Belle of Liberty

Letting Freedom Ring

Friday, April 01, 2011

The Three Rs: Readin', Writin' 'n Research

I don’t often get complaints on my blog.  But after the Bill Ayers post, a Montclair State University student who claimed to be a reporter with the campus newspaper, The Montclarion, wrote to traduce me for not being honest with my readers.

The Montclarion, he said, never did a survey on student awareness of Bill Ayers.  He assured me that all students are not “nitwits” and that the students on campus knew perfectly well who Ayers is.  While he and his friends did not condone Ayers’ actions, they saw nothing wrong with going to listen to him speak.

The first thing I asked in response was why The Montclarion didn’t do a survey of its 18,402 students on this extremely controversial figure coming to their campus?  He didn’t answer me.  Far be it from me to traduce a school newspaper, but someone failed to advise them of their responsibility as a news-gathering organization.

All this student could assure me of was what the other students in his own sphere thought, not what the other 18,000 students knew.  Because no empirical study was done of the opinions on campus regarding Ayers, I had only his word for it, just as I only had the police officer’s word that a survey had been done.  Actually, I was rather skeptical of the notion that the students didn’t know who Ayers was; I was quite certain, in my own humble opinion, that their liberal professors would certainly have informed them.

He also objected to the police officer’s assertion (not mine) that there were no students in attendance.  I would have found that even more unbelievable, and when I entered the lecture hall, I found my own estimation accurate, there were students there.  Still, as Ayers himself noted, they filled only about one-third of the room.  The officer may have been in the auditorium earlier before the students arrived, or perhaps he was speaking comparatively – in comparison to the entire student population, they represented only a minor percentage.  Their rivals at William Paterson University – my college alma mater – over in Wayne would have packed the rafters of Shea Auditorium.  But WPU has a better guest list:  Montclair invited Bill Ayers; WPU invited Fred Thompson.

Glenn Beck reminded us the other night that in America, under the Constitution, even the worst miscreant has a right to speak and those who are of mind to have a right to go listen to him, which is true.  I had no real mind to go listen to him and more of mind, yes, to protest his appearance on the campus.  I didn’t set out to prevent him from speaking or anyone from listening; I considered myself what you might call a “conscientious objector.”

Still, at the police chief’s insistence, I went in.  Not having an audible voice, I mostly sat and listened – and watched.  Though I will anger my student “hater”, the fact is, Ayers’ lecture was contradictory – blatantly so.  He gave lip-service to classroom management and the championed classroom rebellion.  There’s a reason for men, at least, not wearing hats indoors, a reason that’s been forgotten since men’s hats have gone out of fashion.  For men, hats were purely functionary, to keep their heads warm in the winter and shaded from the sun in the summer.  Once a man entered a room, he was expected to take it off.  To leave it on would have been a rude message that he intended to leave.  If the man, in fact, did intend to leave, he would take it off briefly, explain that he was leaving, and then put it back on – and then leave, not sit down with his hat still on.  Those were different times.

Ayers’ lecture was to be about education and no one in the room, including myself, had a problem with that.  There were a few who wanted to discuss his “background” but Ayers properly turned the subject back to the original topic.  Then he and the audience got into the discussion about the Obama books and whether he ghost-wrote the book.  By his response, as I recall it, it was hard to tell whether he was serious or joking.  To be honest, I didn’t pay that much attention to the book discussion.  I didn’t care.  I didn’t go into that room to find out if Obama was his best friend.  I wanted to know if he was intent on turning out yet another generation of union-loyal, factually-challenged numbskulls who can’t find Bahrain (his own example) on a map.  He deplored ignorance, yet derided a fact-based education.  Creativity, letting children explore on their own was his advice.

Smaller classrooms, which would, not coincidentally create more jobs for unionized teachers, was the ticket to classroom management in urban areas.  Charter schools, he declared are a failure.  Yet he scrupled not to glorify the success the Annenberg Challenge in Chicago enjoyed.  They didn’t fail did they, he asked the audience, challenging them to produce the contrary evidence, which of course no one had at hand.

