This page, in the spirit of The Federalist Papers, contains letters to editors and articles that have been published in several newspapers, mostly local to the Albany New York area but national in scope. The purpose of this endeavor is to chronicle for posterity my efforts to restore and advance the cause of Individual Liberty as fully as my faculties allow and by the Grace of God.
David Richard Crawmer
Democracy is the
vilest form of government
10/22/17 UNIONS STYMIE FREEDOM & DIVERSITY
It has recently been reported that New York’s SUNY Charter Schools Committee approved new regulations that would allow charter schools to certify their own teachers after 160 hours of classroom instruction. (Current state law requires a master’s degree)
The thinking is to bring people with more experience in a particular field into the teaching profession, to increase diversity, and make it easier for people who want to teach to be able to do that, according to Joseph Belluck, Chair of the SUNY Charter Schools Committee.
NYSUT is not happy about this and has filed a lawsuit.
The State demands that manicurists receive 250 hours of instruction, but this move would allow a teacher to be certified with fewer hours.
I for one applaud SUNY’s move. First of all, does anyone think that New York's requirement for 250 hours of instruction makes manicurists here better than elsewhere, or that we didn’t have good teachers until the state began requiring they have a Masters Degree?
New York's licensing requirements are revenue generators and have not improved any industry in my humble opinion. I think it is simplistic to compare the level of certification between different industries in defense of stricter standards without questioning their effectiveness.
Secondly, there's a huge difference between Charter Schools that are unionized and those that are non-union. Teacher unions have a history of obstruction of educational freedom and fought hard against the initial establishment of charters because the whole idea was to get the unions out of the industry. Then, once charters became legal, those same unions fought and won the right to establish unionized charters. The other chartering entity is SUNY.
Our subsequent experience with charters here has been that the unionized ones have been rife with the same politicization, corruption and poor outcomes as every other unionized government entity. The union’s motives are spurious.
6/24/16 Reading First
One of the first books I read when I entered the education reform movement twenty years ago was: Why Johnny Can’t Read. It detailed the progressive public school establishment’s experiment with a new theory of how reading should be taught known as “whole word”.
The progressive education movement was, and still is, no different than every new generation that tries to make its mark by rejecting and replacing the previous generation’s ideas. In the case of how reading was taught, the progressives rejected the time-honored method known as “phonics”.
What they failed to understand was that most of what is time-honored is such because it is the best way. They also didn’t understand that many new ideas aren’t new at all…just new to them. The problem with today’s generation of progressives is that their carefully cultivated self esteem doesn’t allow them to admit they were wrong.
Progressive schools aren’t the only culprit in the decline of Americans’ reading ability. We can also find unwitting fault in video entertainment. Watching a video is a lot easier than reading. A picture is worth a thousand words so moving pictures ought to be worth a million words.
The down-side is that reading requires thought. Watching a video is thoughtless and can often misrepresent the truth.
Another culprit I’ll bet you never gave a thought to is the personal computer. Our first computers required their users to have the ability to read and write. Their operating systems were DOS based and you had to know and type written commands before you could use a program. The advent of the GUI (Graphical User Interface) a.k.a. windows made it so anyone could click on a picture to open a program. There’s no need to be able to read.
With very reduced need for reading, we naturally have less need for writing. With less need for writing, our schools have moved away from handwriting in favor of keyboarding. There’s less emphasis on spelling, vocabulary and grammar as well.
Is it any wonder students have fallen behind on standardized tests?
2/9/16 EDUCATION INVESTMENT TAX CREDIT
Albany, New York lawmakers are working on proposals designed to provide income tax credits to individuals for donations made to education scholarship funds. The Education Investment Tax Credit a.k.a. the Parental Choice in Education Act, is a small step in the right direction but still, there is heavy union opposition.
Among those speaking against the proposals during a March 9th radio broadcast* was Jasmine Gripper, described as a Statewide “Education” Advocate for the Alliance for Quality Education (AQE)…which is a completely misleading moniker as she and it only advocate for unionized public schools, as opposed to the “education” in their title which is supposed to encompass all pedagogical institutions.
Ms. Gripper started her rant by claiming that: “…our public schools are being starved for resources…” and “…it is absurd for the state to be giving away money to private and parochial schools.” But reality begs to differ.
First off, they aren’t “our” public schools. They are the government’s schools and they are fat with all the revenue the local property taxpayers have been able to muster and then some. It’s only non-union, non-government schools that have been starved for that funding. What is truly absurd is that the government’s compulsory and undemocratic unionized schools have received their vast amounts of revenue by way of an equally undemocratic school district budget voting process that enables the wealthiest property taxpayers to vote away the last dime of income from the poorest residents of their school district.
Secondly, it’s not the state that is “giving away money” that was destined for public school coffers. It’s the individual taxpayers giving away their own money and the tax credit that the donors receive is applied toward their state income tax payment which goes into the general fund and will have no impact on public school funding. The donor’s school property tax will be unaffected.
11/8/15 PUBLIC SCHOOLS’ “EQUITABLE FUNDING” RUSE
I was listening to one of our local college radio stations (the “we play anything” station) the other day while driving to work. As it was a Saturday morning, they weren’t playing music. They replayed an interview between a local talk show host and some bureaucrat shilling for public schools (commonly referred to as an educrat).
The educrat was piling on Eva Moskowitz, the very talented and successful champion of NYC charter schools. She attacked Moskowitz for, among many other things, one of her charter school’s (Success Academy) discipline policies. She compared it to the viral video of a cop in South Carolina who tried to expel a disorderly schoolgirl from a classroom. She tried to associate responsible school discipline with that of a failed school disciplinary incident. The problem for this educrat was that the school she tried to hang around Eva Moskowitz’ neck was a public school. Not just any old “underfunded” inner city ghetto school either. It was an icon of public school fiscal excess; Spring Valley HS of Columbia South Carolina.
At one point the moderator of the radio show asked the educrat what sort of real changes she was advocating and her answer was astounding. She said: “…equitable funding” as if we haven’t been spending enough already. Spring Valley has been on the receiving end of “equitable funding” long enough for it to have worked if the lack of it had ever been the problem.
I had arrived at work by then so I never got the name of this shill for failure. But it doesn’t matter which shill she was…public school apologists are all of the same brainwashed ilk. The real “equitable funding” recipients ought to be the charters and other schools of choice.
10/8/15 The high cost of public schools in New York
Kudos to Steve Greenberg for his recent letter to the Editor of the Altamont Enterprise wherein he identified the need to do something about the high cost of public schools in New York. This is a problem that has been superficially addressed by creating a property tax rebate program. The STAR program provides a very small rebate of a portion of the taxes paid by a targeted demographic of New York voters. It was implemented by Governor George Pataki almost 20 years ago. Today the former governor has been appointed by Governor Andrew Cuomo to lead a commission to tweak the STAR program to make it work better.
I think Mr. Pataki and Governor Cuomo have done as much as they can to address the high cost of public schools given the political constraints they are saddled with. I would say the same for any governor who might also endeavor to implement Mr. Greenberg’s consolidation ideas as well.
The thing is, these solutions do not get to the source of the problem. We have been putting bandages on a chronic disease. The problem is not a lack of revenue or that the rich are not paying their illusive “fair share”. It’s not that the schools would be more efficient if they were consolidated and managed by another government body.
The problem is that these are government schools. They are structured by a long history of politically driven laws that force their budgets to increase beyond the public’s financial capability. Layering new laws on top of old laws puts even higher administrative costs on these schools. We must get the politics out of education. The only way to do that and to reform both the curricular and fiscal aspects of public education is to make public schools non-government schools.
Reagan so very wisely once said that government can’t solve the problem because government is the problem. That applies to our public schools more than anywhere else I can imagine.
Charter schools (non-union) are a small step in the right direction toward unfettered freedom of choice in education but political realities hamper even their modest expansion. We need old-fashion statesmen, who will put doing what is right before political expediency. Doing the right thing always leads to success. Political machinations have only kicked the can down the road…and that road is a dead end. I wish our politicians and unelected bureaucrats would realize that. Maybe it’s a case of not seeing the forest for the trees. Could it be that the forest is freedom and the trees are the laws meant to secure that freedom?
School Choice would get rid of all the dead wood and let the natural sunshine of freedom restore the forest of public education.
6/17/14 Of Libraries, Politics & Reading
I would like to add my two cents to Melissa Hale-Spencer’s editorial of May 22nd in the Altamont Enterprise regarding the town library, its budget and the decline in young peoples’ interest in reading for pleasure. This also ties in a bit with a letter from a prior week in which the writer mentioned a bestselling book of the 1950’s; “Why Johnny Can’t Read”, and the fact that very little substantive education reform debate is occurring today.
Melissa wrote of the library’s contribution to the encouragement of reading among people of all ages and socio-economic standing. While I’m sure public libraries contribute to peoples’ reading opportunities, those opportunities require that young people first have the ability to read well, that is to say effortlessly.
There has been a great deal of serious debate surrounding the way reading was and now is being taught but it has been kept out of the mainstream media. One of the reasons it’s not been in the news is because it doesn’t have the sensational attraction that news managers seek. The other, and more problematic reason, is that politics is involved and commands that time-honored axiom: no news is good news.
For example – how many people who consider themselves informed of educational issues are aware that funding for the very popular and successful “Reading First” component of No Child Left Behind was quietly eviscerated by the new Democratic Congress during the sixth year of President George W. Bush’s term?
While Reading First might be a good name for a future law regarding what Congress ought to do before passing legislation, NCLB’s Reading First effectively reintroduced phonics to our public schools.
The defunding of Reading First became a political goal sought by certain Democrats as soon as NCLB was passed and it became obvious to them that they should have read the bill before they passed it. Those lawmakers were and are cronies with big education industry publishers who only publish “Whole-word” a.k.a. “Whole-language” teaching material. Those publishers were losing business to the new firms working with the Bush administration to publish phonics based teaching material that actually worked.
You may ask how it came to pass that the centuries-old standard of teaching people to read phonetically got replaced with a less effective method? I cannot completely answer that as much of it occurred before my time but the earliest evidence of a political push that I am aware of occurred during the first term of Bill Clinton’s presidency. In the push to implement the “Goals 2000” and “School-to-Work” programs, First Lady Hillary Clinton suggested that young schoolgirls were not getting the same classroom attention as boys. That left me and others scratching our heads as we recalled just the opposite during our public school experiences.
So when I discovered that the “whole-word” memorization method of teaching reading being pushed at that time worked better for girls, I decided to dig deeper.
Whole-word reading is taught by providing lists of words for students to memorize and girls in general simply have better memories. Everyone, but young boys in particular, learns reading best by stringing letter sounds together to form complete words. Much like adding numbers together to get a sum (2+2=4), phonics puts letter sounds together to form words (m+y=my).
There are limits to the amount of whole words that can effectively be memorized and complex word memorization is about as effective as trying to memorize sums like 730 (which is 365+365 but can also be the sum of 364+366).
The vocabularies of young people who learn to read through whole-word memorization get stuck in the hundreds of words while the working vocabularies of phonics taught students quickly enter the thousands and are actually limitless. This is important to realize because students are being introduced to thousands of new words when studying subjects like science and history and will not be able to get through a page of new text as quickly when an unfamiliar word appears unless they can decipher it as they go.
Have you ever helped a young boy with his reading homework and gotten to a point where he says: “We haven’t learned that word yet”? How can we expect them to answer a test question when they come across words in the question they have never seen before?
Another consequence of not receiving systematic phonics instruction that I found with boys when they came across a new word they had not yet memorized was that they would sound out the first letter or two and then guess at the rest. They might see the word “stem” and guess “step” or “stream” and guess “strong”. A half-hour reading assignment could take hours when they had to muddle through a sentence to pick up on its context before they could figure out unknown words.
I found another example of the ineffectiveness of whole-word instruction in a national newspaper several years ago. It was a report on the poor test scores among a big city’s Hispanic minority students. While the article focused on a perceived need to simply increase funding (it was a Democrat stronghold) it completely missed what I saw as the glaringly obvious reason those students in particular were failing. They were “English as a second language” learners and therefore had to memorize twice as many words as their primary English language contemporaries. It wasn’t their poverty or inferiority. It was the impossibility of the task given the inferiority of the method they had been taught to use.
It doesn’t matter what language you are learning when you are taught to read by stringing letter sounds together. Systematic phonetic decoding is the way every alphabetic language has been taught throughout world history. Only in modern America have politics forced people to conform to an inferior system of education.
4/16/14 More truth about Charter Schools and Unions
In the April 10th Altamont Enterprise, Aarron Harrell wrote that he thought some people were “addled” by his previous letter and required more enlightenment.
Then he continued to muddy the truth about public schools by claiming that the largely non-union chartered schools are not as accountable to taxpayers as conventional public schools. The opposite is true.
Charter schools exist to restore accountability to our public schools. After decades of fighting to hold union monopolized public schools accountable for their academic decline and fiscal malfeasance, the closest our government and citizen activists could get to restoring accountability was to create new schools with revocable contracts or charters.
When the concept of the chartered school was initially negotiated here in Albany , there was quite a tug of war over who would sponsor or initiate the charters. The unions fought in opposition to the creation of charter schools because it broke their monopoly. A revocable charter is accountability. When they lost that fight and charters became a reality, those same unions turned around and began lobbying for control of the charter process. They were given a hand in the process but not complete control. SUNY trustees were also given chartering responsibility.
Some charter schools have done better than others to say the least and it seems as though Mr. Harrell would like to help the unions out by lumping their charter school failures in with the highly successful non-union ones in order to create the false impression that charters have been a waste of time and resources.
Mr. Harrell states that “income inequality…is the cornerstone of capitalism” and goes on to further misrepresent the nature of the free market and suggests it has no place in our education system. It is hard to understand how any American who claims to believe in democracy could hold such a belief.
The free market does not, as Mr. Harrell claims, “rely on the relationships between the haves and the have-nots”. The free market is called such because it is based on freedom, something that is suppressed by public employee unions.
Unions were created as an expression of the citizens’ right of free association. But when the greedy union bosses of FDR’s day managed to suppress that right by forcing union membership on job seekers, they violated the fundamental principle behind their very existence.
Unions have a place in our economy and in our education system but it’s about time they were put in that place. There is no place in a free society for any group to require association in order to achieve employment. We as individuals have a Constitutional right to associate freely with whomever we want.
The people of Wisconsin, lead by Governor Scott Walker have fought a long hard battle to restore the right of free association for the citizens there. They have survived the initial election, recall election and court challenges by the indefatigable teacher unions and managed to restore the right to work in that state. Their economy is rebounding quickly despite the unions’ efforts to continue to enforce the kind of suppression that we labor under here.
Governor Cuomo is right to encourage the growth of charter schools and I hope he has the political will to stay the course.
3/29/14 The truth about Charter Schools and Unions
For the second time in recent memory I have found myself in the unenviable position of defending one liberal from an attack by another. Most conservatives would probably chuckle to themselves and enjoy watching the spectacle but I take public education too seriously for that.
I’m referring to a recent letter in The Altamont Enterprise by Aaron Harrell in which he tells one whopper of a fish story about Governor Cuomo’s desire to increase funding for charter schools. Mr. Harrell drew an analogy between lampreys sucking the blood out of a host fish, to charter schools sucking the funding out of public schools.
The first problem with this comparison is that charter schools are also public schools. The glaring difference between them is that the successful charter schools are not burdened with union politics. They are free to focus on the child and not on a top heavy system.
If we were to take a broader view of education, one where public education as a whole would more appropriately be considered the host, the real parasite is unquestionably the union monopolized public schools. They have taxed New York ’s parents to the point where fewer and fewer are able to afford to put their children in private or parochial schools - the shrinking portion of our public education host. As a telling aside, just a little FYI, public school teachers send their children to private schools more often than the rest of the general public.
Until charter schools came along, parents who exercised their right to choose their children’s school had to pay twice. They had to pay the tax imposed by the nearest public school simply because it was the most proximate to their home and they also had to pay for the “right” to send their children to a school of their choice. This has given an unfair advantage to wealthier parents who could afford to purchase their educational rights.
Charter schools are just a baby step in the right direction. They are a liberal alternative to the conservative concept of full school choice for all. They bring the freedom of choice, albeit limited, to parents who cannot otherwise afford to buy it.
