The Eccentric roared about “unfunded mandates” in this editorial:
Eccentric: Good ideas merit adequate funding (08/10/08)
Based on the language, I’ve got to wonder which education official was the ghostwriter.
The editorial suggests that any requirements the state places on schools should be considered an unfunded mandate. What they fail to point out is that the state provides over one-third of the state budget – some $13 billion dollars – to schools. Are these requirements really unfunded?
The editorial takes an unsubstantiated swipe at the migration to all-day kindergarten as another example of an unfunded mandate. What they fail to point out is that schools already receive the full state grant per pupil for kindergarten students, while only providing a half-day of service. Unfunded mandate?
The editorial claims these mandates come “at a time when state aid already has fallen behind increased costs.” They fail to point out that schools are responsible for managing their own budgets, and allow employee costs to balloon out of control.
If the Eccentric does not believe schools get enough money, then exactly how much does the Eccentric think schools should get? How much should it increase each year? Articles like this only further the notion that no amount of money is ever enough.
I’ve pasted the article below in case the link doesn’t work.
Good ideas merit adequate funding
August 7, 2008
State officials come up with a great idea - so great, they figure every school district in the state should implement it. Do it or else, they say - and, by the way, don't bother asking us for any financial help in paying for it.
The resultant dilemma is called an unfunded mandate.
It's happened time and again, so no one should be surprised that the state Legislature has taken up an all-day kindergarten program that could cost districts plenty.
In her state of the state message, Gov. Jennifer Granholm called it a "simple step" that would make a difference. But simple by whose definition?
While many districts in the area are moving toward that goal, still others know that the mandate will require more space and more teachers at a time when state aid already has fallen behind increased costs.
The problem of unfunded mandates doesn't stop there.
Recently, the state Court of Appeals ruled that the governor and Legislature violated the Headlee Amendment by requiring school districts to compile data on student progress without reimbursing them for the cost.
The issue could be appealed to the state Supreme Court.
"The (state) constitution is very specific" on requiring mandates be funded, Michael Adamczyk said of the ruling. The assistant superintendent for business in the Troy district is also president-elect of the Michigan School Business Officials group.
The frustrating part, he said, is that even though the state has lost the argument in the past, it still puts up a fight.
For some districts with current software, computers take the brunt of the work. But other districts, Adamczyk said, have to either buy new software or update what they currently have.
Districts "don't argue the merits" of gathering data, he added.
Nevertheless, time is money, whether it be in gathering data or fighting a lawsuit.
It not only makes sense to fund mandates, it's the law.
Sunday, August 10, 2008
The Eccentric roared about “unfunded mandates” in this editorial:
Friday, August 8, 2008
The following editorial makes a powerful statement about the damage being inflicted by the “feel good” culture of schools today:
The Chronicle of Higher Education: How Our Culture Keeps Students Out of Science (08/08/08)
At 1800+ words, it’s an investment of time, but it’s worth it.
Let me say that I don't believe all teachers and all schools are infected with the malady discussed. I know there are many professional educators who will agree with Mr. Wood.
I also believe parents are responsible for part of this problem. Those teachers who do try to instill self-discipline and insist on hard work often face resistance from parents, who are more concerned that homework and studying will conflict with soccer practice. Or, rather than “hang tough” and insist on studying, the parents will devote their energy to pressuring the teachers to scale back.
I also think some teachers are frustated by administrators who won't back them when challenged by parents.
What can someone do to fix this? Begin by paying attention to who you elect to your school board. They buck stops with them. They allow this.
Here is a 500-word version for those who are short on time:
Mr. Wood points to “the incapacity of American education to inspire children to take an interest in science and motivate young adults to follow though”.
“Success in the sciences unquestionably takes a lot of hard work, sustained over many years.” But the self-discipline needed comes from the culture of our schools, and schools today simply do not emphasize the value of hard work and self-discipline.
“Rather, (our schools and culture) lead students who look upon the difficulties of pursuing science to ask, "Why bother?"
“At least on the emotional level, contemporary American education sides with the obstacles. It begins by treating children as psychologically fragile beings who will fail to learn — and worse, fail to develop as "whole persons" — if not constantly praised. The self-esteem movement may have its merits, but preparing students for arduous intellectual ascents aren't among them. What the movement most commonly yields is a surfeit of college freshmen who "feel good" about themselves for no discernible reason and who grossly overrate their meager attainments.”
“The intellectual lassitude we breed in students, their unearned and inflated self-confidence, undercuts both the self-discipline and the intellectual modesty that is needed for the apprentice years in the sciences.”
