Archive for the Government Schools Category

Education Dept: The anti-bully bully

Posted in BIG Government, Culture, Government Schools, Huh? WTF?, Nanny State, The Regime on March 16, 2011 by DaMook

At a recent anti-bullying conference our dear comrade leader claimed that he was a “victim” of bullying and vowed to throw the full weight of the government leviathan behind efforts to stop it (story here). Apparently the regime has solved all the other problems facing America today.

Speaking as a parent and as a victim, Obama urged everyone to help end bullying by working to create an atmosphere at school where children feel safe and feel like they belong. He said that even he felt out of place growing up.

“I have to say, with big ears and the name that I have, I wasn’t immune,” said Obama, who moved around a lot as a boy, being born in Hawaii and growing up there and in Indonesia. “I didn’t emerge unscathed,” he said.

Notice the obligatory “being born in Hawaii” reference – as if that has anything at all do do with the story. Our poor dear comrade leader was a “victim” of childhood bullying. Perhaps that would explain why he’s such a bully now.

Possibly as an outcome of this conference, the Department of Education has announced new mandates for school administrators to stop bullying by any means necessary or face federal lawsuits. The new mandates include monitoring student behavior outside of school (story here from the DC).

Education Department officials are threatening school principals with lawsuits if they fail to monitor and curb students’ lunchtime chat and evening Facebook time for expressing ideas and words that are deemed by Washington special-interest groups to be harassment of some students.

There has only been muted opposition to this far-reaching policy among the professionals and advocates in the education sector, most of whom are heavily reliant on funding and support from top-level education officials. The normally government-averse tech-sector is also playing along, and on Mar. 11, Facebook declared that it was “thrilled” to work with White House officials to foster government oversight of teens’ online activities.

The agency’s threats, which are delivered in a so-called “Dear Colleague” letter,” have the support of White House officials, including President Barack Obama, who held a Mar. 10 White House meeting to promote the initiative as a federal “anti-bullying” policy.

The letter says federal officials have reinterpreted the civil-rights laws that require school principals to curb physical bullying, as well as racist and sexist speech, that take place within school boundaries. Under the new interpretation, principals and their schools are legally liable if they fail to curb “harassment” of students, even if it takes place outside the school, on Facebook or in private conversation among a few youths.

“Harassing conduct may take many forms, including verbal acts and name-calling; graphic and written statements, which may include use of cell phones or the Internet… it does not have to include intent to harm, be directed at a specific target, or involve repeated incidents [but] creates a hostile environment … [which can] limit a student’s ability to participate in or benefit from the services, activities, or opportunities offered by a school,” according to the far-reaching letter, which was completed Oct. 26 by Russlynn Ali, who heads the agency’s civil rights office.

School officials will face lawsuits even when they are ignorant about students’ statements, if a court later decides they “reasonably should have known” about their students’ conduct, said the statement.

So let me get this straight. School teachers and administrators are supposed to monitor every student’s behavior both inside and outside the school for something that might conform to some federal bureaucrat’s nebulous description of bullying? Is this for real? According to the government description, someone with a sufficiently thin skin could point to a Facebook post or hallway conversation that would bring the full force of government down on the school. What planet are these people from?

The remedies being pushed by administration officials will also violate students’ and families’ privacy rights, disregard student’s constitutional free-speech rights, spur expensive lawsuits against cash-strapped schools, and constrict school official’ ability to flexibly use their own anti-bullying policies to manage routine and unique issues, said the NSBA letter. The government has not responded to the NSBA letter.

The leading advocate for the expanded rules is Kevin Jennings, who heads the Education Department’s Office of Safe and Drug-Free Schools. Jennings founded the Gay Lesbian Straight Education Network advocacy group, and raised at least $100,000 for the Obama campaign in 2008, according to Public Citizen, a left-of-center advocacy group. In an September 2010 interview on the government’s StopBullying.gov website, Jennings said that “in a truly safe school … students feel like they belong, they are valued, they feel physically and emotionally safe.”

