Category Archives: Education

An Open Letter to Jeffco Student Protesters Concerning History Standards

Author’s Note: The following post was intended to be published on September 29th but due to technical difficulties here at The Liberty Papers, publication had to wait. I do believe, however; this is still an ongoing, present concern and the subject matter extends far beyond the Jefferson County School District in the Centennial State.

Dear Student Protesters of Jefferson County:

I must begin with a confession. When I first learned of your student walkouts concerning some proposed changes to the AP History curriculum, I was more than a little bit cynical. These walkouts, I thought, were little more than an excuse to skip class and be ‘part of something.’ I don’t doubt that some students joined the walkouts for that reason; there are always individuals who join a cause because it seems to be the popular thing to do (I should point out that there are many people my age and older who do the very same thing so this is not a criticism of young people per se). This open letter is not intended for these students but for those of you who honestly care about the proposed changes to the history curriculum.

As I started reading about these protests it didn’t take me long to realize that you have very good reason to protest: the aims of the Jeffco School Board for the history curriculum are at best contradictory and misguided. The following paragraph in the Board Committee for Curriculum Review must be the primary reason for your protests:

Review criteria shall include the following: instructional materials should present the most current factual information accurately and objectively. Theories should be distinguished from fact. Materials should promote citizenship, patriotism, essentials and benefits of the free enterprise system, respect for authority and respect for individual rights. Materials should not encourage or condone civil disorder, social strife or disregard of the law. Instructional materials should present positive aspects of the United States and its heritage. Content pertaining to political and social movements in history should present balanced and factual treatment of the positions.

The first three sentences and the last sentence, I am sure, you have no problem with. The materials should be presented “accurately and objectively.”  But if the first goal is objectivity, how can the materials also “promote” other ideas such as citizenship and patriotism at the same time? Promotion of ideas by definition means they intend to encourage students to accept certain ideas and reject others. Objectivity means presenting the material without promoting a certain world view (which is much easier said than done). » Read more

Strange Logic About Violence in the Colorado Legislature

While I have my doubts about some of the more asinine gun control measures passing at the federal level, here in Colorado things aren’t looking so good for gun owners. Among the measures that stand a good chance of passing both houses of the legislature is banning concealed carry permit holders from bringing guns on college campuses. This would reverse a 2008 Colorado Supreme Court decision which stated that the CU Board of Regents could not prohibit permit holders from carrying concealed weapons on campus because college campuses were not exempted according to Colorado’s Concealed Carry Act of 2003.

These sentences in this Denver Post article jumped off the page:

“Students and guns are a bad mix,” said Rep. Claire Levy, D-Boulder, the sponsor of the bill, adding that college student engage in risky behaviors like heavy drinking and drug use.

“As the research shows, you don’t need a gun on a college campus to be safe,” Levy said, saying data overwhelmingly shows students are at low risk of violent crime on campus.

I’ve made this point before that every school campus (which would include college campuses as well as K-12) can expect to have a murder on campus once every 12,000 years. Rep. Levy is quite right that college campuses are low risk in terms of violence. But isn’t the entire impetus behind these calls for more gun control in response mostly to these tragic mass shootings in schools, malls, theaters, etc? If these events are so rare, why then do we need laws limiting the number of rounds in a magazine or clip, banning certain cosmetic features, or expanding gun free zones to include college campuses? I thought the point was that law makers need to “do something” to make our schools, malls, theaters, etc. safer (“if it would save one life…”).

It seems to me that since we are relatively safe, perhaps the best answer is to do nothing.

Dr. Ben Carson Speaks Truth to Power

Until yesterday, if someone asked me what I thought about Dr. Ben Cason, I would have had no idea who you were talking about. After listening to his speech (below) from the National Prayer Breakfast from a few days ago with President Obama just a few feet away, I thought this speech was too good not to share.

As an atheist, there were obviously some points I disagreed with. Theological disagreement notwithstanding, overall there was a great deal of wisdom in what he had to say about history, political correctness, personal responsibility, morality, education, healthcare, the national debt, and the tax code. There was easily more intelligent ideas being spoken here than last night’s State of the Union.

