Friday, March 20, 2009

Learning the Basics

We often hear that our education system is falling behind those of the rest of the developed world, and that if America wants to continue to be a powerful and wealthy nation, we need to pour zillions more dollars into our education system to ensure that our graduates are prepared to compete in the global economy.

Per the comment from 'Anonymous' below - let me make this clear - I do not agree with this assertion! In fact, I believe just the opposite - that we're well past the point of diminishing returns, where more money doesn't fix the problem.

I'm no expert on education, but I have had a chance to work with people from all over the world, and the pleasure of traveling to many places. One of my best friends is an Indian gentleman who grew up in a working class home, the son of a postal worker.

Once he completed elementary school, the competition began. If his eventual goal was college (and it was), then he had to compete for one of the limited number of seats in the college preparatory high schools (which he did successfully). Then to get into college, the competition was even more intense. My friend was one of literally a handful of students admitted to the Indian Institute of Technology, one of the most prestigious engineering schools in the world, where he graduated with a degree in Electrical Engineering. Unlike the case with American colleges, nearly 100% of his freshman classmates graduated with him. Those unable to do the work had been weeded out long beforehand.

India is perhaps the extreme. With so many people and so much poverty, their government cannot afford to expend resources without the expectation of results. So they don't force kids who have neither the interest nor the competence to sit in the classrooms taking courses yet gaining little benefit for themselves or their society.

But my observation is that India is not so unique in the world in its approach of being more selective about which kids are offered the college prep curriculum in high school.

I once hosted a Japanese gentleman who is a teacher of English in a high school near Tokyo. He told me the Japanese system is somewhat like the one in India, in that students must demonstrate ability via tough exams in order to be admitted to the college prep high schools. The competition is so fierce that most of the kids attend tutoring sessions after school in order to increase their chances of being accepted into a college prep high school, for failure to do so risks disgracing themselves and their family.

In 2001, I had the privilege of serving as a chaperone for a group of Darby kids, including my youngest daughter, who traveled to Germany to visit and attend classes with students of the Vitzthum Gymnasium in Dresden. In Germany, a gymnasium is not a physical education facility, but rather their word for a college prep high school. As is the case in India and Japan, the college prep track is not just a course of study within a common public school, it is a completely separate facility. When we were there, in early June, the graduating seniors were having their oral graduation examination.

That's right – oral examinations. One by one, the kids had to appear before a panel of teachers sitting in a room dressed up especially for the occasion - behind a table with white linen tablecloths, candelabras, and vases of flowers – and be grilled on any subject.

So what happens to the kids in India, Japan and Germany who don't qualify for the college prep high schools?

They are certainly not cast aside. They are given high quality education in skills and trades which prepare them for immediate employment in the workforce. We call this vocation education in our country, but tend to say it with a sneer, like only 'dumb' kids would make this choice. Not so in other countries – they recognize the need for skilled workers, and are not about to waste resources forcing a kid to sit through a high school curriculum that prepares them for failure in college and leaves them without a trade.

This article was prompted by an editorial that appeared in the March 14, 2009 edition of The Columbus Dispatch entitled "Education too centered on college prep," written by Thomas M. Stephens. Stephens is a professor emeritus of the College of Education of The Ohio State University. Here is some of what he had to say:

"The current consensus is that simply raising the bar will improve public schools. This is group-think and it's wrong. It tries to turn high schools into mini-academies. Yet only about half of Ohio's high-schoolers enroll in college, and only about half of them finish. That could be interpreted as having 75% of Ohio's high-school students getting an education that isn't best suited for them"

"Regardless of aptitudes and motivation, all students are to be respected and treated with dignity – not forced to pass tests for which they lack sufficient aptitude. Force students to achieve beyond their thresholds and they feel stupid and will turn away from schooling. Give them options, open up the curriculum, and let them know that those who don't go to college are just as worthy as those who do."

"In the long run, more of our students will have skills for employment and more will be prepared to be productive citizens."

Readers of this blog know that I make no attempt to claim any special knowledge about the field of education. So the purpose of this article is not to argue the validity of Professor Stephens' views, but to point out that if he is right, we seem to be wasting a lot of resources trying to force all kids through a curriculum that benefits neither the kid nor society.

In 2006, the new Ohio Core Curriculum was made law via Ohio Revised Code 3313.603, requiring all kids beginning with those who enter 9th grade in 2010 to complete four years of math, through Algebra II, as well as advanced study of chemistry, physics, biology, astronomy, geology or other earth or space science.

Further reading of ORC 3313.603 yields what may be the driving force behind this law:

"Whereas teacher quality is essential for student success in completing the Ohio core curriculum, the General Assembly shall appropriate funds for strategic initiatives designed to strengthen schools' capacities to hire and retain highly qualified teachers in the subject areas required by the curriculum. Such initiatives are expected to require an investment of $120 million over five years."

I sense the fingerprints of the Ohio Education Association all over this legislation. The punchline of this law isn't that it will create the so-called "21st Century Workforce," but rather that it earmarks $120 million of the state budget to go towards teacher compensation. To be sure, an argument can be made that some of this money could be spent on better classroom equipment and technology, and perhaps more training opportunities for teachers in these subject areas. In fact one way that this provision could be enacted is to provide a special scholarship programs to science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) teachers to allow them to add to their college credentials. Of course, the teacher pay structure in Ohio rewards gaining such credentials with higher pay, regardless of whether or not more credentials actually improves teacher performance.

It looks like the Federal Government is going to be passing out money by the truckload to try to prevent another Great Depression, and a fair chunk of that money is most likely going to end up in Ohio's education system, just because of the political power of the school employee unions. If we're not careful, this (hopefully) one-time influx of money will permanently raise the cost of running our public schools through the creation of all kinds of good and not-so-good initiatives that morph into 'must-have' components of our education system – just like air-conditioned buildings and football stadiums.

