Archive for January, 2011

The Education Solution: NCLB and Race to the Top

January 31, 2011

International ranking of the world’s education systems has the United States lagging behind other developed nations.  When the Soviet Union launched the world’s first satellite, Sputnik, President Eisenhower called for a crusade to improve American schools in math and science.  It worked. But it didn’t last. Now, other developed nation’s better school systems are threatening America’s place in global economies.

  So a new crusade is underway. President Bush started it with No Child Left Behind. President Obama is continuing it with Race to the Top.  I asked Dr. Susan Andrews, Superintendent of the Muscogee County School District, to explain how those two programs affect the District.   

No Child Left Behind (NCLB)is the generic name of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA).  (Note:  President Bush began calling this law NCLB and the name stuck.  President Obama and his administration want to get away from calling it NCLB and therefore, you will see it referred to by its appropriate name ESEA by the current  administration.) 

MCSD Superintedent Susan Andrews

   

 

This federal law is past due for reauthorization and we are hoping that the new Congress will address the fundamental flaws in the current NCLB act.  The positive about NCLB is that the mandates have forced school districts to look at the performance of subgroups of children by ethnicity, socioeconomic levels, and to look at the performance of students with disabilities.  In the past, districts could look at their average achievement levels and feel good about how students were achieving.  When you look at subgroups of children, however, you see that many children in public schools in America are performing well, but there is a great disparity in the achievement of white students and students of color and there is an even greater disparity when you look at middle class students (regardless of ethnicity) and economically disadvantaged students.  This has increased our awareness and our efforts to teach all children with increased rigor in order to close these gaps.

The negatives of NCLB are in the requirements in regard to students with disabilities and students who are English Language Learners (ELL).  NCLB is in direct conflict with another federal law, IDEA, which requires an individual education plan with individual goals for each student with a disability.  NCLB sets an academic bar for students with disabilities at each grade level that schools must obtain without regard to the individual disabilities of the student and requires the SWD students (except the most severely disabled) to take standardized tests on their age appropriate grade level regardless of their functioning level.  For example, a student with a disability who is ten years old and functions on a third grade level must take the fifth grade test because he is assigned to that grade.  His IEP, however, states that he is learning third grade objectives and is delayed due to his disability.  Educators around the nation are hoping that these issues will be addressed in the reauthorization and base school progress on the growth of students from year to year and not on whether or not students meet an artificially set standard.  Students who are ELL must take the test in English even when they are not yet proficient in the language.

In my next report, Dr. Andrews explains what Race to the Top will do for the Muscogee County School District. 

 

“WAITING FOR SUPERMAN” IS HERE!

January 28, 2011

IT’S PLAYING AT THE PEACHTREE 8.

The controversial documentary about education that got a lot of print and airtime when it first came out has finally made it to a screen in Columbus.  It deals with one of our country’s major problems, failing schools.  Does it’s message apply in Columbus? School Board Chair Cathy Williams, who had only seen clips from it, says she thinks so, and added that she should probably see it. I plan to see it  The showing has gotten almost no publicity so let your friends know about it.

Moon Orbiting Astronaut Al Worden Pans the Space Shuttle Program

January 28, 2011

1971 NASA photo of astronaut Al Worden Speaking in the Omnisphere Theater at the Coca-Coal Space Science Center,  the man who orbited the moon in 1971, didn’t have much positive to say about the U.S. Space Shuttle.  “It’s a dangerous vehicle,” he told the audience on the eve of the anniversary of the 1986 Challenger disaster that took the lives of 7 United States astronauts. 

He did say, however, that if the shuttle had been successful in its original mission it would have been good.  The original mission was to provide a low-cost shuttle back and forth to the International Space Station, but the cost skyrocketed, and if the Apollo program had been continued it would have cost a lot less.

After his talk, I asked him if there was anything positive about the Shuttle. He said there were some things. For one, it put the Hubble Space Telescope into orbit.

“Should we put a man on the moon again?”

“I don’t care,” was his response.

“In other words, we shouldn’t.”

“No. The moon is nothing.”

He added that he thought we should go beyond the moon. 

A lady interjected, “Wouldn’t the moon be a good platform to launch further space exploration?”

He didn’t think it was necessary.  

