Tuesday, March 31, 2009

The fault line they just won't cross

We had a very interesting meeting yesterday. It was also very revealing.

The meeting was between representatives of The Oregon Connections Academy (ORCA) and a sub-committee of the State Board of Education. The meeting was supposed to be a "negotiation" over the terms and conditions of a possible waiver that ORCA has requested from the State Board.

The waiver being sought is from a provision of the charter law that was intended to kill on-line charter schools, called the 50% provision. The Oregonian's new columnist explained the issue this Sunday in her column, and last week the Willamette Week made the teachers union the Rogue of the Week because of their part in trying to kill virtual charter schools.

I put the word "negotiation" in scare quotes because what transpired was not anything that resembled the give and take of a true negotiation. Our side laid out our proposal for the conditions we would accept for the waiver. (We would accept a cap on total enrollment, and we would allow the resident school district of the child to be able to deny the child's enrollment, as long as there were specific criteria for any denial, and as long as there was a route to appeal that denial at the State level.)

The State Board sub-committee listened to our proposal (which they had already had for weeks in writing) and then told us what they would and would not accept, which we are then free to take or leave.

Some negotiation. No give and take at all. No requirement that the State justify its position with any rational reason, or any chance for us to challenge the reasons they did give. Just "thank you for your proposal, we find most of it untenable, so if you want the waiver on our terms, then fine."

And the best part, where the fault line was exposed, was in the State's refusal to allow parents to choose the school for their children. The subcommittee said the school districts must be able to deny a child's enrollment in ORCA, and THERE WOULD BE NO APPEAL ALLOWED AT THE STATE LEVEL.

For three years we have heard from the State Board of Education how important school choice is, how they support virtual schools, etc. But when push comes to shove, they WILL NOT empower the parents over the district bureaucrats. They still want a bureaucrat's judgment to overrule the parent's judgment.

Sure, they think virtual schooling and charter schools are great. But they want the school district hegemony to remain intact. If thousands of students are denied access to the schools their parents want for them, well, that is just too bad. We have to protect the education establishment.

Very sad.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Spring break is over

My wife and I spent the week in Phoenix to watch my son play baseball games with his high school team on their annual spring break trip. Here are some thoughts that occurred to me on the trip, disconnected as they may be:

Phoenix is a town that seems to function reasonably well, despite the fact that it is ground zero for the mortgage/real estate bubble. Our games took us to every corner of the metro region, so I was able to get a good look at the local situation.

There were LOTS of new subdivisions with apparently vacant homes. We played a game in Goodyear, AZ, a town that looks as though it was created from scratch about three weeks ago. A great big school complex, with a baseball field next to a brand new subdivision. It was a night game, and when the sun went down, lots of the houses were dark. A telltale sign.

I was sitting next to a friend, another father on our team, who runs a large Portland based construction company. He said that Goodyear was "ground zero" of the mortgage collapse. He pointed to the subdivision, and said "Look at that - all those houses - sub-prime mortgages. No one could afford those houses but they got the loans anyway."

A strip mall nearby had a big banner flapping in the wind: "Free Rent!"

I like the city of Phoenix, because it represents everything that the Portland planning culture detests. It is car oriented, and they are serious about trying to get people moved where they want to go in the transportation method of choice: the automobile.

The prevailing attitude of the political class seems to be: "Hmmm, people will want to drive here, so let's build the road capacity to make it possible." This as opposed to Metro's attitude, which is: "How do WE, the planners, want people to get around? Let's make it uncomfortable to do it any other way."

Spring break in Phoenix means spring training baseball. We saw the Mariners play the Dodgers in the new Dodgers/White Sox facility, Camelback Ranch Stadium. Great place to watch a game. We saw Manny Ramirez hit a bomb. Spring training games are more fun to watch than regular season games, because the environment is so much more intimate and relaxed. Less hassle getting in and out, and much easier to be close to the ball field.

I also got a chance to play golf. My good buddy former Blazer Terry Porter recently joined the ranks of the "unemployed," and he treated me to a round at his club, the Arizona Country Club. Terrific golf course. Terry's golf game has come a long way since the days I played with him in the mid 1990's when he lived here. Give a world class athlete the time to develop an athletic skill like golf, especially a guy like Terry, who is methodical and serious in his approach - and he's going to get good.

Terry is now about a 6 or 7 handicap. He shot a 78 on this pretty darn tough course. I shot, well, higher. It was my first round of the year, in my defense. I did have more birdies than him, though!

So spring break is over, and that means:
1) the legislative session will be in full bloom. About halfway over, and so things that are going to move will start moving. I'll be fighting the OEA's plans to shut down virtual charter schooling in Oregon, and that battle is just getting heated up. Hearings start on April Fools Day.

2) The high school baseball regular season starts this week. It is my boy's last time through. I can hardly believe he is a senior. So he has already had his "last first game of the year," and now comes his "last first league game of the year," and then his "last first playoff game of the year."