By the way, the Vitzthum Gymnasium we visited in Germany had neither air-conditioning nor elaborate facilities for athletic competition or performance arts. I sat in a class one day and listened to my friend Uwe Fleck teach his students about the element of English grammar called the 'gerund,' a concept not present in German. When he asked the American kids visiting his class to explain the usage of the gerund in English, they all sat there with blank stares.

Seems the German kids learn more about English grammar than do our own.


  1. "if America wants to continue to be a powerful and wealthy nation, we need to pour zillions more dollars into our education system to ensure that our graduates are prepared to compete in the global economy."

    Whatever you're smoking, Paul, please let me know. I like to escape reality from time-to-time, too.

    Olentangy is a prime example of the folly of this statement. We are so flush with cash that the administration is having difficulty finding new and creative ("wasteful") ways to spend it. And funding has never been a problem here. But we've been stuck at a 103 PI for over a decade and our college freshman remediation rate is 20% (greater, if you factor in private colleges, which the Board of Regents cannot mandate to submit stats).

    We have a terribly expensive and wasteful elementary school Strings curricula (the whole program costs $600K+ annually); in our high schools we have four ceramics courses, three jewelry-making courses and more drama course offerings than Beverly Hills High does (true). We have only two computer science courses.

    The lone, sane voice on our school board, Jennifer Smith, suggested that a--A--ceramics or jewelry course be replaced with another computer science offering. At the next board meeting there were 100 teachers' union members denouncing her, with several speakers claiming that she was "the biggest threat to the district".

    We have a Spanish teacher who wasted a semester of classroom time showing kids a dozen R-rated movies in the classroom (with heavy sexual themes)--with English subtitles, no less. She then wasted two months of classroom time by making her students pretend to be illegal immigrants, struggling to make it in the US. This lesson, "La Migra" was created by La Raza, the racist chicano movement group. When cornered on this by board member Jennifer Smith the unions and administration circled the wagons around her. The superintendent and board (sans Smith) voted to give this "educator" a lifetime contract. Never again will her continued employment be up for review or renewal.

    Only when the unions are taken out of public education will we be able to get serious about preparing our kids for the global competition they face.

  2. Anonymous:

    Thanks for pointing out the ambiguity of my message above. I've inserted a note that I hopes clarify my position - which I think is much like yours, and is well documented in the hundreds of postings in this blog.

    I'm a fan of Jennifer Smith, and had the opportunity to speak with her last year.

  3. Anonymous,

    Your categorization of an elementary strings program as "wasteful" speaks to your ignorance regarding the importance of music as a development for the "whole" student, not just the academic side. Thinking of a world full of individuals "smart" in Science, Math, Social Studies, and Language Arts, but without competent training in the fine arts makes me cringe. The ability to be creative and express oneself is THE fundamental aspect of the human condition. Music, ceramics, jewelry, and drama seek to serve the development of students in ways the big four do not.

    If anything, we should be increasing the offerings in the Fine Arts, not reducing them. We are rapidly approaching an era where public schools only "educate" students academically. All forms of creativity and self-expression are being removed to focus on increased testing. I fear students will graduate only to find themselves unhappy and unfilled in their lives, not having the means to do the things that make us human.

  4. Musicman:

    The notion that it is the purview of the state to decide what makes my kid 'whole' is wrong-headed, in my opinion. I think it's fostered a whole generation of parents (and I'm looking in the mirror as I say that) that abdicate their responsibility to raise their own kids to the state (now I'm sounding like Jim Fedako over at Anti-Positivist).

    Similar to the notion of "push" and "pull" marketing strategies, I think we've turned our education system into a "push" entity, in that we let the educators decide what curriculum kids need to be good employees instead of letting employers tell us what kind of education they want their employees to have (a "pull" approach).

    Again, we have some model of this at the post-secondary level. When someone tells you they have an engineering degree from MIT or a music degree from Julliard, as an employer you have some knowledge what comes with that package. As an employer, you can decide whether to compete with other employers to hire a star MIT grad, or spend less and be happy with the level of talent you get from a less rigorous school.

    As a student, you make the decision whether to spend the big bucks to attend MIT hoping to make the big bucks when you graduate, knowing that to get in, you have to meet their admissions requirements, which I imagine are quite different (but equally discerning) for MIT and Julliard.

    So as a junior high/high school student, I know what kind of courses I need to take if I want to go to MIT. I'd better take advanced math and science for starters.

    If I want to go to Julliard, I'd better take lots of music theory and music performance, and probably take private lessons on the side. My math studies might end at Trig because more advanced math is not helpful in getting into Julliard, and I'd rather devote the time to improving my performance skills, because an audition is going to key to admission.

    In other words, I make my college choices based on what I believe it does to my 'marketability' in my chosen field. And those choices start way back in middle school.

    Somehow we've gotten to this bizarro world where the state government pushes through law that says every kid in every school district must pass Algebra II before graduation. And they say that they believe that doing this will give us a competitive edge over the rest of the world. In fact, it's so important that we will throw more and more resources (meaning teachers, tutors and aides) behind it to make sure every last kid struggles through.

    I suspect that what happens is that we slide toward a convergence between ability and expectations - ie that if we can't get everyone over the bar, we keep lowering the bar until we can. That's not helping anyone - except the ever-increasing corps of education workers.

  5. I would say it would concern me that given the ability to succeed and compete in the job marketplace that if true as stated that there are only two computer classes versus the art offerings that the priorties are slightly off base

    Interesting about the remediation rate noted. Paul, do you happen to know what Hilliards IS?