So afterwards, I researched the Illinois school system to find out which are their top schools.  I chose the elementary schools because if you don’t start at the beginning, you’ll have a harder time later on in high school.

The Chicago Annenberg Challenge (CAC) was a Chicago public school reform project from 1995 to 2001 that worked with half of Chicago's public schools and was funded by a $49.2 million, 2-to-1 matching challenge grant over five years from the Annenberg Foundation.  The grant was contingent on being matched by $49.2 million in private donations and $49.2 million in public money.  The Chicago Annenberg Challenge was one of 18 locally designed Annenberg Challenge project sites that received $387 million over five years as part of Walter Annenberg's gift of $500 million over five years to support public school reform.  The Chicago Annenberg Challenge helped create a successor organization, the Chicago Public Education Fund (CPEF), committing $2 million in June 1998 as the first donor to Chicago's first community foundation for education.

One of the three co-authors of Chicago's winning Annenberg Challenge $49.2 million grant proposal was:  William Ayers, associate professor of education at the University of Illinois at Chicago; co-director of the Small Schools Workshop; co-director of the Chicago Forum for School Change—an affiliate of the Coalition of Essential Schools; chairman of the Alliance for Better Chicago Schools (ABCs) coalition; former Chicago assistant deputy mayor for education (1989–1990); brother of John Ayers, executive director (1994–2004) of Leadership for Quality Education (an affiliate of the Civic Committee of the Commercial Club of Chicago) and former associate director (1987–1994) of the Civic Committee of the Commercial Club of Chicago; son of Thomas Ayers, former president (1964–1980), chairman and CEO (1973–1980) of Commonwealth Edison and former vice president (1980) of the Chicago School Board.

One of the founding Board of Directors of the Chicago Annenberg Challenge as announced in 1995 was:  Barack Obama, civil rights attorney at Davis, Miner, Barnhill & Galland; lecturer at the University of Chicago Law School; member of the board of directors of the Joyce Foundation and the Woods Fund of Chicago; winner, Crain's Chicago Business 40 Under 40 award, 1993; former president of the Harvard Law Review (1990–1991); former executive director of the Developing Communities Project (June 1985–May 1988).

The award was presented at Chicago’s Washington Irving Elementary School on Jan. 23, 1995.  Ayers was a founding member Chicago School Reform Collaborative, which grew out of the Chicago Annenberg Challenge.  Here is one of the requirements the fund supported:

National Board Certification, to provide a rigorous and consistent standard for assessing and rewarding experienced and accomplished teachers; with the Chicago Public Schools, Chicago Teachers Union, Chicago Principals & Administrators Association, and National-Louis University working to increase the number of Chicago teachers with this certification.

Standards and standardized testing for their students was something against which Ayers and the student teachers protested vehemently.  “Teaching to the test!” they practically spat out contemptuously.

According to the Wikipedia entry:

“The Annenberg Challenge was criticized from its outset in 1994 and 1995 by conservative proponents of vouchers for private schools.  Annenberg ignored criticism from conservatives that he was wasting his money on public schools—he believed that government had a responsibility to educate its citizens and that the nation could not walk away from its public schools.  Annenberg also ignored criticism from within the education and philanthropic worlds that after five years the Challenge had not produced measurable reform—he hoped that good would come of his gift, but was realistic and doubted he would ever see any concrete, measurable results.  For Annenberg, that was not the point—his goal was to spur communities and other donors into action—and in that he was not disappointed, with the Challenge raising an additional $600 million from foundations, businesses, universities and individuals.

“On June 12, 2002, the Annenberg Foundation released its final report on the Annenberg Challenge to the press and an audience of education leaders and policymakers at a luncheon in Washington D.C., a few blocks from the White House.  The June 2002 final report listed nine lessons learned over the course of the Annenberg Challenge. The first two were:

Lesson 1: Every child benefits from high expectations and standards.  In Chicago, where the Challenge sought out the most racially isolated and impoverished schools, the elementary students the Challenge worked with went from a half-grade behind the city average to a quarter-grade ahead of peers in other schools.

