Friday, March 10, 2006

In Wisconsin News

I have not been very verbose on Wisconsin politics because I am usually so negative on the whole lot that everything I try to write sounds shrill. Still, a couple of things just pissed me off yesterday that I have no choice today.

Item 1:

Herb Kohl, senior Senator from Wisconsin, while commenting on the Prescription Benefit program complained that the program was just political payback for pharmaceutical industry.


The Prescription Benefit program at least has the APPEARANCE of being pro-consumer. The Bankruptcy Reform Act (BARF to those of us that deal with consumers) has neither the appearance nor the intent to assist consumers at all. The Bankruptcy Reform Act was political payback for the over $100 MILLION paid by lobbyists to Congressmen on behalf of the credit/bank industry over the last 8 years.

Item 2:

Our daughter brought home her school newsletter Wednesday and I finally read it yesterday. A nice letter from Superintendent Art Rainwater on No Child Left Behind (NCLB). Let me excerpt a couple of pieces:

The recognition of the importance in understanding our children's learning needs through good academic assessment has been a major positive change.

Good, he recognizes the value of actually assessing student performance! But like any good reactionary, no positive can be left without a negative..

Unfortunately, NCLB uses this very positive educational advance to create a punitive climate for change. Schools will not succeed because of the NCLB strategy of apply sanctions; schools will succeed when:
* the need for change is understood based on clear and convincing data;

Stop there! "when the need for change is understood"? We have a 50% drop out rate from high school and a large percentage of students can not read by 6th grade and there is some question about the need for change????? Continuing:

* well planned staff development provides teachers with "best practice" skills

Wait..."best practice"? Where and when might these best practices be determined? In universities where they teach our teachers to teach? There are no incentives for good teachers to teach well under the current (non-NCLB) system. I will admit that a big part of the problem is the parents that want their little tyke to have positive self-esteem, ability to read be damned. Continuing:

* progress is monitored for improvement

Is not that one of the major points that Rainwater acknowledges earlier? Assessment is a good thing?

Despite the political rhetoric to this point, Rainwater then states something that is SO stupid that it should be clear to anyone that our schools are in trouble not only because of the problems in the classroom and at home, but in their administration and management from the top:

NCLB takes a punitive approach by identifying schools that are not making adequate yearly progress (AYP) and applying increasing levels of sanctions. There has now been substantial discussion that illustrates the almost mathematical certainty that under the current system of identifying AYP schools, all of our nation's schools will eventually be on the AYP list.

That's right. Discussion illustrates a mathematical certainty that ALL schools will fail to make adequate yearly progress. Mathematical certainty used here is exactly the same tone as "I read somewhere", "they say".

The positive approach of using student date to inform instruction is negated by the certainty of ultimately being unsuccessful. If there is no hope for final success, it is difficult to undertake the journey.

Mr. Rainwater, our daughter is 11. Your JOB is to teach her, now. No one expects a perfect system and we fully expect things to continuously change and IMPROVE as time goes on, but she will not wait for you to get your system right, you have to make it work now. The "system" before NCLB was not working, and years of increasing spending was making it worse, not better. Left to your own (you, your staff and the entire educational system) devices, things were getting much, much worse. If you don't like the idea of sanctions, maybe you should consider a job in the real world, a place our daughter is going to face in about a dozen years. You know, a place where if you fail to meet expectations, you get fired.

Included in the newsletter was a page titled: What is the importance of standards-based curricula in mathematics? Subtitled: Research and Best Practice

An interesting paragraph illustrates my point and Rainwaters lack:

Extensive logitudinal studies show that the mathematics standards in many school districts in this country [note real studies, not discussions] are not as rigorous as those in other countries. In international studies, American students are not achieving world-class mathematics standards. U.S. students rated average by their teachers[note rated, not tested] may actually be performing at the basic level by international standards. Many high school graduates need remedial courses before attempting college-level mathematics; too many do not pass their beginning university courses.

These are students not covered by NCLB. They were failed by the system that supported self esteem over concrete results.

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