“We rank the manufacture of "self-esteem" above hard-won achievement, but we also have immersed a generation in wall-to-wall promotion of diversity and multiculturalism as being the worthiest form of educational endeavor; we have foregrounded the redistributional dreams of "social justice" over heroic aspirations to discover, invent, and thereby create new wealth; and we have endlessly extolled the virtue of "sustainability" against the ravages of "progress." Do all that, and you create an educational system that is essentially hostile to advanced achievement in the sciences and technology.”
“The science "problems" we now ask students to think about aren't really science problems at all. Instead we have the National Science Foundation vexed about the need for more women and minorities in the sciences.”
“A society that worries itself about which chromosomes scientists have isn't a society that takes science education seriously. In 1900 the mathematician David Hilbert famously drew up a list of 23 unsolved problems in mathematics; 18 have now been solved. Hilbert has also bequeathed us a way of thinking about mathematics and the sciences as a to-do list of intellectual challenges. Notably, Hilbert didn't write down problem No. 24: "Make sure half the preceding 23 problems are solved by female mathematicians."”
“Obsession with the sex and race of scientists is just one more indication of how American higher education has swung into orbit around the neutron star of identity politics. Talk to recent college graduates and you are likely to hear something like: "Asian students are just better at science and math." That is a verbal shrug, not a lament.”
(OUCH! So very true!)
“Our record on high-school math and science education is particularly troubling. International tests indicate that American fourth graders rank among the top students in the world in science and above average in math. By eighth grade, they have moved closer to the middle of the pack. By 12th grade, our students score near the bottom of all industrialized nations.”
I've pasted the whole article below in case the link doesn't work.
How Our Culture Keeps Students Out of Science
Article tools By PETER WOOD
In March, Bill Gates, the founder of Microsoft, testified before the House Committee on Science and Technology about the abject failure of American schools, colleges, and universities to prepare students for advanced study in the sciences.
Well, that's not exactly what he testified. The purpose of his trip to the Hill was to impress on Congress the need for more H-1B visas. Those are the visas extended to highly trained experts for specialized jobs. Microsoft, said Gates, can't find enough top-quality computer scientists who are U.S. citizens or already have the right visas. But, he added, a solution is at hand: America's first-rate graduate schools have a wealth of brilliant scientists and engineers in the pipeline. A large portion of them, however, are foreign nationals here on student visas, and are destined to return home after they graduate. Wouldn't it be smarter for our nation to give them H-1B visas so they could stay here and put their training to work helping American companies?
Gates has a compelling point — largely because the shortage of Americans holding or pursuing advanced degrees in fields like computer science defies conventional market explanations. The average annual salary in the field is more than $100,000. Meanwhile, we have a robust supply of high-IQ baristas and college graduates with jobs that a generation ago would not even have required a high-school diploma.
So while Gates didn't make the point in so many words, his call for more H-1B visas was really testimony to the incapacity of American education to inspire children to take an interest in science and motivate young adults to follow though. He noted that 60 percent of the students at the top American computer-science departments are foreign-born.
Gates is hardly the first to sound the alarm. Back in 2003, the National Science Board issued a report that noted steep declines in "graduate enrollments of U.S. citizens and permanent residents" in the sciences. The explanation? "Declining federal support for research sends negative signals to interested students." That seems unlikely, in that the alleged decline hasn't dampened the enthusiasm of students from all around the world for our country's graduate programs.
The precipitous drop in American science students has been visible for years. In 1998 the House released a national science-policy report, "Unlocking Our Future," that fussily described "a serious incongruity between the perceived utility of a degree in science and engineering by potential students and the present and future need for those with training."
Let me offer a different explanation. Students respond more profoundly to cultural imperatives than to market forces. In the United States, students are insulated from the commercial market's demand for their knowledge and skills. That market lies a long way off — often too far to see. But they are not insulated one bit from the worldview promoted by their teachers, textbooks, and entertainment. From those sources, students pick up attitudes, motivations, and a lively sense of what life is about. School has always been as much about learning the ropes as it is about learning the rotes. We do, however, have some new ropes, and they aren't very science-friendly. Rather, they lead students who look upon the difficulties of pursuing science to ask, "Why bother?"