The big cities, all of which are Democrat strongholds, are not the only places where people can’t afford to buy their rights. There are plenty of people in rural and suburban communities who have been pinched by property tax rates that aren’t indexed to income. Our antiquated system of determining a family’s school tax, based on the value of a home they most often purchased at the height of their earning potential, has no regard for the inevitable low points in that family’s income stream. Charter schools are a bridge across the lamprey filled streams of income inequality.
1/30/14 Wrestling with Public School Budgets
Once again our public schools are planning to use the palatial school auditoriums they’ve built with our tax dollars to conduct a massive, region-wide pep rally. And why would they not? They were very successful last year in getting the state to foot a larger portion of their bill than it had previously been ready, willing and able to. I say successful but success from the perspective of an already overpaid public school administrator is a disaster to anyone with a broader point of view.
Last year the kick-off rally was held at Columbia H.S., this year it’s Colonie Central. Just as last year they will be pleading poverty to attendees and convincing them to vote to spend more of other taxpayers’ money. Will they again bring in Dr. Timbs to charm the crowd with his witty class warfare presentation?
Last year there were representatives from dozens of local school districts in attendance and they were told that the state was not cutting them their fair share of the fiscal pie. Of course they never really specified which schools were being deprived. They want every school district to believe theirs is on that list.
State government has created a Gap Elimination Adjustment to try to bring state aid in line with fiscal realities but this is not sitting well with school administrators who are not happy with their allowances. It seems they don’t want any kind of merit or needs based fiscal considerations effecting their ability to retire as millionaires.
In a report released October 7 2013 by the Empire Center, the highest paid public school administrator in the state earns over $511,000/yr. Forty nine others earn over $262,000/yr. Locally, the Superintendents of East Greenbush, North Colonie, Niskayuna and Shenendehowa schools earn upwards of $192,000/yr. They and many others earn more than Governor Andrew Cuomo who has instituted a 5% pay cut on himself.
The last thing they want is the one thing I have always harped on as the natural equalizer and that’s the freedom of choice. Any “constitutional right” such as education and health care that does not include choice is doomed to failure – but I’m getting off point here. With school choice off the table under our current state and federal administrations, we have to try to deal with the immediate challenge of reducing spending, which brings me to our budget voting process.
Our public school budget voting process here in New York is an abomination of the democratic process. It's reminiscent of socialism. We need to change the way we vote on their budgets. Instead of voting "YES" or "NO" on the budget they want, we should vote for one of two spending levels. If one represents a 2% increase from the previous year, it must go up against a budget with a 2% decrease. This would more accurately and fairly reflect the financial means of the community they serve.
How do you think voters would react if in the general elections we were given one political candidate to vote “yes” or “no” for? To top that off, how would you like it if the majority voted “no” but that candidate got imposed on us anyway? Would you tolerate that? Would you vote with your feet?
1/31/2013 School Budget Pep Rally Synopsis
I feel an obligation to report back to my fellow taxpayers with what transpired at the school budget rally on January 31st 2013 and what kind of propaganda to expect in coming months.
The objective of the rally was to “inform and energize influential stakeholder teams” representing the 47 school districts in attendance.
The keynote speaker of the event was Dr. Rick Timbs who put forth a presentation that included a primer on “Combined Wealth Ratios”. He spent just enough time on the subject to show how those numbers are derived and to get everyone there to feel as though their district was not getting the funding they deserved while others were getting far more than they needed.
One detail he failed to mention was that neither a district’s CWR nor spending levels have any correlation to educational outcomes.
Dr. Timbs went on to entertain us with a story about how he got his 4th grade granddaughter to understand the difference between equal and equitable. He said he put a $1 bill under each of four cushions on his couch and asked Gracie if he had divided the money equally. She agreed. Then he asked her to imagine that the cushions were people but that cushion number one was some poor homeless person and the next was someone who had no job and I think the third had no home or job but the forth person he gave the dollar to was Justin Bieber. He asked his granddaughter if she still thought he had distributed the money fairly and she said no. She suggested he spread most of Bieber’s dollar among the rest and leave him with a penny. Isn’t that socialism?
The reality of the economic problems we face are that the wealthier people of our school districts who feel they can afford to pay higher taxes have been voting for spending that the less fortunate residents of the community cannot afford. The way I see it, the crowd Dr. Timbs was playing to had a fourth-grade understanding of economics and his presentation sought to keep it that way.
9-21-12 To the Editor, A TAX INCREASE? NOW?! REALLY?!!
The East Greenbush Central School District’s newly proposed $31.6 million capital improvement project could not come at a worse time for the hard pressed taxpayers of this school district. Especially for the property owners in Schodack who are still reeling from a reassessment that has saddled us with massive tax increases. (Up 44% over seven years in my own case)
This proposition will have to answer to the same taxpayer concerns (true need, effectiveness, sustainability etc) that all the previous multimillion dollar propositions presented but the desperate state of today’s economy compounds those concerns. In fact, it is my opinion that the fiscal problems we are currently dealing with are a consequence of the unrestrained spending of this and other school districts in decades past.
In a September 17th message to parents from Superintendent Dr Angela Nagle, the justification for this proposition states that the academic reputation of the district has “remained” exceptional while some of its buildings have aged. I’ve never felt that any suburban school district was more “exceptional” than others because they all follow the same centralized planning template. Please show us how the tens of millions we’ve spent, above and beyond the hundreds of millions in annual budgets, have increased educational outcomes before asking us to approve even more money that we don’t have. The State Education Department produces annual reports of all public school districts’ finances and academic performance. If those statistics were to show academic improvements commensurate with past spending increases, I am sure it would be more convincing than the vague and subjective rhetorical gauge the district superintendent uses.Additionally, we already have funds in the annual budget dedicated to repairing the buildings as they age. The taxpayers in this district as well as the rest of New York have their own aging buildings that need repairs and upgrades. We’ve paid this district so much in the past for things like Astroturf for the outdoor athletic field that many of us have had to forgo our own more immediate maintenance necessities. Give us a break and retract this ill-advised proposal.
6/26/12 OMG, Wouldn't it be nice if we never had to deal with another Public School Budget?
With the dust having settled and emotions subsided over this year’s local school budget votes, I have a couple of questions: What’s the plan for next year? Tax the rich? The economy isn't turning around any time soon because the political establishment has yet to implement a single growth oriented policy. They still think some people aren't paying their "fair share". Do we have to become like Greece or Spain before enough people realize that shared sacrifice and wealth redistribution do not lead to increased revenue? Can you honestly refer to current spending levels as "education cuts" after we've simply run out of money and no one will lend us more?
Shifting the tax burden from one source to another has been done many times before with the same predictable results. It doesn’t matter whether it’s a tax on private sector property or income, sales tax or a lottery. When we have to borrow money from China and then print more money with which to pay that debt, it should be a sign to even the most liberal spender that it’s time to reduce spending. Actually we're decades past the time we should have reduced spending. This is what it looks like when a socialist economy collapses in on itself.
We can turn this around if we can see it for the teachable moment that it is. It’s time for an intelligent approach. It’s time to expand school choice and non-union charter schools.
Governor Walker’s victory over the unions in Wisconsin is a step in the right direction. The unions pulled out all the stops and cheated like Ted Kennedy on a Harvard entrance exam. The shock of their defeat, their cluelessness and their subsequent tears left rational people wondering how they can be trusted to teach anything to anyone. Will New York teachers learn anything from the embarrassing spectacle of their belligerent comrades or will they too go down kicking, screaming, cheating and crying?
The big question is: Do we have any politicians in Albany with the courage to follow Governor Walker’s leadership? Doing so should be a no-brainer. He gave us the winning blueprint. If it can happen in Wisconsin, it can happen anywhere.
Putting unions in their place will mean that funding will follow the student, and accountability will be second nature. We will have no need for a tax cap once market forces bring costs in line with value and merit.
But until such time as New York politicians grow a pair, I ask again, what’s the plan for next year? Here’s an idea. Sell the palatial NYSUT union headquarters building in Latham. Put the union money back in the classroom where it belongs.
1/22/12 The Underground History of American Education
Having decades ago decided to make education reform an avocation, I read a great many books that are way out of the mainstream. One of the most compelling to me was: The Underground History of American Education by John Taylor Gatto. Mr. Gatto, an award winning New York teacher, has made his book available to read and print out on his website: www.johntaylorgatto.com. Here is an excerpt from his prologue:
“With conspiracy so close to the surface of the American imagination and American reality, I can only approach with trepidation the task of discouraging you in advance from thinking my book the chronicle of some vast diabolical conspiracy to seize all our children for the personal ends of a small, elite minority.
Don’t get me wrong, American schooling has been replete with chicanery from its very beginnings.*
Indeed, it isn’t difficult to find various conspirators boasting in public about what they pulled off. But if you take that tack you’ll miss the real horror of what I’m trying to describe, that what has happened to our schools was inherent in the original design for a planned economy and a planned society laid down so proudly at the end of the nineteenth century. I think what happened would have happened anyway—without the legions of venal, half-mad men and women who schemed so hard to make it as it is. If I’m correct, we’re in a much worse position than we would be if we were merely victims of an evil genius or two.
If you obsess about conspiracy, what you’ll fail to see is that we are held fast by a form of highly abstract thinking fully concretized in human institutions which has grown beyond the power of the managers of these institutions to control. If there is a way out of the trap we’re in, it won’t be by removing some bad guys and replacing them with good guys.
Who are the villains, really, but ourselves? People can change, but systems cannot without losing their structural integrity.”
I have spent decades of my life attempting to lead my fellow Americans to the light that I have found in the concept of school choice. The problem that I, John Taylor Gatto, Dr. Milton Friedman and countless others face, is very similar to the problem that teachers confront in the public school classroom every day. If people (we all are students) do not want to know what you are trying to impart, they will not learn. If on the other hand, they choose to learn something, no one will be able to stop them from devouring it completely.
After explaining the concept of school choice in every conceivable way that I know, and finding that it is inconceivable to most readers and listeners, I have to conclude that inconceivability to be a matter of choice itself. Such a conundrum!
Other important books that I chose to expand my knowledge and defeat my ignorance include: “Cloning of the American Mind” by Beverly Eakman, “Educational Freedom in Eastern Europe” by Charles Glenn, and “School Choice” by David Harmer.
The book by Charles Glenn is particularly revealing in that it did not start out as a book but merely a report commissioned to the US Department of Education for publication by President George H. W. Bush subsequent to the collapse of the Soviet Union. The report revealed evidence that the former states of the USSR now enjoy more choice and autonomy in education than here in the United States of America. It was so damning that publication was stifled by bureaucrats in the Education Department until it was canceled by President Clinton in his first week of office.
That kind of power is extremely difficult to overcome. At the same time it is impossible to maintain that power in an information age with a free and open society of people capable of choosing to discover the truth.
1-1-12 School funding trickery
I remember when I was ten years old, watching a “magician” for the first time and actually thinking that I was witnessing magic. It's easy for a slight-of-hand artist to fool an inexperienced audience but once you've learned how he does his trick, you will never go back to thinking it's magic.
That's the problem that Aaron Harrell is up against when he attempts to make people see things his way writing in this week's Altamont Enterprise.
I made a very fundamental argument for school choice in the December 22nd issue of this newspaper; where there is no choice – there is no democracy. The following week, Mr. Harrell chose to respond by distracting readers with wild assertions of doom if parents were allowed to exercise their constitutional right to choose their children’s educational environment.
Let's not be fooled into arguing about what Mr. Harrell has up his left sleeve when the idea that was offered is in plain sight on the table before us.
How can we claim to be a democratic society if we have no choice? The answer is quite simple. We can’t. The compulsory attendance of the nearest government school is reminiscent of a Socialist or Marxist state. It is a fundamental flaw. The only way to make our public schools work again is to address this fundamental issue head-on.
To use a medical analogy, the patient has contracted a disease and the way we have tried to cure it has been to treat it superficially with various ointments and band-aids. Naturally the patient gets worse but the people who make the ointments and band-aids would be out of business if we ever actually cured the patient. So they continue to offer the same band-aids, repackaged and presented to a new audience that is easily fooled.
The only good thing to come out of the Campaign for Fiscal Equity lawsuit was an unintended consequence inherent in its premise that a “sound basic education” is a constitutional right.
If education is a constitutional right, it must include choice. If not, it would be the only right that is mandated.
We have a first amendment right to free speech but are we compelled to speak? Must we vote, pray or own a firearm? To regard these rights in the same manner that people in the education establishment would like us to consider their industry, would require us to vote on election day whether we wanted to or not. What would you think of an election if you were forced to vote for one of two or more candidates when in reality you might not like any of them?
We would be forced to attend the nearest government sponsored church too. It wouldn't matter who you wanted to worship or if you didn't want to worship at all. And if it was felt that worship was so essential to a democratic society that we should invest in new state-of-the-art churches paid for with taxpayer dollars, would you expect that investment to result in all your prayers being answered?
I am willing to bet you can expand this train of thought to encompass the right to bear arms analogy through to its inevitable conclusion on your own.
Of course these are purely rhetorical questions and the fact that the basis of my argument is one that you've never considered is testament to the effectiveness of the establishment's slight-of-hand skills.
12-16-11 School Choice is the only Education Reform that even qualifies as a "Reform"
Regarding the editorial in the Dec 1st Altamont Enterprise: “We need a new tax system to ease rough ride for poor schools”, I regret that I have to respond in disagreement with the opinion as well as what was claimed to be factual.
First, the Occupy Wall Street movement was more of a bowel movement (and I mean that literally after having seen the videos) than a statement about the causes of the chasm between wealth and poverty and the role of education.
There is no such thing as a poor public school. While the people living in any district include varying ratios of rich and poor, the districts themselves have more than enough money to provide a “sound basic education”. The poor people of the districts are poor because their wealth has been plundered by the state for non-academic, partisan purposes without providing the basic education prerequisite to personal financial stability.
The editor mentioned a lawsuit brought by the Campaign for Fiscal Equity and its promise of “… increased aid across the state while adding aid for the poor districts.”
The fact is that the CFE lawsuit was initiated solely for the benefit of New York City school districts at the expense of upstate taxpayers at a time when we were struggling with our own districts’ funding. Prior to Judge Leland Degrasse’s ultimate decision to force increased spending on New York City schools, we were given a ballot proposition to provide $500 million to public schools statewide. Voters overwhelmingly defeated that proposition. The vast majority of New Yorkers knew the futility of trying to spend our way to excellence.
The adequacy lawsuit approach to improving public schools was cut from whole cloth by the education establishment for its own political ambitions. Several such lawsuits were initiated in other states around the same time. While each was successful in winning their court case, they failed because money is not the answer. The adequacy lawsuit approach was abandoned but the premise hasn’t been.
Our fiscal condition is far worse today. We have quite literally bankrupted the country in our attempt to spend our way back to excellence.
If we all could step back to take a different perspective of this whole picture, everyone would see just how fruitless it would be to beat the dead horse of “adequate funding” any further.
Shifting the tax burden from one source to another has been done many times before with the same predictable results. It doesn’t matter whether it’s a tax on private sector property or income, sales tax or a lottery. When we have to borrow money from China and then print more money with which to pay that debt, that should be a sign to even the most liberal spender that it’s time to reduce spending. It’s time for an intelligent approach.
I have been involved in education reform for about twenty years but my commitment pales in comparison to that of people like Nobel Prize winning economist Milton Friedman. Dr. Friedman began his foray into education reform over sixty years ago by suggesting school choice to be the magic bullet. His life ended before being able to witness complete victory but he was successful in bringing varying degrees of school choice to many States. He established the Milton and Rose Friedman Foundation to continue his work.
Meanwhile, here in New York, education reform activists have waged a losing battle against the leviathon of unions, bureaucrats and politicians who are responsible for the pitiful condition of our education system. If the State had adopted any of the reform policies that their opposition had proffered over the years, they might be able to point fingers elsewhere. But every time the education reform community offered a suggestion, the establishment doubled down on more of the same old failed policies of the past. It was the education establishment itself that insisted on policies that they now complain about as being the unfunded mandates that hamper their ability to perform. They demanded the costly mainstreaming of students with special needs. Local districts passed the massive bond propositions for remodeling schools that statewide taxpayers where obligated to pay for. Our State has over 700 school districts and each has wasted millions, some even hundreds of millions of dollars, on what they claimed to be necessary to increase educational outcomes. Out in East Greenbush they recently erected a magnificent animated L.E.D. sign in front of the Genet school on Route 4 that no business in the entire county would be able to afford. It displays glorious animated fireworks of light while announcing the next school board meeting. They also spent nearly a million dollars to fund Astroturf for their outdoor athletic field. How's that for an unfunded mandate? How far do you think that went to benefit reading and math studies?