Kevin Jennings and his GLSEN organization have a decidedly nefarious past (more here). Here’s an excerpt from the linked post:

Out of curiosity to see exactly what kind of books Kevin Jennings and his organization think American students should be reading in school, our team chose a handful at random from the over 100 titles on GLSEN’s grades 7-12 list, and began reading through.

What we discovered shocked us. We were flabbergasted. Rendered speechless.

We were unprepared for what we encountered. Book after book after book contained stories and anecdotes that weren’t merely X-rated and pornographic, but which featured explicit descriptions of sex acts between pre-schoolers; stories that seemed to promote and recommend child-adult sexual relationships; stories of public masturbation, anal sex in restrooms, affairs between students and teachers, five-year-olds playing sex games, semen flying through the air. One memoir even praised becoming a prostitute as a way to increase one’s self-esteem. Above all, the books seemed to have less to do with promoting tolerance than with an unabashed attempt to indoctrinate students into a hyper-sexualized worldview.

This whole thing sounds like something out of Orwell’s 1984. The best thing we can do is demand that congress abolish the Department of Education.

Advertisements

King of the NYC “rubber rooms”

Posted in Culture, FAIL, Government Schools, UGH!, Unions Suck on December 29, 2010 by DaMook

What do you do with tenured teachers who are unfit (or downright dangerous) for the classroom? Well in cases where there’s strong union protection, you assign them to what’s euphemistically-called a “rubber room” (more here and here) where they spend 7 hours a day watching TV, reading the paper, and fighting amongst themselves. Of course, they’re still collecting full pay and benefits. In NYC, these rubber rooms cost the city over $65M a year and some teachers have spent years there. This story profiles the King of the NYC rubber rooms.

At age 75, Roland Pierre is the granddaddy of the rubber room — 13 years in the purgatory of teachers yanked from the classroom for alleged wrongdoing.

But the Department of Education can’t fire Pierre, and he’s stuck around long past the minimum retirement age.

Pierre was permanently removed from the classroom in 1997 after he was accused of sexually molesting a sixth-grade girl at PS 138 in Brooklyn.

But since then, Pierre has continued to receive full pay and fringe benefits, including health, pension and vacation, officials said. He pulls down $97,101 a year.

He’s one of six tenured teachers that Chancellor Joel Klein has refused to return to the classroom, even though any criminal charges were dropped and DOE hearing officers let them off the hook.

Pierre has been “permanently reassigned” the longest of all.

On June 26, 1997, Pierre, then 62, was arrested on felony sex-abuse charges after he allegedly called one of his students into an empty classroom where he taught English as a second language, closed the door and molested her.

Officials would not explain what happened since, but sources said the criminal charges were apparently dismissed, and a DOE disciplinary case was “dropped on a technicality.”

Even if dropped, the arrest and disciplinary case would almost certainly prevent Pierre from ever getting another teaching job, said lawyer Joy Hochstadt, who has represented other teachers.

“Every application asks, ‘Have you ever been brought up on charges?’ ” she said.

The DOE has no required retirement age. Hired in 1986, Pierre could have retired at age 62. At his age, he can collect Social Security as well as his full salary, so his income may be close to $125,000 a year, sources said.

Pierre, reached yesterday at his Wyandanch, LI, home, refused to identify himself or comment.

Ah, those wonderful teachers unions…

Nearly 25% fail military entrance exam

Posted in BIG Government, Culture, Government Schools, UGH! on December 22, 2010 by DaMook

The military is always looking for a few good men and women to volunteer for service. It appears however, that their entrance exam, with difficult questions like: “If 2 plus x equals 4, what is the value of x?” might need yet another dumbing down. According to this story (from the AP), almost 25% of applicants fail the exam.

Nearly one-fourth of the students who try to join the U.S. Army fail its entrance exam, painting a grim picture of an education system that produces graduates who can’t answer basic math, science and reading questions, according to a new study released Tuesday.The report by The Education Trust bolsters a growing worry among military and education leaders that the pool of young people qualified for military service will grow too small.

“Too many of our high school students are not graduating ready to begin college or a career — and many are not eligible to serve in our armed forces,” U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan told the AP. “I am deeply troubled by the national security burden created by America’s underperforming education system.”