    The Strings cost is interesting
    It used to be that those activities were
    engaged in private lessons payed by the participant.

    I think also if would be interesting to have a specific breakdown on the 600,000 cost
    as it relates to real expense
    Is this all salary and benefits ?
    Do the students have to provide their own instrument. Does the school subsidize the instrument.

    The Spanish course issue is also
    interesting. Perhaps their are some additional details we dont have.

    At some point I would still like
    our district and others to give us ideas where all the increases in funding they are requesting is going to come from. The lack of
    attention to bring to the table to the community how compensation can be modified slightly is regretable

    As noted on another post, the May levies that are coming up focused on increased pay to play, and possible total elimination of
    extra curriculars.

    If each district reduced the compensation increase for the next contract perhaps 3% I believe these programs could be saved.

    Sacrifice has to come from all sides, not just from the individual

  6. Rick:

    Nope - don't have any stats about remediation rates in our district.


  7. MusicMan--

    Students in Bangalore and Beijing are designing software, not bangles and bowls. If you really want your child's educational focus to be on producing those kinds of things, then feel free to take him/her to your local rec center to do that, or to CCAD. There is no place in a high school curriculum for four ceramics courses and three jewelry courses. And there's no excuse for a high school to have only two computer science courses.

    A former Olentangy band director gave me an earful about how ill conceived and wasteful our Strings program is, and how disgusted he is that we have six choir offerings.

    When a school district has three times as many ceramics and jewelry offerings than computer science courses that's a problem.

    Your mention of "Whole Child" nonsense is just silly. You're really not a serious person if you believe in this stuff. This blog is an adult conversation about education and you're discussing esoteric, non-measurable gibberish like ASCD "Whole Child" nonsense.

    By the way, Hilliard's remediation rate is 33%. Don't try to rationalize the rate against the low "Minimum College Preparatory Curriculum" stats. Remediation for college freshmen means that they didn't master high school-level English/math. These students don't qualify to take an entry level college English/math course, let alone succeed in it, which is what "College Preparatory Curriculum" is supposed to do.

    How can a school district brag about being "Excellent With Distinction", as the Olentangy regime does at every opportunity, when 1-in-4 of its graduates has to retake high school level English/math as a college freshman? I call it the Unpreparedness Tax. Parents of kids whose school districts didn't prepare them to graduate high school have to pay thousands of dollars more to their child's college to re-teach them what they paid tens of thousands of dollars to their school districts to do. Parents should be able to deduct the cost of college remedial courses from their property taxes.
    Anyone want to take that one to the statehouse?

    The remediation stats are mandated by the state from every public university and college. The 33% is likely low by five points due to the fact that private schools do not submit stats, and we all know that these small, private liberal arts colleges will admit just about anyone who has the money to afford tuition, so their requirements tend to be much lower than most public universities and a magnet for lesser prepared students.

    Again, this isn't little ol' me saying that 1-in-3 Hilliard high school graduates aren't prepared for college--these are universities who are telling you.

    There's a school district report and a high school report. Bill Wagner is the performance statistician at OBoR and is very approachable if you have questions.

  8. Music Man says: "I fear students will graduate only to find themselves unhappy and unfilled in their lives, not having the means to do the things that make us human."

    So, what he is saying is that our kids will lead "unhappy and unfilled (sic)" lives if they don't have "fine arts" opportunities in school. In fact, without Art or Music instruction they won't be human! (what?).

    Judge: "Do you have any last words before being sentenced?"

    Convict: (sniff) "My 'unhappy and unfilled (sic)' life is a sad result of not having Fine Arts opportunities as a ten year-old...I'm not even human!" (sniff)


    The contract the public is supposed to have with the public education apparatus (or is it apparatchicks) is to educate our kids, not to entertain them and not to socialize ("indoctrinate") them. Long has the time passed when those lines were erased in our public schools and we now see the results. The OBoR stats confirm this.

  9. Anon, thanks for the link. Paul
    somehow I think the remediation
    issue got lost in the "shuffle"
    I dont remember hearing anything from the district on this one.
    If actually true, that is a scary
    number. Of note I know a number of
    students from last years class that are really struggling in some of the basic math, and science.

    I think this teaching to the test
    to make a score is something that needs to be relooked at.

    Anon, I do think some creativity
    is needed, but the scenario you
    present is kind of scary.

    Of note, NO ONE has come forward
    on we are going to finance all of this curricula

    I note that Groveport Madison
    employees have agreed to a step raise only. Still many will get
    4% there. but they made some
    type of offer.

    I think the cutting is over in many households, it is time to hold the line at minimal leves on increases in spending. Not sure why "if it is about the kids" that this would be a problem

    Paul, do you plan on asking for a freeze again for one year like your previous proposal. I thought about presenting a new specific plan to include benefits, time off
    planning time, and holding increase
    to 2.5% for 2 or 3 years.

    At a base average of 50,000
    a 2.5 % raise would be..........?
    Wow, that would be a tough one to take for some of us !

  10. Rick

    The majority cost of the Olentangy Strings program is the instructors, of course. The other is the high cost of purchasing and maintaining stringed instruments, which require much more care and attention than brass or woodwind instruments.

    As far as that Spanish teacher is concerned there's nothing more to know about it. What I reported here is 100% accurate. The link is too long to post, but copy/paste this into your browser and it'll take you to the article:

    columbus dispatch Students struggle as immigrants do

    The article, of course, fawns over this nutjob.

  11. Rick:

    We're still building the platform for the Nov school board election, so don't have an answer to your question about salary proposals. I'd certainly like to see what you're thinking.

