Monday, February 04, 2008

Feel the education

Let's start with Garrison Keillor, who had a few thoughts on teaching students to read.

And then there is the grief that old righteous people inflict on the young, such as our public schools. I’m looking at U.S. Department of Education statistics on reading achievement and see that here in Minnesota — proud, progressive Minnesota — on a 500-point test (average score: 225), 27 percent of fourth-graders score below basic proficiency, and black and Hispanic kids score 30-some points lower than white on average.

The 30 percent of public school kids who come from households in poverty (who qualify for reduced-price school lunches) score 27 points lower than those who don’t come from poverty.

Reading is the key to everything. Teaching children to read is a fundamental moral obligation of the society. That 27 percent are at serious risk of crippling illiteracy is an outrageous scandal.

This is a bleak picture for an old Democrat. Face it, the schools are not run by Republican oligarchs in top hats and spats but by perfectly nice, caring, sharing people.

Nice people are failing these kids, but when they are called on it, they get very huffy.

There is much evidence that teaching phonics really works, especially with kids with learning disabilities, a growing constituency. But because phonics is associated with behaviorism and with conservatives, and because the Current Occupant has spoken on the subject, my fellow liberals are opposed.

Liberal dogma says that each child is inherently gifted and will read if only he is read to. This was true of my grandson; it is demonstrably not true of many kids. The No Child Left Behind initiative has plenty of flaws, but the Democrats who are trashing it should take another look at the Reading First program. It is morally disgusting if Democrats throw out Republican programs that are good for children.

Grown-ups who stick with dogma even though it condemns children to second-class lives should be put on buses and sent to North Dakota to hoe wheat for a year.
In Wisconsin, a blow was struck against liberal education dogma when the legislature was forced to move on saving virtual schools from a judicial guillotine. Two sisters wrote an op-ed piece describing taking on WEAC at the state capitol:
After a lawsuit by the Wisconsin teacher's union (Wisconsin Education Association Council) threatened to take away our school, we wanted the law changed to be certain that virtual education is an option in Wisconsin. There currently are 12 virtual schools in Wisconsin and more than 3,000 Wisconsin children who attend them.

The rally was in support of a new law or bill to protect an innovative type of public school -- virtual school. This type of school is a pioneering innovation that has the possibility to advance our state's national leadership position in education.

More than 1,100 students and their family members from around the state attended the rally. Most students called on their senators and representatives and told them why virtual schools are important and why they need to keep going. It was the first time we ever felt as though we were able to have a say in government. Now we really know what our history books mean when they talk about "democracy in action."

Before meeting the rally bus in Plover, we drove for an hour with our parents, our younger sister and the Routiers, another Marshfield virtual school family. The rest of the two-hour journey to Madison was fun and exciting because we were eager to take part in the rally and meet our legislators. The weather was perfect for an outdoor rally. Even though it was in the middle of January, we were warmed by the bright sunshine and by the energy of the crowd around us. We held out our signs and posters to people on the street while walking to the Capitol from our rally starting point.

The most exciting thing was actually being a part of the democratic process. We looked up and could see people who work in the Capitol building looking out the windows. There was a sea of people on the Capitol steps mightily shouting "Save our schools!" while proudly holding their signs high in the air. We learned that it was very unusual for so many people to turn out for a rally, especially since it had been organized in less than one week's time. The cheering crowd must have made quite an impression on those watching us from the windows.
The two sisters are even thinking of becoming legislators themselves someday. WEAC must hate to read things like that.

Meanwhile, Jessica McBride took exception to being called "negative" by Waukesha Forward:
Supposedly, it’s going to be impossible to find a replacement for Superintendent Schmidt (yes, despite the aforementioned $151,982 salary).

We’ll never get a superintendent, apparently, because Waukesha has a "venomous political climate," and the news media has portrayed the school district in a "bad light." This is according to Miles Turner, executive director for the Wisconsin Association of School District Administrators.

Turner also told The Freeman that Waukesha has an "extremely negative political climate."

In other words, there are a bunch of conservatives in Waukesha County. The county has a newspaper that actually lets them write columns.

This reminds me of Democrats who say: "That election-stealing idiot war criminal George Bush is really divisive."

Waukesha Forward, a group that formed to push for a referendum to get our tax money for operational costs, also went after me and Freeman columnists Mark Belling and James Wigderson recently, calling us the "shrill voices of negativism and division." They stated that we are "the problem."

At least they didn’t call us nattering nabobs of negativism.
For the record, I am not shrill. I'm not divisive, I'm a unifier. I am the steady drumbeat of negativism until everyone agrees with me.