Earning my presidential vote: education


This is the first of what will be about a weeklong series on the five candidates I am considering for President.

Regarding education (and the other subjects henceforth) these are the actions and philosophies I am looking for, in five bullet points or less:

  • The sunsetting of the Department of Education by the end of the first term. Education is not a federal concern, but properly decided at the state and local levels.
  • Returning the college student loan program to individual banks, allowing the student a broader array of choices for paying for education.
  • Taking the bully pulpit on vocational education, homeschooling, and other non-traditional paths to success. College is not for everyone.
  • Encouraging states to drop the Common Core program in favor of tried and true methods of teaching, with fewer days of testing.
  • Being an advocate for school choice and “money follows the child.”

Here are what the candidates think on the subject. Most often the information is gleaned from their website, but I tried to cite when it came from another source. As a reminder, education is worth a maximum of five points on my 100-point scale.

Castle: “Education is a big problem. If I were president, the Federal Government would not be using the education system to corrupt our children. I want education to be local.

Every year we spend more money, and every year our kids seem to get dumber. Third World countries are beating us in math and science education, and it just gets worse and worse. We aren’t going to be able to change much if we don’t change how we educate our children.”

Constitution is silent on education, so it should be a state and local issue per Tenth Amendment. Would disband the Department of Education.

Would be in favor of Constitutional education in state and local schools.

Hedges: Free college for all, supported by taxpayers. “The Hedges/Bayes administration would assist each state in providing free higher education to all of its qualified citizens.”

10th Amendment makes states responsible for education. Schools should emphasize science, math, citizenship, history, and English. (party platform)

Would fund retraining for displaced workers, paid for via tariff. (party platform)

Hoefling: “The government schools have become God-free and gun-free. So, they are now, quite predictably, spiritual, moral, intellectual and physical free-fire zones. If you have children there, find a way, make any sacrifice necessary, to get them out of there before they are led to the slaughter. What could possibly be more important?”

“What do children need? Before anything else, they need love. They need truth. They need protection from the evil that is in this world. Can government bureaucrats give them any of those things? Not really. As George Washington rightfully said, ‘government is FORCE.’ It’s not love. It’s not caring. Only parents, the ones who were entrusted by God with the duty to raise up their children to be good, decent human beings and honest, patriotic citizens, can provide that, with the help of a responsible, caring community, in cooperation with good teachers. That’s the primary reason I continue to advocate for T.L.C., which is True Local Control, of our schools. The financial, governmental reasons for these reforms are very real as well, but the primary motivator for me is the restoration of the love, the nurture, and the protection of our posterity.” (from Iowa governor campaign, 2014)

Johnson: Governors Gary Johnson and Bill Weld believe nothing is more important to our future as a country than educating our next generations.

Governor Gary Johnson worked tirelessly as governor to have a more substantive discussion about the best way to provide a good education for our children.

He did so while working with an overwhelmingly Democratic legislature and despite fierce opposition from powerful special interests. Knowing full well that the establishment would resist calls for change, he nevertheless advocated a universally available program for school choice. Competition, he believes, will make our public and private educational institutions better.

Most importantly, Governor Johnson believes that state and local governments should have more control over education policy. Decisions that affect our children should be made closer to home, not by bureaucrats and politicians in Washington, D.C. That is why he believes we should eliminate the federal Department of Education. Common Core and other attempts to impose national standards and requirements on local schools are costly, overly bureaucratic, and actually compromise our ability to provide our children with a good education.

Johnson and Weld believe that the key to restoring education excellence in the U.S. lies in innovation, freedom, and flexibility that Washington, D.C. cannot provide. (campaign website)

McMullin: The strength of the economy tomorrow depends on the strength of education today. In our high-tech economy, finding a good job depends more and more on having a good education. While our country has some of the world’s greatest universities, millions of students finish school with weak reading and math skills. Going to college keeps getting more and more expensive, while drop out rates are rising.

Evan McMullin believes that by empowering families and communities we can make sure that every child in America has access to a high-quality education. Mandates from Washington are not the way to reform education. The Obama administration’s heavy-handed effort to impose Common Core standards has demonstrated the need for a different approach. Meanwhile, federal loan programs are driving up the cost of a college education while poorly designed regulations prevent the emergence of new options for students.

American students have benefited greatly from a tradition of local control and decentralization for schools. However, there continue to be many poorly performing schools even in cities with very high levels of per-student funding. For example, New York City spends more than $20,000 per student, while Boston and Baltimore spend $15,000.

In struggling school systems, charter schools have become a powerful engine of innovation because they are not weighed down by the intrusive regulations that burden so many traditional public schools. Not every charter school succeeds, but charters as a whole are finally giving meaningful choices to parents whose children were once condemned to failing institutions. Still, access to charter schools is insufficient; right now, there are more than one million children on charter school waiting lists.

Students who do not have access to charters should have the option of vouchers that enable them to attend schools further away. By showing that schools cannot afford to take their students for granted, these alternatives should foster a healthy competition between schools to provide the best education.

Without great teachers, there can be no great schools. The teaching profession continues to attract hundreds of thousands of the most committed, caring, and talented college graduates. Schools should not hesitate to reward teachers on the basis of merit, in order to ensure that they stay in public schools. There also needs to be greater accountability for the small number of teachers who fail in the classroom or even abuse their students. Regrettably, teachers unions continue to protect these few failures instead of focusing on what is best for students.

Schools also need high standards to ensure that every student gets a first-class education. Common Core began as a state-driven effort raise the bar for K-12 education, yet the Obama administration used to federal funds to compel implementation. Rather than accept criticism, the administration sought to brand Common Core opponents as ignorant or worse. A believer in empowering both local and state government, Evan opposes Common Core and the heavy-handed effort to force it on hesitant communities.

