Ivy League professors tell students, “Think for yourself”

In a publicly released letter, a group of professors from Yale, Princeton and Harvard stress the need for students to think for yourself.

Here’s one highlight from the letter about a major issue on our college campuses today:

“…’the tyranny of public opinion’ does more than merely discourage students from dissenting from prevailing views on moral, political, and other types of questions. It leads them to suppose that dominant views are so obviously correct that only a bigot or a crank could question them.”

To counter the problem, the professors advise:

“…taking the trouble to learn and honestly consider the strongest arguments to be advanced on both or all sides of questions—including arguments for positions that others revile and want to stigmatize and against positions others seek to immunize from critical scrutiny.”

So, do yourself a real favor: think for yourself by reading this amazingly candid – in fact downright courageous – letter. I hope this letter gets read into our legislature’s record at some point and becomes a discussion item in our public schools, as well. Thoughtful, informed and respectful debate is what builds America. Bigotry (see definition in the professors’ letter), either from the left or right, does not.

Boone County educators hit for violations of school council (SBDM) laws

But, the SBDM problems run much deeper

If you looked at our video coverage of the testimony about School Based Decision Making (SBDM) from Monday’s meeting of the Kentucky Legislature’s Interim Joint Education Committee, you are aware that educators in the Boone County Public School District, one of the state’s more highly regarded school systems, got their knuckles rapped for running afoul of the convoluted SBDM laws.

Today, the Kentucky Enquirer ran a story about this situation and as a public service, we are making the reports from the Kentucky Office of Education Accountability (OEA) available so you can see for yourself what happened.

Three separate reports were completed by the OEA. The first one covers issues with the superintendent in Boone County.

The second deals with problems at the Camp Ernst Middle School.

The third deals with similar issues at the Connor Middle School.

After reading through these reports and hearing the videoed comments from Monday from Superintendent Randy Poe and Boone County Board of Education Chair Ed Massey, we have a number of concerns.

First, there seems to be an awful lot of confusion about who at the local school level can sign contracts. That is a major problem under any condition, indicating a lot of education is lacking – for adults involved with education across the commonwealth. That serves no one well.

An additional issue is that it appears only the local school board has such contracting authority. But, with the school councils in charge of curriculum and finances, how can that possibly work out well? What if the school wants to order a curriculum product the board members don’t believe is a good choice? Are board members, elected by the taxpayers, required to sign contracts obligating that tax money when those board members honestly believe this isn’t the best action? That’s a crazy situation.

The OEA goes into considerable detail to establish that what the two schools actually adopted was in fact a curriculum, and that curriculum had to have SBDM approval, which was not obtained from either school’s council. An SBDM not approving a curriculum – that’s a problem.

The adopted curriculum also needed to be aligned to Kentucky’s Academic Standards. But, the OEA found numerous individuals in the Boone County schools that said the adopted curriculum from Summit Learning, created for California, not Kentucky, was not aligned. However, this wasn’t determined until six months after the schools started to use the curriculum. The SBDMs in the schools never did an alignment check before the curriculum was adopted. Not vetting a curriculum to Kentucky’s standards before adoption – that’s a problem.

Something not mentioned in the OEA reports but that bothers us greatly is that the staff in the schools and the SBDM members clearly knew what was going on. Why didn’t they know they had responsibilities in this area and why didn’t the SBDM exert its legal authority to do this properly? Doesn’t this highlight more training problems? And, if staff in this highly regarded system (Poe was the Kentucky Association of School Administrators’ Superintendent of the Year for 2013 and received the Dupree Outstanding Superintendent Award from the Kentucky School Boards Association in 2015) are making these sorts of mistakes, what might be going on elsewhere?

Just to add some fuel to that last comment, at virtually the same time that the OEA released their Boone County reports, another principal at the Smyrna Elementary School in Jefferson County was also getting her knuckles rapped for violation of SBDM rules, as well. In this case as well it looks like SBDM members failed in their responsibility to defend their authority.

If SBDM members won’t do their jobs properly, that is a BIG problem, because this leaves our kids out in the cold while apparently no one is really paying attention to and being held accountable for what is going on in the most critical area of their schools, namely the selection and teaching of the curriculum.

So, it is a good thing the Kentucky Legislature is starting to pay attention. The SBDM concept has been around for decades; thus, if so much confusion still exists about how to shoe horn things into this awkward and largely unaccountable system, changes are clearly needed – BADLY.

Legislative committee discusses Kentucky’s school councils – Boone Co. Board Chair Ed Massey

Since at least the mid-1990s, Kentucky’s public schools have used a unique method of school governance built around the concept of School Based Decision Making (SBDM). This concept provides an amazing amount of power to a council located at each school to direct many important matters such as selection of curriculum, finally determining how the allocated money will be spent, and selecting school staff.

Cheered by some, reviled by others, the school council concept now has more than a 20-year history in Kentucky, and problems are definitely showing.