So now we have another “national security burden” – first from kids who are too fat (more here) and now from kids who are too stupid. Sounds like we need to pour more money into the education system black hole. That’s how it works, right? If something fails, it means we aren’t spending enough on it.

This doesn’t bode well for the military services which have become more sophisticated with high-tech weaponry. Many who can pass the basic entrance exam are not qualified for advanced training.

Recruits must score at least a 31 out of 99 on the first stage of the three-hour test to get into the Army. The Marines, Air Force, Navy and Coast Guard recruits need higher scores.

Further tests determine what kind of job the recruit can do with questions on mechanical maintenance, accounting, word comprehension, mathematics and science.

Even those passing muster on the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery, or ASVAB, usually aren’t getting scores high enough to snag the best jobs.

“A lot of times, schools have failed to step up and challenge these young people, thinking it didn’t really matter — they’ll straighten up when they get into the military,” said Kati Haycock, president of the Education Trust. “The military doesn’t think that way.”

Entrance exams for the U.S. military date to World War I. The test has changed over time as computers and technology became more prevalent, and skills like ability to translate Morse code have fallen by the wayside.

This is an indictment of the education system as a whole. These are supposed to be high school graduates taking the exam. If 25% cannot even get a third of the questions right on a basic skills exam, we have a big problem.

Michelle Rhee – hope for America’s schools

Posted in Culture, Government Schools, Take back America on December 9, 2010 by DaMook

michelle rheeMichelle Rhee, former Chancellor of the DC Public School system, is a lightning rod of public opinion in the education world. After resigning her position when mayor Adrian Fenty lost his bid for re-election, Rhee was recently hired by FL governor-elect Rick Scott for his transition team (story here).

Hired in 2007 to reform the abysmal DC school system, Rhee closed 21 excess under-performing schools and fought for a teacher merit pay system that would replace tenure. With the tenacity of a bulldog, she battled the system, local government, and teachers’ unions in an effort to enact her reforms. After 3 years of limited, but notable, success, Rhee resigned to form a new organization – StudentsFirst. She hopes to lead a national effort to reform America’s schools. She was featured in the stunning documentary Waiting For Superman (more here and here).

In this article (from Newsweek) Rhee describes her struggle with the DC system, what she did wrong and right, and her intentions for national school reform. It is a must read for anyone who is concerned about education in America.

After stepping down, I had a chance to reflect on the challenges facing our schools today and the possible solutions. The truth is that despite a handful of successful reforms, the state of American education is pitiful, and getting worse. Spending on schools has more than doubled in the last three decades, but the increased resources haven’t produced better results. The U.S. is currently 21st, 23rd, and 25th among 30 developed nations in science, reading, and math, respectively. The children in our schools today will be the first generation of Americans who will be less educated than the previous generation.

When you think about how things happen in our country—how laws get passed or policies are made—they happen through the exertion of influence. From the National Rifle Association to the pharmaceutical industry to the tobacco lobby, powerful interests put pressure on our elected officials and government institutions to sway or stop change.

Education is no different. We have textbook manufacturers, teachers’ unions, and even food vendors that work hard to dictate and determine policy. The public-employee unions in D.C., including the teachers’ union, spent huge sums of money to defeat Fenty. In fact, the new chapter president has said his No. 1 priority is job security for teachers, but there is no big organized interest group that defends and promotes the interests of children.

You can see the impact of this dynamic playing out every day. Policymakers, school-district administrators, and school boards who are beholden to special interests have created a bureaucracy that is focused on the adults instead of the students. Go to any public-school-board meeting in the country and you’ll rarely hear the words “children,” “students,” or “kids” uttered. Instead, the focus remains on what jobs, contracts, and departments are getting which cuts, additions, or changes. The rationale for the decisions mostly rests on which grown-ups will be affected, instead of what will benefit or harm children.

The teachers’ unions get the blame for much of this. Elected officials, parents, and administrators implore them to “embrace change” and “accept reform.” But I don’t think the unions can or should change. The purpose of the teachers’ union is to protect the privileges, priorities, and pay of their members. And they’re doing a great job of that.

