Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Terry Porter for the Blazers

It was May 13th that I first blogged that Terry Porter should be the next Blazers coach. I'm looking a bit clairvoyant.

At the time, Porter's position at Milwaukie was secure. He took a talentless team to the playoffs in his first year, way beyond expectations. His second year was not so good, but he's go the weakest roster in the NBA. The Bucks even told him they were going to renew his contract.

Four days later, after the Bucks got the first draft pick in the lottery, they went back on their commitment to Porter. Now he's a free agent.

Portland should hire him. It's a no brainer.

There's even a web site devoted to getting Terry back here where he belongs.

This is a slam dunk. Really.

What are the Blazer's biggest problems? They are losing fans. The people of Portland no longer love them. Too many of their players were of sketchy character and the teams in recent years have been chronic underachievers.

Porter is the antidote to all of these problems.

He personifies the last Blazer team that Portland truly loved. His personal character is beyond reproach. He's a devoted family man. He can obviously coach at the NBA level.

If the Blazers want the people of Portland to give them another chance, Terry Porter is the answer.

This is really simple.

Thursday, June 23, 2005

Cultural Competency in Math Curriculum

I've been away for a week. While I was out, noted education researcher and author Diane Ravitch published the article below in the Wall Street Journal.

Read it to understand the invasiveness of the cultural competency movement. They seek to politicize every aspect of schooling and morph it into an opportunity to indoctrinate children in their political agenda.


Wall Street JournalJune 20, 2005; Page A14

It seems our math educators no longer believe in the beauty and power of the principles of mathematics. They are continually in search of a fix that will make it easy, relevant, fun, and even politically relevant. In the early 1990s, the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics issued standards that disparaged basic skills like addition, subtraction, multiplication and division, since all of these could be easily performed on a calculator. The council preferred real life problem solving, using everyday situations. Attempts to solve problems without basic skills caused some critics, especially professional mathematicians, to deride the "new, new math" as "rainforest algebra."

In a comparison of a 1973 algebra textbook and a 1998 "contemporary mathematics" textbook, Williamson Evers and Paul Clopton found a dramatic change in topics. In the 1973 book, for example, the index for the letter "F" included "factors, factoring, fallacies, finite decimal, finite set, formulas, fractions, and functions." In the 1998 book, the index listed "families (in poverty data), fast food nutrition data, fat in fast food, feasibility study, feeding tours, ferris wheel, fish, fishing, flags, flight, floor plan, flower beds, food, football, Ford Mustang, franchises, and fund-raising carnival."

Those were the days of innocent dumbing-down. Now mathematics is being nudged into a specifically political direction by educators who call themselves "critical theorists." They advocate using mathematics as a tool to advance social justice. Social justice math relies on political and cultural relevance to guide math instruction. One of its precepts is "ethnomathematics," that is, the belief that different cultures have evolved different ways of using mathematics, and that students will learn best if taught in the ways that relate to their ancestral culture. From this perspective, traditional mathematics -- the mathematics taught in universities around the world -- is the property of Western Civilization and is inexorably linked with the values of the oppressors and conquerors. The culturally attuned teacher will learn about the counting system of the ancient Mayans, ancient Africans, Papua New Guineans, and other "non-mainstream" cultures.

Partisans of social justice mathematics advocate an explicitly political agenda in the classroom. A new textbook, "Rethinking Mathematics: Teaching Social Justice by the Numbers," shows how problem solving, ethnomathematics and political action can be merged. Among its topics are: "Sweatshop Accounting," with units on poverty, globalization, and the unequal distribution of wealth. Another topic, drawn directly from ethnomathematics, is "Chicanos Have Math in Their Blood." Others include "The Transnational Capital Auction," "Multicultural Math," and "Home Buying While Brown or Black." Units of study include racial profiling, the war in Iraq, corporate control of the media, and environmental racism. The theory behind the book is that "teaching math in a neutral manner is not possible." Teachers are supposed to vary the teaching of mathematics in relation to their students' race, gender, ethnicity, and community.

This fusion of political correctness and relevance may be the next big thing to rock mathematics education, appealing as it does to political activists and to ethnic chauvinists.