Lesson 2: Even large gifts like ours are no substitute for adequate, equitable and reliable funding.

“Although the Challenge made multimillion-dollar grants, nearly every site reached out to hundreds of schools.  In Chicago, where the Challenge helped more than 300 schools, the typical grant was $39,000 to an elementary school with an annual budget of $3.8 million.

“An August 2003 final technical report of the Chicago Annenberg Research Project by the Consortium on Chicago School Research said that while ‘student achievement improved across Annenberg Challenge schools as it did across the Chicago Public School system as a whole, results suggest that among the schools it supported, the Challenge had little impact on school improvement and student outcomes, with no statistically significant differences between Annenberg and non-Annenberg schools in rates of achievement gain, classroom behavior, student self-efficacy, and social competence.’

“’Breakthrough Schools,’ which received special financial and professional support from the Challenge between 1999-2001, a time during which the Challenge began withdrawing funds from other schools, ‘began to develop in ways that distinguished them from other Annenberg schools and sustained or strengthened aspects of teacher professional community school leadership, and relational trust while other Annenberg schools did not.’”

The Chicago Sun-Times published its annual report card of the Top 100 Illinois schools.

This is the report for the school that served as the Chicago Annenberg Challenge model:  http://labs.suntimes.com/reportcards/advance/callTemplate/all/140161000022003

Here are the top 25 Elementary Schools in Illinois in 2010:

State rank
2009-2010 rank change**
2010 percentile
Percentile change
School
District
City
County
% low income
1
0
89.71
-6.93
Decatur *
Chicago SD 299
Chicago
Cook
18.1
2
0
81.94
-12.01
Keller *
Chicago SD 299
Chicago
Cook
18.3
3
0
80.65
-12.99
Lenart*
Chicago SD 299
Chicago
Cook
22.9
4
0
79.05
-12.37
Edison*
Chicago SD 299
Chicago
Cook
6.8
5
0
76.88
-13.06
Washington
Rockford SD 205
Rockford
Winnebago
31.4
6
0
73.50
-12.57
Skinner *
Chicago SD 299
Chicago
Cook
27.7
7
30
71.97
-8.99
McDade*
Chicago SD 299
Chicago
Cook
33.7
8
12
70.61
-12.45
Braeside
North Shore SD 112
Highland Park
Lake
0.4
9
15
69.04
-13.30
Poe*
Chicago SD 299
Chicago
Cook
49.2
9
0
69.04
-16.27
Highlands
Naperville CUSD 203
Naperville
DuPage
2
11
11
67.83
-15.10
Ravinia
North Shore SD 112
Highland Park
Lake
3.5
12
0
67.80
-16.46
Grove Avenue
Barrington CUSD 220
Barrington
Lake
7.4
13
-3
67.72
-17.55
Iles
Springfield SD 186
Springfield
Sangamon
32.6
14
1
66.82
-16.58
Lincoln*
Chicago SD 299
Chicago
Cook
15.2
15
13
66.35
-15.20
Hough Street
Barrington CUSD 220
Barrington
Lake
9.5
16
15
65.80
-15.71
Walker
Hinsdale CCSD 181
Clarendon Hills
DuPage
1.6
17
17
65.47
-15.63
Brook Forest
Butler SD 53
Oak Brook
DuPage
2.3
18
1
65.17
-17.93
Willowbrook
Northbrook/Glenview SD 30
Glenview
Cook
1.7
19
6
64.80
-17.41
Bell-Graham
St Charles CUSD 303
St Charles
Kane
0.7
20
27
64.54
-16.06
The Lane
Hinsdale CCSD 181
Hinsdale
DuPage
2.6
21
62
64.17
-13.47
Sunset Ridge
Sunset Ridge SD 29
Northfield
Cook
1.4
22
11
63.98
-17.25
Longfellow
CUSD 200
Wheaton
DuPage
18.1
23
-9
63.87
-19.98
Elm
Hinsdale CCSD 181
Burr Ridge
DuPage
4.9
24
-17
63.61
-22.38
Willard
Evanston CCSD 65
Evanston
Cook
29
25
90
63.57
-12.34
Campanelli
Schaumburg CCSD 54
Schaumburg
Cook
14.1


