Friday, February 17, 2006

Teachers need lesson in private sector

The below editorial appeared in the Herald News.

Teachers need lesson in private sector

The issue: Teachers expect some interesting perks these days.

We say: Time to get real.

How times have changed.

Twenty years ago, the teaching profession was often the last resort in career choices. Low pay, basic benefits and long hours were an unattractive option to opportunities offered in the private sector.

Since then, the pay for teachers and administrators has risen steadily. Though their salary increases have come down somewhat in the past few years, 3 percent to 5 percent yearly bumps aren't unusual. Teachers still receive pensions, which is understandable since they don't earn Social Security benefits. Up until a couple of years ago, many districts still provided full medical benefits at no cost, though the trend now is to more closely mirror benefits received in the private sector and have the teachers share a portion of the cost.

Speaking of the private sector, much has changed there, too, in the last two decades. Pensions, fully paid medical coverage and double-digit pay increases have become things of the past for a majority of workers in nongovernment jobs. In many industries, downsizing, cost-cutting and subcontracting of staff work has become a yearly occurrence. A 1 percent or 2 percent yearly pay increase, if you're lucky, is often the most many expect these days.

Despite this, school officials are baffled when they have a difficult time convincing the Legislature, or even parents in their district, that they need more money to run the schools.

Much of the money used by a school district is for salaries. Teachers are educating the future of our country, and smaller class sizes help make teaching — and learning — easier.

But empathy works both ways. Educators need to be sensitive to the economic and lifestyle realities of the communities they serve. And that hasn't always been the case.

On Monday, for instance, the teachers' union in Plainfield protested the fact that their traditional two-full-week winter holiday was being cut by five days. The union claimed the extra five days off were needed to maintain the "continuity of education," especially for Hispanic students whose families may visit Mexico for three weeks at winter break. Though we laud the union for its sensitivity to diversity, we must say of their claim: Yeah, right.

The union also requested that spring break be rescheduled to coordinate with that of schools in DuPage County so teachers wouldn't have the financial burden of paying for day care. Are they even trying to understand what other parents, parents of the children they teach, must go through?

Finally, in a recent OpenLine submission, a teacher lamented the fact that it took 20 years for him or her to get an annual salary up to $90,000. A lot of households will never see that kind of money on two salaries, let alone one.

For the rest of the story click here.

Battle lines drawn in D - 200

A group that opposes the insane spending in D 200 emerges in Woodstock. The story below was reported in the Northwest Herald on February 17, 2006.

Battle lines drawn in D-200
[published on Fri, Feb 17, 2006]

WOODSTOCK – As election day nears, supporters and opponents are drawing battle lines over the Woodstock School District 200's request for $105 million in new taxes to build more schools.

Mailings from a pro-referendum committee called Citizens for District 200 Schools soon could be hitting mailboxes, while an anti-referendum campaign has taken to cyberspace.

When voters head to the polls March 21, they will be asked whether School District 200 should be allowed to build three new schools, including a new high school with a pool; renovate Olson Middle School and Verda Dierzen Early Learning Center; and temporarily keep open Clay Elementary School.

The proposal, which could cost taxpayers $105 million payable over 20 years, was designed to help manage a projected 4,300-student population boom by academic year 2013-14.

For the owner of a $200,000 home claiming the $5,000 homestead tax exemption, the bond issue would mean an additional $141.83 in property taxes the first year.

The Woodstock Citizen, a blog launched earlier this month in response to the referendum, raised eyebrows by posting anti-referendum ads on a site supported by many of downtown Woodstock's prominent businesses. Blogs such as The Woodstock Citizen are on-line journals maintained by one person or a group of people who post short articles and running commentary about various issues.

One of the ads features a series of unsigned testimonials purportedly from referendum opponents. For the rest of the story in the Northwest Herald click here.

To visit Woodstock Citizens for Sane Spending and Stop D 200 Tax hike click here.

To view the unsigned testimonials click here.

To view the main website click here.

CRAFT tried to contact this group via email. As of this posting we have not had a response.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Why we should reject universal preschool

There has been recent talk of universal preschool in the story below. Just below the Chicago Tribune story is an excerpt from and a link to No Universal Preschool.