Finally, Evan is a strong supporter of the right to educate one’s children at home. He would encourage states to make sure that home-schooled students are able to participate in school sports and electives so that all students are able to benefit from these activities.

Going to college or getting advanced training after high school is the surest path to a good job and a middle-class lifestyle. However, misguided federal policies are only increasing the number of students who leave college without a degree while being saddled with heavy debts.

By handing out more loans, grants, and credits in response to rising tuition, the federal government signals to universities that Washington will pick up the tab for runaway cost growth. Even worse, the government doesn’t hold universities accountable for students’ graduation rates or ability to repay their loans. To make sure that universities have skin in the game, they should have to repay a portion of the debt incurred by students who fail to graduate or default on their loans. To ensure that interests rates remain reasonable, the government has tied them to the yield of 10-year Treasury notes while capping the maximum possible rate at 8.25 percent, a policy that Evan supports.

Prospective students also deserve to know more about the institutions to which they apply; however, a 2008 law prohibits the federal government from collecting the information these students need. For example, students should be able to compare the graduation rates, post-college earnings, and loan default rates for different programs at a wide range of universities.

Prospective students also deserve more and better choices in the field of post-secondary education. In addition to two- and four-year colleges, students should have access to high-quality technical schools, online programs, and work-based learning in the private sector. However, the current model of accreditation makes it extremely difficult for students at non-traditional programs to qualify for federal aid. This prevents competition, which means that traditional colleges and universities don’t face any consequences for cost growth or poor student outcomes.

The principles of education reform are the same for K-12 and higher education. Students and families should have more choices. Schools should have high standards and be accountable for students’ performance. State and local governments should lead the way, while intrusive and misguided federal interventions should be rolled back. That is Evan McMullin’s vision for an education system that prepares American students to succeed in the economy of the future. (campaign website)

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Darrell Castle seems to have the right idea; however, I don’t have as many specifics as I would like to get from him. I think I can trust him to do much of what I would like to see being done, but until it’s in writing I think I can only give him partial credit. 3 points.

There is a direct contradiction with Jim Hedges, who advocates free college while his overall party platform dictates a return to the states. For that reason, I cannot give him any points. 0 points.

As time goes on and I hear more from Tom Hoefling, I think I would have more to go on than I have to date. One problem is that most of the educational philosophy I’ve found is from his run for Iowa governor, which is a completely different scope. I think he would be similar to Castle, but for now I can only give him partial credit compared to Darrell. 2 points.

Gary Johnson has a very good philosophy on education insofar as eliminating federal involvement, and adds the school choice element. I will give him 3.5 points.

While he brings up a lot of good points, the problem I have with Evan McMullin is that he still advocates for federal-based solutions. Regardless of how you reform things at the federal level, the fact that a federal level remains means we will be combating the same issues in 20 years once bureaucracy grows back. 1 point.

Next topic will be the Second Amendment.

The right idea but with the wrong approach

September 4, 2016 · Posted in All politics is local, Business and industry, Delmarva items, Maryland Politics, Politics · Comments Off 

I find the controversy over Governor Hogan’s executive order mandating that Maryland public schools begin classes after Labor Day and wrap up by the following June 15 to be a good opportunity for commentary, so I decided to add my couple pennies.

First of all, this isn’t a new idea. In 2015 and 2016 legislation was introduced in the Maryland General Assembly to create a similar mandate. As proof of how Annapolis works, the 2015 versions only got House and Senate hearings but the 2016 versions picked up the remaining local House delegation as sponsors (only Delegates Mary Beth Carozza and Charles Otto were local co-sponsors in 2015) and got a Senate committee vote. (It failed on a 5-5 tie, with one of the Republicans on the committee being excused. The other two voted in favor.) There was a chance this legislation may have made it through in 2017, but apparently Hogan was unwilling to take the risk. He took the opportunity to make a news event at a perfect time – when most local districts were already a week or two into school, Larry announced this from the Ocean City boardwalk on a pleasant beach day – and showed he was willing to stand up for one of his principles, that being improving opportunities for small business. (At a minimum, with Hogan’s edict kids are off for 11 weeks for summer vacation.)

In reality, what Hogan has done is shift the calendar backward by about a week: for example, Wicomico County public school kids had their last day of school June 9 and returned August 29 and 30. But the thought process is that families are more likely to take a vacation in July and August than they are in June, so because Ocean City is a great tourist attraction the state should follow Worcester County’s lead and begin school after Labor Day. (They simply went an extra week into June, concluding on June 17 this year.)

Granted, our family has enjoyed a post-Labor Day start for a number of years since parochial schools have more calendar flexibility: our child began her summer vacation after classes ended June 3 and returns on Tuesday the 6th. Growing up, I seem to recall the city schools I attended began after Labor Day and went into June but the rural school I graduated from began classes in late August and was done by Memorial Day. (We had a longer Labor Day weekend, though, because our county fair runs that weekend and the Tuesday after Labor Day was Junior Fair Day. Thirty-odd years later, it still is.) The point is that each of these localities knows what works best, so I can understand the objection from those who advocate local control of school schedules. And talk about strange bedfellows: I’m sure many of those praising Hogan’s statewide mandate locally are also those who have fought for local control of our Board of Education - after at least ten years of trying, we finally have a chance for local control (as opposed to appointments by the Governor) over our Board of Education through a referendum this November. (I recommend a vote for the fully-elected Option 2 on Question A.)

So I agree with the objections on those grounds, even though I personally think a post-Labor Day start is a good idea based on the school calendar typically used. (If I truly had my way, though, we would adopt a 45-15 style plan so that summer break is somewhat shorter and kids spend less time relearning what they forgot over the break.) What I don’t see as productive are those who whine about how this would affect preparation for particular tests – that shouldn’t be the overall goal of education. Obviously they would be the first to blame the calendar (and by extension, Larry Hogan) if test scores went down. But Hogan’s not alienating a group that was squarely in his corner anyway, as the teachers’ unions almost reflexively endorse Democrats, including his 2014 opponent, and mislead Marylanders about education spending. It’s increased with each Hogan budget - just not enough to fund every desire the teachers have.

