Today’s newspapers have printed the story of how Alaska and Texas are refusing federal funding for schools (up to seven hundred million dollars for Texas) because governors want to make a political statement against the Obama administration.

Texas has suffered the lowest graduation rates in the nation with the worst racial disparities.

To so pointlessly and blatantly refuse money for strapped schools when the Houston superintendent writes “I have 100,000 kids in Houston who don’t read at grade level” is putting another generation of Texas children at risk.

Texas had taken $250,000 from the Gates Foundation to complete the grant application and had a good chance of at being awarded funding.

The risk of youth not being able to read by the third grade going on to lead dysfunctional lives is well documented. .

Children depend on the government for their education. This government is investing its capital in politics rather than children.

Texas is laying off teachers, cutting useful programs and closing schools.

Texas has also suffered from one of the highest rates of crime and incarceration in the nation. It is well established that educated children have a far better chance of becoming productive citizens and the people of Texas would all benefit from that.

Governor Perry, these are your state’s children.

Please reconsider this counterproductive and political decision.

Texas Shuts Door on Millions in Education Grants


By SAM DILLON
Published: January 13, 2010
Texas will not compete for up to $700 million in federal education money, Gov. Rick Perry said on Wednesday, calling the Obama administration’s main school improvement grant program an unacceptable intrusion on states’ control over education.

Mr. Perry’s decision, days before a Jan. 19 deadline, interrupted months of work by Texas officials and a consulting company financed by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to prepare the application for the federal grant competition, known as Race to the Top. Texas had been eligible to win up to $700 million of a total of $4 billion the department will award for encouraging charter schools, improving teacher instruction, overhauling schools and joining an effort to adopt common academic standards.

“We would be foolish and irresponsible,” Mr. Perry said, “to place our children’s future in the hands of unelected bureaucrats and special-interest groups thousands of miles away in Washington.”

Mr. Perry, who is seeking re-election in November, is locked in a tough Republican primary battle with Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison, and both candidates have been trying to appeal to conservative voters.

Texas is one of two states, (Alaska is the other) that last year refused to participate in a nationwide effort, supervised by the National Governors Association and encouraged by the Obama administration, to write common curriculum standards. That posture had put Texas at a disadvantage in the federal competition. But the state education commissioner, Robert Scott, argued in an interview in the fall that Texas was well-positioned to win because of what he characterized as his state’s pioneering work in school reform. In an interview Wednesday, Mr. Scott said that his views had evolved and that the potential payoff for Texas had been too small to justify giving up state control.

“Even if we won the full amount, it would only run our schools for two days, so for that we weren’t going to cede control over our curriculum standards,” Mr. Scott said.

Mr. Perry’s decision ended weeks of speculation about the state’s intentions. Officials at the Texas Education Agency had already spent 700 to 800 hours preparing the state’s proposal, and the Gates Foundation had spent some $250,000 to provide consultants to assist the state.

Gayle Fallon, president of the Houston Federation of Teachers, the state’s largest teachers union, said she supported the governor’s decision because the federal competition appeared to be leading toward adoption of a national test, which she opposes.

“I’m relieved because we’ve got enough problems with high-stakes tests already,” Ms. Fallon said.

But Terry Grier, superintendent of the Houston Independent School District, disagreed.

“I’m disappointed,” Mr. Grier said. “It was potentially a lot of money for our state. I’m not one to sell my soul for money, but I have 100,000 kids in Houston who don’t read at grade level, and I don’t agree with people who say resources don’t make a difference.”

4 Comments

  1. Thank you for raising this issue. Yes, our public schools are in trouble. However, I respectfully and strongly disagree that a lack of money is a root cause. How many billions have already been spent to create the dysfunctional system our children are subject to now? How many more billions will it take to “fix” an educational process that has been designed to be fatally flawed at its core?

    Our current pedagogocal system was created in 1880’s Prussia. Its purpose was to turn farm kids into human widgets to power the industrial revolution. In the 130 or so years since, the conceptual infrastructure of education has changed little. Society and technology, however, have undergone massive tansformations. While books have become thicker and more “politically sensitive”, buildings have become larger and more elaborate, and massive bureaucracies have been constructed to supervise everything, the essential view of children as modelling clay from which to fashion future fodder for manufacturing jobs, has not changed. And THIS is the most important of the several fundamental flaws in our educaional system, in my opinion.