What that means is that the reform community has to exert influence as well. That’s why I’ve decided to start StudentsFirst, a national movement to transform public education in our country. We need a new voice to change the balance of power in public education. Our mission is to defend and promote the interests of children so that America has the best education system in the world.

If you read nothing else today, you should read this whole piece.

Throwing money at it – the most expensive school in US History

Posted in BIG Government, Culture, Government Schools, UGH! on September 6, 2010 by DaMook

Financial crisis? What financial crisis? While it’s difficult not to feel sorry for the residents of the People’s Republic of California, stories like this (from the Wall Street Journal) tend to remove all such compassionate feelings. The city of Los Angeles just opened the most expensive school in US history – a monument to profligate government spending.

At $578 million—or about $140,000 per student—the 24-acre Robert F. Kennedy Community Schools complex in mid-Wilshire is the most expensive school ever constructed in U.S. history. To put the price in context, this city’s Staples sports and entertainment center cost $375 million. To put it in a more important context, the school district is currently running a $640 million deficit and has had to lay off 3,000 teachers in the last two years. It also has one of the lowest graduation rates in the country and some of the worst test scores.

The K-12 complex isn’t merely an overwrought paean to the nation’s most celebrated liberal political family. It’s a jarring reminder that money doesn’t guarantee success—though it certainly beautifies failure.

Set to open Sept. 13, the school boasts an auditorium whose starry ceiling and garish entrance are modeled after the old Cocoanut Grove nightclub and a library whose round, vaulted ceilings and cavernous center resemble the ballroom where Kennedy made his last speech. It also includes the original Cocoanut Grove canopy around which the rest of the school was built. “It wasn’t cheap, but it was saved,” says Thomas Rubin, a consultant for the district’s bond oversight committee, which oversees the $20 billion of bonds that taxpayers approved for school construction in recent years.

I asked Mr. Rubin whether some of the school’s grandiose features—like florid murals of Robert F. Kennedy—were worth the cost. “Did we have to do that? Hell no. But there’s no accounting for taste,” he responded.

Nice. No accounting for taste. No accounting for cluelessness either.

Talking benches—$54,000—play a three-hour audio of the site’s history. Murals and other public art cost $1.3 million. A minipark facing a bustling Wilshire Boulevard? $4.9 million.

The Kennedy complex is Exhibit A in the district’s profligate 131-school building binge. Exhibit B is the district’s Visual and Performing Arts High School, which was originally budgeted at $70 million but was later upgraded into a sci-fi architectural masterpiece that cost $232 million.

Even more striking is Exhibit C, the Edward Roybal Learning Center in the Westlake area, which was budgeted at $110 million until costs skyrocketed midway through construction when contractors discovered underground methane gas and a fault line. Eventual cost: $377 million.

Mr. Rubin admits that the Roybal Center project was “a tremendous screw-up” that “should have been studied closer beforehand.” The project was abandoned for several years, only to be recommenced when community activists demanded that the school be built at whatever cost necessary in order to show respect for the neighborhood’s Latino children, many of whom were attending an overcrowded Belmont High School.

The Roybal center now ranks in the bottom third of schools with similar demographics on state tests, while Belmont High ranks in the top third. But even though many Roybal kids can’t read or do math, at least they have a dance studio with cushioned maple floors and a kitchen with a restaurant-quality pizza oven.

And, at least they’re “showing respect” for the neighborhood’s Latino children by giving them a plush new school. Forget about quality teaching and academic achievement – they don’t count.

Expect more such over-the-top and inefficient building projects in the future. Los Angeles voters have approved over $20 billion of bonds since 1997 and state voters have chipped in another $4.4 billion of matching funds. Roughly a third of the cost of the Kennedy complex will be shouldered by state taxpayers.

The district’s building spree has sparked outrage from charter schools, not least because they are getting only a tiny piece of the bond pie. California Charter School Association President Jed Wallace says a charter school can be built at a seventh of the cost of the Kennedy complex and a quarter of most L.A. schools. For example, the nonprofit Green Dot built seven charters in the area—to serve about 4,300 mainly low-income students—for less than $85 million in total. These schools also have a collective graduation rate that’s nearly twice as high as that of the Los Angeles Unified School District, which Education Week magazine pegs at 40%.

