Thursday, March 18, 2010

Obama's Plan to Cripple Education Reforms

To date, the only area in which we have found ourselves in agreement with President Obama was over his announced intention to enforce strict and elevated education standards and move toward paying teachers based on merit. Now, Obama has retreated from his position of principle and embraced a mealy-mouthed compromise designed to placate school administrators, teachers unions and their political acolytes at the expense of educational standards.

Over the weekend, Obama announced a series of changes in the No Child Left Behind Law, most of which will weaken it and might even cripple the efforts to raise school standards. The law -- and most education terminology -- is coded with euphemisms and generalities that must be translated, so let us help to provide a codebook.

The New York Times reports that Obama's plan would "use annual tests along with other indicators" to measure achievement in the nation's schools. What are the other indicators? The Times says they include "pupil attendance, graduation rates and learning climate."

This proposed change will totally undermine the central principle of No Child Left Behind: that schools be judged by objective indices of student performance. By factoring in attendance rates, the changes give credit for putting warm bodies in seats. By focusing on graduation rates, they permit schools to push up their ratings by passing out good grades to incompetent students. And by looking at the "learning climate," the changes would inject subjective and vague criteria that would permit failing schools to disguise that fact.

While it is not always good to base measurements of performance only on tests of reading and math, these examination scores at least afford independent, objective indications of student ability. By permitting fudging through these new subjective or self-vindicating standards, Obama undermines the whole concept of educational reform.

The Times indicates that Obama wants to find the "5,000 chronically failing schools" while also identifying the 10,000 to 15,000 excellent ones and the 80,000 schools in between. This quota system ignores two abysmal facts: Under No Child Left Behind, one school in three was found to be failing, and there has been no appreciable increase in either reading or math scores for the past decade.

By sweeping the problem of bad schools under the rug through a numerical quota (or goal) and subjective criteria for measuring performance, Obama lets the legacy of failing public schools continue while parents are dosed with the soothing syrup of reassurance.

Obama also wants to shift the focus from forcing students to achieve proficiency at each grade level to "measuring each student's academic growth regardless of the performance level at which they started." In other words, Obama wants to allow students who cannot read, write or do math with appropriate ability to be coddled as long as they are improving. When will we learn that flexible standards that bend to accommodate those who cannot meet them do the disadvantaged no good and plenty of harm?

Two parts of the proposed reforms make sense. He would replace the emphasis on teachers' academic credentials with a focus on evaluating how their pupils are doing and would intervene in otherwise proficient schools where disadvantaged students are falling far behind the bulk of the pupil population. But these two saving graces are not enough to redeem a program designed to restore the good old days of flattering self-evaluation in education and reassuring, if phony, good news to feed to parents and the community.

Until now, Obama has stood firm on the subject of education reform, resisting efforts to cripple the Bush standards. Now he has retreated even from this position to the detriment of our children.


Fat Cat California Teachers Union Misses the Education Mark

The California Fair Political Practices Commission released a report last week detailing the fifteen most influential special interest groups in the state. Over the course of the last ten years, these fifteen groups—consisting of unions, Indian tribes, and corporations—spent over $1 billion on lobbying, candidates, ballot measures, and other political activities. In a state as large and influential as California, it’s not hard to imagine millions of dollars being expended on directing its course—especially when multiple ballot measures every election pit one interest group against another.

But among the top fifteen big spenders, one special interest group particularly stands out: the California Teachers Association (CTA). In the last decade, the CTA has spent over $200 million on lobbying and political activities—almost double what the second highest-spending lobbying group spent.

Unions have become the dominant political influence in California. At the mere hint of any threat to their power structure, the union-financed political machine fires up and intimidates all opposition. The hubris of the unions is such that during a legislative budget committee hearing last summer, one union leader threatened, “We helped get you into office and we’ve got a good memory.”

The CTA’s spending is especially noteworthy when one considers the issues it spends its members’ dues on. Most of the CTA’s 325,000 members probably assume that their dues are used only on education-related matters. But the CTA has branched out into all sorts of political battles beyond education funding.

Although it would seem logical that a teachers union would only focus on education issues, a look at the CTA web site reveals the true goal of this progressive union. According to the CTA mission statement, the union exists to “protect and promote the well-being of its members; to improve the conditions of teaching and learning; to advance the cause of free, universal, and quality public education.” That sounds like a perfectly ordinary goal for a teachers union.

But the mission statement goes on to explain that the union also exists to “ensure that the human dignity and civil rights of all children and youth are protected; and to secure a more just, equitable, and democratic society.” Ensuring “human dignity and civil rights,” as well as a “more just, equitable and democratic society” is far beyond the scope of simply lobbying for teachers’ salaries or more school supplies.

Since 2000, the CTA has spent over $38 million on lobbying the state legislature. A look at the legislation the CTA is lobbying in the current legislative session shows a focus on more than school-related matters.

The CTA is actively supporting Senate Joint Resolution 9, legislation calling upon Congress and the President to repeal the “discriminatory” Don’t Ask Don’t Tell military policy. It also lobbied to pass Senate Bill 572, which declares May 22 Harvey Milk Day in California, in honor of the homosexual activist from San Francisco.