Come January, it will be interesting to see if the Democrats attempt to rescind this executive order through legislative means, daring Hogan to veto it so they can override the veto and hand him a political loss a year out from the election. While most Marylanders are fine with the change, the Democrats are beholden to the one political group that seems to object and those special interests tend to call the tune for the General Assembly majority.

Yet the idea that the state feels the need to dictate an opening and closing date to local school districts is just another way they are exerting control over the counties. We object when they tell us how to do our local planning, so perhaps as a makeup for this change our governor needs to rescind the PlanMaryland regime in Annapolis.

The choice needs to be ours

Last year I wrote about School Choice Week at the tail end of one of my final “odds and ends” segments. Rather than make you read the whole thing (although I think it was pretty good, even a year later) here’s what I had to say:

But to get jobs, we need a better educational system and that means giving parents a choice in where to send their child for their education. National School Choice Week begins next Sunday, but no local organization on Delmarva has yet stepped up to participate in an event. (There are 22 in Maryland, but all of them are on the Western Shore. No events are planned in Delaware or on the eastern shore of Virginia.)

As it turns out, my fiance made the choice to send her child to a private, faith-based school. It’s good for her, but it would be even better if money from the state was made available to cover her tuition and fees. Years ago I volunteered for a political candidate whose key platform plank was “money follows the child” and I think it makes just as much sense today. (Note: second link added in 2014 reprint.)

Alas, the same is essentially true for Maryland thus far, but Delaware has stepped up its game with events in the Wilmington area and in Milford.

Since I don’t have a local event to report on at this time, a suggestion made by the folks at Watchdog Wire was to share this video of a family who took advantage of the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship.

So what do you think the chances of having a college graduate, another attending school, and a third who’s intending to go to college would be if all three were saddled with attendance in the District’s failing public schools? My guess is that the older two of the three would be single moms like their mother, because the public schools aren’t necessarily environments conducive to learning. In the eyes of many “parents” pubic schools are instead glorified babysitters and day care.

Now I know neither charter schools nor parochial schools are perfect, and homeschooling isn’t for everyone, either. I know a few people who tried homeschooling but didn’t think they were doing the job and sent their children back to a traditional school. But let’s look at a theoretical here.

Between the new Bennett High School and proposed Bennett Middle School, the cost to Wicomico County and state taxpayers for building the facilities will be roughly $125 million. Naturally that’s not the life-cycle cost; since the current rendition of Bennett Middle is about a half-century old we can probably expect the newer versions to have the same lifespan. (One can argue over whether the cost was excessive due to state-imposed design choices and price of labor; regardless, the taxpayers will end up paying these bonds off for years to come.)

Enrollment varies, of course, but right now the two schools handle about 2,200 students – so each student’s “share” of the cost is $55,000. Needless to say, there are going to be students there for a half-century so that cost is spread out but may well be $1,000 per student per year – not counting interest on the bonds, necessary maintenance – if they don’t let the schools fall apart as they did the existing ones to guilt trip taxpayers into replacing otherwise structurally sound buildings – and of course the normal operations costs of heating, cooling, keeping the lights on, and technology. It wouldn’t surprise me that these additional costs double or triple the $1,000 per student per year number, and I haven’t spent a moment actually teaching.

[Pardon me for taking a dim view about the perceived uselessness of old facilities, but for my education (1969-82) I spent most of it in buildings dating from the 1950s or before - my (now demolished) middle school was first built in 1909 and added onto in the 1930s and 1950s as a former high school. I turned out okay without air conditioning in the school or fancy equipment, so spare me. And how many charter and private schools operate out of similar "obsolete" structures?]

If school choice can be the magic bullet to reduce costs by peeling away the myriad onion layers of bureaucracy, red tape, and questionable curriculum which seem to get in the way of children actually learning, shouldn’t we be making a mad dash toward that concept instead of propping up the failure of modern public education?

Maryland is not a state which is perceived as friendly to school choice. Between the scare tactics to homeschooling parents, the oversized influence of the teachers unions, and the willingness to subject children to the watered-down Common Core curriculum, there aren’t a lot of pathways to success. For a state which is supposedly tops in education, we don’t seem to be putting out a lot of educated students.

That’s why competition needs to be introduced and alternative paths to success, such as a renewed focus on skills-based vocational education, need to be provided. Let’s give parents the choice and put the money in their hands.

2014 Maryland dossier: part 1 (education)

Last month, in the midst of ongoing controversy over the foibles of one particular Maryland campaign, I put up a post reminding people it’s about the issues. And while I have a favorite in the race just simply based on that which I’ve heard him say and the fact he’s a very convincing speaker, I thought the time had come to look at his and the other campaigns in a much more critical light. After all, our nation elected a guy who had a very positive message for hope and change – now many are hoping we survive as a nation to change things back.

As part of that I also resurrected a feature I used to determine my presidential picks over the last two cycles. Perhaps it’s the curse of an overly analytical mind, but I like to break things down into numbers so I devised a point system to rate individual candidates. Granted, this is still somewhat subjective and arbitrary but it’s the best I can do.

What I will do over the next few weeks is look at a number of issues I feel are the most important in the race. Some of them are covered well in-depth among the several sources I cite, and I may even expand this exercise as I find more information and the campaigns roll on. In terms of having a plethora of source material, I thought the subject of education would be a good place to begin. While it only ranks in the middle among my key issues, it’s much higher on the list for many so I thought it a good entree.

The first part is worth 9 points on my 100-point scale. I’ll begin with the source material, add some compare and contrast with Democratic opponents (who have written quite a bit on this subject) then wrap up with my thoughts. David Craig will be covered first, followed by Ron George and Charles Lollar on the GOP side.