The editorial that began and ended with admonitions over “our democracy” never mentioned its primary element. Where there is no choice, there is no democracy.
3/6/11 TEACHERS UNIONS - THE 8000 POUND GORILLA
Given that the jobs they are supposed to be advancing involve knowledge and intelligence,
it amazes me how vacuous the teachers unions’ TV commercials are of those elements.
Their most recent commercial involves a hateful misrepresentation of a millionaire in his
plush office lecturing a couple of adorable children on their need to sacrifice so that he
can have a tax break.
What the commercial failed to show was the eight hundred pound gorilla that is always in
the room, glaring at anyone who dares to make eye contact with him. The teachers unions
cannot not use facts to promote themselves because the truth is so damaging.
They instead use the emotions their propaganda brings out of their intended victims. They trot out the little darlings with the big eyes or the grandmotherly teachers we all love and suggest we will be harming them if we don’t continue to satisfy their insatiable appetite. The unions no longer care about real education. Their goal is the advancement of their bloated dysfunctional system.
The taxing of the rich has nothing to do with the funding of education. It is just that the rich constitute an extremely small minority of the voting public and it has always been easy to turn a majority against them. Shame on our educators who participate in such a fraud.
Our schools are paid for through our property taxes. We all pay those taxes, not just the rich. Our property taxes are based on the value of our property which often has nothing to do with an individual’s ability to pay. Why haven’t we seen a drop in our property taxes commensurate to the drop in our property values? Were you paying attention when Governor Paterson quietly reduced our STAR rebate based on the decline in our property values? Where’s our cut?!
The disproportionate school tax portion of our monthly mortgage or rent payment is the reason many people cannot make those payments and are losing their homes and businesses. Municipalities are facing bankruptcy and states are in fiscal crisis due to the unsustainable spending demands of the unions. Yet the unrepentant gorilla still yells for more, but now he’s about eight thousand pounds.
Members of my family have always worried about the animosity we incur when I write about the unions and public schools. There are some extremely vindictive people out there whom I have been warned will make life difficult for my children in school. My mailbox has been ripped out of the ground and thrown up on my lawn. Our house has been egged and there have been those proverbial late night phone calls. At least we no longer have to deal with the threat of one union leader who sits in jail after using explosive devices to intimidate his adversaries. If you are inclined to disagree with me after reading my opinions in this newspaper or on my website I heartily encourage you to participate in this debate of words and ideas using words and ideas of your own. Leave the vitriol and violence to those of lesser intelligence.
1-24-11 National SCHOOL CHOICE WEEK approaches
Back on January 6th, the headline article in the Altamont Enterprise suggested the taxpaying citizens of the Guilderland Central School District should meet up to form a consensus on what aspects of the school budget they want to keep and what should be cut. I suggest that instead of a cut, something needs to be added – a key element that has been missing for decades.
Public Education is one of the most fundamental aspects of American life. It has recently been argued that it is a Constitutional right. If that is true, it lacks the one key characteristic of all our other rights, the right to choose. Choice is a natural right, an indispensable key to democracy. It is a moral necessity but also creates competition and lowers costs.
If parents as well as teachers enjoyed more academic freedom, we would not have to try to make all schools offer all things to all people. If you liked the athletic or religious focus of a school in a district other than the one in which you reside, you should have the right to send your child to that school. In fact, I suggest you do have that right although you are currently being denied it.
Did you know that January 23rd marked the beginning of National School Choice Week?
Our new Congressional Majority Leader, John Boehner has long been a proponent of school choice. He will make it an issue to be taken up by the new Congress and he will have a lot of support behind him. The most recent and prominent voice being added to the school choice debate is that of Bill Cosby.
And what about the teachers? Don’t they have a Constitutional right of free association? Why are they compelled to join a union in order to be able to work where they want to?
Non-union schools cost less, offer more diversity, innovation and teacher autonomy.
I jumped on the school choice bandwagon about fifteen years ago. Californians at that time were offered a school choice ballot initiative but the unions spent $16 million on a negative media blitz to defeat it. They successfully portrayed school choice as a risky scheme. I say forcing people into a union in order to work was the risking scheme that has proven nearly fatal to our economy. Unions still have a lot of money and power but very little credibility.
The problems with education back then were the same as they are today and the non-solutions back then are same non-solutions the unions are promoting today. It is time, actually well past the time to start thinking outside the box. It has to start within the education industry itself, at the local level with teachers, BOE and PTO members who have the courage to stand up to the injustice that is the status quo.
More money is not an option. More freedom is.
11/19/10 NO CHOICE - NO DEMOCRACY
I recently attended an education reform symposium at the Albany Law School entitled “Classroom Politics” where five expert panelists shared their views with a sparse audience. Two of the presenters brought a perspective based on the need for change. The other three represented the status quo and seemed oblivious the clear facts that our public schools are failing to achieve the educational standards necessary to compete in a global society. Their solutions were the same tired old retreads I was hearing when I first became involved in education reform about fifteen years ago. A longer school year, changes in tenure, desegregation, standardized tests and of course, more money, were the Band Aids they offered to cure a chronic heart failure. And I do mean heart failure. The problems with our public schools are fundamental in nature and that is why these non-solutions are, and will continue to be, ineffective.
Their presentations sounded more like excuses than anything else. Dr. Henry Levin, from Columbia Teachers College at one point stated that students only spend about 10% of their time in school when implying that outside influences are more to blame than the schools. That grossly irresponsible statement was alarming to me. As a parent, I have always felt limited in the amount of time I can spend countering what I consider the negative influences of the public school environment on my children. They call education a constitutional right while they force us to give up control of our children for most of their waking hours. It is audacious to suggest that the reason public schools are failing is because the establishment and unions don't have enough control. They demanded the control that they have yet reject responsibility for the consequences.
The panelist who made the most sense was Thomas Carroll, founder of the non-union Brighter Choice Charter Schools. He offered the prospect of choice, which is fundamental to a democracy. No choice means no democracy.
2-8-2010 To the Editor, Education Week NO NEWS IS GOOD NEWS
Your front page December 9 story: “Is Education News Falling Off Front Pages?” by Lesli A Maxwell, reminded me of an old axiom; No news is good news.
There is an element of our education establishment that would like nothing more than to have the peoples’ eyes averted from the malfeasance, crime and corruption that goes on at all levels of government including public schools. The last thing these managers and policy makers want is to see their names or organizations mentioned in the news. Scrutiny causes them to whither.
While the article reports that “Education, in terms of important stories, has a low place in the hierarchy”, there is plenty of news about education that is worth printing but for very real obfuscation by some unions, politicians and bureaucrats to suppress information that would put them in a negative light.
The school district in which I reside here in upstate New York is remarkable in that it may have the only high school in the country where a teacher and one of his male students was caught having sex just down the hall from where a few years earlier another teacher had been shot by a student with a shotgun.
Last year, in a neighboring district, one of their union leaders was arrested for planting bombs on the cars and residences of individuals with whom he had disagreements. He was charged with arson, weapons possession and terrorism. A judge subsequently ruled against two local newspapers that sued the school district for information regarding the case.
At the other end of the spectrum just a few weeks ago, parents in another neighboring district found themselves on the news - arrested for failing to file the paperwork necessary to home-school their children.
1-22-09 Modern day segregation of inner city public schools
There are many things that could fit under President Obama’s mantle of hope and change but the two most important in my opinion, are not part of his plans; reducing government spending and freedom of choice in education.
He has promised more spending on education (where’s the change there?) and to give unions more power, so there’s little hope that school choice will be realized.
But I do wish him success in his Presidency. Success is a subjective term, much like change. We all need to change as we learn, even the President, if we are to have any hope of success. Education is a life long experience. If you are smart, you’ll never stop learning.
Our public schools should be preparing our children for the acceleration of learning that follows their formal education. They should do this by teaching them to read first and foremost. Without reading first, there can be nothing but constrained success in math, science, history etc.
President Bush worked across the aisle with Senator Edward Kennedy to create the No Child Left Behind law. Its primary component was Reading First (cut by the new Democratic Congress) which was a successful change from the abysmal failure known as Whole Language. Whole Language is responsible for constrained reading ability which limits an individual’s productivity, success and ability to capitalize on the opportunities that his civil rights offer.
Mr. Obama has sought to emulate Republican President Abraham Lincoln who did more than any other president to advance the civil rights that were promised in our Declaration of Independence and Constitution. He had no intention of abolishing slavery or instigating a civil war with the Democrats when he took office but that’s just what he ended up doing. Could we have abolished slavery without a civil war? Would it have eventually happened with or without Abraham Lincoln? Will Barack Obama learn from history and put an end to the modern day segregation of inner city public schools? There is no right of education and there is no democracy if there is no choice.
9-12-08 School Choice for Teachers and Students
I hope the unfortunate circumstances in the Guilderland School District that led to the transfer and ultimate resignation of Social-Studies teacher Matt Nelligan have taught us something. To me it offers an opportunity to achieve an understanding of the issue of School Choice. The best way I can present this perspective is to relate a discussion I had with a Massachusetts Teacher Union President last year. The union leader was lamenting the assignment of some of his teachers to undesirable schools within the district. He asked how we could expect these teachers to function and perform to the standards we want from them when they are being forced to work in an environment they didn’t want to be in.
I couldn’t believe my ears. He inadvertently expressed a clear understanding of why public schools fail to educate all children to the standards we expect. All he had to do was replace the word “teachers” with “students” in his statement. But when I asked him to do so, he suggested that the result would mean that we shouldn’t force children to be in school at all. I tried further to make an “apples-to-apples” comparison by explaining that the teachers in his scenario weren’t being deprived of employment, or the specific job they had been hired to do, just the environment in which they would be doing it. But he refused to see the simple comparison.
This narrow minded union leader was so focused on the employment “rights” of the teachers he represented that he could not see the inequity in depriving parents and their children of the same right to choose. After all, a sound basic education is a Constitutional right but there is no such right to the job of your choice. Freedom of choice is the most basic right of the people of any democracy but wherever school choice is proposed, the unions mount a campaign to defeat it. How the unions can get away with depriving American citizens of their rights is mind-boggling. What we need is for teacher union leadership to refocus their attention to the needs of the children first and to stop trying to protect its untenable political standing - that, or some political leadership that isn’t afraid to make them.
9-29-2007 Letter to Editor, Education Week
Kudos to Alfred A. Lindseth for his assessment of adequacy lawsuits in his September 12th article entitled: “A Reversal of Fortunes”. He produced five reasons why some courts have changed course in awarding additional taxes to be spent on failing schools. These reasons centered on the courts acting outside of their purview and money not being the answer. Education reform activists knew this all along of course and I would like to think that our Judges are at least as smart as the rest of us. This leads me to a sixth reason which I believe has the most validity – politics.
My own experience with the Campaign for Fiscal Equity lawsuit here in New York has brought me to this more cynical understanding. The CFE lawsuit was initiated at the beginning of Republican Governor Pataki’s tenure. The lawsuit and the impossible financial burden it imposed on the State was a thorn the side of Governor Pataki throughout his term. The school district that was to benefit from the nine billion dollars was that of Democratic stronghold New York City. Several other big city districts attempting to ride the CFE’s coattails were also heavily Democratic. These districts were already spending double what many surrounding suburban and rural school districts were spending and it is my belief that the additional money was intended to bolster the unions’ political strength and their participation in Democratic Party politics. But the real clincher in my determination of this political component was that New York’s highest court wasted no time reversing the lower court’s ruling so the newly elected Democratic Governor Spitzer (formerly the State’s Attorney General) wouldn’t be hamstrung by the same financial burden that his Republican predecessor was saddled with.
7-16-07 Napoleonic teacher unions control education
To the Editor,
I’ve got to hand it to Aaron Harrell if he’s nothing else, he’s consistent - always trying to convince people that black is white. I dared to suggest that teacher unions are socialist in nature and he responded that American corporations are no different than the unions in their control of education. Not only that but I am “myopic” for not seeing it his way. The last time Mr. Harrell was this backward in his belief was when he wrote a letter about how he thinks there is much more religion in government now than there used to be and how dangerous this is to our way of life!
Corporate America consists of Liberals, Conservatives and the uninitiated. They are not a unified block that exerts pressure in any one direction. Many corporations feel strongly about educational freedom and provide financial support to organizations and leaders who pursue it. Then there are those like Microsoft’s Bill Gates who donated five million dollars to the NEA union several years ago. At the time he said that he did it because he believed in public education and I remember responding that that was like giving five million to the IRS because you believed in helping the poor. Then there’s George Soros who bankrolled groups like ACT (Americans Coming Together) consisting largely of teacher union members and created solely to campaign against George Bush in the last election.
Mr. Harrell suggests that Animal Farm by George Orwell “reveals how political systems work and how individuals or groups influence the political process”. Really? That’s what Orwell was trying to show us? I suppose 1984 was really about time travel? No, Orwell cleverly used the allegory to show the rise and fall of the typical Socialist/Collectivist/Marxist/Communist models. It was, among other things, a warning not to fall for the sophistry of people who might limit education to teaching only the ideals that will perpetuate the ruling class in those models and fool the common man into thinking he is free.
Mr. Harrell suggests that NCLB (written by Ted Kennedy) “undermines our children’s educational opportunity” and that it “is the largest and most comprehensive federal incursion into public education since desegregation” and that if Democrats were the big-government control freaks that I suggest they are, they would be supporting NCLB instead of trying to stop its reauthorization. Well that suggestion might hold water if NCLB was a big federal power grab but in reality (and this is where Senator Kennedy got snookered) it allows students to opt out of failing union/government run schools. It lets parents choose schools that they think will do a better job and as we see in the case of Albany charter schools, that means any school that isn’t unionized. The abysmally failing New Covenant Charter School is the only charter school in Albany that is unionized.
Mr. Harrell went on to liken President Bush to the Socialist leader in the Animal Farm story, Napoleon the pig. He likened me and others who voted for President Bush to the sheep who were taught by the pigs to mindlessly repeat what they were told. He has called me myopic, xenophobic and emotional in what I write. Now I have to say something partly in my defense but also, because the aim of these slurs is to insult the many people who agree with me into doubting their convictions, to give strength to them. My mind is not narrow. I am not afraid of foreigners and am so analytical in what I do and write that I have been criticized by people who actually know me for not letting emotion play enough of a role in my decision making. Mr. Harrell you are wrong - wrong about me, my President, corporations, government, unions, religion and virtually everything of yours that I have ever read. Not just a little bit wrong but one hundred and eighty degrees off in most cases. I think that when you write a criticism of others, you are actually projecting insecurities of your own conscience. This is like a “tell” to a poker player and I love playing poker with Liberals.
5-23-07 Phonetic Decoding is the Right Way to teach Reading
Regarding the continuing debate over the way reading is taught in our public schools, there are some behind-the-scene activities taking place at the federal level that local parents and advocates need to be aware of.
First - a brief history of phonics vs. whole word concepts and their role in American public education. The whole word method of teaching reading was first introduced by progressive education advocates around 1930. Prior to that, phonics was the only method of teaching reading to people whose language centered around an alphabet of letters with unique sounds. (Exceptions being languages like those of the Chinese and Egyptians who used whole word hieroglyphs in their writing.)
American students’ reading and writing skills have declined whenever and wherever Whole Word type programs are practiced and there have been many successful but limited attempts over the years to revert back to the proven effectiveness of phonetic decoding. Besides this history, there is compelling new research that explains how and why using sight word memorization techniques can actually cause an induced dyslexia. So why is it so difficult to make phonics use universal and permanent? Why is it that despite Whole Word’s ineffectiveness as a reading tool, left wing politicians insist on supporting it? I am beginning to think they may support it specifically BECAUSE of its ineffectiveness.