If you don’t watch any other part of this speech, start watching around the 18 minute mark where Dr. Carson talks about the immorality of class warfare the progressive tax code and watch the president’s face (spoiler alert: he doesn’t seem too amused). I honestly don’t know how this guy got in the room, much less had the opportunity to speak!

Your Incredibly Stupid Progressive Economic Propaganda for the Day

There is so much economic ignorance/stupidity in this video (below), I wouldn’t even know where to begin. John Maynard Keynes himself would probably be embarrassed by this video courtesy of the California* Federation of Teachers and narrated by the great economist of our time Ed Asner.

I don’t have much else to say about this video right now, it’s too easy (though feel free to rip it apart here…or defend it). Actually, I am in the planning stages of writing a book that challenges this sort of mentality (I’m shooting for a release date about May 2013). I’m hoping Liberty Papers readers will buy it; I will have discounts for Liberty Papers readers.

And now for your, um…enjoyment[?]: Tax the Rich: An animated fairy tale**

WARNING: This is 7 minutes and 50 seconds of your life you will never get back.

*Oh yes, the state of California which is being run by people with this kind of mentality! Yeah, their economic policies have been working great, haven’t they?

**Fairy tale is actually a very good description.

Accountability, responsibility, risk, metrics, unions, markets… What about education?

As has been discussed here recently, Chicago teachers are striking, even though they already make an average salary nearly double that of the average Chicago family, and are being offered a 16% raise over four years.

I dunno about you, but as a free market partcipant in our economy today, that sounds like a pretty good deal.

Well, first thing is they’re asking for a 30% raise over four years… but that’s really just a negotiating point, and one they don’t expect to get. If it were just about the raise, I’d guess they’d take the 16%.

It’s not.

It’s not really about the money; it’s that the teachers new contract attempts, in even the tiniest way, to add some accountability and performance measures to the teachers contracts.

… and the teachers unions can’t give even a millimeter on this issue. Not one millimeter, not ever. Because if they do, their rigid seniority system collapses, and they lose power.

Here’s a fun fact: a lot of younger teachers don’t mind the idea of performance standards, and they actually LIKE the idea of merit pay, performance bonueses etc… It’s not a foreign idea for them, because all their friends who live in the real world market economy have that sort of thing.

Recently, in Idaho, the commissioner of education managed to get teacher tenure eliminated, and performance based bonuses (note, not performance based salaries or hiring or firing, just bonuses) passed as commission regulations, and then when they were challenged in lawsuits, via statute approved by public referendum.

In response, the teachers unions sponsored an unsuccessful attempt to have the commissioner (who is now serving as one of the two lead advisors on education to the Romney campaign) recalled. So unsuccessful in fact the numbers indicate basically no-one voted for the recall but teachers and their immediate families.

This year, they managed to get enough signatures together to get a repeal effort on the merit pay rules on the ballot as a referendum; polling on which indicates it will fail miserably. Meanwhile, the teachers unions are both suing to prevent the policies from being implemented AND SIMULTANEOUSLY suing to force the department of education to distribute the bonus money, but on a seniority basis.

Trying to have their cake and eat it too.

I don’t understand how much more clear it could be that this has nothing to do with the wellbeing of our children, or about good teachers; it’s about protecting union rules, and union rule…

BUT, there are certainly good, well meaning people, who really do believe that we shouldn’t put performance standards on teachers… That it’s somehow “unfair” or impossible, or just not a good idea etc…

“You can’t hold teachers accountable for the performance of their students, there’s too much they can’t control. Their home lives, their parents, poverty… Good teachers could be penalized simply for having bad students). It’s not fair”

Common refrain from teachers, and from those who support their position in this… After all you wouldn’t want to be evaluated on someone elses efforts and abilities right?

Well… I am. Most likely you are too.

In the free market, we are held accountable for other people performance and decisions etc… all the time.

As an individual contributor, my performance is measured not only by my own efforts, abilities, and success; but that of my group, my manager, and my company as a whole.

As a manager, I am held entirely accountable for someone elses performance. I have tools to motivate them, help them perform better etc… But still, I have to deal with the performance that other people give me. I have to have the skill to use that performance in the best possible way.

