Friday, January 27, 2006

Intelligent Design -- Liberal Style

I've finally figured it out...

... The Liberals actually believe in Intelligent Design while Conservatives believe in evolution. Sounds backwards, right? But hear me out:

A key characteristic of Conservative thought is that there should be minimal interference from government, allowing individuals to seek their own potential, with the opportunity to both excel and fail. This is exactly the way natural selection, or evolution if your prefer, works.

On the other hand, Liberals feel that the economic system needs to be managed and controlled. In their opinion, a purely market-driven, free-choice economy will fail to invest in the "right" things, therefore the government has a responsibility to substitute its will upon the public. In other words, Liberals don't really believe in allowing natural selection to take place without outside influence. They believe in Intelligent Design alright, and furthermore believe they play the role of the Designer.

I entered into this line of thinking while shaking my head at our Governor's announcement that starting with the high school Class of 2011, students in Ohio would have to show proficiency in Algebra 2, Chemistry and Physics in addition to all the current standards.

The public education system in this country is one of the greatest examples of liberal thinking -- the government knows what's best for everyone. The government mandates the existence of public schools, requires taxes to be paid to support them, and sets standards for student proficiency.

Meanwhile our economy is a train wreck in progress. The Governor's pronouncement is a bad idea because it will take resources away from the brightest students and redirect it to students who have neither the aptitude or desire to learn about math, chemistry, and physics.

He cites the increasing global competition for labor, and says that by having better trained high school graduates in Ohio, our state will be able to compete for new jobs more successfully. He forgets that the problem isn't that our workers are undereducated compared to other countries. In fact, the probability is that the skills of our workers versus those in other regions of the US and other countries compare favorably. The issue is that our cost of labor is much higher than the rest of the world. That is the legacy of 100 years of unions and government expansion, not a problem with how much education our residents acquire in high school. If you are going to add any subject matter to the high school curriculum, how about Economics?

The governor's plan will be expensive. It will cause either an incremental funding load to pay for the additional teachers required to teach everyone these subjects, or it will take away resources from "optional" programs in the school systems (e.g. programs for gifted students). He may be a Republican, but he's thinking like a Democrat in this case. I'm glad he's out of office this year.

If we want to fix our schools, we need to allow the kids and parents to have a choice where they go to school. I'm okay with a national policy which says every kid should have a chance to go to school, and would support vouchers as a way to make sure every kid has the money to do so. Schools that deliver the results the customer wants (ie - the parents & students) will attract kids and money, and those who fail to deliver will starve and die. Kids who have aptitude and desire will seek out the schools that will actually give them an education in their chosen field. The rest can be trained in a trade, or join the military, or be free to starve to death. America is the land of opportunity, not the land of guarantees.

Liberals: you support evolution -- this is how it works. Quit playing Intelligent Designer.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

E=mc2 for everyone

From the Columbus Dispatch, January 26, 2006:
To better prepare Ohio’s high-school
graduates for college or work, Gov. Bob Taft proposed a bold new plan yesterday
during his final State of the State address that would require all students to
take more math, science and foreign-language courses.

Starting with students who graduate in 2011, a new core set of courses
would be required, including Algebra 2, physics and chemistry.

The new requirements would apply to all high-school students whether
they plan to attend college or not, although parents could sign a waiver opting
out of the courses and accepting the consequences.
For example, students
opting out wouldn’t be able to attend a state university under Taft’s

Bad idea Governor.

I'm okay with the notion that there is are a core set of subjects in which every high school graduate should be able to demostrate proficiency. But I don't see the sense of including Algebra 2, Physics and Chemistry in that set. Other nations take a more pragmatic view of school: sort the kids out by skill, potential and motivation before they get to high school. Some will go to schools which focus on science and mathematics. Others go to arts academies. Some go to learn a skilled trade.

The countries recognize that resources aren't limitless, and that an effort to raise the knowledge level for all students takes away resources from that fraction that can really make a difference. Our country thrived when it was contribute or starve. Only now are we seeing the harm of expending ever-increasing resources on protecting the weakest in our society -- creating a tax burden drag and preventing resources from being used to nurture our most promising young people.

Another thing most of those countries have -- compulsary military service. Most serve as enlisted personnel where they learn a skill, then those who wish can attend college. Some will attend college first, deferring their service until they graduate, and then serve as officers. Rich or poor, everyone serves -- notice that Prince William, the future King of England, is just beginning his military service.

You can't make Ohio a better place for business with this approach. Ohio was an economic powerhouse in the past century because: a) heavy industry grew around the Great Lakes; and, b) immigrant labor was cheap. Today, the major economic regions of the US are on the coasts -- east, west and south -- because state governments and unions in the Great Lakes region got greedy and ran industry out.

