Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Comparing America's Education System with Other Nation's

I'm not going to have much to add here.  Most of the paragraphs speak for themselves.  From the post "The International Divide" on Taking Note: Thoughts on Education by John Merrow.
Is it possible that the US has been heading in the wrong direction for most of the 30 years it has been focused on school reform? That’s the conclusion a reader of “Standing on the Shoulders of Giants” would be hard pressed not to draw. The paper, written largely by Marc Tucker of the National Center for Education and the Economy, contrasts the approaches taken by five high performing (but quite different) entities — Toronto, Japan, Finland, Shanghai and Singapore — with what we have been doing here.
The essential message: those places aren’t doing any of the stuff we have focused on — charter schools, alternate certification, small classes and pay for performance, to name a few of our ‘magic bullets.’ Instead, they have developed comprehensive systems: their teachers are drawn from the top of the class, are trained carefully and, if hired, are paid like other professionals. They spend more on the children who are the toughest to educate, they diagnose and intervene at the first sign of trouble, they expect their best teachers to work in the toughest schools, and they expect all students to achieve at high levels. They do not rely heavily on machine-scored multiple choice tests but are inclined to trust and respect the judgements of teachers. Their curriculum is coherent across the system, which eliminates problems created by students moving around.
I suppose it would be unkind to say "I told you so!"  Unfortunately, people in charge seem to have been unaware.
Reporters like me weren’t allowed to attend the deliberations, but I have been told by several people who were on hand that it was a wake-up call for Duncan and his staff to learn that no other country was doing what we are betting on.
Let's review.  Duncan, who "was nominated to be secretary of education by President-elect Barack Obama and was confirmed by the U.S. Senate on Inauguration Day, Jan. 20, 2009," didn't know that no other country in the world is trying what the US is trying. The man, who "[p]rior to his appointment as secretary of education . . . served as the chief executive officer of the Chicago Public Schools, a position to which he was appointed by Mayor Richard M. Daley, from June 2001 through December 2008, becoming the longest-serving big-city education superintendent in the country," has had at least 10 years in high profile administrative positions, but he didn't know that no other country has attempted the models he is championing.  It sound as if Duncan needs an IV caffeine drip not just a wake-up call. (I added more than I intended.)
Merrow's conclusion is equally sobering.

Unfortunately, we Americans cling to our belief in ‘magic bullets.’ But I have news for you. They don’t call them ‘magic tricks’ for nothing. It’s because they are TRICKS. As for bullets, they kill, and “Death by 1000 Magic Bullets” is still dead.
A copy of the report that Merrow cites is available here.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Some Thoughts on American Schools

I missed this January 11, 2011 Businessweek.com column on America's education system by Vivek Wadhwa, a visiting scholar at University of California-Berkeley, senior research associate at Harvard Law School, and director of research at the Center for Entrepreneurship and Research Commercialization at Duke University.  It has some salient points that bear repeating.
Meanwhile, the perception is that American children live a relatively easy life and coast their way through school. They don't do any more homework than they have to; they spend an extraordinary amount of time playing games, socializing on the Internet, text-messaging each other; they work part time to pay for their schooling and social habits. And they party. A lot. These stereotypes worry many Americans. They believe the American education system puts the country at a great disadvantage. But this is far from true.

The independence and social skills American children develop give them a huge advantage when they join the workforce. They learn to experiment, challenge norms, and take risks. They can think for themselves, and they can innovate. This is why America remains the world leader in innovation; why Chinese and Indians invest their life savings to send their children to expensive U.S. schools when they can. India and China are changing, and as the next generations of students become like American ones, they too are beginning to innovate. So far, their education systems have held them back. [emphais mine]
I will rise atop one of my favorite soapboxes to loudly add that it's a liberal arts education that gives Promethean fire to that imagination.

Wadhwa adds,
We documented that these countries now graduate four to seven times as many engineers as does the U.S.The quality of these engineers, however, is so poor that most are not fit to work as engineers; their system of rote learning handicaps those who do get jobs, so it takes two to three years for them to achieve the same productivity as fresh American graduates.As a result, significant proportions of China's engineering graduates end up working on factory floors and Indian industry has to spend large sums of money retraining its employees.
He concludes by putting test scores in perspective.

Much is made of the PISA test scores and rankings, but the international differences are actually quite small. Most of the U.S. ranking lags are not even statistically significant. The U.S. falls in the second rank on some measures and into the first on others. It produces more highest-performing students in science and reading than any other country does; in mathematics, it is second only to Japan. Moreover, one has to ask what the test results actually mean in the real world. Do high PISA rankings make students more likely to invent the next iPad? Google (GOOG)? I don't think so.

Let's keep improving our education system and focus, in particular, on disadvantaged groups. Education is the future of our nation. But let's get over our inferiority complex. America is second to none. Rather than in mastery of facts learned by rote and great numbers of accomplished martinets, its strength lies in the diversity and innovation that arise in an open, creative society. [emphasis mine]
Today, the MadvilleTimes shows that letting private enterprise run schools might be counterproductive and concludes,
The free market is like my Volkswagen: it’s great for lots of tasks, but it doesn’t solve everything. It gets good mileage and zooms up hills like a trooper. But if you want to take everyone to the game, you’re going to need something a little bigger… like a big yellow public school bus.
A synthesis of Dr. Wadhwa and ABD Heidelberger might be American schools are the best bet to produce students with the imagination to build a big yellow school bus that gets more miles per gallon than a Volkswagen Beetle.

Debt Ceiling Questions

I was unable to attend Congresswoman's Noem's Yankton appearance.  This David Bell post at the Frum Forum makes me wish I had been there.

According to the Yankton Press & Dakotan coverage, "Noem . . . fielded audience questions on a number of subjects."  One of her responses was described thusly.
An audience member asked how the federal government could hit its debt limit of $14 trillion yet continue operating until August. Noem explained that U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner used what he termed “extraordinary measures” such as delaying payments to keep the federal government afloat.
The answer may be fine as far as it goes, but  Bell has a whole list of questions that he wants politicians to answer.
*ask the next Senator you see about the Credit Default Swap situation;

*ask the next Congressman you run across at a fund-raiser about the size of the global derivatives market;

*ask the next Washington, D.C. politician you meet how many swaps and derivatives contracts he or she has personally arranged.
I have to admit that I generally use "derivative" as an adjective meaning "lacking originality."  Were I to use the word in a sentence, I would say "Congresswoman Noem's statements were derivative of John Boehner's talking points."  I'm glad, therefore, that Bell concludes with this less technical question.
And, the coup de grace, just ask anyone if they think it is wise to test a theory about marketplace behavior when failure of that test could severely undermine the confidence of markets all over the world about the reliability and judgment of United States policymakers.
I would have loved to hear Noem's answer to that one.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

New Theories about Religion's Origins

National Geographic reports on excavations at Gobekli Tepe in Turkey and some archeologists' new theories. (HT Big Boy Blogger Andrew Sullivan)
Eleven millennia ago nobody had digital imaging equipment, of course. Yet things have changed less than one might think. Most of the world's great religious centers, past and present, have been destinations for pilgrimages—think of the Vatican, Mecca, Jerusalem, Bodh Gaya (where Buddha was enlightened), or Cahokia (the enormous Native American complex near St. Louis). They are monuments for spiritual travelers, who often came great distances, to gawk at and be stirred by. Göbekli Tepe may be the first of all of them, the beginning of a pattern. What it suggests, at least to the archaeologists working there, is that the human sense of the sacred—and the human love of a good spectacle—may have given rise to civilization itself.
The early part of the paragraph reminds us that change may be an illusion; many things stay the same. A great Sunday morning reminder, Ecclesiastes 1:9 asserts that point poetically:  "The thing that hath been, it is that which shall be; and that which is done is that which shall be done: and there is no new thing under the sun."