    Education in America is not designed to produce self-sufficient, critical thinkers who have some understanding of how the various facets of the world are integrated, and to find meaning in their lives. Education is still designed to produce children who know a sufficient number of facts to be useful workers. Also, to be conditioned to accept eight hours a day of sitting and doing assigned tasks. Under the reductionist model of thought, disciplines are taught separately, as though the world can be reduced into compartmentalized sets of abstract information that children find difficult to relate to their concrete worlds. No wonder they don’t care!

    Fortunately, a few private edupreneuers have tossed both the Industrial Revolution and Dr. Benjamin Spock onto the trash heaps of history, and created low-cost methods to integrate “knowledge” with “understanding”, in ways that align learning with the laws of human cognitive development. For example, some experimental schools have turned otherwise idle grassy lawns into school gardens, in which some students are taught to raise food, that others are taught to cook in the school cafeterias, and still others are taught to serve to their fellows at mealtimes. Visionary teachers use the gardens and cafeterias as places to teach INTEGRATED, HANDS-ON lessons on biology, ecology, nutrition, math, physics, and civics. (And to sneak in some PE.) I see opportunities there to teach basic business skills, as well. Imagine that! Teaching in the manner that mimics both how the natural world works, and how the human brain learns. Now THAT’S 21st century! And proponents have shown that, if done thoughtfully, it can cost less than traditional methods while significantly decreasing student misbehavior and even getting massive buy-in from kids who were otherwise at risk. It’s interesting! It’s empowering! It’s even – fun! So why is it not standard?

    Because, unfortunately, it requires that teachers also buy in. And that exposes another problem with our system – the teachers. For too many, teaching is just a job. The biggest issue is not whether the students learn, but whether the teacher makes a paycheck and is popular and liked by the right kids. I hate to say it, but frankly, many American teachers are not the most mature individuals. Have you ever noticed, for example, how many of them have “issues”? I’ve taught some college and also been a flight instructor, and am shocked at how unprofessional so many teachers are. They seem to have little clue, and even less concern, about how or why students learn. They also serve as lousy role models. How many teachers are obese or in poor health, sloppy, addicted to prescription antidepressants or other psychoactive substances, unfulfilled in their own lives, poor listeners and communicators, and unable to manage their own marriages and families? What sorts of examples do they set for their students? The kids aren’t stupid. They look at their teachers and as themselves, “So this is all there is?” (I know because I was one of them. Fortunately, my parents refused to take “No” for an answer and did not allow me to buy into the mediocre vision my teachers and school administrators set out for their charges.)

    I realize that it is anathema to criticize teachers in America, but frankly, too many of them simply don’t have what it takes to do the job correctly. They need to be moved out of their positions, and their unions abolished. Good teachers need to be rewarded, and handsomely, on the basis of their successes, while “the number of years spent in the system” should count for nothing, financially.

    Last but not least, we cannot ignore the role of the student’s family and larger culture in shaping their educational success. In some US subcultures, students are threatened with social excommunication or worse if they show any inclination to succeed. In some neighborhoods, for example, children must walk past crack houses and dog fighting rings in order to get to school. Most of them know exactly what they are looking at and hate running the gauntlets. They know full well that when they “come of age”, the older males will begin preying upon them and bring them into their ranks. They don’t want to be subject to that fate, but they have precious little choice. Experience has shown, however, that if organizations like The Humane Society of the US can intervene early enough, many of these kids will grasp at a second chance and will escape emotionally and then physically from their neighborhoods and the destinies their own elders have planned for them. If schools re-organized their curricula to incorporate HSUS-style practical learning situations that emphasize social and psychological self-mastery skills above all else at young ages, kids would be much better prepared to accept the need for math, science and reading, while they developed the skills and courage to battle those of their own who would hold them down. Kids raised in “visionary schools” would transform their societies and “bad schools” from the inside out. Once they are able to see that there is a REASON to learn, most kids are eager to learn. Failing kids from lousy neighborhoods are no exception. But they must be given standards, assigned things to do that are meaningful in their worlds, and held accontable by genuinely caring educations, to succeed.

    Well, these issues, in a nutshell, are what I see as the major problem with the American school system. The good news is that they require little financial investment to fix, and will save money in the long run (and often in the short run, too.) The better news is that they can allow the schools to break free of the Federal financial monster, while dramatically improving student outcomes. So I say, let’s withdraw EVERY state from the Federal trough, and begin applying fixes on a laeger scale that have shown some real evidence of working on a smaller scale. And let’s give individual school systems the freedom to experiment. We can do it on smaller budgets than we have now. if we have the courage to think far beyond the four walls we gestated in intellectually. We must get back to congruency between how the human brain learns, and how human beings create meaning. If we are willing to do what it takes to walk away from our hopelessly outdated understanding of the means and purposes of education, then I think we can once again become the powerhouse and envy of the world, and WITHOUT breaking our banks!

