“…And I’m Here To Help…”

Joe Doakes from Como Park emails:

College costs too much so students take loans. But there are no jobs so graduates can’t repay the loans. But the federal government made the loans so they cannot be discharged in bankruptcy.

An alternative is for private investors to offer to pay your college in return for your promise to work for them in the future. Some already are doing this.

Senator Marco Rubio (R-Fla) wants national legislation to legitimize the program and add safeguards.

Cripes, you can’t even trust Republicans to keep their greasy mitts to themselves. Look, Marco, you’re a US Senator. The US Government student loan system is busted. You are one of 534 people in the world who can do anything about it. But no, you’ve got your eye on “helping” private investors and students use an alternative arrangement. They wouldn’t need an alternative arrangement in the first place, if you were doing your job and fixing the busted system.

Joe Doakes

The idea – investors “investing” in students in exchange for future earnings – is a fascinating one.

The Fed’s involvement will quickly make it a hopeless mess.

Everyone’s Protected!

Well, we now have a statewide “bullying law”.   Mazel Tov.

Of course, we had a bullying law before.  As noted in this Channel 5 interview with lawyer Christa Groshek,. it was 37 words long, and basically required school districts to have a bullying policy.   Now, it’s 14 pages long.

Everyone Can Be A Victim!:  The law specifies so many different “protected” classes that it’s really not specific at all; in addition to affectional orientation, religion, affectional orientation, race, affectional orientation, gender and affectional orientation, the bill “protects” people from bullying based on academic status, marital status, socioeconomic status, and…

…appearance?

Where was this law when I was a greasy-haired, acne-ridden, athletically-inept 14 year old?  Oh, the fellow students – and not a few teachers – whose lives I could have ruined!

Intent Is In The Eye Of The Beholder:  And it seems to do for “bullying” what sexual harassment laws did for sexual harassment; define “bullying” as “anything that makes anyone upset in any way.

And yes, I know bullying happens, and sometimes it’s incredibly serious, and in extreme circumstances kids kill themselves over it.

But combine this with the law’s anonymous notification provisions – which are necessary in some cases, obviously, but are an open invitation to abuse as well – with the fact that parental recourse is limited to the point of absurdity, and if you know anything about how public schools work these days, the “unintended consequences” will swerve quickly into absurdity.

Or litigation.  Which, given the support the DFL gets from trial lawyers, can not in the least bit be an “unintended” consequence.

Make-Work:  Along those lines; the previous bullying law left the mechanics of the policy to the individual districts.

The new law?  It creates three levels of state bureaucracy above the districts to deal with “bullying”:

A Task Force, a Council and a “Center”.

I asked a gay activist on Twitter – who was clearly happy about the bill being signed into law, although he clearly understood little but Big Gay’s chanting points about the bill or its consequences – why he supported the new law.  ”Because we now have one policy for the whole state” was his main answer.

Liberals never realize – this is a bug, not a feature.

The further you remove policy from its implementation, the worse your policy will get.  It’s true of healthcare, taxes – and in few areas more than education.  It’s why charter schools (as a general model) are succeeding while the larger, urban and centralized-rural public systems are failing.

Parents Last:  Another problem – and this may be the big one – is that if you’re a parent concerned about an accusation against your child, your rights are pretty much nonexistant.

Now, let’s be realistic; your rights are pretty much nonexistent in the public system, especially in the major urban districts, today; as I found out in my own Kafkaesque struggle with Saint Paul’s idiot administration, your “rights” as a parent are pretty much written to fit around the convenience and protection of the sitting Administration.  If you think your child has been wrongly accused, or even just want to find out facts about this episode that is going on your child’s permanent record beyond “your child has been accused, convicted and sentenced; have a nice day”, the “process” is a passive-aggressive, sisyphean ordeal that pretty much requires you be a freaking amateur lawyer.  Or, naturally, hire a professional one.

On the Upside:  On the other hand, I can think of one upside to the new law; it’s excellent preparation for today’s modern university experience; it trains students to check their First Amendment rights at the schoolhouse door (or before interacting in any way with anyone that might go through that door with them); it’s excellent training for dealing with today’s speech codes.

So there’s that.

The Clinker, As Always:  As I’ve noted in this space before, bullying has tended to go up after these laws are passed.  Now, chalk it up to more-thorough reporting if you’d like – but anyone who expects a statewide policy and bureaucracy to “solve bullying” is in for a major disappointment.

Because setting policy – whether in a 37 word statement or a 14 page bill – is the easy part.  Any idiot can do it, and the DFL majority proved it.

But here’s the bad news.  Ask yourself this; who’s going to be carrying out the policy?

School Administrators.

And while many school administrators mean well (and I’m talking about all of you out there that are friends of mine,  whom I jointly and severally except from the following statement), a disturbing number of them are idiots, or worse.

Bureaucratic “policy” is, at its worst, an excuse for the not-bright, the stupid, the corrupt and the depraved to shrug their shoulders at things that would make any human with a living soul and any common sense leap to their feet in horror.  Anti-violence “policy” routinely sweeps up the non-violent.  Anti-sexual harassment policy, enforced by idiots, has results like this.   “Zero Tolerance for Weapons” “policy” gives us this, and – on a more personal level, this (Part One and Part Two), in the hands of “administrators” who are, notwithstanding their PhDs are too stupid, in a just world, to hold any job at all.  Even something as benign as a “pedagogical model” can be turned into an instrument of, dare I say, bullying - of students and their parents – by teachers and administrators who are focused on “policy” rather than “children”.

Which, increasingly, they – especially adminstrators – are.

Just saying – with today’s generation of toxic administrators, it’s smart to expect the unintended.

This law “solves” a problem that can’t be solved (beyond the extent to which previous law already did), by giving even more power to people who should have much, much less than they already do, from a bureacracy that makes sure they mis-use it with gusto!

Oceania Has Never Bullied Eastasia, Winston

The bill that the Metrocrats chose to call the “Safe and Supportive Minnesota Schools Act” passed the Senate. 