Doubts cast on preschool proposal
By Diane Rado and Rick Pearson
Chicago Tribune

Under attack from political opponents, Gov. Rod Blagojevich acknowledged Sunday that it won't be easy to push through his proposal to create the most expansive state preschool program in the nation.

Nevertheless, "we will roll up our sleeves and we will fight," Blagojevich said in announcing his "Preschool for All" initiative, which would offer state-paid pre-kindergarten to all 3- and 4-year-olds, regardless of family income.

If approved by lawmakers, Illinois would be the first state in the nation to offer so-called universal preschool to 3-year-olds and the fourth state to offer such access to 4-year-olds.

The program--a minimum 2 1/2-hour school day--would not be mandatory, and many families would likely stay in private preschools. Blagojevich's plan would cost an extra $135 million in the initial three years, with the price tag in outlying years still uncertain. In addition, the governor wants to finance the plan in part with money from state accounts reserved for special purposes, a practice that has spurred legal challenges.

After details of the plan first appeared in the Tribune over the weekend--just weeks before the March primary--Democratic and Republican candidates alike blasted Blagojevich.

"Unfortunately for the children of Illinois, in this election season the governor will use them as props for all sorts of promises," Edwin Eisendrath, Blagojevich's challenger in the March 21 Democratic primary, said in a statement.

Republican gubernatorial candidate Ron Gidwitz, a former Illinois State Board of Education chairman, called the governor's announcement "another headline-grabbing stunt."

And Treasurer Judy Baar Topinka, another Republican candidate for governor, said Blagojevich keeps "coming up with all these big, expensive, huge `warm-fuzzies,' usually involving children, and not really coming up with ways to pay for them."

For the rest of the story go to Doubts cast on preschool proposal

No Universal Preschool

Preschool-For-All is a prescription for stress, not success, and will literally make kids sick. The National Institute of Child Health and Development found that children who attend structured, curriculum-oriented, non-parental involved preschools have higher cortisol (stress hormone) levels caused by too early separation from their parents and too early academics. The Preschool-For-All Act dovetails with CA Assembly Bill 1246 that implements "preschool learning standards" in line with public school curriculum standards that include Math, English Language Arts, History, Science, and Social Sciences. Accountability will be required in the form of testing. This kind of academic stress takes a physical toll on young children reducing tolerance to viral and bacterial infections that result in chronic childhood illnesses.

Children enrolled in preschool have higher incidences of obesity. Physical activity is restrained in typical preschool classrooms. Fine motor development is impaired, contributing to learning disabilities. Active play such as running, jumping, climbing, and gross motor movement is discouraged. Kids get flabby and fat with lifelong health consequences.

Children who attend preschool exhibit problem behaviors, and are being expelled! The National Institute of Child Health and Development found that children who attend non-parental, structured, curriculum-oriented preschools have poorer work habits, lower grades and test scores, inferior peer relationships, substandard emotional health, aggression, and they are disobedient. In fact, children are being expelled from preschools at an alarming rate!

There is no such thing as "quality" public preschool. In fact, so-called "quality" state-run preschools can harm little kids. The artificial environment of a classroom, the supervision by transient, impassive strangers (certified teachers and aids), and indoctrination with standardized curriculum has been shown to be harmful to the intellectual, social, emotional, psychological and physical development of young children by researchers and educational psychologists including David Elkind, Kathy Hirsch-Pasek, Mary Eberstadt, and Jane Healy. These kinds of preschool environments are of a very poor quality. Current research studies show that young children learn best through interest-initiated learning, lots of imaginative play, and the opportunity to explore their environment in a natural rhythm and routine such as takes place at home, under the guidance of parents and attentive, loving adults.

For the rest of the story go to No Universal Preschool /

You may want to send the above story to Governor Blagojevich and tell him no universal pre-school.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Vote "NO" Signs

People have been writing to ask about Vote "NO" signs. If you are looking for signs in Lake County contact the Republican Assembly of Lake County. If you are looking for "NO" signs for the D-300 referenda contact the Family Taxpayers Network at 847-428-0212 or email them at CRAFT has run out of signs many were stolen when we loaned them to the folks in District 1, District 2 and District 158 to fight their referenda. Many were also stolen during the District 50 referenda campaign, luckily they are not running any referenda this election.