    I think I read that the OEA is advising local teachers' unions to go easy on compensation stuff in this negotiating cycle. Seems to me that the union folks in one district said they were going to concentrate on non-salary stuff, like "telephones in the classroom."


  12. Rick:

    School districts abhor the OBoR remediation report because it is based on hard metrics, and public education does everything it can to either avoid the measurement of results or rationalize poor ones.

    School districts cannot spin the OBoR School District Performance report because the data comes from colleges and universities (and fellow "educators" at that). Olentangy hired a full time statistician to help the district measure data and, presumably, to spin non flattering statistics.

    Our district touts its "Excellent with Distrinction" rating at every opportunity when they know it is nothing more than verbiage based upon a sliding scale--a scale that is increasingly being aggregated downward to accommodate lower and lower denominators. How else can one explain that the district went from "Effective" to "Excellent", to "Excellent With Distinction" over the course of 12 years or so while maintaining a 103 PI? The score didn't change, but the state changed the ratings scale.

    How can a school district call itself "Excellent..." when only 75% of its graduates are proficient in high school English/math?

    The remediation stats are the gold standard or preparedness, which is the charge of our school districts.
    It is to prepare our kids for either college or the workforce. What school districts should do is partner with local colleges and have them review curricula with a "what do we need to do in order to bridge the preparedness gap?". Get recommendations and build that bridge backward: from high school to college, from middle school to high school, from elementary to middle, so there's a curricular pathway of preparedness established from Kindergarten to high school. Only about 50% of students are "college material". And that's where vocational schools come in. But, regardless if one becomes a petroleum engineer or a technician at Jiffy Lube his employability is based upon his ability to communicate and compute proficiently. And on these measurements--the most basic educational charge we task our schools with--they fail miserably.

    But, instead doing something as obvious as reaching out to, say, OSU or Otterbeing, or pursuing educational pursuits that based upon long-proven, classical methods and materials, curriculum directors and teachers have turned our classrooms into social laboratories and foist upon our children failed, alternative educational modalities like "The Whole Child", "The Alternative Classroom", "Formative/ Summative Assessment" and "Everyday Mathematics". The latter three are in full swing at Olentangy, and the incoming superintendent speaks fawningly over the former, which is "Outcome-Based" education redux.

    How can our kids learn to speak and write well when they're made to read books such as these:

    "Formative Assessment, by the way, is the "co-learning" "journey" nonsense I wrote of in a past post, and "Summative Assessment", is nothing more than allowing the student to take a test as many times as s/he wants or needs to in order to achieve the desired outcome (passing).

    This is what has become of our school district, and we're shocked to learn that only 75% of the kids we churn through our schools are capable of communicating and computing with proficiency.

    Wake up, Hilliard. Look under the hood of your school district and examine the engine. What our district promotes ad nauseum as a Rolls Royce is really just a Kia under the hood. But...we're paying for the Rolls Royce.

    The Kia will still get you to where you need to go, all right...but only 75% of the time. Would you base a life decision on something with only 75% reliability? Why do we tolerate schools that prepare only 75% of our kids for life after graduation?

    Pardon me...OBoR says that only 67% of Hillard students are prepared for life beyond graduation. But you get the picture.

    Sharpen your pitchforks and go to your next board meeting to demand answers and a plan to address this.

  13. Anon, thanks for your information
    and hope you realize I was not challenging your facts directly

    I am quite interested in the fact that the district is providing these instruments. This is
    not something that should be paid with tax dollars at the elementary level.

    Just so you are aware Paul has
    made a great effort in trying to get the Hilliard board to respond and react. I tried but found it
    interesting to just be ignored.
    The employees and the district here are way too tied together.
    We have challenges within the district in getting proper information from them to adequetely qualify for college aid.

    I wish you continued good wishes as you stay aware of what is happening in your district.

    Paul, on the proposal. I have one written, but at this point am debating if it is worth the hassle.
    It is pretty simple and straightforward and would signal to the community that the district is willing to make compensation
    adjustment along with the employee representatives.

    I guess after supporting every levy and the system, I am tired of
    the continued mantra from our employees and the district that
    "we dont get it" and "we are responsible for hurting the Kids"

    I dont remember any members of the community "working to the contract"

  14. Rick:

    "Should" does not exist in a school districts vernacular.

    If you really want to stump your board just ask each member to explain what his/her job is on the board. They'll say "I work for the kids", or "to support the administration", etc. These folks have no idea that it is their job to enforce accountability. Our board perpetuates the cascade of dysfunction that exists in the district: teachers don't hold students accountable; the principals don't hold their teachers acountable; the superintendent doesn't hold his principals accountable and the board doesn't hold the superintendent accountable. There is laxity at every level, from the top-down. A company that was run like that would be out of business quickly.

    A board member discovered that the treasurer--the only direct employee of the board--kept the assistant treasurer on the payroll months after she left her job at our district, for a treasurer position at another district. The treasurer was nailed on this with irrefutable evidence and the board did nothing about it. My understanding is that she was never even asked about it by another board member. They completely ignored it.

    So, boards think it is their job to ignore bad behavior from employees in order to protect the district against negative publicity when, in fact, they should harshly punish that kind of behavior to make an example that such behavior will not be tolerated.

    It's a basic tenet of economics that what one subsidizes, one gets more of; what one taxes, one gets less of. It would benefit all of us--student and taxpayer alike--if school boards understood this.

  15. I think a school board has pretty much the same responsibilities as a corporate board:

    1. Set the core strategy for the organization.
    2. Hire management that will execute that strategy. Replace them if they don't.
    3. Marshall the financial resources to support the strategy.