Let’s look at what’s in a name.  Because the name “Safe and Supportive Minnesota Schools Act” is intensely misleading – almost to a geometric fault.

There are so many names for this bill that are more appropriate:

The Redundant Feel-Good Act:  Every school district already has a bullying policy.  It’s the law. 

The PC Payoff Act:  This bill - probably soon to be a law – is a chit being paid back to the DFL’s supporters by the party currently in power, creating not only a protected class of students, but a super-di-duper protected class. 

The Full Employment For Bureaucrats Act:  This bill – which creates a huge unfunded mandate on top of all the others foisted on our school systems, to the point where many districts are nothing but mandate delivery systems with occasional spurts of “education” – will create a whole new class of administrators.  And they’ll belong to unions, who donate their dues money to the DFL. 

The Full Employment For Trial Lawyers Act:  The bill makes the entire process of dealing with “bullying” even more legalistic than it already is.  Legalistic means “designed to be controlled, and especially litigated (at an exquisitely expensive hourly rate) by lawyers”. 

The Type-Cast Your Child For Life Act:  Everything related to everything that can be defined as “bullying”, no matter how torturously, will become part of a child’s permanent academic record.  Which will affect childrens’ future chances at higher education, jobs, the military, jobs requiring security clearances and the like, long after the child has grown out of whatever phase they were in when they were bullies (and that’s assume they were rightly and justly accused of “bullying”, since the bill is also…)

“Stasi Had The Right Idea!” Act:   Anonymous informants?  Giving those who accuse others of bullying complete immunity from consequences if it turns out that the accusations were fabricated? 

The “Further Proof That North Dakotans Are Smarter Than Minnesotans” Act:  Other states – including our grown-up neighbor, my home state of North Dakota – address bullying by addressing bullying, passing laws that address actual behavior rather than creating the infrastructure for a network of secret denunciations and…

The Ideology Police Act:  …making all beliefs that don’t toe the PC line, especially personal religious beliefs, however manifested or stated, a form of behavior that needs to be watched and suppressed, overtly or subtly, “for the good of the children”.       

The “Let’s Have More Bullying, Not Less!” Act:  Bullying tends to go up, rather than down, in places with bullying bills.   

The Metrocrat Power Grab Of 2014 Act:  The bill – which does nothing to address bullying of children that isn’t already covered by existing policies – does coalesce more power to indoctrinate, to punish dissent from the state-sanctioned social views, and to extort more from the taxpayer in the bargain.  And it does it during the last session during which the DFL is guaranteed absolute power.                 

Could someone in the legislature please see to this?

De Blasio: The Left’s Id

NYC Mayor Bill De Blasio launched his first salvo in his war on charter schools – which is, essentially, an extended payoff to the unions and the condo pinks that put him in office in the first place (occasional emphasis added by me):

While running for New York City mayor, Bill de Blasio could count on applause for attacking unpopular charter school co-locations, where charters that need space are squeezed into public school buildings alongside other schools.

Instead of extolling the promise of the charters, de Blasio provided a spine-stiffening defense of the “common” school, and his base ate it up: The unions loved it, parents whose kids were not in charters loved it, and many of de Blasio’s fellow Park Slope progressives loved it.

That’s been one of the charter opponents’ most galling tactics; they’ve made charters the subject of a class war, with charters as “the enemy”, notwithstanding that (especially in the city) they are the lifeboat for the underserved minority, and the students that the “common” schools have given up on.

So the new mayor must be feeling whiplash after the outcry that met him as he began to carry out a popular campaign pledge: slow down the charter co-locations and shift more money to traditional public schools. That the charter community opposed the mayor wasn’t a surprise. It was their political strength, organization, and popularity that caught de Blasio off guard.

From the rhetoric, you’d think de Blasio had personally bounced kids out of charter schools across all five boroughs.

Slate goes on to defend De Blasio.

But charter proponents know that it’s a short jump from “slowing down co-location” (in real-estate-starved NYC they put charter schools in the same buildings as public schools) to shutting down schools.  The left hates charters, and the slippery slope is very, very real.

The “Stasi Bill” Vs. “The Bullying Bill”, Part 2

Senator Roger Chamberlain has been leading the push to try to replace Senator Dibble’s “bullying bill”, HF 826, with a bill that addresses bullying rather than serves as a bludgeon of indoctrination.

He wrote a piece on Facebook (among, I’m sure, other places) earlier this week that I think sums things up well.  I’m going to excerpt it below, with a few bits of emphasis added by me:

———-

I need to be blunt. HF 826 will turn our schools into indoctrination camps; it will create a climate of fear. Our children will be stripped of their innocence and humanity; HF 826 looks at children as nothing more than programmable machinery. Parents will lose more control, school districts lose control, and communities will lose control.
Another sad and disturbing fact is some elected officials and lobbyists do not care about the larger issue, the overall harm the bill will cause to children and parents. They will work to cut deals with the bill’s author and when they achieve their specific objective, and then they will walk away. One lobbyist said they will simply live with the results of the session.

What happened to the idea of doing what is right? Unfortunately it’s a fairly rare concept in government.

There is an alternative, senate file 2411 (SF 2411) it is based on North Dakota law, which, in 2011, was endorsed by our Attorney General Lori Swanson. It is short, 4 pages not 20 pages, clarifies the issue but most importantly it protects all kids equally, retains parental rights and local control.

HF 826 is not just another law people will learn to live with, it’s not MNSure, and these are children, your children and not some abstraction. People have no idea the damage this will cause; they have no idea what they are asking for.

———-

If you take action on no other issue this session (and I know this blog’s audience is prone to taking action on political issues), do it for this one.

 

The “Stasi Bill” Versus The “Anti-Bullying Bill”

The DFL’s “bullying bill” is a special interest sop; it creates protected classes against whom bullying is double dog bad.   It’s a type of bill that seems, elsewhere in the country, to have the effect of increasing bullying of the kids they’re intended to protect – not to mention increasing the official “bullying” and censorship of dissent.    It might be better called the “Stasi Bill”.