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David Craig: MDEd’s budget has increased from $265 million in 2007 to $307 million this year.  The state agency employs 1600 government workers.  That money would be better spent in Maryland classrooms where it would buy much-need (sic) supplies and enhance teacher salaries.

(snip)

As Governor, I will reduce the administrative budget of the state education department and pass the cost-savings on to local schools. I will end common core, return the money to Washington and let teacher’s (sic) teach.  The sound budgeting practices I will apply to the K-12 system will be required of the University System of Maryland to make college tuition affordable.  I will support school choice, charter schools and other proven measures to increase competition to ensure no child is trapped in a school that does not work.  (campaign site)

*

Craig’s answer to the problem: “We don’t need statewide testing,” and as governor, he would advocate for their abolition. Instead, he said that tests should be developed at the school and classroom level, “That’s why we hire teachers.”

Dagger: Some states have delayed mandatory implementation of the Common Core. Should Maryland follow suit?

Craig: “The only reason Maryland [adopted the Common Core] was they saw they could get all this money. How much went to teachers? How much went to the classroom? None of it.”

As for a statewide delay in implementing the Common Core, put Craig down as a “definite yes.” (interview with The Dagger, June 25, 2013)

*

But there’s duplication, so much duplication, in government – county government and school board government. I have a capital projects committee, they have a capital projects committee – why do we need both? I have the same guys that do the investigations, the inspections and all that stuff, I have a procurement department. I don’t buy chalk and all that stuff, but they have a procurement department. That’s duplication. I have a lawyer, a law department, they have a law department – duplication. They have a human resource department, I have a human resource department, duplication. Now, do I get rid of all those employees? No, but at least get rid of the top person. The person who’s making $150,000, instead of having two of them, you only have one. And you can probably merge a lot of things together and only have office – and none of that takes place in the classroom. (monoblogue interview, June 11, 2013)

Ron George: Grading each school’s educational success only on outcome based measures, not on the amount of money spent on education and construction or pay.

Create a “scholarship” system where students that pass an entrance exam to a non-public school will receive money to attend without the state having to pay a penny more.  Currently it costs Maryland $13,900 each year to educate a student, the national average is $10,400.

By allowing a “scholarship” of up to one quarter that amount, our public school teachers will have smaller class sizes, better pay, more planning time, and the state saves some money while all students receive a more tailored education according to their abilities.

By creating a Baltimore Children’s Zone in the failing high crime areas modeled after the effective Harlem Children’s Zone where grades and attitudes have improved immensely.

By the creation of charter schools where immigration numbers are high and test scores are dropping such as in Montgomery County so that the immigrant population can receive education tailored to help them get acclimated into their new society, addressing language and other needs while other students can concentrate on their needs.

By promoting Government Civics Courses and Financial Literacy courses.  Students need to understand the form of government and the economic system they will be a part of, otherwise they will graduate unprepared. (campaign site)

*

“I have opposed Common Core from its onset,” said Delegate George. “Parents have the right to have their voices heard in all matters concerning the education of their children. This is a vast overreach by the federal government that should not even be considered until it has been thoroughly vetted by parents,” continued George.

“It is very clear to me that Common Core is nothing but an attempt by the federal government to take control over our children’s education and to force parents to sit on the sideline. It is outrageous and I intend to fight it with all of my energy,” said George. (press release, September 23, 2013)

*

As Common Core has been in the news, Ron weighed in on how Maryland adopted it. The package of bills was fourfold, he explained, with the first two not being too obnoxious – but once they passed the fix was in for the bad portions. Ron stated he was “very much against” the mandates in Common Core. It’s being forced on the counties, he later said, but was “totally dumbing down” students. (WCRC meeting, monoblogue, September 23, 2013)

*

George even floated the idea of $4,000 state-funded scholarships for students who pass private school entrance exams. He said the measure would reduce classroom sizes and save the state $6,000 off the nearly $13,900 price tag attached to each public school student, with the remaining $3,900 going toward pay raises for public school teachers. (SoMDNews, June 26, 2013)

Charles Lollar: What we should try to do is reward teachers whose students comprehend the subject matter. We should give more local control to teachers and parents, while taking it away from the educational bureaucracy. We should allow parents to choose the schools they want to send their children to and not punish them for doing so. We should allow a stronger voucher program offering them the chance to compete with public institutions. We conservatives want what’s best for all of our children and have learned from experience what we shouldn’t do. Having blanket standards in a “one-size-fits-all” approach is NOT what we should do. (release quoted on monoblogue, July 1, 2013)

*

He is committed to joining with leaders and law enforcement officials to create more community centers for at-risk youth that will help them learn the life and business skills necessary for healthy lives and careers. (campaign website, “Platform“)

*

As Governor, Charles Lollar will fight for children’s education with a suite of policies – more economic opportunity offering the hope of more jobs, more resources in the classroom instead of in the administration building, innovative ideas that will engage student, parent and teacher in a rising tide of educational achievement.

He will fight to remove obstacles to learning.  He is pro-innovation, pro-school choice, and pro-educator.  With their parents and teachers, he will fight to remove obstacles that deny children the opportunity to achieve and be valued.

Charles Lollar will strengthen the weakened charter school system and promote the successful methodologies in education.

Charles Lollar will strongly advocate to the State Board of Education, County BOEs and individual districts to embrace charter schools, private schools, and home-schooling as excellent and alternative paths for the children of our state to learn and achieve to the benefit of all Marylanders.

Charles Lollar will work with local school boards to reward dedicated teachers in ways that encourage and inspire them to continue working in Maryland school systems.

(snip)

(W)e know that Common Core will not work.

We know from experience and repeated tries that “one-size-fits-all” government does not work. We tried No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top, but have you visited the schools in Baltimore City or Prince George’s County lately? How are these programs working out for those precious children and their hard working parents? We shouldn’t continue down a road of failure.

