Saturday, March 21, 2009

Commentary by Marcus Winters - School funding doesn't add up

The following piece appeared in the Washington Times. Marcus Winters has worked on a number of pieces with Jay P. Greene the author of Education Myths: What Special-Interest Groups Want You to Believe About our Schools—and Why It Isn’t So


WINTERS: School funding doesn't add up
Marcus Winters
Friday, March 20, 2009


Though $53.6 billion in "stabilization" funds has dramatically softened the blow, several states and public school districts still need to cut teacher payrolls to make ends meet.

California, for one, intends to cut about 20,000 teachers - about 6 percent of public school teachers in the state - of which 5,500 are in the struggling Los Angeles public schools. School districts in Arizona, Michigan, New Hampshire and other states are also planning layoffs. If the economy doesn't get better, all school systems will face even tougher circumstances when those federal supplements run out, a time not so far from now.

It's unfortunate that any teachers at all are losing their jobs for no other reason than the financial situation, but it's outrageous that the cuts will come without any thought given to which teachers would be least missed.

The powerful collective-bargaining agreements that govern teacher employment in just about every public school system in the United States leave little to no discretion to these systems in deciding which teachers should get the axe when times are tough. Public school layoffs occur by seniority. Teacher classroom success plays no role in determining who stays or who goes.

That's too bad for kids, because who teaches them makes an enormous difference in how much they learn. Empirical research finds that teacher quality is the single most important educational input within a school's control. The best estimates are that the difference in effectiveness between a good teacher and a bad one, judged in terms of student performance, is equivalent to a year's worth of academic work.

An even wider body of research shows that the number of years that a teacher has been employed in a classroom is simply unrelated to her ability to advance student proficiency. We now know that a teacher is at her worst her first year in the classroom, she gets a little better during the next two years, and she never really improves after that.

If there is no reason to believe that their experience makes them more effective, why does the public school system favor more senior teachers? Because it is designed for the adults who work in it, not the students it is supposed to serve. Teachers' unions plead that their members must be treated like their counterparts in the medical and legal professions, but they demand to be protected as if they worked on a factory floor and to be paid as uniformly.

Not even teachers unions' mouthpieces argue that classroom effectiveness is directly related to seniority. Instead, they say seniority is the only "fair" way to distribute layoffs because we don't have accurate ways of measuring teacher ability. But that's like saying we can't build entirely earthquake-proof homes so we may as well build them out of straw. No organization has a perfect measure of employee effectiveness. Therefore firms use a variety of tools to judge the quality of their workers. Public schools can and should do the same.

The unions get the most squeamish when standardized test scores of their students are used to assess teacher quality. It's true that test scores are imperfect measures of student proficiency. Even when researchers focus on "value-added" performance - that is, the gains that students make in a year, rather than their overall score, which is strongly influenced by factors outside of the school's or the teacher's control - they must grapple with a host of statistical issues. Consequently, it would be irresponsible to use test scores alone in making staffing cuts or allocating pay.

But test scores are certainly reliable enough to inform such decisions. While it is true some students might not make test-score gains for any number of reasons outside of a teacher's control, low standardized-test results can at least put up a warning flag.

Principals' observations are another underrated means of evaluating teacher quality. Recent research by Brian Jacob and Lars Lefgren finds that principals are in fact very good at identifying both the most effective and the least effective teachers, though understandably less good at ranking those closer to the average. The most reliable system, of course, would employ a combination of both qualitative and quantitative measures.

In his important speech on education policy the other day, President Obama challenged school systems to remove ineffective teachers from the classroom. But as California and other school systems are finding, they can't do that unless they dramatically change teachers' terms of employment. Doing so should in fact elevate the profession as a whole by protecting and rewarding its most shining examples.

Marcus Winters is a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute.

Friday, March 20, 2009

What does a Trillion Dollars Look Like?

This administration has printed a Trillion dollars out of thin air. Our children, grandchildren and great grandchildren will be paying this debt. The dollar is about to become worthless.

What does a trillion dollars look like? Click here to see a trillion dollars.


Thursday, March 19, 2009

Tea Party

A Nationwide National Tea Party is scheduled for April 15th, 2009 at 5:30 p.m. at Victory Park in Manchester, NH.


Wednesday, March 18, 2009

School Board Meeting

I arrived at the school board meeting late because Anastasia had to make up a gymnastics class.

One thing that kind of floored me was that I noticed the third graders were using the Math Trailblazers workbook*. I would encourage all parents to read about various math programs here.

Newport has failed to make adequate yearly progress in Math for six years straight. I would have hoped they and Croydon employees have done a serious review of the curricula and replaced it with curricula with proven results.

Jim Peschke asked Jim Vezina for a more detailed budget and the working numbers up to the final budget presented at town meeting. Why the previous sitting school board members did not have privy to this information and review this information is beyond me. I really wish they would be more due diligent with the taxpayers of Croydon hard earned dollars. Every dollar misspent is someone's food, fuel, retirement savings, child's college fund, etc., etc., etc.

*I first reported on Math Trailblazers on March 15, 2007. post updated at 3:59 p.m.

Spelling and grammar errors as well as typos are left as an exercise for our readers.

What are You Doing to Control Costs?

At the town hall meeting Gayle asked Jim Vezina the SAU 43 business manger "What are you doing to control costs?" Beyond the mention of cutting staff he did not say much else. He also failed to mention while cutting staff positions the new budget also includes $500,000 dollars for teacher raises. Yes, the majority of 18% of Newport voters supported the increase but he should have been more open about that at the town meeting.

