Saturday, November 05, 2005

Comments from the finance guy on various education issues.

Pete is a friend of ours who is helping us work for education reform. Pete has spent many decades working in municipal and school finance. Below is his perspective on Representative Mike Tyron’s Bill for schools to truly report the impact of school referenda and a number of other issues.

"Dan Johnson is a partner in the largest firm of Municipal Bond attorneys in Chicago. His opinions and his testimony to the legislature have formed the basis for many of the nooks and crannies we have found to exist in Illinois school financing law. In other words, he makes money -- hundreds of thousands of dollars -- creating and approving these nooks and crannies.

Many of these have come from the aberration we call PTELL, which I am afraid most FOCF members believe in. This proposal is just another cranny. Why have separate Funds at all?

The underlying concept in having Funds is to provide the taxpayer with some control over how his money is spent. That control, common to most states, says that the elected body and its employees have an allowance, actually a set of allowances for the several Funds. This set is called a Budget.

Separately, in acquiring debt or paying pensions, different allowances are set. With respect to debt, the parent (alias the taxpayer) must usually approve the purchase of the capital asset which it will be required to pay for. Even this right of approval has been eliminated by persons such as Mr. Johnson opining that some debt financings need not be approved by the parent.

Further, and more recently, the schools and other taxing bodies have been given the right to acquire additional debt as long as the old debt was paid off and the parent's obligation was not increased. The parent is in debt -- forever. This is the handiwork of such as Mr. Johnson.

Is it any wonder that the taxpayers reject referenda these days? They no longer trust their elected representatives to be stewards of their money.

Now comes a proposal which in effect has the taxing body say: "Trust us." We have failed to deliver a quality education, we have funded teacher early retirement as a reward for this failure, we have built schools when none were needed, we have not been transparent in our financial disclosures to the public -- but trust us.

This legislation is not needed. If more money is allegedly required in a Fund, referendum questions can easily be framed to so state. Trust is earned over time, but as Reagan said to Gorbachev: Trust, but verify."

And now two words to all who believed that PTELL was the answer, who believe that that solved the problem of wasteful spending in the schools. You fools. You thought the State was protecting you. You useful idiots, as Lenin used to say. To quote the famous writer Samuel Clemens: no man's purse is safe while the legislature is in session.

You were rightfully concerned when property values (your built in but unrealized wealth) inflated faster than your income. That gave taxing bodies greater access to your strained purse. Instead or organizing and getting elected at the local level, you went to the State. Unorganized as you were, you were no match for the NEA unions and the local boards who were elected by the PTA. You may have been right, but you were no match for the countable voters, and for the contributions the teachers were able to slide into the campaign funds of the elected.

Like the convicted one able to select the method of capital punishment, your only benefit was to choose the type of screwdriver being used.

Well, the NEA has just about squared the circle. They control not only entrance into the profession, the salary schedules, the early retirement programs; they also control the testing systems. They control complaisant legislators in one party and useful idiots like Mr. Tryon. Indirectly they control their fellow Ed School graduates the Administrators who have their own highly expensive niche.

And through the PTA, they control the parent voter, who is the source of all their political power. "It's for the Kids" means no more, no less than all power to the teachers. Busting this unholy alliance should be the main goal of the people.

The NEA's objections to the No Child Left Behind testing and their persuading school districts to reject the money, is temporary. When they get control of the testing mechanism as they have of the state tests, the ACT and the SAT -- as they will under a Democrat administration -- they will corrupt that as well. Their objective quire clearly is "No Teacher Left Behind."

Today, though, the national test will reveal the dirty little non secret. It will validate the results now coming to the fore of the low quality of our primary and secondary education systems.

NEA persuades the Districts that they do not have the money to correct the weaknesses which such a test will reveal. Districts do not, they say, have the money to conduct such tests. Yet Districts can find $40K to pay for referendum assistance from specialist groups.

It is an Alice in Wonderland existence. It is time to recover our sanity."