In just a few short weeks he will play his last last baseball game of his high school career. I am in absolutely no hurry to watch that game.

And then he will move on. And move out. Summer baseball this summer, and then off to Duke to play baseball in the ACC, the nation's toughest baseball conference. (Sorry PAC-10, it is true. Look at the data.)

This will be his last summer at home. In Division 1 college baseball, the players are assigned a summer baseball team to play for, in a woodbat league somewhere in the country. It is not going to be easy not getting to see him play every game.

But, that is life. Spring break is over!

Monday, March 16, 2009

Oregon School Administrators: keep kids out of public schools!

The Confederation of Oregon School Administrators (COSA) is one of the "big three" education establishment groups in Oregon. Its membership consists of, as its name would suggest, public school principals and superintendents. They, along with the teachers union (OEA) and the school boards association (OSBA) are very influential in Salem when the legislature takes up matters of school policy.

In a recent article in the Woodburn Independent, a COSA official actually argued that it is a bad thing to bring more kids into Oregon public schools! What a great advocate for public schools COSA is!

Here is the context: COSA has sponsored a bill to shut down the Oregon Connections Academy(ORCA) which is the largest public school in the state, serving 2650 students through an on-line curriculum. The bill is SB767, and it would make it illegal for an elementary aged student to attend ORCA, and would also allow school districts to deny any other child the right to attend the school.

The bill is a full frontal assault on this very successful charter school, brought to your by Oregon's education establishment, who always are on the march for educational excellence.

In the article in the Woodburn newspaper, Craig Hawkins of COSA explained why they want to shut down the school:

"Online schools add students, such as homeschool students, to the overall (public school) student population in Oregon, resulting in thinner per-student slices of the already-not-big-enough school funding pie."

In other words, it's a bad thing bring more kids into the public schools. I wonder if Hawkins would take the next logical step and advocate for REMOVING kids from the public school system in order to bring about "fatter per-student slices" for the remaining kids?

Hawkins also blatantly lied about the per-student funding situation for ORCA, and the newspaper not only caught the lie but pointed it out!

"Craig Hawkins of the Confederation of Oregon School Administrators, one of the organizations backing SB 767, said the per-student funding for virtual and brick-and-mortar schools is "essentially the same."

The reporter knew this was wrong, and correctly pointed out that ORCA spends $4,000 less per student than the statewide average of "brick & mortar" schools. Basically, Hawkins lie was let sit there all alone for everyone to see.

If only we could get this kind of actual reporting out of The Funny Paper once in awhile!

I hope this bill, backed as it is by COSA, the OEA, the other school employee union the OSEA, and a slew of Democrat legislators will once and for all expose the lie that these people and groups have as their top priority the education of our state's kids.

Do they care about education? Sure, but it definitely isn't their top priority. Their top priority is making sure the school system works for the ADULTS. Anything that threatens them, the kids get sold down the river, and fast.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Krauthammer on Obama's stem cell order

Charles Krauthammer is, in my view, one of the most astute commentators in the country. He is deeply thoughtful and reasoned, and constantly makes points and looks at things from an angle that I learn from.

He wrote a typically insightful column on Obama's stem cell executive order.
In case you think that this is just another right winger hyperventilating on the pro-life issue, think again. Krauthammer is pro-choice, and he is also in favor of allowing embryonic stem cell research on spare fertility clinic embryos.

But the point Krauthammer makes is that in Obama's speech about his executive order, he revealed a lack of seriousness, indeed an utter hypocrisy, about the exercise of drawing moral lines around scientific research. While Obama said he has disconnected science from ideology, he went on to say that he would never allow human cloning.

Isn't that an ethical judgment?

Krauthammer also had interesting things to say about the seriousness of the Bush speech when he banned embryonic stem cell research, compared to the arrogance of Obama's speech overturning it.

It is well worth the read, no matter where you fall on this issue.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Another HUGE economic engine!

The Funny Paper is so amazing. They must think our memories have a half life of a .

Their lead editorial today insists that the legislature fund the new education building at South Waterfront. You remember South Waterfront ... that huge opportunity to attract 10,000 biotech jobs that was hyped and cheerled by the paper as we blew a couple hundred million dollars on what is now a largely vacant condo tower jungle.

So now TFP says we should spend $160 million putting up the next "linchpin." Reading the piece, I kept having to check the date on the paper. I thought somehow I was reading 2003 copy from the archives. Take a look:

"It would be the cornerstone of a powerful new economic engine and educational dynamo for all of Oregon....

It would provide facilities for health-profession training, undergraduate and graduate education in the life sciences and bioengineering, biomedical research and private industry partnerships.

Translation: Hundreds of new jobs with immeasurable educational and health-system value.

