Friday, April 01, 2011

Obama’s Union-Friendly, Feel-Good Approach to Education

The Obama administration, principally the president and Education Secretary Arne Duncan, are now routinely making public statements which are leading to one conclusion: instead of fixing American education, we should dumb down the standards.

According to the Associated Press, President Obama “is pushing a rewrite of the nation’s education law that would ease some of its rigid measurement tools” and wants “a test that ‘everybody agrees makes sense’ and administer it in less pressure-packed atmospheres, potentially every few years instead of annually.”

The article goes on to say that Obama wants to move away from proficiency goals in math, science and reading, in favor of the ambiguous and amorphous goals of student readiness for college and career.

Obama’s new focus comes on the heels of a New York Times report that 80% of American public schools could be labeled as failing under the standards of No Child Left Behind.

Put another way: the standards under NCLB have revealed that the American public education system is full of cancer. Instead of treating the cancer, Obama wants to change the test, as if ignoring the MRI somehow makes the cancer go away.

So instead of implementing sweeping policies to correct the illness, Obama is suggesting that we just stop testing to pretend it doesn’t exist.

If Obama were serious about curing the disease, one of the best things he could do is to ensure that there is a quality teacher in every classroom in America. Of course, that would mean getting rid teacher tenure and scrapping seniority rules that favor burned-out teachers over ambitious and innovative young teachers.

That means standing up to the teacher unions. For a while, it looked like Obama would get tough with the unions, but not anymore. With a shaky economy and three wars, it looks like Obama’s re-election is in serious jeopardy. He needs all hands on deck – thus the new union-friendly education message.

Obama’s new direction will certainly make the unionized adults happy. They’ve hated NCLB from the get-go.

And the unions will love Obama’s talk about using criteria other than standardized testing in evaluating schools.

He doesn’t get specific, of course, but I bet I can fill in the gaps. If testing is too harsh, perhaps we can judge students and schools based on how hard they try or who can come up with the most heart-wrenching excuse for failure or how big the dog was that ate their homework.

This makes sense in America’s continual slouch toward mediocrity. But hand-holding and effort awards didn’t produce the light bulb or the automobile or the MRI.

Hard work, accountability and the real possibility of failure – those are the things that made America great. Some kids and parents need to receive the cold hard reality that they’re not up to snuff. The Obama administration should not dumb things down so fewer people feel bad.

Because then those same people will complain when the cancer is incurable.


Students Who Get It!

John Stossel

I went to Princeton in 1969, where they taught me that government could solve the world's problems. Put the smartest people in a room, give them enough taxpayer money, and they will fix most everything. During those years, I heard nothing about an alternative. How things have changed!

I recently spent time with several hundred college-aged people at a Students for Liberty conference in Washington, D.C. Here were hundreds of students who actually understand that government creates many of the problems, and freedom -- personal and economic liberty -- makes things better.

I appeared at the conference along with David Boaz of the Cato Institute. Here are some highlights.

Karina Zannat, a student at American University in Washington, D.C., said, "A lot of my professors seem to think that even when politicians spend money in seemingly wasteful ways, we should be OK with it because every dollar spent is one dollar that goes toward income for an American citizen."

This is a common canard known as the "broken window" fallacy. The 19th-century French free-market writer Frederic Bastiat exposed it with the story of a boy who breaks a shop window, prompting some townspeople to look at the bright side: fixing the window will stimulate economic activity in the town. The fallacy, of course, is that had the window not been broken, the shopkeeper would have spent the money in more productive ways.

People often commit this fallacy -- have a look at what's being written in the wake of Japan's tsunami.

Meg Patrick of George Mason University asked about the Austrian business cycle theory. How delightful to meet a student interested in that! This is Ludwig von Mises and F.A. Hayek's argument that when government inflates the money supply and holds down interest rates to create an economic boom, a bust, or recession, must follow because the prosperity is built on an artificial foundation.

Meg wanted to know if "the injection of fiscal stimulus into the economy (after the bust) disrupts the signals necessary to fix the current problem."

To which I replied: Sure does. The market is signaling that certain changes are needed, but stimulus spending interferes with those signals. If businesses are not allowed to fail, we don't get the market feedback we need.

David Boaz added: "If you get drunk, you have a hangover. I'm sure some of you have tried the theory: just keep drinking. But you can't keep drinking forever."

Ian Downie from the University of Virginia had a good question about spending: "Our congressional representatives have huge incentives to steal the wealth from the vast majority of the country and funnel it down to their constituents. What kind of systematic changes can we make to stop this perverse incentive machine?"

"The special interests are always there," Boaz said. "The challenge is to get the public interest -- the taxpayers -- to stick around after the election, to keep putting pressure on. And that is very difficult."

