Category Archives: Education

Big ED Lobbies to Trap Kids in Failing Schools

No child should be trapped in a failing school.

The solution is simple:   a statewide Parental Choice Voucher Program.

All parents must be able to choose their own child’s school, irrespective of their financial status or zip code and the child’s standing as a “special ed” student or not… be it public, private, charter or otherwise.  Without free market demands for honest transparency and real accountability, we will not see any significant improvement in the quality of education, student learning and out-of-control costs to fund public schools.

Expanding Parental Choice statewide and the free market are the only hope for real education reform, improving student learning and their futures.

It’s time for government to get out of the way. Free market competition is our only hope to drive real education reform.

The passage of 2011 Wisconsin Act 32 Biennial Budget created a parental choice program expansion for “eligible” school districts – which means 2nd class cities with school districts identified as being “high poverty”. A determination of high poverty is based on the number of students receiving free or reduced price lunches which reaches the 50% threshold. The final qualification is the student’s “total family income does not exceed 300 percent of the poverty level.”  According to the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction (DPI) the household Adjusted Gross Income (AGI) from the prior calendar year federal income tax is the qualifier, which sets the maximum yearly income for a family of four at $69,801 (1).

Although not a statewide Parental Choice Voucher Program, it is a very good step in the right direction.

So what’s the problem?

Detractors claim students in the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program (MPCP) fail to perform better than those in the Milwaukee Public Schools system, when the truth is the voucher program provides better results at half the cost.

“Students attending private schools in Milwaukee with publicly funded vouchers showed stronger gains in achievement than their public school counterparts, according to the latest release from a University of Arkansas sponsored, and State of Wisconsin authorized, longitudinal study…

In simple terms, students in the MPCP outperformed their counterparts by a significant margin when it came to reading. In eighth grade, a voucher student was 17 percent more likely to out gain a regular public school student when it came to reading and literacy.

Growth was also observed in mathematics for these students over the same period. Amongst seventh graders, MPCP students were 11 percent more likely to outscore their MPS peers.”–Official State of Wisconsin Study Confirms Choice Schools’ Success by Christine D’Andrea, MacIver Institute Education Policy Analyst (2, 3) 

One private Milwaukee school demonstrating the kind of student success which has garnered national attention is HOPE Christian Schools. Self-described as a “network of Christian college-preparatory schools in Milwaukee’s central city”, they strive to provide their students with a values-based education to develop not only their knowledge, but character, as well. From it’s humble beginnings as a small K-4 school educating 49 children, it has grown and expanded to providing over 810 students with a high quality K4-12 education in 2011.

“Last year’s eighth-grade graduates grew from the 34th percentile on their sixth-grade tests to the 50th percentile on their eighth-grade tests, which means they gained roughly 3.5 years of growth in two years at HOPE.”–Accountability Reports, HOPE Christian Schools (4)

Testifying at a state Senate hearing in Madison, at the end of February, in favor of SB486 to establish a Special Needs Scholarship Program (see Big ED Lobbies Against Special Needs Kids), I was extremely impressed by all those in attendance representing St Marcus Lutheran School and Messmer Catholic Schools in Milwaukee. Along with HOPE, these are shining examples of what a statewide expansion of the type of educational opportunities a Parental Choice Voucher Program could provide for all Wisconsin children and their families.

Why then, snuff out the flicker of hope to families with children trapped in a school failing to educate?

Good question.

“Big ED”, the education-related organizations including:  Association of Wisconsin School Administrators (AWSA), Southeastern Wisconsin Schools Alliance, United Transportation Union, Wisconsin Association of School Boards (WASB), Wisconsin Association of School Business Officials (WASBO), Wisconsin Association of School District Administrators (WASDA), Wisconsin Council for Administrators of Special Services (WCASS), Wisconsin School Social Workers Association (WSSWA) and Wisconsin Education Association Council (WEAC) are lobbying to prevent the school voucher genie from escaping the bottle because of their interest in maintaining their monopoly and the status quo (5). How often have we heard these powerful education-related organizations of public school employees and officials claim to put children first? It rings hollow. Follow the money.

At St Marcus, student success opened the floodgates of parents eager to enroll their children. In the span of a decade, St Marcus has increased enrollment fourfold, warranting a significant facilities expansion.

“It seems to me that the community is pretty desperate for things that work,” he said. “And when they find things that work, they tend to become supportive.”

Tyson said the longest waiting list of students trying to get into the school is in sixth and seventh grade.

“There’s no anxiety about being able to fill seats,” he said. “Anyone who’s successful is turning people away like crazy.”–St Marcus Lutheran starts $9.4 million expansion by Erin Richards, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel (6) 

Clearly, the success of these Choice Schools in Milwaukee and possibility of its expansion statewide is worrisome to Big ED.

I suspect as a result of pressure from school-related special interests groups determined to prevent other Wisconsin families from having the option to escape a failing school – something they call a “loophole” – a small group of bi-partisan legislators introduced and cosponsored SB174 (7). Reportedly, this could result in an expansion of the Parental Choice Voucher Program to as many as 37 school districts, statewide. Is it co-incidental, these legislators represent many of the areas encompassed by these same school districts?

Without a doubt, the only hope for education is free-market competition.

