Quote of the moment: Jefferson on public education (again), “Preach . . . a crusade against ignorance”

November 26, 2010

Thomas Jefferson Elementary School, Anaheim, California, circa 1940

Thomas Jefferson Elementary School, Anaheim, California, circa 1940; image from the Anaheim Public Library, via the California Digital Library, University of California

Preach, my dear Sir, a crusade against ignorance; establish & improve the law for educating the common people.  Let our countrymen know that the people alone can protect us against these evils, and that the tax which will be paid for this purpose is not more than the thousandth part of what will be paid to kings, priests, & nobles who will rise up among us if we leave the people in ignorance.

To George Wythe, from Paris, August 13, 1786

Excerpted here from The Quotable  Jefferson, collected and edited by John Kaminski, Princeton University Press, 2006, p. 84

2010 Texas Democratic Platform: Public Education Funding

June 28, 2010

This post is third in a series on the education planks of the 2010 Texas Democratic Party Platform.

This is an unofficial version published in advance of the final version from the Texas Democrats, but I expect very few changes.


Texas Democrats believe:

  • the state should establish a 100% equitable school finance system with sufficient state revenue to allow every district to offer an exemplary program;
  • the state should equitably reduce reliance on “Robin Hood” recapture;
  • state funding formulas should fully reflect all student and district cost differences and the impact of inflation and state mandates;
  • Texas should maintain or extend the 22-1 class size limits and expand access to prekindergarten and kindergarten programs; and
  • the federal government should fully fund all federal education mandates and the Elementary and [Secondary] Education Act.

Republicans have shortchanged education funding every session they have controlled the Texas Legislature. After cutting billions from public education in 2003, the 2006 Republican school funding plan froze per pupil funding, leaving local districts faced with increasing costs for fuel, utilities, insurance and personnel with little new state money. To make matters worse, that same plan placed stringent limits on local ability to make up for the state’s failures.

In 2009, Republicans hypocritically supplanted state support for our schools with the very federal “stimulus” aid they publicly condemned after state revenues plunged because of the Republican-caused recession and the structural state budget deficit they created. They reduced state funding for our schools by over $3 billion. Because our student population continues to grow, the combined reduction in state revenue per student was nearly 13%.

Most Texans support our public schools, yet now Republicans want to cut even more from education and also want to siphon off limited public education funds for inequitable, unaccountable voucher and privatization schemes. Texas Democrats believe these attempts to destroy our public schools must be stopped.

Ravitch calls the issue: Will public education survive?

May 1, 2010

Diane Ravitch in Dallas, April 28, 2010 - IMGP3872  Copyright 2010 Ed Darrell

Diane Ravitch in Dallas, April 28, 2010 – Copyright 2010 Ed Darrell (you may use freely, with attribution)

Bill McKenzie, editorial board member and writer for the Dallas Morning News, wrote briefly about the rekindled controversy over standards a year ago — but did he listen to Diane Ravitch on Wednesday night?

He should have.

I first met Ravitch a couple of decades ago when I worked for Checker Finn at the Office of Educational Research and Improvement.   Ted Bell’s idea of a commission to look at education quality, and it’s 1983 report, saved the Reagan administration and assured Reagan’s reelection in 1984.  She was one of the most prodigious and serious thinkers behind education reform efforts, then a close friend of Finn (who was Assistant Secretary of  Education for Research) — a position that Ravitch herself held in the administration of George H. W. Bush.

Ravitch now criticizes the end result of all that turmoil and hard work, the No Child Left Behind Act, and the way it has distorted education to keep us in the crisis we were warned of in 1983.  Then, the “rising tide of mediocrity” came in part because we didn’t have a good way to compare student achievement, state to state.  Today, the mediocrity is driven by the tests that resulted from legislative efforts to solve the problem.

Conditions in education in America have changed.  We still have a crisis after 27 years of education reform (how long do we have a crisis before it becomes the norm), but for the first time, Ravitch said, “There is a real question about whether public education will survive.”  The past consensus on the value of public education and need for public schools, as I would put it, now is challenged by people who want to kill it.

“The new issue today:  Will we have a public education system bound by law to accept all children.”

Ironic, no?  The No Child Left Behind Act has instead created a system where many children could be forced to the rear.

I took an evening in the middle of a week of TAKS testing — the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills.  With ninth through twelfth grades, we had four days of testing which essentially requires the shutdown of the education for the week (we had Monday to review for the test).  It was a week to reflect on just how far we have strayed from the good intentions of public education advocates who pushed the Excellence in Education Commission’s report in 1983.

Ravitch spoke for over an hour.  I’ll have more to report as I get caught up, after a month of meetings, test prep, testing, and little sleep.

Background, more:

Dear President-elect Obama

November 24, 2008

Good execution of a lesson plan here, at one of my favorite blogs, The Living Classroom — with a lot of possibilities for follow-up.

A citizens plea to President-elect Obama

A citizen's plea to President-elect Obama

This may be the only elementary level classroom in the nation with its own lobbyist.

Never underestimate the power of students united to do good works.

In the Boy Scouts’ merit badge series on citizenship, Scouts are required to write letters to public officials.  This is a good exercise.  Not all students get the full value, but on the chance that answers actually come to the letters, this is a good classroom activity.