Friday, November 04, 2005

Failing Teachers EQUALS Failing Students

This great piece appears on . Although the piece is old the problem persists today. Research has found those who come from an educated and stable family tend to do well in school while those who come from an uneducated poor family tend to do poorly in school. School should break the cycle of poverty but with the quality of teachers today and poor curricula the cycle will be hard to break. This is why education reform is necessary. We must get rid of the very useless teacher certificate and get rid of tenure. Schools should be able to hire those who will best educate students. Tenure obstructs schools from being able to do just that.

Failing Teachers Equal Failing Students

CHICAGO, IL - A statewide investigation of teacher competency by the Chicago Sun-Times found that 5,243 teachers currently teaching in Illinois public schools have failed at least one certification test. The newspaper analyzed the test scores of 67,000 teachers on both basic skills and subject matter tests taken since Illinois began teacher certification testing in 1988. Test data were available on only half the teachers, since those hired prior to 1988 may never have been required to take a test.
The state's biggest flunker was a teacher of learning-disabled students in Chicago who failed 24 of 25 teacher tests, including 12 of 12 tests on how to teach children with learning disabilities. Another teacher failed 19 of 19 tests, including 13 of 13 basic skills tests. One bilingual teacher flunked five of five basic skills tests and three of three elementary school subject matter tests. This teacher was working on a "transitional" bilingual certificate that waives certification testing in Illinois for up to eight years.

How tough is Illinois' basic skills test? According to some experts, it's so easy that an 8th- or 9th-grader should be able to pass it. Yet one of every 10 public school teachers in Chicago has flunked the test at least once. Most of these failing teachers teach in schools with the highest number of failing students, which supports national research indicating a strong link between weak teachers and failing students.

Studies Show Link
A 1986 Texas study showed a significant correlation between low teacher test scores and low student test scores. A Tennessee study 10 years later found that elementary math students who were taught by low-scoring teachers for several years in a row ended up 50 percentile points behind their peers.

Other research shows that full certification also makes a difference. A 1997 study by the University of Texas found that students scored higher on state tests when taught by fully-licensed teachers. In 1999, researcher Linda Darling-Hammond of Stanford University, who is the executive director of the National Commission on Teaching and America's Future, reviewed teacher quality and student achievement. She found that teacher quality is "more strongly related to student achievement than class size, overall spending levels, [and] teacher salaries . . . ." Her research also showed that "the percentage of teachers with full certification and a major in the field is a more powerful predictor of student achievement than teachers' education levels (e.g., master's degrees)."

Hearings Scheduled
After the Sun-Times analysis became public last month, state Sen. Daniel Cronin, chairman of the Illinois Senate Education Committee, called the findings "appalling" and announced plans to convene hearings in November to tackle the problem of failing teachers. Members of his committee will consider requiring that teachers be retested with a new, tougher basic skills tests introduced on Sept. 15. Also on the table are plans to give parents more information about teacher certification and to offer financial incentives to good teachers willing to teach in failing schools.

Many of Illinois' flunking teachers eventually passed their certification tests, but hundreds did not. Yet they remain in the classroom under a "Chicago-only loophole" which allows substitute teachers to teach indefinitely without passing any certification tests. Although other states call such waivers "emergency" or "temporary" permits, Illinois calls them "certificates."

"That's misleading and convoluted and it doesn't accurately reflect what people expect," Sen. Cronin told the Sun-Times. "We're learning that a certificate doesn't mean much [in Illinois]."

Root of Problem
Some educators point to the education colleges as the source of the problem of failing teachers. "There has to be something wrong if you go to college and get B's and C's and then can't pass these exams," observed Superintendent Willie Davis of the Ford Heights School District near Chicago. Other critics say teacher training includes "too much theory and not enough practice, mediocre subject-area training and low admissions standards." It's a vicious cycle, they say: "Graduates of weak public high schools go to weak education colleges and then return, poorly prepared, to teach in the public schools."

With a lack of qualified teachers already plaguing California and growing shortages in many other states, parents and educators worry that testing requirements may be relaxed still further or waived altogether.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

No to Tax Increases

In yesterday's post I talked about a Bill to better explain referenda increases. Today Eric Olson an Editor in the Northwest Herald has a great piece about the Bill. Our favorite line is "Until they can know for sure, they should be voting no to tax increases."