Having come of age at a time of race riots and Viet Nam war protests, I was subjected to the mantra of the day to “question authority”. Our campuses were hotbeds of social unrest. It was a time when our government was brought to its knees by communist groups like Students for a Democratic Society. “Knowledge is power” became a catch phrase. Many of those who used to admonish their peers to question authority have today become the authority themselves. A citizen who cannot read well will have limited knowledge and therefore limited power. Is the coincidental decline of student performance, voter participation and civil discourse the result of an increasingly socialist establishment’s efforts to limit the public’s ability to question their authority?
Consider the role of the teacher unions. The unions’ principle reason for existence is to bargain for better pay and working conditions for teachers. They have done their job very well and teachers have achieved some of the most enviable working conditions in the modern world. The unions themselves have come a long way as well. They have become part of a symbiotic (some would say parasitic) relationship between teachers, liberal politicians, the big government education bureaucracy and textbook publishing companies. Their meteoric rise to power began just after the Viet Nam war when President Carter rewarded them for being a deciding factor in his election by creating a new cabinet position and federal Department of Education. The teacher unions used their new status to lobby lawmakers for better pay but politicians, who rarely do what’s right just because it’s the right thing to do, demanded something in return. So the unions put feet on the ground, manned phone trees and gave large campaign contributions to politicians in return for legislation that strengthened their position even further. Teacher unions became the largest presence at the Democratic National Conventions right alongside the Trial Lawyers of America and they have used their power and resources to stifle the election of BOE candidates, the growth of charter schools or school choice and anything that threatens the government’s complete control of education including how reading is taught.
Democratic Congressman George Miller of California and Democratic Senator Tom Harkin of Iowa have asked the Bush administration to provide Congress with additional information about how the federal Reading First program has been carried out, including whether criminal violations may have occurred and what Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings may know about the “problem” of favoring reading programs that are proven effective.
Rep. Miller has asked the U.S. Department of Justice (Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales) to launch a criminal inquiry. Now I am beginning to understand why Democrats are making a big stink about the the Bush administration’s recent firing of several U.S. Attorneys and why they have tried to push Mr. Gonzales out of office. Pundits have been mystified to explain the Democrats’ outrage over the firings because it was nothing out of the ordinary. But when you understand that Democrats are trying to stop reauthorization of NCLB or at least gut it of the Reading First program and that Attorney General Gonzales will stand in their way, things begin to clarify.
There’s big money in the publication of reading programs and I want to know if Congressman Miller and Senator Harkin have ever taken campaign contributions from any of those Whole Word publishers who are being left out by Reading First’s funding of new research based phonics programs. Till the next chapter in this debate, I would like to leave you with a homework assignment; read Orwell’s Animal Farm.
3-22-07 Whole Word memorization is the wrong way to teach reading
To the Editor,
I would like to delve a bit deeper into the Guilderland School District’s reading debate in relation to recent statements made in this newspaper. First, with regard to the level and quality of reading instruction in the district, we have Assistant Superintendent for Instruction Nancy Andress stating: “We are, indeed, meeting students’ needs.”
One of the problems with public schools today is that there are so many positions like “Assistant Superintendent for Instruction”. Sorry, but the system is top heavy and unless your Assistant Superintendents also teach six periods a day, they have become part of the problem.
The other problem there, is that the “meeting students’ needs” statement typifies an attitude of resistance to change.
Andress then quoted something that a “reading expert” said about phonics back in 1934, but nobody who was considered a reading expert 73 years ago has any degree of relevance today.
Today’s experts can cite research using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to pinpoint which brain systems are activated when a child performs reading or reading related tasks. This is the research that proves what many have known all along – that early immersion in systematic, explicit phonics is imperative.
There is a window in the development of the brain’s neural pathways that if missed creates obstacles to future learning. Phonics must come first, while this window of opportunity exists. The other essential components of an effective reading program; fluency, vocabulary and comprehension, depend on phonemic awareness and therefore must come second.
Andress is also quoted as saying; “In Guilderland, we’ve never joined a side…We’ve looked carefully recently at this push for phonics first and meaning second. But we’ve maintained a model…in which skills and meaning go hand-in-hand right from the start. This is how teachers teach.”
That’s similar to what most public school representatives have said for decades when in fact they rely almost exclusively on the use of lists of sight words to be memorized. If any letter sounds are taught at all it comes in a remedial fashion to a limited number of students. Most students enter grade school with an average vocabulary of over twenty thousand words that they can say and comprehend and they add ten thousand new words every year. Whole language, by any of its other names including “balanced literacy”, can only effectively teach children to recognize a few hundred words a year. This severely limits the richness of the literature they can handle.
With regard to her statement that: “This is how teachers teach”, I will offer this paragraph from “Why Kids Can’t Read – Challenging the Status Quo in Education”: “…fundamentally, university schools of education have not embraced research-based findings in preparing professional reading instructors. While this deficient preparation is not the fault of teachers, when challenged by parents, they naturally become defensive. School leaders can react defensively as well, owing to their ignorance on the topic of reading instruction, their lack of resources and support to comprehensively retrain faculty, or both.”
It is this abject denial of low performance that has resulted in the current accountability measures that our education establishment is so vehemently protesting. When education reform activists that I was working with twelve years ago began alerting people to the downward slide in educational outcomes, we were told that we were wrong, that testing was not necessary, and that they had no intention of changing the way they taught.
That was twelve years ago people, and it is a testament to the power of the unions that Governors and even the President have not been able to fundamentally change the “save the buggy whip” mentality that so pervades this leviathan of public schools.
3-9-2007 IMAGINARY "UNFUNDED STATE MANDATES"
I went to a presentation on the $9,000,000.00 EGCSD bond proposition the other day. Architect Mike Poost along with Wayne Pratt offered a nice slide show and color brochures depicting the poor conditions in many of our school buildings. While some of the repairs are without question necessary, others like artificial turf for the outdoor athletic field are clearly not. Mr. Poost made it a point to depict himself as a person who wears two hats - one as a taxpayer in the district who is as concerned as anyone else about the tax rates we all must pay and the other as the architect who understands the cost of safe and effective school buildings. But I have to be skeptical about the taxpayer hat because he is isolated from property tax payments by the very fact that his income is largely derived from the school building projects he promotes. While the taxes on his beautiful estate must be very high, I am sure his profits (derived from our taxes) take care of them many times over.
Mr. Pratt, at one point in the presentation (with but a handful of interested parents in attendance) suggested that the State money for this project would just be scoffed up by some other school district if we didn’t take advantage of it. But there is no pile of free money from the State. The State (aren’t we part of that taxpaying body?) has had to borrow money every year in order to keep up with the funding demands that our district, along with about 700 others, have created. We in East Greenbush have spent about $90 million on capital improvement projects over the past several years but it has not resulted in higher educational outcomes. Mr. Pratt also spoke of how little our portion of this project would cost the average homeowner and suggested that if we had to pay for these projects through local taxes only, the impact would be higher. I would like to know exactly what that impact would be so that I could make an informed decision. It would be more fiscally responsible for us to tackle the repair and maintenance of our buildings on a cash basis rather than increasing the already burdensome legacy of debt on our children.
At the same time that the bond proposal was being made at Bell Top Elementary School, our top employee of the district, Superintendent Brewer, was giving his budget presentation elsewhere.
While I couldn’t be at two locations simultaneously, I have been to Mr. Brewer’s long winded presentations in the past and can say with certitude that he complained about “unfunded mandates” from the State. While I don’t agree that it takes any more money to effectively teach kids to read with systematic phonics than with the unreliable Whole-Word approach, any reasonable person can see that millions spent on things like Astroturf reduce the State’s ability to provide real academic funding. If the State doesn’t have enough money to pay for solid academic programs we only need to look in the mirror to see who’s responsible.
I’ve made these arguments against previous bond propositions and have no delusions about this one passing as well. It certainly is easy to pass a ‘Tax, Borrow & Spend’ plan if those who vote on it think (or pretend) someone else will be paying for it.
2-20-07 Why Johnny Can't Read
To the Editor,
I am going to venture to weigh in on the debate that began in this newspaper two weeks ago with an article about a group of Guilderland parents who have discovered that the way reading is being taught is failing their children. This is not a recent problem and it is not endemic to Guilderland. Rudolph Flesch first wrote about it in 1955 in “Why Johnny Can’t Read - and what you can do about it”. When nothing had been done about it he wrote another entitled “Why Johnny Still Can’t Read” in 1981. And when very little had been done about it by 2006, Phyllis Blaunstein & Reid Lyon wrote: “Why Kids Can’t Read – Challenging the Status Quo in Education”.
In reading each of these books over the past fifteen years and then experiencing the injustices perpetrated against my own children in public schools I have drawn conclusions that most middle-of-the-road parents just don’t want to hear. So if you are one of those people who have taken offense at what I have written in the past, let me warn you right here. Stop reading this letter now. Go back to whatever it is that keeps you muddled in acceptance of things the way they are.
In each of these books you will discover what will happen to you in the coming weeks and years if you choose to continue your quest to change the way reading is taught in public schools. The scenario has been played out countless times in school districts all across the country ever since progressive educators first introduced “whole language” also known as “whole word” into the American teaching lexicon.
Throughout all of human history prior to the introduction of “whole language”, phonetic decoding was the norm for teaching reading in every language that uses an alphabet of letters with unique sounds. The “whole word” method relies on the student’s memory of what a series of letters look like and then associating it with a meaning. This is usually done by putting a picture next to the word. It is a method that works better for girls than boys but it severely limits both to a much smaller vocabulary than is necessary for success when reading their history, science and math textbooks. Hence a general decline in educational outcomes across the board.
Whole word was developed by psychologists who still defend it despite overwhelming evidence of its failure. Millions of Americans, boys in particular, have had their learning capacities constrained by this scandal. I for one remember struggling through the public schools that I attended. I was almost held back in my senior year at Colonie Central H.S. because of my English grade. After being out of school for a while I found I had to do some reading and writing at work and had to teach myself a great deal of what I should have been taught in school. I remember in particular having a problem transposing the letters “d” and “b” and wondering if I was dyslexic. When I noticed my youngest son doing the same thing I broached the subject of dyslexia to his teacher and was reassured that was not, and very rarely is, the case. Further study of the matter has taught me that more often than not, boys in particular are quickly labeled in ways that require expensive remediation. School districts receive extra state aid for children who are labeled as having special needs. My son received phonics based remedial instruction that year but the program was not available in the years since and his reading skill is not what I know it could be.
A massive industry has developed around the publication of whole language based textbooks and this has led to an intractably defensive position by the unions, bureaucrats and politicians who are beholden to campaign contributions by textbook publishing companies. Does this give you a clue as to why textbooks cost so much?
To the Editor, FEMALE QUOTIENT 1/22/2007
Regarding the Jan 21st Albany Times Union newspaper article: “Female Quotient” by Teri Bordenave, I would like to add an opposing perspective which I believe to be a more accurate synopsis of the female quotient.
The Times Union article claims that there is no question that girls are as good as boys in math and science. The facts do not support such a statement. The author tries to prove that girls are now doing just as good as boys in these two subjects by offering one example where boys only outperformed girls by a score of 280 to 278, a mere 2 points on the eighth grade math exam in 2005. Girls have never outperformed boys and the overall gap considering hundreds of tests over many years is far wider. I have checked the complete data that Ms Bordenave had to ignore to make her claim and found that the actual results indicate a much wider disparity… and an inconvenient truth that exposes a hidden agenda.
From 1990 to 2004 all students in all areas of high school math have seen a drop in test scores. The gender gap is closing but the reason is that boys’ test scores have dropped farther than girls’. The narrowing of the gap in educational outcomes is the result of a focus on new teaching methods that are fundamentally less effective but lend favor to the way girls learn. The new idea of parity is to ignore the boys. The result is not that girls have caught up but that boys’ educational outcomes have declined further.
According to the National Center for Educational Statistics that the author cites, seventy-five percent of teachers in public schools are female. This in itself gives girls a distinct advantage. The public schools’ recent emphasis on team learning favors girls as well. Girls generally do more and work better in groups while boys are generally more independent and competitive. Competition in education has been all but eliminated. The phonetic decoding method of teaching students to read has been supplanted by the girls-friendly “whole word” memorization method. Boys and girls enter intellectual maturity at different age levels and learn differently. The coed environment in public schools increasingly ignores the needs of boys.
Also, according to the NCES, there has been an increase in the number of boys who drop out of high school. Boys accounted for 53.1% of all high school dropouts in 1990. Girls accounted for 46.9%. By 2004, the latest figures available, boys were up to 56% while girls dropped to 44%. This trend continues into college as well.
Leftist principles seek equality by constraining the successes of the highest achievers in academics, economics and wherever they perceive “unjust” disparities.
Affirmative action has proven to be no different than reverse discrimination. Our place in the world economy is in peril because other nations are not engaging in this egalitarian suicide. If our education system is to succeed, it must reverse this trend. It must encourage boys to be competitive, independent and aggressive but disciplined in their education. Let’s embrace our diversity and let boys be boys by acknowledging and encouraging their unique strengths.
Follow-up to the original letter above:
The proactive policies depicted above that favor girls are a consequence of actions taken by FLOTUS Hillary Clinton.
She created the false notion that boys were being favored in public school classrooms...a myth that was fabricated in order to justify the new focus on girls that she was advocating.
The use of psychotropic drugs and misperceptions of ADD and ADHD also came about during that same period.
There are also disproportionate numbers of girls in college today as another consequence of her push.
Mrs. Clinton also advocated for children to have the right to sue their parents and for 16 year-olds to have the right to vote.
Hillary held every man and boy in the country accountable for her husband's high testosterone.
She is the single most responsible person to blame for the numbers of 30 year old men living in their mother's basements and the numbers of girls with expensive but useless college degrees in subjects that produce nothing of value to employers.
10-24-06 Letter to the editor - Education Week
With regard to your Oct. 18th article entitled: "Advocates Turn Out for N.Y. School Funding Case", I would like to present a few observations beginning with the picture of eight protestors (It looks as though even the bus driver was asked to step into the frame) taken from inside the bus. There is actually very little public support for this lawsuit. I can testify to this as I personally attended one of the Campaign for Fiscal Equity lawsuit presentations years ago. There had been a radio news story that CFE attorney Michael Rebel would make a presentation at the Albany H.S. auditorium prior to the court’s decision and I made it a point to be there. It was attended by fewer than eight people (including non-supporters) and the photo that appeared in the newspaper the next day was similarly framed to imply larger turnout.
Some time later, still before the court’s decision, a statewide ballot proposition appeared in the November election that provided for a specific dollar amount to be spent to improve New York’s public schools. It was soundly defeated and when asked how that would affect his pending lawsuit, Mr. Rebel famously suggested that voters obviously thought the dollar amount was too low.
When Judge Leland DeGrasse ultimately reached his decision he didn’t create the new “equitable formula” that the plaintiffs were seeking. He went beyond that in actually awarding a specific amount in the billions of dollars and ordered the State Legislature to devise a formula to achieve it. This led some to speculate that an impeachment was in order.
He also made it clear that he was awarding the money to New York City only but that hasn’t stopped an additional sixteen small city school districts (all Democrat strongholds) elsewhere in the state from demanding their own funding increases.
It should also be noted that our city school districts currently receive much more money than suburban and rural districts.
Additionally, all school districts have received increases in the amount of money they receive from the State as a result of Republican Governor Pataki’s STAR program. The STAR program was designed to bring balance between the amount of money each district generated through local property taxes and the amount provided by state taxpayers at large. Throughout Governor Pataki’s tenure, the suburban school district that I reside within has spent tens of millions of State tax dollars and now that the improvements those dollars purchased have been achieved, our high school finds itself on the NCLB list of schools in need of improvement.
Another aspect of the CFE lawsuit that needs attention is that it invoked the peoples’ “Constitutional right” to a sound basic education. I know of no other Constitutional right that requires mandatory participation or taxpayer funding. Think of how happy we would be with compulsory attendance of a public church. Try compulsory voting, speech or gun ownership at taxpayer expense as well. If faithfulness were to wane would we demand more money for the Church or is it remotely possible that the term “choice” would enter the debate?
9-29-06 Public Schooling is not a Right
To the Editor,
With regard to statements made in an article that appeared in the Sept. 28th Daily Gazette entitled: “Small city school districts demand more aid” I would like to add a rebuttal. The article describes the efforts of a group of small city school districts to piggyback upon New York City’s Campaign for Fiscal Equity lawsuit.
