracts. Fine, these contracts typically cover behavior while actually employed as a teacher. Thus if Dye made and adult film while a teacher, then the community has a better case.

But I am not entirely sure that what Dye did is immoral. She made a decision she says she now regrets, but did nothing illegal. The porn industry is a multi-billion dollar industry, employing lots of people both in front of and behind the camera. The mere fact that someone was once paid to have sex on camera does not make them an immoral person. And again, what Dye did was perfectly legal.

But if we are going to push the moral angle, let us ask this question. How many times do teachers who are hired have had drunk driving arrests or convictions in their past? How many seek counseling for alcohol abuse? Teachers over the age of 21 are legally entitled to drink and some, before becoming teachers, or even while teaching, have been convicted of drunk driving--an actual crime. Yet we continue to hire these people as teachers. The double standard here is appalling--you can lose your job for participating in a legal activity 11 years ago, but you can be convicted of drunk driving and hold the same job.

But Dye's mistake was to be caught on tape. She admits to the event, noting she used a pseudonym, but then says she was bipolar. Whether she is bipolar or not, playing this sympathy card does not win her any points in my book. She should stick to her guns, admit she did it, that it was in the past and in no way affects her ability to teach.

Yes, her past may be a disruption in her current classrooms, but she should not have to lose her job over this. She has built a solid, successful life for herself and now we are going to ruin it because of something she did 11 years ago, that was neither illegal or immoral. She made a choice she regrets, she should leave it as that and move on. The school system should give her a different job.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Fun with Stats

From this Week's Carnival of Education

We all know by now that states are beginning to game the system with respect to NCLB numbers in order to show more successes than perhaps may be the actual truth. But as Friends of Dave shows us, states game the numbers in other ways, including a race to the bottom of spending figures. In a country with 50 states and DC, you would expect only one state can be 49th, but apparently a number of states want to claim that spot--and have.

Obvously no one want to be last, but next to last is apparently OK.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Teachers Underpaid?

From the Carnival of Education--again

The brain trust over at Political Calculations have put together a brilliant chart of what teachers are paid in comparison to average worker salaries in 2003. I realize that teachers often work extra hours on personal time outside of business hours. But then again so do many professionals. This chart debunks many of the arguments that teachers are underpaid. Underappreciated--sure, but not underpaid.

Watch that last line in the entry!!

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Teacher Quality First

The inestimable Joanne Jacobs points us to a story appearing in the New York Daily news that makes a similar argument I made many months ago, that smaller classes sizes is not a solution unless you can find enough quality teachers to make smaller class sizes better. From Andrew Rotherham
Common sense and research both tell us that if all else is equal, smaller classes are good for students. Unfortunately, in urban education, all else is rarely equal, and a host of problems hinder efforts to attract top teachers. So reducing class size without addressing teacher quality more broadly is akin to continually adding pitchers to your bullpen without worrying about whether any of them can even throw a fastball.


Research is clear that good teachers matter more than small classes, and all of these problems are substantial obstacles to attracting and retaining top teachers. To get the most bang for the buck, teacher quality rather than quantity should be New York City's top priority right now.
That is the catch that teachers unions and smaller class size proponents fail to understand or perhaps fail to acknowledge. Smaller class sizes have not actually improved the education of children because we cannot, even on a micro scale, adequately ensure high quality teachers to teach those students.

Last October I argued, with some mathematical examples, that bigger class sizes are better because larger classes actually reduce the demand for teachers, allowing school systems to pay better and cull the cream of the teaching crop. Here is what I wrote:
The larger the class size, the fewer teachers that need to be hired. A fairly obvious statement. Concurrently with the idea of fewer teachers needing to be hired is that, in a perfect model, a school system can hire more teachers with a desired level of quality.

The definition of teacher quality is irrelevant in this model. No matter how a community defines a quality teacher, usually an amalgamation of education, experience, professionalism, and personal attributes, quality can be placed on a bell curve ranging from 1 (the poorest quality) to 100 (the highest quality). The peak of the curve would be about 75. Assuming you have a large enough population of potential teachers, all teachers would fall onto that curve.

If you must populate your school districts teacher population from people on that curve, you obviously seek to attract the highest quality--those at the upper end of the curve. However, the number of high quality teachers, defined as those with a quality score of 85 or better is finite and usually will not suffice to adequate man you schools. Thus, the more teachers you need, the lower the quality score you have to accept as teachers.

If your desired quality score for teachers is 80, there are far more potential teachers with a quality score below 80. If you have a school district of 10,000 students and a desired student teacher ration of 20:1, you have to fill 500 teacher positions. If your potential teacher pool is 1500, statistically, only 150 teachers would have a quality score of 90 or better and another 200 with a quality score of 80-90. You can then hire 350 teachers of desired quality, but still have to hire 150 teachers with less than desired quality. However, if you find that a desired student teacher ration is 25:1, then you have to hire 400 teachers of which only 50 are of less then desired quality. Finally, if you think 30:1 is a workable ratio, you need only hire 334 teachers--which means that all teachers are of the desired quality.
Thus, if school districts focused on quality teachers instead of the number of students they are required to teach, you can develop a higher quality teaching corps and thus improve education for all students, not just those students in smaller classes who luck into a quality teacher.