Hmmm.  I should use it more.

Fighting malaria with reason

October 29, 2007

We can beat malaria without DDT; we can’t beat malaria without bednets.

Editorial from BMJ (née British Medical Journal?) points out that bednets really work, and they work better when distributed free of charge.  Nets cost about $5.00 each, but in nations where a good day’s pay is about $1.00, charging for them merely means they won’t be purchased and can’t be used.

Time for Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Oklahoma, and Steve Milloy, to listen to reason, stop bashing Rachel Carson, and start fighting malaria.

Update, February 2009; the original link seems irrecoverable; see also this research, BMJ 2007;335:1023 ( 17 November), doi:10.1136/bmj.39356.574641.55 (published 16 October 2007

Nobels: Medicine prize for gene knockout tools

October 8, 2007

My general predictions about Nobel Prizes are way off after the first announcement today.

The London Telegraph announced it:

The Nobel prize for medicine is shared today by Mario Capecchi, Martin Evans and Oliver Smithies for their work on stem cells and genetic manipulation that has had a profound impact, from basic medical research to the development of new treatments.

Although stem cells are one of the hottest fields in science today for their potential for growing replacement cells and tissue for a wide range of diseases, the prestigious 10 million Swedish crown (£750,000) prize recognised the international team’s work for genetically manipulating stem cells to find out what genes do in the body and to provide animal versions of human disease to help hone understanding and test new treatments.

Capecchi was born in Italy and is a US citizen. Both Evans and Smithies are British-born. Sir Martin is known for his pioneering work on stem cells in mice, while Capecci and Smithies showed how genes could be modified.

The Nobel Committee press release gives their formal identification and affiliations:

Mario R. Capecchi, born 1937 in Italy, US citizen, PhD in Biophysics 1967, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA, USA. Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigator and Distinguished Professor of Human Genetics and Biology at the University of Utah, Salt Lake City, UT, USA.

Sir Martin J. Evans, born 1941 in Great Britain, British citizen, PhD in Anatomy and Embryology 1969, University College, London, UK. Director of the School of Biosciences and Professor of Mammalian Genetics, Cardiff University, UK.

Oliver Smithies, born 1925 in Great Britain, US citizen, PhD in Biochemistry 1951, Oxford University, UK. Excellence Professor of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, NC, USA.

My usual (and still standing) prediction is that most Nobel winners will be Americans, and educated in America’s public schools. Of the three announced today, one is Italian born (but a U.S. citizen now), and the other two are British.

Update: Turns out that Dr. Capecchi moved to the U.S. from Italy at the age of 9. Does anyone know where he went to elementary, junior high and high school?

Capecchi’s success belies his very difficult upbringing in war-torn Italy during World War II. At the age of four, he was separated from his mother, who was taken by the Gestapo to the Dachau concentration camp. For the next four-and-a half years, he lived on the streets, fending for himself by begging and stealing. The two reunited when Capecchi was nine, and they soon moved to the United States, where he began elementary school without knowing how to read or write or how to speak English.

More prizes to come.


Evangelism vs. scholarship: Bible study in public schools

September 15, 2006

Last year the Texas Freedom Network (TFN) published a revealing study showing that most curricula for Bible study in public schools promote Christian faith more than they study the Bible. The study was done by a witty and amusing professor of religion from Southern Methodist University, Dr. Mark Chancey.

This week they followed up that study with a detailed look at Bible studies courses in Texas public schools, as they are actually presented to students. It’s not pretty.

In their press release, TFN said:

Clergy, Parents Voice Concerns About Public School Bible Classes

New Report Reveals Poor Quality, Bias, Religious Agendas in Texas Courses

September 13, 2006

AUSTIN – Clergy and parents are voicing serious concerns that Bible classes in Texas public schools are of poor quality and promote religious views that discriminate against children from a variety of faith backgrounds.

“The study of the Bible deserves the same respect as the study of Huck Finn, Shakespeare and the Constitution,” said the Rev. Dr. Roger Paynter, pastor of First Baptist Church of Austin. “But in some public schools, Bible courses are being used to promote an agenda rather than to enrich the education of our schoolchildren.”

Dr. Chancey is a solid scholar of the Bible. His criticisms are detailed and often understated, in a business where criticism is generally more hyperbole than substance. Especially if you live in Texas, you should read the report.

In the original study, Chancey noted that some nationally-promoted curricula for Bible studies had plagiarized some of their most important materials, in one case including the entire section on honesty as defined by the Ten Commandments. Dr. Chancey does not write drily — he really does a great job turning words. Both studies are well worth the reading.

First Amendment charlatans are fond of quoting the Supreme Court’s decisions in school-and-religion cases since World War II, in which the Court urges critical studies of scripture, saying such studies are legal and good. Then the charlatans go on to advocate Bible studies that are devotional, confusing a Sunday school class-style of scripture study with the critical literature study the Court actually urged. These reports leave little room for squirming by those advocates.

Last time around, TFN held a meeting here in Dallas featuring Dr. Chancey talking about the report and the reaction to it from the religious right (they were stunned into saying many really stupid things). It was a fun night, and I hope TFN will do it again.

Other coverage of the report:

If you see a particularly good story on the study, will you please send me a link?

Patriots and Christians don’t let children take crappy Bible studies courses:

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