    Whether a corporate board or a school board, their job is to represent the interests of the owners (the community in the case of a school board, the shareholders in the case of a corporation), not the interests of the management. Most corporate boards get this completely wrong, which is the reason our economy has just blown up.

    I know what went wrong with corporate boards - they got on the same stock option gravy train as the executives they were hiring. So the managements and boards were in kahoots trying to fool the market into thinking they had something worth a huge P/E. Long-term viability took a back seat to quick and massive payoffs.

    And another parallel between the corporate and school board world - the shareholders are supposed to hold the corporate board accountable by actually paying attention to what they do. And the local community is supposed to keep the school board in the game by involving themselves in school governance.

    But apathy rules in both situations. Democracy is not a spectator sport - the public has to get in the game for it to work! Otherwise it doesn't look much different than socialism...


  16. WOW! This is truly amazing!

    Are you folks seriously telling me that "humans" are and should be defined by their employment? That preparing a student for a job is more important than preparing a student to be a well rounded human being? That keeping up with the Joneses should trump efforts to give students other avenues of expression?

    Paul says we should start deciding in middle school what kind of future employment we want to have, and should choose our courses accordingly. So Paul, we shouldn't experience aspects of life other than those we which to pursue professionally? I guess I wasted my time in Spanish, AP Biology, AP History, and Drafting. I don't do any of those things professionally, but took them all in high school.

    Rick says music should be paid for by private instruction. Why? Because it isn't as important as science or math? Well Rick, my JOB is music. I get paid to do it. But you are saying my parents should have been responsible for giving me those experiences, while the school should provide experiences to train other students for science and math professions. Explain how that makes sense. The HCSD gave me experiences in music that prepared me for my future employment. Isn't that the point??

    Anonymous said this:
    "This blog is an adult conversation about education and you're discussing esoteric, non-measurable gibberish".

    I wasn't aware that giving quality education to the expressive and artistic side of a human being was gibberish, OR that it wasn't welcomed in an adult conversation.

    I must say I am truly disappointed in where this led. At the risk of receiving more berating and childish comments, I would invite you to read an contemplate the following speech:

    Music and the fine arts are not ancillary activities meant to entertain while in the car, they are an integral part of who we are. They allow us to express and experience things the written word does not allow. They are not extra, they are ESSENTIAL.

  17. Musicman:

    You missed my point entirely - I didn't say any of those things were unimportant. I said it's not the purvey of the state to decide what is essential for my kid. That's a decision for me and my kids to make (more mine when they're little, more theirs when their older).

    Fine arts is not necessary for every kid. Neither is calculus or foreign language study. We each need to decide how to make our own way through life, and partake of the resources available to enable those choices.

    I don't think that means we even need public schools - at least not in the form they have become. As I have written before, I believe the vast majority of parents should pay for school directly via tuition, and that tuition assistance be granted only to those who need it - in the same way food stamps are given to people who can't afford food (which is truly a necessity).

    You would say that students must take fine arts because the state has deemed it to be a necessary component of every citizen's education.

    I prefer to say that fine arts should be offered to anyone who wants to expand their knowledge. That allows for individual choice.

    Some will make those choices based on how it affects their career. Others will make the choice without regard to their career potential.

    We've got to get out of this mindset that 'the state knows best.'

    One essential of capitalism is having no more than the minimum amount of regulation to keep things from oscillating out of control. We clearly failed in this requirement in regard to our financial markets. We need to fix this and move on.

    Another is the willingness of the people to make their own decisions and live with the consequences without burdening the rest of society. If we are a good people, those with good fortune will have compassion and charity to those less fortunate.

    We've made luxuries seem mandatory, and individual risk an enemy to be mitigated by the state. Both positions are extremely expensive, as we are seeing right now. In the long run, we simply can't afford them.

    It really is about survival.


  18. Musicman, my comments were strictly
    about the strings program at the elementary level. Not about music, arts, theatre etc. I would not favor a strings program in Hilliard that costs this amount when we have cut theatre,busing etc.

    The priority of educational offerings such as computer, technology etc versus having more
    ceramics courses, jewelry than a computer offering is way off base

    Again, you dont acknowledge the huge cost and who is going to pay for this huge curriculum. The state is going to probably cut or
    zero out any increase for our district. We need to focus on
    the important facets that will get our children the skills to compete in a very tough economic and job market environoment.

    As the board, and the employee unions dont have the courtesy to respond to citizens proactive
    suggestions to adjust the compensation module slightly, less
    of a total raise by the way NOT a pay cut as our proposals have been
    described as, then given our economic scenarios, budgets, we have little left to cut. So while I can support the total well rounded curriculum, you expect the
    community to ante up with an open checkbook, with comtempt and a total disregard that right now people are struggling and cannot afford right now these continual increases.

    We have allready heard the tripe from the employee unions, to tell us to give up cell phones, cable,
    vacations, new cars etc to pay for
    their 7% raises. Problem is many dont have any of the above right now

    So do tell us, if we put addedthings here like an elementary strings program @ $600,000 who is going to pay that bill.?

    The community has consitently supported school levies here. When are your colleagues going to come to the table with their fair share with just a slight adjustment
    So much for "its about the kids"

    A computer class is going to enhance knowledge to compete in the
    unprotected competitive marketplace
    And that student when they reach
    work in the private sector, doesnt have the work to the contract
    option !

  19. Paul, I think it is time for a serious discussion on remediation rates in our District. I have accessed anywhere from 24% to 32%

    If we are "Excellent with distinction designation" why is the remediation at an alarming rate?

    Musicman, my question was only
    about spending $600,000 on an elementary strings program. The spanish issue is also a bit enlightning.

