After a fierce controversy over what many perceived as an effort to indoctrinate students, the White House says it will rewrite the government recommendation that teachers nationwide assign students a paper on how to "help the president."
According to the Washington Times, Obama aides acknowledged the White House helped the U.S. Education Department craft recommended activities to be assigned to students after they watched Obama's address:
Among the activities the government initially suggested for prekindergarten to sixth-grade students: that they "write letters to themselves about what they can do to help the president."
Another task recommended for students immediately after listening to the speech: to engage in a discussion about what "the president wants us to do." [emphasis added]
Those were some of the recommended activities included in an electronic letter from Education Secretary Arne Duncan, which also encouraged school administrators to air Obama's address.
President Obama still plans to "inspire" the nation's schoolchildren with his video address next week.
The Obama White House continues to display its amateurism. Presidential aides should have seen that the recommended activities would be perceived as unwarranted politicization of Obama's video address to the nation's schoolchildren.
Yesterday, Senator McCain had an Op-ed in the New York Daily News on Education reform. After noting that "every public school child deserves a first-rate education" and that "too many of our schools are producing second-rate results, MacCain calls for school choice:
Yet Democrats in Congress, including my opponent, Sen. Obama, oppose this program. Not long ago, addressing the American Federation of Teachers, he dismissed public support for private school vouchers for low-income Americans as "tired rhetoric about vouchers and school choice." That went over well with the teachers union, but where does it leave children who are stuck in failing schools?
Parents ask only for safe schools, competent teachers and diplomas that open doors of opportunity. When a public school fails, repeatedly, to meet these minimal objectives, parents ask only for a choice in the education of their children. No entrenched bureaucracy or union should deny parents that choice and children that opportunity.
If I am elected President, school choice for all who want it, an expansion of Opportunity Scholarships and alternative certification for teachers will all be part of a serious agenda of education reform. We will pay bonuses to teachers working in our most troubled schools because we need their fine minds and good hearts to help turn those schools around.
[. . .]
I am proud to add my name to the growing list of those who support the Education Equality Project. But one name is still missing: Barack Obama. My opponent talks a great deal about hope and change, and education is an important test of his seriousness. The Education Equality Project is a practical plan for delivering change and restoring hope for children and parents who need a lot of both. And if Sen. Obama continues to defer to the teachers unions, instead of committing to real reform, then he should start looking for new slogans.
McCain has it right. Read the whole thing.
You can watch McCain talk about school reform at the National Urban League in the following video:
Addressing a mostly black audience of hundreds of activists, politicians and executives at the National Urban League convention, Senator McCain focused on school choice.
McCain drew applause for touting increased domestic oil production, tax credits to families and bonuses for teachers in troubled schools.
Watch the following Associated Press video report:
While McCain favors school choice, Obama, kowtowing to the teachers unions, opposes school choice. Obama has proposed new educational programs, which includes a "Zero to Five" plan for infants, will cost $18 billion a year -- $72 billion over four years. Obama proposes to pay for his huge expansion of the federal government's role in education by slashing NASA's budget, delaying the Constellation program for five years. The Constellation Program is designed to maintain American presence in low Earth orbit, establish an outpost on the Moon and lay the foundation to explore Mars.
Mark Carlson, reports Senator McCain received a warm welcome at the NAACP Convention:
John McCain told the NAACP and some skeptical black voters Wednesday that he will expand education opportunities, partly through vouchers for low-income children to attend private school.
[. . .]
We will pay bonuses to teachers who take on the challenge of working in our most troubled schools -- because we need their fine minds and good hearts to help turn those schools around.
McCain promised to create more internet based learning tools:
I propose to direct 500 million dollars in current federal funds to build new virtual schools, and to support the development of online courses for students. Through competitive grants, we will allocate another 250 million dollars to support state programs expanding online education opportunities
McCain highlighted his support for school choice and vouchers, a major difference with Barack Obama and the teachers' union:
Senator Obama dismissed public support for private school vouchers for low-income Americans as, "tired rhetoric about vouchers and school choice." All of that went over well with the teachers union, but where does it leave families and their children who are stuck in failing school
Unlike Obama, McCain was "not afraid to take questions from the crowd and give answers that weren't popular."