As Governor I will give more local control to teachers and parents, and reduce the role and size of educational bureaucracy. I will institute a strong voucher program. We will work to allow parents to choose the schools they want to send their children to and not be punished for doing so. And we will reward teachers whose students comprehend the subject matter. (campaign website, “Education“)

*

“If we’re spending $6 billion a year on education, why in the world can we not provide pens, paper, and pencils for our students in the classroom?” (blogger interview accessed via Red Maryland, June 24, 2013)

*

Lollar would pave the way for school choice by allowing tax dollars to follow the child, and do more to ensure that taxpayer dollars are aimed at teachers rather than administrators. “We have to demand academic excellence,” Lollar told me. (Real Clear Markets, September 3, 2013)

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On the Democratic side, all three candidates (Anthony Brown, Doug Gansler, and Heather Mizeur) have focused on education as well, with the key issue uniting them all being an expansion of public education to the pre-kindergarten level. Gansler, however, would include “targeted achievement grants” to schools serving immigrant families, more data collection, mentoring programs, and “learning bridge” programs to address after-school and summer breaks. Meanwhile, Mizeur would match Gansler in “investing” in after-school and summer programs, but also greatly expand the child care subsidy plan and revise the funding formula she complains is “out of date.”

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There’s no doubt we have a difference in philosophy here between Republicans and Democrats, but it also helps in this cause to explain my own.

It’s been a little over a year since I completed my book, and tucked within is a chapter on education. I’ll not blockquote the entire chapter, but the main thrusts of my argument fell into two categories:

  • financial issues, where I advocate an approach of “money follows the child,” the idea of for-profit schools, and the insistence that Uncle Sam “butt out” of the education business so more local control can be established, and;
  • curriculum issues, such as the lack of focus on basic subjects and critical thinking in the rush to score well on standardized tests, as well as the fading focus on vocational education

But I will steal one sentence from Chapter 11:

As it stands in America today, those environments for learning which tend to show the most success (namely, private schools and homeschooling) generally have the least to do with government regulation and the most to do with educating children through more rigid discipline, a course of study emphasizing classical subjects, and a greater sense of morality through faith-based studies.

Therein lies the rub. I understand there are only limited resources in a campaign and candidates can’t address every concern, so I can definitively say none of these guys is my perfect candidate insofar as education is concerned. But which ones are better?

Obviously the Democrats are in a headlong rush to put the government in control of your children – particularly those of the poorest among us who qualify for all the subsidies – at an earlier and earlier age, even collecting data on them from birth! Some might say this is to condition them for government control throughout their lives, fostering a sense of dependence. As is often the case, government seems to be the sole answer for the Democratic candidates; regardless of the question, I hope Marylanders are smarter than that.

Many will argue, though, that a child is not a commodity, and education is not a business. Yet there are inefficiencies in the system, and David Craig has the advantage of knowing the system as an educator himself. He also notes he will eliminate Common Core and refuse the federal money for that, which is a good start from weaning ourselves from the federal teat. He also advocated an end to statewide testing, vowed to enhance school choice, and suggested money should indeed follow the child (in another quote I now cannot source), all of which suggests a good beginning. The next steps, though, are to convince a skeptical public.

And this is key with what he says: he will create the budget. Yet there are some gaps in this financial approach: what about maintenance of effort? Will the counties be forced to account for any state shortfall, or will be give fiscal control back to the counties? One start would be sending up a repeal of the bill forcing counties into ever-increasing maintenance of effort despite locally-enacted revenue caps.

Based on the experience and the promising start, I give David 6.5 points of 9.

On the other hand, Ron George seems to view a larger state influence in several respects, although he joins his fellows in opposing Common Core. I interpret his call for “outcome based” measures as some sort of testing mechanism; unfortunately, we already suffer from overly “teaching to the test.” I will say, though, properly taught civics and financial literacy courses would be a plus. Just strike the environmental education requirement and substitute these classes.

Yet he advocates a limited dose of “money follows the child” with his scholarship program, with the savings going to teacher raises. The devil’s advocate in me asks, though: why give raises to the teachers who are already failing children enough to drive them to private schools?

Ron also advocates a program for inner-city Baltimore based on the Harlem Children’s Zone. In doing a little bit of research on the initiative, though, I came up with two questions: one is of leadership, since the HCZ notes a program takes 10-15 years to develop, so it will require leadership spanning gubernatorial administrations. The other is the 2:1 mix of private to public funds it had in 2008, when the white paper was developed. At the time the HCZ budget was $67 million, so presumably the state would need $20 to $30 million annually to run this program.

So I have to ask: if it was such a good idea, why isn’t it already in effect? Why wait for a particular governor?

Meanwhile, while Ron is for charter schools, the emphasis he has is on immersing those who aren’t native English speakers.

What I sense with Ron George is the willingness to try new things, but not those which step far outside the Big Education comfort zone we have now. I don’t get the sense of demanding parental and local control I get with Craig and (as you’ll see) Charles Lollar. Ron receives 4 of 9 points.

If you haven’t figured it out by now, Charles Lollar is an advocate for local control and money following the child. We get it, and I like the idea. In many respects, he and David Craig walk the same ground. And as I noted with David, he will have the bully pulpit of creating the budget to enact his wishes.

In fact, Charles seems to be a very strong advocate for charter schools, which is a good beginning to opening up the educational market. But the question is what strings will be placed on a “strong voucher program”?

I also have to ask: why is it the school’s responsibility to provide pens, paper, and pencils for students? If parents can make a school choice, don’t they also have the charge to send their child to school prepared?

Of the three candidates, Charles seems to have the most fleshing out of his policy to do. It’s something where I can give him 6 of 9 points but he can help his score out (or hurt it) depending on how he follows through. The mantras of school choice and local control are great, but more specifics would help voters understand how we get from point A to point B.