It seems terribly old-fashioned to point out that the countries that regularly beat our students in international tests of mathematics do not use the subject to steer students into political action. They teach them instead that mathematics is a universal language that is as relevant and meaningful in Tokyo as it is in Paris, Nairobi and Chicago. The students who learn this universal language well will be the builders and shapers of technology in the 21st century. The students in American classes who fall prey to the political designs of their teachers and professors will not.

Ms. Ravitch is a historian of education at New York University, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, and a member of the Koret Task Force at the Hoover Institution.

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

CIM/CAM Bill Still Has Life

The Associated Press released a story today saying that my CIM repeal bill, HB 3162, once presumed dead on arrival in the senate, just might have a heartbeat after all.

Sen. Vicki Walker has crafted some amendments to the bill, which will be released on Thursday. She is trying to get clearance from Democrat leadership for her changes.

Will her version of the bill do everything I would hope? Of course not. In fact, I cannot say for sure precisely what parts of her amendments will get the nod from Senate Democrat leadership.

But I can say this: the fact that she is even trying to draft amendments to the bill in order to deal with Oregon's deeply flawed testing system when few in her caucus are pushing her to take on this issue says a lot about her. According to the AP article, she was inclined to just bury the bill at first.

But after looking into the issue, reading the many emails she received, and talking with people involved, she concluded that something should be done. This speaks volumes about her. It is not just politics. She's trying to do what she thinks is right after considering the arguments from both sides.

Look - I might hate what the Senate D's end up deciding is acceptable for her to pursue. I might even end up opposing what comes out of the Senate. But I can't for one second claim that Sen. Vicki Walker didn't in good faith consider the arguments we made for doing something about this failed reform, and actually change her own initial opinion on the issue in some significant respects.

I probably agree with Sen. Walker on issues about 10% of the time. But I wish 10% of elected officials - on either side of the aisle - had her integrity.

Stucky Withdraws from Governor Race, Supports Saxton

The press release announcing Todd Stucky's withdrawal from the race is pasted below.

You heard it here first! I was supporting Todd early on, because he was the only person in the race who seemed to understand wealth creation and the structural reforms needed in Oregon's executive branch to bring it about.

Todd has withdrawn and thrown his support to Ron Saxton, which can only mean that he is satisfied that Ron will be the standard-bearer for the issues Todd was running to bring to the race.

Does this mean I'll be supporting Ron too? Not yet decided. I am encouraged by his bold talk on PERS. We desperately need someone to take the lead from Schwartzenegger in California and take on the preofessional unions here in Oregon.

Is Saxton the reformer?

Here's the PR from Stucky:

For Immediate Release Contact: Felix Schein
Office: 503-224-2006
Mobile: 971-221-7170

Ron Saxton and Todd Stucky Join Forces in 2006 Governors Race

June 14th, 2005 – Portland, OR – Ron Saxton secured the endorsement of gubernatorial candidate Todd Stucky on Tuesday, after Stucky announced he was ending his exploration of a 2006 gubernatorial campaign to allow Republican voters a clear choice between leading candidates Saxton and Kevin Mannix.

Stucky, a successful Portland business owner and longtime Republican benefactor, announced his candidacy for the Republican nomination for Governor in March and quickly established himself as a fiscal conservative intent on reinvigorating Oregon’s economy and cutting the cost of government in order to invest in schools.

Said Stucky of Saxton, “Ron shares my concerns about Oregon’s Public Employee Retirement System and our struggling schools, and more than any other candidate, he shares my passion for creating jobs and improving our statewide economy. As a fiscal conservative, Ron will provide the fresh leadership our state needs to compete in the global marketplace, and he will improve the quality of the services our government delivers.”

“I am honored that Todd has decided to support and play an active advisory and fundraising role in my campaign” said Saxton of Stucky’s endorsement. “Todd and I have been friends for many years and his decision to step aside and support me is a significant step in our effort to build a campaign to defeat Governor Kulongoski.”


Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Fingernails on the Chalkboard

I've been watching the Chalkboard Project take shape for some time now.

I'll admit right up front that I was skeptical from the beginning. The structure of the project seemed to me to pre-ordain that it would be co-opted by the education establishment, and that they would successfully water down any true reform proposals that came out of the project, and turn the bulk of its efforts into yet another push for more money for schools.