Tax bill would erase lots of confusion

Our local legislators are working during this week's veto session to win approval of a bill that would simplify school tax referendums and how they affect taxpayers.

I wouldn't advise anyone to vote for another school tax-increase referendum until the measure is approved.

State Rep. Mike Tryon, a Crystal Lake Republican, said he went to Springfield early to work on the bill this week, though all our local state legislators are sponsoring Senate Bill 1682.

The measure has arisen from the troubles that have befallen taxpayers in Huntley School District 158, who in November 2004 approved a tax increase that allowed more than double the rate increase that was advertised. Now that district officials are trying to keep the increase to what originally was intended, they are finding that the district will lose millions in state aid as a result.

Tryon puts the chance of it getting approved during the Legislature's veto session, which ends Friday, at 50-50.

The way the system works now, voters cannot know for certain how large a tax increase they are approving, nor can they tell how much their district will benefit from the increased taxes.

The current law requires tax-increase referendums to ask voters to approve increasing the maximum allowable tax rate. However, tax-cap laws limit the amount of new money schools can collect each year to 5 percent or the rate of inflation, whichever is less. The result is that tax rates tend to decline a little bit every year.

Usually by the time a school district asks for a rate increase, the actual tax rate is less than the maximum allowable rate, which can result in a hidden increase that is difficult to predict.

This new legislation would allow voters to decide on how much to raise their actual tax rate, from what it is at the time to what it would be the next year.

"This problem will go away in all future referendums, but the problem will not go away in tax-cap districts where [a] referendum was already approved," Tryon said. "We're trying to provide a mechanism for a district to be able to manage its tax rate."

The bill also allows our local school boards to propose lowering their maximum allowable tax rates.

This is needed because the state takes the maximum allowable tax rate into account when it decides how much money it gives to local school districts. If a district is not using enough of its maximum allowable rate and is being penalized, voters can correct the problem. And a tax-decrease referendum seems like one that would succeed.

This change in the law should be approved before the next election. Voters have a right to know how much a tax increase really will cost them and how much good it will do for them to pay more. Until they can know for sure, they should be voting no to tax increases.

– Eric Olson is the Northwest Herald's multimedia editor.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Bill to vote on a tax decrease.

Today's Northwest Herald has an article about a Bill that would although voters to vote on a tax decrease for schools. Although this Bill is an excellent ideal it is highly unlikely that this Bill will pass. The teachers' unions in Illinois have now become so strong that they donate large sums of your tax dollars to both republican and democrat legislators.

Bill would turn tide on D-158's tax rate

[published on Tue, Nov 1, 2005]
State lawmakers are making a last-ditch effort to craft legislation that could help undo a controversial District 158 property-tax increase.

Voters in Algonquin, Huntley and Lake in the Hills were stunned after learning that a 55-cent tax-rate increase approved in November 2004 could increase taxes by more than double that amount. Members of the General Assembly have debated multiple bills to prevent a similar misstep in the future and possibly to keep District 158 from losing millions of dollars in state aid.

State Rep. Mike Tryon, R-Crystal Lake, said lawyers were reviewing changes to Senate Bill 1682, which could allow voters to decide on a tax reduction. He said the original bill would be replaced with language from Senate Bill 2123, sponsored by state Sen. Don Harmon, a Democrat from Oak Park.

"We have the ability in this bill to run a [tax] rate decrease," Tryon said.

But there is no consensus on whether this bill or others could result in a tax decrease for school districts. State school code does not mention a tax decrease, and Tryon's bill might not address the school-code issue.

Scott Nemanich, a lawyer who represents District 158, said he had not seen the revised bill so he could not comment. He said he expected to offer an opinion today on the bill's ability to provide the mechanism for a tax rollback.

After meeting last week with House and Senate staffers in Springfield, District 158 officials had mixed views on the tax legislation being debated in the General Assembly.