The principals and beneficiaries of the lawsuit continue to make some outrageous claims that will not stand up to scrutiny.
First, I would like to present one very important fact about New York City’s CFE lawsuit in order to show how it differs from and cannot be applied to other cities. The new formula proposed by the CFE considers the cost of real estate in New York City as the primary reason they need more money. The schools themselves are more expensive, and teachers simply cannot afford to live in The Big Apple on the same salaries that upstate teachers enjoy. Therefore, it is claimed they need more money for school buildings and higher salaries to attract and sustain better teachers. I will not even concede that point but other major city school districts of New York State currently receive significantly more funding than rural and suburban school districts even though they do not suffer from New York City’s endemic real estate scarcity and cost.
The CFE lawsuit was careful not to simply demand more money but a more “equitable” formula that a judge could more easily justify granting. Judges cannot simply order more money to be redistributed to these 16 small cities (Democratic strongholds) without risking impeachment.
The CFE lawsuit also claimed that the State (meaning upstate taxpayers) was denying NYC students their Constitutional right to a “sound, basic education” by not providing enough money but I will argue that it is the compulsory nature of public school attendance without a choice that actually violates our rights.
Think about it. Is there any Constitutional right that citizens are forced to engage in? Must we pray, vote, speak or own a gun? Would religion and gun ownership be better if they were taxpayer funded and compulsory?
Let’s take this absurdity a step farther. If gun ownership were a right, in the same sense education in a public school is claimed to be, would you be happy to own the brand of gun that the government compelled you to own? Would you be content to own a BB gun that cost as much as a .357Magnum at a private gun shop? It isn’t prayer or speech per se that the Constitution guarantees. It is our right to choose our speech, prayer, gun ownership etc. No amount of money can do for education what can be done with one little word. If a basic education is a right, it must include CHOICE.
9-22-06 Military Recruiting of Youths in Public Schools
To the Editor,
This letter is in response to one that appeared in The Independent on Sept 15th entitled "Parents can opt to have students avoid military recruiters" by Wendy Dwyer. (Ms Dwyer’s letter also appeared in The Altamont Enterprise this week)
I was in high school toward the end of the Vietnam War and would like to remind you of the conditions back then. The war in Vietnam was the product of two successive Democratic presidents who were determined to stop the spread of an ideology: communism. (Imagine that - Democrats against communism. Things have really changed) The Vietnamese did not attack us and there was no imminent threat to our national security. It was a war of attrition where we were out to show the Communists how far we would go and how many lives we were willing to sacrifice just to stop the spread of their ideology.
At that time I was not allowed to vote. There was a draft and I was not allowed to opt out. Toward the end of the war, a draft lottery was established where 365 birth-dates were picked out of a hat and the order in which your birth-date was picked, along with the Army's need, determined whether or note you would be sent into battle. My birth-date was selected number eight and like it or not, I was scheduled to go to boot-camp with only a few weeks notice. Fortunately for me, our nation's elders decided it was time for a regime change and voted in a Republican President who ended the war just before my scheduled departure.
There was also this one other option I could have taken advantage of if the war hadn't ended first. When all of us eighteen year-olds appeared before the Draft Board we were given a test. Those of us who scored high on this aptitude test were approached by military recruiters from the various branches. They were looking for people with special skills. People who would not likely get wasted (pardon the pun) on the front line.
I declined all their offers. If things were different, as they are today, I would have enlisted. A friend of mine had joined the Sea Bees (Construction Battalion) and told me of a great many adventures he experienced all over the world.
Today we have no draft. We are at war with people who attacked us on numerous occasions and were/are determined to kill us all if we do not adopt their ideology. We can vote at a younger age now but we cannot end this war by voting for a President or a Congress for that matter because they cannot end the war. They can only end our response to it. If you think that having your name on a school list that is available to military recruiters is some kind of fascist scheme remember that the government has all the information they need about us in their Social Security database. The school lists are just a convenience.
You also state in your editorial that: "One of the beauties of a Democracy is that it offers freedom of choice...unlike in a totalitarian regime..." Well now you have inadvertently hit the proverbial nail on the head. Our public school system is a totalitarian regime - we have no choice. If you do not like the government's rules in the government schools that the government funds then you might want to vote for Republican politicians who will once again bring choice where once there was none.
Lastly, one of the letter writers you cite, Wendy Dwyer, stated: "I do not believe youth should be approached without a parent present." Really? Most Liberals seem to think its okay to approach a young girl with regard to abortion when no parent is around. The hypocrisy just keeps getting thicker.
10/31/05 Letter to a Teacher
Dear Ms O’Connell,
Thank you for your thoughtful response to my request for a stronger emphasis on phonics. I am glad to know that you see its value but I cannot agree that whole language is useful to any but a limited few.
I have many reasons for believing phonics should be the primary method of teaching children to read and the whole word method relegated to the fallback position for those few who may not be able to grasp decoding. Even a dog can memorize words but memory has its limitations. The phonetic method requires the use of and stimulates the growth of a different part of the brain. I think we can agree that rote learning has a role but a limited one. I consider the phonetic method of reading to be much like mathematics in that it stimulates the brain’s ability to deduce which then enables greater achievement in other areas. It is a tool of creativity.
As I said previously, reading (thoroughly) “Why Johnny Can’t Read” would be a good primer to a debate on this issue but it would only serve as part of an opening remark in what has taken me most of my adult life to understand. It is not “…exactly where (my) ideals are based”.
We all are indeed like snowflakes and it’s my unique experiences that have taught me that our education bureaucracy is too large, politically motivated and unyielding to respond to the disparate needs of all of our individual learners. I have testified before the State Senate and Assembly Education Committees on two occasions where I experienced more than I could learn from any book. I have been part of a group that met with Commissioner Mills for a series of discussions. I stood in for New York State and NYC teacher of the year John Taylor Gatto as keynote speaker at a conference on conservative education policy when he was called away on an emergency. I have had in depth discussions with teachers who bore witness to the infiltration of progressive teaching methods. One of those teachers took part in a project to teach prison inmates how to read phonetically and experienced dramatic reductions in recidivism. I could and may yet fill a book with the experiences that have formed this snowflake.
I have taken note of the article by Sharon Cromwell that you attached and in those few sentences there are keys to the problems and solutions to this issue. Who are “the majority of experts” she cites? Whole language supporters use psychologists to bolster their argument while phonetic supporters cite linguists. I agree with the linguists. Their argument makes sense while psychologists’ doesn’t. Psychologists have very little credibility with me for the simple reason that they try to fit us into one-size-fits-all (snowball) groups. She then mentions “…debates like phonics vs. whole language in the media…” but I have never heard such a debate. To the contrary I have witnessed a prolonged and concerted effort by the education establishment and the media to stifle all debate on the subject because they know they would loose such a debate. They have gone so far as to insist, presumably in anticipation of their eventual defeat, that there is no right or wrong, only differences of opinion.
You stated that you were unsure what I meant by Superintendent Brewer being contradicted so permit me to explain. I am a member of the Schodack Business Association. Mr. Brewer was keynote speaker at a recent SBA meeting. Before committing to attend the meeting I asked the SBA why he was making a budget presentation to our group when neither he nor the EGCSD were members. I was sure that our group was going to be subjected to one of Mr. Brewer’s long winded dog and pony shows but received assurances that he would not be permitted to get away without answering some tough questions. True to form, Mr. Brewer spoke past the appointed end of the meeting (while pontificating about nothing more than MANDATES & MORE MONEY) leaving no time for questioning or debate. In the two minutes that I was permitted to question Mr. Brewer I broached the subject of phonics. If you were to read “Why Johnny Can’t Read” or “Why Johnny Still Can’t Read” for that matter, you would know what Mr. Brewer’s response was – as I knew it would be – because it was the pat response that administrators have been giving parents for decades and is noted in those books. He said that our teachers teach phonics, when I know that some teachers don’t because I have spoken to many teachers over the years who have told me that the phonetic method was not taught and was in fact scoffed at in the teaching colleges they attended. Furthermore, as I noted in my first letter, Madison’s first grade teacher admitted as much to me in one of our conferences. The contradiction is; how can he say that students are getting phonics when teachers are saying they are not? Systematic phonics is not being practiced.
You should do an Internet search on ‘facilitated communication’ if you care to understand what lengths reformers must go to in order to expose the education establishment’s malfeasance.
With regard to your being unclear what I am doing at home to help with Madison’s reading, I said I have been (past tense) very involved, not “are very involved”. I had to give up in frustration (not with him) when it took all night to get through his reading assignments. He would often say: “We haven’t learned that word yet”. So my wife goes over the sight words with him. Lately I have limited my involvement to reading to him and telling him how much I love reading. I’ll never forget one time when I had been reading at length and noticed that his eyes were closed. I asked if he was asleep and he said: “No, I’m just painting pictures in my mind”.
Regards, David Crawmer
PS. Neither of my children and none of my younger employees write very legibly. I have watched how they form letters and it is clear that they have not been taught properly. I know that it has been the district’s policy not to discourage the attempt no matter how feeble but this is the type of thing (low expectations) that contributes to poor overall performance. Raising these standards doesn’t cost more money.
10/17/05 To the Editor, Altamont Enterprize, Our Current Public School System is Socialist
This letter is in response to Aaron Harrell of Guilderland for his rambling letter of last week that started with a timid acknowledgement that “we do need to address some issues in our public education system” and ended with an assault on capitalism and some convoluted relationship to defective flak jackets for our troops.
Let’s get one thing straight. There is nothing capitalist about the No Child Left Behind law. It was written by Ted Kennedy and there are at least as many Conservatives that don’t like it as there are Liberals, though for different reasons.
Second, I was not writing about “public education” in my letter that Mr. Harrell referenced. I was criticizing “public schools”. Public schools these days have less to do with public education than political indoctrination. Liberals always seem to hold “public education” up as a shield to deflect any and all criticism of public schools. We have some excellent private schools that have always outperformed public schools. Now Mr. Harrell will no doubt suggest the usual boiler plate inanity that private schools pick and choose better students to start with but the fact is that they don’t.
Public and private schools had much more in common fifty years ago than they do today and the decline in public school performance is a direct result of more recent changes. Relaxed discipline and an abandonment of phonetic based reading are two key changes that public schools have embraced. If given a choice, many parents would prefer that their children be given the same challenging and disciplined classroom environment that was the norm in decades past. Reasonable people can see this cause and affect relationship and it’s a joke that people like Mr. Harrell would even suggest that public schools are in any way capitalist in nature. Capitalism? Without a choice? No sir, our public schools are a perfect example of the socialist economic model. That is why they are failing and no amount of money will change that fact.
Let me give you an example of just one experience that will shed light on the mindset of your typical public school administrator. Last year my second grade son brought home a reading assignment that included the urging of parents to help in water conservation. Among the many suggestions was when showering, get wet, then turn off the water while you wash, then turn it back on to rinse. Get real!
The homework also stated that you use 3 to 5 gallons of water when you flush your toilet. That’s just not true and it wasn’t true five years earlier either when my eldest son brought home the same assignment. I had a meeting with the teacher back then and together we explored the workbook that the assignment was drawn from. It was dated 1971! Even then 3 to 5 gallons was a stretch. She said that she would pay closer attention to what she sent home in the future but five years later I found myself arguing with the principle this time and she would yield no ground. I told her that if she wanted students to actually do any conserving of water that she might want to explain that water costs money. I said, after all, we are a capitalist nation. She said, that was my opinion and that many parents (the pets) thought environmental awareness was a necessary part of the curriculum. I had to bite my tongue to keep from asking that proverbial question: “If they thought it was a good idea to jump off a bridge would you follow?”
I will further explore the environmental extremism of our public schools on another day but getting back to Mr. Harrell’s letter, he tries to blame an imaginary lack of funding for public schools on evil capitalist corporate CEOs. He claims they make an average of $11.8 million compared to only $27,460 for the average worker. I’d be willing to bet he listens to NPR where it would never be mentioned that teachers make an average of $50,000 for no more than 900 hours of work compared to the 2000+ hours of the average worker whose taxes pay that teacher’s salary. Teacher’s salaries are much more than the open market would bear and that is the real reason why their unions put so much energy into suppressing our right to choose. A retiring union leader admitted as much to me when we were engaged in a cordial debate several years ago. At my suggestion of choice in education she said: “Don’t you realize that the ‘glass ceiling’ has finally been broken in education?” She only began to listen to what I was saying when I asked her how she could justify a woman’s right to choose the life or death of her child but refuse her the right to a choice of educational environment.
Mr. Harrell drifted even further off course by suggesting that capitalism and one CEO in particular are responsible for our troops not having armored vests in Iraq. But the real reason that they didn’t have them or much of the other equipment they could have used was because the Clinton administration with the help of John Frugal Kerry, the wealthiest Senator in US history, decimated the military budget before those of us of sound judgement put George Winner Bush in charge, twice!Lastly, Mr. Harrell suggests we…”leave the task of educating to the educators, those who have our children’s best interest at heart”. Do you even have children Mr. Harrell? There is no one on Earth but my wife and myself that can make that claim about our children and I would suggest that anyone who thinks that educating our children is the right, responsibility or better left to the State is a Socialist and has no credibility.
9-1-05 New Year Same Old Schools
Well, the new school year is here and once again I am braced for the inevitable battle. Like many Americans I’ve spent years advocating education reform but the bureaucrats in education deny that standards have slipped or that many of their new teaching methods are part of the problem. They deny that basic education has been replaced by indoctrination and “training”. They still say they need more money.
Lawmakers across the country who sought the truth found that public schools had abandoned standardized testing as a means of gauging the effectiveness of the new teaching methods and like many other states, New York is reintroducing those standards. The Liberal extremists in our public schools complained that they would have to “teach to the test” and that “real” education as they saw it, would suffer.
To placate the teacher unions, the passing grade for the new Regents tests was set at 55% but more than ½ the students taking the first test, failed! Over the past couple of years grades have increased but wouldn’t they have to? I wrote about it in a local newspaper a couple of years ago and the paper printed a responding letter by a local woman who suggested that my “opinion” was politically motivated. She wrote that the real reason that more students were passing the new Regents tests was because of all the money we were spending. I suspected that she was the one who was politically motivated because Liberals have a tendency of accusing others of the very things that they are guilty of. It’s part of their pathology. Psychologists call it “projecting”. Sure enough, after asking a few people in her town (Guilderland) I learned that she was an administrator at the Board of Cooperative Educational Services. How pathetic.
Education reformers wanted school choice but we settled for testing only as a means of proving the need for school choice. Testing proves that our public schools are not preparing our children for life in a world where they have to compete globally. Most of our socio-economic woes can be attributed to a lack of knowledge of capitalism and its roll in American life. Our public school teachers do not understand that they and many of the parents who sycophantically support them have been indoctrinated into the same anti-capitalist ideology that they are passing on to their children.
Most of the publicly employed educators I’ve met in my struggle have stood in the way of progress. Some stand in the way of real reform such as school choice and charter schools because they know these alternatives will outperform and threaten their monopolistic public schools.
Others stand in the way because they have been indoctrinated in schools just like the ones in which they are employed, which means that they can’t think for themselves. They cannot utilize deductive reasoning to reach a conclusion about anything. They simply learned what they were told and that’s the way it is. If you try to wake them up, their eyes glaze over. They go catatonic.Then there are the politically motivated unionists. They are using public schools for social engineering. They gauge their success by how well their students parrot their extreme left-wing views. To get high marks their students simply need to show their support for the environment, animals and uninhibited sex. They get extra points if they protest anything traditional like pledging allegiance to the flag, religious expression, or the military.
5-25-2005 Dear Mrs. Wilkes,
In response to your note of this morning, May 25th, my conversation with school principal Mrs. Carlton concerned the activity day in the swampy wooded area behind the school. It is a haven for ticks. Deer ticks and Lyme disease were my only concern in objecting to the journey into the woods. Madison participated in the same activity last year and came home with a tick that Christian found and removed before it had penetrated his skin. I immediately drove to the school and apprised the substitute principal of what had happened. I expressed my concerns about the danger that the children were being exposed to, more so because the teacher suggested that shorts be worn. I expected him to inform the other parents of the tick we found and suggest that they closely inspect their children immediately. I also expected that the activity would be abandoned in the future. He did nothing.
