Category Archives: Education

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

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.

Structural barriers to poverty

An interesting column on Poverty by economist Bradley Schiller contends that for the vast majority of impoverished Americans their condition is short term. Schiller pointed to a study by the University of Michigan which found that only 5% of poor Americans stayed poor for ten years out of the 13 years they were studied. That means that 19 out of 20 poor people were able to escape extreme poverty most of the time.

Democrats would be well advised to pay attention to this because it helps explain why America continues to be a place where optimism sells. In many ways the Democrats are too steeped in the Era and ethos of the Depression.

Schiller suggests that the best thing to do is to work on eliminating the structural barriers which make it difficult for people to escape poverty. One of those is a very Republican barrier. Usurious interest rates of short term loan business like title loans have become widespread as they left the Republicans Deep South in search of new customers in Republican leaning states. They are very much like the company stores of the coal fields or tenant farming which replaced the plantations after the Civil War.

In Republican eyes if a good ole boy can get rich by earning a 100 or 150% return on a loan to some poor desperate person so be it. Not exactly a family value – usury. Apparently it doesn’t make any difference how you make a buck so long as the law allows it and keeping it legal is what the Republicans want.

Yet a ruinous loan is a structural barrier. It should also be noted that Republicans have also  become the primary champions for gambling which provides a sin tax for government. Gaming in America reminds me of the failing Soviet Russian’s dependence in the late 1980’s on revenues from vodka sales which helped to keep the population in a compliant stupor.

Schiller also mentions the 5 million low achieving students who drop out of school every year. This is another critical barrier because poorly funded school systems drive kids out before they can get the tools to help them achieve success. This too is an outcome of Republican politics because Republicans champion “local control” of schools which all too often means localalized financing of schools.

I’ve thought for years that Congress should withold federal education revenue from states which refuse to implement some financial equity between their rich and poor school districts. I suggested this to Paul Wellstone a few months before he died. The Senator didn’t disagree with me but told me that too many Congressmen would fight such a plan.

Damn Speech

One of the things I have managed to upload and which has stayed intact through all the messing around is my “Damn Speech.” I took the Lord’s name in vain.

It’s perhaps the best example I have of my composing a speech on the fly. Its a bit long but I was pretty charged up when I gave it. I had been planning for two years to support a referendum to raise more property taxes for the Schools. Minnesota had slid from fifth place to the middle of the pack where per pupil spending was concerned and it was worse for property tax poor Duluth. We’d been cutting the school budget for years and I was desperate to fill our coffers back up again. Then on the eve of our decision about whether to offer an excess levy referendum Nine-Eleven happened.

That pretty well made a hash of any drive to raise taxes. Certainly a levy referendum seemed a lot less important. Nonetheless, I felt I had a duty to press for the referendum and when one of the other school board members made light of the few parents who had showed up to suport the levy it really stuck in my craw.

Take a look

Another sign that the Duluth School District is on the right path

I recently heard a story which confirmed a long held belief. People who are being watched are more likely to behave. This has also been confirmed by video cameras placed in cars and directed at drivers. People behind the wheel correct their careless behavior rather than let it be captured on camera.

Of course, doing what is right because it is right rather than doing right because you’ll stay out of trouble is not particularly honorable but just tell that to the person whose gotten hit by a wreckless driver or mugged, raped and cheated because no one was watching.

When I was on the Duluth School Board one of the more troubling incidents involved a rape in a Denfeld High stairwell. The Board talked about getting cameras but was stymied due to their prohibitive expense. Apparently this roadblock has been lifted. Way to go Duluth Schools!

Merit Pay Melee

I’ve been waiting for something worthy to blog about for a couple days and I just found it. I didn’t read the news that inspired today’s DNT’s editorial but the editorial tells the story.

As someone who has never been very motivated by money I’ve always been extremely skeptical of the GOP’s insistence that financial incentives are the best way to make our schools better. Its not just that there is a long tradition of teacher collegiality that is threatened by paying teachers for performance. Its also that performance is a very tricky thing to measure making such pay potentially arbitrary. Teachers recognize this and resent being paid differential amounts based on faulty cause and affect associations.

Should an inner city teacher who takes emotionally abandoned kids from a dropout status to D’s be paid more or less than a suburban teacher who raises his students from B’s to A’s? 

The teachers that students remember fondly for years after they’ve graduated are not the ones who followed the Republican prescription of constant testing. Rather they are the teachers who lifted kids minds. Unfortunately, inspiration is a very hard quality to measure. The civil war in Waseca’s schools after merit pay was put in place doesn’t surprise me. Sometimes Republicans sound and act like the pointy haired boss in the cubiclized world of Dilbert.

I don’t oppose the idea of merit pay in principal. One of these days we may be able to implant silicon chips surgically in teacher’s brains. Of course, when that happens we may be able to program them to be so content that they won’t even require pay raises.

Apes and Pigs

Its in the book. A Saudi 4th Grade text book. On NPR this morning.
 Saudi Text

“The center’s report cites numerous examples. It quotes a fourth-grade text as telling students to ‘love for the sake of God and to hate for the sake of God.’ The report says that textbooks instruct students that Christians and Jews are ‘apes and pigs’ and warns students not to ‘greet,’ ‘befriend’ or ‘respect’ non-believers.”

Saudi officials say it takes a while to change a school system. Tell us about it! Ever hear of: No Infidel Left Behind?