Because it’s early in the process and we have one more potential major candidate, I’ll hold off on the running total for now. I think my next subjects to tackle will be the first two I listed: election/campaign finance reform and illegal immigration.

 

 

Two candidates speak out on Common Core

After the arrest of and subsequent publicity over Robert Small’s unauthorized questioning of Common Core at a Baltimore forum, the incident has attracted statements from two GOP gubernatorial contenders.

David Craig mentioned the arrest in a preamble to his statement, but refrained from directly referencing the incident in his official remarks:

The value in public meetings – whether it is about Common Core or any other policy issue affecting a community – is giving people the opportunity to speak. It is a long tradition that goes back to the founding principles of our country and occurs in county and municipal forums to this day. When speech is limited or meetings are overly scripted, it tends to cause angst among all who are involved.

The Common Core national education standard is controversial and for good reason. It slipped under the radar in Maryland three years ago and there are serious concerns about it, many of which are being raised for the first time. School administrators should be holding public forums like the one in Baltimore County, but these officials will actually learn more by encouraging a robust debate and the exchange of ideas. Their ultimate constituents are students and their parents and those voices must be heard.

Angst? I would have to say Mr. Small was a) pretty upset and b) had a good point, not to mention pretty solid grounds for legal action of his own. It was noted at our meeting last night (which, by the way, no one was ejected from) that it was fortunate someone was taping the meeting or we may have never known fully about the incident because it would have been excused by the mainstream media as never happening.

On the other hand, Delegate Ron George is going to try more definitive action as only he (among the contenders) can do:

I have opposed Common Core from its onset. Parents have the right to have their voices heard in all matters concerning the education of their children. This is a vast overreach by the federal government that should not even be considered until it has been thoroughly vetted by parents.

It is very clear to me that Common Core is nothing but an attempt by the federal government to take control over our children’s education and to force parents to sit on the sideline. It is outrageous and I intend to fight it with all of my energy.

It’s very clear to me, though, that whatever bill George introduces, it will be locked in the committee chairman’s drawer. He’ll be lucky to get a hearing after all the controversy, which Democrats aren’t going to want going into 2014. (Of course, once the bill is introduced we can freely call the committee chair and demand action. Most likely a bill such as this would land in George’s Ways and Means Committee and its Chair Delegate Sheila Hixson, but they may switch it over because George is a sponsor and it would be a hot potato.)

But then the question comes from the vetting process. Unfortunately, out of a public school classroom of 15 to 20 kids, you might – maybe – have one set of parents who follows Common Core and cares enough to ask questions, Hopefully this arrest will startle a few more, but it’s worth mentioning that only one other observer complained at that poorly-run meeting. Many of those who protest Common Core don’t have kids in the public schools, so they don’t have a say at the PTA meetings and other events where those parents might attend.

So the question to ask is really: what was wrong with the curriculum we had? One thing which bothers people about Common Core is that it prepares children for community college as opposed to a college-prep lesson plan. Parents – at least the ones who care and don’t use their kids as a means to milk more freebies out of the government while they watch Dr. Phil – would just like to have their kids taught the basics, like reading, writing, and arithmetic.

Pink Floyd once sang “we don’t need no education.” But what they truly meant was “we don’t need no thought control.” Double negatives aside, let’s teach kids critical thinking and not how to pass a standardized test.

Coming up: activism aplenty

September 3, 2013 · Posted in Delmarva items, Education, National politics, Politics, State of Conservatism · Comments Off 

As a new school year begins today (for some in our area, including my fiance’s daughter) I think it’s time to ask a lot of hard questions, particularly if you’ve done the research. Not only would it benefit those who happen to attend to hear the questions, but just how they are answered by the public education monopoly at this upcoming forum. (Ours will be in Easton next Tuesday, but others are around the state.)

Obviously it can be a day full of activism for some, as the Exempt America rally is the same day in Washington.

Download (PDF, 400KB)

Still, those who want to participate in both should be able to make the timing work out.

I’ll admit I’m not as attuned to Common Core as I probably should be because we all can’t be experts on everything. But I know a number of people – particularly those with school-aged children – fret about what’s being imparted into those young skulls full of mush, as Rush Limbaugh likes to say. And it doesn’t matter which school your child attends, as the state says it applies to ALL schools. (We will see.)

But in the little bit of reading I’ve done on it from various stakeholders, it sounds like we’re trying to conform to a global standard in reading, English, and mathematics, “in order to be prepared for success in college and the workplace.” Presumably to me that’s in order, making the assumption that a college degree is essential for success but forgetting the market dictates the number and types of jobs needed; it’s not based on the number of people with particular in vogue and politically correct college degrees. If I need an engineer I’m not hiring someone with a Womyn’s Studies degree no matter how much academic expertise she has in that field.

Another intriguing piece of the puzzle came from the NEA, which is among the largest teacher’s unions. Of course, they are all for Common Core, saying that it “has the potential to provide teachers with far more manageable curriculum goals.” Manageable for who? The teacher? It sounds to me like they’re shooting for the minimum amount of effort here.

On the other hand, opponents also bring up some interesting facts. Did you know Common Core is licensed? It seems to me that sort of takes away the freedom of local institutions to come up with their own interpretations which work best. But the real goal, of which Common Core is a part, seems to be in a report which came out earlier this year called For Each and Every Child: A Strategy for Education Equity and Excellence, which bemoans, among other things:

Our education system is a diffuse amalgamation of 100,000 public schools of varying types operated by countless state and local school boards in 15,000 school districts and 50 states, subject to state and local political shifts and economic volatility.

Hint: that’s called “local control.” Nearly all of their so-called “solutions” involve more federal involvement in our daily lives – Common Core addresses a portion of the second bullet point regarding teachers, principals, and curricula.

