Category Archives: Education

The Governor can’t rest on the fifth day

I’m not suprised that the Governor’s Ed Commissioner told Two Harbors “NO” on their plan for a four day school week. It wouldn’t have been the first Minnesota School District in the state to implement one but the others were approved before the Governor’s presidential ambitions got the best of him. A run on four-day school weeks could put a damper on his Presidential ambitions.

George W Bush ran in 2000 on his record of education reform in Texas – the one that led to the unpopular NCLB. The warts in his plan weren’t so obvious at the outset but four-day weeks would be as disconcerting as a thumbless hand shake.

Just why Two Harbors applied to shorten their school week is open to speculation. Certainly their building of a high school that led disgruntled voters into slapping down operational levies is a big part of the explanation. That was their miscalculation but there are other things they could do to keep the convenient five-day school week for parents working five day weeks themselves.

There might have been a touch of finger pointing in the request, “You’re not funding us fairly so you Governor, drove us to this!” After passing the buck to Pawlenty his Education Commissioner passed it to Two Harbors back saying in effect: “Don’t blame us for your Statutory Operating Debt.”

The quotes are both imagined but probably closer to what both sides are actually thinking.

And note to Ralph Doty who claimed the State Board of Education didn’t have the power to stop the Red Plan. Sure, this isn’t quite the same as a review and comment on a building plan but it shows the long hand of the state. Ralph was absolutely wrong to insist that Commissioner Seagren didn’t have the power to pull the plug on the Red Plan.

The Trib reported that the Superintendent was stunned. Big deal. He’ll only have to cut another 4 or 5 teachers to make up the quarter million the four day week was supposed to deliver! Maybe he can threaten the state with the school district’s lawyers to swat away this challenge. Its a tactic he’s fond of.

Duluth’s school board had a four day school week up for discussion recently. They chickened out but as the District continues to sink into the pits look for the idea to reemerge.

If Dr. Dixon isn’t looking to bail out of Duluth he’s a brave man.

Boys and School

This video has more insight on educating children and particularly boys (although it takes a few entertaining minutes to get to that subject) than all the fans of the Red Plan have put together.

Charter Schools

Among my “allies” in the anti Red Plan world is a fellow who has been madder than hell at me for a decade. He blames me for bringing in the Edison schools and killing his own children’s school Birchwood Elementary in the middle of Duluth Heights. He used to lambaste me in the paper having done so as I recall last year.

He wrote a letter to the editor this week which I mostly agree with. He concludes by warning that however we deal with this Red Plan we shouldn’t let Central High School be sold to the Edison schools.

This is all a preface to what’s become a long post about what to make of charter schools. Continue reading

God Bless googling

In college some class back in the 1970’s we discussed the lessons learned about a young woman who was discovered during my college years tied to a potty chair and locked in a closet. She had been kept this way from age two to thirteen when she was found and rescued. She never managed to learn speech of any consequence.

Ever since I first heard the story in the news this young woman’s plight has been a powerful metaphor to me for what happens to anyone deprived of a full life and the chance to exercise our innate curiosity. Whole races or classes of people can appear dim and diminished when they are locked out of the opportunity stretch their minds. Sometimes even schools can manage to shackle young minds.

A decade or more ago I wanted to see a follow up story about this on NOVA but I missed it and have wondered about it ever since. Thanks to Google I’ve caught up.

Inner City schools – the perfect storm

About ten years ago I read, or started reading, the book by….on the plight of inner city schools. After two or three chapters I was so angry that I couldn’t continue reading it. One of the things I wanted to do was get elected to Congress and introduce legislation that denied Federal Education money to any state that allowed too great a disparity in funding poor and rich school districts. It was a pipe dream of course.

Minnesota once led the nation in ironing out the funding differences between rich and poor school districts when it passed the Minnesota Miracle. I’ve written about this before but it was a golden age that soured when school district’s across the state started spending like the Greek Government knowing someone else (the state legislature) would get all the blame for tax increases.

The legislature has been putting the genie back in the bottle ever since. Still, Minnesota is not a state whose inner city schools have been financially neglected and that includes Duluth. We have enjoyed a million extra dollars a year to deal with helping minority students. Our Deseg program is not without faults but now that we are throwing it out to everybody in the District it will be one more reason for the state to kill all its future desegregation funding.

