Posts Tagged ‘Schools’

Another Reason Dollars Should Follow Children

Friday, December 18th, 2009

Whether a charter school is succeeding or failing in meeting its students educational needs, there is one component that is undoubtedly in play that does not exist at most regular public schools – parental involvement. In order for a child to be attending a charter school, a parent or guardian had to make a conscious choice and effort to get their child into that school. And, in the end, if they are unsatisfied with the results, they can move their child out of the school and to another.

This is a good thing. In fact, parental involvement in a child’s education is one of the key factors in improving student performance. Yet, the Albuquerque Public Schools (APS) wants to shut down opportunities for more parents to take an active role in their children’s education:

Albuquerque Public Schools wants lawmakers to place a moratorium on new charter schools until existing schools are fully funded.

The request is one of the items on the district’s legislative wish list, and it aims to help APS deal with a budget crunch.

“We need to stop putting in place new programs or schools that take away from the pie of money,” APS lobbyist Joseph Escobedo said.

The theory that moving dollars from one education environment to another is “taking away from the pie of money” is absurd. It is a redistribution of money, but it doesn’t shrink the overall pie. Kids are still going to be educated using the same amount of dollars. Actually, maybe I should reword that to say some kids will finally be educated using the same, and quite possibly less, dollars.

Why is it that government entities always support redistribution of wealth from taxpayers to their budgets, but fight tooth and nail when the redistribution is from their budgets to another public entity budget? When that is proposed, it makes the pie smaller. Of course, we all know that it doesn’t shrink the pool of money, it just allows it to move to potentially more productive uses. Something that really ought to be the focus of the upcoming legislative session as opposed to taking more from taxpayers. But, I digress.

This is yet another reason that taxpayer dollars allocated for educating our children should follow those children as opposed to making the children follow the dollars.

Disclaimer: Our kids attend a fantastic charter school, Family School. So, I’ve got an inherent bias here. Plus, it would be highly hypocritical of me to take advantage of school choice for my children, but say from this point forward other people’s children should not be afforded the same opportunity.

Why Should it Be Hard to Fire?

Friday, November 13th, 2009

A new report released by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce gives New Mexico a “C” as its overall education grade. Sounds good, right? I mean we usually get an “F’ on these things. Actually, not really as good as it sounds.

Last year, “Leaders and Laggards” focused on student test scores rather than innovation, and New Mexico ranked 49th, better only than Mississippi and Washington, D.C.

See, this year focused on “education innovation” to determine overall ranking. When the only thing that matters (defined: student performance) is measured, we’re still way down there at the very bottom of the ranking. The exact same place as the year before.

Considering the budget crisis we’re facing, it is interesting to note that one of those measurements in which New Mexico got a worse in class score, a big red F, was in the return on investment category. I’ve been beating this drum for years. We spend, spend and then spend a lot more, and have absolutely nothing that matters (defined: increase in student performance) to show for it.

Now before some of you start claiming that New Mexico can’t be compared to other states because of our poverty levels, keep in mind this failing score was after being graded on a curve:

Student achievement in New Mexico is very low relative to state education spending (after controlling for student poverty, the percentage of students with special needs, and cost of living). This dismal return on investment earns the state a failing grade.

So, how do we start making inroads? Well, back in August I put forward a plan for education reform that would be a huge step in the right direction. If you read it, you might want to compare number two of my recommendations to the position of the teachers’ union president:

But it got an “F” and was ranked 44th for removal of ineffective teachers.

To determine that grade, the report cited a survey of principals, most of whom reported that personnel policies and unions are barriers to removing ineffectual teachers. Garcia said such policies are determined by districts, not the state.

“Districts have their local policies, whether they work with teachers or give them another chance,” she said.

Ellen Bernstein, Albuquerque Teacher Federation president, said she doesn’t think New Mexico deserved such low marks. She said principals have discretion to fire ineffective teachers as long as they show cause.

“Is it hard? Yeah. It should be hard to fire someone,” she said. “But it’s not impossible.”

I’m sorry I don’t understand this position. Why should it be hard to fire someone? Why should it be harder to fire a teacher than say an accountant or a doctor or a retail clerk? What am I missing?