    So, what will it be? Courage, or money? I sincerely hope that Rotary will help to put ideas first, becasuse old thinking with new money will not do the job of new thinking. And old thinking will doom both our children, and everything that America stands for.

  2. This column, “This half-truth trumps the biggest of lies”, was first published in December, 2008 shortly after Barack Obama was elected president and before he entered office and selected Arnie Duncan as Secretary of Education. It addresses the myth that the United States leads the world in public education spending.
    David Strand
    “This half-truth trumps the biggest of lies”

    


The last question of the final presidential debate was a killer. CBS anchor Bob Schieffer directed it to Barack Obama and John McCain. Unfortunately, it repeated a half-truth to millions of viewers more damaging to America than an outright lie.
    

”Since America spends more than anyone for public education, what would you do to make it more effective?” Pressed by time into short answers, both candidates pledged that educating children was critical to America’s future.
    

When Hillary Clinton accepted the nomination as the next Secretary of State she said, “America is a place founded on the idea that everyone should have the right to live up to his or her God-given potential.”
    

Mr. Schieffer’s half truth is a major reason why America is falling flat on its face in not living up to the aspiration cited by Mrs. Clinton. 

Not only don’t we spend more money on public education, we aren’t even close to our competitors. Unfortunately, the misconception that we are the world’s big education spender is a legend so entrenched it may be impossible to correct. And in these perilous times this can lead to the collapse of America’s world leadership.


    The colossal miscalculation is in the assumption that the process of education is like the water-tight compartments of a submarine. Each segment is completely separate from those before and after. Unfortunately, it’s nonsense.
    

 The half-truth is this. If you only consider the costs associated with operating the K-12 public schools, it may be true that the U.S. spends as much as other countries. Let’s assume its true, even after the costs of America’s athletic programs are removed from the equation. Kids in Europe and Canada join sports clubs if they want to play competitive sports. Their schools focus on educating.
    

 The problem with this submarine compartment thinking is that it ignores huge education investments made routinely by every modern democracy we compete with. The most critical factors that affect outcomes are the readiness of children when they enter school, and the quality and support for teachers and staff.
    

The countries of northern Europe are familiar examples because we lived in three of them before and after retiring. Every child in these countries has preventative health care and homelessness among children is forbidden. They also have the lowest rates of infant mortality and child poverty. Every child has access to high quality pre-school child care, most attend and it means their young minds are nurtured and they are comfortable with children their own age.
    Teacher emphasis is just as important. K-12 teacher compensation here is comparable to these competing countries. Why is it that the majority of American teaching graduates leave their chosen profession while the opposite is true in these other countries? It’s very simple. Included among their community prestige and perks is the fact that university costs are paid for by taxpayers. Unlike here, teachers who love their work aren’t forced to leave education because salaries don’t cover the soaring costs of college.
    

 Simple question? Where do children have the best chance to live up to their God-given potential, the United States or in countries that really care about their kids? 


    In the last column, it was mentioned that our children being raised now will be the first generation of Americans to be less well educated than their parents. That is not my conclusion but that of conservative New York Times columnist David Brooks.
    

Who lives in this fantasy land thinking we can succeed as a country with a second-rate system of educating our children? Two of three adults can’t name the three branches of government. Most can’t locate the Pacific Ocean on a map. And some wonder why we are in trouble?
    

Minnesota faces a $5 billion hole in the state budget. And since 2000 our state has fallen behind inflation in education investments. This means we Minnesotans have been fiddling while our schools are squeezed like a grape in a vise.
    

Personally, I hope that Colin Powell becomes the next Secretary of Education. He is a rare influential American who “gets it,” as does President-elect Obama. If a Secretary Powell tells it like it really is, we will know just what sacrifices we have to make. Otherwise we can kiss goodbye to America’s greatness.
    

For as bitter as the truth is, we are getting what we’re paying for. An inferior result. 


  3. There are a few factors which compromise the future of American kids, including the academic future:
    – Some conservative politicians, affiliated to the “oil”garchies, believe they can better control a population of ignorant people;
    – Corruption and greedy are arriving to our kids in the form of subsidies for failure, such as ADD (shame on our medical and pharmaceutical society, and shame on our principals);
    – The abuse of games and other addicting distractions, instead of education (parents are not oriented to their families, but in vanity, status, shopping, and thus don’t have enough time to their kids);
    – Our food in junk and is making our kids obese, lazy and slow…

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