To keep your signs from being stolen keep them as close to your house as possible but still visible for the public to view. Contact the police if any signs are stolen. Bravo to the first individual who catches a no sign stealer on video tape and gets them prosecuted.

Fancy signs are not needed. You can make a sign on your own rather cheaply. Go to Home Depot or Mernards pick up a couple of two by fours a can of spray paint and a sheet of ply wood and make your own vote no sign. A few nails and a hammer and in minutes you will have your own sign. The cost of a no sign is much cheaper than raising your property taxes forever.

The other great thing is as soon as the opposition puts up their signs it is a great reminder for the no voters to get to the polls and vote.

Monday, February 13, 2006

Big tests, big sticks

Commentary by Pete Speer

The article below addresses the differences in social context between PRC students and those in America. It discounts the No Child Left Behind program based on these differences. However, it implies that American schools must change.

Missing from discussion is the strong motivation in China -- under a communist dictatorship -- to move in some small way up the economic ladder. Implied (by listing the costs) is the value of such an education.

This article will be taken by proponents of our bankrupt system to mean that the social differences are responsible for the higher scores in China -- therefore scores may be ignored. This is not a correct reading of the article's content.

Indeed, the author concludes by suggesting that for our own dismal schools there must be another way. In America, the only other way is full competitive choice.

People hoping to intelligently debate this issue must be familiar with the article.

Pete Speer

The below article was reprinted with the permission of Dr. Orsini

Illinois School Board Journal
January/February 2006

Big tests, big sticks
Social context of high-stakes
testing in China and U.S.

by Alfonso J. Orsini

Alfonso J. Orsini is director of the Western International School of Shanghai and a former special English teacher in Qingdao, China. His article first appeared in Education Week, July 13, 2005, and is reprinted with permission from the author.

This past school year, I have been teaching English for a special program at a public school in China. The experience has made me think a lot about the push toward high-stakes testing in the United States, especially with the impetus of the federal No Child Left Behind Act.

China is a country that promises to change the economic face of the globe in the years ahead. It has an incredibly lean, mean education machine. American policymakers, seeing embarrassing data such as the poor showing of U.S. students on recent international assessments in science and math, say they want to prepare our children to meet the global competition posed by countries like China.

If the No Child Left Behind law is meant to do that ?to help us compete with countries that have used big tests for a long time to scientifically weed and stratify their citizens ?the plan will fail. This is not just because of the problems inherent in creating and enacting such tests, but also because of the differing social, economic and cultural contexts that surround such tests.

Here is what the United States is up against. In China, all of the items on American business interests' education agenda are in evidence. There is a focus on the "useful" subjects of math, science and technology. There are large, economical classes of 50 to 60 students each. This works fine in China, because the students here are driven, and their teachers mostly lecture. (Their bow to modernization is in using a computer beamer instead of the blackboard.)

Walking through a Chinese classroom, you hear students chanting a lot in unison. The teachers are well-trained, in that they follow the script of slavishly preparing for the big exams. While they teach only about 10 classes a week, they must be in the school from 7:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily to prepare. Some big exam ?schoolwide, citywide or nationwide ?is always looming. The school's headmaster even assigns teachers research papers. They comply because they want to get a promotion, perhaps a merit raise of 200 yuan ($24) added on to a monthly salary of, say, 2,000 yuan ($242) for a veteran.

Office talk is often about "grammar points" that may appear on an exam. The exams must have a number of virtually impossible questions to keep teachers and students scrambling, and to allow the remarkable few to rise to the top. If students do poorly, it comes back to haunt the teacher and the school. Last year, the local newspaper asked why fewer graduates at my school had been admitted to top universities. That heightened the anxiety.

Another numerically based improvement has been enacted here: more class time. At my boarding school (the stronger public schools in China are boarding), students are in the classroom from late August to late July, six days a week, from 7:30 a.m. to 4:25 p.m., with a 1?hour lunch/nap break and a five-minute eye-massage break led by a woman's peppy, almost militaristic voice broadcast over the public address system.