This bill is expected to come to the Assembly floor next Tuesday (March 13th) for a final vote. Please contact legislators who signed on to support SB174, urging them to reconsider their decision and your Assembly Representative to vote “NO”. The time is now for our legislators to stand with Wisconsin families and tell Big ED our students will not be trapped in failing schools.

sources:  

  1. 2012-13 Income Limits for New Students, Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction (DPI)
  2. Official State of Wisconsin Study Confirms Choice Schools’ Success by Christine D’Andrea, MacIver Institute Education Policy Analyst (2/27/2012)
  3. School Choice Demonstration Project:  Milwaukee Parental Choice Program University of Arkansas Department of Education Reform
  4. Accountability Reports, HOPE Christian Schools
  5. Legislative bills and resolutions, Senate Bill 174:  “closing the parental choice program for eligible school districts to additional school districts” , Eye on Lobbying in Wisconsin website
  6. St Marcus Lutheran starts $9.4 million expansion:  Project will provide additional classrooms for growing ‘no excuses’ school by Erin Richards, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel (11/1/2010)
  7. 2011 Senate Bill 174

Big ED Lobbies Against Special Needs Kids

I’m appalled by the lack of understanding of the issue exhibited in the recent Appleton Post-Crescent editorial, Bill could hurt special-needs students.  Obviously, in spite of the misleading title, the newspaper is only interested in doing the bidding of powerful, paid education and disabilities lobbyists hoping to maintain the public schools monopoly and status quo, instead of supporting a promising effort to truly reform special needs education. 

As a mother of three exceptionally challenged children and as a member of my local Board of Education, I wholeheartedly support AB110 and SB486, and the Special Needs Scholarship Program it establishes.  I commend Representative Michelle Litjens and Senator Leah Vukmir, as well as each Assembly and Senate supporter and cosponsor for recognizing the genuine need for this law.

Will Wisconsin legislators cast their vote in favor of special needs children and empower their parents... or side with powerful paid lobbyists?

About fifteen to twenty years ago, my children, who are vision impaired, with physical and mental challenges, attended public schools.  Our daughter was, in effect, warehoused, spending most days scribbling with crayons on scrap paper, usually half-filling a paper grocery bag each week… yet the school was unresponsive to our concerns.  It wasn’t unusual for her to arrive home bruised or with a bloody face or broken glasses, yet the school was unresponsive to our concerns for her safety.

Exasperated, I expressed my frustrations to my doctor and was asked what I thought the school would do if I sent my daughter to school in the condition she arrived home… the lightbulb went on! I returned home, picked up the phone and reported them to Child Protective Services. That felt so good, I followed up by filing an assault and battery report with the local police. The elementary school wasted no time in politely calling us, requesting a meeting. My husband and I arrived a few minutes early and witnessed the school attorney castigating the principal… and from then on things improved, significantly. That was, until she started middle school and it began all over, again.

Our family didn’t have an opportunity to use a Special Needs Scholarship.  But knowing I could do far better than what our children experienced in public school, I homeschooled them. They not only learned, but did so even beyond my expectations.

In public school, our youngest son was illiterate at third grade when we began homeschooling.  By fifth grade, I had brought him up to grade level. I’ll never forget how after he learned to read – and even became proficient in spelling – he confessed how he always felt “dumb” in public school.  Our daughter excelled at history and geography.  Give her the name of a city and she will tell you it’s country and continent with an amazing level of accuracy. These children can learn, if they are given the right opportunity to do so.

One of the reasons I ran for a seat on our school board was to ensure other families do not go through what we experienced.  Attending the Senate hearing last week and listening to so many parents testify about their situations, it became quite clear things haven’t changed all that much, at least for some.

There are many dedicated special ed teachers in Wisconsin and public schools which do a fine job with special needs students.  However, each child has their own, unique challenges.  Try as they may, no school can be all things to all children.  Parents love their children and know what’s best for them… they are the experts.  But when the local school district is not meeting their child’s needs, parents must have options.  The Special Needs Scholarship Program provides those options by empowering parents.

Special Needs Scholarship Program detractors cite the fact a public school losing a student would likewise lose general aid equal to the amount of the voucher.  Should schools be paid for services they do not provide?  Absolutely not.

Typically, public schools are only partially reimbursed from the state or federal governments, in our district’s case it’s about 27 cents for each dollar spent on special ed services, with local taxpayers footing the bill for the lion’s share at 73 cents. If Special Needs Scholarships become a reality and some parents choose to send their children to another school, far more dollars are freed up than what the school loses.

Parents of exceptionally challenged children pay their property taxes, yet if their local public school district is failing their child, is it right or fair they should have to pay a private school, also? Absolutely not.

When a special needs student’s education is stagnant or she is being victimized by bullies, is it right to trap the child in the ineffective, unsafe or unresponsive school for the remainder of the school year, until the parents can file an open enrollment request… for the following fall, which the local school boards can – and often do – decline? Absolutely not.

Public schools will continue receiving state aid for special needs students they educate.  If they are truly doing a good job, they have nothing to fear – and may actually stand to gain new students.  At the very least, the passage of AB110 or SB486 will force public schools to look inward and make positive changes by improving special needs students’ learning, ensuring they are not victims of bullies, being more responsive to the parents’ concerns and guaranteeing these programs operate at a higher level of fiscal responsibility.

Another benefit could result from public school districts partnering and working cooperatively in providing special education services more efficiently and with greater effectiveness.  Instead of each public school operating in a silo and reinventing the wheel for their pool of special ed students, much could be gained with a collaborative or reciprocal approach.  Cooperative efforts between public school districts could be a win-win situation for all:  the children and families served, participating public schools and taxpayers.

This is not a Democrat vs Republican issue. It is a matter of elected legislators setting aside their partisan politics and doing the right thing by listening to and representing these children and their families. After all, it is the parents who know what’s best for their own children… not powerful education-related organizations or paid lobbyists standing in opposition to this bill, desperate to prevent the school voucher genie from escaping the bottle while maintaining the status quo.

I firmly believe all parents should have the opportunity to choose their own child’s school, irrespective of their financial status or zip code, and regardless of the child’s standing as a special needs student or not… be it public, private, charter or homeschool.