The phrase "may have given rise to civilization itself" is more important; an idea has been turned on its head.  The article elaborates,
The construction of a massive temple by a group of foragers is evidence that organized religion could have come before the rise of agriculture and other aspects of civilization. It suggests that the human impulse to gather for sacred rituals arose as humans shifted from seeing themselves as part of the natural world to seeking mastery over it.
The change is important.  Under the old theory, a group's leaders used religion to create and  maintain order.  This new interpretation indicates that religion made it possible for people to live together.  A Catholic theologian, Tim Muldoon elaborates on both points.  First,
[t]he old view was that it was all due to agriculture, the result of climate changes after the ice age.  The ability to farm brought people into closer contact, opened up new uses of time, and yielded shared stories and worship.  Religion, in such a theory, arose as a kind of social glue.  It fit what V. Gordon Childe, a Marxist British anthropologist who developed the idea of the Neolithic Revolution, thought of religion in general.  It suited a certain late 19th and early 20th century zeitgeist about religion, as developed by figures like James Frazer in his magisterial (though thoroughly biased) Golden Bough: all religions are based in fertility cults, Christianity included.  Joseph Campbell is the newer version of Frazer, but shares the same basic idea that all religions emerged from stories tied to the agricultural seasons.
Muldoon contends, the new interpretation is
stronger than the Childe-Frazer-Campbell theory, which was in thrall to a Marxist/modernist distaste for religion.  Awe and wonder are present in every child who gazes at the night sky.  There is a natural hunger for transcendence, evidenced by our simple ability to ask questions.  In this sense the scientist, the philosopher, the artist, the priest share a basic dynamism that we awkwardly call “spiritual.”  The shared desire to reach out toward the transcendent (is it any wonder that it would be pillars reaching toward the sky?) gave human beings a shared goal, and shared goals give rise to shared practices around food, clothing, shelter, and eventually rules and governance.
Mulddon then issues an important warning tempered with a hope.
A provocative takeaway: when religion loses its roots in shared desire and wonder, when it fails to capture people’s imagination, it begins to collapse.  People eventually lost interest in Göbekli Tepe around 8200 BC, perhaps because it became too big a project to maintain.  Maintenance of the institution crushed the dynamics of desire which gave rise to it.  Friedrich von Hugel suggested a similar idea: there must be a balance of the institutional with the mystical and communal aspects of religion.  Perhaps ours is the age of recovering the mystical element even as the institutional element is crumbling.
The United States is arguably the most religious country in the world.  It also arguably reserves its sense of awe and wonder solely for technology.  Religious institutions seem to have been reduced to a tool that both the political left and political right try to manipulate. Evangelicals overwhelmingly vote Republican; Democrats use position papers from mainline denominations. If Muldoon's hope comes to fruition, everyone may be reminded,
When I consider thy heavens, the work of thy fingers, the moon and the stars, which thou hast ordained; What is man, that thou art mindful of him? and the son of man, that thou visitest him? (Psalm 8:3-4)

Do They Read The Same Things?

Amazon.com has developed a list of the "20 Most Well Read Cities."  Cambridge, Massachusetts  tops the list.  Berkley, California is third.  Salt Lake City, Utah is third.  College towns dominate the list.  I suspect that fact skews Amazon's results a bit.

Amazon should have released more information, especially books that residents of each city read.  Do people is Berkley read the same books as people in Salt Lake?  Do people in Pittsburgh which comes in 13th read the same books as people in Atlanta which was ranked 20th.  How about 19th ranked Portland citizens and 18th ranked Cincinnati residents?  Do some areas read more fiction than others?

Given that Republicans and Democrats watch different television programs for both news and entertainment, it seems unlikely they would read the same books.  Further, conservatives have their own book club; progressives have theirs as well.  I suspect that frugal people will look at recommendations from each list and order from Amazon for bargains.

Part of my curiosity is merely curiosity, but reading is a major source of one's ideas.  Ideas have consequences and should be debated. Groupthink, large or small, is dangerous.  In other words, the New York Times bestseller list shouldn't be required reading, but if one region or political group limits itself to reading only conservative or liberal books, there's no way that ideas can be debated.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Quotation of the Day

Conspiracies—real or imagined—are the sign of a broken political system.

From TheDailyBeast story on Turkey's political scandals.

Plains Pops: School's Out Education Links Edition

Mitchell High School superindent doesn't tell the school board about SDHSAA sanctioning the basketball coach.  ( HT Bob Mercer, Pure Pierre Politics)

I want to do more research, so I'm reserving final judgement.  At first blush, however, the NCLB reforms laid out in this Answer Sheet post seem like something that I could support.

The Madville Times compares South Dakota's education funding with neighboring states and points out that South Dakota takes more from the Federal government and requires local districts to do more than its neighbors.

This Linda Darling-Hammond commencement speech has been making the rounds of the Twitter-verse and the education blogosphere.

Finally, this post at An Inland Voyage analyzes a Wall Street Journal article about public schools charging fees.

Getting Older Matters

My musing began with this post on an Economist blog that said,
[T]hat nearly a third of the voting public is 65 or older does not quite capture the overwhelming electoral heft of seniors. Retirees are disproportionately likely to actually show up at the polls. Moreover, the interests of seniors are more unified than those of younger voters whose electoral might is divided between often competing and offsetting interest groups. The votes of small business owners and school teachers tend to cancel each other out, but America's silver foxes constitute a more or less consolidated force fighting for the protection of old-age entitlements.
Then I read this post from Reimagine Rural with the following analysis:
In a recent post titled “Retention Efforts Target Wrong Age Group”, [Jim Russel] cites Australian research suggesting that college graduates leave to see the world, but they often return, sometime between ages 30-44.

This leads Russell to write:
“I’ve advocated for the attraction of the 30-44 cohort. They are likely to stick around once you get them there. Good luck retaining a recent college graduate who moved to your city. You might call them place sluts. Hipsters are particularly salacious, following the scene wherever it might pop up. The good news is that they pave the way for thirtysomethings, who price out all the twentysomethings your town spent so much money trying to retain.”
The message is: Younger adults are going to leave because it’s in their DNA to leave.  But they might seek to return in their thirties or early forties when it’s time to raise a family.
The combination of these two posts caused me to wonder how if Yankton County is attracting the coveted demographic cohort and if the county is aging.  I'm pretty sure the answer to the former is resoundingly no because the county appears to be aging rapidly.

According to the Yankton Office of Economic Development, the county's median age is 40.2.  In 2000, the median age was 37.1.  According to the US Census Bureau, South Dakota's median age is 36.9.  In 2000, the median age was 35.6.

One doesn't need to be a math whiz to see that Yankton County is aging more quickly than the rest of the state.  Quick math indicates that the county's median age rose by 8% while the state's median age rose by 3.7%.