After some sports, dinner and time to do laundry by hand (we all do laundry by hand here), the students are back in the classroom for study from 6:30 p.m. to 9:45 p.m., with monitoring chiefly done by students and only a few teachers roving the halls. When evening study concludes, it's back up to the dorm to wash up with a basin; there are no hot showers. Then, eight kids bed down in each 9-by-12-foot room.

My kids are from a higher socioeconomic bracket. Their parents are paying 24,000 yuan ($2,900) extra, on top of the regular tuition of 3,000 yuan ($362) per year. I am preparing them to pass the new English entrance exam for a Canadian university. They got into this school only because they paid extra for the special program. With rising prosperity, these kinds of educational back doors, including Australian and United Kingdom foundation-year programs, are popping up all over.

My students, always weary but still cheerful, have never dated, never camped or been to a dance, and have almost never traveled. In a paired-discussion exercise in which they had to find something interesting about a classmate, everyone was astounded that a boy called Nick had danced with a girl at his aunt's wedding. In our town of Qingdao, one of the hottest places to be on a Saturday or Sunday is not the shopping mall but the Xin Hua bookstore.

The educational rigor in China results from the social context. Only about 48 percent of rural residents and 79 percent of urban residents attain more than a primary school education. Of the 27 million students completing the "compulsory" grade 9, around 25 percent go into a three-year academic high school program and 18 percent go into vocational training. Of those 6.67 million who go to academic high schools, around 3.5 million will make it to a four-year university program. The statistics are harsher in some areas. In Beijing, 49 percent of 18- to 22-year-olds are enrolled in postsecondary studies, but in places like Yunan Province, fewer than 9 percent are enrolled.

But this doesn't mean that the Chinese don't value education. There are 310 million people in schools at all levels here, including over a million studying through TV university. The number of university students in China has grown from 1.08 million in 1998 to more than 17 million in 2003. And the Chinese government has just launched a program to send 5,000 college teachers overseas each year for doctoral study or research.

China has a cheap, willing workforce composed partly of the 310 million surplus workers from the rural provinces, only 180 million of whom found jobs in 2003. It also has a cheap, well-trained professional class. Doctors earn perhaps 2,000 yuan ($242) a month, beginning teachers maybe 1,000 yuan ($121). People live remarkably frugal lives. China is progressing not through empire building or aggression, but because it has people willing to do virtually any work with incredible patience and persistence to survive. And it is selling this, the cheapest labor in the world, to all takers, including many U.S. investors. It is also building cooperative ties with Canada, Europe and Latin America, and with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations group, which will create a free-trade zone of 2 billion people.

U.S. business leaders, in their urgent push to whip American education into line, may be among the few in our country who are truly aware of how things are outside the United States. They have a concrete motivation to be aware: money. And they may be seeing, correctly, that the peaceful threat posed by China and others developing nations requires that we do something differently. Some might say that a first step should be lowering the salaries of business executives. But if my perspective from China is valid, then a more general "leaning" of America may have to happen before big tests are widely tolerated by U.S. students and their families.

Big, consequential tests run up against a lot of obstacles in America. One of them is fundamental ?what the historian Richard Hofstadter labeled in his influential book as Anti-Intellectualism in American Life. Others include the distraction posed by the cultural excesses that assault American kids every day and the fact that U.S. students know there is a college in America for just about anyone who can pay for it. But beyond such problems, I wonder if American kids sometimes don't care about study because they sense that many adults don't care about them ?about the life of their minds and the enrichment of their souls.

When American adults who are busy making money create the kinds of sweeping educational schemes we have now, they implicitly view young people's learning ?and young people themselves ?as a means to an end, the figures on a balance sheet. And too often they don't even care enough to spend sufficient time or money on education. The No Child Left Behind initiative, which might better be called "no child left unclassified and not appropriately employed," is a case in point. When American kids start to get "left behind" (in most countries with big tests, that's what the tests are for), we can assume that parents with the means and education will be lined up to yell about it. But when federal funds get withdrawn from schools that fail, where will those already-beleaguered schools turn? How will their low-income students find another school?

If America winds up with the diminished role in the world and leaner standard of living that the new global economy may offer, there may be far fewer American parents with means and education. And one can bet that far more people will fall into line behind rigorous national testing. They will have no choice, as is the case today in China and in many other lands. My Chinese students always say: "That's how it is, with so many people and so little money. That's just how it is."