Apparently universal healthcare has become a priority for the teachers union as it supported Senate Bill 1, legislation that would extend Medi-Cal coverage to illegal immigrants’ children. And the CTA isn’t just supporting, but is co-sponsoring Senate Bill 810, which would implement a single-payer government-run healthcare system in California. The CTA lobbied against a Republican-sponsored healthcare reform measure that would have provided greater competition in health insurance by allowing out-of-state carriers to sell plans in California

Even more telling than the legislation it supports, is the legislation the CTA opposes, including Senate Bill 370, which would have prevented voter fraud through voter identification requirements.

The CTA has also invested a great deal of time and money into the marriage issue. It supports Assembly Joint Resolution 19, calling on Congress and the President to repeal the “discriminatory” Defense of Marriage Act. It also lobbied on behalf of House Resolution 5 and Senate Resolution 7, which both expressed the legislature’s belief that Proposition 8 was an “improper” revision to the state constitution. In 2008, the CTA was among the biggest donors to the No on Proposition 8 campaign, pouring more than $1 million into the effort.

And if there were any doubt about the political party with whom the CTA most identifies, their $6.5 million dollar donation—the largest donation to any political party from the special interest groups—clearly signifies the union’s commitment to the Democrat Party.

Pay check protection is crucial to transforming California and diminishing the influence of unions. Union members who don’t agree with the aggressive social agenda of their unions are forced to pay dues spent on political campaigning that may violate their beliefs and standards. In the meantime, the CTA will continue to flood Sacramento with its money and influence—at the expense of those they supposedly represent.


Lazy British teacher lets boy die -- but no penalty

A boy of 11 who suffered an asthma attack at school was left dying in a corridor because a teacher was allegedly too busy to call an ambulance. Doctors believe Sam Linton could have been saved if he had received treatment sooner. Instead, he was left alone and gasping for breath because, it was claimed, his form tutor, Janet Ford, 46, refused to help him because she was in a meeting.

The teacher - who has not been suspended - allegedly told two of Sam's concerned friends to 'go away'. He was taken to hospital when his mother picked him up from school, but died hours later. Last night Sam's devastated parents, Karen and Paul Linton, launched a furious attack on staff at Offerton High School in Stockport after an inquest jury ruled their son was the victim of systemic failings and neglect. Mrs Linton, a company managing director, said she and her husband, a double glazing engineer, would take legal action against Stockport council.

She said: 'I am angry, very angry. When I arrived (at school), Sam was worse than I have ever seen him before. 'As soon as I saw him, I knew it was serious. He had a grey tinge to his skin and his mouth was blue. I had never seen him like that before in all of the 100 or so attacks he'd had. 'The fact that no one called an ambulance during the hours that Sam was suffering from a prolonged asthma attack is truly astounding and very troubling for all parents. 'When you send your child to school you believe they will be looked after and cared for.'

The inquest heard that, despite suffering from asthma all his life, Sam was a keen footballer and had a black belt in tae kwon do. On the day he died in December 2007, Sam was seen struggling for breath during the lunch hour. However, he appeared to recover, before suffering a full asthma attack in a lesson with Miss Ford at 2.15pm. After the lesson, Miss Ford telephoned the school's student services department, who were responsible for first aid, and was told to send him to them when he got his breath back and his symptoms had calmed down. She failed to do so, and went into a meeting. Sam was found at the end of the school day gasping for air on a bench by friend Paris Rafferty, who was so concerned she interrupted Miss Ford.

However, the court heard that Miss Ford told Paris to 'go away', adding: 'I know Sam is there and he will have to wait.' Instead, Paris went to find Sam's older brother, Jacque, then 13. Jacque told Miss Ford she needed to call an ambulance, but the teacher refused. Even though Sam could not walk unaided, she told Jacque to take him to the staff room and call his parents.

Mrs Linton took Sam to Stepping Hill Hospital, Stockport, at 5.20pm but he died two hours later in the presence of his parents. Dr Charlotte Doughty, who treated Sam, told the hearing that he may have survived had an ambulance been called earlier. She said: 'The people I have seen die from asthma attacks are the people who have delayed their attendance to hospital.'

Giving evidence, Miss Ford denied the pupils' accounts of events but admitted being 'vague' on school policy, which said an ambulance should be called if a pupil's condition did not improve within 10 minutes. ''In hindsight, I would have done things differently,' she added.

Giving their verdict of neglect, the jury listed 12 separate failings on the part of the school, ten of which 'caused or significantly contributed to' Sam's death. These included failing to put in place an adequate asthma policy or sufficiently training staff to help children with the illness. The jury was asked to consider whether Sam had been unlawfully killed, but dismissed this verdict, which means it is unlikely anyone will face a criminal prosecution.

A Stockport Council spokesman confirmed no one had been suspended following Sam's death, but added: 'We are now considering the inquest verdict and the recommendations of the coroner.'


1 comment:

Robert said...

The parents should take action not only against Stockport council, but also against Janet Ford personally for wrongful death. It seems pretty clear that as a direct result of her delays in getting the kid treated, he died.