This morning by pure accident I happened to see the note about today’s activity into the woods. I was upset about the fact that it was going to occur again. It was fortunate that the tick was noticed in time last year. I was not about to test our luck a second time so on my way to work I stopped to see Mrs. Carlton. She was not available but called me at work a short time later. She thought that I was over-reacting and suggested that I could use bug spray, or any number of other protections. She told me of her experience with her son’s tick bite and attempted to convince me that she knew what she was talking about. I persisted and she said that the activity would still go on, weather permitting, and that if I insisted on keeping Madison from engaging in the event that he would also have to stay inside during recess because he would also be exposed to ticks on the playground and in the “woods” that the children walk through to get to the playground.
I took umbrage at her veiled threat of reprisal against Madison and pressed on about the nature of the activity; environmental awareness and the preciousness of water. I discussed with her my experiences with the environmental extremism of the curriculum. She suggested that the school teaches facts and that my “opinion” could be considered extremist. That was when I told her of the factual inconsistencies that included but were not limited to the claim that toilets use 5-7 gallons per flush according your lesson program that you and I had discussed. If you recall, I told you that Christian had also been exposed to the same misinformation in Mrs. Owen’s class. Mrs. Carlton dug herself a pretty deep hole and her tenor took an abrupt change when I presented the facts of the matter.
She took the opportunity to sidetrack the real reason for my visit to the school and deflected responsibility in your direction. I did not tell her that I was waiting for a response from you. I simply responded to her question of how you resolved my complaint, which was a great deal better than she was doing. I told her that you didn’t believe that Madison’s Take-Home Reader stated 5-7 gallons/flush but that you would go back and check.
After getting off the phone I called the Rensselaer County Health Dept and talked to a real expert about the Deer Tick’s habitat. It does not live in dirt, dry or short grass environments like that of the playground or among the few trees that the children walk past to get to it. The ticks require wet environments, leaf litter and the low shrubbery that they are afforded in the woods. When they get onto an individual they will find a moist spot on the body like behind the ears or knees, inside of elbows or arm pits. The Health Dept is sending or has already sent more information about this to the school and Mrs. Carlton assured me that she would expedite its distribution.
4/16/2005 School Budget Time is Approaching
It’s that time of year again and after last year’s defeat of budgets in several local districts, the assault on our senses this year will be more widespread. Last year I made note of Fred LeBrun’s advice that districts in which budgets were defeated should follow the lead of successful districts by engaging in public relations campaigns in the weeks leading up to the vote.
These public relations campaigns are commonly referred to as “dog and pony shows”. The district will choose a venue such as a business association, chamber of commerce or budget meeting. They will present a very superficial overview of their school’s fiscal condition and claim that the state is not providing its share of revenue. Traditionally, the state would provide about half of a district’s funding and local property taxes would provide the other half. The school district tries to find a balance between what they need in order to run the schools and what the local voters can afford. One of the problems with this budgeting method is that it doesn’t consider what the state can afford. The end result is that we vote ourselves annual budget increases that outpace C.O.L.A., inflation and every other index of the financial ability of taxpayers.
If and when you steel yourself to endure one of your district’s dog and pony shows, you will hear that the State and Federal governments have created unfunded mandates such as higher standards and testing that are causing local school budgets to rise. This is not true. Please consider that the “new” standards (they’re actually just a return to old standards) are a fairly recent development while budget gaps have been the norm for decades. This is simply a ploy to defer culpability.
The reason that the state has been demanding accountability from our schools is because lawmakers have recognized that the money we vote for has been used for swimming pools, gyms and a plethora of non-academic curricula (multi-culturalism, environmental extremism, social engineering etc.) to which real education has taken a back seat. This has been reflected in standardized test scores. It should not cost more to simply replace experimental curricula with tried and true teaching methods… methods that will actually have a positive affect on young peoples’ ability to earn a good living and join the ranks of responsible taxpaying citizens.
This year, unlike budget votes of years past, when successive budgets are ultimately defeated, the school district will be put on a fiscal diet. If they refuse to participate and continue to blame the taxpayers of New York State for our inability to satisfy their voracious appetites, they will have only themselves to blame but we will all share in the suffering.
3-18-05 The Blob
I’ve read a number of letters recently from educators praising themselves for the job they’re doing despite increased class sizes and funding cuts. What? Is there anybody out there who really thinks we have cut funding?
The facts are that class sizes are much smaller, funding is much higher and the standards that are being imposed are not new but old. I say this because even when many of today’s teachers were themselves in grade school, standardized testing was being abandoned in favor of a more relaxed classroom atmosphere with little or no discipline. Emphasis was placed on developing self esteem with the hope that children would want to stay in school and even look forward to being there. It didn’t matter if they thought that two plus two equaled five or if they spelled cat “k-a-t”. They would be rewarded with praise for being there and making an attempt. Obviously they would not perform well on tests but in this new outcome based education, test scores didn’t matter. Subsequently, testing was reduced or even abandoned.
Then, many college professors noticed that freshmen entering from public schools were not prepared for college level work. Colleges had to provide remedial courses to bring these public school graduates up to the levels they were previously expected to have attained in high school. Employers were finding these same students equally unprepared for work, unable to read, write or make change. And their false sense of self-esteem made them difficult to work with.
While all this was going on, neo-feminists began demanding higher wages and used the field of education as a primary battleground. The concept of pay based on merit was anathema to their plans and hiring was based more on the applicant’s ideology than ability. Mandatory participation without choice, tenure and political action saw to it that all these ingredients for failure would survive any attempt to impose accountability.
As reform minded individuals pressured lawmakers for accountability, education bureaucrats applied pressure against it. Being an incredibly powerful lobbying force, the teacher unions succeeded in stifling even the most meager of reforms such as charter schools or a return to standardized testing. These new testing requirements are not difficult compared to those of other industrialized nations or ours of decades past, yet when students began failing them en mass, the remedy was to reduce the passing grade to an embarrassingly low percentage. They even went so far as to claim that the tests were flawed and that a lack of money was the reason. How predictable.
The reason that today’s students continue to fail standardized tests, despite the fact that nearly all are on their school’s honor roll, is that the bureaucrats and unions have never admitted that anything is wrong with the experimental curricula that brought us to this point. Nor have they abandoned or even reduced its application. Despite all the evidence to the contrary, they still insist on teaching children to read using the “whole word” guessing and memorization method. They still supplant meaningful class work with social engineering curricula like environmental extremism, animal rights, multi-culturalism, evolution and a leftist political philosophy.
What have I left out?....oh yeah... God!
3-13-05 Buying Local Won’t Help Schools
In a recent local school district newsletter, the superintendent lamented the stagnant nature of education funding and suggested a solution. He urged residents to support existing local businesses and encourage growth of new ones. Being a local business owner, I do appreciate such a gesture but it is not the answer for a number of reasons.
The first is the suggestion that more local revenue will enhance overall revenue. The fact that all taxing jurisdictions are borrowing money means that we are playing a zero sum game these days. An increase in revenue from one source will result in a decrease from another. For instance: If you buy a shirt from a local store you have contributed to that establishment’s property tax payment as well as their sales tax, income taxes, etcetera, which end up being shared as part of the general fund. The out of town store will have lost the income from the sale of that shirt along with the subsequent contribution to its school district. The lost tax revenue will be replenished with revenue from the general fund which we all pay into.
If Schodack residents try to help Schodack schools by shopping in town instead of neighboring East Greenbush and East Greenbush residents try to help their schools by shopping within their own boundaries we have engaged in another zero sum game. (Maybe if we all shopped in NYC, increasing their local tax revenue, they might not be suing us for the billions of dollars they seem to think we can just pluck from our money tree.)
The real problem is spending. Most education money is spent on salaries and those salaries are too high. They are more than the market will bear. Educators need to realize that the suggestions made by their critics are borne of the desire to make public schools better. We know from experience that competition is a good thing. School choice will bring the natural forces of the market place to bear. It’s the medicine we want you to take because it will make you better, not because we are mean.
2-17-05 School Choice vs. CFE Lawsuit
Several things have happened in the realm of education reform since the commencement of Michael Rebel's Campaign for Fiscal Equity lawsuit that have rendered his lawsuit somewhat moot.
First, with the election of Governor Pataki, the State had beaten Judge DeGrasse's decision to the punch by increasing the State’s portion of public school funding through the STAR program. The State's portion of local school budgets had been steadily declining during the Cuomo years resulting in local property taxes going through the proverbial roof. Reform activists wanted a spending cap to be part of the STAR program but the all powerful education lobby succeeded in strong-arming the Assembly into dropping it from the bill. The problem as I see it is that as many of the State's 700+ districts engaged in multi-million dollar capital improvement projects, all of the STAR savings were squandered. As I had pointed out to our school board at the time, while we in East Greenbush were voting ourselves other districts' tax revenues, those other districts were selling their own building projects to their local voters the same way. It was obvious that the State would not have enough money to cover every school district's pipe dreams.
Second, after the CFE commenced, state voters were given the opportunity to provide hundreds of millions of additional dollars to public schools via a proposition on a November ballot. The voters of New York overwhelmingly voted "NO". This makes Judge Leland DeGrasse's decision to subsequently override our vote, a case of judicial activism, and a highly impeachable offense.
Finally, the US Supreme Court has ruled that school choice, the logical alternative to throwing money, is indeed constitutional. Rather than inviting judicial activism, true education reform activists have been lobbying for school choice as a way to get a great deal more money directly to the students in the class rooms. School choice has served students in higher education very well and our colleges and universities are the envy of the world. But teacher unions and their lapdog Liberal politicians had maintained that it was unconstitutional.
Please explain to me how that can be? If a sound basic education is a constitutional right, why are we compelled to attend only schools that are run by the government? Come to think of it how can anything be a right if we are compelled by law to engage in it even if we do not wish to? We have freedom of religion but are not compelled to worship. We have freedom of speech but are not compelled to use it. We have the right to bear arms but are not compelled to own a gun. If it is unconstitutional for parents to choose the school they want their children to attend then the law should be applied uniformly. Why not compel college students to attend only the most proximate State funded university? I am not looking for answers to these rhetorical questions. I'm just hoping that if I can get reasonable people to just think things through, we may just get back on the right track.
1-25-2005 MORE REASONS TO STOP THE CFE
Some people think the Campaign for Fiscal Equity is about more money for NYC schools but they are wrong. It’s about continuing to transfer wealth from the independent and productive red counties of upstate NY to the dependent, unproductive blue counties of NYC.
The tens of billions of dollars being sought will not get to where we have been told it will go. It’s no different than when municipal NYC went bankrupt about thirty years ago and was bailed out by the tax dollars of upstate NY. They've burned up what we gave them on their versions of Metroplexes, Atriums and Arenas etc. Now, like every other major city, they need another infusion of cash and they figure the old "Its for the children" ploy will work this time.
Lets take a close look at the CFE lawsuit and its premise, fiscal equity. The demand for fiscal equity implies that the students of the Big Apple aren't getting as much money for education as the students of the upstate area. This is a false premise because the students of NYC public schools get approximately $13,000/yr per pupil compared to the upstate average of about $9,000/yr. All that money has not improved educational outcomes.
Another problem with the lawsuit is that it calls for a new formula and Judge DeGrasse has ordered that one should be developed. Well if the funding formula is the problem then why do they fix a dollar amount in the tens of billions of dollars first and order the legislature to develop a formula for delivering it?
If the "Special Masters" who developed the dollar amount are deserving of any credibility they ought to be able to develop a formula themselves. And who developed the name "The Special Masters" for this group anyway. I know a way they can raise a lot of money for New York City. I’d pay $100 for a chance to throw eggs at the genius that developed that name. Anyone else with me there? The answer is that there is no formula that can ever satisfy the greedy, dollar gluttons. When the money that they waste runs out they will simply demand more.
I also take exception to the debasing of our state Constitution by claiming that we are not providing the basic sound education that it calls for. We are providing a great deal more education than what the Constitution calls for. I am quite sure that the definition of a basic sound education does not include college and I suggest that the way to provide NYC students with enough money is to take it from SUNY. Really now, how can we afford champagne and caviar for some when we are denying franks and beans to so many others?
Call your leaders in Albany and keep a firm grip on your wallet.
1-3-2005 Resistance to Education Reform
Over the past few weeks some of our public school administrators have been writing letters asking for community involvement in urging the state to provide more money to their specific districts. But there is no more money to be had and it wouldn’t result in higher educational outcomes anyway.
Up till now, those of us who have been advocating substantive education reform have been ignored at best and at worst demonized by those who would have to change the way they do things. Campaigns of personal destruction and character assassination have been waged against us. We have not been granted the privilege of an open dialogue on the merits of our suggestions.
I will give you just one example of the many relentless attacks I’ve endured: About ten years ago I attempted to hold the East Greenbush School District responsible for misleading the voters into narrowly approving a $27.9 million renovation plan. I lost that case and several years after the renovations were complete, I happened to be discussing the renovations with a staff member of one of the schools that my children attend. She went on about the poor quality of the construction work and the fact that nothing was done about the crumbling asbestos floor tiles. She had asked the administration why the floor tiles were still there and was told that it was my fault. The money the district had to spend on litigation would have been used for that. (I wonder if the Columbia High School shooting incident was my fault as well.)
Now, I don’t know if it’s true that the floor tiles have asbestos in them but in light of one testing contractor caught falsifying results, I wonder who tested our schools? Could the problem of false reporting be widespread? Does the fact that one company was pilloried simply mean that they had fallen from grace with their clients who pressured them for favorable results? Does anyone in the press ask these questions or are they guilty of complicity as well? In any case, the money we’ve spent has not improved the safety of our children or educational outcomes.
If you answer the call to get involved in your school district, understand that they do not want you to make any constructive suggestions. They just want people to echo their demands for more money. I have attended board meetings of many of our local school districts and can tell you that, in general, they exist as a buffer to their respective administrations, insulating them from criticism and accountability.
Only one exception comes to mind: that of the Wynantskill School Board years ago in which the reform minded BOE President caught the superintendent hiding a ghost teacher in the budget in order to get more funding. I’ve been told that it is common practice for public school administrators to inflate their numbers of teachers and students in their quest for more money but the W.U.F.S.D. superintendent was specifically told not to do so by the school board. She was fired for deliberately disobeying them, went home and committed suicide. The useful idiots of the district branded the BOE President a murderer in the pages of this very newspaper. He left the board and the status quo was restored.
The status quo has become a runaway train. If you think you can stop it, steel yourself for a wild ride.
2/29/04 New York’s Unconstitutional Schools
New York’s Court of Appeals has ruled that our state’s formula for funding New York City schools is unconstitutional and has given the state legislature the task of creating a new one.
The Campaign for Fiscal Equity suggests that the formula recreation should be statewide because the other major cities suffer the same funding inequities. There are two false premises in that suggestion.
The first is that New York City’s perceived funding inequities are not unique when in fact they are. The new formula proposed by the CFE considers the cost of real estate in New York City as the primary reason they need more money. The schools themselves are more expensive, and teachers simply cannot afford to live in The Big Apple on the same salaries that upstate teachers enjoy. Therefore, they need more money for school buildings and higher salaries to attract and sustain better teachers. But other major city school districts of New York State currently receive significantly more funding than rural and suburban school districts even though they do not suffer from New York City’s endemic real estate scarcity and cost.
The second false premise is that a funding inequity is an educational inequity. The myth busters abound. The first is a strikingly similar case in Kansas City where a judge ordered an unprecedented increase in education spending. The Kansas City School District (that’s one district!) spent over a billion dollars to meet the court’s demand. Yet, there has been no appreciable increase in student performance. Some academic areas, in fact, actually witnessed a decrease.
Witness the fact that the average private school costs less while their students score higher on standardized tests. Compare public schools that spend more and you’ll find that their students score lower than those in public schools that spend less. Compare between states and you’ll find Utah at or among the lowest in spending on education while always at the top in student performance. And let’s not forget home-schoolers either.
Given the fact that the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that school choice (including private and religious schools) is constitutional, state lawmakers should consider making it, as well as a home-schooling incentive, integral parts of the new formula.
Being a constitutional issue, we must consider a systemic approach. We simply cannot afford to replace a silver Band-Aid with one made of gold.
1-18-04 Public Schools vs. Freedom of Choice
In a Jan 18th Times Union editorial, Essence of a better education, Harry Rosenfeld offers us insight to the means for success in our public schools.