Irving Elementary did not make the list because it didn’t meet the reading standard for disabled students.  However, minus that factor, its statewide percentage (composite performance for all grades) in 2009 was 75.5 percent and 76.4 percent in 2010. That means, the school would have made it into the Top 10.

Those asterisks you see indicate schools that have selective admission.  That means only the best students are permitted to attend.  I believe that meets the criteria for a charter school, if I understand the term correctly.  Decatur Classical received $4.8 billion in revenue and spent $5.5 billion, $300 million on debt services and $73 million on tort.  This is where Ayers’ declares the schools are a failure – in the financial sense.

For all that spending, though, every single school – all at the top of the list – were in decline from the previous year.  The chart would seem to make the case for Ayers’ methods.  However, when you compare Decatur (the number one elementary school, a charter school, in Illinois) with Irving in the Illinois Standard Achievement Tests, 100 percent of Decatur Classical’s students met or exceeded state goals, compared with 76.9 percent of students from Irving, who tested below the state percentile of 80.9 percent.

The class sizes at Decatur are larger than at Irving in every grade.  The teacher-student ratio was lower at Irving, although the teachers had less experience, and somewhat fewer teachers had advanced degrees than at Decatur.  Their salaries and an undefined category, “Supporting Services”, in each case, made up the schools’ greatest expenses.

In sum, Decatur gets the 100 percent results, with better paid, better educated teachers and smarter kids, but they’re going into debt to do so.  The local property taxes in Decatur’s district are $2 billion.  Local property taxes for Irving are a more modest $13 million with federal funding at a mere $5.9 million compared to Decatur’s $1.1 billion.  However, Irving school is also in debt, if not to the same degree.

So there’s the truth for you, depending on your perspective and the state of Illinois’ accuracy:  financial versus educational.  Apparently, in Ayers’ opinion, public schools should have the same opportunity to have money thrown at them as the charter schools.  One item the report doesn’t study is the benefits the teachers receive, their short work year, and their early retirement.  Everyone is motivated by pay.  But in the private sector, wise, non-union employee doesn’t push for a raise when he knows his company is in trouble.

The fact that both schools are in debt, that the United States is $14 trillion dollars in debt, that our property taxes are skyrocketing, and that it’s only going to get worse, are facts you cannot ignore.  One method nobody is willing to try is to tell the students they have to work harder, read more, and study more.  The creative method isn’t working.  The union method isn’t working.  We need to increase class sizes and reduce salary sizes.

Parents might have to take more of a hand in their kids’ education.  There’s no sense in asking communist Ayers’ opinion on the subject of parental involvement (someone did ask and he dismissed it) or any other education expert.  I don’t know which kind of communist Ayers is (they come in various nasty flavors).  However, Marx criticized the family unit as an impediment to greater development of the society.

As with the Tax Rallies, asking the “experts” is useless.  This is just something we have to do on our own, setting the model for our children.  Read to them, let them see you reading.  Do a homework check-up every night.  Make them turn off the television, the Ipad, and the computer.  They won’t like it but it’s the same reason teachers used to forbid gum-chewing in class; distractions interfere with absorption of information, whether the distraction is visual or auditory.

Join the PTA, or some other parent-teacher organization.  Better yet, form a parent mentoring organization.  Parents who have the knack with their better students can share their best practices with other parents who are struggling with stubborn or unmotivated kids.

In the end, it’s all about the money and the teachers, both union and non-union, though mostly union – whether they teach in a public, private or charter school – know it.  They’ve done their homework.  No wonder our schools are getting a failing grade.

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