He does support NASA and  the continuing exploration of outer space.   He was invited by the Coca-Cola Space and Science Center to participate in commemorating and honoring the legacy of bravery and dedication to space exploration by the crew of the Challenger Shuttle that blew up in January of 1986.

I have to admit it was somewhat special to meet and chat with a man who had orbited the moon.  He was friendly and willing to answer any questions about his experiences. He was the Apollo 15 Command Module Pilot. As David Scott and Jim Irwin explored the surface of the moon, Col. (ret.) Worden orbited the moon alone for three days in the command ship “Endeavour.”  On the trip back to earth, Worden took the furthest deep space walk, moving along the outside of “Endeavour” to retrieve film from two moon-mapping cameras.

He said the most exciting moment about the trip to the moon was when the Endeavour rotated around and he saw the moon looming large.  “We hadn’t seen the moon for 20 hours,” he said, pointing out that they were flying backwards to the moon so they didn’t see it until they were almost there. 

He had high praise for the Coca-Cola Space Science Center, praise that I echo.  It is truly a great place to learn about astronomy and space travel.  If you are really into those things, you might want to do what I just did and become a member of the Center.  The Center’s Executive Director Shawm Cruzen puts it this way:  “You can join in on the mission. Support the future of science education. Help inspire the next generation of space explorers. Become a member of CSU’s Coca-Cola Space Science Center.”

   

THE EDUCATION SOLUTION – A NEW SERIES OF REPORTS

January 25, 2011

THE HOPE FOR FUTURE GENERATIONS LIES IN THE HANDS OF OUR EDUCATORS.

 

I agree with those who say public education is the key to a prosperous future for not only individuals, but for the state and the nation.  The scary part is many believe it is broken.  Assuming that it is,  I am going to take a look at why and what some believe we need to do to fix it. 

First of all we have to know which questions to ask to gain perspective.  Here are some of them:

1. Is it true, as billionaire philanthropist Bill Gates asserts in Newsweek, that “Our schools are still organized for the Industrial Age rather than the knowledge economy?”

2.  Should teacher pay be determined by performance rather than seniority?

3. How can it be determined if a teacher is doing a good or a bad job? It takes an adequate evaluation program to judge teacher performance.  Bill Gates maintains we don’t have one.  Test scores are the main measurement now, but many claim that is not an adequate gauge and has many flaws. What would be a good evaluation process?

4. Are teachers being overly blamed for our education system’s comparatively poor performance? 

5. Have, as San Francisco University Rick Ayers teacher education professor claims, right-wing big businessmen and neo-liberals taken over education reform with the goals of privatization, making schools sites of regimentation, driven by standardized tests?

6. Are calls for more local control of education systems the right way to go, or should there be a more centralized approach that uses common curriculum, which is the case in the countries who are the highest ranked in the world in education performance?

In future blog posts, we’ll not only look at the questions on the national level, but at how they apply in Georgia and Muscogee County.  As we proceed with this effort, your input is welcomed. All you need do is to click on the comment button and tell us what you think.

Interesting Night for me to Sample Keith Olbermann’s Show

January 22, 2011

I almost never watch either Keith Olbermann or Bill O’Reilly.  I rarely watch any of the verbal bomb throwers whether they are on the right or the left.  I like my pundits to show a little class, and that’s something you don’t get much of on the cable news channels. But, last night I did decide to sample Olbermann’s show and lo and behold it turned out to be his last one.

Even though I don’t often play in  the mud puddles that the vociferous talkers wallow in, I must admit that I was glad that there was a counter to O’Reilly.  He and Olbermann were both on at  8 p.m Eastern Time.  For a while there was no alternative to the Fox right-wing propagandists, but MSNBC discovered there is an audience on the left and now has a nightly schedule of them.  Since there is no longer a Fairness Doctrine to make sure broadcasters air opinions on both side of an issue, we certainly need for the cable news outfits to provide us with right and left alternatives. 

What do I watch regularly? Nationally, it’s NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams, and I do sometimes record either the ABC or CBS newscast and watch them also to compare coverage. While I am not completely happy with any of  the big three network newscasts because I think they spend way too much time on soft stories, I think  they come closer to really being fair and balanced than the cable news channels.  Fox saying it is “fair and balanced” reminds me of Nixon saying ,”I am not a crook.”  If you are “fair and balanced” or “not a crook” you don’t have to say it, just be it.

