Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Let's Talk About That $10,000 Per Student Figure, Too

Yesterday, over at the Washington Policy Blog, Liv Finne repeated a useful lie:
Cuts to I-728 spending have required school districts to think more carefully how to spend their ample resources, in 2008-9 at $10,274 per pupil.
....which is a great number to use if you're, say, Liv Finne and trying to make a point, but which most any objective observer of reality would question.

Me, I'm a biased subjective observer; let's drill down into that number a bit and see how she came up with it.

She first sources the number in this post from early September, using a page from the Office of Fiscal Management site. That's a good source. The $10,274 number comes if you go all the way to the bottom right, and that's the first problem: that column is clearly labeled "District Budgeted", which means that the amount very likely changed as districts made mid-year cuts last year. Strike 1.

She's also conflated the state, federal, and local spending. Why does that matter? Federal revenues don't flow evenly to every district--impact aid districts, for example, would receive more of that, while others receive less--which throws the whole statewide "per student" argument on its head. Strike 2.

And then there's that local money I mentioned; look up the levy equalization keyword that I've written about before and you'll understand why this metric is so damned slippery. She's essentially arguing that Bellevue and Stehekin are comparable, and that just isn't so. Strike 3.


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Monday, September 21, 2009

Liv Finne's War On Librarians Continues

Read all about it here.

Tomorrow, during the TVW special on education, I fully expect her to say that the state spends a bazillion dollars per student, then punch a music teacher, then argue that schools would be pristine if only principals had more power.

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Sunday, September 20, 2009

Trading One Agenda for Another

This quote from the EFF blog on the St. John's educators voting to disaffiliate from the WEA and NEA is fairly fascinating:

“It is liberating to declare our independence from the big teacher unions,” said Ms. Gfeller, who teaches at St. John Elementary School. “Our politics just did not mesh with the politics of the WEA, and we couldn’t see throwing any more money to their causes.”
That's an interesting viewpoint, and it makes one wonder--what are the politics of the Northwest Professional Educators and their umbrella organization, the Association of American Educators? In fairness I'm going to use the same exacting standards that they've applied to the WEA and NEA and say that if anyone affiliated with the AAE ever said something in any place, ever, then that's clearly the viewpoint of the AAE as well. Let the games begin!
  • We'll start with their very own official September newsletter, which leads off with a reprint of an article from Education Week on national education standards (so long, local control!), and then moves into the usual attack on using seniority in layoffs (which I've talked about here).

  • Their July/August issue is even better, because the front page story is a bold, principled attack.....AGAINST PRE SCHOOL. I'm sad that the teachers in St. John would stand against pre-school, but for better or worse that is their choice, because after all, that is the agenda of the AAE.

  • Hey, look, they have a foundation! Who's on that foundation? Why, there's one Anne Canfield, of the lobbying firm Canfield and Associates Inc. of Washington D.C., and before I even go on you know that this won't end well because, crap, they're a lobbying firm, but if you follow the string you'll find that C&A is working for big pharma companies like Wyeth and Merck (remember Vioxx?) and industry trade group Consumer Mortgage Coalition to the tune of $1.5 million dollars in 2008.

  • The whole enterprise was founded by one Gary Beckner; let's see what he thinks the schools should be doing:

    Not so, says Gary Beckner, head of the California-headquartered Association of American Educators (AAE), a growing national teachers organization.

    In a recent speech, Beckner observed that: "We can all agree that we must raise our academic standards.However, for our children's sake, indeed, for America's sake, we must at the same time raise our moral standards." Although modernists and liberals will scorn the suggestion, Beckner says that our moral standard must be based on religious principles such as those contained in the Ten Command-ments and Christ's Sermon on the Mount: "In other words, our Judeo-Christian foundations-and that is what we suggest should be the underlying principles of any good character education program."

    Religious principles are key because they transcend time, fashion, and individual opinion.Since they are based on the premise of a "supreme being" as the final authority, Beckner argues that religious principles answer the question of "‘who says' I should or shouldn't do something, or what is right or wrong." "Without a final moral authority," says Beckner, "it is very difficult, if not impossible, to teach morality."
    Agnostic? Atheist? Buddhist? Strongly believe in the separation of church and state? Questioning? Here's the face of the AAE saying that you don't really matter.