For one thing, despite claims that this provides for local control at the school level, the truth is the law explicitly requires teachers to make up the majority of each school council’s membership. Parents are ALWAYS a minority. Since a simple majority rules in all school council votes, it is clear that Kentucky’s parents really don’t have “local control” with school councils. Moreover, local taxpayers and non-parent citizens have no representation at all even though they still pay the taxes that support the school. Even more surprising, locally elected school board members and the local school superintendent are remarkably restricted in their ability to control what happens in schools, raising serious questions about effective oversight.

There also remains considerable confusion about who is in charge of what, and who can do what in schools in Kentucky. Don’t believe us? Just listen to Boone County Superintendent Randy Poe describe his recent woes with the SBDM approach even though he was told he was doing everything right.

Then, listen to this video from Boone County Board of Education Chairman Ed Massey.

Comments from other speakers appearing with Sen. Schickel appear in other posts.

Legislative committee discusses Kentucky’s school councils – Bluegrass Institute President Jim Waters

Since at least the mid-1990s, Kentucky’s public schools have used a unique method of school governance built around the concept of School Based Decision Making (SBDM). This concept provides an amazing amount of power to a council located at each school to direct many important matters such as selection of curriculum, finally determining how the allocated money will be spent, and selecting school staff.

Cheered by some, reviled by others, the school council concept now has more than a 20-year history in Kentucky, and problems are definitely showing.

For one thing, despite claims that this provides for local control at the school level, the truth is the law explicitly requires teachers to make up the majority of each school council’s membership. Parents are ALWAYS a minority. Since a simple majority rules in all school council votes, it is clear that Kentucky’s parents really don’t have “local control” with school councils. Moreover, local taxpayers and non-parent citizens have no representation at all even though they still pay the taxes that support the school. Even more surprising, locally elected school board members and the local school superintendent are remarkably restricted in their ability to control what happens in schools, raising serious questions about effective oversight.

The Bluegrass Institute has been doing research about the performance of school councils and President Jim Waters was asked to testify at the meeting. You can hear his comments, which include initial observations from our research, in this video.

By the way, Jim also provided written testimony, which you can read by clicking here.

Comments from other speakers appearing with Sen. Schickel are available in other posts.

Legislative committee discusses Kentucky’s school councils – Superintendent Randy Poe

Since at least the mid-1990s, Kentucky’s public schools have used a unique method of school governance built around the concept of School Based Decision Making (SBDM). This concept provides an amazing amount of power to a council located at each school to direct many important matters such as selection of curriculum, finally determining how the allocated money will be spent, and selecting school staff.

Cheered by some, reviled by others, the school council concept now has more than a 20-year history in Kentucky, and problems are definitely showing.

For one thing, despite claims that this provides for local control at the school level, the truth is the law explicitly requires teachers to make up the majority of each school council’s membership. Parents are ALWAYS a minority. Since a simple majority rules in all school council votes, it is clear that Kentucky’s parents really don’t have “local control” with school councils. Moreover, local taxpayers and non-parent citizens have no representation at all even though they still pay the taxes that support the school. Even more surprising, locally elected school board members and the local school superintendent are remarkably restricted in their ability to control what happens in schools, raising serious questions about effective oversight.

There also remains considerable confusion about who is in charge of what, and who can do what in schools in Kentucky. Don’t believe us? Just listen to Boone County Superintendent Randy Poe describe his recent woes with the SBDM approach even though he was told he was doing everything right.

Comments from other speakers appearing with Sen. Schickel will appear in subsequent posts.

Legislative committee discusses Kentucky’s school councils – Senator John Schickel

Since at least the mid-1990s, Kentucky’s public schools have used a unique method of school governance built around the concept of School Based Decision Making (SBDM). This concept provides an amazing amount of power to a council located at each school to direct many important matters such as selection of curriculum, finally determining how the allocated money will be spent, and selecting school staff.

Cheered by some, reviled by others, the school council concept now has more than a 20-year history in Kentucky, and problems are definitely showing.

For one thing, despite claims that this provides for local control at the school level, the truth is the law explicitly requires teachers to make up the majority of each school council’s membership. Parents are ALWAYS a minority. Since a simple majority rules in all school council votes, it is clear that Kentucky’s parents really don’t have “local control” with school councils. Moreover, local taxpayers and non-parent citizens have no representation at all even though they still pay the taxes that support the school. Even more surprising, locally elected school board members and the local school superintendent are remarkably restricted in their ability to control what happens in schools, raising serious questions about effective oversight.

And, these issues among others are no longer a secret in Kentucky. In this video Kentucky Senator John Schickel briefly outlines some of his major reservations about this unique approach to school governance, setting the stage for further review and possible updating of this policy by the Kentucky Legislature.

Comments from other speakers appearing with Sen. Schickel will appear in subsequent posts.

Fighting ‘Fake News’ in the Classroom

I don’t follow the Atlantic, but one of their writers, Alia Wong, has a very interesting article up in the Education Writers Association site about the problems of teaching school kids about fake news.

Unfortunately, Wong’s article makes a lot of sense.