“But you can fire your low performing employees”.

Really?

Ever worked in corporate America? Or had a real job of any kind?

So long as my employees meet bare minimum standards, and don’t actually commit a crime (or violate major HR policies), I’m not getting rid of my low performers. It’s up to me, to make them meet the standards I need for my group to be successful.

In sales, you are held accountable for other people actions, decisions, and performance as well. You don’t get to control your customers decisions, and how much they buy from you is dependent more on their performance than yours.

Yes, a skilled salesperson with a good support team will sell more than an unskilled one; and that’s as it should be… but its still entirely dependent on someone elses performance and decisions. A good sales guy can’t get a customer who doesn’t have the money for the product, to buy the product… or at least not more than once.

Good sales managers understand this. They set account and territory sales expectations based on a reasonable evaluation of the possible performance of those accounts. If they don’t then they won’t get any decent sales people to work for them, and they’ll constantly churn sales people making these accounts and territories perform even worse.

What matters in evaluating your ability as a salesperson isn’t your absolute sales, it’s your performance in comparison to other sales people with a similar situation. IF you perform well, then good managers will put you on difficult accounts that have the potential to perform better, and reward you if you make them perform up to potential.

At least if you have a decent management team.

At that point you’re at the mercy of having a good boss, who understands that relative performance is a better judge of your capability than absolute performance…

Just like teachers need to be.

Holding teachers accountable, doesn’t mean that all teachers should be held to arbitrary and universal standards. Teachers that teach all “remedial” students can’t be held to the same standard of performance as those who teach all honors students…

And NO-ONE IS SUGGESTING ANYTHING LIKE THAT.

Or at least no-one serious, with credibility, who should be listened to.

Calling for “standardized testing and accountability” isn’t calling for teachers to make poor students perform at the level of honors students. It’s calling for teachers of all levels of students to perform no worse than average against other teachers of similar levels of students; and to measure improvement in those students over time, compared to other teachers of the same level of students.

How is that unreasonable?

Only those with the irrational… even stupid… belief that teaching is some kind of special “calling” performed only by special people who must be protected from the market forces that the rest of us must cope with; could possibly justify that sort of thinking, with any kind of intellectual honesty.

They generally apply the same sort of thinking to artists, who must be protected from the horrible taste of the masses etc…

Yeah… If we did that, then teachers would be at the mercy of having competent managers, who knew how to evaluate performance.

Just like the rest of us.

In fact… The only time I ever see a serious proposal that teachers should be evaluated by absolute and arbitrary standards… It’s coming from lefties or teachers; because they are trying to “avoid bias” or “avoid subjectivity” etc… etc… etc…

Holding teachers accountable also means holding administrators and school systems accountable. It means making them participate in the market that the rest of us are forced to.

If you have a poorly managed school, good teachers won’t go there.

IF good teachers won’t go there, then good students won’t go there… IF they’re given the option that is…

Oh… wait a second… Hey… that might just be…

And of course, if we allowed that, then the unions would lose…

Oh… hey, that might just be…

Ya think maybe…

Teaching is a job, just like any other. It’s a job that has more benefits than most. These days, it’s even a job that pays more than most. It’s a job that has a lot more security than most. It’s a job that has more garbage and BS and heartbreak than most. It’s a job that’s harder than most. It’s a job that’s a lot more important than most…

Great teachers can do more to help children be successful than anything other than great parents…

But it’s still a job.

Teachers aren’t superheroes, they aren’t artists, they are workers… just like the rest of us.

Teachers don’t need to be protected from the real world, they need to be a part of it, and accountable to it… just like the rest of us.

Maybe if they were, there would be a lot more good teachers, and a lot less bad ones.

Maybe if they our were, our children would be a lot better off.

I am a cynically romantic optimistic pessimist. I am neither liberal, nor conservative. I am a (somewhat disgruntled) muscular minarchist… something like a constructive anarchist.

Basically what that means, is that I believe, all things being equal, responsible adults should be able to do whatever the hell they want to do, so long as nobody’s getting hurt, who isn’t paying extra

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