Watch Carlson's report in the following video:
In an editorial entitled "No to 'conventional thinking,'" the Las Vegas Review-Journal praised McCain's remarks to the NAACP Convention:
It's lower taxes and school choice -- not more handouts -- that offer the best route out of poverty for blacks and other minorities, the Arizona senator said.
[. . .]
These are winning issues not because they necessarily draw immediate cheers from every side, but because -- since freedom is always the answer -- they can only gain strength over time, even as the coercive, top-down schemes of the redistributionists inevitably founder on the shoals of history.
Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee, was indecisive when asked whether children of illegal aliens should become eligible for federal student aid such as Pell grants and subsidized federal student loans:
"I'm not sure that I would support that," Huckabee told ABC News, "it was a different program in Arkansas."
Huckabee backed in-state tuition for the children of illegal aliens when he was the governor of Arkansas, waffled while appearing on ABC News' "This Week with George Stephanopoulos." The former Arkansas governor, who backed in-state tuition for the children of illegal aliens, waffled while appearing on ABC News' "This Week with George Stephanopoulos."
Not an impressive performance from a candidate
Huckabee's indecision drew quick criticism from his fellow Republican candidates:
"Gov. Romney does not support providing federal taxpayer-funded student aid intended for legal residents going to illegal immigrants," Romney spokesman Kevin Madden told ABC News. "Mike Huckabee's position [in Arkansas] that taxpayer dollars meant for students who are legal residents should also be made available to illegal immigrants puts him squarely at odds with the American taxpayer."
[. . .]
"Children who are born in this country are U.S. citizens and entitled to the privileges of citizenship," said Thompson spokeswoman Karen Hanretty. "Those in our country illegally are not. It's that simple."
"The one thing I was able to get was a great education." But Obama went to an elite prep school in Hawaii -- not a public school. Can't you just hear Republicans in a general election, "You did get a great education... at a prep school, which is why we should be for vouchers."
The Board of Estimate and Taxation yesterday passed a tentative $262.5 million operating budget that would raise city spending by 5 percent next fiscal year, including a 3.8 percent hike for the schools. It requires a 4.3 percent property tax increase.
The budget will give Board of Education a $5.2 million increase for the year starting July 1. Mayor Richard Moccia, a BET member, said
The city budget's been set. The departments will have to live with it.
Norwalk’s School Superintendent Salvatore Corda threatened to cut athletic and after-school programs, along with teachers and other positions, if he didn't get the entire 8.3 percent increase he demanded.
Hopefully, Corda will cut administrative positions rather than following through on his threat to cut athletics.
Two Norwalk High School seniors who, along with a third student, caused thousands of dollars in damage at the school in a so-called prank, will have their criminal records wiped clean.
Judge Barbara Bellis granted accelerated rehabilitation to the two miscreants, who entered Norwalk High over Columbus Day weekend, squirted epoxy glue into the locks of 35 doors and spray painted graffiti on walls and floors.
According to police reports filed with the court, the students spray-painted "'07 Bitches" and "Niggas 4 Life" on the outside wall near the school's E House. Police reported there was graffiti on the hallway floor leading from the high school's B House to the C House that read "Class of '07" and " '07 Biach."
[. . .]
Graffiti also was sprayed on the outside walls of Naramake Elementary School, which is adjacent to the high school, including "Football 2007 state champs."
The damage was so severe school had to be canceled. I understand that the custodial staff had remove windows in order to get into the rooms the miscreants glued shut.
The three were charged with third-degree burglary, first-degree criminal mischief and conspiracy for charged with causing what the Advocate reported was $25,000 worth of damage.
The young criminal wannabees got off easy. The two granted the special form of probation each paid the $2,524 restitution requested by the city. Judge Bellis sentenced the two to 150 hours of community service and required them to get their high school diplomas. Prosecution of the criminal charges will be suspended for two years and, if the students don't have another run-in with the law, charges will be dismissed.
In The Hour and on his new "blog," Corda fails miserably in an attempt to use reason instead of scare tactics to justify his excessive demands for more tax dollars to maintain his empire.