He went on to say we need constitutional limits on what government can do. We tried that, of course, but too many insiders have an incentive to interpret the limits so broadly that they are hardly limits at all. So government grows.

Grant Babcock, from the University of Pittsburgh, raised a good point: "If government grows in response to crises, what do we do? It seems like there is always another crisis on the horizon. It used to be international communism. Nowadays ... it's the threat of Islamist fundamentalism. ... Are we trapped?"

The media do keep inventing new crises. The global-warming crisis, the swine flu crisis, the pesticide crisis. "The running-out-of-oil crisis," Boaz added. Crisis is a friend of the state.

As Boaz pointed out, however, "sometimes there are crises that cause countries to go ... toward less government. New Zealand hit a crisis like that, and they actually reformed their economy. So there's at least the hope that the next crisis in the United States or Europe will cause people to say: 'This hasn't been working. We have to cut back.'"

After spending time with those students, I feel better about the future of America.


Robberies and other crime at Berkeley High School are common, prosecutor says

A horror story that is normal for some

Adults at Berkeley High School are obstructing prosecution of students arrested on suspicion of armed robberies on a campus where robbery, beatings and drug dealing are common, an Alameda County district attorney told a crowd at the school Monday night.
In two cases, witnesses were persuaded not to testify against suspects, one of them accused in a brutal beating and robbery on campus, Matt Golde said. In the other case, a football coach persuaded a witness not to testify, he said.

"I'm just trying to give you the reality of the danger in school here because some people don't appreciate the reality of the situation," Golde said. "We have so many armed robberies at this school it's unbelievable. We have a culture here where people are putting up with stuff that they shouldn't."

Golde, a supervisor in the county's juvenile division, made the comments during a parent forum designed to find solutions to the school's gun problem. More than 400 parents attended the meeting at the Berkeley Community Theater.

One of the students apprehended earlier this year already had a warrant for his arrest in connection with a "brutal beat-down" robbery on campus and "certain people at this school persuaded others not to testify against him," Golde said. Berkeley High students also are committing home burglaries, selling drugs on campus and across the street at Civic Center Park, he said.

Pasquale Scuderi, principal at Berkeley High, said that Golde's assertions are not the rule. "It is atypical that a staff member would say 'don't press charges,'" Scuderi told parents. "We have some pretty firm protocols for these types of incidents."

Since the beginning of the year, three gun incidents have been reported at the high school in which students were arrested on suspicion of gun possession, and one incident was reported at the smaller secondary Berkeley Technology Academy. Ashot was fired inside a bathroom at Berkeley High on March 21, but no one was injured.

Bill Huyett, superintendent of Berkeley schools, said all options are on the table for increasing security at the school and reducing the number of guns coming on campus. That includes installing metal detectors at school entrances, although Huyett said those may be troublesome because it will be difficult to get 3,400 students through them in the morning and after lunch.

Other options include searches of students and their lockers, bringing reformed criminals onto campus to work as mentors to troubled teens, and beefing up security in and around the campus. The school already has added two security guards, bringing the number to 14. On Wednesday, Berkeley police will meet with Huyett to offer recommendations on how to reduce student gun possession.

In a survey of 539 11th-graders at the school last year, 9 percent, or 48 students, said they brought a gun to school. Seven percent of 687 ninth-graders, also 48 students, said they brought a gun to school.

While Golde contended that students are bringing guns to school to commit armed robbery, school officials say the two most common reasons they hear are a belief that guns increase status and power and that they bring them for protection.

One student at the forum, 18-year-old Danielle Armstrong, said students are bringing guns to school because they fear gang members from other towns are waiting outside the school to shoot them. She said in one of her classes, two female gang members who didn't even attend Berkeley High were sitting in her class when a substitute teacher filled in.

"First, we need to make students feel safe to come here," Armstrong said. "That way they don't have to bring weapons to school."

Huyett said he thought parent comments during the two-hour meeting were divided between imposing stricter security measures and closing the campus or educating and mentoring kids about the dangers of carrying guns.

"We have a problem, and we need to address it now," Huyett told parents. "Metal detectors and searching lockers are deterrents. We're trying to get a feel for the community on whether we should do things that preserve personal freedoms or go for more intrusive actions to physically control guns or both."

Parent Gina Morning said she wants action now. "These three incidents are nothing new, it's just that things are now getting out in the open," she said. "We really need to lock these kids down. We've been fortunate so far that someone has not brought a gun on campus and started shooting us."

Scott Blake, however, said that Berkeley probably would not tolerate intrusive searches. "I'm concerned about being locked down and having metal detectors," he said. "In the history of race relations in this town, I wonder how you would implement a search-and-seizure policy and who would be the ones who implement it. I would imagine you could be violating people's rights by the way they look and this district could enter into litigation if you search and seize the wrong person."


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