Bear Grease on the Slippery Slope

Certainly, it is the duty of a school district to ensure student safety and a bully-free environment conducive to learning.  Merrill’s anti-bullying policy already includes prohibitions on cyber-bullying for both students and employees, as do most others.  Should such an incident occur, the complaint is referred to  appropriate law enforcement agencies.  Senate Bill 427, is an unnecessary and unwarranted trespass by the state into the authority of local school boards.

The requirement in SB427 of school districts to prepare annual bullying reports only adds another layer of bureaucracy while increasing the paperwork burden through the tracking and compiling of this data – along with increased costs – so becomes another unfunded mandate.

Exactly what constitutes “appropriate responses to bullying that occurs off school grounds”? Public schools have no legal authority over students off-campus, and especially not in  the privacy of a student’s home, using their own computer. Yet this bill would begin to blur that line.  Whose job is it to determine if the so-called bullying incident “infringes on the rights of the pupil”, especially when the bill’s authors seek to lower the threshold of what behavior constitutes an illegal bullying incident?

“Section 6. 947.0125 (3) (a) of the statutes is amended to read:  947.0125 (3) (a) With intent to harass, annoy, or offend another person, sends a message to the person on an electronic mail or other computerized communication system or posts a message electronically where other persons can view the message and in that sent or posted message uses any obscene, lewd, or profane language or suggests any lewd or lascivious act.”–excerpt from Wisconsin 2011 Senate Bill 427, proposed new language in bold text

Per state law, Wisconsin Statute 947.0125(3)(a) indicates it only takes an “intent to harass, annoy, or offend another person” and if “profane language” is used, the standard is met to consider such actions criminal bullying. Because current statutory language reads:  “…any obscene, lewd, or profane language or suggests any lewd or lascivious act.” instead of “…and suggests”, the inclusion of a swear word in an internet communication can become an illegal act. SB427 further compounds the senselessness of this law by elevating the act of posting such a message to the internet – without directing it any particular person – a new crime! The Class B forfeiture is punishable by a fine up to $1,000. How absurd!

If what a person says online can be controlled to the extent of declaring profane or lewd comments which annoy or offend another as illegal, why limit it to electronic or computerized means of communication? What about speech exercised during protests? Couldn’t the noise and chanting be considered annoying and some of the messages voiced, offensive?

Will SB427 mark the beginning of the end for free speech on the internet?

It’s only when we protect the free speech rights of those with whom we may disagree that we remain free. SB427 adds bear grease to an already slippery slope towards the elimination of free speech for all.

It should be pointed out SB427 wouldn’t just affect students and it really isn’t about cyber-bullying, either. Clearly, it is a back-door attempt to abridge everyone’s right to free speech on the internet. This unconstitutional bill was introduced by Wisconsin State Senators Tim Cullen, Spencer Coggs, Tim Carpenter, Jon Erpenbach, Lena Taylor, Jessica King, Dale Schultz, Fred Risser, Neal Kedzie and our own Jim Holperin. Cosponsors are  Representatives Joe Knilans, Chris Taylor, Mark Pocan, Robert Turner, Anthony Staskunas, Janis Ringhand, Amy Loudenbeck, Sandy Pasch and Sondy Pope-Roberts.

Will SB427 mark the beginning of the end for free speech on the internet? I provided testimony against SB427 at last week’s Senate hearing in Madison and   encourage readers to likewise exercise their right to free speech in contacting these Wisconsin legislators, asking them to withdraw support. Also, please contact your state Senator urging a “NO” vote on SB427 and a redraft of  Statutes 947.0125 to protect free speech.

Shoes and Golden Parachutes

Making a quick stop at the grocery store one December evening, I glanced at the community Christmas tree in the entrance dressed in handmade paper ornaments, making a mental note to come by again when I wasn’t in such a rush. But the word, “shoes” scrawled on one slip of paper as a Christmas request from an eight-year old girl, caused me to stop in my tracks. And she wasn’t the only child asking for basic necessities:  a seven-year old boy wanted “clothes”… a nine-year old girl, also hoping for “shoes”… and dozens more. Nearly every scrap of paper was the same story. It was heartbreaking and drives home the reality of poverty, which is a fact of life for so many in our community.

Contrast that with overly-generous compensation packages for administrators upon parting service and extravagant early retirement benefits for both administrators and teachers. In the case of the latter, they may retire at 55 years old after completion of at least ten years (for administrators and 15 years for teachers) employment and taxpayers fund their insurance costs over the next decade, until they qualify for Medicare, which is expected to cost $328,000 per 2012 retiree a golden parachute in a town where parents can’t afford shoes for their children. This one lavish perk drives our structural deficit and annual necessity to cut in excess of $1 million dollars from the budget.

Public schools can't afford to fund Golden Parachutes

By all means, they should be free to retire early… at 55… if they so chose, as long as they  pay for their own insurance costs like everybody else.

This isn’t an isolated problem. I have it on good authority the backloading of unbelievable golden parachutes has reached new heights in Madison area schools and is catching on like wildfire across the state. It’s a ploy often used to offset what, on the surface appears to be “lower” administrative salaries.

Such contracts are unconscionable.

A few recent examples of school administrator golden parachutes from across the state include:

It’s not just a problem in Wisconsin. Other state legislatures have actually passed laws to ban public school superintendents and administrators from being paid for work they do not perform in an effort to ensure tax dollars go into the classrooms. Before the situation becomes any worse, we need similar legislation here.

Generally, these types of payouts end up being siphoned off the districts’ general fund. The domino effect is far-reaching:  from forcing some districts into short-term borrowing in order to meet payroll and pay the light bill, to aggravating their structural deficit and pushing them closer towards the brink of insolvency.