According to Yankton Office of Economic Development, the county gained 786 residents between 2000 and 2010.  I realize that the math that produced the following number is flawed because it doesn't take into account birth rates, death rates, high school graduate migration, or any number of other factors.  Even with that admission, it's striking that if the change in the median age had been caused by only the 786 additional residents, their median age would have to be 125.  That number makes it pretty clear that the county is not keeping recent high school or college graduates nor is it recruiting the 30-44 year old cohort with their children.

Even without the weird math to prove the point, it's clear that Yankton County is aging rapidly. Because an aging population tends to vote en bloc, all political entities and politicians are going to have to determine what this group wants.  If legislators, city or county commissioners, and school boards fail to account for this group, their political lives are likely to be nasty, brutish, and short.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Patriort Act Signing: Two Quick Updates

Update 1:  I have recently written that symbolism and metaphors matter.  This paragraph from the San Francisco Chronicle illustrates an interesting symbolic message about the signing of the Patriot Act extension

With Obama in France, the White House said the president used an autopen machine that holds a pen and signs his actual signature. It is only used with proper authorization of the president.
Are Americans to believe that a terrorist attack is so imminent that it would have occurred in the hours it would have taken to fly to fly an actual copy of the bill to France to have President Obama personally sign it into law? 

People fear the law because they believe it skirts constitutional limitations and uses technology to do it.  Now President Obama uses technology to sign the extension.  I don't care that signatures on letters use an autopen, but laws should have actual signatures.  The symbolism here matters; this signing method symbolizes that both Democrats and Republicans give only lip service to the idea of protecting civil liberties.

Update 2:  The Madville Times point out that South Dakota's delegation didn't stand up for the Constitution.


Nearly everyone acknowledges that language is powerful.  We may underestimate its power however.  A post at Psychology Today illustrates the effects of metaphors on people's perceptions
. . . . First, the researchers asked 482 students to read one of two reports about crime in the City of Addison. Later, they had to suggest solutions for the problem. In the first report, crime was described as a "wild beast preying on the city" and "lurking in neighborhoods".

After reading these words, 75% of the students put forward solutions that involved enforcement or punishment, such as building more jails or even calling in the military for help. Only 25% suggested social reforms such as fixing the economy, improving education or providing better health care. The second report was exactly the same, except it described crime as a "virus infecting the city" and "plaguing" communities. After reading this version, only 56% opted for great law enforcement, while 44% suggested social reforms.
The most frightening part of the study is that no one seems respondent's didn't know they were being manipulated.
Interestingly, very few of the participants realized how affected they were by the differing crime metaphors. When Thibodeau and Boroditsky asked the participants to identify which parts of the text had most influenced their decisions, the vast majority pointed to the crime statistics, not the language. Only 3%  identified the metaphors as culprits. The researchers confirmed their results with more experiments that used the same reports without the vivid words. Even though they described crime as a beast or virus only once, they found the same trend as before.
Political consultants have intuitively and skillfully used metaphors since Mark Hanna, and English teachers have bored students to tears about metaphors.  Now the government seems to be getting into the act.
A small research arm of the U.S. government's intelligence establishment wants to understand how speakers of Farsi, Russian, English, and Spanish see the world by building software that automatically evaluates their use of metaphors.
 The program is billed as a counter-terrorism effort.
All this to say: The Metaphor Program may represent a nine-figure investment by the government in understanding how people use language. But that's because metaphor studies aren't light or frilly and IARPA isn't afraid of taking on unusual sounding projects if they think they might help intelligence analysts sort through and decode the tremendous amounts of data pouring into their minds.
On the bright side, I get to use this article so show that studying metaphors is "practical."  On the other hand, I have this nagging worry about the government using part of that "nine-figure investment" to create super propaganda.  Orwell's warnings should never be far from one's mind with news like this.

(HT Big Boy Blogger Andrew Sullivan for links to original posts)

Thursday, May 26, 2011

A Quick NCLB Musing

At the Madville Times, Cory posts about Melody Schopp's comments that NCLB is unworkable.  I'm thankful that Schopp admits that the 100 percent goal is bogus.

Earlier this month, Montana's Superintendent of Education Denise Juneau went a step further.  She sent a letter to Secretary of Education Arne Duncan
announcing her decision not to raise the target test scores that Montana schools must meet this year to avoid being labeled as failing under the federal law. "I'm not asking permission," Juneau said in an interview. She said it's "unfair" to make schools work on both the old priorities of the No Child Left Behind law and the new priorities set by the Obama administration.
Schopp takes an important step by publicly announcing that NCLB goals are unworkable.  Her next step should be to send Duncan the same sort of letter that Juneau has.

Today, I'm Thankful for Rand Paul

Last night, I probably caused my Democratic friends some consternation when I reminded them that redistricting probably wouldn't make it easier for them to increase their numbers in the South Dakota legislature.  This title of this post probably caused more consternation.

Rand Paul, a Kentucky Republican and son of Republican presidential candidate Ron Raul. is trying limit the ill-named Patriot Act.  The Los Angeles Times sums up the situation:
The bill would extend three expiring provisions of the act, including one that allows federal authorities to continue eavesdropping when terrorism suspects change phones and another that allows surveillance of foreign suspects even if they have no known affiliation to a terrorist group, called the "lone wolf" provision. A third allows the government to investigate virtually any personal records of terrorism suspects, in what has become known as the library records provision. All require a court order.

Paul wants to offer amendments to rein in the government’s reach, including one that would prohibit federal authorities from investigating gun ownership records.
According to Politico,
Freshman Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), a vocal critic of the counter-terrorism surveillance law, threatened Monday to “drag out” the process if Reid fails to hold votes on some of the nine amendments Paul introduced or co-sponsored on Monday. Paul, a libertarian-minded tea-party senator, noted that Reid had promised earlier this year to set aside a week’s worth of debate on the bill and allow votes on amendments.
Politico goes on to explain that Paul doesn't have the votes to stop re-authorization, just delay votes.  Paul claims wants votes on amendments he sponsored.
One of Paul’s proposed amendments, backed by Gun Owners of America, would block law enforcement officials from being able to access certain firearm records under the Patriot Act. An amendment, authored by liberal Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and co-sponsored by Paul, calls for greater oversight of Patriot Act provisions and adds new sunsets to surveillance tools known as National Security Letters.
Glenn Greenwald adds a few other names who deserve a thank you for voting against cloture and ending the filibuster.
The 8 Senators voting against cloture were Independent Sen. Bernie Sanders, Democrats Jeff Merkley, Mark Begich, Max Baucus, and John Tester, and GOP Senators Lisa Murkowski, Rand Paul, and Dean Heller (GOP Sen. Mike Lee announced he'd vote NO but missed the vote due to inclement weather).  Sen. Paul, along with Sen. Tester, took the lead in speaking out against the excesses and abuses of the Patriot Act and the vital need for reforms.
I'm not saying Americans don't need to fight terrorism, but the Patriot unconstitutionally abridges liberties.  This editorial sums things up better than I can.
Fighting terrorism requires active and watchful intelligence gathering. But this battle can't be an excuse for erasing privacy and personal liberties. The Patriot Act goes too far in a constitutional society by erasing bedrock guarantees of privacy and personal protections.

A Question About Reported Economic Growth

Yesterday, Bernie Hunhoff said the South Dakota's revenues seemed to be increasing.  Matt Michels said the same thing last weekend.  I'm sure a quick internet search would allow me to find Governor Daugaard making a similar statement.