  • I'd make a run at the Northwest Professional Educators, but they haven't updated their newsletter archive since 2006 because they don't have much to say.
In reality, though, we know that this whole thing is an exercise in stupidity. It's very easy to go and take quotes out of context, or from a different time, or on a different subject, and make anyone look foolish. This is especially easy in a group context, when you can look at everyone associated and try to say that they ARE the group. It isn't right, and it isn't good argumentation.

But that's the brush that the WEA and NEA get painted with every single day by those who are opposed to public sector unionism in general and for teachers in particular. A debate at the WEA Representative Assembly on gay marriage doesn't make the WEA an organization in favor of gay marriage; the same applies to the NEA. It's rhetorically lazy, and I'll probably be doing it again tomorrow because hey, this is blogging.

This angels v. demons dichotomy that's been set up simply isn't based in any kind of reality. NWPE can pound the drum of "professionalism" long and hard, but I can show you just as many people in the WEA ranks who care passionately about kids and schools as they can on their side. Further, they can poo-poo involvement in politics all they want, but it's Olympia that decides what we're paid, it's Olympia that's taking unprecedented involvement in what the local curricula is, it's Olympia that decides who gets to be in the classroom or not--any "professional" organization that would conscientiously run away from those issues isn't a real professional organization in the slightest.

Welcome to the AAE/NWPE agenda, St. John. You don't like pre-school, you don't like local control, you're happy to throw senior teachers out to save money, Sunday School is now Monday through Friday as well, and you're a friend of Big Pharma. That's the agenda you're standing with, now that you've chosen to make the agenda the issue. Good luck with it.

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Friday, September 18, 2009

The Craze That's Sweeping the Nation

Bob Williams and Lynn Harsh cutting some rug
The Evergreen Freedom Foundation's Liberty Live blog has the scoop about the St. John's Education Association voting to decertify the union and throw in with the Northwest Professional Educators instead. That makes them the second school district this decade to do so, following the lead of Sprague-Lamont in 2004.

Good for them. If a group of teachers wants to go it alone that's absolutely their right. As a local president I know that I lean on my Uniserv representatives pretty heavily and wouldn't want to fight some of the fights I've had to fight without them (and here's a public thank you to Sally, Pat, and Mike for the work they do).

I think, too, that Sprague-Lamont is an interesting case. If you wander over to the OSPI website and look at the financial data for the district (you'll have to hunt, because Sprague-Lamont is actually Sprague and Lamont until school consolidation happens), but here's some of the information you'll find:
  • In 2004 the Lamont School District had a .6 principal and no superintendent. By last year they had budgeted for a .180 superintendent (at a cost of $23,315)
  • In 2004 "Teaching Activities" accounted for 47.21% of the spending in Lamont. In 2009, that had gone down to 45.53%
  • In 2004 the salary and benefits package for the .6 FTE principal in Lamont added up to $47,487. The budgeted amount for last year? $57,650. That's a raise of better than $2,000 a year.
In Lamont, then, the percentage of the pie spent on teachers has gone down, while at the same time the principal is making $10,000 a year more (out of a budget of about $811,000) and they have superintendent spending that they didn't 5 years ago.

At the same time, the number of students enrolled full-time at Lamont has dropped from an average of 36.89 in 2004-2005 to an average of 32 last year. Declining enrollment, less money for teachers, but they've added a superintendent and upped the pay for the principal.

But that's only the Lamont part of the school combination, where the kids go for middle school. What about Sprague, the larger district that takes the students for K through 5 and high school?
  • In 2008-2009, the principal made $73,416 a year, up from $65,225 in 2004-2005.
  • In 2004-2005, Sprague had a full time (1.0 FTE) superintendent, but by 2008-2009 that had been cut down to .540. Success!
  • But wait....in 04-05 that Superintendent made $80,000 a year, but in 08-09 it was $69,944. That's because they raised the base salary that the Superintendent's take-home salary is figured off of, and the practical effect is that a nearly 50% cut in time only amounted to a 12.5% cut in spending. I guarantee you no teacher is getting that deal.
  • In 04-05 "Teaching" was 51.67% of the budget; "Unit Administration" plus "Central Administration" adds up to 16.8%. In 06-07, the last year for which actual numbers are available right now, "Teaching" had a slight uptick to 51.68%; Administrative costs went up to 17.45% of the district budget. They're holding the line on teaching costs, but not on administration. Why do you suppose that is?