Moreover, one would think that the idea would be to emulate the outcomes where we find the most success, but unfortunately those tend to be worked out at the local level in places which aren’t as politically correct or controllable, such as Christian schools or homeschooling. Talk about school choice to this group and you might bring on a collective heart attack.

So perhaps the best question to ask is how Common Core will emulate these successes we see on a daily basis outside the public school environment. I’ll bet they can’t come up with a compelling answer.

Common sense on Common Core

July 1, 2013 · Posted in Campaign 2014, Delmarva items, Education, Maryland Politics, Politics, State of Conservatism · Comments Off 

I haven’t featured a whole lot from the draftee into the gubernatorial race, Charles Lollar, but I thought his brief commentary on Common Core was worth delving into. Here’s what he wrote:

What I always find interesting is if we conservatives oppose a certain program, liberal interest groups and politicians attempt to distract and dissuade the public on the real issue at hand. Take for instance the Common Core agenda for education that Maryland recently adopted. On the surface it appears to focus heavily on the positive educational outcomes in the areas of math and reading for our children. But in reality, as much as we all want to have strongly positive educational outcomes for all of our children, we know that this system will not work. When we oppose this potentially failing agenda for our children, we are instantly labeled as either racist, not caring for children, or any other form of hatred they can think of.

We don’t rely on platitudes of promises and false educational standards that the current O’Malley/Brown administration adhere to. No, we conservatives rely on history and experience of the failed promises of a “one-size-fits-all” government. We’ve tried this before, both as a state and a nation, but we know that it never works. We tried No Child Left Behind and we are trying Race to the Top, but have you visited the schools in Baltimore City or Prince George’s County lately? How are these programs working out for those precious children and their hard working parents?

No, we shouldn’t continue down this road of failure because we should learn from our experiences. What we should try to do is reward teachers whose students comprehend the subject matter. We should give more local control to teachers and parents, while taking it away from the educational bureaucracy. We should allow parents to choose the schools they want to send their children to and not punish them for doing so. We should allow a stronger voucher program offering them the chance to compete with public institutions. We conservatives want what’s best for all of our children and have learned from experience what we shouldn’t do. Having blanket standards in a “one-size-fits-all” approach is NOT what we should do.

I can name that tune in four notes: money follows the child.

Think about this: for all that Charles pointed out about the failure of federal programs which provide a small fraction of the money invested in education – most funding in Maryland comes from the state, with counties spending a varying fraction followed by the federal government – they sure seem to have an outsized role in calling the tune. Unfortunately, local districts are so hooked on money from higher government sources that they can’t resist its siren song, regardless of the strings which are attached.

If Baltimore City, Prince George’s County, or hundreds of other failing public schools truly had to compete on a level playing field with parochial schools or homeschooling, they would be forced to adapt or perish. Why do you think parents in the District of Columbia annually jump at the chance for Opportunity Scholarships to send their children to parochial schools?

Nearly a year ago, I made many of the same points Lollar did in one chapter of my book. But I went farther, noting that the idea of for-profit schools made sense because they could reward teachers appropriately:

(I)t’s my contention that if we can get money to follow the child we would also solve another issue which bedevils the educational world. Teachers who are really good at their craft would have more demand placed for their services; theoretically it could be possible for them to create their own cottage industry blending the best aspects of homeschooling and school-based education by becoming independent contractors. In fact, using this concept I could easily see a private or charter school attracting the best teachers in a particular area, or even teachers becoming entrepreneurs by leasing their own space in a larger school building where the teacher could educate in a way they see fit while reaping full rewards for their excellence.

Imagine a news story along the lines of a star athlete signing a new deal, but instead it’s your state teacher of the year making headlines by signing a long-term big-money contract with some charter school. Even a public school could do something like this, but it would likely take a complete streamlining of administration and decertification of the union that bends over backwards to have teachers treated equally regardless of ability or results. I realize this free market idea that doesn’t rely on a large union is a stunning concept, which is why the National Education Association and other teachers unions fight against these sorts of proposals tooth and nail.

The problem with Common Core isn’t just the wretched educational failure it’s sure to become, but the idea that all of us can be taught in the same way, to regurgitate the same platitudes about whatever the politically correct mantra of the time will be. Teaching to the test doesn’t teach critical thinking, which was one thing I lacked until I reach maturity. I could easily pass all my academic classes in elementary and secondary school (and even much of college) but I really didn’t learn a lot until I enrolled in the University of Hard Knocks and saw how life worked. One needs a moral compass to guide his or her way, but public schools fail to provide such direction.

In fact, I would argue that the lack of such restraints is commonplace among the students who slide through these failing schools – the generally single parent is too tired or overwhelmed to care, the teachers are in it for the paycheck after dealing with class after class of kids meaning more to socialize or to be disruptive than learn, and administration simply needs the excuse of poor parenting to maintain their cushy sinecures and salaries – otherwise, if they try to discipline or suspend too many of a particular group, all hell breaks loose in the press. Once the bloom comes off the rose, it’s hard to keep a good teacher motivated to stay in these schools – they’d rather escape to the relative safety of a suburban school district.

There’s no question that wholesale reforms to our public (and to some extent, private) educational system are needed. But it’s going to take more than one governor to accomplish the needed change. Charles has a reasonably good grip on the problem, but the solution will be elusive and it will likely take another generation before we know if we’re on the correct path.

Why add to the debt?

Obviously this post I cite is an oversimplification of the educational approach needed for many children, but I thought it was appropriate to point this out given the fact a small group of parents – backed by an all-powerful school board and sympathetic County Executive and newspaper – are putting big-time pressure on our County Council to approve the debt necessary to build a new middle school.