The problem is that even when inner city schools get lots of money they don’t use it effectively. Kansas City is a case in point. Given $2 billion by the state under court order they managed to let their District get worse and worse so that today they are closing half of all the remaining schools in the face of millions in annual losses.

I would point to a number of overlapping causes. Continue reading

Inner City schools – the perfect storm

About ten years ago I read, or started reading, the book by….on the plight of inner city schools. After two or three chapters I was so angry that I couldn’t continue reading it. One of the things I wanted to do was get elected to Congress and introduce legislation that denied Federal Education money to any state that allowed too great a disparity in funding poor and rich school districts. It was a pipe dream of course.

Minnesota once led the nation in ironing out the funding differences between rich and poor school districts when it passed the Minnesota Miracle. I’ve written about this before but it was a golden age that soured when school district’s across the state started spending like the Greek Government knowing someone else (the state legislature) would get all the blame for tax increases.

The legislature has been putting the genie back in the bottle ever since. Still, Minnesota is not a state whose inner city schools have been financially neglected and that includes Duluth. We have enjoyed a million extra dollars a year to deal with helping minority students. Our Deseg program is not without faults but now that we are throwing it out to everybody in the District it will be one more reason for the state to kill all its future desegregation funding.

The problem is that even when inner city schools get lots of money they don’t use it effectively. Kansas City is a case in point. Given $2 billion by the state under court order they managed to let their District get worse and worse so that today they are closing half of all the remaining schools in the face of millions in annual losses.

I would point to a number of overlapping causes. Continue reading

Teacher Unions

I find myself souring on teacher unions. The timidity of the teachers in the face of the Red Plan’s dislocations has been shocking but not surprising. Dr. Dixon has done more to put our teachers through a ringer than the last ten superintendents put together. And its possible that they ain’t seen nothin yet. The ones in their twenties and early thirties will talk about Dixon for years to come.

I once aspired to challenge Frank Wanner for the Union Presidency back before I was canned. I used to think about writing a book about my teaching called “The worst teacher in the world.” I might write it still if I live to be ninety but I’ve got four or five other books in mind to write first.

In some ways I can’t help but think that the teachers have only themselves to blame for sucking up the “too good to be true” plans of JCI and Dr. Dixon. When they began to sense the awful truth about it they swallowed their tongues.

Duluth was not an inner city school district. We were a fine district that drew 600 students from outside the area into our schools through open enrollment when I was on the Board to take advantage of our superior education. Today we are an exporter of students to other districts.

This brings me to the story about Education in Newsweek Magazine which came in the mail today. I highly recommend this article and several others that accompany it. The articles makes it plain that Newsweek’s reporters think ridding the schools of bad teachers is THE key to restoring our schools. They would probably consider Dr. Dixon a great hero because the Red Plan will give him unprecedented power to get rid of dead wood.

The Red Plan will be responsible for so many teacher layoffs that the DFT’s heads will spin. Maybe it was all part of Dixon’s plan from the beginning. I wouldn’t put it past him. How fortunate for him to have such patsies to deal with in the union. Frank Wanner loves to tell stories about the incompetent Superintendents he’s had to deal with in the past. I wonder if he’d enjoy hearing what Dr. Dixon really thinks about him?

Fancy schools can’t buy success

Kansas City is the poster boy for educational disasters. Now its poised to close 29 schools and lay off 700 teachers.

Kansas City appeared headed for a recovery when a federal judge in 1985 declared the district was unconstitutionally segregated. To boost test scores, integrate the schools and repair decrepit classrooms, the state was ordered to spend about $2 billion to address the problems.

The district went on a buying spree that included a six-lane indoor track and a mock court complete with a judge’s chamber and jury deliberation room. But student achievement remained low, and the anticipated flood of students from the suburbs turned out to be more like a trickle. Court supervision of the desegregation case ended in 2003

And to this day, the district continues to lose students. In the late 1960s enrollment peaked at 75,000, dropped to 35,000 a decade ago and now sits at just under 18,000.

Only about half of Kansas City’s elementary school students and about 40 percent of middle and high school students now attend the city’s public schools. Many of the other students have left for publicly funded charter schools, private and parochial schools and the suburbs.