Monday, May 01, 2006

Padding Your Resume an Election Law Violation

Hat Tip: Prof. Hasen

Apparently if you pad your resume on your campaign website in Ohio, you can be in violation of election laws. U.S. Rep. Jean Schmidt (R) was issued a unanimous repimand by the Ohio Elections Commission.
The Ohio Elections Commission on Thursday found that Republican U.S. Rep. Jean Schmidt violated campaign law by claiming on her Web site last year that she had two college degrees when she had only one.


She obtained a bachelor's degree in political science from the University of Cincinnati in 1974. The Web site said she also had received a bachelor's in education from Cincinnati in 1986. After a media call to the university revealed she had not, she said she had completed the course work for an education degree but had not received one, said her lawyer, William Todd.

Schmidt campaign spokesman Allen Freeman said the ruling against Schmidt Thursday would be appealed.

The complaint was brought by James Urling, a member of the Cincinnati-based Coalition Opposed to Additional Spending and Taxes, which has targeted Schmidt for her vote for a penny-a-dollar state sales tax increase in 2003.

Todd said Schmidt wasn't involved in the creation of her Web site and did not know its contents.

"Although there were some minor errors, they were not knowingly and willfully made," Todd told the commission.
In many cases, candidates often puff a little in order to make some political points. But I am not sure why candidates will puff on subjects that are easy to check out. Anyone can call a college to see if a degree has been issued. This is just dumb.

Finally, a note to everyone, just because a candidate does not supervise personally the developement of all the campaign's material, it is still your name on the website and campaign literature. You cannot, and should not, escape liability just because you didn't supervise things. I know Schmidt's lawyer needed to make some sort of argument, but this is just the worst choice. I would have gone with typo or overzealous staff, but lack of personal supervision is never going to cut it.

A Different School Management Model

One of the great side benefits to being married to my wife is that we take definite opposing positions on a wide range of issues, including education. Actually, it is not fair to say that she takes a "public-school" only approach on education, but she certainly represents what I believe to be the majority position on education, that public education should be the primary method of educating our kids.

But in talking about my position of a more market-oriented position, she did think that my "education as business" model was flawed in a couple of respects. First, like most people she envisioned education as business in terms of manufacturing businesses, that is making a series of regular automaton like models of children, all being the same. As frustrating as this mindset is, that is not the subject of this post.

The second observation my wife made is that school management reform might better be viewed through the prism of a not-for-profit organization. She and I both have experience working with and for trade associations and thus are used to the goverance model based on various committees setting policy for the functions of the organization. For example, a board of volunteers, elected by the members of the association, sets general policy for the entire association and the staff carry out the directives and day-to-day management of the association. EAch association may have a number of committees, overseeing policy areas such as public relations, government relations, legal issues, membership, industry education, etc. Each committee is then made up of members of the association who are elected by the entire association membership or appointed by the Board of Directors.

In a school situation, a good model might be the New Zealand model, where a committee composed of parents of students attending each school sets policy for the school. In my model, a board of directors, comprised of various stakeholders in the school, but alwasy dominated in a super-majority fashion by parents and/or students, would govern the school. Such government would include the hiring and firing of senior administrators, such as the principal and other higher officials. The committee would approve a budget, set policy in terms of curriculum, student and teacher evaluation and all of the other matters that a school must deal with. It is possible that subcommittees or other committees may govern other areas, always under the supervision of the main board.

As I see, the primary stakeholders of any school are the children attending that school and by proxy their parents. Teachers, administrators and other support staff have a stake in the adequate management of each school, but to a lesser extent than teh students. The problem with the current model of school management is that the primary stakeholders are too far removed from the governing apparatus of the schools. Further, because of the remoteness of the governing structures, it is too easy to blame someone else, either up or down the chain (or both), for the school's failure. But with a local committee, comprised of parents of children at the school, the blame can only go so far and each parent then has a vested interest in the effective management of their child's school.

Of course, a model such as this would require a massive change in school structures and management, similar to that taken by New Zealand. But you can have all the school choice you want, until the management of the schools is more closely held by the primary stakeholders, you are not likely to see massive improvements in the quality of education.


Today is my seventh wedding anniversary. It has been a wonderful time and of course I hope to perpetuate it.

Why is it....

On a number of occaisions, I have suggested that school systems should be considering modeling many of their management practices on business models. Almost everytime I do so, I get the complaint that we cannot treat kids like toasters or someother manufactured item. Of course, I am fully cognizant of the difference between a individual child and a mass manufactured item as well as the challenge of teaching hundreds of thousands of distinct individuals.

But why is it when school choice advocates and school reform advocates such as myself mention business management as a model, everyone assumes the only business worth emulating is a manufacturing business? Millions of businesses in this country and around the world are focused on providing a service. Many of them have distinct measurement tools to determine if their business model is successful or not.

Schools are in the information business, they are in the service sector and yet most of them couldn't measure their efficiency or efficacy with any degree of reliability or accuracy. Why is it then that the application of business management techniques for the services and information sectors can't or aren't applied to schools? Fear of the consequences and results is one reason. I am sure there are others.

Finally, why is it that people in this country fully endorse our system of higher education, which is based completely on a market economy, including the states as market particiapnts, but cannot accept a similar model in k-12 education? That remains the great mystery.