I want to make clear that what follows is not a rhetorical question.  I would like a serious answer.  How much of the revenue growth has been the result of sales tax increases because fuel and common purchases such as chocolate, soda, and cereal cost more?

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

I Don't Think The Plan Is Going To Come Together

Because I am a vain human, I checked my blogger stats today.  I noticed that I had a few page views from this South Dakota War College post.  SDWC had quick hit about the opt out vote.  In the comments, Cory linked to this post about Paul Dorr so it's pretty obvious why a few folk came over.

Representative Bernie Hunhoff also weighed in on the results in the comments section.  "Some small retailers would have seen taxes rise $1,000 on up to $7,000 for a hardware store owner. Add that to the blue collar laborers making $10/hour and the seniors on fixed incomes and you’ve got a tough electorate."  I may have to use the "tough electorate" comment when I teach understatement during Dakota STEP test prep.

Hunhoff also writes
Democrats . , . . came up with a three-year plan that used some reserves, used some “sweeps” from excesses in cash flow accounts, used some of the earnings … not the principle, the earnings … off the $860 million in trust funds, implemented some selective cuts, curbed corporate welfare, etc. We could have frozen education spending until state revenues grow, as they are doing. It’s still a solid and workable plan.
In a subsequent comment he adds, "we had bi-partisan support until the powers-that-be dropped the hammer on it."

I'm unsure how any proposal in South Dakota, a one party state, can be considered bi-partisan.  Republicans dominate executive offices.  The Democrats in the state senate could caucus in a soccer mom's mini van.  Only four house Republicans, if memory serves, voted to oppose Governor Daugaard's final budget. I'll depress my Democratic friends by mentioning that redistricting will probably not make the situation any brighter.

I'm also less sanguine than Hunhoff about the growth providing enough funds to help schools, pay state workers, and do the other business of state government.  Were I a betting man, I would guess that everyone will just be happy preserve the status quo and not slip back.

Like the national GOP, South Dakota's Republicans sold the budget on the premise that austerity now would produce growth later. 

On today's Frum Forum Noah Kristula-Green writes, "Conservatives and Republicans have attempted to find empirical evidence to support their belief that economic growth can come with austerity.  They frequently cite a study done by Harvard economists Alberto Alesina and Silvia Ardagna."  Green continues,
The study looked at what the best ways for countries to reduce their deficits have been: whether through spending cuts or revenue increases. Their data shows that over the long-term, spending cuts are a better way to bring long-term deficits under control. A second study by Alesina went further and argued that “large, credible and decisive” cuts can be immediately followed by “sustained” growth.
America's problems must be solved.  Nationally, Republicans will pass an austere budget like the one proposed by Paul Ryan.  South Dakota has already passed one.  The state and federal budgets will harmonically converge and we'll get--let's be honest--austerity.  

Green thoughtfully reads more than the abstract and casts a wee bit of doubt on that theory.  (You'll have to excuse me; I'm not as good at understatement as Representative Hunhoff.)  Green writes,
So what’s problematic with Alesina’s results? Alesina has indeed found cases where reducing spending was followed by economic growth and reduced deficits. The problem: he found very few cases. More specifically he found 9 examples out of 107 attempts to reduce spending.

Even if we are more generous with our parameters, the data is still not an overwhelming majority. If we are only interested in times where reducing spending was followed by an economic expansion, the result is 26 cases. If we are interested in the number of times that reduced spending was followed by successfully reducing the deficit (doesn’t mean the economy had to grow!) we find 21 cases in his data. [italics in orginal]
Green concludes,
So the evidence for Republicans is much less heartening. It seems that reducing spending only causes economic growth in a minority of cases, and that in those cases, the reduction in spending needs to be off-set by a monetary policy that is expansionary. The GOP currently is in denial about how big the economic growth from spending cuts will be and opposed to monetary stimulus due to the intellectual capture of the party by gold-standard and hard money advocates.
The South Dakota Legislature doesn't have much influence on monetary policy, and the evidence behind the national party's theory which has been applied at the state level seems pretty thin.  I doubt that the next session will produce any more bi-partisanship or the growth necessary to move the state beyond austerity.

Minor Musings: Quick Post Vote Reactions

When I'm in Sioux Falls today, I think I will stop at Barnes and Noble and look for a copy of a book about Chief Joseph's retreat for Jason Bietz.  Maybe he can extrapolate financial lessons from it.  The young man is going to need all the help he can get.

If I were a poet or prophet, I could post some nice phrasing about this morning's wind and rain symbolizing the spent emotions of the past weeks and explain what it augurs for the future.  I'm neither.

In private conversations, I speculated that the opt out would fail.  I don't think anyone thought it would be by this margin.  If they did, CFSE wasted money on Dorr.  I suspect the lesson I should take from this result is never get into a poker game in Yankton.

I feel especially bad for Patty and Carri this morning.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Another Election Eve Rambling

Names matter.

The opt out opponents hired Paul Dorr’s Copperhead Consulting Firm.  During the Civil War, Northerners who supported the Confederacy called themselves Copperheads. “Mr. Dorr loves the South and as a studentof history, especially of how government schools flourished after the CivilWar, he named his company after the Copperheads, i.e. Northern sympathizers.”  The Copperheads were infamous for their scurrilous attacks on Abraham Lincoln, a president who preserved the Union and who urged Americans to appeal to “the better angels of our nature."  It’s curious why one would reject Lincoln’s "efforts to bind up the nation's wounds" and side with the Copperheads who sought to destroy the United States.

Symbols matter.

One CFSE member has taken to bedecking his vehicle with American flags and "Vote No" messages.  It is his right to do so.  If he is implying, however, that those who support the opt out, especially those who have served or who lost family members in Iraq, are unpatriotic, then Yankton residents should be aware that we are witnessing empty jingoism not patriotism.

Visions Matter.

The American Dream has always seemed a misnomer.  It’s a uniquely American Vision that people of the future will have more opportunities than we enjoy now.  A dream is ethereal; a vision demands effort to achieve.  The opt out is about maintaining a status quo; should it fail, certain parts of the local vision will fade to dreams.  There is no way that students will have the same opportunities two years or five years or ten years from now without more funding to continue to offer the diverse curriculum that has benefited so many over the past decades.  More importantly, some people who helped make learning possible will be missing.  The spirit to carry on may be willing but the flesh is weak and unable to effectively replace over twenty people.

Tomorrow matters.

Tomorrow is the chance to answer the appeal to one’s better angels, to reject empty symbolism, and to ensure that the vision that has helped foster success continues.  Tonight, one clings to the fog of hope believing that tomorrow will produce the substance of a good future.

A Conspiracy Theory Post Card

This morning's P&D contained a note from William Collen reminding readers that those who can't do, teach.  That cliche has been around for a long time.  The first person to hear it allegedly died after laughing too hard and falling off his dinosaur.

Because the morning letters were a bit stale, I was thrilled this afternoon to get a post card from Dan Brown, author of The Da Vinci Code, CFSE outlining a new conspiracy theory.  I think I was supposed to be left out of the loop on this particular theory because the postcard, like last Saturday's yellow mailer, was addressed to my wife's ex-husband.  I love conspiracy theories, so I couldn't help myself; I read the post card.