Of course, the real reason the DFL supports it is that it creates yet another well-paid, unionized bureaucracy to staff with members of the political class.

The GOP, thankfully, is offering an alternative – a bill that offers to-the-point protection of actual victims, rather than a generalized snitching system that can be used as a cudgel against pretty much anyone doing anything:

Republican senators Monday afternoon announced the “Stamp Out Bullying” bill, which is modeled after legislation that’s been successful in other states and receives a top rating from a national anti-bullying group…State Sen. Roger Chamberlain, R-Lino Lakes, a leading critic of Dibble’s bill, said in a news release that he expects the alternative anti-bullying bill to receive bipartisan support. He said his legislation will protect students while allowing school districts to maintain local control.

“This proposal keeps school resources in the classroom where they belong, and doesn’t place an added burden on school districts already struggling with tight budgets. It protects all students, keeps parents informed, and gives school districts a solid framework to develop solutions that work for their communities,” Chamberlain said.

Being realistic?  I’d say the GOP’s best hope is to get Republicans and not-insane DFLers to push either for Chamberlain’s bill, or to amend Dibble’s ‘bill to strip out the objectionable stuff like the Stasi provisions and the protected classes…

…which is the stuff that the Metro DFL wants, which makes them poison pills.

Such is politics in the minority.

Elections have consequences.

Let’s Try A “Thought” Experiment

Find one of your children.

Wait for when it’s super cold out – like, below zero.

Soak them with a super-soaker.  Then force them outside, and don’t let them back in the house, or any cars, or into the neighbors’ houses.

When (hopefully) someone calls the cops, you’ll be thrown into jail for child endangerment.  And you should be.

Because “idiot” wouldn’t describe it – but “evil” pretty much would.

Most of you have no doubt seen this story; a Saint Paul middle school forced a junior high kid to wait outside, in a swimsuit and towel, in -2 weather and -25 wind chill.   There’d been a fire drill while she was in the pool, and the teachers didn’t let her go to her locker, grab a coat, or anything but a towel (emphasis added):

[The girl] asked to wait inside an employee’s car, or at the elementary school across the street. But administrators believed that this would violate official policy, and could get the school in trouble, so they opted to simply let the girl freeze.

Let’s try to go through the “minds” of these hamsters:  Given a choice to “violate policy” and “endanger a child’s health and safety”, the kid got chucked under a bus.

What does it say that a bunch of junior high kids are smarter, and have more moral clarity, than their administrators?

Her fellow classmates, at least, huddled around her to try to keep her warm. And one teacher did eventually lend her a coat.

There should be arrests.  Idiot school administrators should be frog-walked out of their building in handcuffs.   Their mug shots should be splashed all over the TV, so parents can keep their children away.   Licenses should be slowly torn into long, thin strips.

But that’ll never happen.

Charter Schools: Batten Down The Hatches

The DFL – at the behest of the Teachers Union, of which the DFL is a partially-owned subsidiary – hates charter schools.  They provide choice to families who find themselves underserved by the public system.

And if you’re a parent in the inner city, that’s pretty much you; your kids are jammed into public schools that by any rational standard are gross underperformers.  If you’re a minority parent in Minneapolis or Saint Paul, you send your kids to schools with two of the worst minority achievement gaps in the country (while constantly reiterating the PR pap notion that Minnesota’s schools are really, really swell).

And complete DFL control of Minnesota’s government – at least for this session – means charter schools can expect an existential threat in the next four months.

Today’s story on MPR is a bellweather of this threat.

Critics of underperforming charter schools say state law isn’t tough enough. They’re pushing a measure that would flag poor performing charters for closure.

If approved by the Legislature it would pressure charter school authorizers, the organizations that oversee the schools, to close chronically underperforming charters.

Detractors of charter schools – pretty much the DFL, the unions and their various non-profit handmaidens – constantly refer to charter school “performance” and “metrics”.

Unanswered in all of that palaver – whether any public district school could be a success, acadmically, fiscally or in regulatory terms – if they had to follow the same standards charters do.  This is especially true of larger public districts that can bury their most intractably underperforming students in “Alternative Learning Centers” – effectively getting the “off the books” for purposes of assessing academic performance.

And still the public schools languish.

Charter schools are public schools, but they are freed from some of the requirements that traditional schools must follow. By design, that autonomy is intended to allow charters to try innovative approaches like longer school days or creative curriculum.

An eighth of Saint Paul’s parents – and an even greater share in Minneapolis – have opted, via school choice, to leave the city systems; they’ve moved to private, parochial, suburban, and – especially in poor, immigrant and minority communities – charter schools.  75% or more of inner city charter students are from “families of color”, immigrants or other underserved communities.

These news stories – and legislative initiatives – are invariably based on biased research.  Example (with emphasis added):

As the charter system has grown, so have concerns over how the schools perform, academically and financially.

Overall, students at charter schools don’t do as well academically as students in traditional district schools, according to research by Myron Orfield, director of the University of Minnesota’s Institute on Metropolitan Opportunity.

“research by Myron Orfield” means “research commissioned by and for the DFL and the unions”.  No more, no less.

“The problem is the vast majority of charters are underperforming and maybe 25, 30 percent of them are just really terrible and they go on from year to year,” said Orfield, one of the biggest critics of charter schools in Minnesota. “They’re considerably worse than the public schools.”

And some numbers can make that impression.  And some charters are, no doubt, not-hackers.