Success in the sciences unquestionably takes a lot of hard work, sustained over many years. Students usually have to catch the science bug in grade school and stick with it to develop the competencies in math and the mastery of complex theories they need to progress up the ladder. Those who succeed at the level where they can eventually pursue graduate degrees must have not only abundant intellectual talent but also a powerful interest in sticking to a long course of cumulative study. A century ago, Max Weber wrote of "Science as a Vocation," and, indeed, students need to feel something like a calling for science to surmount the numerous obstacles on the way to an advanced degree.
At least on the emotional level, contemporary American education sides with the obstacles. It begins by treating children as psychologically fragile beings who will fail to learn — and worse, fail to develop as "whole persons" — if not constantly praised. The self-esteem movement may have its merits, but preparing students for arduous intellectual ascents aren't among them. What the movement most commonly yields is a surfeit of college freshmen who "feel good" about themselves for no discernible reason and who grossly overrate their meager attainments.
The intellectual lassitude we breed in students, their unearned and inflated self-confidence, undercuts both the self-discipline and the intellectual modesty that is needed for the apprentice years in the sciences. Modesty? Yes, for while talented scientists are often proud of their talent and accomplishments, they universally subscribe to the humbling need to prove themselves against the most-unyielding standards of inquiry. That willingness to play by nature's rules runs in contrast to the make-it-up-as-you-go-along insouciance that characterizes so many variants of postmodernism and that flatters itself as being a higher form of pragmatism.
The aversion to long-term and deeply committed study of science among American students also stems from other cultural imperatives. We rank the manufacture of "self-esteem" above hard-won achievement, but we also have immersed a generation in wall-to-wall promotion of diversity and multiculturalism as being the worthiest form of educational endeavor; we have foregrounded the redistributional dreams of "social justice" over heroic aspirations to discover, invent, and thereby create new wealth; and we have endlessly extolled the virtue of "sustainability" against the ravages of "progress." Do all that, and you create an educational system that is essentially hostile to advanced achievement in the sciences and technology. Moreover, those threads have a certainty and unity that make them not just a collection of educational conceits but also part of a compelling worldview.
The antiscience agenda is visible as early as kindergarten, with its infantile versions of the diversity agenda and its early budding of self-esteem lessons. But it complicates and propagates all the way up through grade school and high school. In college it often drops the mask of diffuse benevolence and hardens into a fascination with "identity."
That could be a good thing if the introspections were enriched by professors who could show students where Plato or Shakespeare had touched such depths, or who could startle them by showing where Hobbes or Tocqueville had seen them coming. But in a curriculum dissolved in the sea of minutiae and professorial enthusiasms, the opportunity to pass through moody introspection and back into the sturdy world of real people grows rare.
The science "problems" we now ask students to think about aren't really science problems at all. Instead we have the National Science Foundation vexed about the need for more women and minorities in the sciences. President Lawrence H. Summers was pushed out of Harvard University for speculating (in league with a great deal of neurological evidence) that innate difference might have something to do with the disparity in numbers of men and women at the highest levels of those fields. In 2006 the National Academy of Sciences issued a report, "Beyond Bias and Barriers: Fulfilling the Potential of Women in Academic Science and Engineering." Officials of the National Science Foundation and the Department of Education are looking to use Title IX to force science graduate programs to admit more women. The big problem? As of 2001, 80 percent of engineering degrees and 72 percent of computer-science degrees have gone to men.
A society that worries itself about which chromosomes scientists have isn't a society that takes science education seriously. In 1900 the mathematician David Hilbert famously drew up a list of 23 unsolved problems in mathematics; 18 have now been solved. Hilbert has also bequeathed us a way of thinking about mathematics and the sciences as a to-do list of intellectual challenges. Notably, Hilbert didn't write down problem No. 24: "Make sure half the preceding 23 problems are solved by female mathematicians."
Obsession with the sex and race of scientists is just one more indication of how American higher education has swung into orbit around the neutron star of identity politics. Talk to recent college graduates and you are likely to hear something like: "Asian students are just better at science and math." That is a verbal shrug, not a lament. The reward of 16 years of diversiphilic indoctrination turns out to be a comfort zone of rationalizations.
In his testimony, Bill Gates did more than glance at the failures of American schooling. Our record on high-school math and science education is particularly troubling. International tests indicate that American fourth graders rank among the top students in the world in science and above average in math. By eighth grade, they have moved closer to the middle of the pack. By 12th grade, our students score near the bottom of all industrialized nations. As a result, too many of them enter college without even the basic skills needed to pursue a degree in science or engineering.