    Someone still has to explain WHO
    and how we are going to pay for this. I have full confidence that OUR district is going to see flat or slightly reduced funding.
    With all the potential for new homes west of Alton Darby, the costs are going to be staggering.

    So can we have some adjustments or is it business as usual.

  20. Paul,

    I would say fine arts, and music specifically in this case, are more vital to our success as human beings than any calculus or science class. Those classes make you smart. The fine arts make you HUMAN. They allow you to feel and express things that words cannot.

    Some things shouldn't be parental choice. Physical activity for children shouldn't be a choice for parents. 3 square meals a day shouldn't be a choice for parents. Music, and all of the positive things it provides, shouldn't be a choice.

    I get what you are saying Paul. As always, I agree with 95% of it, and I am thrilled that you continue to give me a forum to speak.

    However, some things are more important than a parents right to choose what THEY think is best for their kids.

    Kids without physical activity have increased risk for obesity. Obesity detracts from ones quality of life, whether it is your choice or not.

    Kids without 3 squares a day may suffer from malnutrition. That detracts from ones quality of life, even though it has nothing to do with test scores.

    Kids without the fine arts run the risk of missing out on LIFE.

    I personally don't think that should be a choice. Every student should take music or art EVERY DAY. Not build their musical skills so they can play professionally, but so they can learn, maintain, and develop their ability to think, feel, convey, and express emotions. So they can live life to the fullest.

    I get what you are saying, I just don't agree.

    The ability to express emotion is one of the keys that sets us apart from other species. Where is that addressed in Science, Math, Social Studies, or LA on a DAILY basis.

    I fear we are spending so much time trying to figure out how to get our kids smarter, that we are missing the boat on what will help make their lives complete and purposeful.

  21. Musicman--

    It's called prioritization. Public school is for the public good. Contrary to how our school districts behave, and how you think, resources truly are finite and they need to be apportioned to those activities which maximized ROI and truly server the public good.

    It does not serve the public good that tax dollars are spent teaching teenagers how to make bracelets and pottery. As far as music is concerned, basic music education is as far as it should go. Any further than that and parents can get their kids private instruction, which is what my parents did for me did all through grade and high school, as I took it seriously and had advanced far beyond my peers in band.

    Music has been one of the loves of my life, having begun playing guitar and bass at 9 and having played professionally as a studio musician in my younger days (my bohemian days in NYC).

    Olentangy has an exhorbitantly expensive Strings program for elementary kids and six choirs, four ceramics and three jewelry making courses at the high school level. Please--it's overkill.

  22. Musicman is a statist. According to he, without the state to provide services--in this case, fine arts instruction--children will be culturally "malnurished" and wither on the vine of life. If not for the benevolence of the state our children are doomed to enter adulthood as (gasp) non persons!

    And, of course he's right. Look at all of those culturally well-nourished Soviet kids who learned to read and play Tchaikovsky before they could read and write cyrillic. And also those Soviet school children who became the finest practitioners of ballet and opera and gymnastics. They grew up so fulfilled, so happy, so...human! One would never believe they'd ever want to defect from that grand cultural empire, the USSR. But they did, and often. And many, many more of them would also have defected to that cultural dungeon known as the United States--the place where school children are culturally malnourished--, if given the chance.

    Musicman--tell you what--my son wants to take guitar lessons. He has no interest in woodwind, brass, percussion or (classical) stringed instruments. He wants to play guitar--instruction in which is not offered in our school district. How about you pay for his lessons? You advocate that music instruction without limit is a public good that you and me should have to pay for, right? Then, surely you'll agree to help pay for my son's lessons.

    I'll give you the name of the instructor and I'll set up an account that you can help settle monthly--how's that?

    Until you take me up on my offer you've forfeited the privilege to argue your silliness.

  23. Anonymous,

    You have taken my comments to such an extreme level so as to remove entirely the intent in which I wrote them. I certainly am not a "statist", and never came close to implying anything in your diatribe.

    Again, for the billionth time, I agree with all of you about funding. I agree that there is too much burden on the taxpayer. I agree that unfunded mandates do nothing but cause problems. I agree that schools need to prioritize.

    I don't think Science is more important than music. I don't think Math is more important than music. I think they all are extremely important, and serve to educate different aspects of our children.

    What I think I am getting from you folks is that the big four are important, we should focus on those, and if there are cuts, they should be on the "unnecessary" things like music and art.

    My questions are:

    What happens in a world without music?

    Why is it "silly" or "not a priority" to provide students a comprehensive music education? (Don't you listen to the radio, go to concerts, watch movies, have an iPod, cry at weddings, cry at funerals? Where does that stuff come from? EMOTION. Why are we not addressing that?

    (Please note I have not, and will not, resort to the insults that have been lobbed at me in this post.)

  24. Musicman, while I support a well rounded program, how about some suggestions on how we are going to pay for this.? Not sure what else you want me to eliminate.

  25. Classic:

    "I don't think Science is more important than music. I don't think Math is more important than music."

    Civilization was created by scientists and mathematicians (not politicians or lawyers, or for that matter, musicians). Most things we interact with, learn from and enjoy were created by scientists and mathematicians. Our world has been shaped more by scientists and mathematicians than by anyone else.

    Musicman--who do you think created the radio you cited in your post? A musician??

    Funny thing is, the bass I play and have owned for many years is a Music Man. I've been playing guitar and bass for thirty years. Listening and playing music has brought immense joy and meaning to my life. But I didn't need music instruction in school to learn how to play and enjoy music.

    Only about 50% of kids are "college material". Nobody is advocating that science and math be shoved down kids' throats. But, no matter what vocation our graduates choose to endeavor after graduation they all benefit from having studied--and mastered--intermediate mathematics. Even students who become musicians.