At the same time, Sprague has dropped to an average of 79.39 students in 08-09, down from 92.54 in 04-05

The great hope is that the relationship between the teachers and the administrators isn't adversarial, but the other great hope is that there is two-way accountability. It's a romantic notion that the Northwest Professional Educators puts forward, that "professionalism" can win all in the workplace, but in Sprague-Lamont, with a neutered "professional association", the administration has been lining their pockets while the district is withering on the vine.

It will be interesting to look at St. Johns in 5 years and see what their trends are.

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Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Always, Always Ask for the Context Before Answering the Question

This is pretty damned funny.


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Monday, September 07, 2009

There Is Nothing Wrong With This Picture

Was It Worth It, Ma'am?

Morons of the week: the Iowa teachers who strip searched 5 teenage girls in their search for $100.

Their stupidity would be excusable if there hadn't been some big Supreme Court case this summer that touches on almost exactly this point. But wait--there was.

ProTip from a Union Guy: Please don't ask your students to strip naked in front of you. Just.......don't.

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It's All Your Fault

In the Kent strike, as with any strike, the teacher's beef is with administration.

Meanwhile, the Kent School District is part of the NEWS lawsuit seeking more funding from the state, thus putting the blame on the legislators.

Senator Claudia Kauffman, of both Kent and the Senate Education Committee, puts the blame back on the district.

Humorless hack Mike Antonucci blames the color orange. The News Tribune blames the economy. Liv Finne, who makes being a blogger quite easy, blames everybody but taxpayers. Publicola finds a way to blame PETA.

Personally, I blame Greg Nickels. That seems to be the thing to do.

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Sunday, September 06, 2009

Yay, Face the Nation!

So yesterday I complained that big media seemed to be ignoring everything that was going on in education besides swine flu and Obama's speech.

Today brings a nice, long Arne Duncan interview on Face the Nation that covered Race to the Top, Merit Pay, Charter Schools, and everything else I would have asked for.

It's worth watching!

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An Aside from the Kent Teacher's Strike

A couple of days ago on the Kent School Districts web page there was a brief update on negotiations, saying that the Kent EA had failed to show up to that day's mediation session. Pretty damning, if true.

What the KSD didn't point out, and which the Kent EA subsequently did, was that was the day that the two sides were in court making their arguments about the injunction the Kent SD had filed for to end the strike.

Making it sound like one side didn't show up on a lark, and publishing that information as truth on your publicly-funded website, sure doesn't feel like good faith negotiating.

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My Plan to Save Newspapers

HAVE YOU HEARD? Obama is going to take away the Freedom of Press from the First Amendment! He's upset because his plan to indoctrinate the kids with a speech fell apart because of reporting and stuff, and Al Gore won't let him turn off the internet, so he's going after the newspapers instead!

THIS SOCIALIST MUST BE STOPPED! Call all your friends right now and tell them to subscribe to as many newspapers as they can, immediately! We'll show that Kenyan interloper that REAL AMERICANS will stand up for newspapers, and that if he tries to come after print media he'll get swatted with a rolled up newspaper. YOU BETCHYA!

  • Glen Beck spent time in Mount Vernon, Washington, and many people in Mount Vernon read newspapers! It's true, I've seen it for myself!

  • Michelle Malkin once wrote a column about not bailing out newspapers, and that's because she wants everyone to just go ahead and become subscribers instead. It's pretty obvious that's what she meant when you read it in the right context.

  • Rush Limbaugh helped to prop up the newspaper industry single-handedly when he asked why women don't like him, giving overworked columnists a day off as they quickly spat out 800 words on the topic and called it a night.

  • Ann Coulter writes a weekly column that is carried by hundreds of tens of some newspapers. HOORAY FOR NEWSPAPERS!
BUY ONE FOR YOURSELF AND ONE FOR THE KIDS; THEY'LL LOVE YOU MORE FOR IT! Newspapers can be fun for the whole family, from comics for the kids to obituaries for the elderly (before the death panels get them).

NEWSPAPERS ARE ENERGY EFFICIENT! You can fan yourself with one in the summer, and use it for insulation in the winter! Also, a newspaper makes a great emergency hobo blanket if you've been laid off and lost your job!