As much as I’m a firm believer in local control, the unfortunate reality is too many school boards are simply ill-equipped to ensure their administrators’ contracts are written to protect the school district and taxpayers’ best interests. Too often, boards lacking fiscal savvy are eager and willing to sweeten the pot in excess of their districts’ ability to pay. Consequently, I believe it is necessary for the state to consider addressing the issue in the interest of fiscal responsibility, accountability, transparency to our taxpayers… and the future of public education in Wisconsin.

Most people are unaware their school administrator contracts are subject to open records requests. They are public documents. What public school administrators are being paid – salary and benefits – is the public’s business.

All school board meetings where any administrator contracts are discussed should likewise be subject to open meetings laws. Allowing these discussions to take place behind closed doors is the root of the problem. Perhaps a requirement to actually publish administrators’ contracts in local newspaper legal notices and provide PDF versions on the school districts’ websites would also serve the public’s interests. Also, a one-year limitation on administrators’ contracts, without provisions for automatic renewal or the non-renew process, would benefit school districts through the avoidance of these types of costly early buyout deals.

Sunshine is the best disinfectant… especially for golden parachutes.

Globalism is the New Patriotism

Conservatives welcome and encourage outside-of-the-box thinking resulting in creative approaches to problem solving… solutions based on sound, sensible factual evidence. Unleash Americans’ can-do spirit and get government out of the way. It’s how we solve problems. It’s about freedom and personal liberty.

Progressives, on the other hand, believe more government control is the answer to every question as they tend to base decisions on emotional rhetoric and knee-jerk reactions – which only serve to make problems worse. This is true at all levels of government – all the way down to your local town and school boards.

Money Corrupts

For too long, public education in this country has been controlled by Progressives. From the class room to the board room we have serious problems. The pat response from the Progressive education establishment is to blame everything from low student performance and test scores to budget woes on a need for more money. This is nothing more than a diversion. Throwing money at problems does not make them go away.

Drowning in Money, Thirsting for Achievement  We would be happy to wager on what is the most commonly cited “problem” with American education: insufficient funding. In their book Education Myths, Dr. Jay Greene of the University of Arkansas and his coauthors call this the “Money Myth.”

The pervasiveness of this assumption that schools are inadequately funded says more about the state of our public thought about education than anything else,” they write. “It is simultaneously the most widely held idea about education in America and the one that is most directly at odds with the available evidence.”Report Card on American Education: Ranking State K-12 Performance, Progress and Reform by Dr. Matthew Ladner, Andrew T. LeFevre and Dan Lips, 16th Edition, American Legislative Exchange Council (2010)

The United States already spends more on education than nearly any other country in the world. Yet, embarrassingly, our students rank mediocre in global comparisons. The 2009 Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) global rankings of 15-year old students are dismal for the United States. In mathematics, Shanghai-China, Singapore, Hong Kong and South Korea ranked top honors, while our students scored below average with a dismal showing at 32nd behind Luxembourg and Hungary. We fared somewhat better in science, considered to be average at 23rd, behind Hungary, Belgium and Iceland while Shanghai-China, Finland, Hong Kong and Singapore topped the category. Once again rated average, the US students tied at 15th with those in Poland and Iceland in reading, as Shanghai-China, South Korea, Finland and Hong Kong rated top of the class.

What does this say about our children’s… and our nation’s future?

And they continue to beat the drum claiming schools are underfunded? Don't fall for the "money myth".

A stunning infographic puts the issue into perspective by comparing total annual spending and student performance in the United States with eleven other countries:  Japan, Australia, Brazil, Canada, France, Germany, Russia, Finland, Mexico, South Korea and the United Kingdom. Without a doubt, the US spends far more per school-aged child than any other country. Yet, we are at the bottom of the heap in educating our children to become competent in both science and mathematics… why?

Clearly, more money is not the answer as it does not equate to better educated students.

Certainly, we are blessed with many high quality, dedicated teachers. I don’t believe the majority of teachers are the problem. So let’s put the blame where it belongs:  the problem with public education is wasted money and the philosophy of Progressive Education.

Globalism is the New Patriotism

We can thank Progressivism for infecting public education with political correctness, multiculturalism, globalism, environmental justice, and social justice. As these causes and the promotion of Progressive beliefs have commanded more classroom attention, students have lost precious time necessary to learn the basic skills key to becoming well educated:  how to read, perform mathematics without the aid of a calculator and develop vital language arts skills of spelling, proper grammar and cursive writing. To gain an appreciation, knowledge and sense of pride for our own history, the benefits of a science curriculum based upon facts to spark students’ intellect and an understanding of economics have been lost… at least in public schools driven by administrators or staffed with activist teachers who believe in and promote Progressive Education.

It also explains why so much effort and expense is directed at Professional Development in public schools guided by Progressives – and especially so in situations where much of the staff has achieved occupational longevity. The younger teachers were indoctrinated into the theories of  Progressive Education while at the Universities. Professional Development is about controlling teachers rather than actually improving student learning. It is the re-education camp for experienced teachers, those who actually understand how to perform their job and do it well.

“When school boards spend thousands of tax dollars to send teachers to education conferences around the country, they have a reasonable expectation that the attendees will bring back knowledge and skills that will be put to constructive use in the classroom. That is not necessarily what the boards are receiving in return when they send teachers to conferences on multiculturalism and so-called social-justice teaching. At many of these gatherings, teachers are being urged to go back home and work for an anti-free-market, redistributionist social agenda rather than teaching children the academic fundamentals.