I have heard a number of Newport teachers and at least two Croydon residents would like Croydon's students to go to Newport Schools when the contract expires in 2010. SAU 43 should be willing to work to mutually adjust their contract with Croydon schools now as a good faith measure, with hopes of an upcoming contract beyond 2010. Currently Newport has one of the highest unemployment rates, many residents in Newport and Croydon are getting cuts in pay, have to pay a larger portion of insurance costs and no longer are getting matching funds in their 401k. Also many retired private sector employees have taken large hits to their retirement savings.

Public sector employees are constantly asking taxpayers to give, when are public sector employees going to give a little back to the taxpayers for their generosity over the years?

It seems that in other parts of New Hamsphire it won't be anytime soon.

Spelling and grammar errors as well as typos are left as an exercise for our readers.

School Board Meeting Tonight

There is a school board meeting tonight at the school.


Tuesday, March 17, 2009

The Economy Factors Into Decisions Made At Town Meetings*

The following piece appeared in the Eagle Times. You can click on the link or the image to read the article.

My suggestion to those disappointed in the budget reduction is to send a check to the Croydon school district in the amount of 2704.12. Let us see how truly those voters support increased funds for the school.

Click on image to enlarge image.

Spelling and grammar errors as well as typos are left as an exercise for our readers.
Titled Edited March 24th.

What Will Happen To Homeschooling Under Obama?

After reading the story below it reminded me of the Karl Marx quote, "The education of all children, from the moment that they can get along without a mother's care, shall be in state institutions at state expense." It also reminded me of a great article I read in 2001 on Lew Rockwell's website. You must click to read the article, I found the similarities to our current situation kind of frightening.

The following piece appears in the DC Homeschooling Examiner.

Spelling and grammar errors as well as typos are left as an exercise for our readers.

Education reform concerns

As a homeschooler, talk of education reform always makes me wary. This past week, with President Obama discussing his initiatives for education reform, I must admit feeling nervous. Although homeschooling was not mentioned per se, several things were most upsetting and made me think homeschooling could become part of the discussion: the Zero to Five Initiative, Universal Preschool, and the need for increased early childhood education. My heat sank and my worry list grew from reading things like:

It is time to give all Americans a complete and competitive education from cradle up through career (taken from President Obama's speech on education reform; White House website)

Unlike other early childhood education plans, the Obama-Biden plan places key emphasis at early care and education for infants, which is essential for children to be ready to enter kindergarten. Obama and Biden will create Early Learning Challenge Grants to promote Zero to Five efforts and help states move toward voluntary, universal preschool (taken from the White House website on Education Reform)

Do those initiatives actually imply that our government plans to create schools for babies? What type of education could be necessary for an infant? How would they be taught? Does this mean that mothers who are caring for their babies would be handing them over to strangers? Women who are pursing the full-time profession of caring for their children should be encouraged and commended, not replaced with an army of certified daycare providers. If that is not bad enough, here comes Universal Preschool, to further remove children from the care of their parents. Our kids can just go off to government-run schools, perhaps when a mere few weeks old, where they can remain for the better part of their lives until they reach eighteen. The government will be in charge of what they learn, where they learn, what they are exposed to, whom they see and play with, etc. Talk about scary.

And yes, I know that the word "voluntary" is part of the reform package. But let's be honest. How long would it before universal preschool becomes mandatory? Not so long ago, kindergarten was also voluntary, but no longer. Imagine having to request permission to keep your young child at home with you? Imagine having to submit proof that you are adhering to state (or national) standards for teaching your own three-year old?

I am a homeschooling mom, so I know first-hand of a child's ability to learn outside of a classroom. At the same time I realize that preschools can be a good thing for many people, and I am not advocating the removal of preschools from our country. However, I wholeheartedly disagree with the notion that preschool is necessary for educational readiness, nor do I believe that preschool should be government-funded. Children do not need to be made ready to learn. They are learning all the time, from the minute they are born, by playing games, listening to stories, falling down and watching others. These are the things that should fill early childhood, not mind-numbing worksheets and endless flashcards. There are many studies which even refute the benefits of universal preschool. According to the WSJ article "Protect our Kids from Preschool", although kindergartners who attended preschool have an advantage over those who did not, between the first and fourth grades there is no longer any discernible difference between children who attended preschool and those who did not.

We need to stop pushing our children to be automated learning machines. Children who cannot write by age five are not destined for disaster later in life. Children mature at different rates, and they learn at different paces, something pediatricians are quick to remind new parents. It is unreasonable to expect that all children will do everything by the same age. I am positive that ALL of our children are smart enough to be able to start kindergarten without having three to five years of preparation for it. Kindergarten should be a springboard into the world of school; not the new first grade.

I am also curious to know who would be providing the education and care of these young children. From where will these amazing teachers come? Is there a secret stash of people, ready and waiting to work at government-run preschools? What would make them better qualified than mothers (who have a bond with their children that a daycare provider/teacher could never mimic)? How will they handle non-stop poopy diapers, screaming infants, toddling two-year olds and demanding three-year olds while following an age-appropriate curriculum? The vision of rooms full of miserable, ignored children fills my head with dread and sadness.

Having the government provide a formalized daycare/preschool program for all children is not a solution for our stressed and over-burdened educational system. If the government plans to start with infants and toddlers, it is a safe bet they will not be willing to give them up when they reach the age of five, which means that changing the homeschool laws could be on the horizon. We need to protect our rights to keep our children at home, and to educate our children, especially the young ones, as we see fit. It is not the government's place to dictate how our young children will be raised, no matter what noble cause they claim to be pursuing.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Croydon Taxpayers Get a Break

The following article appeared in the Valley News. You can click on the image to read the article.

When Jim Peschke ran for school board he promised to trim needless spending from the budget. Four days after Jim was elected the majority of voters at the town meeting cut 65,000 dollars from the budget. Now Jim and the rest of the board will have to decide where the money should be cut.

Congratulations to the Croydon taxpayers.