Why race to the top when a student can be on top of knowledge now?


Posted on 11th September 2010 by Judy Breck in Mobiles | Obamaschool

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My blogging here has slowed down because I am working on finishing an eBook about handschooling. Hopefully, I can make it available here before the end of September.

Today, though, I must respond to the inexcusable arrogance about bribing educators with tax money that Obama showed yesterday in his press conference. I cannot find the transcript online, but recall his bragging about over 40% of states are working on innovations for failing schools because the feds are dangling prize money for what they call Race to the Top.

Even on the most fortunate and accelerated schedule, any improvement from these innovations will be years away and will affect only a few students. Obama is not offering a solution to education failures. He is beginning the federal government take over of American education.

The working title of the book I am writing is: Taking schooling into your own hands: Tools and tips for kids caught in the education mess. So how can kids do that?

I think just one first step can do more in a few months than the specious Race to the Top could do in years. Here is what I wrote today for the eBook about that first step:

As a student who is entering the second decade of the 21st century, you can make a key move toward taking your schooling into your own hands by owning and using a mobile device that browses the internet. Doing so connects you into the open online network of the sum total of what is known by humankind. You can click into a webpage about mammals and follow links to study rodents or primates. You can connect to the Perseus Library to study classic literature. You can visit what humankind has thought about the cosmos and and what we are learning about the nano world. Whatever may be happening in your analog schooling, you will have a way to really learn anything you want to learn.

If you are too young to navigate the internet yet, you can use your mobile to practice skills with flashcards and other apps. Doing so will give you understanding and practice in writing with a keyboard.

The tipping factor that will transform failing schools and schooling may well be as simple as providing every individual student with personal mobile access to the internet. It is absurd instead to be pouring millions of dollars toward states to incentivize new ideas.

We do not need states racing to the top of a federal money pile. We should put each student on top of knowledge by putting a smartphone into his hands.

Does your daughter? granddaughter? have her own mobile internet browser? What about other people’s children in you area? The old saying tells us that we save one child at a time. Each kid who has what is known in his own hands is intellectually armed for the his 21st century future.

Obamaschool federal grab update from the New York Times


Posted on 5th April 2010 by Judy Breck in Obamaschool | Politics

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“States Skeptical About ‘Race to Top’ School Aid Contest” is a New York Times front page headline today. The Times, which has been generally supportive of the Obama administration, captures the sense of federal power moves in this quote from Colorado Governor Bill Ritter, Jr. describing how his state lost in the contest for Race to the Top funds:  “It was like the Olympic Games, and we were an American skater with a Soviet judge from the 1980s,” Mr. Ritter said.

The Times article — which is worth reading in full — explains that Obama plans are far-reaching overhauls of American education that will take many years to achieved — but do include some political goodies for the administration coming in September:

Administration officials say they consider last week’s outcome a splendid success. By awarding only $100 million to Delaware and $500 million to Tennessee, Mr. Duncan retained $3.4 billion to dole out to up to 15 winning states in September, weeks before the midterm elections — a political bonus that officials insist is mere serendipity.

Mr. Duncan says the administration won victories months before the results were announced, when a dozen states rewrote education laws in ways the administration had recommended. Michigan, for instance, passed laws permitting state takeovers of failing schools and tying teacher evaluations to students’ test scores.

Such legislative changes laid only the groundwork for states to undertake more far-reaching overhauls of educator evaluation systems and low-performing schools that are the heart of the administration’s school reform strategy.

Frederick Hess, a director at the American Enterprise Institute, said that the changes would require years of work and that the administration would need broad cooperation from a majority of states.“This administration has had billions in stimulus dollars to buy support,” Mr. Hess said. “After that money is spent, further success with reform will depend on good working relationships with states. That is why all this grumbling matters.

Gifted black teens hunger to learn from a sparse intellectual table


Posted on 11th February 2010 by Judy Breck in Equality | Findability | Mobiles

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This needs to be said: Public schooling is perpetuating a black underclass and Obamaschool will make this worse, and more permanent.

The Obamaschool “Race to the Top” panders to black kids (or to put it politically correctly: to minority kids). ED.gov describes the program this way: “Through Race to the Top, we are asking States to advance reforms . . .” (which are summarized on the EdFed website). “Reforms” means fix things. Obama is looking for positive vibes by allocating big money (again!) to fix schools. Billions more tax dollars are about to cascade into public education. We already spend over $11,000 per child each year in pubic schools, more than a third more than it is taking in private schools to provide a far superior year of learning. (Chart from Cato video Economic 101)

This fixing the schools approach is perpetuating a black underclass. Making a public school a little bit better than awful does not release its students to partake at the bountiful intellectual table. They remain in the education underclass. I have watched it happen up close for thirty years.