The plot goes something like this:  there is a giant, nebulous organization school district trying to hide facts from common ordinary citizens.  The ringleaders are church officials respected community members and a cardinal/pope school superintendent.  At first, I thought it was a bit to derivative of Brown's other works CFSE's yellow pamphlet, but John Wayne made both Rio Bravo and El Dorado, and the plots of those films are nearly identical.  If it's good enough for the Duke, it's good enough for me.

This particular theory has some big holes, however.  The first lines describe a cruel school board that crushes the hopes of its teachers.  Then a few lines later the school board treats its employees to "plush" benefits [emphasis in original].  Good conspiracy theories usually have more consistant character development.  Then, this same board is so incompetent that it doesn't know that it must be told to cut spending while at the same time it's so intelligent it creates a slush fund that no one will ever discover even though all of the financial dealings have to be published in legal notices and audited yearly.

Maybe Brown CFSE can put that story together using church cardinals or scientists who work at CERN but these evil antagonists, opposed only by an Iowa based consultant, are TEACHERS, those people who can't do anything else.  And the mastermind, the man behind everything, is a school superintendent who began his career as an elementary teacher, the lowest of the low.  No one would ever believe that plot, would they? Seriously?

On a serious note, look at what Matt Michels said last Friday,
“It’s not them and us — it’s us. It’s us working together to either improve lives or advance causes to make sure people are well. To have a gap, and have a view that people who are serving us in our state government are leaning on a shovel, is wrong. I’m not saying that’s a pervasive view. I have just taken it upon myself to say we are blessed.”
I know he doesn't mention teachers.  The view that state government workers are lazy is just as old and pernicious as the view that teachers can't do anything else.  Both should be rejected.  The new permutation of the tale, that the Yankton Board of Education, not the "YSD board of directors," as page 4 of the yellow mailer called them, is bilking Yankton residents in a manner that would make Bernie Madoff blush should be rejected as well.

Let's decide this election civilly and use facts not conspiracy theories.

Random Monday Morning Musings

I really think the music for this scene would be better that "Pomp and Circumstance" for graduates to entrances and exits.

I hope that Gardy can get the Twins turned around.

This guy thinks mythology has practical uses.  I don't know if I will ever agree with him on anything else, but I do about that.

Watching Treme and reading this post makes me wish that I were a musician.  I need all the brain power I can get, especially after reading this post that tells me what will happen to my older brain.

Secularists use fear mongering too.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Graduation, Randy "Macho Man" Savage, and Harmon Killebrew

Today, Yankton High School celebrates its graduates; here, like nearly every small city in America, graduation is a civic holiday.  The event carries special impact because it marks both an end and a commencement; it's one of the few remaining rites of passage.

This past week saw the passing of Harmon Killebrew and Randy "Macho Man" Savage.  As this year's graduates enter that weird construct called the "real world," they will need to combine what made both men famous if they are to thrive.

Savage, a consummate showman, wore flashy ring attire and colorful sunglasses.  He flew from the top ring ropes and loudly concluded every interview with his trademark "OH YEEAAAH."

Killebrew, a gentle giant, possessed authentic power.  In the last days of his life, he provided a blueprint about how to die with same grace and dignity that he lived.

Today's world requires each of us to a showman. Savage provides a fine model.  In today's world, however, the showmen frequently leave substance and traditional verities behind.  Killebrew reminds us that quiet strength, character, and dignity are more important than high flying antics.  In fact without a strong core to provide substance, one will never put on his or her best show.

Plains Pops: Paul Dorr's Yellow Flyer Edition

Although, the yellow flyer is addressed to my wife's previous husband, the address also includes the word "occupant," so I don't think that I've broken any laws by reading it.  Yankton's opt out version of Adam and Jamie in at optoutmythbusters.com are taking a look at the mailer as well, and probably need little help from me, but I will add a few comments.

*When Paul Dorr quotes Wal-Mart executive Paul Duke, Dorr conveniently forgets to include several statements. First,
Wal-Mart has struggled with seven straight quarters of sales declines in its stores.

Addressing that challenge, Duke said the company made mistakes by shrinking product variety and not being more aggressive on prices compared to its competitors. [emphasis mine]
In short, Wal-Mart admits that other stores are offer customers better prices. Wal-Mart's customers have less money to spend at the end of the month because Wal-Mart charges them more.  Duke even admits as much.,
"What's made Wal-Mart great over the decades is 'every day low prices' and our [product] assortment," he said. "We got away from it." [emphasis mine]
Further, a May 19, 2011 Wall Street Journal article states,
[Dollar Tree's] successful first quarter contrasts what is going on at the U.S. operations of the nation's biggest retailer, Wal-Mart Stores Inc. (WMT), and may further sentiment that Wal-Mart's business is being siphoned off by more convenient and just as bargain-oriented retail chains.

Dollar Tree, whose array of home goods, healthcare products and office supplies are all priced at $1 or less, saw higher customer traffic and more buying per trip propel it to a 59% jump in first-quarter profit.

"We are gaining new customers all the time," Chief Executive Bob Sasser said on a conference call with analysts. "And when they are in the store, they like what they find. They are buying more." [emphasis mine]
Fuel prices may be a factor, but the major factors for Wal-Mart's decreased sales are its business model and the fact that Super Wal-Marts are inconvenient for quick purchases.  Shoppers spend less at Wal-Mart because they buy more elsewhere.

*Next, Paul Dorr asserts that defeating the opt out "could prove very valuable to the financial future of our young people"  because it would allegedly teach them frugality.  Am I the only one who remembers this line of reasoning being expounded by a recent school board candidate who lost?

Frugality, it seems, is easier to preach than practice.  One would think that $5,550 would buy more than a yellow pamphlet, especially since Dorr has made destroying public education his life's calling

*Watergate, my first political memory, taught Americans to follow the money when one seeks to know the truth.  Rough estimates indicate that a Yankton School Board member would have to serve two three year terms to receive a stipend equal to Dorr's.  Dorr will get his money for approximately six weeks of work.  Following the money indicates that Dorr may have more personal reasons to spin and shade facts than the school board does.

*The yellow mailer has several charts that purport to illustrate a "dramatic" declining enrollment.  I will note that the author distorts the scale of various items, a classic propaganda tactic.  Further, the board has provided those numbers to the public in other forums.
A document has been produced by the Yankton School District showing full-time equivalent employees (FTE) by function in both the school years 2002-03 and 2010-11. There are 10 less FTE K-12 teachers —151.1 to 141.0. In the terms of total number of teachers (including special education, alternative education, music, technology and Title 1) there were 188.1 FTE’s in 2002-03 compared to 180 FTE’s in 2010-11. There are currently more Title I teachers on staff.

The total number of paraprofessional employees of the district in 2002-03 was 51 (9 regular classroom and 42 special education) in 2010-11 the total number is 65.6 (9.6 regular classroom and 56 special education).

The total number of support personnel in 2002-03 was 138.55 FTE, currently that number is 132.35 FTE.

In the same time frame, student enrollment has gone from 3,104 students to 2,747.
Tellingly, the mailer fails to mention that the district has fewer teachers than it had a decade ago.  It also fails to discuss new federal and state mandates that require additional staff.  Further, the pamphlet does not mention of NCLB or the fact that the number of graduation requirements has increased from 18 to 22.

*Nothing in the pamphlet answers the questions posed here.