In conclusion, newspapers.

(Idea stolen from here, which you probably can't read because the Spokesman still thinks they're going to be able to make money off their website.)

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Saturday, September 05, 2009

This Obama Speech Controversy is Just Freakin' Great

Obama: "Stay in school."
Reactionaries: "INDOCTRINATION!"

It really has been a fascinating thing to watch this week, the kerfuffle over Obama's planned back-to-school speech on Tuesday. Never mind that this has happened before, with Reagan and both Presidents Bush; clearly, it's different this time because of health care or the war in Afghanistan or Reverend Wright or something.

I didn't think of this crap as anything more than an oddity until I heard that our district office was being bombarded with phone calls demanding that the schools not show the speech, with parents threatening to hold their kids out that day if they didn't get assurances. That anyone would pick up the phone over this is stupid enough, but my district is in the middle of a financial crisis anyhow, and Tuesday is our first count day for the state. If we have any quantity of kids stay home, our budget situation gets that much worse. Hoo-frickin-ray.

More from Sound Politics here, a particularly disappointing post because I thought Pudge was actually starting to develop some sense when he refuted the Birther issue, but right back off the rails he's gone. Video from MSNBC via Daily Kos here, with John Harwood saying some people are too stupid to have kids. Jim's take on what's going on in the Olympia School District here, and Charles Mudede of The Stranger explores the racial aspects over here.

And for the NSFW hard-left take, try Wonkette here and here. The Digg thread is pretty good, too.

What's maybe the most disappointing about this whole episode is that this is the most attention that anything Obama's done regarding education has gotten. I watch most of the news shows, and the only mention I've seen on any of them about Race to the Top was in the August 28th episode of The McLaughlin Group, where they actually gave it quite a bit of time.

There's an awful lot to watch right now.

Update (9/6): I love this commentary from the Orlando Sentinel.

Update 2: Kos says the polling shows most people support the speech.

Update 3: A good article from the LA Times.

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Friday, September 04, 2009

Quick College Football Thought

What LeGarrette Blount did was moronic, and a suspension was in order, but killing off his college career says a lot more about the situation at the University of Oregon than it does about Blount himself.

If you're a high school player and the UofO comes calling, remember how they treated Blount here, and how absolutely unprepared they looked against this Boise State team, and find somewhere else to go to school. This is not a coach who will ever amount to very much.


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Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Tom Vander Ark, Keen Observer of Bizarro World

This is one of the most nonsensical things I've read in a while:

Who owns Washington? In Washington State the answer is clear--the Washington Education Association. They dragged their feet in hundreds of districts and called strikes in a couple districts last night just to screw up the first day of school.
Riiiiiiiiiiiight. In an environment where the WEA is at open odds with Democratic legislators, where levy equalization and class size reduction money was cut out of the budget, and where HB2261 passed into law despite a full-court press from the WEA, you're going to try to sell the line that the WEA runs Washington?

Denying reality doesn't change reality, and anyone who is still trying to portray the WEA as an all-powerful, omnipotent entity is certainly out of touch with reality.

In Kent, a Seattle suburb, the WEA welcomed a great new superintendent, Dr. Vargas, to town with a strike. Kent is a well run district where the previous superintendent served with distinction for a decade. Unfortunately, Vargas is receiving familiar treatment; it happened on my first day as superintendent 15 years ago. My kids asked me why they weren't going to school and why there were people with signs in our driveway.
Why yes, Kent is so well run that they trail in almost every metric, and now the KSD's half-assed negotiations strategy has forced a strike.

Even though strikes by public employees are illegal, the WEA picks a few districts in key media markets and runs strikes every year just to remind local and state officials who's really in charge. The Kent strike is supposedly because teachers don't want to meet with their principal more than once a week; they're trying to spin this as 'more time with the children'--please. They also mention class size, but that's a red herring in a state with equalized funding and big budget deficits. This isn't about issues; it's about power.
The WEA can't make a district go out on strike.

The WEA can't make a district go out on strike.

The WEA can't make a district go out on strike.

I made similar comments last year during the Bellevue teacher strike--anyone who thinks that it's an easy thing to get 85% of the membership to say that they're going to stop doing their jobs and walk a picket line is so blindingly ignorant about how unions work that their opinions are irrelevant, even if couched in the language of the "education expert".

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