Words for the Weekend – 11-12-10

November 12, 2010

“It’s not an endlessly expanding list of rights – the ‘right’ to education, the ‘right’ to health care, the ‘right’ to food and housing. That’s not freedom, that’s dependency. Those aren’t rights, those are the rations of slavery – hay and a barn for human cattle.”

                                                                                 — P.J. O’Rourke

Controlling History

May 23, 2010

Much was made in the media over the last week or so about the changes to social studies and history curriculum standards being debated by the Texas State Board of Education. The changes, which were passed Friday, will be in effect applicable to many other states’ education curriculums because of the prominent role in the school-textbook market Texas holds.

Liberals argued that the proposed changes, such as a requirement that students “identify reasons for limiting the power of government; and review the record of human rights abuses of unlimited governments such as the oppression of Christians in Sudan,” represented an attempt by the conservative members on the board to bias textbooks in favor of their ideology. Conservatives asserted that the changes would help correct the imbalance common in textbooks swayed in the past by liberal bias. You can judge for yourself by reading some of the proposed changes here.

Jack Plunkett / AP

Lost in the debate, however, is a critical examination of why such a matter is so controversial. State boards of education, particularly the one in Texas, control what issues, subjects and figures are covered and from what perspective they are presented in a host of public schools. For better or worse, the power to shape a generation of students’ knowledge of our past and perspectives on government institutions is placed in the hands of small, partisan boards. This essentially equates to government controlling the presentation of our history.

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Teacher Merit Pay in Florida: Were There Any Merits?

April 16, 2010

A recently vetoed bill in Florida that would have tied teacher pay to student test performance may have at first glance appeared to introduce something into the public education system that many have criticized it for lacking: an emphasis on results. However, the wisdom of such a significant change may not be so clear.

The Florida Legislature recently passed a bill that would base a large part of teacher pay on their students’ performance on standardized tests. It would also end tenure for new teachers. After much speculation, Florida Governor Charlie Crist vetoed the bill Thursday.

In theory, such a move would have incentivized teachers to make sure their students are achieving academically. In reality, as with many government policies, there may also have been some unintended consequences.

Teachers and other opponents of the merit pay legislation protest in a walk from Lee Middle School to the CTA/OESPA office in Orlando on April 8, 2010. (JACOB LANGSTON, ORLANDO SENTINEL / April 8, 2010)

Since such merit pay would be based on improvement in standardized test scores, the degree to which these tests adequately reflect the knowledge that should be learned by students is of critical importance. Many in Florida have criticized the state’s chief standardized test, the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test (FCAT), for not necessarily accurately assessing what students have learned. Critics, including teachers’ unions and students, have also argued that focus on such tests gives an incentive to teachers to teach solely to the test, de-emphasizing the students’ overall education. Under the merit-pay bill, the teachers’ pay would have been linked partly to their students’ improvement on the FCAT, further exacerbating the perceived problem with the emphasis placed on the much-maligned test.

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Regulate Internships, Get Fewer of Them

April 6, 2010

As if finding the right internship wasn’t hard enough, college students may soon find another obstacle to getting their foot in the door in their prospective occupations: government regulators. A recent report in The New York Times notes the frustration which some regulators are having with companies they believe are using unpaid internships to save money.

The article notes the following:

Convinced that many unpaid internships violate minimum wage laws, officials in Oregon, California and other states have begun investigations and fined employers. Last year, M. Patricia Smith, then New York’s labor commissioner, ordered investigations into several firms’ internships. Now, as the federal Labor Department’s top law enforcement official, she and the wage and hour division are stepping up enforcement nationwide.

Regulators argue that they are only protecting the interns from unfair exploitation (read: expanding the nanny state), claiming that some companies use the title “internship” as an excuse to not pay employees. But wouldn’t these misled “interns” and sponsoring schools soon catch on to such a ploy from companies and reject further dealings with those deceptive firms? Or, do the regulators, as is often the case, view these students and schools as incapable of making these types of judgements on their own without the guiding hand of government (read: paternalism)?

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College Grade Inflation

March 24, 2010

When I ponder the value of post-secondary education, charts like this showing the progression of grade inflation in colleges make me wonder if we’re being misled:

I seriously doubt college students are actually getting smarter. The more likely cause is more lenient grading standards.

So, are today’s A’s really B’s? Does that mean a bachelor’s degree today really only equates to an associates — making a master’s degree only a bachelor’s? Does that, along with the sluggish economy, help partly explain the increased difficulty recent college graduates have faced in finding jobs? That may be reading too much into the stats, but it’s something to ponder, nonetheless.