It's still pretty early. Most of the reform proposals have yet to take shape, but I think it is fair to say, from the direction it has taken in the last year or so, that my initial skepticism was well-founded.

My first concern about Chalkboard has to do with the organizing principles of the project. In my view any reform effort has to be based on sound principles. If they are flawed, then the effort simply builds on a structurally unsound foundation.

For instance, an example of a structurally flawed reform effort is the so-called "Quality Education Model," which was then-Speaker Lynn Lundquist's idea to have experts decide the optimal school model, then figure out how much it would cost to make every school in Oregon look like the model.

This idea is structurally bankrupt in many ways. First, there IS no "optimal school model." To suggest that there is implicitly assumes that the existing structure is the correct structure, and all we need to do is add inputs until we have it optimized. Things such as collective bargaining, school district monopolies, seniority pay scales, teacher licensure - all are assumed as an irrevocable part of the system, and continue to exist in the "Quality Education Model."

Second, the QEM is completely an "input model." They make the claim that funding schools to the level called for in the QEM will result in 90% of students reaching standards, but they offer no (none, zero, zip, nada) evidence to back up this claim.

Third, who is in charge of determining the optimal model? That is right - representatives from the special interest groups whose incentive is to make sure that whatever group they represent is serviced by the end product. And that is exactly what happened. The QEM boldly proposed such threatening reforms as lowering class sizes, making sure there were librarians and music teachers and counselors in every school, and that sort of thing.

So, the QEM is not a reform project. It is a special interest wish list that perpetuates, rather than seeks to change, the status quo.

So, the question is: How about Chalkboard? Will it have the same fate?

Unlike the QEM, which from start to finish was nothing more than a hack politician's sop to the teachers unions and other education status quo protectionist groups, I think the people involved in Chalkboard are seriously trying to come up with reform proposals that will improve Oregon's schools.

Their problem, in my view, is one of organizing principles. Chalkboard's organizing principle is that a public outreach effort that traverses the state asking people what they want from their schools and how schools should be reformed, will result in a basket of proposals that will be coherent, workable, and effective.

I remain skeptical. First, ask ten people what they want from the schools and you'll get twenty different answers. Ask ten people what schools should do differently, and you'll get a hundred answers.

I don't see how using public opinions as the basis for determining a basket of reform proposals will result in anything other than a cacophony of voices. This may sound elitist, but as I told Sue Hildick when we met to discuss the project, and I still think it applies: I don't believe in the collective wisdom of individual ignorance.

Not that every individual who has an opinion about what schools can and should do is ignorant, but everyone does have an opinion, and just having an opinion doesn't mean that it is correct, valid, or even based in fact. So why would we pretend that simply asking everybody what they think will result in some better understanding of truth?

Second, this kind of process of public input always runs the risk of being dominated by the same old interest groups who run the place already. Who has the most incentive to show up at the public forums that Chalkboard held all over the state? Those people with an economic stake in the outcome, that is who. Oh sure, you'll get the more motivated parents, and the activist citizens here and there, but their participation I am certain paled in comparison to the union, who can send out a memo to hundreds of teachers.

So, Chalkboard holds its public forums and hears hundreds, if not thousands, of ideas, proposals, and suggestions, many of which are certainly contradictory. How exactly does it take all this and in an unbiased manner translate it into a basket of coherent policy proposals?

The truth is, it can't be done. And that is the central flaw in Chalkboard. Chalkboard states that it is an independent and unbiased voice, simply an organ through which the people of Oregon can get their voices heard and the reforms they want from the schools.

But the fact is that because what they will hear in their forums is a Tower of Babel, it is up to Chalkboard to pick and choose from what they hear, and bundle it into their reform package.

Which means they rely upon their own judgment as to which reforms are valid and which are not. Which of course necessarily means that whoever makes the call uses their own opinions, views and biases to decide. Which means that they aren't, after all, objective vessels for the public to make its wishes known.

Let me give an example. A friend of mine attended one of the forums, where Chalkboard presented some of the results from its surveys in a slide show. All the usual stuff was in the show - the need for more money, lower class sizes, more discipline, less waste, etc.

My friend asked a question: "Didn't you hear anything about CIM and CAM in your surveys?"