  26. Rick,

    My desire for the fine arts to be considered as integral as the big four really is of little consequence in our current situation. The HCSD has to meet criteria, of which fine arts are not one.

    Here are my thoughts:

    I would like to see the elimination of the unions, as they prevent cost savings on a number of levels.

    Whether by local initiative or state mandate, don't we end up paying one way or another for our schools? Those who call for lessening the burden on property owners may get their wish, only to have state taxes increased to make up the difference. Does that make them happier? I don't know...

    I would like to see school funding more tied to income taxes than property taxes. Also, no more rich giving to poor. I think the state should be responsible for funding ALL mandates, with local initiatives used mainly to fund "extras". This would eliminate the need for poor districts to get money from wealthier districts.

    So, the state decides how much each student gets, what each district needs to meet mandates, and comes up with a number. The state is then responsible for ensuring every district meets that number through:

    -Small local contribution through property tax. These are not voted on, they just exist.

    -Guaranteed state aid.

    -Any non-mandated items for schools would be paid for through local initiatives.

    That is my fantastic plan. It probably isn't realistic, but it probably stands just as much a chance of becoming reality as the current proposal. (Honestly though, I am glad at least there is a proposal. Good for Taxin' Ted for putting something out there to discuss.)

  27. Funding a well-rounded curricula isn't the problem. It's spending on all the ancillary crap that is the problem. One of our board members at Olentangy is all over expenses. She was involved in the FY08-09 budget process; as well she combs over Actuals every month. The reports of faulty budgeting, waste and abuse that she has brought to the attention of the board and public are astonishing. I haven't seen the data myself, but from what she has reported would make most taxpayers livid if they knew (which, sadly, most are not engaged).

    You know there's a problem when the treasurer repeatedly refuses to give a board member financial data--and the rest of the board backs her stonewalling. This board member (Jennifer Smith) has had to request Actuals spend data as a citizen in order to receive it.

    Do yourself a favor and look at your districts budget closely (I'm sure you have, Paul, but look your year-over-year increases in non-headcount/discretionary areas). Then request Actuals spend reports and take a look at what your district is spending money on, and how closely they're tracking Actuals to Budget. Then you'll understand why you can't fund the kinds of programs you want to.

  28. Anonymous,
    I am quite certain the "ancillary crap" you speak of is not the reason we are in the situation we are in districts all over Ohio. You may not like it, but that isn't the root cause of this situation.

    Although, to be fair, if your definition of "ancillary crap" is different than mine, we could be looking at different crap...

  29. Runaway spending on Supplies and Materials, Professional Development that does nothing to raise student achievement, etc. etc. etc. I could fill this post with all the garbage that is procured.

    We--and I assume you, too--pick up the employee portion of administrators' SERS. That's an additional 11% on top of the 14% the state mandates that we contribute. So, someone who is making $100,000 per year gets $14,000 put into their retirement account, standard, per state law. But it is now customary for school districts to "pick up" the employee portion of it, too. This amounts to an additional 11%. And this isn't calculated off of salary, but of total earnings. It's a scam that the public has no idea is happening. I haven't crunched the numbers on it, but picking up the employee portion of retirement costs us hundreds of thousands of dollars a year. To my knowledge, principals and their secretaries are considered "administration", in addition to all of your central office admin.

  30. ...filling in the blanks...a district administrator who makes $100,000 gets an annual retirement contribution, care of the taxpayer, of $25,000. In my district there are approximately 80-100 staff classified as administrators.

    So, for a district with, say, 75 staff classified as administrators, at an average of $65,000 annual compensation the Employee, Employer and "Pick-up (of the Pick-up, which is an additional 1%)"--all paid for by the taxpayer--comes to $1.22MM annually. The 15% Employee and Pick-up share alone costs $536,00.

    What were you saying about my definition of crap being different than yours?

    Go ahead and ask your board members if this is the arrangement with Hilliard SD administrators. If they do know about it they'll not want to discuss it. It's such a scam, which was created to "fairly compensate underpaid public employees" (right...under-worked is more like it) and to "stay competitive". Right--like there is rampant turnover of these cakewalk positions in central ohio in order to skew the supply/demand curve in the job seekers' favor.

    The company I work for just suspended our 401K matching funds program. School district administrators get fully funded retirement of 25% annually without the requirement (or incentive) to contribute themselves.

    Something is terribly wrong here.

  31. Anonymous,

    No school district around here contributes 25% retirement for their administrators. In my district, it works like this:

    14%(I believe that is the percentage) is set aside for retirement:

    10% board paid
    4% employee paid

    For administrators, that 4% is "picked-up" by the board, for a TOTAL of 14%. Granted, that is 14% board paid, but it isn't 25%.

    Retirement percentages are negotiated by individual administrator unions, and none come even CLOSE to 25%.

    I don't know why you are adding 11% TO 14%, that doesn't make sense.

    I would prefer you call your district and get specifics before you use your biased guess to make gross generalizations about the fiscal responsibility of your district.

    Please let us know when you get hard facts from your districts.

    Paul, do you have info on HCSD administrative retirement percentages/pick-up?

  32. ET Al

    No matter what the "percentages"
    they are out of whack. With the current economic situation, simply
    HCDS should simply commit to a 2.5%
    maximum budget growth for the next 3

    The community has consistently
    supported its schools despite the total lack of respect of the electorate with the usual charges that we dont care about the kids.

    Other districts have chosen to hold the line on increases, to help pass a levy. What we got is
    "you dont get it" .

    So, simply there should be a reduction in the amount of our
    budget increases. For those of you
    who dont get it that is not a
    reduction in salary or benefits
    It simply slows the growth that is
    out of control with the latest
    7% debacle.