From every angle, this project looks exactly like the kind of capital project legislators should be funding in today's economic crisis. If they fail to, there's a good possibility the partnership will fall apart and the state will lose out on an opportunity of staggering proportion."

The same old rhetoric. Why on earth would they think The Funny Paper has any credibility whatsoever?

Sunday, March 08, 2009

More on the bullying bill

I was going to respond in the comments section to some of the questions and criticisms of my post on the bullying bill, but decided to do it in another post, since it will be a little long for a comment.

First - what specific language in the bill do I find troubling, and why? The problem I have with this bill is that it would subject normal child and adolescent behavior to formal school discipline proceedings, and possibly even legal proceedings.

Here's how and why: The bill requires districts to put in place policies and disciplinary procedures for bullying, harassment and cyberbullying. It defines these terms as anything that, among other things, has the effect of

"Creating a hostile educational environment, including interfering with the psychological well-being of a student."

So here's the problem. Many commenters feigned shock and dismay that I was using such "sexist" terms when I suggested they just issue the boys pink panties. I did that for a reason.

That is EXACTLY the type of remark that would get a kid in school rung up on harassment charges under this bill. Suppose one boy says to another, "Hey you sissy, show me your pink panties." It is easy to imagine some school counselor considering that "interfering with the psychological well being" of the kid.

Perhaps you think that a boy saying something like this to another kid SHOULD be cause for disciplinary action. If so, I feel sorry for you. You apparently want us to be a nation of victims.

For almost two decades, in an effort to rid the schools of "gender bias," the public school establishment has been defining typical boy behavior as cause for discipline. A great book on the subject by well known feminist Christina Hoff Summers, called The War Against Boys examined all the different ways the feminist movement have made schools hostile to boys.

This is just another example.

Really, isn't it better to let kids figure out a few things by themselves? Sure, there is a time and place in which adult intervention is prudent and necessary when someone behaves badly toward another student in a school. But this bill would result in hair trigger disciplinary proceedings - and perhaps even criminal proceedings - for behavior that is at most, slightly untoward.

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Insanity everywhere

Things are getting crazy everywhere. In the news just in the last couple days:

Anti-bullying legislation, HB2599, will be heard next week. The bill will require school districts to have policies defining harrasment, intimidation, bullying and cyberbullying, and procedures and staff in place for investigating complaints and disciplining the offenders.

What is wrong with that? Plenty. Why don't we just issue all the boys pink panties in kindergarten and make them wear them for 12 years?

Kill Connections Academy legislation, SB767 is sponsored by Senator Devlin and Rep. Buckley, at the request of the Oregon Education Association. It would remove the State Board of Education's authority to waive the "50% provision" that requires virtual charter schools to get half their kids from inside the sponsoring district. It wouin ld absolutely, positively result in shutting the doors on the state's largest public school because the teachers union doesn't like the school. THANKS, TEACHERS!

The greenest building ever built is being planned with your tax dollars. This thing will be so green it will manufacture all its own power, and reprocess all its own water. The only problem is it is very, very, very, very expensive. So what? Sam Adams wants Portland to be the green center of the universe, and what better way to show the world our commitment to being green when we will spend, say $1 million to save $10,000 worth of sewage fees. This thing they guess will cost between 12% and 52% more than the highest LEED certification building. What do they care? It's YOUR money!

The Beaverton Round goes round and round again. This is a black hole for money. A disaster from the get go. Response? Expand the project! Widen the urban renewal district around the failure so they can capture a bigger tax increment from the already developed properties, and use the dough to throw into the black hole after the millions already wasted. So typical!

Meanwhile, the stock market was down another 4% today, as anyone with remaining wealth runs and hides from our new president's most recent scheme.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

A defining moment for President Obama

So far, President Obama has governed like a radical lefty. He used the Pelosi-deisgned "stimulus" bill to fund every pent-up lefty wish list item in the cupboard, and his breathtaking budget is itself an expression of a far reaching leftist ideology.

Not what he sold us, is it?

But soon we will get an indication of whether there is a scintilla of independence about the man. Will he stand up for poor minority children in Washington DC, a move sure to anger the left/union base of his party? Or will he toss these kids under the school bus? We will soon know.

As pointed out in the WSJ yesterday, the spending bill the Senate will vote on this week has language in it that will pull the curtain on the Washington DC voucher program, which is used by 2500 children from poor families to escape DC's shameful public school system.

Two kids use these vouchers to attend Sidwell, the school that Obama's own children attend.

Will President Obama lift a finger to save the DC voucher program? No way the Senate Democrats would take him on if he called them out on this. Or will Obama join most every other Democrat politician of the last 50 years and stand blocking the schoolhouse door to prevent low income minority children from entering (while Obama's own kids sit inside.)

If he lets the language stay in the bill, President Obama is revealed as just another hack, willing to sell human souls down the river for advantage with political interest groups.

Any predictions?