…A network of academics and organizations including former Weather Underground terrorist William Ayers, Howard Zinn, and Milwaukee-based Rethinking Schools are leading advocates for extremist “social justice teaching” in the nation’s public schools.”–Multiculturalism and “Social Justice” in American Public Education by Robert Holland and Don Soifer, Lexington Institute (11/2008)

Experiential learning, project-based, community service or service learning projects and the collaborative approach to education are reshaping students’ views, replacing individualism, personal achievement and independence with an acceptance of mediocrity, communitarianism and equality at the cost of liberty. It’s a forward sounding agenda being sold to the uninformed as “21st-Century Skills”. Another popular theme is “student-centered” learning, which, in reality, seeks to make them equal with their teachers in directing their own education, as a not-so-subtle means to overthrow their perceived oppression of traditional education and the teacher-student relationship.

However, these ‘new’ ideas in education aren’t as they seem. Within the education industry, it’s just the window dressing. Pull back the curtain and you’ll find the specter of Critical Pedagogy, with roots deep in Marxist revolutionary theory, cultural studies, feminist studies and liberation theology. It’s goal is societal transformation and the promotion of Radical Democracy through a bedrock belief that Capitalism is exploitive, so must be replaced with Socialism.

“To challenge educands with regard to their certitudes is a duty of the progressive educator. What kind of educator would I be if I did not feel moved by a powerful impulse to seek, without lying, convincing arguments in defense of the dreams for which I struggle, in defence of the ‘why’ of the hope with which I act as an educator?

What is not permissible to be doing is to conceal truths, deny information, impose principles, eviscerate the educands of their freedom, or punish them, no matter by what method, if, for various reasons, they fail to accepts my discourse – reject my utopia.”Pedagogy of Hope by Paolo Freire (1921-1997), Brazilian Marxist, educator and influential theorist of Critical Pedagogy

The delusional basis of Critical Pedagogy is the belief the oppressed must rise up to become liberated – and it is the educator’s job to indoctrinate students. It develops within the student a belief system focused on inequality, exploitation, oppression and domination in relationship to race, ethnicity, class and gender. Students are conditioned to view their nation and culture negatively. They’re taught to hold oppositional values, attitudes and behaviors, cultivating a mindset necessary to facilitate the leftists’ desired revolution. Critical Pedagogy is about questioning and challenging authority – be it historical figures, governmental, political, corporate, societal, religious, within education… or even their own parents.

No aspect of traditional American values is off-limits.

In our universities, colleges and public schools, it is the institutionalized planting of seeds of discontent, watering with sermons admonishing deeds of injustice… until rebellion blooms. The fruit of Critical Pedagogy is on full view within the cult of the Occupy Movement.

The Failure of No Fail

I must admit that when I first heard the phrases  “21st-Century Skills”, “Standards-Based Grading” and “Professional Learning Communities”, I thought they were nothing more than new buzz-words or catch phrases popular among educators. But they also struck me as great ideas. Of course, our students should be educated to compete in the 21st-century job market. They should be taught by professionals dedicated to insuring that their pupils learn. Everyone should be held to a standard… a high standard… don’t you agree?

Unfortunately, beneath the shiny facade none of these are what they seem.

Our children are our future

It wasn’t until I began to look below the surface I realized these are components of the Progressive Education agenda. They diminish educational content, erode student responsibility, accountability and excellence while promoting creativity, collaboration, innovation and problem solving skills. This agenda is, as a retired public school teacher aptly describes it, a “No Fail Policy”. A key component is the ushering in of standards-based grading because it enables schools to conceal the fact students are failing to learn.

The so-called 21st-century skills movement is an educational fad… a bandwagon. But for the professional development industry, it’s a gravy train. Schools spend billions of dollars a year on professional development, which is, in reality, more about controlling teachers than actually helping students learn.

The main criticism of so-called 21st-century skills is it removes the focus from academics, placing the emphasis on skills, instead. What good are skills without knowledge? There is no independent, scientific research suggesting this educational philosophy is valid and, to the contrary, there is ample evidence the opposite is true.

It was tried in Connecticut, some years ago, and was actually found to decrease student performance. They have since abandoned the fad, in favor of a more traditional model.  The list of 21st-century skills are nothing new, but are skills acquired by students who are offered a high-quality academic program – going as far back into history as Aristotle. Yes, these skills are important, but we would be well advised to stick with what works: a high-quality academic curriculum that sets high expectations for all of our students.

“The 21st-century skills movement could return Massachusetts to an era of low academic standards…. But critics, including the nonprofit Pioneer Institute, have made a powerful case that the plan could set back education reform efforts in Massachusetts by advancing a set of soft, vague skills at the expense of academic content… Ten years ago, students in Connecticut outperformed their Massachusetts counterparts on a national reading assessment test. But after education policy makers there shifted focus from an emphasis on content knowledge to the “how to” methods favored by the 21st-century skills movement, test scores plummeted. Acknowledging the error, Connecticut educators are reintroducing methods favored by Massachusetts. In fact, there is strong evidence that emphasis on basic skills leads to success at reasoning and problem-solving. Fourth-graders here ranked second worldwide in science and tied for third in math last year on the sophisticated Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study exam. Given such success, the burden should be on 21st-century skills proponents to prove their methods offer a better way to prepare students for college, and the workplace. So far, they haven’t done that. And while they say 21st-century skills will only complement the state’s current efforts, it’s not clear that the approach can be implemented without de-emphasizing academic content.” A 21st-Century Caution Globe Editorial, The Boston Globe (1/24/2009)

Follows, are comments from well-respected educational experts, as reported in Cultural Literacy in Retreat by Mark Bauerlein, published in The Chronicle of Higher Education (6/9/2009):