I've reproduced Corda's so-called justification below. I have also taken the liberty of commenting on certain points throughout:
Creating understanding about the '07-08 budget
By SALVATORE J. CORDA
There has been much discussion about the Board of Education's proposed budget for 2007-08 and the implications of the limitations that the Common Council is recommending be placed on the size of the budget increase. My hope in this document is to create understanding about the status of the budget so individuals can form their opinions based on factual and accurate information and to create support for a position that I think makes sense for the city and the school district.
The budget approved by the Board of Education carried with it an increase of 7.77 percent. The issue under discussion is not about reducing the 2007-08 budget below the Board's 2006-07 budget but about the size of the increase for 2007-08. At this point, based on revised estimates and information that was not available when the Board of Education approved its budget, we believe that we could make reductions to the budget that would necessitate an increase of 6.23 percent.
Wrong, the issue under discussion is where to cut Corda's excessive demands for tax dollars while still providing our children the best education Norwalkers can reasonably afford.
Last year, because of the cooperative and collaborative efforts between the Board of Education and the Board of Estimate, the budget increase for 2006-07 was 2.31 percent. Had the Board of Education and the Board of Estimate not agreed to utilize Board of Education surplus that would have been returned to the city in June 2006, last year's increase would have been 3.99 percent but, the Board of Education's budget increase for 2007-08 would have been much lower than the original 7.77 percent. This decision was made to provide a lower increase to our taxpayers in 2006-07, and was the right one to make. This decision was also made with the full knowledge and understanding that it would result in a higher than usual increase in the proposed 2007-08 budget.
Corda's insistence that his demands for more tax dollars be averaged over two budget years is just a ploy to make his current demand appear more reasonable than it actually is. This year's budget request must be evaluated and funded separately from previous budgets.
The Common Council approved an increase for the city's overall budget for 2007-08 of 5.2 percent with a recommendation to the Board of Estimate that the Board of Education's increase be limited to 3.8 percent.
The Board of Estimate, working within the cap adopted by the Common Council, will adopt a tentative budget with specific amounts identified for each department. For this purpose, the Board of Education is considered a city "department".
The Board of Estimate sets the tentative budget on April 2. If the tentative budget exceeds the cap, the Board of Estimate has, in fact, requested that the Council increase the cap. After April 2, the Council has the opportunity to adjust the cap, even if the Board of Estimate has not made a specific or implied request to do so. The Council must make any adjustment by April 17. The Board of Estimate will then make a final determination about each department's budget. This determination may be the same or different from the recommendation that first went to the Council. No decision has yet been made by the Board of Estimate about the total budget.
That's Corda talk for we can argue about how much of the City's tax dollars he gets to spend until April 17.
As a result of reviewing our estimates and new information about anticipated costs, we have been able to reduce the budget adopted by the Board by $2.3 million dollars without impacting programs resulting in a 6.23 percent. Reducing our proposed budget to the Council's suggested increase of 3.8 percent will necessitate serious cuts in program and staff. The increase in health insurance costs, because we started from a lower base in 2006-07, represents a 2.6 percent increase and salary increases represents a 3.1 percent increase to the 2006-07 budget. We are facing a 5.7 percent increase from those two sources alone. That does not take into account increases for fuel, electricity, etc. The proposal of limiting our increase to 3.8 percent necessitates finding an additional $3.32 million dollars in cuts. That cannot be accomplished without sharp reductions.
I highlighted the end of Corda's first sentence in Fact #5 to point out he failed to adequately proof "this document." He can't blame The Hour for his mistake, the same error is present in the version of "this document" which Corda posted on his new blog last Friday. We all make errors in our writings. I do it much too frequently. Nevertheless, the Superintendent of the City's schools when trying to sell the citizenry on his demand for more than his fair share of our tax dollars ought to make an extra effort to make sure it is well written.
As to the content of Corda's Fact #5, he demonstrates that there was fat in his original budget request that he only came clean about when his unreasonable request ran into the proverbial brick wall. How much more fat is hidden in Corda's budget?