Since 1982, I have worked in various capacities as a partnering volunteer in the New York City public schools. I got some background back in the 1960s when I taught high school for one year in El Paso, Texas. During that year I organized and coached debate teams at El Paso High School where I was teaching history. The boys I coached won the Texas State AAAA Championship and the girls team won the West Texas District title.

In the 1990s when I volunteered to coach a debate team at Martin Luther King, Jr. High School in New York City, I learned first hand what we are doing in public schools to bright black students. King HS is only a block from the Juilliard School of Music in Manhattan, and is across the street from LaGuardia High School (of “Fame” fame). The neighboring schools are exciting centers of learning; King not so much, and its students are primarily black. I once asked the kids I was coaching at King if there was any student in their school who was white, and they told me they did not think so.

The students who volunteered for the King debate team were at least as intelligent and intellectually curious and agile as the El Paso High School students whom I coached. The two boys who won the Texas debate trophy were accepted at Stanford University and Northwestern University respectively. The plans after high school graduation for the students I coached at King were go into the military, attend a traditional black college, or not to get any further education. One of the girls told me she would go the black college because they would give her remedial classes when she got there to “teach me what I didn’t learn in high school.”

During my three decades of knowing New York City public school students I have met many bright, able, eager black boys and girls. I have judged them in citywide debate contests, I have watched them in a large moot court competition which I helped organize during the decade that I administered a MENTOR program that paired dozens of public high schools with law firm mentors.

There is a common denominator among brilliant black kids who go through non-premium public schools. The common denominator — that cuts off their future — is that the have not learned much. Their vocabularies are noticeably small. They have little depth of knowledge in science. They have not read extensively in literature. And so, sadly, on.

Handschooling can fill the knowledge access deficit in a big way.

At the least, handschooling can make a pivotal difference for bright kids like the King debaters. We can put the internet in their pockets even as early as when they start school. Youngsters like these can be given the responsibility to take care of a mobile device. Even if we keep on forcing them by law to sit through public school classes where little is taught, they can uses their mobile devices to follow their natural curiosity to extend their learning online.

I think of one of the King debaters named Kurt — a handsome fellow, who was modest, highly intelligent, well-mannered, determined, and a natural leader. He entered the U.S. Army after high school. I feel sure he devoured the instruction the Army gave him, gaining competency. But in grade school his young brain did not ramify with math concepts to enrich it — because only the simplest arithmetic was offered in his public grade school. His early reading years were not as voracious as they could have been, his vocabulary remained small, limiting his concepts. Kurt and the other debaters treasured a class given by a tiny, aging assistant principal who challenged them with some discourse in literature. These gifted teenagers hungered to learn from a sparse intellectual table.

Many race to the top sorts of efforts have been made during the thirty years I have been acquainted with King HS. When I first got involved with the New York City public schools, for six years I helped staff President Reagan’s annual White House Conference on Partnerships in Education, an event that brought together hundreds of programs seeking to make schools better. That was followed by President George H.W. Bush declaring himself the “Education President.” Presidents Clinton and G.W. Bush made education a priority as well. These efforts tried to move schools toward the top. Many efforts have been and are being made to improve the achievement of various schools and minority groups. Schools have not improved.

The real race to the top is among individuals. Black students like the debaters I coached at King should be at the head of the race but they are cut off at the knees at public school in the overall race to the top of their generation. At King all the students — not just the brightest — are held back by being there because expectations are low and knowledge scarce. There are races for the middle, and races to do a little better. Knowledge is the fuel for the sprint and for the marathon of education. Handschooling is a straightforward way to connect all of the the young generation with full knowledge — to make the race to the top individual and fair. Let’s do it!

Who has given approval to Obamaschool?


Posted on 8th February 2010 by Judy Breck in Obamaschool | Politics | Schools we now have

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Obamaschool is underway with minimal evaluation and debate in Congress. Why is this very large socialized education project just happening without the Congressional consideration health care required? President Obama and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan show up in a classroom for a presser and simply announce what is being done. What they are calling “Race to the Top” is the expenditure of $4.35 billion in grants to the states that empowers the Secretary of Education to very broadly judge what the states do with the money.

They have now announced another $1.35 billion in the next EdFed budget. Until this big reach from Washington into running our local schools is at least debated and passed in Congress, the money gush should wait. Do we need a Constitutional amendment to authorized federal management of local learning? Until we have settled these important questions about taxpayers costs and states rights, the cat in this post is speaking truth to power.

You can read for yourself what has actually been authorized relative to the Race to the Top project the Department of Education part of the Recovery Act on this webpage at the Library of Congress. SEC. 14006. STATE INCENTIVE GRANTS is apparently what authorizes the gush of money to states in grants that let the EdFed limit and judge what schools do with the money they receive.