But there are three things to remember about “achievement” comparisons between charter and district schools:

  • It’s A Hard Knock Life:  Charter schools – especially in the city – are frequently a refuge for students and families who’ve been shorted by the public system.  ”Shorted” is a polite, general phrase that means everything from “badly served” to “thoroughly brutalized” by the one-size-fits-all public school system.  Yes, I have a perspective on this.   Of course their academic performance is lower, no matter what charter school they attend.
  • Rigged:  Of course, the studies show that charters schools lag district schools in terms of raw academic performance.  Not only are a large percentage of charter students looking for a second chance (and their grades show it), but charter schools have to own their numbers; public systems have the “Alternative Learning Centers” into which they can shunt the chronic underperformers, to get them off the district’s books.  And that’s with the ones they haven’t given up on altogether; after about age 16, the big districts put very few obstacles in the paths of kids who want to drop out – which also bumps the curve up for the big schools.  The “studies” – including Orfield’s – don’t account for this.  The only meaningful measurement of achievement would follow students’ changes in academic performance – positive or otherwise – after they left the public system (controlled by comparison with kids with similar social, educational and ethnic makeup who stayed in the public system), over a realistic period of time.   
  • Apples To Axles:  I’m going to suggest that if public schools were measured, financially and academically, by the same standards that charter schools have to meet (including the performance of the kids that the district gives up on, the ALC and dropouts – that a much greater share of public schools would risk being shut down.  Especially in Minneapolis, Saint Paul, Duluth, Bloomington, Richfield, Robbinsdale/New Hope and the Brooklyns.
Expect this story to be the opening salvo of a DFL assault on, at the very least, the fringes of the charter system.

I Am Going To Start Training Our Nation’s Elite!

For years, now, the highest tiers of our university system have turned out our nation’s “elites”.

And the reason we know they are our “elites” is because they are smart.

And the reason we know they are smart is because they got good grades from an “elite” university.

So I’m going to start an “elite” university. 

You’ll know my university’s students are the best in America – because they’ll all get A+++es on their transcripts.  Which, as we know, is better than an A++, to say nothing of an A+. 

Oh, relax.  It’s not like Harvard does pretty much the same thing.

Sexual Harassment

In re the story about the six year old boy, Hunter Yelton, who was suspended from school and branded a “sexual harasser” for kissing another six year old girl:  the mother is going public saying that it was perfectly legitimate.

And I’ll allow that there are two sides to every story.

But if you bet money that the woman would have a hyphenated last name, and be a part of the educational-industrial complex, you may cash your chips.

(PS:  kids experiment with the idea of “affection” at that age.  They need to be firmly but gently set straight on what is and is not appropriate – not have their age-normal explorations branded a crime.  Some therapist is going to get rich off that poor kid when he’s gotta deal with his relationship issues someday).

As Times Change

Joe Doakes from Como Park emails:

Can you imagine a songwriter today trying to sell these lyrics:

“When some loud bragger tries to put me down and says his school is great,

I tell him “What’s the matter buddy, ain’t you heard of my school? It’s number one in the state.”

So be true to your school, just like you would to your girl . . . “

Even with thumping base loud enough to flex the car windows and rattle the bumper, there’s no way this song would sell.

Kids these days.

Joe Doakes

True, but to be fair, a lot of times these days it’s the parents that’re bailing on their kids schools.

The Policy That Dare Not Say Its Name

I’ll urge you to read this letter to the editor from last Wednesday’s Pioneer Press

I’m going to point to an exerpt or two:

Your recent story on St. Paul Public Schools and race (“Facing the race issue,” Oct. 28) failed to mention the elephant in the room. That elephant is that St. Paul Public Schools currently has a black agenda, thanks to the Pacific Educational Group consulting firm.

The agenda is to place blame on white teachers for low test scores and a high suspension rate among black boys. We never want to address parental involvement, lack of fathers in the homes or education not valued (because this is common sense and may actually help students and families that are struggling).

I shouldn’t quote more under the terms of “fair use”.  You need to read the whole thing.

I’ll await the cries of “the writer is no doubt a white bankster from the Wayzata”. 

Go ahead.  Cry.

OK.  The writer 0 Aaron Benner – is from St. Paul, teaches elementary school in the Saint Paul system, and notes that he is black. 

The SPPS isn’t seeking a solution to the achievement gap.  They are seeking political cover that furthers a political and social agenda.

Teacher Of The Year

Perhaps you’ve heard; Minnesota’s new “Teacher of the Year”, Saint Paul science teacher Megan Hall seems to have answered the question “are today’s public schools nothing but left-wing indoctrination centers” with a rousing “Hell yeah!”

This is from her acceptance speech, with emphasis added by me:

Teachers are persistent and responsible and generous because we believe that every child in America, regardless of circumstances of birth, deserves a decent chance at a good life. [Applause] From where I stand, teachers create equality of opportunity. From where I stand, teaching is a profession that takes a gritty patriotism. And from where I stand, teachers are American democracy’s last line of defense against the tyranny of the 1 percent

Don’t believe me?  Here’s the video

How over the top was it?  Even the City Pages’ Aaron Rupar seemed to feel a little uncomfortable: “Yeah, maybe that would’ve been a good line to save for when you’re having beers with your liberal buddies after the speech”.

For all I know Ms. Hall is a perfectly adequate teacher – and in my experience in the Saint Paul Public Schools, adequate would have been pretty superlative.

But I have to wonder:  if Ms. Hall is protecting the students from “the 1%”, who is going to protect them from the Saint Paul Public Schools?

Because between the child abuse, the brain-dead kommissariat masquerading as a bureaucracy, and the massive horde of intellectually-walking-dead union members Ms. Hall shares a district with?

I’ll take my chance with those gol-durned rich folks, thanks.

But look at it her way; I suppose if I taught for a district with the worst major-market achievement gap in the United States, with a minority graduation rate lower than Miley Cyrus’ neckline, a district that minority parents were decamping from as fast as they can find open spaces in charter schools or suburban schools via open enrollment, I’d look for a scapegoat too.

Priorities

Joe Doakes from Como Park emails:

Schools have time and money to send home fat letters, whether the kids actually are fat, or not.  Part of Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move” campaign?

Schools have time and money to run prevention programs about cyber-bullying.

But schools graduate little more than half their students.  And how many of them actually know anything, versus got passed along by the system?

Plainly, schools need more money.  For the children.

Joe Doakes

It’s always worked so well before.

A Matter Of Degrees

Joe Doakes from Como Park emails:

For SITD Junior Members needing college career advice, best and worst paid majors

Joe Doakes

The graph at the link is the usual link you see on the subject this time of year; engineering good, social “sciences” and humanities bad, at least in terms of money earned right after graduation.

Of course, there are some questions:  the graph counts people with degrees in a field who get jobs in that field.  Not all engineering majors get jobs directly in their fields (as we talked about a few weeks ago) – and not everyone with a degree in technology or engineering has a degree in the field (many of the best software engineers I’ve worked with had degrees in music).

And not everyone who goes into social “science”, humanities or even arts works in those fields after graduation, and fewer still do it for an entire career.  How many history majors do you know who became managers?   Most of us Twin Cities beer drinkers know the example of the CEO of Summit Brewing, who started out as a psych major.  And in my own field – which is a bastard child of engineering and psychology – I’ve worked with people who graduated with degrees in music, computer science, folklore, math, graphic design, education, and not a few English majors like me. 

Not a few very successful lawyers majored in theatre.

And the Elizabethan Poetry major who goes to work selling insurance, cars, real estate, institutional software, drilling equipment or a raft of other things can, with talent and hard work, make a ton of money – and never recite a single couplet. 

The mania for matching degrees with post-graduate salaries is completely understandable, as education costs are hitting a peak even as the higher ed bubble starts to implode with all the grace of a whoopie cushion. 

But it’s a little misleading, too. 

How many of you are working in the field in which you got your BA?

How many of you could have even predicted where you’d be now, given your undergraduate degree?

Freedom Of Association

The Kenosha school district’s teachers vote to decertify their union in the third-largest district in Wisconsin:

Today, teachers in Kenosha, Wis., voted to decertify their union, the Kenosha Education Association, by a margin of nearly two to one. Only 37 percent of the teachers opted to retain the union in an election made possible by the labor reforms enacted under Gov. Scott Walker (R). The result goes to show that when workers have a choice on whether to join a union instead of being forced into one by law, they often choose to vote down the union.

It wasn’t even close; the margin of victory was very nearly as large as the “yes” vote total.

The Uncommonly Awful Common Core

I’ve been doing radio for a while.  I’ve interviewed a lot of people – Senators, Congresspeople, State Legislators, Governors, candidates for all of the above, Miss Minnesotas, authors, public intellectuals, fake intellectuals, Princesses Kay of the Milky Way, plate-throwers, journalists, bloggers, athletes, coaches – you get the picture.

And almost every time when I walk into an interview, I know more or less what I’m going to hear. 

Now, I don’t normally do a ton of interview prep.  I like to approach a subject from the same perspective that the audience has, from a complete white slate; it’s one of the best bits of interviewing advice Larry King ever gave.  That being said, I’m rarely surprised by what I hear in an interview.  I blog a lot, so I’ve had my mind on a lot of different subjects over the past 12 years. 

But last Saturday was a huge exception.  During the second hour on the NARN, I interviewed Linda Bell and Kirsten Block, from Minnesotans Against Common Core

Now, I figured I was going to hear more talk about national standards.  I oppose them, by the way – I don’t think the federal government should be telling the nation how to educate its children. 

But it’s worse than that.  In fact, it’s so much worse that for one of very, very few times in all of my years of interviewing people, I was actually dumbfounded by what I was hearing.  It was so much worse than I – a cynic who expects nothing good from our national education system – expected that I was nearly speechless. 

Standardized Poltroonery:  If you listen to some of the GOP’s talking heads who’ve come out in support of Common Core, you might think that’s the extent of it; the idea that a national set of standards will help ensure that our children all get a better education (because that worked so well with “No Child Left Behind”).

It’s wrong, of course.  When you nationalize standards, you accede to having them set via a political process, and political processes don’t work any better for allocating expectations in education than they do for allocating resources in an economy. 

That, alone, is reason to fight the Common Core. 

But it gets so much worse than that.

Orwellian:  Indeed, very little about the “Common Core” has much of anything to do with “Core” educational subjects at all. 

From the Fact Sheet at MACC’s website:

  • It’s unconscionably intrusive: National student database – over 400+ data points collected (at a minimum – and likely many more).  Medical Histories?  Religion?  Guns in the house?  Bureaucrats’ impressions of your family life, gathered from mandatory home visits?  On top of the Obamacare Health Insurance Exchanges, the NSA will be the least of most of our privacy concerns. 
  • We’re From Washington, And We’re Here To Get You To Shut The F*** Up:  the program is mandated by the feds.  Parental control? Parental input?  Dream on, peasant. 
  • Richard Trumka Has Always Been A Great Man!:  The curriculae for Common Core programs will be written by bureaucrats – not teachers.  And not just the curriculum specialists who clog your local school systems today – the ones in Washington.  Or the ones that work for the big textbook companies.  Pardon the redundancy. 
  • Shakespeare Out; Ginsburg In:  Western literature will be greatly de-emphasized. 
  • Ryan WInkler Won’t Be The Only Innumerate State Rep:  The math standards are a disaster. 
  • Teaching To The Test Didn’t Work.  Let’s Do More:  One of the worst traits of No Child Left Behind was that it gradually drove teachers and schools to “Teach to the Test” – since the tests were the measure of achievement.  Common Core will be worse – and thus, so will your kids education. 
  • We Had To Pass It To Know What Was In It:  The State of Minnesota’s version of Common Core was adopted by the bureaucracy when the state wanted the federal money that comes with it, four years ago.  Neither Congress nor the Legislature had the foggiest clue what was in it.  They still largely don’t – which is why you see people like Jeb Bush supporting it.

Any school, public, private, charter or home, that gets any shred of federal assistance will be subject to the rules.

Common Core is an abomination, and needs to be repealed. 

I’m a small fish in a small pond – but I will actively work against any and all politicians who don’t condemn and work to repeal the Common Core as it is currently slated for implementation; with the intrusions, the lack of local involvement, the continued centralization of public education (and private and home-schooled education, as well. 

Whatever their party.

STEM: The Scam?

Since the end of World War II, the mantra of government and business is that “we need more kids to grow up to study Science, Technology, Engineering and Math” – aka “STEM”. 

And yet if you work in technology, you know that in vast swathes of the field, there’s no real shortage of people.  Especially in IT; even as baby boomers retire, there is plenty of unemployment among IT people; even as demand for IT workers booms, the supply seems to more than keep pace.  Have you checked out the contract rate for web coders or support analysts lately? 

And yet the government keeps cajoling our “best and brightest” to go into STEM. 

Why?  

To keep the costs down, perhaps?

As this piece in the IEEE Spectrum notes, not only is there no shortage of STEM professionals, there’s an apparent skills mismatch, with many “STEM” careers being held by non-STEM degree-holders (I’d be one of them, by the way), and many STEM degree-holders working outside science and technology.

And yet the establishment keeps driving more people into STEM, and importing more programmers, engineers and technicians from overseas. 

Why?

Clearly, powerful forces must be at work to perpetuate the cycle. One is obvious: the bottom line. Companies would rather not pay STEM professionals high salaries with lavish benefits, offer them training on the job, or guarantee them decades of stable employment. So having an oversupply of workers, whether domestically educated or imported, is to their benefit. It gives employers a larger pool from which they can pick the “best and the brightest,” and it helps keep wages in check. No less an authority than Alan Greenspan, former chairman of the Federal Reserve, said as much when in 2007 he advocated boosting the number of skilled immigrants entering the United States so as to “suppress” the wages of their U.S. counterparts, which he considered too high.

And it helps inflate the higher-ed bubble, too:

And the perception of a STEM crisis benefits higher education, says Ron Hira, because as “taxpayers subsidize more STEM education, that works in the interest of the universities” by allowing them to expand their enrollments.

An oversupply of STEM workers may also have a beneficial effect on the economy, says Georgetown’s Nicole Smith, one of the coauthors of the 2011 STEM study. If STEM graduates can’t find traditional STEM jobs, she says, “they will end up in other sectors of the economy and be productive.”

The problem with proclaiming a STEM shortage when one doesn’t exist is that such claims can actually create a shortage down the road, Teitelbaum says. When previous STEM cycles hit their “bust” phase, up-and-coming students took note and steered clear of those fields, as happened in computer science after the dot-com bubble burst in 2001.

Emphasizing STEM at the expense of other disciplines carries other risks. Without a good grounding in the arts, literature, and history, STEM students narrow their worldview—and their career options. In a 2011 op-ed in The Wall Street Journal, Norman Augustine, former chairman and CEO of Lockheed Martin, argued that point. “In my position as CEO of a firm employing over 80 000 engineers, I can testify that most were excellent engineers,” he wrote. “But the factor that most distinguished those who advanced in the organization was the ability to think broadly and read and write clearly.”

For all the sneering people are doing at humanities these days – and I have a BA in English with minors in History and German – the selling of the STEM “crisis” seems to be a move to commoditize technical skill.  Communications is no commodity, though – and it seems to be what still what separates a bench engineer and their supervisors. 

So is the education system short-changing students by preaching STEM as the be-all and end-all of opportunities?

Toss Those Sausages Onto The Conveyor Belt, Peasant

I will gladly pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today” (J. Wellington Wimpy, “Popeye” canon).

As your attorney, it is my duty to inform you that it is not important that you understand what I’m doing or why you’re paying me so much money. What’s important is that you continue to do so” (The Samoan lawyer in Hunter S. Thompson’sFear and Loathing in Las Vegas).

But it seems to me that if every single parent sent every single child to public school, public schools would improve. This would not happen immediately. It could take generations. Your children and grandchildren might get mediocre educations in the meantime, but it will be worth it, for the eventual common good” (Allison Benedikt, Slate, “If You Send Your Kid to Private School, You Are a Bad Person“, Slate’s DoubleX, August 30, 2013).

The promise of big government – from Stalin’s “Five Year Plans” to Obama’s “Hope and Change” – is always just down the way.  Around the corner,  The light at the end of the tunnel at the end of the tunnel you’re in.  It’s just one five-year plan away. 

And when you’re living in a city run by people who think we can build a better life through more light rail, then waiting for utopia is OK, more or less, provided you’re not one the eggs that gets broken to make the omelet, whether you’re a University Avenue business or a Kulak.  (at least until you can find a way to sell your house) is a perfectly fine option. 

But when it’s things that are the here and now?  Like you and your future? Your kids and theirs?

Now it’s personal.

Allison Benedikt writes for Slate  -     to be exact, one of their clubby pseudo-feminist brandettes, DoubleX.  

And while the quote above does spell out the thesis of her piece pretty well, there’s always more to mock:

Some Of Us Are More Equal Than Others:  Give a point to Benedikt for at least giving a shout-out to human nature, especially the human nature of socialist institutions:

Your children and grandchildren might get mediocre educations in the meantime, but it will be worth it, for the eventual common good. (Yes, rich people might cluster. But rich people will always find a way to game the system: That shouldn’t be an argument against an all-in approach to public education any more than it is a case against single-payer health care.)

But of course, it is a perfectly fine argument against both; intentions aside, universal systems always end up being two-tracked systems; one for the plebeians, and another for those who have to manage them; public schools and Obamacare for most of us, but “elite” schools and exemptions for thekommissars, for Chelsea and Sasha and Malia and Matt Damon’s spawn (who will, naturally, grow up to manage the plebes). 

But that’s not the main argument (not that an actual “argument” is warranted) against Benedikt’s “idea”. 

The Unicorn School System:  According to Benedikt, if we’re all forced into the public school system, it’ll improve because parents just won’t stand for it.