Opinions-and a Response
the Budget in Context
I have taken the position that, given the unusual circumstances surrounding the budget increase for 2006-07, it is only reasonable to view the change in the Board of Education's budget over a two-year time frame. With an increase of 6.23 percent for 2007-08, the average increase between 2006-07 and 2007-08 would have been 4.27 percent. Statewide, the average was over 5 percent. I do not believe that our requested increase for 2007-08 is unreasonable or inappropriate given this context. It is not fair to take steps in one year to minimize an increase knowing that it will result in a higher increase the following year, and then forget about that decision in the following year.
There he goes again. Like I said before Corda's insistence that his demands for more tax dollars be averaged over two budget years is just a ploy to make his current demand appear more reasonable than it actually is. This year's budget request must be evaluated and funded separately from previous budgets.
Cut Excess Administrators to Reduce Costs
Some have stated that there are too many administrators in the district. They point to the number of central office and building administrators to support their case.
Size of administrative staff-staffing levels are always a matter of judgment but they should be supported by a sound professional rationale. There are nineteen administrators who work at central office. They include the following positions: Superintendent of Schools, Chief Operating Officer, Assistant Superintendent for Instruction, three Directors (Elementary, Secondary, and Pupil Personnel Services) four special education supervisors, the Human Resources Officer, the Chief Information Officer for both Instructional and Administrative Technology, and seven instructional specialists. Of these nineteen positions, two and a half are funded from grant sources. For these positions, there is no cost to the operating budget.
Every district of our size has a Superintendent of Schools, an Assistant Superindendent [sic] for Instruction, a Chief Operating Officer (or equivalent title), a Director (or equivalent title) for Special Education or Pupil Personnel Services, and a Human Resources person. One might expect to see a variance in the remaining positions. Let's take a look districts comparable in size to us.
As the above chart shows, Norwalk, in comparison with districts similar in size to ours, actually has fewer administrators even allowing for the spread in enrollment. Some of these districts have even more administrators but there is no comparability in title to our district.
I agree with Corda that the size of administrative staff-staffing levels should be supported by a sound professional rationale. Unfortunately, Corda does not even try to justify his excessive administrative staffing levels with a "sound professional rationale." Instead, like a young child wanting something the child parents decide is not appropriate, Corda says Bridgeport, Danbury, Stamford, and Waterbury get lots of administrative staff so why can't I. It isn't possible to rationally discuss Corda's comparisons because the chart he refers to doesn't appear at all in The Hour's version of "this document," and the version posted on Corda's new blog contains an incomplete version of the chart.
Responsibilities of administrative staff: We have a comprehensive accountability system for our central office and building administrators. Nineteen building principals are evaluated and supported by two directors. The Director of Pupil Personnel Services is responsible for the four Special Education supervisors and the overall program for more than 1,100 students that includes an array of required services. The work of curriculum development, its implementation, professional development, and the implementation of the School Growth and District Improvement Plan rest heavily on the instructional specialists who have expertise in academic content areas. Without these positions, this District would not have undergone a total curriculum revision and textbook replacements in the last five years, nor would there be the support needed for school and district improvement plans. Without these positions, the Norwalk public schools will find itself in the same place it was in 2001 where the systematic reduction of central office staff prevented the District from continually renewing itself.
I highlighted Corda's use of "building principals" because I think it says a lot about how the Superintendent views the education system the Board of Education has entrusted into his care. Corda thinks of our schools as inanimate "buildings," not schools - living communities which we allow to educate our children. What a terribly cold way of looking at schools.
Corda offers no supporting evidence, nor "sound professional rationale," to justify his assertion that without all the positions listed above the "District" couldn't have conducted a curriculum revision and replaced textbooks. Note Corda's use of the inanimate term district instead of something like schools or school system which might remind folks that Corda is, or should be, talking about educating children. Corda doesn't seem to get that.
Housemasters at the high school level and assistant principals at the middle and elementary levels support the work of building principals. Apart from the myriad managerial tasks that must be completed, we expect our administrators to be instructional leaders and to supervise and evaluate our teachers using a comprehensive model that provides accountability and improves performance. This cannot be done at the level expected for consistent improvement in academic achievement without adequate administrative support and housemasters or assistant principals available to share in that responsibility.