Mr. Rubin says it’s unfair to compare charters with traditional public schools because charters aren’t saddled with onerous government regulations regarding labor and environmental standards. What he doesn’t say is that charter schools don’t have taxpayers as a backstop. Traditional public schools “have no accountability or restraints,” Mr. Wallace bristles. “They don’t have to make the tough choices when costs run over.”

That’s fairly evident as I glimpse a billboard-sized marble slab engraved with quotes by Cesar Chavez, Maya Angelou and Ted Kennedy. But hey, you can’t put a price on taste.

What more can you expect from the People’s Republic of California? No pity here – no more…

More government school lunacy – toy soldiers

Posted in Government Schools, UGH! on June 18, 2010 by DaMook
banned hat

This hat violated school "weapons" policy

In the latest example of government school idiocy, a Rhode Island elementary school banned a student project for violating their “weapons” policy. As you can see in the photo, this is certainly a dangerous weapon. (story here from TBO.com)

Christan Morales said her son just wanted to honor American troops when he wore a hat to school decorated with an American flag and small plastic Army figures.

But the school banned the hat because it ran afoul of the district’s zero-tolerance weapons policy. Why? The toy soldiers were carrying tiny guns.

“His teacher called and said it wasn’t appropriate,” Morales said.

Morales’ 8-year-old son, David, had been assigned to make a hat for the day when his second-grade class would meet their pen pals from another school. She and her son came up with an idea to add patriotic decorations to a camouflage hat.

Earlier this week, after the hat was banned, the principal at the Tiogue School in Coventry told the family that the hat would be fine if David replaced the Army men holding weapons with ones that didn’t have any, according to Superintendent Kenneth R. Di Pietro.

But, Morales said, the family had only one Army figure without a weapon (he was carrying binoculars), so David wore a plain baseball cap on the day of the pen pal meeting.

Yeah, this sends a great message to this kid who was trying to be patriotic and show support for the military. So just don’t use Army men holding weapons? What should they be holding? Isn’t that why they’re called Armed Forces?

Thank God the school year is almost over so we get a break from this madness for a couple of months.

Government school teachers and administrators caught cheating

Posted in BIG Government, Government Folly, Government Schools on June 14, 2010 by DaMook

Facing the pressure of increasing standards and pay/bonuses tied to student performance has apparently been just too much for some government educators to bear. As this article (from the NY Times) reports, the pressures they face have compelled some to cheat in order to show acceptable results. This is just one more sad story in the failure of our education system.

Of all the forms of academic cheating, none may be as startling as educators tampering with children’s standardized tests. But investigations in Georgia, Indiana, Massachusetts, Nevada, Virginia and elsewhere this year have pointed to cheating by educators. Experts say the phenomenon is increasing as the stakes over standardized testing ratchet higher — including, most recently, taking student progress on tests into consideration in teachers’ performance reviews.

Colorado passed a sweeping law last month making teachers’ tenure dependent on test results, and nearly a dozen other states have introduced plans to evaluate teachers partly on scores. Many school districts already link teachers’ bonuses to student improvement on state assessments. Houston decided this year to use the data to identify experienced teachers for dismissal, and New York City will use it to make tenure decisions on novice teachers.

The federal No Child Left Behind law is a further source of pressure. Like a high jump bar set intentionally low in the beginning, the law — which mandates that public schools bring all students up to grade level in reading and math by 2014 — was easy to satisfy early on. But the bar is notched higher annually, and the penalties for schools that fail to get over it also rise: teachers and administrators can lose jobs and see their school taken over.

With all the money and resources lavished on the educational system, it’s not unreasonable to expect some positive results. Unfortunately student performance has remained essentially flat since 1970. (more here) Now with more school systems tying teacher tenure and pay to student performance, you can expect more instances of cheating to arise.

John Fremer, a specialist in data forensics who was hired by an independent panel to dig deeper into the Atlanta schools, and who investigated earlier scandals in Texas and elsewhere, said educator cheating was rising. “Every time you increase the stakes associated with any testing program, you get more cheating,” he said.

And more government school FAIL…