Major corporations have very little geographic or national loyalty. They move their production facilities to wherever their total costs are minimized. That includes cost of raw materials (including transportation), production labor costs, tax burden, and the cost of distribution. Once upon a time that meant the Great Lakes. Today it means Asia.

We've made it very hard for heavy industry to survive in the US. If we are going to participate in a global economy, then the steel workers in Cleveland are going to have to work for the same wages as the steelworkers in China. The information industry workers in Columbus are going to need to compete with the talented folks in India. The auto workers in Toledo need to work for the same wages as their opposite numbers in Korea. And the state government needs to get out of the entitlement business.

In which class will you teach our kids that they'll never have it as good as their grandparents? That's a new thing in the history of America...

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Wow -- this is what a charter school should be

The following was announced today in the Columbus Dispatch. For readers outside our community, Battelle Memorial Institute is one of the largest and most respected private research organizations in the country. Some of the more famous examples of their work: a) invented xerographic photocopying, which they spun off as a little company called Xerox; b) the candy coating on M&Ms; c) key technologies required for the Manhattan Project in WWII (they still operate the DOE Labs in Hanford WA); d) the lifting mechanism installed in the Glomar Explorer used to retrieve a sunken Soviet submarine. The list is massive. The Ohio State University is the second largest university in the country (behind the University of Texas), and it operates a vast research program. Battelle and Ohio State have been closely linked for years, and the two campuses are side by side.

I pray this experiment will be overwhelmingly successful, encouraging other pairings of universities and successful businesses to operate schools for science, leadership, public service, business and a myriad of other fields. It's high time American businesses quit sitting back and hoping our failing pubilc schools would produce their future leaders and contributors!

From the Columbus Dispatch: 18 Jan 2006:

A new high school? Big deal.

But this high school has the backing of Battelle and Ohio State University, behemoths that will put muscle behind its math and science focus. It will be small, free and open to students in the 16 Franklin County public school districts.

And there’s nothing like it in Ohio, and few if any comparisons in the country.

The Metro School will open this fall to ninth-graders and add a grade each of the next three years. Only 100 students will be admitted in each grade.

"It’s an unprecedented partnership," said Brad Mitchell, CEO of the Educational Council, a consortium of the Franklin County school districts. "It’s a unique public-private partnership. This will help make high school more relevant, successful, rigorous."

Education leaders nationally and in Ohio have said schools need to produce more students skilled in science, technology, engineering and math — the socalled STEM disciplines, which are viewed as being important job-generating fields. "In the 21 st century, science, technology, engineering and mathematics are too important" to ignore in schools, said Ohio Department of Education spokesman J.C. Benton. More schools with similar focuses are in the pipeline, he said. The partnership, which will be officially announced today, along with the Metro School’s location, goes beyond the ties many schools have with private business — tutoring and mentoring. The university and Battelle — together, worth billions of dollars — will maintain an intimate relationship with the school and its students.

In addition to the $1.2 million donated by Ohio State for building leases, university faculty members will be involved in training teachers at the school. It’ll be a learning lab of sorts, testing new methods of teaching math and science.

Battelle, a science and technology company based in Columbus, donated more than $500,000 for startup costs and also will help students discover math, science and engineering. "By investing in this new school, we’re investing in the future of our community," said Carl F. Kohrt, president
and CEO of Battelle. Here’s how the school is planned to work: Slots will be allotted to each district based on its size. Columbus Public Schools, with almost 60,000 students, would get the most slots at about 140. Students interested in college hoping for a nontraditional high-school experience may
apply, write a letter of interest and interview with school staff. The staff will select the "best fits," then allow the school district to select from the list of candidates. Metro School students won’t all be the best and brightest, officials say, but a mix of different abilities.

If students want football, band or drama, they’ll get it at their home high schools. "We’re looking for a student who is motivated, wants to go to college, but needs a little extra help," Mitchell said. "Every district has students like this, and a big, comprehensive high school can only do so much."
There will be diversity requirements. Teachers, who haven’t been hired yet, will come from the
school districts. They won’t stay at the school permanently but will learn new teaching methods there and take those methods back to their home schools and pass them on to other educators. State funding will follow the students who attend the Metro School — much like it does when students leave districts for charter schools — but additional costs will be funded through grants and support from the university and Battelle. In time, the school hopes to be self-sufficient. Officials yesterday wouldn’t say how much it will cost to run.