But Richard F. Miniter, a writer posting on the American Thinker website, makes the case that education can be as simple as applying a little discipline and effort, given the vast library now available to anyone who has an e-reader and cares enough about their child to make sure they learn. And there is a time savings, as Miniter writes:

It also sums down to a little block of time because without having to get ready for the school bus; the bus ride; dispersing to classroom; disciplinary issues in classrooms; having to raise your hand to go to the bathroom; noisy, chaotic hallways scenes every fifty minutes; noisy, chaotic lunch periods; announcements; fire drills; lectures about bullying, respecting alternative lifestyles, or strangers; then preparing for the bus ride home, followed by homework, one can do a better job with a child in two hours than a traditional school classroom setting can in eight.

Now extrapolate that to the building itself. If one can learn in the small space of time allotted to learning at home, it can also be assumed that learning can be achieved in a regular school building, regardless of the age.

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Protesting Jim

Unfortunately I could not be there to see this with my own eyes, but both published and eyewitness reports indicate that Salisbury Mayor Jim Ireton attended a small protest today at the local office for Congressman Andy Harris.

The reason for the protest was to show support for a document called “A Contract for the American Dream,” with the title obviously a play on the Republicans’ “Contract With America” from 1994 and 2010.

So let’s assume Jim Ireton is foursquare behind the document – what is he backing?

It begins with a call to rebuild America’s infrastructure. That’s commendable, but they go beyond roads, bridges, and utilities in calling for “national and state infrastructure banks.” To me, that’s code for more federally- and state-controlled land, whether through outright acquisition or regulating usage. Money should be allocated for these tasks, but preferably at the local and state levels and for meaningful, development-friendly projects like expanded highways or new utility lines – not wasted on items like public transit or bike paths few use.

The second point: creating “21st Century energy jobs” – in other words, continue to subsidize expensive and inefficient “renewable” sources at the expense of proven fossil fuel technology that we have in plentiful supply. When the market is ready, someone will tap into those renewable sources. Jim, it’s not time for that yet.

Thirdly, we’re asked to “invest” (read: throw money at) public education. So much for educational choice, right? And the idea of “universal preschool” fits right in with a plan for indoctrination. It makes me wonder what their definition of a “high-quality” teacher is. Mine would be one who teaches critical thinking instead of regurgitating the latest propaganda.

The fourth point is “Medicare for all,” which equates to a single-payer health care system. Lefties have been pining for this for years, always saying we’re not in step with the rest of the industrialized world. So where do those who can afford it come to get medical care again? (Hint: it’s not Cuba.)

Idea number five is to “make work pay;” in other words enact a so-called “living wage.” We have a “right to fair minimum and living wages,” they say. What part of the Constitution was that again? It’s not in my copy. We’d be better off abolishing the minimum wage, since those who own businesses know all about working long hours for little pay. If a worker is only producing a net three dollars an hour for the company, that’s what they should be paid.

Sixth, they want to “secure Social Security” by – guess what? – raising taxes on the rich. They would eliminate the tax cap on earnings so every penny of what one earns would be taxed. How about giving us all a break and beginning to sunset the program instead?

The “soak the rich” philosophy continues with item number seven, which would be to not just eliminate the 2001/2003 Bush tax cuts but enact a “millionaire’s tax.” We see how well that works for Maryland, don’t we?

Number 8 continues the class warfare by calling for a .05% tax on each Wall Street trade, which supposedly would raise $100 billion a year. Besides the fact that we’re talking chump change in this era of trillions, the effect of such a tax would be to destroy billions in wealth as the stock market plummets in reaction to the toll. Of course, when the desired amount is not raised they’ll simply increase the tax, continuing the vicious cycle.

Ninth in the order is bringing the troops home. I can agree with that in part – there are a lot of countries we don’t necessarily need to be in. But we also need to give those troops we leave in the field the tools and strategy for victory. If we want to rout the Taliban, well, let’s stop playing around and throw out the silly rules of engagement which bind our hands. The enemy has no rules of engagement, why should we?

And finally, they call for restricting free speech in the most “catch-all” of bullet points:

We need clean, fair elections – where no one’s right to vote can be taken away, and where money doesn’t buy you your own member of Congress. We must ban anonymous political influence, slam shut the lobbyists’ revolving door in D.C. and publicly finance elections. Immigrants who want to join in our democracy deserve a clear path to citizenship. And we must stop giving corporations the rights of people when it comes to our elections and ensure our Judiciary’s respect for the Constitution. Together, we will reclaim our democracy to get our country back on track.

So let’s follow this to a logical conclusion – everyone here gets a vote whether they’re here legally or not (and will be rewarded for breaking the law to get here), elections will be publicly funded (except when a candidate chooses not to follow those rules – *cough*Barack Obama*cough*), lobbyists won’t be allowed but “czars” will, and corporations will lose their right to free speech but unions won’t.

But the last sentence of the document provides the fatal flaw, and one needs to ask Jim Ireton whether he really believes this.

Our nation is NOT a democracy – it is a republic. If we were a democracy, we would soon be defunct under the tyranny of the majority. As the old parable goes, a democracy is where two wolves and a sheep vote on what’s for dinner.

While Jim Ireton had the majority of those who could be bothered to vote in the 2009 Salisbury city election, that was by no means a clear mandate. And having a so-called “contract” signed by 125,000 Americans is invalid in the face of millions of voters who desired the more conservative direction Harris and the Republican-controlled House of Representatives have attempted to push government toward. I’ll see the backers of the “Contract for the American Dream” and their puny 125,000 total nationwide and raise them the 30,000 additional citizens here in the First Congressional District who gave Harris his mandate by voting for him. If Frank Kratovil had 125,000 votes he would have only lost by 30,000 instead of 35,000.

Shoot, the 9-12 rally back in 2009 did better than that.

But if this is what Jim Ireton truly stands for – a group of items which would effectively federalize much of government and make princes paupers by taxing the producers of society – then we really need to find a conservative challenger for him in 2013. He’s leading Salisbury in the wrong direction, and real help needs to be sent on the way.

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