He recalls his days at Stuyvesant High where he received a high quality education despite being “insufficient in space” and “rather shabby”. Today we funnel massive amounts of money into state-of-the-art school buildings because we are told they are essential to a quality education.
He had to pass an entrance exam that “was more than challenging”. Today, when students are challenged to pass exams that would have been a walk in the park for Mr. Rosenfeld’s contemporaries, we hear protests from teachers who I have to assume are afraid of being held accountable for the results.
He states that he endured “…split sessions, the lower class boys (as then we all were) going in the afternoon”. Today no one would tolerate split sessions. I will have to infer that Stuyvesant was an all boy’s school, which our public schools cannot be.
He and his classmates were from “working class and lower middle class families…from all around the city…of all races and ethnic groups” who “elected to go to a school with demanding standards”. So, in his day, poor students enjoyed the freedom to choose their educational environment? They weren’t compelled to attend the nearest public school?
He ended his article by describing an admirable educational environment in France, one that we should emulate. He never directly suggested school choice as the answer to our problems but he inadvertently has. He has described the schools that worked in America as the opposite of what today’s monopolistic anti-choice education establishment insists they should be, and in France where they enjoy school choice.
Charles Glenn, author of Choice of Schools in Six Nations, writes: “Even though the United States prides itself on individualism and free markets, parents in many other countries have more freedom of choice in education than Americans do…parents in countries such as Australia, Germany, France, Belgium and the Netherlands can choose private, even religious schools without incurring any financial penalty”.
Charles Glenn, Professor of education at Boston University and for 21 years the Massachusetts education official responsible for civil rights and urban education, also wrote Educational Freedom in Eastern Europe wherein he states: “In making education a primary concern of government, Horace Mann (the Liberal Massachusetts lawmaker who created our system of public schools) and his allies were convinced that society could not afford to allow parents to determine who would educate their children. The “prejudices and ignorance” of parents would lead them to favor schools and teachers sharing their benighted views, and thus the grand project of creating a new humanity through schooling would be frustrated.”
In Why Schooling Is So Controversial in America Today, legal philosopher John Robinson writes: “Even the well-intentioned state tends to homogenize its citizens, delegitimizing all loyalties except those that bind the individual to the state”.
School choice will create fiscal equity in public education while satisfying the Court’s demand for a new public school funding formula. Why is the rest of the world embracing the American way while we reject it?
1-6-2004 The Myth of Fiscal Equity in Education
Michael Rebel’s Campaign For Fiscal Equity, commonly referred to as the CFE, has been slogging forward for about ten years. Yet whenever it is mentioned in our upstate school district newsletters, I read things like this: “While this (billions more in state funding) is good news for NYC, no one can predict the impact it will have on the rest of the state’s public schools.”
Well I disagree. Anyone with an IQ above that of a turnip can predict the results. I think the education bureaucrats who write such nonsense want you to blindly support the CFE lawsuit and create a fog over the consequences.
First of all, more money won’t help NYC schools. Only school choice will and that will cost less money. Second, our economy has finite resources. Billions more in NYC school funding means billions less in upstate school funding. We had to raise sales taxes to 8.25% last year in order to provide an additional billion or so for our public schools. We have been borrowing billions every year and we have reached our debt limit. Raising taxes as high as they have been raised has ruined our economy. As tax rates are raised businesses have to raise their prices. When they raise their prices too high, consumers who can, will shop elsewhere. Those who cannot shop elsewhere, the poor, will end up paying the taxes through higher prices. I would call it a vicious cycle except that it is worse than that because out of every tax dollar paid the state takes an administration fee of about 75%. The needy get about twenty-five cents out of every tax dollar. We call it socialism. It’s also the reason the rich get richer while the poor get poorer.
This is basic economics. This is the kind of thing that every American, every New York student, should know. The fact that they don’t is a scandal. The reason they don’t is that after WWII we entered a “cold war” in which the Soviet Union and the United States waged an ideological battle. The Soviets waged theirs by sending socialist emissaries to our shores to link up with those who could help spread their doctrine. They infiltrated our public schools, our news and entertainment media and our political leadership. This was easy to do because we were the first nation in the world that tolerated and embraced diversity. We, on the other hand, where not allowed access to Soviet institutions. So why have we persevered when the Soviet Union collapsed? Because socialism is evil and immoral while capitalism is good and moral ...and we are a good and moral nation. God bless America my friends.
6-22-2003 PUBLIC SCHOOLS NEED MORE MONEY…and THE EARTH IS FLAT
I have recently been admonished in the newspaper by one Mrs. Eadie to get involved in the East Greenbush School District’s budget meetings. It is her opinion that I should do so in order to know what I am writing about when I criticize the district’s spending.
In days of old, a Mrs. Eadie involved in the Flat Earth Society would probably suggest that I attend their meetings in order to see for myself that in fact, the Earth is not round.
When I moved to this district ten years ago, I was shocked to learn how high the school taxes where. I went to a number of board meetings, budget meetings, and bond proposition meetings and discovered enough to make me realize that nothing I did there could make for an ounce of meaningful change.
I joined the Rensselaer County Taxpayer Association where I found a number of current and former school board members who agreed that spending was out of control.
I learned that the majority of the school budget (70%) was made up of “instructional salaries and benefits”. That portion of the budget was not something that could be affected by any budget review process. Teachers would automatically get salary increases every year, so even if fiscal conservatism could be practiced in regard to the remaining 30% of the budget, taxes would still go up.
I learned that a number of teachers in my son’s school receive over $80,000.00 per year in salary alone, with very considerable benefits. Their union contract calls for less than 900 hours of work. When compared to the salary of most other professions, an engineer for example, we need to consider that the standard work-year consists of 2000 hours. This makes the effective comparable salary for a veteran teacher around $180,000.00 per year. Some people (the Flat-Earthers) still think it’s not enough!
I understand that people often think with their heart. I am no exception. But at some point everyone has to face the facts and use their brain when making decisions.
During the week when voting on this year’s budget took place, the Mrs. Eadies of the area engaged in a very effective campaign to get out the vote. Someone even called my house of all places to ask if we could help with a phone tree to call and urge "yes" votes from our friends and neighbors.
Other Mrs. Eadies would discuss the budget with likely voters to find out how they were going to vote and if the person was planning to vote “NO”, they would suggest that it would be better just to not vote!
Another major factor in getting people to the polls is voter apathy. By now it is common knowledge that when a budget is voted down, the resulting contingency budget is likely to be just as high or higher than the budget that was voted down. With voting incentives like that, it’s no wonder that 90% of budget increases are approved.
5-04-03 If You Care About Public Education
Teacher unions across New York converged on Albany last Saturday to protest the cuts to “education” in the governor’s budget. The advertisements promoting the protest suggested that you participate “if you care about public education”.
The ads and the protest itself were offensive to me and should be to anyone else who actually cares about the future of our children. The unions who sponsored the protest care only about their monopoly, extravagant salaries, health benefits and pensions. What they were really talking about was not education per se, but union controlled, government run public schools. It’s their system. It’s not education.
Maybe because the teacher unions are isolated from the realities of the free market, they cannot understand our plight. If they cared about the well being of the children, they would recognize the economic hardships that New York families are facing these days. They would support a new system for financing public schools that incorporated a free market model in sync with modern America. We should not be shackled to a centuries old system where children are compelled by the government to attend the nearest government run school. It should go the way of the buggy whip.
If we continue to borrow money for the education of today’s students, where will they get the money to pay for the education of their children? And don’t forget, today’s children will also be stuck with higher social security taxes to pay for the baby boomers’ retirement. When today’s parents vote to borrow education money, they are really signing loans that will have to be paid back by their children after they have graduated. Will the graduates stay here in New York and repay that debt or will they choose to leave for the greater opportunity and less taxation of other states? We’re leaving them a massive pyramid of debt and unlike a college loan; they can choose not to repay it. We are setting an example of fiscal irresponsibility.
The faculty of Fulton-Montgomery Community College has voluntarily taken a 2% temporary pay cut in order to maintain staffing levels. They serve as examples of integrity and professionalism that their contemporaries ought to emulate. Let’s all do the right thing for the children. It’s time to start thinking outside of the box. It's time to show some vision. The first step is to say NO to increased spending. Say NO to the budget.
3-31-03 BUDGET MESS CAUSED BY 1990s OVERSPENDING
School Districts across NY have joined the cacophony of public service employee voices crying: “Don’t cut our budgets!” They say the Governor is not making the right choices. They say that Albany has created unfunded mandates that will lead to increased local taxes. But who is really to blame?
In Governor Pataki’s eight years, he has given New York’s school districts more than enough money to improve student performance (if money had anything to do with it). When former Governor Mario Cuomo was in office, the East Greenbush Central School District saw annual decreases in state aid of approximately a half million dollars per year. Eight years ago, during then Senator Pataki’s election campaign for governor, our school board members took turns making speeches denouncing his plan to cut state income taxes. They said it would only cause local property taxes to rise.
Then, in a perfect example of a self-fulfilling prophecy, these same school board members passed a $27.9 million remodeling project for all the elementary schools in our district. They did so by selling local voters to the fact that the State would pick up some 90% or more of the cost.
Later, they passed a $7,000,000 proposition to put new computers in the schools, and a $40,000,000 remodeling project for our High School. All sold the same way: Our local property taxes will go up a mere pittance because the “State” will pay for it.
What they did, in effect and in fact, was to create unfunded mandates for the State. We, the local taxpayers, got to vote in massive spending projects that the State was obligated to pay for. And we in East Greenbush were not alone. Other districts in Rensselaer County followed our lead and approved plans that doubled and quadrupled what we spent. Over the next several years, many of the State’s 700+ school districts would approve massive building projects. It doesn’t take much of an education to do the math. At a time when businesses and families were leaving this state for a better, less taxing life, education bureaucrats were planting the seeds for today’s economic crisis.
Governor Pataki willingly accepted the challenge. He created the STAR program to guaranty an increasing state contribution to school districts while lifting the burden on local property taxpayers. His plan included a spending cap on the districts that had to be abandoned due to fierce opposition in the Democratically controlled State Assembly.
Maybe New York’s unions and liberal spending bureaucrats will wake up when they have to plead their case for more taxes to the rocks and the trees!
12-29-2002 To the Editor, A political agenda in public schools
A recent Pulse of the People article entitled “Why choose a charter school” by Susan Sliva of Schenectady was full of errors and misrepresentations. She falsely claims that “someone” other than you, the parent, will put your child in these “segregated” and “substandard” schools because your inner city child cannot learn the way other children do.
I am surprised at the Record for printing such inflammatory rhetoric. What ever happened to the fact checking that newspapers used to do to ensure that they weren’t contributing to the spread of false information?
No one puts your child in a charter school. You as a parent are the person who makes that choice. Sliva writes that 125 of the New Covenant Charter School students have chosen to return to the public schools. She fails to mention that charter schools are still public schools. Or maybe she just doesn’t know.
Another fact that Sliva doesn’t seem to recognize is that when the parents removed their children from the charter school, they exercised their right to choose. No one forced them to stay there, something that cannot be said about public schools in general.
Maybe some of the parents who left New Covenant were wooed into returning to Albany’s conventional public schools by the improvements inspired by the threat from New Covenant. This is the true benefit of school choice. It’s the rising tide that lifts all boats. It’s not just the fact that private schools in general are better than public schools in general. It’s the competition derived from choice that compels diversity, value and survival of the fittest.
Why would someone from Schenectady write to a Troy newspaper about an Albany school? There are some who will go to any extreme to stop the advance of freedom of choice in education. They are usually those who feel threatened by competition. They may not be confident that they can improve their ability to teach. Maybe they are just too comfortable in their rut and are afraid of change. Or maybe, just maybe, they have a political agenda.
12-26-2002 Conclusions from Private School “Report Cards”
One of our local newspapers, known for its bias regarding public education, summarized the State’s “Report Card” on private schools with this gem: “[Private] Schools with more affluent students, report the highest scores on standardized tests; those in inner-city neighborhoods or serving lower-income students posted lower scores.”
That opinion fits the narrative that our state department of education would like everyone to believe… but it just doesn’t represent reality as private schools draw students from a variety of neighborhoods. Students are not compelled to go to the school nearest them as in public schools. Academic performance is not nearly as dependent on wealth as it is on freedom of choice.
The other conclusion in State’s “Report Card” on private schools that the newspaper was loath to mention is that students in private schools outperform their public school counterparts across the board regardless of location.
Choice, rather than money, is the primary factor for success in education. As an example, let’s look at our colleges. Some are located in the city. Others are in suburban or even rural areas. But students of all socio-economic backgrounds attend colleges of their choice regardless of location. Colleges offer students what they want and need, not what they are compelled to serve up by the government. As a result ours are the best in the world.
To further make my point I would like to draw an analogy. Eating is a right, is it not? Does government compel us to eat? Imagine if government forced us to eat at the government run cafeteria in our neighborhood and pay $10 for a plate of beans. If we didn’t like it we could go to any restaurant of our choice and pay $5 for something we really like but we would still have to pay the $10 to the government cafeteria.
Even if the government offered my favorite food every day for twelve years, the very fact that I was compelled to eat it would create repulsion to it.
And what about the cooks? Do you think they might enjoy a little more freedom? Would they be content to serve up the same old gruel every day? Can you imagine a fine young chef being paid the same as one who can barely boil an egg?... Just a little food for thought.
3-10-2002 To the Editor: Response to Anti-Voucher Nonsense
Regarding a Times Union “Judging school vouchers” counterpoint article by Barbara Miner (3/3/2002), I would like to inject a counter-counterpoint.
Miner states: “At issue before the court is whether voucher programs that provide public dollars to private religious schools violate this country’s constitutional separation of church and state.”
Beyond the fact that the only constitutional separation of church and state is in the mind of atheists and radical leftists, she incorrectly states that public dollars go to private religious schools. In reality, the money goes to the parents, all parents. The parents get to choose where they will invest their voucher, which is actually nothing more than their own tax dollars given back to them. Better not to tax them in the first place.
She then raises the issue of accountability by suggesting that private schools will not be. Her idea of accountability is; the increased use of testing as a measure of a school’s performance, an important feature of President Bush’s education reform plan. Her argument falls on its face because there is inherent accountability in schools that are chosen by parents. The reason that increased testing is important only in public schools, is that public schools have historically made themselves appear to look better by reducing testing standards.
Her article contains several other glaringly specious arguments against real education reform and even goes so far as to call freedom of choice a “dubious …scheme”.
Freedom of choice is what America is all about. I cannot fathom the how anyone could question parents’ rights to choose what is best for their own children, or how the right to make that choice can even be debated with a straight face by Liberals who have no problem with choice when it comes to abortion.
12-24-2001 EDUCATION REFORM?
According to a 12/19/01 article in the Albany Times Union, public schools have finally been reformed. It is a “Sweeping school pact”, “the most comprehensive reform of federal education programs since the Great Society”.
Wow! It must be really big! I read on.
It provides $26.5 billion dollars with New York City schools getting $176 million alone. There is a catch though. The schools will have to test some of the students, and if the test scores are low, the schools will get more money. Now there’s a real incentive! The schools will have only “twelve years (commencing with 2005-2006 school year) to get all students reading and doing math proficiently, but could be given more time if they show progress”. WHEW! Talk about pressure!
Lets look at some starkly real numbers. The Albany City school district just won approval to spend almost $176 million on their school buildings alone. Many other districts in the area have recently won local voter approval for building projects of $20 million, $50 million, even $100 million. Every time a public school district asks the local voters to approve a multimillion dollar project, they prompt a “yes” vote by suggesting that most of the money is going to come from “The State”. Of course voters don’t seem to realize, or care, that Albany taxpayers will be funding projects for each and every other school district statewide that sells their local taxpayers on the same concept.
There are over 710 school districts in New York. Every district can easily get local voters to approve one shot $100 million projects. If that happened, the cost to New York taxpayers would be $71 billion dollars for one-time projects to refurbish New York’s public school buildings. That’s above and beyond the tens of billions in annual operating expenses. Given the fact that the federal government plans to spend $26.5 billion across the entire nation over a several year period, it’s hard to understand how anyone who thinks money is the answer could get excited about it. It will not satisfy the education establishment because they are followers of “Demand Side” economic doctrine. In fact, no amount of money ever will.