Sue Hildick answered that yes, they had heard quite a bit about how bad CIM and CAM were. But there was nothing in the slide show even mentioning it. They had apparently chosen to exclude it from their presentation of results. Why?

Actually the question of why is not all that important. What is important is that the fact that they did exclude it proves the point that Chalkboard is not (and cannot be) a neutral vessel through which Oregonians get their voices heard. They make their own judgment calls all the time on what they say the major issues are, and what the best reform suggestions are, and those judgments are based every bit as much on political factors as any other political organization's.

And that is the central flaw. Chalkboard pretends that it is neutral, but that is impossible. As soon as one of their reforms threatens an interest group, they are now taking a side. It cannot be avoided, and to pretend otherwise damages their own credibility because most people know better.

Case in point: just yesterday Chalkboard revealed a few of their "common sense" reforms. Top on the list is a reduction in class sizes for kindergarten and first grade classrooms down to 20 kids per class, which they claim will cost $40 million. (The $40 million is just the salaries for the new teachers that we would need. They fail to calculate the capital cost of the new classroom space this would require, which would be in the neighborhood of $175 million.)

But the larger point is: how did they decide that class size reduction was the direction we should go? Was it based on a careful review of the research about the cost effectiveness of class size reduction as a reform? It couldn't have been, because the research on class size pretty much shows that it is one of the most expensive ways to get increases in academic achievement, and unless you get down to about 14 kids per class, the effects are very small indeed.

But reducing class size is very popular with the unions, because it means more teachers (and therefore more dues.) Offering up class size reduction as a reform might even get the unions to go along with some other proposal that they don't like very much, such as merit pay or making it easier to fire bad teachers. So, as I said, it is no doubt political considerations that weigh heavily in which reforms become part of the package. Fine, but don't pretend otherwise.

I have seen this movie before. The status quo is very good at protecting themselves. Here's how it plays out: They get theirs up front, and the part they don't like is on the come, and they get to decide how and when it comes.

In Chalkboard, the interest groups got their class size proposal up front. It was the only significant element of the just-announced "common-sense reform" package.

Chalkboard also appointed a panel to "formulate[e] new standards for how to license teachers and principals, how to ensure their on-the-job training is effective and how to make it easier to get weak teachers to improve or be fired.

This is the distasteful pill the establishment has to figure out how to regurgitate. Note that they get the class size proposal up front, but the "new standards" are on the come. And who gets to decide on the standards? Why they themselves, of course! Chalkboard appointed "union leaders, teachers, principals and college of education leaders" on the panel.

The other big push by Chalkboard is to figure out how to get more money for K-12 education. Sue Hildick apparently has completely bought in to the notion that more money will fix the school spending problem. From the Oregonian story:

"More money is crucial to remake Oregon schools into among the best in the nation -- something Oregonians overwhelmingly say they want, she says."

This is disappointing, because the simple fact is that there is no way Oregon can allocate enough money to K-12 in order to fully fund its cost structure, which has about a 6% year over year increase in per-student costs. I personally explained this reality to the Board of the Chalkboard Project when I showed them a slide show I had prepared on the school funding issue back in August of 2003.

I've summaized the main points of the slide show in my May 12th post. If the state tried to give enough to K-12 to fully fund its cost structure, then K-12 would consume more than the entire general fund by the 2013-15 biennium.

When I showed them the numbers, there was visible shock around the table. One of the board members literally put his forehead on the table, raised it slowly, shook his head and said "We were under the operating assumption that there was a revenue solution to the school funding problem. If what Rob is telling us is true, then there isn't."

He revealed by the statement what I figured was the case - that the "operating assumption" was that Chalkboard was all about getting more money to the schools. As if we need another school funding advocacy group.

But I hoped that the epiphany he apparently had would make the project reassess its role. Obviously it didn't.

So who has Chalkboard chosen to figu
re out what to do about school funding? Jim Scherzinger, former Superintendent of the fiscally insolvent Portland School District. Hard to imagine a less reform-minded person. If you were truly looking for reform, wouldn't you look for a reformer?

Once again, the status quo prevails by co-opting anything that smacks of reform. That is how the game is played. Chalkboard looks like just another well meaning dupe, no match for the education establishment which has played this game for decades.