“But while it is exciting to think we live in times so revolutionary that they demand entirely new skills, that assumption and others threaten to establish a false choice between teaching facts and teaching how to approach them – and to make the 21st-century skills movement another fad leading to little change in American education.”–Andrew J. Rotherham, co-founder and partner at Bellwether Education, a non-profit organization, education columnist for TIME.com, co-publisher Education Insider, founder Education Sector, former White House Special Assistant to the President for Domestic Policy during the Clinton administration

“How are millions of students still struggling to acquire 19th-century skills in reading, writing, and math supposed to learn this stuff?”–Jay Matthews, Harvard University alumni, author and education reporter for the Washington Post

“There is nothing new in the proposals of the 21st-century skills movement. The same ideas were iterated and reiterated by pedagogues across the 20th century.”–Diane Ravitch, educational historian, education policy analysis, former United States Assistant Secretary of Education, now a research Professor at New York University’s Steinhardt School of Culture, Education and Human Development

Others weigh in on the issue:

“At its heart, say Hirsch and others, the conflict is about what should happen in a school day:  Do kids learn to think by reading great literature, doing difficult math and learning history, philosolhy and science? Or can they tackle those subjects on their own if schools simply teach them to problem-solve, communicate, use technology and think creatively? If you pursue the latter, says University of Virginia cognitive psychologist Daniel Willingham, the rich content you’re after inevitably “falls by the wayside”. While kids may enjoy working together on projects, for instance, the amount of knowledge they get often ends up being shallow. Furthermore, he says, research shows that many teachers find it difficult to actually teach children to think creatively or collaborate. In the end, they rarely get better at the very skills that P21 advocates.What to learn: ‘core knowledge’ or ‘21st-century skills’? by Greg Toppo, USA Today

“But Michael Petrilli, a research fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution and a former US Department of Education official, said he disagreed with the new grading policies. “This is clearly about dumbing down expectations for our students,” Petrilli told FOXNews.com. “Some of these children are just a few years away from being in the workforce, in college or even in the military, and in none of those environments will they be coddled like they are in these programs.” Petrilli said the policy also sends the wrong message to students. “If you’re getting a zero, that usually means you didn’t turn the assignment or do the job correctly,” he said. “All this does is create cynicism among educators and send signals to students that the education system is not serious about achievement.” If anything, Petrilli said, overall standards at high schools across the country should be raised, not lowered. “It does not take a lot to pass a high school course,” he said. “If we have kids not meeting the standard, the answer is not to lower the standard.”Are ‘No-Fail’ Grading Systems Hurting or Helping Students? by Joshua Rhett Miller, FOX NEWS (4/27/2009)

The “No Fail” movement has failed in many other places. In Texas, the situation became so bad their state legislature actually stepped in, passing a law to outlaw “No Fail”:

“But [Texas Senator Jane] Nelson said the grading policies encourage students to game the system, knowing they don’t have to do much to pass. “Kids are smart and can figure it out,” she said. “A student in one of these districts with a minimum grade of 70 can sit and say, ‘I don’t have to do any homework, I don’t have to answer any questions on tests, and they still have to give me a 70 no matter what.’”

“Holly Eaton of the Texas Classroom Teachers Association acknowledged there are studies showing a correlation between poor grades and student dropouts. But she said teachers are still strongly behind Nelson’s efforts. “School districts with policies like this are harming the integrity of our grading system and undermining the professional judgement of teachers across Texas,” she said.”Texas Senate bill aims to stop no-fail grading in public schools by Terrence Stutz, The Dallas Morning News (4/13/2009)

“No fail” is epidemic in Canada and children are paying the price with their futures:

“Indeed, the institutionalized agenda to protect self-esteem has become in some quarters a massive deception that only the officious refuse to recognize. The unassailable doctrine that everyone’s a winner and everyone is the same is anathema to critical thinking. Ask any eight year-old with a closet full of trophies for showing up. The fact that a late assignment is not penalized does not reward knowledge, it erodes learning and respect for the basic necessity of rules. It invites the wily to opt out. That grammar only counts on assignments when a teacher says it does encourages sloppy work. If students can correct their tests to gain marks (or if they get a redo), study habits suffer. Such practices may explain why half the class is failing math even though a teacher is still reviewing last year’s material four months into the year. Children who are not allowed to fail or to see mistakes can cost them will eventually have a hard landing when work-for-pay involves deadlines, standards and regular swift assessment. The idea that school teaches reading, ‘riting and ‘rithmetic is long gone. Making it easy, however, for the unmotivated to succeed is as bad as failing a child because a standard is not just too high, but unjustly shortsighted. It lets the entire education system off easy. In a world where there is no failure, there is no learning.”–It’s simple: No failure, no learning, staff writer Winnipeg Free Press (1/18/2010)

Is this what we want to replicate?

I attended a professional development seminar promoting full-blown “No Fail” to an auditorium full of public school teachers. It was quite an eye-opener… revealing just how destructive the Progressive education agenda is to student learning.

No-fail often employs “second chance tests” so students can correct what they got wrong, then resubmit the test days later to have their grade raised. Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary defines “test” as “something measuring knowledge”. A “test” is no longer a true test of a student’s knowledge when they’re allowed to correct incorrect answers to raise their grade. This is an invitation for cheating, since students could simply look the answers up in their textbook or online, copy the correct answer and get credit for it. Why study? Where’s the learning?

The speaker emphasized the notion homework is just “practice” and shouldn’t count in the grade. They want schools to only grade on “summative” assignments – the students’ tests. Accordingly, homework, which he calls “formative” assessments, is used to “change student grades”. It’s an effort to move towards a system where, in his words: Effective assessment practices don’t average scores. Grade on end of semester, only.”