This mentality is why unions in general are struggling to find relevance. People who can’t do their jobs need to find other work. If unions decided to focus on improving the situation for the high achievers versus protecting the status quo for the underachievers, they would find they had more relevance.

More importantly, as it relates to school, they would find they were actually being advocates for children as opposed to depriving an entire generation a quality education.

We’re Going to Put Who in Charge of What?

Tuesday, August 18th, 2009

It’s an interesting news day in the Albuquerque Journal. It looks like a compromise to the public option for healthcare insurance is making its way through committees:

The public option is a provision in the House and Senate bills to establish a government-operated insurance plan designed to be funded by its customers’ premiums and compete against commercial insurance companies.

Over the weekend, Obama administration officials hinted that state and regional nonprofit insurance cooperatives might be an acceptable alternative to the government-run plan.

Oh yeah, that’s a much better way to go. Phew, what a relief. Now we can have state government administer the health insurance program public option. Remember that is what we are talking about here. We are talking about health insurance program redesign, we are not talking about healthcare.

Think of it this way. The state administers an unemployment insurance program. That program pays unemployed people a certain stipend, but it is not near the same amount of money they would earn if they were gainfully employed. Moreover, receiving unemployment insurance benefits does not mean that the recipient will receive better employment the next time they get a job. One has nothing to do with the other. Same is true with the the great “healthcare” reform of 2009.

Speaking of unemployment benefit insurance, which is administered by the state, let’s see how that is working out when the system is in high demand:

For the second time in two weeks and the third time this year, thousands of New Mexicans expecting to find their unemployment payments in the bank first thing Monday morning discovered the money wasn’t there.

This time, a computer glitch on the Department of Workforce Solutions’ end of the process delayed deposits until about 1 p.m., spokeswoman Carrie Moritomo told the Journal.

Hmm, and we want to put these guys in charge of healthcare? I wonder how those system glitches might delay the approval of some life saving medical treatment. If you think that’s totally different, you’ve got another thing coming.

I know, I know. It doesn’t have to be a state run program. It could be a regionally run government program. You know, like the schools are a regionally run government program:

Hundreds of APS teachers were underpaid last month due to a computer glitch.

About 300 teachers were affected, and when some of them notified the school district, officials launched an investigation, Albuquerque Public Schools chief financial officer Dupuy Bateman said Monday.

“Some employees notified us,” Bateman said. “We did research to find that there were others and continue to do that ourselves.”

It was unclear how much money was missing from the individual paychecks in late July. Employees were given the option of getting a check for the missing amount or having it added to their next paycheck, he said.

I don’t know why, but I’m really not feeling a lot of confidence in the proposed health insurance solutions.

A Plan for Education

Wednesday, August 5th, 2009

I was taken to task yesterday in a comment for not providing a plan for education. Now, it is true that I’ve spent a lot of time on this blog over the years bemoaning the constant increases in education spending. But, let me clarify my position for a moment. I don’t actually have a problem with making large investments in education. However, I expect those investments to yield results. If you ask me for more of my money, it better improve student performance. To date, this hasn’t happened. Nor do I believe under the current system it ever will.

So, what’s my plan. Well, it basically boils down to five points. I’ll try and make my points and give you some insight into the thinking behind them. Keep in mind, that aside from having children currently enrolled in public school, I also have ten years of experience in education. Five as an educator in the classroom, and five running a not-for-profit organization that brought economic education programs into schools.

  1. Parents need to take responsibility for the quality of their children’s education. That means attending school meetings. Finding time to help out at schools. Acting as their child’s advocate. Turning off the T.V. and video games and making sure their children are reading and doing their homework. Schools for their part need to provide opportunities for parental involvement.

    For those of you who think this is only something the wealthy can do, think again. I’ve worked in schools serving some of the poorest communities, and have seen parent involvement that would rival any private school. What’s always amazed me is that a great many private schools (and charter schools for that matter) require parent involvement as part of attending the school. Yet, so many public schools do not.