*Finally, Dorr cites some of his statistics, but on page 3, he fails to identify a "SD group-health insurance leader."  One wonders if this "leader" could be the same person who lost the recent school board election and who held a forum where he "said the district is running a self-insurance program that violates its own policies, making it illegal and unconstitutional" and told  respected community members to sit down when they questioned him.  Eyewitness accounts have this same "leader" asking the school board to be "discourseful" at the conclusion of the May 19, 2011 special meeting.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Responses: May 20, 2011 in Opt Outs

I had a full plate yesterday, so I didn't get to post a few comments that I wanted to make.

In a P&D letter to the editor, Darwin List asks, "If the opt-out is voted in or out, what are they going to do to prevent this from happening again?"  I will offer a cliched answer: get involved.  The legislature changed the rules and failed to honor their legal obligation to to increase funding this year.  If fact, they cut funding.  Citizens need to pressure legislators to honor commitments.  Further, school board meetings are sparsely attended, and I doubt that minutes are read.  Those on both sides of the opt out issue must be vigilant and involved if they wish to avoid another situation like this one.

In another P&D letter, LaDawn Remington implies that district employees have no effect on education and suggests that
each person who draws a paycheck from the school district’s General Fund would volunteer to take a 20 percent pay cut, there would be a net savings of more than $3 million — enough money to more than cover the missing state dollars and nobody would lose their job.
Her suggestion that custodial staff and food service workers who draw salaries from the general fund take a twenty percent pay cut insults those hardworking people. The idea that these workers can afford a twenty percent cut beggars belief.

Additionally, Pete Ehresmann paid for an advertisement opposing the opt out.  It contains Dickensian references to the best of times and the worst of times introduction to A Tale of Two Cities as well as subtle allusions to the pain of poverty that Dickens so eloquently describes.  Mr. Ehresmann also makes public his tax bill.  I am not in a position to know his finances, so I will let that information go without comment.

Mr. Ehresmann's discussion of property taxes does contain one glaring omission that I would like to address.  He fails to note that property taxes are the only instrument available to the school board if it needs to raise revenues.  I suppose the board could host a year round bake sale at one of the 24-hour convenience stores in town, but local confectioners might begin to complain that socialism is creeping into the snack food industry.

Finally, I apologize to out of town readers for posting so much about the opt out.  I would like to engage in the dialogue started about rural communities started at Reimagine Rural and continued at The Madville Times.  To quote Marilynne Robinson's Gilead, I'd like to write about "books, baseball, and fried egg sandwiches." In short, I'd like to write about hundreds of other things.  As my mother and Mick Jagger constantly remind me, I can't always get what I want.  The opt out is necessary for both school and community.  I feel compelled to do my small part.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Irony: May 20, 2011 in Opt Outs

Yankton Citizens for Sustainable Education (CFSE) continues to challenge my understanding of irony.  Neither a graduate seminar over Jonathan Swift nor a lifelong appreciation of pop culture irony such as Saturday Night Live, The Onion, The Daily Show, or The Colbert Report has prepared me to deal with the intricate irony that CFSE promulgates.  Even familiarity with purveyors of religious irony such as Lark News has left me ill-prepared.

The group claims that it has organized itself  to sustain education, but members have hired Paul Dorr, a man who has dedicated his life to speeding public education "on towards its certain demise."  This act seems the epitome of irony.  One does not attempt to kill that which one hopes to sustain.   Yet, events indicate that the group is not being ironical.  

It strikes me that I am left with two alternatives.  Both seem as flawed as the belief that the group is attempting a heretofore unknown subtle formulation of irony.  First, Mr. Dorr overstates his dislike of public education in order to drum up business for his consulting firm.  This possibility has merit; hyperbole is frequently used as an advertising tool.  The other option, one I have heard mentioned by certain Yankton residents who could charitably be called skeptics, is that Messrs. Murphy and Wurth, CFSE officers both, are being disingenuous when they assert they hope to nurture Yankton's public education.  (I must confess that I took the term nurture from a list of synonyms for sustain. Honesty forces me to admit that I have not personally heard Murphy or Wurth claim that they wish to nurture Yankton's public schools.)

Today, my mailbox contained a mailing from CFSE.  It was addressed to my wife's previous husband whom she divorced over a decade ago.  He has been living near St. Louis, Missouri for the entire time.  My wife and I have been married for nearly eight years.  Both of us have taught in the Yankton School System for over fifteen years, so it's a bit disheartening that a group dedicated to sustaining local education did not care enough to address a mailing to us.  I probably have accept part of the blame for this confusion; I don't socialize much during the school year.  Still, it strikes me as ironic that the group would not send their material to teachers since they claim that they are opposing the opt out because they owe it to the district's "good teachers."  I also find it ironic that I have not met the group's officers at a school board meeting, especially since this group "has supported our school through thick and thin."  Perhaps CFSE members believe that my wife and I are not good teachers.  I find such a possibility too hurtful to seriously contemplate.

I hope a good night's sleep will help me make sense of these conundrums.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Random Updates and Corrections

I am imperfect and I want to own up to my errors.  For example, the post "I Think Silly Season Will Start Tonight" predicted that the meeting would turn into a "tragic circus."  I was wrong.  News accounts reveal that the meeting had the flavor of a circus but the meeting itself was not tragic.

In this post about libraries of the future, I forgot to add that I agree with Doug Haar when he asserts,
. . . the students’ results would not have been possible without the help of YHS librarian Becky Tasa.
“We are fortunate to have the best librarian in the world in Becky,” he said. “She bends over backwards to get the things we need. Behind every successful teacher is a great librarian.”
Director Tasa is indeed one of the finest people I have ever worked with.

On a far less serious note, I haven't paid as much attention to the end of the world as I should have.  If the reports are true, I am saddened that YHS seniors will have their last day of school on Thursday but not be able to get their diplomas on Sunday.

New York Has Fashion Designers; South Dakota Has . . .

bill collectors?

This post over at An Inland Voyage pointed me to Demo Memo.  A quick scan of posts uncovered this nugget.
State with the highest concentration of...

Pest control workers: Florida
Fashion designers: New York
Mental health counselors: Pennsylvania
Meeting planners: District of Columbia
Optometrists: Hawaii
Crossing guards: New Jersey
Bill collectors: South Dakota
Bartenders: Montana

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Employment Statistics

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

I Might Be Being Picky.....But ....

The Press & Dakotan published a thoughtful letter from Duane Grimme today.  Mr. Grimme writes,
Dr. Evelyn Hohf, academic dean during my time teaching at Yankton College back in the 1960s, said something like, “It is in our differences wherein greatness lies.” Any such greatness is in defending others’ rights to say something different (defending to the death, as Voltaire once put it).

There have been arguments thoughtfully put for and against the opt-out, positions begging child and adolescent needs and interests and where Yankton schools budgetary limits need be. And so there are “Yes For Kids” and “Citizens For Sustainable Education,” both for kids but differing in the extents this community and its schools can and need go while striving to educate its youth.

Let us hold high the right to disagree, to let our differences be heard, respectfully.
First, it's always good to see allusions to classic thinkers such as Voltarie.  Second, I agree wholeheartedly that differences and disagreements need to be aired and heard respectfully.

In the same letter, Mr. Grimme takes issue with Press and Dakotan's applying the the term "foes" to opt out opponents.  Mr. Grimme limits the definition to "a term defining one or any group who “'hates or seeks to injure another.'"