One of many problems with this, besides the lack of ethics, is children learn from repetition. We all do. Hence the old adage:  Practice makes perfect. If students know homework doesn’t count towards their class grade, or it only counts for a small portion of their overall grade, why should they bother to even do it – especially when there’s so many other fun things they’d rather be doing? And many students won’t. Once again, their work ethic suffers.

Deadlines are bad and late assignments are fine-and-dandy. At least according to this Progressive-minded speaker.  He actually told teachers to “do away with deadlines… and don’t lower grades for late work”.

Teachers are also told:  “Don’t penalize students with poor attendance.” So when attendance and tardy policies are ignored or tossed out the window, students learn promptness and deadlines are optional.

If they are not expected to be punctual and if class skippers are not held accountable, deadlines are meaningless and cheating is OK, these young people will have a difficult time holding a job in the real world.

Stop teaching from textbooks, page by page.” he said. “What used to be a 2-week unit can be condensed to 2-3 days covering just what they need to know for the test.”  Instead of providing students with a well-rounded education, teach to the standard or target points… teach to the state test. He advocated narrowing the instructional focus by teaching less content. And for those students who struggle the most, their education would be pared down to just what they need to perform on the tests.

Ah… the tests.

As a response to unrealistic provisions in the federal No Child Left Behind (NCLB) law requiring 100% of our students to be “proficient” in reading and math by 2013-2014, DPI and many Wisconsin schools have lowered the bar. It’s evident in the disturbing trend of “no fail” programs and policies creeping into the public schools, an easier WKCE along with schools openly admitting they are “teaching to the test”. This is directly to blame for a degradation of the quality of education. It also explains why colleges and universities are finding it necessary to assign so many of their freshmen students to remedial courses… even those who graduated high school with “above average” grades.

A recent comparison of NAEP (National Assessment of Education Progress) shows Florida Hispanic schoolchildren are better educated than those in Wisconsin and 24 other states. We are also falling behind on a global scale due to a lack of discipline and rigor in our schools. We are not only negatively impacting our students, but are also putting our future workforce at risk.

Perhaps the most shocking thing I heard that day, and also the most revealing, was his advice to give a practice test a week before the final, then the practice test becomes their study guide. Yup… if all else fails, give them the answers. This is coddling the students, encouraging them to be unmotivated and irresponsible. It is, in my opinion, Educational Malpractice.

There’s an organized push for public schools to do away with A-B-C grading in favor of “standards-based” or, worse, yet, evolving to “effort-based grading” where they are graded by how hard they try – not whether they actually learn anything.

And the cherry on top of this professional development speaker’s presentation was when he told teachers  “We’ve been so focused on grades”…  and don’t give students zeros, incomplete or F’s… oh, and don’t retain kids – because of what he called “failure stigma” – which is another way to say if students don’t learn or if they don’t do their school work, just pass them along to the next grade. You now have a recipe for high school graduation diplomas which are entirely meaningless and worthless.

And I have a news flash for these No-Fail Pied Pipers:  You don’t want kids to experience failure stigma? Well, that’s exactly what you are setting them up to do as they fail to achieve their full potential.

“…grades measure results, not effort. It sounds charitable to “grade on effort,” rewarding hard work with higher grades even in the absence of measurable results. But this won’t work in practice. We have no way to measure how hard our students work. When you give one failing student a C for effort, are you sure you didn’t have another failing student who worked just as hard but didn’t tell you about it?

Anyhow, we give degrees for mastering course material, not for enduring drudgery, and a grade is part of a degree. Would you rather be operated on by a doctor who had an easy time in medical school, or by one who had a hard time and got his passing grade “on effort”? Grading on effort can conceal incompetence or, at best, send students into advanced courses for which they are not prepared.”What Should Grades Mean? by Michael A. Covington, Institute for Artificial Intelligence, The University of Georgia 

I believe education must raise the bar, challenging children to achieve. I’m not a teacher, but I truly believe No-Fail philosophy is destructive to young people because it coddles students as it rewards the unmotivated and punishes the over-achiever by promoting mediocrity. Students need a solid foundation of core knowledge. They need to be challenged to excel and to learn there are consequences for their actions. Accountability. Responsibility. Discipline. Without these traditional, time-tested, success-proven basics, how will they ever be able to hold a job, let alone succeed at life?

sources:

  1. The Foundation for Educational Choice: Advancing Milton & Rose Friedman’s Vision of School Choice for All Lessons for Tennessee from Florida’s Education Revolution by Matthew Ladner (2/9/2011)
  2. 21st-Century Skills Are Not a New Education Trend but Could Be a Fad by Andrew J Rotherham, U.S.News & World Report  (12/15/2008)
  3. How Public School Teachers Can Reverse the Educational Decline by Bruce Deitrick Price, Canada Free Press  (6/1/2010)
  4. The Latest Doomed Pedagogical Fad:  21st-Century Skills, by Jay Matthews, The Washington Post (1/5/2009)

The Puppeteers

The Story of Stuff and Annie Leonard’s other films are cartoonish, stick figure propaganda tools full of disinformation used to indoctrinate youth into the Occupy mentality. Leonard, a former Greenpeace employee, promotes Green Communism, but clearly has some influential benefactors and like-minded puppeteers lurking in the shadows.

Have your kids been propagandized into the Occupy mentality by this series shown in some schools?

Let’s connect the dots… shall we?