Several years ago the Kansas City School District spent over $1 billion without showing any significant increase in student performance. You see, money is not the problem. The problem is the system. It’s a monopoly with costs that increase by default. It rewards failure and ignores or even punishes achievement.
It’s time for all you hardened Liberals out there to realize that America’s greatest asset is freedom. It’s time to establish a “Supply Side” economic model for public education in which competition effortlessly reduces costs while increasing performance. It’s time that parents be returned the independence to choose what is best for their children.
If you really think throwing money at the problem is the answer, try this. Give $1 million to each of 176 students in Albany. If it were put to a vote, it would pass. Make 176 new millionaires overnight. Then do the same thing statewide. We would have 50 new young millionaires in Troy, another 100 in Averill Park, about 75 in East Greenbush. I could go on but you get the picture, right?
For the rest, put $12,000 (the annual per pupil cost) into an interest bearing account every year for 12 years. They would all be millionaires before their 20-year high school reunion. If you think education (at least what they call an education) is expensive…you’re right. It costs you your freedom and your future.
School Choice is the only answer. Freedom of choice is the American way.
10-20-2000 Finally, an education debate
With education being the number one concern among voters, I have been concerned with how little attention has been given to the subject by Gov. Bush and Vice President Gore. Being a supporter of school choice, I have been waiting for this subject to be addressed in earnest.
I know that past Presidential candidates have kept their distance for fear of upsetting the teacher unions. I have been disappointed with Democrats for engaging in fear mongering, spreading the false notion that one form of school choice (vouchers) would take money away from the public schools. I had been under the impression that parents in the suburbs who would be inclined to vote Republican, have been opposed to vouchers for this reason. I have tried to make the case for many years that a voucher system, taking advantage of available space in existing private schools, would yield a net gain in revenue to public schools on a per pupil basis.
During the second presidential debate Governor Bush responded to a question about racial profiling that made me rethink my approach to arguing my case for school choice. He characterized the disparity between public schools in the cities and those in the suburbs as a form of racial profiling. When he said this it suddenly occurred to me that the reason suburbanites cling to a false notion that vouchers take money away from public schools may be that they need it to mask their prejudice. Could it be that the anti-school choice movement is really about segregating the classes (rich and poor).
Democrats have for years pushed for increased funding for the worst performing schools, those usually being in the inner cities. Today these schools receive 20 to 40% more money per pupil than suburban and rural schools yet have shown no increase in performance. Yet Democratic political candidates continue to demand more money to prop up these failing institutions. Maybe it’s time for a different approach.
Few people realize that public schools got their start in the mid 1800s in part because of fervent anti-Catholic sentiment at the time. The potato famine was causing mass immigration of Irish who were settling in the Northeast. These Irish immigrants were setting up Catholic schools. Congressman James Blaine of Maine, a member of the nationalist ‘Know Nothing’ party, worried that these very successful schools might get some help from government revenue. About the same time, Horace Mann, a Liberal Massachusetts state legislator and the ‘father of American public education’, developed the blueprint for our public schools. It took him 10 years to get his taxpayer funded public school legislation passed which included the stipulation that they be non-sectarian.
Today we have what are known as ‘Blaine amendments’ or ‘Blaine language’ in many of our state constitutions that forbid the use of public money for private purposes.
It was bigotry that created public schools and whether or not you have the courage to admit it, it’s what keeps public education from being all that it was promised to be.
10-10-2000 BUSH, GORE & THE EDUCATION DEBATE
As president, George W Bush has vowed to pass school choice legislation. Al Gore on the other hand has vowed to continue the Clinton policy of all government all the time.
Political pundits nationwide are telling us that education is the number one voter concern. Polls show that black inner city voters in particular want school choice. This is a major concern for Gore because the black vote is, or at least was, taken for granted to be his. On the other hand, polls show that suburban voters do not favor school choice. This is a concern for the Bush team because they don’t want to alienate their base in order to convert Gore’s.
Pundits are suggesting that while education in general and school choice in particular are chief voter concerns, the issue is being avoided and is not likely to play a major role in the debates. The problem that George Bush has is that Democrats have been successful in using fear to convince Republican voters that school choice will take funds away from public schools. This is an illegitimate concern, but one that plagued Bob Dole’s weak campaign four years ago. Apart from the fact that there will be no drain of funds, Dole’s lack of courage in debating the issue caused serious concerns among people who vote for leadership character. This should not be a problem for George W Bush. What remains to be seen is if Gore has the guts to try to defend his education policy in a public debate. If education is debated, George Bush will win.
School choice has many forms. The one that most people have heard of is ‘vouchers’. This is where parents would be given a portion of the revenue that would usually go straight to the public school in their child’s neighborhood. As it is now, when concerned parents put their child in a private school the taxes they have paid must stay with the undesirable school. These good parents who desperately want to give their children a better education are often unable to pay twice.
Clinton, Gore and their unionist supporters would have you believe that a voucher will take funds away from public schools. The fact is that vouchers will cause a dramatic increase in public school funding per pupil. Voucher plans call for an amount of money equal to half of the public school’s funding per pupil to be given to the parent. The parent would then use the voucher to pay the tuition in any school of their choice. This works well because private schools typically provide a better education for about half the price of public schools. A public school currently spending $10,000 per pupil will get to keep about $5000 when that student leaves the system. There is no drain as predicted by the Clinton/Gore camp.
The biggest problem facing public schools today is not lack of money, standards, or teachers. It’s the lack of competition. It’s the lack of courage on the part of Republican politicians to challenge the Democrats to a real debate.
Addressing education in the Presidential debates (around August 2000)
With education being the number one concern among voters, I have been concerned with how little attention has been given to the subject by Gov. Bush and Vice President Gore. Being a supporter of school choice, I have been waiting for this subject to be addressed in earnest.
I know that past Presidential candidates have kept their distance for fear of upsetting the teacher unions. I have been disappointed with Democrats for engaging in fear mongering, spreading the false notion that one form of school choice (vouchers) would take money away from the public schools. I had been under the impression that parents in the suburbs, who would be inclined to vote Republican, have been opposed to vouchers for this reason. I have tried to make the case for many years that a voucher system, taking advantage of available space in existing private schools, would yield a net gain in revenue to public schools on a per pupil basis.
During the second presidential debate Governor Bush responded to a question about racial profiling that made me rethink my approach to arguing my case for school choice. He characterized the disparity between public schools in the cities and those in the suburbs as a form of racial profiling. When he said this it suddenly occurred to me that the reason suburbanites cling to a false notion that vouchers take money away from public schools may be that they need it to mask their prejudice. Could it be that the anti-school choice movement is really about segregating the classes (rich and poor).
Democrats have for years pushed for increased funding for the worst performing schools, those usually being in the inner cities. Today these schools receive 20 to 40% more money per pupil than suburban and rural schools yet have shown no increase in performance. Yet Democratic political candidates continue to demand more money to prop up these failing institutions. Maybe it’s time for a different approach.
Few people realize that public schools got their start in the mid 1800s in part because of fervent anti-Catholic sentiment at the time. The potato famine was causing mass immigration of Irish who were settling in the Northeast. These Irish immigrants were setting up Catholic schools. Congressman James Blaine of Maine, a member of the nationalist ‘Know Nothing’ party, worried that these very successful schools might get some help in the form of government revenue. About the same time, Horace Mann, a Liberal Massachusetts state legislator and the ‘father of American public education’, developed the blueprint for our public schools. It took him 10 years to get his taxpayer funded public school legislation passed which included the stipulation that they be non-sectarian.
Today we have what are known as ‘Blaine amendments’ or ‘Blaine language’ in many of our state constitutions that forbid the use of public money for private purposes.
It was bigotry that created public schools and whether or not you have the courage to admit it, it’s what keeps public education from being all that it was promised to be.
8-16-99 POLITICS AND PUBLIC SCHOOLS
There is a lot of truth in Dan Lynch’s August 15th Albany Times Union article about the “Politics of charter schools”. He even gave us an accurate description of the relationship between the teacher unions and the Democratic Party, although he skillfully avoided mention of the role of left-wing Liberal ideology in the development of curricula.
I do not agree, however with his assessment that the failure of public schools is due to “horrendous social conditions”. He actually has reversed the order of culpability. Public schools were ostensibly created to improve our nation’s social conditions. It is their failure over many decades, which have created the poverty, and the crime-ridden neighborhoods, not vice versa. It is a fact that whole language is responsible for generations of illiteracy, and that illiteracy, as well as secular humanism, are contributing factors which lead to a life of crime.
Government has invaded the sovereignty of the family, and demolished our independence in educating our children. I find it outrageous that after violating our right to choose and severely limiting our responsibility for our children, people like Dan Lynch would attempt to hold us responsible for the consequences. These are the same people who insist on promoting the ill named “right to choose”, the epitome of irresponsibility, when it comes to abortion.
He may not like the fact that Republicans are offering solutions to the shortcomings of public schools but where else can concerned parents turn for help? If government is going to compel citizens to attend government schools, how are we going to keep politics out of it? The only way we can prevent politicians from using government schools as a political football is by getting the government out of the business of education. It is inevitable that Democrats, despite all their desperate machinations, are eventually going to loose control of education. If they were smart, not to mention pragmatic, they would take Senator Moynihan’s advice and deal with the Republicans by embracing school choice before they simply become supplanted.
7-23-99 Albany Times Union School Choice Commentary
I was very pleased to read your dueling commentaries regarding school choice in the July 16th Times Union. This debate, relentlessly forestalled by the teacher unions, is long overdue.
The 'Pro' side of your article was presented by John C. Goodman, of the non-partisan NCPA. The 'Con' faction was represented by Rev. Barry W. Lynn of the extremely partisan and inappropriately named Americans United for the Separation of Church and State.
I would like to see this debate waged between two non-partisans or balanced by hearing the views of extreme partisans on both sides. I am an unabashed partisan, and very 'Pro' on the idea of school choice. I agree with much of what the 'Pro' Mr. Goodman wrote, but he has erred in assigning a 'cause and effect' relationship to more money and better education. Property values are not improved by being associated with a good public school. In fact, school taxes are just as important as interest rates when a bank is trying to determine a buyer's potential. A home's value is determined by a potential buyer's ability to pay, and every dollar spent on taxes is a dollar less buying potential. In as much as most home buyers don't even have children in school, they view high taxes as a detriment.
The Rev. Lynn's ‘Con’ commentary is very good for the cause of freedom of choice because it is so filled with blatant falsehoods. While I wonder where he ever became ordained, and for what purpose, I welcome the opportunity to debunk his myth's and expose his hypocrisy. He refers to a parent's natural and God given right to choose, as a “religious school voucher” scheme and a violation of the separation of church and state. Both of these arguments have their roots in the secular humanist camp and it is sad to see people who call themselves educators and ministers repeating such nonsense.
Parents pay the taxes that the State uses to pay the teachers. Ideally, parents would pay the teachers directly, but for political expediency, the only way we can restore some parental freedom is to return some of their taxes to them in the form of a voucher. They can then choose the type of education that best suites their children. They may choose any school, secular or religious. Our Constitution gives us the right to live without religion if we so choose. Public schools have denied many of us the right to choose religion.
Rev. Lynn’s tired argument, that vouchers take money away from public schools, is patently untrue and can be used to illustrate the fact that public school tax dollars are not making their way to the classroom. If we remove a child from a historically more expensive public school and put that child in a historically less expensive school, we will have spent less on his/her public education. We would also reduce the public school's expenses associated with that pupil. This is a good thing, unless you're a public school administrator who is spending education dollars on non-academic budget items.
Private schools typically cost half that of public schools. In its purest form a voucher would reduce the cost to taxpayers by 50%, but most voucher proposals have given that savings to the public school that the student left. In this way the public school would be appeased by an increase in funding per pupil. Contrary to their "It's for the children" mantra, the types of funding placed at risk by vouchers are non-academic budget items like physical plant management and administrators salaries. These and many other expenses really have nothing to do with the classroom needs of the children. History has shown that public school bureaucrats do not reduce their operating expenses when the student population diminishes. They are, however the first to claim they need more money when the student population increases.
There are many other specious reasons why some people oppose school choice. I once spoke to a teacher who said: “Don’t you realize the glass ceiling has finally been broken in public schools.” Meaning most public school teachers are women, unionized and exceedingly well paid. Private schools are not required to hire union labor and vouchers used in a private school would jeopardize the unions’ dominance. Also at risk of reduced funding are the politicians supported by the unions, mostly Democrats. Political realities are in the way of what is right for the children.
7-13-1999 To the editor of a left-leaning newspaper
I have some criticisms with regard to your July 1st article: “State test stumps private schools, too”. The headline itself is misleading.
Your figures show that the number of students in private schools who failed to pass the Regents’ new English exam was nearly 10% less those in public schools. If these results were in relation to the victory of a Liberal candidate over a Conservative I have no doubt you would be calling it a landslide.
Your article also misleads people into thinking that private schools are independent of state influence, that they have complete autonomy with regard to curricula. Private schools are compelled to comply with far too many state regulations and their level of independence is diminishing precipitously. I will suggest that the number of private school students who recently failed the fourth-grade English warm-up test indicate the level to which state influence has already infected them.
Just prior to the release of these Regents test results, the State announced its intent to force private schools to comply with the Regents standards. Don't most private schools already have higher standards? Why, Yes, they do.
I also made note that your report on the superior performance of students in private schools was filled with negative commentary by members of the public schools’ teacher unions and bureaucracy. When you reported on the test results of public school students the week before, did you sprinkle it with negative commentary from independent teachers? Of course not.
I also noticed that you never mentioned the fact that per pupil costs in the superior performing private schools are approximately half that of the public schools you compared them to. Public school boards and administrators from all over the state are telling voters that their massive borrowing for infrastructure and technology is necessary to meet the states’ new standards. How can that be true? How in the name of objectivity can you avoid questioning this apparent dichotomy?
I would also like to see your reporters question the State Education Department as to how many public school districts have requested and received exemptions or variances from Regents testing and why they feel participation variances are necessary. The answer I received from one school board member had to do with self-esteem. Big surprise there!
Lastly, I have to make a point about ‘equality’. We are not all born with equal abilities. In the zeal of many well intentioned people for equal results, they are overlooking the fact that ‘affirmative action’ based attempts at equalization will only succeed to the degree that the potential achievements of some can be diminished or constrained to a lower common denominator. This is being applied to both students and schools.
6-24-98 East Greenbush Central School Dist. Computer Plan
To the Editor,
According to industry experts, putting computers in classrooms is a bad idea.
Steve Jobs, as the founder of Apple, was at one time responsible for putting most of the computers in our nations classrooms. I believe he donated most of them. In a Wall Street Journal interview he has stated that he used to think computers were an educational panacea. Today, having turned 40 and being a father, he has reluctantly conceded that: "What's wrong with education cannot be fixed with technology. No amount of technology will make a dent."
Dr. Arthur B. Robinson, President of the Oregon Institute of Science and Medicine, having used advanced computers for 30+ years, would not allow any of his children to use a computer until they had completed mathematics all the way through calculus. He says: "Computer technology is advancing so fast, that long before a child reaches the point in life where he or she really needs a computer, the machine will be so different that early practice will be irrelevant."
Michael Bloomberg, the owner of Bloomberg Financial Markets, uses a sophisticated computer network to provide clients with financial information in his $400 million business which employs 2,300 people. Although his company is almost completely reliant on technology, he says: "If you have learned to think and read books, you can do spreadsheets...I think you would be better off without computers in the classroom."
In SILICON SNAKE OIL: SECOND THOUGHTS ON THE INFORMATION SUPERHIGHWAY, Author, astronomer and programmer, Clifford Stoll writes: "Every dollar that a school spends on computer technology is a dollar that won't be spent on books."
On the other hand you have Bill Gates. He gave $5 million to the National Education Association last year, stating: "I believe in public education." That's like giving $5 million to the IRS because you want to help the poor. What do you think his real motivation was?
Extensive research has lead some scientists to theorize that early exposure to computer terminals and television is a contributing factor in Attention Deficit Disorder.
By all accounts, computers are not worth spending nearly 20% of our annual budget on in one shot. According to many experts, they shouldn't be in our elementary schools at all. Let's have a little more debate on this before we borrow $7.3 million.
Please give this considerable thought before going to the polls July 1st to vote on the East Greenbush School District's $7.3 million technology plan.