Students’ ninth- and 10 th-grade years will be spent doing required coursework and preparing for the Ohio Graduation Test, which sophomores take. Upperclassmen will spend most of their time getting work and internship experience. "The school’s unique academic focus and learning opportunities
will help put Columbus and the state of Ohio at the cutting edge, enhancing math
and science education for students and educators alike," said Ohio State President Karen A. Holbrook. The school will be led by Marcy Raymond, a former Reynoldsburg High School administrator who has school-reform experience, said Reynoldsburg Superintendent Richard Ross. School districts say they’re pleased to have another option for kids with interest in math and science. There
are few local options now, save Horizon Science Academy, a charter school. "Reynoldsburg is always positive about choices for kids and families," Ross said. "We see this as another opportunity for our kids and parents to choose."

The Metro School also is designed to make traditional public schools more competitive with charter schools and private schools, which will be eligible this fall for students using state tuition vouchers.
"We’re living in an education market where public schools have to be as adept and responsive as
they’ve ever been. We want to make public education in Franklin County the first and best choice," Mitchell said.

Monday, January 16, 2006

An interesting survey

I was called to participate in a survey yesterday. While my inclination is to say 'No thanks' and hang up when I get one of these calls, this one was about the Hilliard City Schools - a subject on which I have passionate opinions. The questions were interesting, and I found myself regretting that the only acceptable answers were in the form 'mostly agree,' 'disagee,' etc. I wanted to say much more.

Good thing I have a blog -- so here goes:

"What is the single largest problem facing Hilliard City Schools?"

I answered that I felt it is unbalanced residential versus commercial development. In the current funding structure, one-third of the money comes from residential property taxes, one-third from commercial property taxes, and one-third from state income taxes. When a new home is built, there is on average one new kid added to the student population. The property tax revenue from that house contributes one third of the cost of educating the new kid, and the income taxes paid by the parents should kick in another third. However, there is no new commercial tax revenue just because a new house is built. So where does that missing third come from? Well, the state surely isn't covering it, at least in the suburban districts. If anything, the state share is going down. So that means that the missing third must be covered by increased millage, which affects current residents and current businesses alike. EVERY TIME A NEW HOUSE IS BUILT, THE CURRENT RESIDENTS ARE SUBSIDIZING THE INCREMENTAL COST OF EDUCATION THAT NEW HOUSE CAUSES.

"Now that the Environmentally Sensitive Conservation District (ESCD) has been opened for the construction of a school, is that where a third high school should be built?"

Absolutely not. There are plenty of places within the school district where another high/middle school campus can be built without having to invade the ESCD. The real problem is that these places are outside the current and potential boundaries of the City of Hilliard. The Hilliard City School District is the #1 payer of income taxes in the City of Hilliard, and the city administration wants very much for any additional high schools to be within the city limits. But half of the kids in our district live in other municipalities, notably the City of Columbus. Why not build the high school in an area which is in the southern part of the district, but not in the City of Hilliard? The other issue is that there are developers who are clamoring to get their hands on the land in the ESCD. If we allow the construction of a high school within the ESCD, including all the utility infrastructure required, how much further is the leap to allow residential construction? Not much!

"What do I think about Board Member [fill in the blank]?"

I was surprised this question was even asked, and wonder if when the survey results are published, these items will be included? Many of these folks have been my friends for several years, so my responses were favorable.

"What do I think about the Superintendent?"

Complex situation. As an educator, I hold Dale McVey in very high regard. As an administrator, he seems to be very good. However, as a strategic thinker he seems to be weak. I'd prefer to think that than believe he is allowing himself to be influenced by the wrong people.

"What do I think about Mayor Don Schoenhardt?"

Don't trust him. He seems to be unwilling to take responsibility for the damage unbalanced residential vs commercial development is having on both the city and the school district. The opening of the ESCD for residential development is a bad thing unless he finds a way to bring a significant amount of commercial development in at the same time. Columbus, Dublin, Worthington, New Albany, and Gahanna all seem to understand this, and have already attracted most of the commercial tenants in our metro area. How can Hilliard now attract commercial entities to the city without offering tax incentives (e.g. Tax Increment Financing schemes) that bring no benefit to the schools or the whole of the city?

At the end, the million dollar question was asked: Would I vote for an $80 million levy if it were placed on the ballot in May? Understanding that I have voted in favor of every single levy placed before since we moved to the Hilliard School district 28 years ago, my answer was "no." It feels like the only vote I have to stop this irresponsible development is to make the schools unattractive for additional residents. Shame on our community leaders for allowing this to be the case.

[UPDATE: March 14, 2006]

It turns out that the school officials have no intention of publishing the results of this survey. Their claim was that the survey was paid for by the political committee which is supporting the levy issue, and therefore the results are their confidential property. I'm going to see what I can do to get the results declared to be a public document, because the elected school officials may have been given the opportunity to read them and use them in their decision making.

... Oh, and I voted in favor of the levy once again.