Friday, June 03, 2005

Educationation vs. U. Oregon Diversity Office

It seems our friends at EducatioNation have struck a nerve at U. of O. in the office of diversity. His ridicule hit the mark, resulting in a rather funny e-mail exchange with Carla D. Gary, J.D.; Assistant Vice Provost; Office for Institutional Equity and Diversity.

First, ponder that title. Assistant Vice Provost. That must mean there is a Vice Provost and a Provost, and she is probably just ONE of the assistants to ONE of the vice provosts.

And there is an entire "Office" devoted to "Institutional Equity and Diversity." No doubt staffed with a gaggle of multiculturally correct goose-steppers. I wonder what these creatures spend their time doing? Oh, silly me - cooking up "Five year diversity plans!"

The exchange between EducatioNation and Ms. Gary is priceless.

Gotta go read it yourself.

The poor saps at UO don't have a chance. It's not fair for EducatioNation to engage in a battle of wits with an unarmed person.

Thursday, June 02, 2005

U of O's Conformity Plan

As if Oregon wasn't enough of a laughingstock, the University of Oregon is bringing national ridicule upon us at a feverish pace by pushing its "Five Year Diversity Plan Draft."

To read the plan is to fully appreciate the grip of the lefty looney tunes on our state's most prominent university. I won't give it the lampooning it so richly deserves, because other bloggers have done the job much better than I could ever hope to.

Educationation has composed a devastatingly funny critique of the plan and its crafters, and education blogger Kimberly Swigert has taken on the sweeping assumptions put forth in the Plan.

The Plan was obviously produced by folks of the same mindset as those who are cooking up the K-12 Cultural Competency Standards. It seems educators at every level K-20 won't be satisfied until they have completely politicized every aspect of publicly funded education.

Where, oh where are the grown ups?

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

PERS - What Ted Worry?

There's a story in today's Oregonian about a Republican dustup over PERS.

It seems that Republican governor candidate Ron Saxton got caught saying something interesting in BrainstormNW Magazine about how to fix the looming PERS disaster.

Kevin Mannix, never one to let pass an opportunity to score political points, tried to make Saxton look bad by attacking his suggestion as radical and scary. (Kevin didn't do it himself - he's the party chair. He wouldn't think of criticizing a candidate for governor - he's supposed to help Repubican candidates, not criticise their proposals. Jack Roberts delivered the broadside on Kevin's behalf, in a joint letter signed by him and a couple of former Republican politicians.)

In the Brainstorm piece, Saxton criticised the Oregon Supreme Court decision that threw out much of the PERS reforms passed in 2003, and suggested that the only way to fix the looming crisis might be to terminate all public employees, then hire them back under a new benefits package.

Roberts et al pointed out that this wouldn't exactly be legal, and said Saxton should be more responsible in his rhetoric.

Mannix, for his part, revealed his new collaborative side. His strategy to win the governorship? Oppose reform! His strategy to deal with PERS: "sit down in a positive way (with the unions) and talk about the long-term public good."

Yeah, that oughtta work. Public employee unions are famous for their unyielding commitment to the long term public good.

At least Saxton is facing the issue head on, and taking the heat.

This is exactly what is supposed to happen in a political campaign. Get in the ring and start swinging. Hash it out and see who has the best ideas. It's even OK to float some half baked ones - and let the voters decide.

One thing possibly taking shape from this early clash is that Saxton will run as the reformer, and Mannix as the defender of the status quo. It's a pretty odd situation.

But the Alfred E. Neumann prize has to go to Teddy Kulongoski. His spokesman, Peter Bragdon, said that there is no PERS problem and even if there is a problem that nothing can be done about it anyway, so nobody should talk about it anymore.

Well, OK that is my interpretation. Here's what the Oregonian wrote:

Peter Bragdon, Kulongoski's former chief of staff and now one of his top campaign advisers, said that he believes the 2003 reforms accomplished as much as can be done and that it would not be a big issue in the 2006 race.

Oh, really? The 2003 reforms - most of which were thrown out by the Supreme Court - is the best you can do? So we are supposed to sit by and watch while PERS costs skyrocket to 30% of payroll, and Teddy doesn't think this is going to be an issue when he runs for re-election?

They call this leadership?