And Gates has backed his words with money. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, he reported, has spent $1.9-billion to "establish 1,124 new high schools and improve 761 existing high schools." The Gates-supported schools have as "common elements" such anodyne features as "high standards," "relevant, challenging course work," and "high levels of support." Gates also supports "great transparency and accountability."
The sheer magnitude of the effort could make a dent, the way Andrew Carnegie's libraries opened the world of books to millions of Americans. I applaud the philanthropy and hope Gates's STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) initiatives in Texas, Ohio, and other states bear fruit. One way culture changes is through the efforts of determined reformers, and Gates qualifies.
On the other hand, nothing in his testimony suggested recognition that American education's cultural imperatives play a role in diminishing the importance of science and technology in the eyes of the great majority of students. I don't take it as a tragedy if our top graduate programs fill up with ambitious and talented students from abroad; if we need to issue more H-1B visas to sustain our high-tech industries, let's do it with dispatch. Welcoming some of the world's most educated, talented, and ambitious scientists to our shores only strengthens the nation. But the apathy of so many homegrown American students to the intellectual challenges of science is something else — something that building schools, multiplying computers, and ginning up STEM programs won't touch.
Bill Gates may not be the right person to tell us how to restore that mixture of awe, admiration, sheer ambition, delight in meeting difficulties, and stubborn curiosity — the patient exuberance — that draws students into the adventure of science. A few of our students catch it despite the preoccupations of their teachers and their textbooks. But what to do about the larger problem? I'm starting my own Hilbert's list.
Peter Wood is executive director of the National Association of Scholars.
Sunday, August 3, 2008
What a powerful op-ed by Susan J. Demas!
Detroit News: Pols should stop trying to dumb down Michigan (07/31/08)
It includes a surprisingly strong "personal responsibility" quote from Presidential Candidate Barack Obama. If only he'd hold public education to that same standard!
Ms. Demas makes an articulate case, and you should let your representatives in Lansing know you support her points.
I've pasted the article below in case the link doesn't work.
Thursday, July 31, 2008
Pols should stop trying to dumb down Michigan
Susan J. Demas
It wouldn't be a campaign stop without the requisite hard-luck story. And Stephanie Baker stepped up to the plate at Democratic presidential hopeful Barack Obama's June town hall meeting in Taylor.
She wanted to know what Obama would do to help her daughter maintain her financial aid even though her grade point average had slipped.
What was his bleeding-heart liberal response?
"There is no excuse. She's got to keep her grades up. She's got to work harder. I'm willing to bet she's probably watched some TV in the past couple of months, went to the movies, hung out with her girlfriends," Obama said. "She's got to keep her grades up so she can keep her financial aid."
Amen to that.
Perhaps Stephanie's met Cindy Timmons, whose high school freshman son just flunked five classes. Cindy trekked down from Grayling to Lansing last month to plead with a state House panel to spike tougher class requirements so her boy could graduate.
Nobody told her to hire a tutor. Nobody told her the cold, hard truth: That it really doesn't matter if her son drops out or graduates high school -- he'll be looking at minimum-wage jobs and double-digit unemployment either way. Increasingly, the only road to a middle-class life is a college degree -- or two or three.
Three years ago, a commission chaired by Lt. Gov. John Cherry issued a stellar report on the state of education in Michigan and what to do about it. Among the 19 recommendations was doubling the number of college graduates by 2015 and beefing up high school graduation requirements to prepare kids for the knowledge-based economy.
The world and its economy are changing. The Mitten State can change with it or our students can be left behind. I suggest that Stephanie and Cindy make the Cherry Commission report required reading for themselves and their children.
Fortunately for them, there are pandering politicians armed with quick fixes. God bless election years.
State Reps. Joel Sheltrown, D-West Branch, and Rick Jones, R-Grand Ledge, are on mission to muck up Michigan's education system even more, as though slashing higher education spending for years hasn't done enough.
Their motto for the state? Dumb it down.
The GOP-led Legislature admirably passed in 2006 some of the toughest high school graduation requirements in the country, which included two years of foreign language, four of English and three of math. Kids who take high-level math in high school, for instance, are much more likely to go to college.
Sheltrown says it's time to give up already and hand out consolation prizes to the noncollege-bound, an easier "general diploma curriculum." That and a couple bucks will buy you a cup of coffee (though not at Starbuck's).
He amusingly passed out a pop quiz on Algebra II to lawmakers, which most flunked. Well, duh. Anyone who watched the budget debacle last year knows that math isn't legislators' strong suit. Let's set the bar a little higher for our children, folks.