Also, I watch the Daily Show regularly.  It is satirical, but quite often, in my view, its admittedly “fake news”  gets to the real truth of major stories more than the “real news” channels.  Yes, Jon Stewart does come across as a  liberal, but he also takes liberals to task when they go overboard.  He did that with Olbermann a couple of nights. Also, he often interviews conservatives like Bill O’Reilly on his show, and O’Reilly has even had Stewart on his show. Stewart has even invited Glenn Beck, but he won’t come.  

We still really don’t know why Olbermann left or was forced out. We do know that he has had  confrontations with some MSNBC higher-ups, but that’s all we know.  He didn’t tell us why he was leaving when he announced his departure last night, which I thought was really strange. but we will probably find out soon.  I must admit that I am curious about it.

Business Leader and Philanthropist J. Barnett Woodruff Dies

January 18, 2011

J. Barnett Woodruff at the dedication ceremony of the replica of the Civil War ship the Water Witch at the National Civil War Naval Museum (Photo by Jim Cawthorne, Camera1)

  The last member of the Woodruff family who participated in pioneering broadcasting in Columbus died at the age of 87 last night. Columbus native J. Barnett Woodruff, the son of Jim Woodruff, Senior and brother of the late Jim Woodruff, Jr. and late sister Emily Woodruff, was a part owner of WRBL Radio and TV before it was sold  in 1978.  Their father, Jim Woodruff, Sr., bought WRBL Radio back in the early 1930’s, a few years after it went on the air in a dressing room of the Royal Theater in 1928.  He turned it over to Jim in the late thirties. It grew and grew and ended up a very profitable radio and, eventually, television station. Barnett had a financial interest in the company, but left it up to Jim to run the stations. He had told me he was more interested in the family real estate business.

However, circumstances caused him to become very involved.  Jim died in an automobile accident  in Athens causing his majority ownership of Columbus Broadcasting Company to go into a family trust managed by the First National Bank.  Barnett owned  a minority interest in the company and became president.

The station was sold about two years after Jim Woodruff, Jr. died. Barnett did an extraordinary thing on his last day there.  He personally walked around the building and shook hands, thanked employees for their good work and handed them an envelope containing one-hundred-dollar bills.  I felt so expansive that when I got home that night I handed a couple of them to my teenage son. Teenagers just love cash.

He was a kind, generous man, supporting a number of charities including the Boys and Girls Clubs, Springer Opera House, and the National Civil War Naval Museum. His brother Jim had been instrumental in raising the ironclad Jackson from the Chattahoochee River and starting the naval museum, and his sister Emily was a generous supporter of the Springer.

He was a member of the Rotary Club of Columbus and First Presbyterian Church. He is survived by a daughter, two sons, and 9 grandchildren and 6 great-grandchildren.  A memorial service will be held Friday at 2 p.m. at the First Presbyterian Church.

Unfortunately, Hate Speech Can be Very Profitable

January 17, 2011

A friend asked me if I thought that the shooting tragedy in Tucson, Arizona will result in less hate speech, less vitriol. I told her that I thought that it would, but only for a short time. It will not go away because there is money in it.  The people who have gotten rich using it on radio and television may tone it down a little because of the fall-out from Tucson, but profits are at stake and some value that above everything.

Not only is money involved, but also power.  Just look at what Hitler was able to do with his xenophobic and anti-Jewish diatribes. World War II casualty estimates go as high as 70-million people killed,  the majority being civilians.  Just look at the powerful grip that Governor Eugene and then later his son Herman Talmadge had on Georgia with their racist speech.  And, of course, there are many other examples.

Still, we can hope that people in our free society can disagree in a less volatile and inflammatory way.  Just because, for instance, people disagree over how to improve health care for all Americans, doesn’t mean  they have to hate one another, or speak in such a way as to cause others to hate.

Has the Time Come to End the Columbus Property Tax Freeze?

January 12, 2011

PETE ROBINSON SAYS IT HAS.