    Here’s another thing to consider. Go watch children’s competitive sports one weekend. I don’t care if it’s soccer, baseball, football, or whatever. You’d be amazed at what parents do to get their kids on a “good” team. They’ll drive from the mountains to the Westside, or vice a versa. They’ll ask time off from work, so they can take their child clear across the state to that important competition. Again, not an income dependent situation. You’ll find the poorest and richest side by side. They’re all hoping their child is the next fill-in-the-blank star. Of course, we know very few will be. More importantly if they put that effort in supporting their child’s education, they’re children are more likely to succeed.

  2. Let good teachers teach, and fire the bad ones. People who are lousy educators don’t belong in the classroom. If they fail to perform at one school, they should not be moved to another. Teachers’ unions top priority are protecting teachers’ jobs, increasing teachers’ pay, and getting the best benefits package they can for their members. Okay, fair enough, that’s what unions do. But, please note, improving student performance does not enter the equation. Everyone likes to talk about the need (or failures of) business and industry to police their own, it’s time for teachers’ unions and education systems to do the same and remove the non-performers from their ranks.

    As to letting good teacher’s teach, how long has it been since you’ve actually observed the inner dynamics of schools? If it’s been awhile, you’d be amazed. Schools get their reimbursement from the state based on the number of bodies they have in the seats on a given day. Student performance is irrelevant. In fact, the worse the performance, the greater inflow of dollars into a given school. What is it they say happens when you reward bad behavior? That’s right, you get more bad behavior. Ask any great teacher, and they’ll tell you that. This is a broken system.

    There was a time when a disruptive child was sent out of the classroom and to an administrator’s office for discipline. The administrator would in turn call the child’s parents, and there would be consequences when the child got home. Those days are long since gone. Teachers are strongly encouraged to manage the behavior of disruptive children and keep them in the classroom. This is not conducive to teaching, nor does it prepare the child to be a contributing member of society.

    Along this same lines, we need to change how public education is perceived. The benefits of a quality education is a privilege. It is not an inherent right. Children and families from all backgrounds are given a unique opportunity in this country that can level the playing field for the rest of their lives. If they don’t take advantage of it, then they don’t belong in taxpayer funded schools. By the way, get great teachers in the classroom, re-introduce discipline, and you’ll be surprised how many kids opt on their own to take advantage of this privilege.

  3. Pay teacher’s based on performance, not based on artificial tiers or longevity on the job. In every other profession I’m aware of paying on anything but performance results in mediocrity. Why is education any different? It’s not. Yet, a high performing teacher can’t make more than a poor performing teacher. You can thank the unions and the poor performing teachers for that.

    How do you measure student performance? Simple. You measure what a student knows when they enter the class. You establish an individualized educational plan (IEP) for every student (for the life of me I never understood why only special ed students get these), and you measure what that student knows when they leave the class compared to that IEP.

  4. You eliminate waste. School budgets operate under the rule guiding all governmental budgets – use it or lose it. This is a practice that encourages waste. If you’ve got children in public elementary school in APS, I’m willing to bet any amount of money that the school has adopted at least two different math curricula between the time your child entered 1st grade and left at 5th grade. Each time they do this, they buy all new textbooks. Do you have any idea how wasteful this is. The irony is if you walked into a given classroom of any great teacher, you’ll see that they pull different lessons from different books. Why? Because contrary to whatever the popular text is that year, one size does not fit all, and great teachers know this.
  5. Allow all families to take advantage of school choice. The wealthy already do. Is there any reason that poor and middle income families shouldn’t be given choice? I don’t think so. Moreover, give people choices, and you’ll be surprised at how involved they become. Take away their choice, and they will quickly lose interest. Give the money to the parents in form of vouchers, and guess what? We solve three problems all at once.

    We have a proven means of involving parents. We make schools accountable for student performance in order to receive funds. We break the cycle of use it or lose it.

Come to think of it, maybe we don’t break the cycle of use it or lose it. We just change the “it.” It now becomes the actual education. Use the vouchers to get the best possible education for your child, or lose it.

Another Year of Dismal Education Results

Tuesday, August 4th, 2009

The test scores are in and once again the vast majority of New Mexico schools are failing to make the grade. In fact, in what is quickly becoming an annual tradition more schools failed this year than last year:

Schools repeatedly failing to meet adequate yearly progress could face sanctions, including restructuring. Results released Monday are preliminary and school districts have several weeks to appeal their designations.