School board President Mike Skala said he had confidence in legislation accomplishing the board's goal to seek a tax decrease. Board member Larry Snow said attorneys for the district were not optimistic about the passage of a bill that would resolve the tax issue.

Tryon said, "If we have to amend the school code, it's a long shot at best."

The fate of the bill rests in the hands of House Speaker Michael Madigan, a Chicago Democrat who decides which bills will be sent to the House floor before the fall veto session ends Friday.


Sunday, October 30, 2005

What Every Ed Student Should Know

The below piece was sent to us by our friend Kevin Killion at Illinois Loop. org. He received this from a teacher friend. This was the note attached. "I thought you might enjoy this article below. This letter to ed school students was written by Martin Kozloff (, an independent thinking professor who is the Watson Distinguished Professor in the education department at the University of North Carolina. " Our education system would be amazing if all teachers took this message to heart.

What Every Ed Student Should Know

March 23rd 2005

Dear Education Student,
I've never met you but I know you.

You are bright.

You are energetic.

You like kids.

You want to do good by kids.

I salute you for that.
You deserve to know the story-to know what the deal is. Therefore, at the risk of being presumptuous and paternalistic (after all, you haven't asked for my opinion), I'm going to give you some advice.

And here it is!

1. Most of what education professors tell you is totally useless.
It has nothing to do with any of the REAL tasks of teaching -- such as communicating information to your students and checking to see if they get it (which is the CORE of teaching).

It has never been tested and shown to be valid, true, reliable, or useful. It fact, most of what education professors tell you is wrong, false, and pure baloney. It is superficial. You'll be told a few things that Piaget believed. It will add up to nothing. You'll be told to adapt instruction to your students' "learning styles," but no one will tell you exactly how to do this. [Besides, there's really no such thing as learning styles, anyway.]

2. Caveat emptor. Buyer beware. Don't be taken in by nice-sounding words.

"Best practice." Oh, yeah? Who says?

"Authentic." What on earth does that mean?

"Developmentally appropriate." Are all kids the same?

"Reflection." How is that different from thinking about something?

"Child centered." What else?

"Multiple intelligence." How is that different from skills?

"Learning styles." Does not exist.

"Portfolio assessment." Look at junk in a kid's scrapbook.

"Brain-based." Is there some other organ involved? Real brain scientists think "brain based learning" is just a stupid fad. Do you think education professors know ANYthing about the brain? Would you take their advice on medication?

These words sound good but they are logically absurd (i.e., stupid) and there is almost no research to support them. They will be NO help to you in the classroom. In fact, they will confuse you and take time away from designing CLEAR instruction that is to the POINT. There you are standing in front of your kids. Your objective is to teach them the strategy for decoding words (sounding out words and then saying them fast) -- regular words (such as ran, slim, ask) and irregular words (such as the, was, said). If kids don't learn to decode words accurately and quickly, they will not learn to read connected text accurately and quickly, and therefore they will not comprehend what they read, and therefore they will spend their lives being ignorant.

How will "learning style," "child centered," "holistic," "authentic," and "Piaget said!" help you now?

They won't. Not one bit. So, drop it. Delete it from your memory. Forget it.

Teaching is a technical game. A logical game. All you have to do is demonstrate the strategy for decoding words clearly and explicitly (showing students exactly HOW), using a range of examples of words that they will soon have to read.
Boys and girls, I'll show you how to read this word (point
to "slip") the slow way. When I touch under a letter I will
say the sound. Get ready. Here I go.

Watch again.

Do it with me.

Your turn.
Excellent for reading that word the slow way.

Was Piaget a lot of help there?
In other words, if you present information in a logically clear way, you don't need ANYthing else.

3. Be skeptical. In fact, have an "attitude." Ask hard questions. After all, you're paying for this education.

"What exactly does 'authentic' mean?"

"What research shows what is best?"

"What experiment pits so called developmentally appropriate practices against so-called developmentally inappropriate practices?"

Most education professors will turn red when you ask these questions. They won't have good answers. They'll just repeat themselves.

"Best practices are practices that (work best, are child-centered, are effective)." Gee, that's REAL helpful.