The role of administration in improving student achievement is as critical as that of our teaching staff. Without these positions, the work of implementing school growth plans and the District improvement Plan, required under the No Child Left Behind legislation, would be next to impossible. With that said, we will, nevertheless, not fill one administrative vacancy as a means of reducing costs for next year.
I don't run schools for a living, but my Masters Degree was designed to prepare me to do so. That said, should administrators be "instructional leaders?" I think that should be left to teachers and academic department heads. From what I hear, Corda's system of evaluating teachers is a waste of time. If you want meaningful teacher evaluations, rather than excessive busywork, ask the people who know the teachers the best, their students. Alternatively, Corda could simply read RateMyTeachers.com.
Corda's promise not to fill any administrative vacancies next year is an admission that despite what he says the schools can survive without all his administrators. Why is Corda going to wait until next year? Why not stop filling administrative vacancies now?
Using Scare Tactics
I have been accused of using scare tactics to mobilize public opinion in favor of securing a budget increase at the 6.23 percent level. I have identified several areas, none of them acceptable or popular, that would be in jeopardy if we have to find $3.3 million dollars in reductions from our proposed budget. Some have said these would not be necessary.
I am not sure what the final list of reductions would look like or what, ultimately, would be acceptable to the Board of Education if reductions have to occur. The elimination of the new positions that I recommended for the high school will still keep enrollment in study halls high, but this may be a better alternative than eliminating all academic support staff. Reducing some academic support staff will impact our efforts to close the achievement gap, but may be a better alternative than completely eliminating our interscholastic athletic and co-curricular programs. Reducing the number of literacy specialists will impact our ability to provide the level of support we would like, but may be a better alternative than reducing the number of elementary assistant principals that would impact our capacity for accountability and support for all elementary staff. Eliminating elementary academically talented teachers will impact our ability to serve our brighter students, but may be a better alternative than eliminating some advanced placement courses.
None of these choices are acceptable and none have been finalized, but one cannot find $3.3 million dollars unless one cuts programs. In all of the budget analysis by our own Board, by the City's Finance Committee, and by the Board of Estimate, there have been no areas identified where our estimates of expenditures are identified as excessive. We are prepared to live on the financial edge. We are not prepared to gut our programs without acknowledging that it will impact our students and asking people to make that choice out loud and for all to hear.
I plead guilty. Earlier this month I wrote that Corda is using scare tactics. That's my story and I'm sticking to it. Funding schools should be about educating our children. Threatening to cut athletic and after-school programs, along with teachers and other positions before cutting administrative positions is simply scare tactics 101.
In the Final Analysis — A Request for Support
Norwalk Public Schools provide outstanding educational opportunities for students. Our achievement has been steadily improving, but we have a long way to go. We need to pay close attention to the achievement gap. We need to take the steps that will increase our progress to the point where we no longer have the designation of "In Need of Improvement." We need to protect the academic, co-curricular, and interscholastic programs that make Norwalk so special.
Honoring our request for a 6.23 percent increase would necessitate finding an additional $3.3 million dollars to the increase currently proposed by the Common Council. According to the City's Finance Director, adding that amount would increase the median tax bill by an additional $65 a year. This is a figure he uses because he believes it more accurately reflects the impact on the typical taxpayer. Clearly, for some it would be higher, and for some it would be lower. To be fair, this median figure applies to the central part of Norwalk. If one were to use the average figure across Norwalk, the increase would be about $85. Again, some would be higher. Some would be lower. Let's make it an even $100 to try to cover the outliers. $100 — $2 a week! Put in that context, I believe that most people would say, "I can find $2 a week. It's worth the effort."
I urge the Board of Estimate to request an increase to the cap in the amount of $3.3 million for the Board of Education budget. In the absence of such a request, I urge the Council to increase the cap by the needed amount.
Salvatore J. Corda, Ph.D., is superintendent of Norwalk public schools.
So in the final analysis, Corda's best justification for demanding more of our hard earned tax dollars than the Common Council believes is reasonable is to say that it will only cost the average taxpayer $65, or $85, or $100. If that is the best sound professional rationale Corda can come up with to justify his demand for more of our tax dollars, he should not expect the money to be forthcoming.