The results show that for the 2008-09 school year:

  • 69.3 percent of New Mexico’s schools were labeled as failing to meet AYP, up from 67.7 percent the previous year.
  • 124 out of 147 middle schools failed to make AYP, meaning a failure rate of 84.4 percent.
  • Of the state’s 157 high schools, 129, or 82.2 percent, failed to make AYP.
  • The results are based on standardized tests taken by about 162,000 students in third through eighth grades and in 11th grade.
  • Schools are judged in 37 categories, including whether English language learners, students with disabilities and different ethnic groups are meeting standards. If a school misses even one of the 37 standards, it is labeled as failing to meet AYP.

Now in all fairness, when it comes to numbers, there are many different ways to look at them (e.g. investment houses which report record earnings in a declining economy after taking taxpayer dollars to avoid failure and the “paying it back”, but I digress.). Another part of this annual tradition involves educator Scot Key’s post after post after post after post analysis of the numbers. Expect more posts Scot – someone for whom I sincerely have the utmost respect even if he is to the left of the left – on the topic.

However, I’m a simpler kind of guy, and I prefer executive level summaries. I also prefer to take numbers and reports at face value intertiwned with a little old-fashioned common sense. The way I see it no matter how the folks in charge try to spin it, our education system in New Mexico is failing our students at an alarming rate:

Roughly half the students who should have graduated with the class of 2008 failed to do so, prompting a call to action by the state’s education secretary.

“It is alarming,” Education Secretary Veronica Garcia said during a news conference Monday at which the state unveiled its four-year graduation rate, along with results of the latest round of tests required under the federal No Child Left Behind Act.

New Mexico’s cohort graduation rate for the class of 2008 is 54 percent compared to the national average of 70 percent, according to the Public Education Department.

The cohort rate tracked individual students from the ninth grade through the summer after their senior year in 2008 to show how many graduated.

For Albuquerque Public Schools, the state’s largest school district, the 2008 graduation rate was 46.2 percent, according to the state report.

Of course, we can all take comfort in the fact that the recipient of this year’s America’s Greatest Education Governor Award has a plan:

Gov. Bill Richardson, who has made education reform a priority during his 6 1/2 years in office, plans to unveil another batch of reforms as early as this week.

“We will push very hard so that the main legislative agenda item in January and in my remainder of the term will be education, to finish what I believe is a good start and good progress,” Richardson told the Journal last week. “We recognize that we still have a ways to go.”

Hmm, let’s see if we can follow the logic here. The Governor has made education reform a priority for 6 1/2 years, and each year we fail to make any progress. Heck, we actually lose ground year after year. I don’t know about you, but as the parent of school age children, I don’t think I have the stomach for any more of Governor Richardson’s style reforms.

Voucher Programs Work

Wednesday, May 20th, 2009

USA Today has a great editorial on voucher programs that allow for school choice and have been proven to improve student performance:

So it was curious that when President Obama recently allowed 1,716 of Washington’s neediest schoolchildren to keep, until graduation, the vouchers they use to escape their failed public schools for higher-quality private ones, he also closed the program to new applicants. All this occurred as the Education Department reported that voucher participants show superior skills in reading, safety and orderliness. The news was buried in an impenetrable study released without a news conference.

Why the ambivalence? Because teacher unions, fearing loss of jobs, have pushed most Democrats to oppose vouchers and other options that invite competition for public schools. Put another way, they oppose giving poor parents the same choice that the president himself — along with his chief of staff and some 35% of Democrats in Congress — have made in sending their children to private schools.

Vouchers have improved the math and reading of inner-city children from Dayton, Ohio, to Charlotte, N.C., various studies show. The Washington vouchers improved the reading of girls and younger kids by about half a school year, though results for other groups were iffier. Yet opposition is so fierce that few voucher experiments survive past the seedling stage.

Isn’t it time we put kids first? I thought the last election was all about CHANGE?

Why Not Call a Parent?

Monday, April 20th, 2009

I don’t understand how any school could think it is okay to strip search a child?