Wong begins by posing a very interesting question:

“During and after the 2016 presidential campaign, questions arose about whether shortcomings in civics instruction had exacerbated polarization in the electorate and influenced the election’s outcome. The questions on civics education were soon accompanied by a related one: What if schools are contributing to a breakdown in democracy by failing to ensure kids are media literate?”

The article then answers that question, expressing concern that a recent study by the Stanford History Education Group found that students identified a web site “as a credible source of information — even though the website is maintained by a lobbying firm for the food and beverage industry.”

The article additionally laments that students decided one news article was more credible that another solely because the first article had an “attractive infographic.”

The Atlantic’s writer also points out that “media illiteracy is in large part symptomatic of a systemic flaw: schools’ failure to instill these skills amid an increasingly convoluted world of information.”

This reminded me of another kids-believe-all-sorts-of-stuff-on-the-web study that I learned about years ago regarding the fictitious “tree octopus.” Kids were directed to a bogus web site that had been created to fool them and then wouldn’t believe this fabrication didn’t exist even after researchers explained the web site was a plant created to test student credibility about anything found online.

Back in the present, the worry may be about fake news and our kids’ ability to detect it, but Wong’s take on the issue sounds all too much like solid – and scary – news to me.

Which school types educate best?

Gallup just polled the American public about which schools do the best job of educating students. The results show a clear win for school choice options.

This interesting table from the new Gallup Report makes an important case.

Gallup 2017 Poll on Which School Types Educate Best

It is interesting that just about every school choice option listed, including charter schools, is favored by a majority of Americans.

Home schooling’s rather low rating comes as a surprise, with somewhat less than a majority saying they believe home schools provide an excellent or good education. Perhaps this is due to the fact that there really isn’t a lot of good comparison data about home school performance. Still, even home schooling is held in higher public regard than the regular public school system.

This poll exposes some clear image problems for public schools. Only five percent of the public think they provide an excellent education, while a majority of Americans, 54 percent, believes public schools provide only a fair to poor education.

Gallup has some interesting comments of their own concerning their poll such as this one:

“Americans as a whole believe private and parochial schools do a better job of educating students than public schools do, something that might be remedied with the right federal or state public school education policies. Another remedy may be expanding charter schools so that parents of children in failing public schools who can’t afford private school have other options for their children.”

This poll certainly adds more insight into how rank and file Americans really feel about the performance of various school choice options. Kentucky’s policy makers would do well to keep this in mind as they oversee the introduction of charter schools in the Bluegrass State and continue to contemplate fostering more access to other school options, as well.

About those claims that the US has high poverty

Americans are frequently assaulted with amazing claims that our country has one of the highest poverty rates in the entire developed world. We get it from sources like the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF, sometimes just the United Nations Children’s Fund), the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), and a host of others, as well.

For example, the Washington Post reported in April 2013 that the United Nations Children’s Fund had just issued a new report showing the US poverty rate ranked just one off the bottom on a list of countries from “virtually all of Europe plus Canada, Australia, New Zealand and Japan.”

These claims sound really grim, but are they accurate? Can it be that when many poor in the US somehow manage to have cell phones, TV’s, refrigerators and a lot of other things that these Americans still are badly off compared to, say, the poor in some of the former Communist satellite countries?

Actually, the same WaPo article provides clues to what is really going on, and it’s a classic example of why you really need to understand what is behind the numbers people keep passing around.

When you dig further into the Post’s article, it explains that UNICEF defines poor as living in a household that earns less than half of the national median income in their country.

In other words, UNICEF’s dubious statistics use a separate poverty level for each country. UNICEF isn’t keeping all the countries on a level playing field with their numbers.

The WaPo article expands on this, explaining:

“UNICEF is using its own ‘poverty line’ here; the more typical international definition is a family that lives on less than $1.25 or $2 per day. Almost no Americans qualify for this definition. Internally, the United States defines the poverty line as a family living on less than about $22,000 per year, which includes about 15 percent of Americans.”

So, not only does UNICEF measure poverty using unequal standards for each country, but if a common poverty scale accepted by many economic researchers is used, hardly anyone in the US falls under that common poverty level.

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How much do taxpayers really spend on education in Kentucky?

And, how does Kentucky’s education spending rank against other states?

We hear it all the time. Kentucky’s educators frequently complain that they are not getting enough resources (think dollars) to do their job well. And, we’ve often heard that per pupil funding for education in Kentucky ranks low compared to what other states spend.

But now, a report from a very surprising source indicates our educators have not been giving us the correct picture. According to this source, not only does Kentucky’s education funding rank a whole lot higher than our educators have been telling us, but in 2015 the total taxpayer support for education in Kentucky actually ranked above the national average.

Based on this new ranking information, the Kentucky taxpayer now has cause to take issue with educators’ complaints because it looks like financial support for education in Kentucky – especially considering the state’s relatively low income levels – is actually rather remarkable.

By the way, if our educators want to complain about this surprising new information, they will have to take it to their own union. You see, the state funding rankings I refer to come from none other than the National Education Association. If that catches your attention, click the “Read more” link to learn still more.

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