    Also the district should make a new commitment that they are going to stop trying to balance a budget
    based on 100 % cuts coming from
    just 10% of the budget.

    Someone also needs to get upfront with this remediation disaster in this state that is causing additional expenditures for students and their parents by having to take even more college courses. They should have the knowledge as we are " Excellent
    with distinction " Does not wash

    The real change must come with some huge adjustments in our Dept of Education budget, personnel costs there

    Our districts and their employees have to also take their huge
    campaign war chests and find
    qualified candidates that will
    enact real change in the statehouse.

    As individual homeowners struggling to get by, we cannot afford the huge campaign contributions being dropped in the pockets of the Ohio Legislature

    We are spending thousands to educate our students, and while no one wants cuts, we need to slow the growth of spending.

    Pretty simple. The increases in spending have to come from the
    90% of the budget, not just from
    the 10%

    Reasonable increases in taxes
    perhaps 100.00 per thousand would be manageable for the individual homeowner.

    We need a commitment now from our
    board and its employees that it is time for some serious adjustment

    Benefits also need to be adjusted

    Just in case you "dont get it
    a 2.5% raise would still be
    much higher than any in the private sector are getting with
    wage reductions, freezes layoffs
    double digit health care cost
    premium increases.

    Time to quit worrying about working to the contract and
    save HCDS

  33. Rick/Anonymous/Paul,

    I think FACTS are extremely important.

    Anonymous just used incorrect information as the BASIS for a lengthy argument.

    Rick, when posed with evidence to the contrary, says "No matter what the "percentages" they are out of whack."

    It is this kind of "horse blinder" approach that makes it difficult to have rational discussion. Basically, you are saying:

    "No matter the facts, I will still be upset and think what I want."

    I don't think there is a person on here that disagrees with what Rick says about controlling costs. However, Rick fails to acknowledge
    this important fact, then insults and belittles folks who debate things on this site.

    It is this anger/resentment/hatred that gives me reason to stop frequenting this site. I am here to listen to ideas, get FACTS, and debate merits of my and others points of view. What is forming is a coalition of hatred towards public schools, one from which nothing positive will come.

    FACTS mean a lot to me, and it seems like those aren't required when forming opinions anymore.

    Administrators get their retirement picked up in HCSD because they do everywhere else too. Top flight administrators, of which there are some in Hilliard, would surely go elsewhere if better pay/perks were available. Same goes for HEA employees. The benefits are what keep the great teachers, of which there are many, in our fine district.

    Some of you seem to be expecting HCSD to buck the trend, and:

    -Pay administrators less/less perks
    -Pay teachers less/less perks

    Guess what happens? They leave. Great teachers go to better districts. Quality of school district goes down. Folks don't want to move to our town, etc...

    These perks exist in HCSD because they exist everywhere else, and HCSD has to offer them to stay competitive. Classroom teachers are the single most important factor in the success of young people. All the information is standardized anyway, it is the quality of the teacher that makes the difference (Studies I've read verify this). Don't you want good teachers? Good administrators are ones whom good teachers want to work with. Finding some no-brained idiot to be a principal is a surefire way to lose good teachers (Personal experience verifies this). Don't you want good administrators who bring/keep good teachers?

    However, I AGREE that things are getting out of whack. They are getting that way everywhere. For HCSD to step out of the ring competitively is suicide for keeping/attracting quality teachers. They just can't do that. They know how to operate GREAT schools, so they do what they need to to stay competitive.

    Things need to change. Statewide. Anything less spells doom for the district that takes that ridiculous leap off the cliff.

    We can continue to scream and yell at the "effect", and ignore the "cause", but it seems fruitless.

    The "cause" is the poor funding formula developed by our state legislature. The "effect" is HCSD going to voters far too often in order to support our great school system.

    Right now we are screaming at a fuzzy tv, instead of calling the cable company.

  34. Musicman: I don't have a copy of any of the administrative contracts. Someone once posted a link to a website that supposedly has all of them posted, but it didn't work. I'm trying to find that link again.

    There's no such thing as an 'administrator union' by the way. Each administrator negotiates his/her own contract individually.

    Nor do I believe your portrayal of retirement contributions is accurate. The current STRS contribution mix is 10% from the employee and 14% from the employer. However, the employer can choose to pay some or all of the employee portion as well, and it is my understanding that they often do so for top administrators, such as the superintendent.

    While I agree with your premise that top administrators have to be paid competitively if we want to be able to recruit and retain them, we won't know if the numbers we're paying are the right ones until we test them.

    The tendency is to pay more and more, and you get in the same situation as the corporate world - CEOs getting crazy pay packages. And it's for the same reason: weak Boards who are more in the camp of the management than the shareholders. I know because I have sat on corporate boards and witnessed this tendency.

    A good friend and mentor said that we're currently seeing the 'repricing of America.' The value of all kinds of things are getting re-evaluated - things like real estate, stock prices, and yes, salaries. It happens suddenly and mercilessly in the private sector. I'm not talking about just layoffs - I'm referring to the millions of American workers who have seen wages frozen and cut in the current economic downturn.

    A little of that is going to have to work its way into the public sector. You already see teachers' unions beginning to volunteer to give up their 'annual raises' in the next contract cycle. Of course, this is a pre-emptive move to try to keep attention off the larger component of their salaries increases - the step increase. I'm sorry, but the step increases have to be part of the conversation as well.

    I for one would be willing to freeze our current superintendents pay at the current level for the foreseeable future. Let's see if he quits...

    I'm going to bring this discussion to a close, because I agree with Musicman that it has taken on an ugly tone.