The case is centered around Savana Redding, now 19, who in 2003 was an eighth-grade honors student at Safford Middle School, about 127 miles from Tucson, Arizona. Redding was strip-searched by school officials after a fellow student accused her of providing prescription-strength ibuprofen pills.

The school has a zero-tolerance policy for all prescription and over-the-counter medication, including the ibuprofen, without prior written permission.

Wouldn’t it have made more sense to call in one of the child’s parents?

The Arguments For and Against School Choice

Friday, September 19th, 2008

The Rio Grande Foundation recently released a study of New Mexico schools. The analysis includes public school performance estimates of how children would have performed on the Nation’s Report card at the local school and district level.

As we know from healthcare discussions, many (especially on the Democratic side of the aisle) are enamored with European approaches to social solutions. As such, I thought this video to be quite relative to the topic at hand:


Hat tip: Stephen Kruiser

A False Sense of Accomplishment

Tuesday, March 25th, 2008

Over the last few years, funding for education has increased exponentially. More than once I’ve complained that despite this significant investment, we’ve yet to see any positive results. Now, it seems that the picture is actually even bleaker than we’ve been led to believe (subscription):

Since the No Child Left Behind Act came along in 2001, New Mexico has been sending the federal government graduation rates based on the percent of seniors who earn a diploma by the end of the year.

By ignoring the thousands of students who drop out between grades nine and 11, the state has managed to post respectable graduation rates— a percentage in the mid-80s.

New Mexico had the U.S. Education Department’s full consent, but the federal government was keeping its own books, based on the number of freshmen who graduate in four years. Those calculations were coming up with graduation rates for the state in the mid-60s.

New Mexico was doing nothing unusual but, according to a March 20 article in The New York Times, it has had one of the widest gaps between state and federal figures. Only Mississippi’s was wider.

Garcia expects that to change. Starting this summer, the state will start reporting graduation rates based on entering freshmen.

By using seniors, Garcia said, the state was giving itself “a false sense of accomplishment.”

My guess is that the state has known all along just what it’s level of accomplishment has been. It’s the taxpayers they have been trying to dupe.

A Trip Down Memory Lane

Monday, March 3rd, 2008

The things we remember…

When I was in sixth grade at Charles W. Lewis Middle School in New Jersey, my English teacher gave the class an assignment for all of us to write a letter to the editor of the Courier Post. My letter was about the poor quality of the food served in the school cafeteria.

Unfortunately, my letter never made it to the newspaper.

It did, however, earn me a trip to the principal’s office. The principal, like the teacher before him, tried to reason with me to reconsider sending such a negative letter to the press and asked that I write a more appropriate letter for publication. I didn’t agree to write another letter, but I did finally agree not to submit my original letter based on the the principal’s promise to work to remedy the food situation in the cafeteria.

The situation did not improve and before long we middle schoolers rebelled and refused to buy the school lunch. I don’t remember how, but after a few days, the press got word of the situation, and we actually had TV crews show up to cover the story. I’ve always regretted allowing myself to be talked out of sending that letter.

Ok, why this trip down memory lane? Well…

It seems the students at Readington Middle School (RMS) in Hunterdon County aren’t happy with the short amount of time they get for lunch every day. So in the finest American tradition – think “Boston Tea Party” – some of them came up with a novel way to protest the perceived injustice.

“Some 29 seventh- and eighth-graders at the school banded together during last Thursday’s 30-minute lunch period and paid for their $2 lunches with pennies,” reports the New Jersey Star-Ledger this morning. “That amounted to 5,800 individual, or 32 pounds, of pennies.”

Over 5,000 pennies weighing in at 32 pounds? God bless those kids! Just when you think the American revolutionary spirit of resistance is dead and gone, along they come to renew our hopes. Now for the rest of the story…

In a response worthy of King George himself, school administrators – that would be PUBLIC school administrators – “called using the coins a sign of disrespect to cafeteria personnel and fellow students, and punished the ‘Readington 29’ with two days of detention.”

Thanks to Chuck Muth for the trip down memory lane. It’s bizarre that almost thirty years later NJ public school administrators are still trying to squash students’ freedom of speech. Not to mention the fact that the school food situation is still not much better: