Sunday, February 27, 2011

Friday, February 25, 2011

Parent Union in Connecticut?

People who think parents are not involved in their child's education have probably never heard of Gwen Samuel. She is a force for parents and children looking for real education reform. She is starting a parent union with hopes to gain a seat at the table.

She certainly has my support.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Spittleless Politicians, Apathetic Constituents and Collective Bargaining

Rosemary here. I am a Republican because I am a social conservative.  But I'm a Catholic social conservative, and I believe that social justice is code for ... social justice.  I do not believe that the smallest unit of any just society is the individual, it is the family. Economically, I am not a capitalist, I am a distributist, which makes me a subsidiarist.  A subsidiarist is a person who believes that all matters concerning the family must be addressed at a level of governance that is as close to the family as possible.  One of the largest of all the issues addressing the family is education, and to our detriment, we have put spittleless politicians in charge of the education of our young.  These erstwhile public servants began having acute cases of dry mouth at the local level, and kicked the can up and up and up, so now we have policies and mandates decided at ever higher levels of government.  And I have to lay some of this blame on my own doorstep.  Since I homeschooled my children, I did not show up at town meetings concerning the town budget, a huge percentage of which goes to education.  I wanted to stay below the radar.  I forgot that what was decided at those meetings affected my family in the form of taxation, in the form of education decisions being made for the children of my neighbors and for my children’s friends.  Shame on me on that score.

What does any of this have to do with collective bargaining?  A whole lot.  When it comes to public employee unions, like the teachers’ unions, it is our politicians or their surrogates making the deals when negotiating contracts.  The political environment is such that politicians are constantly campaigning.  Politics is institutionalized “people pleasing.”  It has less to do with public service than with an affable, well-meaning, benevolent, condescending consolidation of power.  When a public employee union comes to the table, our elected officials do not negotiate, not really.  Democrats say “Yes, yes, a thousand times yes!” and Republicans say, “No, wait … what … you’re going to walk out?  You’re going to tell the press …. What?!!  Damn you …. Okay.” And at the local level, it is often “hale fellows, well-met, let’s rubberstamp this thing and head to the bar.” This is an oversimplification of the kabuki dance that happens behind closed doors, but you get the picture.

So … Wisconsin.  What amazing political theater we’ve been witnessing over the last week and a half.  At fist glance, I would sympathize with Governor Walker.  He made no bones about what he would do when elected, and with an abundance of spittle, he got right down to it.  As it turns out, it’s just well-staged union busting.  Collective bargaining is a big headache for everyone, even the Democrats.  It makes politicians say “Yes!” or “Okay” to spending more and more and more money.  It makes them mandate things no one can pay for. It makes them do things they maybe should not be doing.  It makes their mouths so dry, they cannot possibly say “No” or “Not this year” or “We can’t afford it.”  So, let’s take away the very thing that makes a union a union … collective bargaining.  That solves the problem, and makes democracy a safe Neverland  where politicians never have to grow up, where they get to posture and glad-hand and backroom-deal to their hearts’ content.

I am not a fan of what teachers’ unions have brought to the table over the last twenty years.  I hate tenure for K through 12 teachers.  I think some of the curriculum decisions that have been made in the past two decades have been ridiculous. I intensely dislike the notion of incompetent teachers getting the pay that should be going toward the process of hiring and keeping promising, young teachers … but union busting is not the answer.  The unions brought this stuff to the table, but it was the politicians who said ‘yes.’ The public employee unions are willing to make concessions in order to help with the fiscal problems afflicting the state of Wisconsin. Taking away collective bargaining is an injustice and it would make the unions as top-heavy as government.  Taking away collective bargaining would funnel the process of gaining benefits and raises for workers away from the local level, away from the very people affected.  If the money isn’t there, it’s up to the town council or state or federal legislators to say so.  If the process becomes messy and contentious and the press cries “FOUL” and the unions cry “UNFAIR” and some politicians cry, “WE’RE BROKE” and other politicians cry, “PEOPLE WILL SUFFER” its all to the good if collective bargaining is still in place. If the answer is a political “no”, then justice has not been totally mangled to deliver that answer.

In closing, here are a couple quotes from Pope John Paul II’s encyclical Centisimus Annus (1992):

" . . . The freedom to join trade unions and the effective action of unions . . . are meant to deliver work from the mere condition of 'a commodity' and to guarantee its dignity."

" . . . The right of association is a natural right of the human being . . . Indeed, the formation of unions cannot . . . be prohibited by the state because the state is bound to protect natural rights . . ."

Got spittle?

(Speaking of spittle, gumption, audaciousness, etc. you have to see this video of the “vote” on the bill to bust the unions.  Keep your eye peeled on the timeclock.  It made me ashamed to be a Republican.)

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Swedish Charter School Coming to NY

In September of 2011, the Innovate Manhattan Charter School will open in NYC. The school is getting some press as it will be the first Internationally owned and run Charter school in the US by the Swedish for-profit education consortium -- Kunskapsskolan.

It looks like an interesting concept -- kids progress at their own pass and the class room composition is flexible and frequently adjusted. As kids move faster or slower, they can move up or down between groups throughout the year.  There is a lot to like about this approach. This will be a school to watch.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Kids Aren't As Internet Savvy As They Think

One might argue that the title of this post is simply stating the obvious. I agree. Kids aren't as savvy as they think they are at just about anything, so no reason to to think that the kids and the internet would be any different, right? Parents have known for years that kids aren't good at evaluating the claims they hear -- on tv, the internet, on the bus, I could go on  and on. Yet, this truism apparently has been lost on education administrators that have for years told us that our kids are "tech natives" and other such hogwash.

Just because our kids spend an enormous amount of their free time (if we let them) texting on phones or surfing the web, doesn't mean they can critically evaluate what they are consuming.

Now a professor from NEAG (the school of education at UConn) and Pearson, a very profitable company that peddles techie gadgets to the ed world, have teamed up to tell Superintendents that kids lack the skills they need to critically evaluate what they read on the internet -- even older, high school kids aren't good at telling fact from fiction when it is on the internet.

To find out what solution Pearson and Professor Donald Leu (of NEAG) we would have to attend the conference they are putting on in Texas.

For those of you who missed the Texas conference last Monday, let me suggest a few ideas on how to teach kids internet savvy skills -- direct instruction is my favorite method, hands down. Tell and show them the difference between a .com site and an .edu or .gov site. Help them practice by evaluating sites you pick for them to evaluate accuracy and trustworthiness and which are not.  I'd caution against discovery learning approaches.

And if you think your kid is the exception to the rule -- ask them to visit this website:  Save the Pacific Northwest Tree Octopus, and ask them (with a straight face and as sincerely as you can) if you should donate money to the cause. It is a great site, extremely well done. Click on all the links and marvel at the elaborate efforts put into it.

Actually, if I were feeling really evil, I might try to get my child to share the link with a teacher and see if any of them fall for it too.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Confusing Middle School Assignment

Over at Education Quick Takes, Grace describes an ill-conceived middle school writing assignment. It is a good example of the sorts of things that drive me crazy as a parent. If the teacher doesn't (or can't) proof-read the assignment for clarity of communication, exactly how will he or she impart to students the skills they need to learn to write effectively.

Because it is an English class, the teacher should really be held to the highest standard in her own written communications to the students. Unfortunately, this example is no exception.

I am reminded of one particularly horrible 8th grade English assignment from last year. After my daughter, another parent, and I discussed the assignment at length we finally reached some sort of conclusion about what the teacher might have meant. The worst part of it was, the assignment had so little merit. If I'm remembering correctly, they had to create an action figure based on something they were reading.