Attorney, lobbyist, and former Columbus state legislator Pete Robinson ran the end-the-property-tax- freeze  flag up the political flagpole again. Now, we’ll get to see how many Columbus citizens salute it this time.  Twice before freeze-enders got shot down in referendums, and the freeze was upheld in a state supreme court ruling.

Times are different now, Robinson told Columbus Rotarians today. A lot of people who work and use Columbus public services don’t own property in Columbus any more.  Columbus basically depends on property taxes to pay for government services, and since counties that don’t have tax freezes, such as Harris in Georgia, and Russell is Alabama, are more attractive to people who buy new homes, the tax digest in Columbus simply isn’t going to be enough to finance the Columbus-Muscogee County government.

In order to tax those people who live in other counties, but work in Columbus and use Columbus infrastructure, there has to be a change. One is is to depend more on sales taxes – he called it “consumption” taxes – and another is to institute a Columbus income tax. And ending the freeze will also encoruage more people to buy homes in Columbus.

Sales taxes, the most regressive because lower-income people pay a higher percentage of their income than upper-income people, are already high enough in my book.  I’d lean more toward an income tax. Also, I have never thought the property tax freeze was a good idea.  When a new homeowner moves in and has to pay $2,000 in property taxes and his  or her neighbor, who has been living for 20 years in the house next door that is of the same value, pays $100, you know something is wrong.

I asked Robinson if he really thought there was a chance in hell the tax freeze would end. “It has to!” he said emphatically.

I’m sure our new mayor Teresa Tomlinson will be very interested in seeing how Columbus citizens react to Robinson’s position.

Caution! The Georgia Legislature Goes Into Session

January 10, 2011

Prospects are the worst for those on the low rungs of the socio-economic ladder, and not just because of the immediate effects of budget cuts, but because of long-term damage caused by draconian cuts to public education. Up to another 2 billion dollars will have to be cut from the state budget.  Not only is tax revenue not keeping up with budget demands, but federal stimulus money is ending. That should please all of those who opposed taking stimulus money in the first place.

The council that is recommending “tax reform” reportedly wants to rely even more on  the sales tax, the most regressive of taxes. Regressive taxes take a higher percentage from low-income tax payers than high-income tax payers. For one thing, it is expected to recommend reinstatement of the sales tax on the most basic of commodities, food. 

Another program that truly helps middle-class families, HOPE, is in trouble because college tuition fees have grown more than state lottery income.  Something has to be done to save this highly popular program that enables many middle-class youngsters to attend college. Recommendations include increasing the GPA requirement, rejecting students who are in remedial courses, and using financial need as part of admission criteria. If the legislature fails to save this program, perhaps we’ll get a new legislature when the next election rolls around. 

Already down by three billion dollars over the last eight years, more draconian cuts are planned for the state’s public school system.  This could mean more teacher furloughs and worse.  This is really depressing because the future of the people of this state depends on better public education.   

Rep. Calvin Smyre, GA House District 132

Representative Calvin Smyre puts it this way in his online legislative report:  “Although state revenues have increased by 7.4 percent through the first five months of fiscal year 2011, balancing next year’s budget will be more difficult because Georgia will not be able to take advantage of federal stimulus funding as we have the past two years. Gov.-Elect Deal, who is proposing a tax cut for corporations, has already put local public school systems on notice to brace for further funding cuts. Over the past eight years, the state has already slashed more than $3 billion in funding to local schools, causing larger class sizes, fewer school days, teacher furloughs and layoffs and higher local property taxes.”

In transportation, the legislature is expected once again to ignore the need for commuter rail. This means the Atlanta area gridlock nightmare will probably get worse.

Well, the legislature certainly has one thing going for it:  very low expectations.

“THE KING’S SPEECH” IS ALMOST HERE AND I’M GLAD

January 7, 2011

THE KING’S SPEECH

 is coming to Columbus

 starting Friday, January 14th

 in the Screening Room at

 the Ritz 13.

 That’s what a Carmike spokesman just told me.

 No, this is not a commercial. I am not being paid a penny for it. I am doing this because I hope that there will be audiences big enough to send the message that Columbus will support quality movies.

There are numerous predictions that this film will win the Oscar for Best Picture this year. Hope to see you in the Screening Room.