‘Funding’ Education

February 4, 2010

The Department of Education is boasting that the Recovery Act (read: spending bill) “continues to support over 300,000 education jobs.” A recent press release notes that these funds are “being used to fill over $40 billion in projected state education budget shortfalls for FY ’09 and FY ’10.”

Lost in the release is the fact that the money used to “support” these government jobs is money that comes out of the private economy. Governments cannot create a single government job without first taking money from the private sector. Less money in the private sector means less money for investment in private businesses, which create most jobs.

The reason that state and local budgets are experiencing shortfalls is because the economy is in trouble and they cannot print money like the federal government can. This printing can lead to inflation — a hidden tax on everyone. Somehow, the understanding that money from the government has to eventually come from somewhere is often lost in analysis of government efforts to “fund” certain efforts supposedly aimed at boosting the economy and jobs.

So, while government officials are touting the benefit such “funding” (read: spending money government doesn’t have) has on the economy and jobs, remember there is no free lunch.

A Real ‘Nanny’ State

October 21, 2009

This story is a few weeks old, but it highlights the furtherance of the nanny state … literally. In a previous post, I mentioned the burdensome regulations put on individuals watching other people’s children in both Michigan and Europe. Now, a similar ordeal seems to be happening in Massachusetts.

According to this report from the Boston Herald, the state passed new regulations taking effect in January which would require the following:

Child-care workers are now called “educators.”

Written progress reports must be issued every three to six months that track the cognitive, social, emotional, language, motor and life skill developments of infants and preschoolers.

 Day-care providers must “assist” with toothbrushing after all meals, or for any children on site for four hours or more.

Nannies must devise a “curriculum” that provides “evidence that programs provide specific, planned learning experiences” and that supports “school-readiness.”

To call this evidence of a nanny state is no stretch of the imagination. Policies like these only perpetuate the paternalistic manner in which government treats its citizens.

Criticism of Presidential Speeches to School Kids Nothing New

September 8, 2009

It looks like the criticism over presidential speeches to school children is nothing new. It turns out that Democrats criticized the first President Bush for making such a speech back in 1991.

I found this Associated Press report through a Nexis search. The main focus of the criticism was on the cost of the televised speech, but some critics also viewed it as a political move. Sounds eerily familiar to the criticism voiced against President Obama’s recent speech to school kids, doesn’t it? Except, actual Congressional hearings took place over the Bush speech.

The then-Secretary of Education, Lamar Alexander, defended the speech in a hearing by noting that to let the president “go to a seventh grade classroom and speak to the children of America about the value of education … unless I’m missing something … seems to be exactly what the president ought to be doing.” That also sounds like a familiar defense.

Also of note is that the National Education Association (NEA) criticized Bush for the speech. In another article I found through Nexis, the then-president of the NEA was reported to have said the following:

 … the NEA could not endorse a president who spent $ 26,000 of taxpayer money to televise a speech he recently gave at a Washington D.C. high school “while cutting school lunch funds for the neediest youngsters.”

No criticism of Obama’s speech has come from the NEA. In fact, they have covered it favorably on their site.

Those accusing Obama critics of overly hyping the significance of his speech should remember the way Bush’s critics reacted to a similar speech. Politics is politics. There really is nothing new under the sun.

Grade Inflation

May 7, 2009

In the latest column from Walter Williams, the issue of grade inflation is brought up. Williams argues that it is prevalent in colleges and universities and refers to it as “academic fraud.” He concludes:

The bottom line: To approach truth in grading, parents and employers should lower the average student’s grade by one letter, and interpret a C grade as an F.

I guess the bottom line for me is that all of my A grades should have been B’s. No wonder I’m having a harder time finding a decent job than I expected.

“Free” Speech on Campus

May 4, 2009

This article on the College Republican group at the San Fransisco State University highlights the group’s controversial tactics in getting their message out. One interesting quote from a university spokeswoman shows that the modern university’s respect for free speech is limited:

“Disagreements, expression, exploration of ideas and debate are in fact central to universities – and activities highly valued at S.F. State,” university spokeswoman Ellen Griffin said in an e-mail. “We teach our students to aspire to civil and responsible free speech that reflects tolerance, mutual respect and values of equity and social justice.”

So, it’s OK to exercise your right to free speech as long as it reflects the politically correct code words “tolerance,” “equity” and “social justice.” These words are code for saying that forms of speech that question the behavior of or criticize certain groups are not allowed. Not exactly “free” speech.