The Story of Stuff was backed by the Tides Foundation, a far-left organization advocating social justice (equality  at the expense of liberty), economic justice (wealth redistribution) and reproductive justice (contraceptives and abortions for all). It’s founder, Drummond Pike, is also a director of billionaire George Soros’ partisan Democracy Alliance (funding ACORN, Sierra Club, etc…). Interesting to note, former Tides Foundation directors included:  Wade Rathke, who was also the founder and Chief Organizer of the notoriously corrupt ACORN and Dan Carol, the co-founder of the Apollo Alliance, a project of the Tides Center. Here, the spider’s web becomes even more interesting as an intricate part of the effort to push the so-called Green Jobs agenda, the Apollo Alliance was a prominent member of former Wisconsin Governor Jim Doyle’s Task Force on Global Warming.

Apollo Alliance director and resigned White House Green Czar, Anthony Kapel “Van” Jones, was a founding member of Standing Together to Organize a Revolutionary Movement (STORM), which was a self-proclaimed Communist Marxist-Leninist group of radicals, formerly active in the San Francisco Bay area. He was also involved in the formation and operation of an educator movement called PENCIL (Progressive Educator’s Network Creating International Liberation).

STORM’s manifesto beliefs & goals included the following:  involvement in community organizing, social justice, commitment to revolutionary Marxist principles, radical youth and student organizing in high schools and colleges. The group is anti-police, viewing them as “state repression”. They are self-described supporters of communist politics desiring to build revolutionary power by exploiting any crisis to create an uprising and gain power. STORM is racist against whites. They seek to defeat US “imperialism”, and to develop young revolutionaries. This stuff should be a huge red flag to every parent and patriotic American because it’s exactly what’s happening right before our eyes.

In my last entry, Reaping What We Sow, I exposed the communist mind-set Leonard’s Story of… films cultivate. But where did these radical ideas portrayed in The Story of… films and mimicked by those Occupiers, at least those who can actually voice a reason for their involvement, originate? Here’s a blast from the past that ought to knock your socks off:

Capitalism cannot reform itself; it is doomed to self-destruction. No universal selfishness can bring social good to all.

Communism–the effort to give all men what they need and to ask of each the best they can contribute–this is the only way of human life. It is a difficult and hard end to reach–it has and will make mistakes, but today it marches triumphantly on in education and science, in home and food, with increased freedom of thought and deliverance from dogma. In the end Communism will triumph. I want to help to bring that day.

The path of the American Communist Party is clear:  It will provide the United States with a real Third Party and thus restore democracy to this land. It will call for:

  1. Public ownership of natural resources and of all capital
  2. Public control of transportation and communications.
  3. Abolition of poverty and limitation of personal income.
  4. No exploitation of labor.
  5. Social medicine, with hospitalization and care of the old.
  6. Free education for all.
  7. Training for jobs and jobs for all.
  8. Discipline for growth and reform.
  9. Freedom under law.
  10. No dogmatic religion.

These are not crimes. They are practiced all over the world. No nation can call itself free which does not allow its citizens to work for these ends.”–Request to Join the Party by William Edward Burghardt DuBois, 1868-1963, NAACP founder, joined the Communist Party in 1961 at 93 years old, subject of FBI investigation; letter published in Communism in America:  a history in documents by Alfred Fried

It’s chilling to read DuBois’ vision for the Communist Party.  What we are reading in today’s headlines, hearing many of our young people parrot and are witnessing in the transformation of our great nation by the hand of the powerful in Washington DC was laid out in in DuBois’ blueprint fifty years ago. It is a realization which is far beyond disturbing.

Just as crimson and scarlet are shades of red; Socialism and Marxism are shades of Communism. To argue whether a person adheres to the dogma of Lenin, Marx, Stalin, Trotsky – or anyone else – is splitting hairs. All preached the gospel of Communism. The common thread of all stripes of Communism is the singular goal of destroying the United States, as we know it. Communism seeks to annihilate our free market economy, prosperity, independence and the rights of the individual… especially property ownership, liberty, religious and personal freedoms.

The proof is best stated in their own words:

“I am for socialism, disarmament, and, ultimately, for abolishing the state itself… I seek the social ownership of property, the abolition of the propertied class, and the sole control of those who produce wealth. Communism is the goal.–Roger Nash Baldwin (1884-1981) founder and executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU)

“National Socialism and Christianity are irreconcilable.” –Martin Bormann (1900-1945) prominent Nazi official

“Even now we feel that Stalin was devoted to Communism, he was a Marxist, this cannot and should not be denied.” –Nikita Sergeyevich Khrushchev (1894-1971) Soviet Premier 1958-1964

“The theory of Communism may be summed up in one sentence: Abolish all private property.” –Karl Marx

“Communism is not love. Communism is a hammer which we use to crush the enemy.” –Mao Tse-Tung

“Democracy is the road to socialism.” –Karl Marx

“The goal of socialism is communism.” –Vladimir Lenin

Is this the future we want for ourselves, our children… and grandchildren? Are Americans willing to allow their children to become deluded into believing living in a Communist country could, in any way, be desirable? Is your local school showing children Annie Leonard’s The Story of Stuff film series?

Are “We the People” willing to lose God’s blessing of Liberty on this great nation by completely turning our backs on Him? A god-less nation… isn’t that the true goal of Communism?

Will we be the generation who stands by watching as the last golden rays of Liberty fades in the twilight of our great Republic?

Outside Independence Hall when the Constitutional Convention of 1787 ended, Mrs. Powel of Philadelphia asked Benjamin Franklin,
“Well, Doctor, what have we got, a republic or a monarchy?”
With no hesitation whatsoever, Franklin responded,
“A republic, if you can keep it.”–recorded by Constitution signer James McHenry in his diary (1787)

“Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit  of the Lord is, there is liberty.”–II Corinthians 3:17 (New American Standard Bible)

“When the people find they can vote themselves money, that will herald the end of the republic.”–Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790) US Founding Father