According to The Free Online Dictionary, "foe" means
1. A personal enemy.
2. An enemy in war.
3. An adversary; an opponent: a foe of tax reform. See Synonyms at enemy.
4. Something that opposes, injures, or impedes: taxes that were the foe of economic development. [emphasis mine]
Lest I be accused of picking an inferior dictionary, the Free Online Dictionary is version of the "The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition copyright ©2000 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Updated in 2009. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved."

The Merriam Webster Online Dictionary defines "foe" as
1: one who has personal enmity for another
2 a : an enemy in war
  b : adversary, opponent
3: one who opposes on principle --a foe of needless expenditures
4: something prejudicial or injurious [emphasis mine]
I hope that Yankton gets through the next week without prejudice, enmity, or injury.  At the same time the bolded definitions indicate that the P&D was not prejudicial or biased in its word choice.  In fact, the example phrase accompanying the second bolded definition indicates that their word choice was exact.  Opt out opponents claim that the school district has been making many needless expenditures.
Once again, let's have a civil debate, but let's also have an accurate one.  The P&D correctly used the term, and their use of the term does not reflect a bias nor is it a case of the “'pot calling the kettle black.'”

Questions About a Four Day Week and Keeping Students

In the Yankton County Observer, Wayne Pibal asks some thought provoking questions.  He wonders about a four day school week.
Also, I like to see students attend class five days a week, but other nearby districts are saving money by going to four-day weeks.
I'm not sure the savings are there.  In this interview, Mike Griffith, the senior school finance analyst for Education Commission of the States, contends,
The only districts that save a lot money for moving to this are those districts that have an awful lot of bussing required and high transportation costs. So, it's those schools districts that have a small amount of students in a large geographical area. So, it tends to be rural districts that mostly pick up on this program.
Later, Griffith says,
They are because right now with the cutbacks in state funding and local funding they need to find ways to balance their budget. So, they're not left with many options at a certain point, so the things you're looking at are choices that are tough for anyone to make. Either larger class size or discontinuation of programs like arts and science and music or moving to something like this.

Now one of the issues around it is at first you think you can save a great deal of money, but as you look at it as a school or school district the amount you save is really not that high. You're talking maybe saving five percent or so from your budget. And so, once people start to see that the savings are that low, even though they talk about it and think about it they tend to back away from the four-day week
Griffith's analysis seems to indicate that the four day week will work for a district like Faith, South Dakota. Savings for districts like Yankton will be minimal.  Also, I'm pretty sure that parents with younger children in kindergarten, first grade, second grade will spend more on Friday day care than they will on the opt out.

Mr. Pibal also makes a good point about keeping Yankton's student base.
Finally, we have about 500 kids in the district who are choosing NOT to go to Yankton public schools. Why aren’t efforts being made to get them and their money back? They, alone, represent $2.25 million dollars.
I'm guessing here, but most parents who send their children to Sacred Heart, Yankton's christian schools, or who home school their students do so for religious reasons.  I doubt that any argument that the school district can muster will change their minds.  That fact doesn't mean that a careful, concentrated, tactful effort to recruit those students should not be made.

It also seems that the school and community need to ask if more students will be lost if the opt out doesn't pass.  For example, will parents will make other arrangements for their children because Yankton Middle School no longer offers after school activities?  If so, how many?  Exacerbating the problems caused by shrinking enrollment might be another potential hidden cost of a failed opt out.  For others, see Dr. Angie Hejl's excellent letter here.

Governor Daugaard and the 2011 South Dakota Legislature wounded Yankton School District.  Before one looks for ways to tone muscles, one should try to stop the bleeding.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Seth Godin on "The Next Library"

I have a Seth Godin action figure.  I don't always read his blog, but this post has been linked to by lots of people including The Tempered Radical who adds a really nice phrase.  Having this library will help students avoid being froze in "intellectual amber."
The next library is a house for the librarian with the guts to invite kids in to teach them how to get better grades while doing less grunt work. And to teach them how to use a soldering iron or take apart something with no user serviceable parts inside. And even to challenge them to teach classes on their passions, merely because it's fun. This librarian takes responsibility/blame for any kid who manages to graduate from school without being a first-rate data shark.

The next library is filled with so many web terminals there's always at least one empty. And the people who run this library don't view the combination of access to data and connections to peers as a sidelight--it's the entire point.

Wouldn't you want to live and work and pay taxes in a town that had a library like that? The vibe of the best Brooklyn coffee shop combined with a passionate raconteur of information? There are one thousand things that could be done in a place like this, all built around one mission: take the world of data, combine it with the people in this community and create value.
 Based on local events of the past few months, I think Godin's a bit out of touch on how people feel about taxes.

Some Musings about Fear Mongering

The first song I remember hearing come out of a record player is "Just A Little Talk With Jesus."  In fact, I think it was this Tennessee Ernie Ford version.  My parents probably owned a version of the song on a 78, a 45, a 33 1/3 LP, a cassette, and a CD.  Some of you may have to ask your grandparents or great-grandparents what the numbers mean.

That song combined with one of the first Bible verses I remember memorizing for Sunday School--For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind (2 Timothy 1:7)--allowed me to understand that faith involves overcoming fear.

After the past few years, it's easy to see why people are afraid.  People in Yankton and throughout the United States lost homes and jobs.  During this opt out campaign, people have openly admitted that they fear not being able to buy food and pay the increased taxes because they are on a fixed income.  Others admit that they are afraid that current students won't have the same opportunities as previous Yankton graduates.  As teachers have lost jobs and programs have been cut, fears inside the school system have increased as well.

At this point, it does little good to try to place blame.  I don't believe that the Yankton School Board intended to frighten people.  Deep down I believe that most opt out opponents don't mean to unnecessarily frighten people either.

That's why hiring someone who sold Y2K survival kits is so troubling.  See here, here, and here.  Making money from fear should be left to Stephen King or Sam Raimi.  Of course, Y2K didn't happen.  That's why it's even more alarming that the same person would try to continue to hype the non-event by reminding people about it in 2008 when a Russian political analyst predicted the dissolution of the United States.

It's beyond troubling that this person drums up fear to advance his version of Christianity.   I was always taught that Christ was both perfect and the epitome of love.  I had to memorize this verse for Sunday School too: "There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear: because fear hath torment. He that feareth is not made perfect in love" (2 Timothy 4:18).

No one is perfect, so we will never totally eliminate fear.  Still the opt out debate will be much better if everyone tries to appeal to "sound minds" and not frighten people into voting only "the interests of their own pocket book."