So, how would this work exactly? It’s simple! Everyone needs to be invested in our public schools in order for them to get better. Not just lip-service investment, or property tax investment, but real flesh-and-blood-offspring investment. Your local school stinks but you don’t send your child there? Then its badness is just something you deplore in the abstract. Your local school stinks and you do send your child there? I bet you are going to do everything within your power to make it better.

Perhaps you are.  For a while, anyway.  I speak from experience, having spent years trying to get the Saint Paul Public Schools to be anything more than a malignant pathology. 

But the simple fact is that when pseudo-intellectual dabblers like Allison Benedikt say things like…:

And parents have a lot of power.

…that’s where you know she’s either never had to deal with a truly malignant administration, or her definition of “power” is different than yours and mine.

Parents have the “power” to come in and stuff envelopes and help chaperone field trips and do whatever the system wants warm bodies to help with.

Push back against institutional stupidity in the curriculum?  Scrutinize the plans the system has for your kids?  Demand better out of “standards”, or – more importantly – teachers and programs?

You quickly find that “parental power” – especially in a one-party Democrat controlled city where the School Board is a wholly-owned subsidiary of the most extreme wing of the Democrat party – is a black humor chanting point. 

Not to say they don’t want your help, as Benedikt correctly notes: 

In many underresourced schools, it’s the aggressive PTAs that raise the money for enrichment programs and willful parents who get in the administration’s face when a teacher is falling down on the job. Everyone, all in.

But always, always, the only “power” that the system recognizes is the “power” to work within, and to feed your efforts into, The System.  The System as it is prescribed by the thinkers of deep thoughts.  Not by you.  Perish the thought.

Alas, Egg:  Your only real “Power” in Benedict’s fever-swamp dream, though, is the “power” eggs have in your Sunday omelet:

There are a lot of reasons why bad people send their kids to private school. Yes, some do it for prestige or out of loyalty to a long-standing family tradition or because they want their children to eventually work at Slate.[See also "Higher Ed Bubble"]But many others go private for religious reasons, or because their kids have behavioral or learning issues, or simply because the public school in their district is not so hot. None of these are compelling reasons.

Not for other peoples’ children, they’re not, perhaps – provided you’re the very sort of utterly illiberal person that rates the “liberal” tag these days. 

But you only get one shot with your children.  And the education your child gets – as opposed mere “schooling”, which is a distinction most ”liberals” miss – has a lot to do with how they do in life. 

Benedikt seems to think that having a couple of “lost generations” -

And “how our children do in life”, in aggregate, has everything to do with the future of our country – our economic performance 30-50 years from now.  

By the way – if we have a couple of lost generations of badly-educated people (our kids and grandkids), then from what basis are we going to build any “improvements?” 

The Cure Is The Disease:   Of course, school itself isn’t the problem.  Is it?

Or, rather, the compelling [reasons] (behavioral or learning issues, wanting a not-subpar school for your child) are exactly why we should all opt in, not out.

Among the most popular alternative schools – Sudbury, Waldorf and some private and charter Montessori schools – they don’t actually tell the children “you have to learn to read at a specified level by age 7″.  They assume that children, who are born with an innate drive to understand the world around them, will learn to read, and read very proficiently, at their own speed. 

And they’re right.  Barring serious physical or mental handicaps, every child does learn to read.  Long story short; there are no reading difficulties in a Sudbury or Waldorf schools.

It’s a piece of cake, really; those kids have just finished becoming fluent in a language (in some cases more than one); reading is comparatively simple in comparison.   Compare this to a public school, where kids are exhorted and threatened and cajoled into reading by an arbitrary point in time that is politically vital but, to the child, utterly meaningless – or be stuffed into “remedial” class, shamed, humiliated and, in short order, put on the “problem child” track. 

A friend of mine whose kids went to a Sudbury school – where every single child, no matter how damaged, learns to read by age eight, frequently by teaching themselves – notes that if learning to speak “to grade level” by age four was a government priority, you’d have rooms full of five year old “remedial speaking” students, being “remediated” at exquisite expense by unionized “educators” supervised by ranks of administrators. 

The point?  To Benedikt, your kids’ problems are even more reason to force them into the public schools – when there’s overwhelming evidence that in many cases school itself causes many of the problems in the first place.

This is especially true for boys – where a generation of academic feminism has turned public and most private education into a harrowing, self-destroying prison.  The system we have now might not have been designed to hamper boys’ development and turn education into a self-abnegating drudgery that they are only too happy to escape at the earliest opportunity – but how would it be any different if it had been? 

The system destroys our boys today.  We’re one academic fad away from doing the same to girls. 

And Yet Even Benedikt Knows The Answer:  Benedikt yammers on and on about the imperative to…

…what?  Help our kids?

No.  To support the institution.  To sacrifice a few generations of our kids’ well-being to support…what?  Not education, but the institution of publicly-funded schooling, and the industries – academia, textbooks, consultants, administration – that feed off it. 

And yet Benedikt herself hovers near the real answer – probably without knowing it:

I believe in public education, but my district school really isn’t good! you might say. I understand. You want the best for your child, but your child doesn’t need it. If you can afford private school (even if affording means scrimping and saving, or taking out loans), chances are that your spawn will be perfectly fine at a crappy public school. She will have support at home (that’s you!) and all the advantages that go along with being a person whose family can pay for and cares about superior education—the exact kind of family that can help your crappy public school become less crappy.

In other words, the crappiness of the school doesn’t matter, provided that the parents care enough. 

Good, engaged parents – the ones P.J. O’Rourke called “the ones with the eternal good common sense to give a shit” – are the answer.  And as Benedikt herself says, with good parents, the schools don’t matter.

Which is exactly what a generation of home-schoolers and charter-schoolers, not to mention private schoolers, have discovered; good parents do solve problems.

And in their capacity as good parents, many of them discover that avoiding the public schoolsisthe answer. 

She may not learn as much or be as challenged, but take a deep breath and live with that. Oh, but she’s gifted? Well, then, she’ll really be fine.

So why not cut out the sneering, incompetent middlepersons?

Bonus Question For Allison Benedikt:  When you’re in a nursing home someday – a public one, naturally, since one must assume you think old folks should all have the same treatment, just like kids – are you OK with being taken care of by the kids who grew up under the “lost generations” you seem to be comfortable with saddling our children with?

 

Why Johnny Kant Reed

With the school year almost upon us, Joe Doakes from Como Park emails:

The new standardized 5th Grade reading test is tougher than the old one. Student scores dropped 20 points from last year.

Statewide, the percentage of White Students deemed to be reading at their grade level dropped from 87% to 65%, Black Students dropped from 57% to 32% (it’s not clear from the article whether White includes Asian and Hispanic as only two categories were given).

In St. Paul, less than half the students were at grade level in math, reading and science.

30% of all state and local spending goes to education but half our kids are below the standards for their grade level. We’re not getting our money’s worth.

Joe Doakes

Education Minnesota is a little like the Samoan Lawyer in Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas; to paraphrase, it’s not important that you know what you’re paying for, or if you understand what you’re getting for your money; it’s merely important that you pay promptly and in full.

Low Expectations For Ye, But Not For We

About ten years ago, there was a  Saint Paul city council rep - it’d probably be redundant to note that he was a “progressive” - who was a died-in-the-wool public school-support machine.  Looooved those public schools.  Hated hated hated homeschools and charter schools and private schools.  Thought school choice created separate, unequal school systems.

Naturally, the councilperson’s son went to Saint Paul Academy.

“Progressives” have given any number of examples of such hypocrisy; Chelsea Clinton and the Obama kids would never be allowed in a public school, even as their parents fought against meaningful school choice for the children of the less fortunate. 

Anyway – Matt Damon, outspoken supporter of more tax funding for the schools that are supposed to be good enough for all us proles, isn’t going to risk  his own children in the public education cesspool:

 Actor Matt Damon is a strong supporter of America’s public schools. Just two years ago, the star spoke passionately about the importance of public schools at a Washington DC “Save our Schools” rally. In fact, the actor is so impressed with public school teachers that he has demanded they receive a pay raise. That passion and conviction, however, does not apply to Damon’s own children, who will not be enrolled into the Los Angeles public school system.

And the excuse is almost too stupid for “progressives” to buy.

I said “almost” (emphasis added):

In an interview with the Guardian published Saturday, Damon revealed that he had just moved to Los Angeles from New York, but that he didn’t “have a choice” when it came to putting his four daughters into private schools. The multi-millionaire did say that it was “a major moral dilemma” and then made the bizarre excuse that the public schools aren’t “progressive” enough.

That was a leap in logic not even Jason Bourne could make.

It’s The Economy, Stupid Professor

One of the Minnesota establishment’s favorite fall-back lines is that our putatively-excellent education system drives the economy.

The evidence shows that it’s actually quite the opposite; a strong economy creates a niche for academics.

Education is not (or was not) training, although the distinction is fuzzy. Private colleges and universities were once the place for a few good men and even fewer good women. They were where we went to be sequestered from physical work, to learn, to mature, to develop communication skills and leadership confidence. Everyone else got calluses. No mammalian species could afford to take more than a few of its offspring, at the height of their fecundity and physical prowess, and isolate them to study Greek. In the 19th century, many didn’t live much beyond 50. Had we sequestered significant numbers from the age of 18 to 26 to pursue a doctoral degree in 1850, this would have converted their value proposition into an unsustainable expense. The popular terminal degree into the early 20th century was an eighth-grade diploma and for a very good reason. Families needed pairs of hands and strong backs. Colleges and universities did not drive the economy, but rather were able to expand as the result of industrialization and mechanized agriculture which improved the output of labor.

Yep, the world has changed; about 1% of the population grows our food these days, rather than the 98+% of 300 years ago. More of what we do to earn a living requires an “education” – which can mean anything from “literacy” to ”training” to “developing a working understanding of a complex field” to, in some cases, “learning broadly and deeply about a range of disciplines and areas of human knowledge”.

But the article notes something that, when you read about most of mankind’s great advances, beats you over the head; academic credentials and major leaps in achievement aren’t especially correlated:

In just over 150 years, the likes of Michael Faraday, Thomas Edison, George Westinghouse, the Wright brothers, Henry Ford, Bill Gates, Richard Branson and Steve Jobs changed the world, but they were far from credentialed scholars. Still today, the innovation economy is driven as much by enthusiastic, stubborn and impatient dropouts as by the credentialed. The imaginative and courageous accomplish more. The credentialed often check boxes in a regulatory role or debate rather than do.

The Birth Of The Modern,by the great British historian Paul Johnson, examines the number of things that make up what we call the modern world – everything from pants, the internal combustion engine, mass production, the repeating firearm, yellow paint and the hard-top road to motorized travel, the true “mass media” and the steam engine and true representative democracy – that started in the period between 1815 and 1845.

And in those societies – which were if anything more dominated by social and academic elites than they are today (for now, anyway), the things that defined what we call “modernity” were predominantly achieved by…

…the self-taught, hard-working, brought-up-by-their-bootstraps people with little formal education but great inspiration, intellect, and the ability to tie many disciplines together to make things happen.

Side note: in a world where arts academics avoid hard sciences and hard-science people sneer at arts majors, it’s amazing how cross-displinary the great achievers truly were. In 1820, a great engineer like Robert Fulton or James Watt had to be a talented artist and communicator; artists like Robert Turner were highly versed in the physical world.

Which is something modern academia beats out of the rare academic that tries to practice it.

At any rate – the conclusion?

So what’s the problem? One problem is recognizing that academia follows the economy and doesn’t lead it…

And creating an economy with too many academics with too little academic work to do merely devalues academia itself. You get situations like in Greece and Spain, where college graduates find themselves lucky to get 10 hours a week as a barrista – or like in the US, where chemistry professors sit for years tweeting about politics while worthy younger academics shuttle around between non-tenure-track make-work jobs, eternally…

…while the real work of innovating and building goes on elsewhere.