Fewer students means the district gets less money from the state

Teach your children well

Almost all textbooks in the US are teaching children that evolution is a big maybe because text book publishers bow to the standards required of them by the state of Texas. For a couple decades Christian fundamentalists have called the shots on what can be printed in text books. Most recently they determined that the US Constitution is an “enduring document” not a “living document.” You might have guessed that this is GOP speak for we don’t want any damn “librul” activists judges messing with our Constitution. Conservative activists they’re not so concerned about because to be a conservative (and not one of those damned fool RINOs) is to understand that America’s founding fathers were all good inerrant Christians who wanted to found the new Zion.

Pay no attention to that global warming stuff or evolution. You can’t trust those scientists anyway. This isn’t evolution at play.Tain’t no sech thing. Its just God’s wrath:

Oh by the way, this story is about how the entire world’s wheat harvest could be killed off in the next couple years. What might that mean? a billion starving people? Earthquakes and tsunamis and contraception pale by comparison.

Indeed, 90 percent of the world’s wheat has little or no protection against the Ug99 race of P. graminis. If nothing is done to slow the pathogen, famines could soon become the norm – from the Red Sea to the Mongolian steppe – as Ug99 annihilates a crop that provides a third of our calories. China and India, the world’s biggest wheat consumers, will once again face the threat of mass starvation, especially among their rural poor. The situation will be particularly grim in Pakistan and Afghanistan, two nations that rely heavily on wheat for sustenance and are in no position to bear added woe. Their fragile governments may not be able to survive the onslaught of Ug99 and its attendant turmoil.

When I was running for the legislature a decade ago I wanted to introduce a law that forbade Minnesota School districts from using any books authorized by the state of Texas.

Magnet Schools

Once again the DNT is channeling the Dixon line this time on Duluth’s magnet schools.

Its possible that Dr. Dixon could be using the lower achievements of minority children in the Duluth Schools to find a better way of educating them. I have become far to jaundiced about Dr. Dixon to believe this to be the case. I figure Dr. Dixon sees a million desegregation dollars and wants to spread it around because he has so many programming holes to fill since failing to pass operational levy for additional operational money and diverting other op money for Red Plan construction. This makes it verrrrrrry convenient to raid the deseg funds and he can blame the poor minority children for taking their money because it was their own fault they failed to achieve they way they were supposed to. Now one of the benefits of their magnet schools (and one of the few recognized ways to combat low achievement), small class sizes, will be taken from them as they are merged into the general school population.

Dr. D. has a laundry list of goodies to take the place of the magnet schools which are Dixonianly vague. ,The State Board of Education which seems to be about the easiest bureaocracy to hoodwink, will accept the rationale given them by Dr. Dixon to approve this and explain that its OK to try something different.

I note that the achievement of minority students seems to have fallen since Dr. Dixon got to Duluth. No doubt his constant raiding of the operations budget has had something to do with this as well as the gravitational pull of the Red Plan which has warped every part of the Duluth School District. Shortly after Dixon arrived in Duluth one of my former School Board colleagues wrote that much the same thing had happened in his former School District, Faribault. I dismissed her accusation at the time but I can’t help but wonder if she wasn’t correct.

One of Dr. Dixon’s fiercest critics in Duluth told me that Dr. Dixon said of integration programs and the children who participate in them that if a child hasn’t overcome his/her prejudices by high school it was too late to change them. For crying out loud the last presidential election seemed to show that an aging American voting public was able to set aside old racial prejudices. Kids are supposed to be much more malleable. Maybe she’ll read this and give my poor recollection the nuance I seem to be missing.

To me its clear that Dr. Dixon has a building fetish and children are simply an obstruction that he can move about willy nilly with the hope that once the disorder is over things will be put right. That will be something to look forward to in two years although it remains to be seen how long it will take for the voting public to approve an increase in local operational levies. Like Faribault it may not happen until Dixon moves on to greener pastures.

The magnet schools had their problems but it is worth noting that minority children and their families from outside the magnet attendance boundaries kept confounding the District by wanting to send their children to them. This, of course, turned the Deseg program’s goal of attracting non-minority children to the magnets on its head and subjected Duluth to the attention of the state. We weren’t meeting our non minority enrollment quotas. The letter from Jim St. Pierre, a social worker at Nettleton and Grant in today’s DNT makes it clear why this was so.