For now, we Americans can make all the tests we want. Kids will never be "lean and hungry" in a fat society. And the egotism of infinite possibility will never prevail against the fierce capacity for self-abnegation in the Asian psyche.

Isn't there another way that America can use its prosperity, not to build empires, but to enhance the quality of its people's lives? How China will use its eventual prosperity remains to be seen. We can hope, however, that its choices will not help prove the axiom that countries attaining prosperity and democracy must become effete, stratified and sometimes arrogant.

The author maintains an e-mail account at

Sunday, February 12, 2006

School Choice Gaining Ground Across Country

For more great information on school choice visit The Heritage Foundation The article below appeared on

School Choice Gaining Ground Across Country
Friday, February 10, 2006
By Dan Lips

Supporters of school choice in Arizona must feel like Charlie Brown trying to kick the football.

And they must think of Gov. Janet Napolitano as Lucy -- pulling away the ball once again.

During budget negotiations last summer, Gov. Napolitano agreed to provide $5 million in tax credits for corporations contributing to private-school scholarship funds for low-income students who now attend public schools.

The governor -- long opposed to school choice -- explained at a news conference that “the $5 million tax credit was not a bad price to pay” to reach a budget compromise.

But days later, Napolitano changed her mind and vetoed the measure. She told the Arizona Republic she did this because the tax credit wouldn’t automatically “sunset,” as she had requested in the negotiations.

Jim Weiers, then the Republican speaker of the Arizona House of Representatives, couldn’t believe his ears. “There's only one way to put this,” he said. “The governor lied to me.”

Who to believe?

Consider this: On Jan. 11 of this year, the state legislature again passed tax credits for school choice. And this time, it included the sunset provision Gov. Napolitano had requested. A few days later, Gov. Napolitano vetoed the measure again. This time, she said she will consider a tax credit only during budget negotiations in the spring.

So, choice supporters will have to try again this summer to expand education opportunity for Arizona’s low-income students. Assuming the legislature can pass tax credits a third time, Gov. Napolitano will have to decide again whether to honor her promise or veto this popular program yet again.

It’s not an easy calculation. She must strike a balance between the demands of the 30,000-member Arizona Education Association, which opposes school choice, and Arizona families, who support school choice by nearly a 2:1 margin, according to a recent poll by the Goldwater Institute. Already, 100,000 children in Arizona attend charter schools or private schools, thanks to a 1997 scholarship tax-credit program.

The governor’s fellow Democrats are siding with the underprivileged in increasing numbers. In Washington, D.C., Democratic Mayor Anthony Williams and Sens. Robert Byrd, D-W.V., Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., and Joe Lieberman, D-Conn. provided critical support for the District’s new voucher program.

Last year, Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell approved legislation to expand the state's private-school tax-credit program. And in New Jersey, a coalition of Democratic state legislators is pushing a school voucher program to help poor, inner-city children.

Gov. Jim Doyle of Wisconsin, a Democrat, faces a similar quandary. Like Napolitano, he faces re-election in 2006 and must choose between the educational establishment and students. Wisconsin is home to the Milwaukee school-voucher program -- perhaps the most successful choice program in the nation. This program helps 15,000 low-income, inner-city children attend private school and has been shown to boost graduation rates.

The Milwaukee voucher program has proven so popular that there aren’t enough scholarships to meet popular demand. The program limits participation to 15 percent of the student population. Gov. Doyle has vetoed several proposals to raise the cap, which means thousands of inner-city children now in the program could be sent back to public schools this fall under the state's system for rationing vouchers.

The school-choice movement is nothing new. It’s been clamoring for alternatives to failing public schools for more than 20 years now. As successes, such as those in Milwaukee, mount, so does public support.

Lawmakers can’t treat the issue like Lucy does that football. Ultimately, they won’t be able to pull it away at the last minute. Then, they’ll have to make a stand. And what will it be: Will these leaders stand with the teachers’ unions or with underprivileged families?

Dan Lips is a policy analyst who specializes in education issues at The Heritage Foundation, a Washington-based public policy research institute.