"Is there any research? Oh, yes. Lots of research. Lots. A whole lot." Oh, good.

If that's how your physician answered questions would you stay or would you run?

4. Education is a moral enterprise. We do NOT have the right or the public mandate to experiment with (other people's) children or to play with "ideas" by using (or by teaching ed students to use) untested methods and curricula.

In any other field, using methods that have not been thoroughly field tested and shown to be reliably effective would be considered malpractice and perhaps criminal. Corporations spend more time and money testing if a new shampoo will really give you "lustrous and vibrant hair" (and not make you bald) than education professors spend on whole methods for teaching reading or math to millions of children. Yet, they will tell you -- with great confidence -- to use these methods.

How do YOU spell immoral?
Remember. It's YOU in front of those kids! Your professors are back in their offices. If your kids don't learn to read or do math, even though you did what your education professors told you, it will be YOU that is considered responsible. No one will be going after them.

The arrow of accountability -> You

Yes, you!

5. As in medicine, architecture, structural engineering, and food science, the only morally acceptable guide to action is research. Not personal opinion. Not personal preference or style. Not "philosophy." And certainly not what a lot of other people [who just might be morons] think is right.

Has a new curriculum been field tested with thousands of kids before it is sold? [If not, run!]
What does the preponderance of scientific research-experimental research (with control groups, longitudinal, quantitative data)-say about a method, an assessment instrument, or a curriculum? If you can't find a ton of serious research on it, then RUN!

Don't be sucked in by qualitative research (e.g., case studies of one classroom, interviews with teachers or students, field notes). This kind of information is too subjective and unreliable. For example, there is NO experimental research showing that teachers make better decisions about how to improve instruction when teachers assess kids' portfolios than when teachers use standardized tests to see what kids have learned. So how come education professors want you to use portfolio assessment?

Would you give your own children medication that had not been tested scientifically? Would you use medication that is supported only by testimonials?
"I used Dr. Bingbong's Herbal Rejuvenator. Now I have LOTS of energy. Of course all my teeth fell out and I can't hear. Hello? Hello?"

6. We are not social revolutionaries or even social reformers. No one asked us to do anything but teach. We will not produce greater equity in the life chances of disadvantaged minorities by having ed students mouth platitudes about diversity or student centered instruction. We can only try to teach all kids well.
So, when education professors try to enlist you in THEIR great cause (social justice, equality, stamping out racism, reforming American social institutions), ask yourself,
"Who IS this person? Where does THIS person get off thinking that changing society is HIS job? Would I even let this person baby-sit my little brother? Besides, look at how this guy dresses! Where does he get those clothes? A dumpster?"

7. Teaching well is not an art. It is not about teachers' creativity. It is a technical game -- like surgery, architecture, engineering, and even cooking. Just as perfection in dance, music, archery, sky diving, martial arts, sports, and creative writing are FIRST technical. There is a way (a routine-a set of steps governed by rules) that produces good results (balance, speed, strength, grace, hitting the target-i.e., accomplishing the objectives). Your job is to learn those ways. The time for creativity is thinking how to expand or enhance instruction. Once you have taught students figures of speech, symbolism, rhyme and meter, how might they APPLY this? Now be creative.

8. We know enough about the technology (how to) for teaching reading, writing, spelling, math, foreign languages, history, logic, science, and many other subjects, so that instruction can be relatively straightforward and routine for most students, and can even be in commercial curricula. Creativity is reserved for nonroutine situations and problems.

So, don't be a dope. Use commercial, tested programs to teach the core skills in the major subjects. Or, you can spend hours every day and all weekend preparing lessons!

Here are your real friends:

Sopris West

Curriculum Associates

SRA McGraw-Hill

Core Knowledge

Singapore Math
Websites used by homeschoolers. They have done the research
on good programs for you.

"Teach Your Child in 100 Easy Lessons " at You can teach almost any kid to
read using this book -- for 20 dollars.

"Designing effective mathematics instruction" by Marcy Stein.
All the lessons are there.

And there are lots of resources at
Professor Plum may be a little strange but he's not always wrong.