Under Dr. Dixon’s predecessor Duluth was making headway with minority children. That’s come to an abrupt end.

Edison’s new schools – who decides? who pays?

I had heard from a family member who went to work at the Edison Schools two years after I began fighting for a vote on the Red Plan that plans for building a new Edison School were in the works. I think its fair to say that I have somewhat complicated feelings about this. Perhaps I’ll outline them in the book I’m writing.

For now I’ll just answer the two questions this post’s headline pose.

Who decides whether the school is built (or rather under who’s authority is it being built?)

State Statute determines whether Edison can have a school built. I’m not at all familiar with this statute at the moment.

Who pays for the building of a new Edison School?

The State of Minnesota will pay for the construction. Duluth taxpayers will only contribute to this to the extent that they contribute to the state’s budget. I can only hazard a rough guess at the percentage of the project’s cost this will impose on District residents. It would be something like this:

Duluth School District (as opposed to the City of Duluth’s population) has about 90,000 residents. Round that up to 100,000 and divide that by the approximate population of Minnesota (4 million I think) and you get a figure of about 2%. Duluth taxpayers will pay about 2% of the cost of any new Edison School should it be built. That’s a lot less than the 100% of the Red Plan that Duluth property tax payers have to underwrite. 2% of what could be a twenty million dollar building would cost Duluth taxpayers about $400,000. That’s less than 1% of the cost to Duluth taxpayers of the Red Plan and it will be for a school that will educate about 10% of the Duluth public school population.

Considering that the State of Minnesota allowed Duluth voters to be cheated out of a referendum on the Red Plan I’m morbidly pleased to see the state give Duluth a little something back for the $430 million we have been forced to surrender.

I hope this puts things into perspective.

Good graphic data

http://pre.cloudfront.goodinc.com/thumbnails/medium-1264545719-thumb-transparencyhaitianaid.jpg

I just found this website which has superior, if not perfect, graph graphics. The thumbnail above comes from its most recent interactive graph on giving to Haiti in the wake of the earthquake.

I’ve got too much to do today to spend more time on the site but I did spend a little time pouring over the preceding graph on state by state abortion statistics. The posts below that graph give a good indication of the limitations of any data analysis. For instance the graph shows the very high number of abortions performed in California which appear to equal 28% of all live births in California. However, people commenting on the graph noted that the graph does not provide any information about the home states of the women getting the abortions. Because many woman are unable or unwilling to have their pregnancies terminated in their home states the graph makes the abortion rates in other states per thousand live births appear to be lower than they would if abortion was not such a hot potato.

The website churns out a graph every week and are sure to be great time absorbers.

Will anyone trust the results?

This just in from planet Neptune: the Chamber of Commerce will hire the BBER to do an economic study of the impact of building the Red Plan on the economy of Duluth. Oh, its going to be an independent project so we can trust the results. No incestuousness here.

The Duluth Area Chamber of Commerce has heard the same speculation as the rest of our community regarding the likely economic impact of the Duluth Public Schools Long Range Facilities Plan. But rather than continuing to depend on educated guesses regarding the impact, the Chamber has hired a respected research organization to provide solid data on how the project is impacting the local economy.

The Bureau of Business and Economic Research (BBER) at the University of Minnesota Duluth Labovitz School of Business and Economics is beginning an in-depth analysis of the direct impact hiring local design teams, construction workers and others will have on the community. In addition, the study will show how many jobs will be created and how many dollars will be pumped into the local economy as a result of the project. The Chamber is paying the BBER $2,500 to conduct the study, which is expected to be completed by June 1.

This study will use sophisticated computer modeling. Wonderful. So did the financiers on Wall Street who kept lending money to house flippers and the marginally employed so that Mortgage brokers could make huge commissions on fraudulent loans. But the financiers knew they were on the right track because some Nobel laureate physicists had come up with a can’t miss sophisticated economic model.

I have no doubt that the BBER will get the same results as the consultants who told us how we would be rolling in dough after the Aquarium was built.

Of course, the bankers like the Chamber of Commerce, weren’t that dumb. They made sure to sell off the ownership of these glittering assets to other banks until, just like the Red Plan, everybody owned a piece of the debt. Except for Johnson Controls and the builders. I’m sure their economy will do very well, thank you.