While Sheltrown tries to hobble our high schools, Jones wants to stunt our world-class universities, especially the University of Michigan.
Jones tells his own sob story about a rural teacher whose students just can't get into the U-M.
"That's not fair," cries Jones, an alleged personal-responsibility conservative, who should probably chat with Obama.
Under his legislation, public universities would be required to accept the top 10 percent of all Michigan high school classes. In other words: Let's reward mediocrity.
When Michigan's college graduation rate is an abysmal 25 percent and college remedial classes are already crammed, this is the last thing we need. Our 15 universities are some of the only bright spots in our state, clouded by 8.5 percent unemployment and a decaying auto industry.
Universities compete on a global scale. If we dilute the talent pool in Michigan schools, those in California, Texas and India will inevitably gain.
Let's face it: Some high schools are better than others and do a superior job of preparing students for college success. The beauty of the Michigan Merit Curriculum that Sheltrown is trying to dismantle is it attempts to hoist all schools to a high standard, which in turn, increases students' odds of being accepted to U-M and other colleges.
Look, there are no easy answers to Michigan's educational quandaries. Anyone who tells you differently is trying to get elected.
Susan J. Demas is a political analyst for Michigan Information & Research Service.
Saturday, August 2, 2008
While this post may appear on the surface to be of local interest, I thought it was worth posting to a larger audience because it’s so typical of the operational amateurism practiced by too many school boards throughout the year.
It will continue to be exceedingly difficult to solve the complex challenges facing public education today until local school boards become more professional in the way they conduct discussions and make decisions.
This story involves an appointment, but as you read it consider how this could just as easily be about a budget decision, or a multi-million dollar construction bid, or a complex curriculum review.
The Rochester school board recently appointed a local citizen to fill a vacant board seat. The man chosen is a retired Colonel and West Point graduate, who will undoubtedly bring valuable skills to the board. His written career credentials were impressive, and he did a fine job during his interview. He offers thoughtful perspectives on some of the issue I believe are important, and I'm eager to hear more from him. I voted to support his appointment, and I don’t vote “AYE” unless I mean it.
“West Point – a school that has produced a man to meet every emergency that has ever confronted the county.” Col. R. Ernest Dupuy, March 12, 1952
The condition of public education certainly warrants a man of this caliber!
My frustration lies not in the appointment, but with the school board’s method of conducting business.
The board cobbled together an applicant "narrowing process" at a public meeting, only to then tweak it via email – out of the public eye. I had concerns about the Open Meetings Act and raised them, only to be ignored. Subsequent requests for public discussion, as well as my request to finalize the process before the final interviews, were completely ignored.
The board proceeded to conduct hours of interviews with the candidates, grilling them about budgets, curriculum, facilities, and so on. Both the questions and the answers were thoughtful, and I fully expected that the board would recess in order to consider the answers provided by the eager candidates (I had 14 pages of notes to review.)
But the board didn't take a single minute to reflect upon the interviews. In fact, there was absolutely no discussion by the board about the answers given. You’d think some collaborative effort to compare and contrast the responses would’ve been in order, given the importance of the decision.
Instead, the board quickly leapt to tear strips of paper into makeshift ballots, and board members were instructed to rank the candidates – in secret.
It was a fait accompli at that point, almost making one wonder whether the decision had already been made prior to the meeting.
Afterwards, board members were reluctant to explain the reasoning behind their rankings, and offered no explanation of the criteria used to evaluate interview responses. However, they were willing to give speeches about the personality features they found appealing in the person selected. Based on their comments, I'm left to conclude that the interview questions had no bearing on the decision.
Of course the district’s video system – which could’ve recorded and broadcast the proceedings in an open way -- was down for those few days… a pure coincidence I’m sure. None of the local media was present to watch, and of the 15 people in the audience at least half were district employees.
So while I believe this board has a strong and valuable new Trustee, it’s hard to say that it happened BECAUSE of the board, and not DESPITE the board. The community is quite fortunate it had such a strong stable of applicants.
Again, my objective here is to illustrate how boards operate. Consider how a decision-making process like this might apply to almost any agenda item. Currently, a topic will appear on a public agenda on a Thursday night; the board meets the following Monday, hears 15 minutes of presentations, has almost no discussion, takes no time to think about the presentation or the comments from other board members, and then provides a unanimous (or near unanimous) approval – every single time.
And oftentimes it occurs under the watchful eye of only a small handful of people.
Any hope of improving our schools must start with a more engaged public, and absolutely must include a more professional approach to decision making.