Monday, May 16, 2011

Quotations of The Day: Reading and Books

According to Nicolas Carr, E-textbooks may not be ready for classroom prime time.
But schools may want to pause before jumping on the e-textbook bandwagon. This morning, at the ACM Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems in Vancouver, a team of researchers from the University of Washington, led by doctoral student Alex Thayer, is presenting the results of a year-long study of student reading, and the findings suggest that e-readers may be deeply flawed as replacements for traditional textbooks. Students find the devices cumbersome to use, ill-suited to their study routines, and generally underwhelming. Paper textbooks, it seems, may not be quite as obsolete as they appear.
I don't want any of my kids to do any of these book marking techniques to their text books, but I have to admit that I've done everything except the match to books I've owned.
Because we've come to take printed books for granted, we tend to overlook their enormous flexibility as reading instruments. It's easy to flip through the pages of a physical book, forward and backward. It's easy to jump quickly between widely separated sections, marking your place with your thumb or a stray bit of paper or even a hair plucked from your head (yes, I believe I've done that). You can write anywhere and in any form on any page of a book, using pen or pencil or highlighter or the tip of a burnt match (ditto). You can dog-ear pages or fold them in half or rip them out. You can keep many different books open simultaneously, dipping in and out of them to gather related information. And when you just want to read, the tranquility of a printed book provides a natural shield against distraction. Despite being low-tech - or maybe because of it - printed books and other paper documents support all sorts of reading techniques, they make it easy to shift seamlessly between those techniques, and they're amenable to personal idiosyncrasies and eccentricities.
None of this is to say that e-readers and tablets won't find a place - an important place, probably - in schools. Students already do a great deal of reading and research on computer screens, after all, and there are many things that digital documents can do that printed pages can't. What this study does tell us, though, is that it's naive to assume that e-textbooks are a perfect substitute for printed textbooks. The printed page continues to be a remarkably robust reading tool, offering an array of unique advantages, and it seems to be particularly well suited to textual studies. Traditional textbooks may be heavy, but they're heavy in a good way.

I Think Silly Season Will Start Tonight

The Press & Dakotan carried this announcement in its May 3rd edition.
A public meeting concerning the Yankton School District opt-out, “Summit at the Summit II,” will be held at 7:01 p.m. Monday, May 16, at the Summit Activities Center, Yankton.

All citizens are invited to the second this event. Facts, feelings, healing and education will be discussed.

Special invitees include South Dakota Gov. Dennis Daugaard, Secretary of Education Melodee Schopp and Superintendent of Yankton Schools Dr. Joseph Gertsema.

This opportunity is being presented for all citizens, especially those from South Dakota, and for citizens and friends of neighboring states.
Today, the paper carried this announcement:
A public meeting concerning the Yankton School District opt-out, “Summit at the Summit II,” will be held at 7:01 p.m. tonight (Monday) at the Summit Activities Center, Yankton. (This event is not sponsored by the Yankton School District.)

All citizens are invited to the second this event. Facts, feelings, healing and education will be discussed.
It's 6:07 am according the computer clock, so I might be a little punchy, but I don't see any mention of the Governor Daugaard or Secretary of Education Melody Schopp.  I'm really disappointed.  I have spent the past two weeks writing up questions about why they continue to emphasize STEM at the expense of the rest of the curriculum.

Again, it's a little after 6 am and I don't have my coffee, but I don't know how to attend "to the second" this event.  Does that mean if I show up before or after 7:01 pm I won't get a dorr prize?

If I were a betting man, I'd bet that someone who doesn't live in Yankton will speak at the meeting tonight.  He'll say things like "I'm not saying that Yankton schools do this but many places do....." or some variation of that statement.  Every one of the statements will be designed to put the school district in the worst possible light and inflame the situation.

Facts will be in the background.  "Feelings" will dominate.  Some will have been coached to express "feelings" designed to anger opt out supporters and promote a confrontation.

If this had been a genuine effort, the Yankton School District would have participated.  If this had been a genuine effort, I suspect that Governor Daugaard would have dispatched his Lieutenant Governor Matt Michaels, a Yankton native, to attend, and his attendance would have been confirmed in the first announcement and covered in a front page article today.

I'm really torn.  Do I want to watch this meeting turn into a tragic circus or do I want to stay home and watch House?  Both are likely to have the same amount of genuine "facts, feelings, healing, and education."

Now that I've had coffee, I will place one small bet.  Nothing at tonight's meeting will "heal" the situation for teachers who have lost their jobs.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Plains Pops:Superhero Edition

*This photoshop effort from The Atlantic is funny, I never would have pegged Biden as The Flash.  They should have added Space Ghost.  They could have finished Hillary Clinton's arm too.

*If I had time, I'd do a full fan boy post about whether I'd want to have Green Lantern's ring or Thor's hammer.

*People with more time than I have put together Green Lantern and Philosophy.

*This guy takes Smallville a bit too seriously.  Still, he has point; ten years is a long time to mess around with the Superman mythos.

Walt Disney and Salvador Dali, one shouldn't have to say more.  It may not be a superhero thing, but it makes Fantasia look pedestrian.  The person who uploaded it claims to have changed the sound track.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

We Are Yankton: Reason #1 That Paul Dorr Is The Issue

The cheer that sticks in my high school memories is "We are the Tigers, the mighty, mighty Tigers . . . "  It was a clear declaration of school pride and support for the athletes on the field or court.  I've lived in Yankton for nearly two decades, but the cheer from this community that sticks with me is far different.   "We are Yankton" clearly declares community pride as a key element of school pride.  The full throated support for local competitors combines both school and community.

"We are Yankton" concisely describes the town's spirit.  Residents have argued about building the Yankton High School and Summit Activities Center.  People became passionate about how to best deal with the Memorial Park Pool, and bickered about how to use the Meridian Bridge.  Those disputes vanished when the Bucks won championships at the Dome.  They became insignificant when we united to mourn the fallen members of Charlie Battery.  Last spring, we united again to line the streets and cheer in the gym as Charlie Battery returned home.  The town has supported congregations that have had their sanctuaries burned down, and put thousands of dollars into collection jars placed a checkouts for cancer victims or families that have lost their homes.

Residents recovered from every disagreement and tragedy, in part, because of an unifying belief:: "We are Yankton."

Paul Dorr had a history of dividing communities.  In Lyle, Minnesota
Yet more than a month after the bond went through, the members of Save Our School and Community are hardly calling it a victory. On one of the hottest days of the year, Ron Frank is occupied with outdoor work, spraying fields and pitching in to help his customers where he can. Some of these farmers were "no" voters, and he suspects that his outspokenness on this issue has lost him some business. He agrees to meet outside of a small white church on a hilltop. It's one of the only buildings visible on a stretch of county road that's mostly decorated with manicured mazes of crops.

"Families were divided, friendships were ruined," he says, looking out over the fields. "It's no different than the Hormel strike. It's going to take time to get over."
In Blooming Prairie, Minnesota,
Anita Angell has experienced the same lingering friction with her neighbors. The pro-bond committee members have come out with statements that, Angell says, question a "no" voter's intelligence. And there have been personal attacks on Angell and others. She says she has received threatening phone calls, but declines to offer any specifics.

"I know for a fact businesses have been affected by this. There are things that happened," she says, her voice trailing off. "And I don't think I'll go to those businesses again. What's going to happen to downtown? I think this turned into somewhat of a tragedy."
After the Yankton School Board passed the opt out resolution, the community held a city and school board election.  In that school board election, three candidates supported the opt out; one opposed.  That election featured passionate but civil debate.  Then as now, opt out opponents argued that the school board has asked for too much over too long of a period.  At the conclusion of that election, people moved on with little ill will.

The upcoming election feels different because of Mr. Dorr's involvement.  If this opt out fails, Yankton will likely face several more divisive elections.  Now that opt out opponents have engaged Dorr's services, I'm relatively certain that all future board opt out resolutions will be put to a vote.    I also believe that opponents will continue to use Mr. Dorr's services, and the damage his involvement has caused in other communities will be repeated and multiplied here.

"We are Yankton" needs to be a yell.  Dorr's record indicates that his involvement in this election will turn that clarion call for unity into a mere whisper, "We were Yankton."