Sunday, September 30, 2007

Educators - Lack of Male Teachers is Disturbing 9/30/07

As a visitor to our public schools and as an ex-teacher I saw this trend years and years ago. It should be a concern to all, not just parents, that less and less males are teaching, parenting and mentoring. Attracting more male teachers might be more pay but more money for public school teachers does not seem to affect results. Plus "once hired, never fired" appears to be the teachers union motto.

Merle Widmer

----- Original Message -----
From Star Tribune [Minneapolis - St. Paul, MN], Wednesday, September 26, 2007. See -- Our thanks to Paul Agranoff for bringing this article to our attention.
Mr. Teacher? Fewer men in front of the class

The number of men teaching in Minnesota has been dwindling -- mirroring a national trend that has schools concerned.

By Norman Draper

Jan B. Hansen's 8:30 a.m. class at the University of St. Thomas has 27 students, all aspiring teachers. Many are headed for their first student-teaching experience next spring. When they get their licenses, they will be qualified to teach grades K-8.

There's another thing ... they're all women.

The number of men in Minnesota classrooms has been dwindling since the 1980s, according to teacher statistics and interviews with educators. That mirrors the national trend of a shortage of male teachers. The National Education Association teachers union found in 2003 that the percentage of male teachers had dropped to a 40-year low.

While such decreases are relatively small from year to year, the cumulative effect has turned the male teacher into an endangered species in many schools, especially at the elementary level, and in many college teaching-degree programs.

For instance, at Edward Neill Elementary School in Burnsville, one out of 18 classroom teachers is a man. Of the 27 licensed teachers in the school, four are men.

At Pinewood Elementary School in Mounds View, one out of 22 classroom teachers is a man. And while men probably never achieved parity with women in elementary schools, their numbers used to be greater.

Sally Standiford, dean of the college of education at Winona State University, has statistics going back five years that show little change in the percentage of men -- about 25 percent -- pursuing the teaching path. But a story she heard during a school visit could be more telling.

"Yesterday, I was talking with a teacher who related a story about sitting around in the teachers' lounge," she said. "One of the teachers looked around the lounge and said, 'Where have all the men gone?'"

Role models needed

Even in high schools, where male teachers are far more common, their percentages are dropping. "We see that fewer men are attracted to teaching as a career," said Susan Huber, dean of the St. Thomas College of Applied Professional Studies, of which the School of Education is a part. "It bears out the stereotype that teaching is largely a female profession."

Educators fear fewer male teachers means fewer positive role models for boys. That could result in a diminished interest in learning. It could also perpetuate the trend of fewer boys looking to teaching as a career.

"I could see that boys could associate that school is a woman's thing," said senior Claire Bercham, from St. Paul, one of the 27 women in Hansen's "methods for teaching science and healthy, active living" class.

What do the men have to say about all this?

Bjorn Anderson, an Edward Neill Elementary science specialist, thinks the school should have "50 percent male teachers," but has some theories why it doesn't. He thinks, for one thing, that men are more fearful of being sued by lawsuit-inclined parents who might equate the slightest gesture intended to help or nurture a child with child abuse. Plus, men worry that teaching won't pay a big enough salary to raise a family.

"My thought going into teaching was, 'How can I provide if my wife wants to stay home?'"

For some, the love of learning

Some educators think such men often turn away from teaching. By contrast, some educators say men of the '60s and '70s were more likely to go into teaching out of public spiritedness.

Still, the drive to teach sometimes trumps all those concerns.

"I love working with children," Anderson said. "And learning has always been an important part of my life. I enjoy passing it on to the kids."

Some say that, whether it's because men are more rare or because they represent authority figures to many children, behavior problems tend to drop off in a male teacher's presence.

"What I found out is that, as far as discipline is concerned, the children seem to respond quicker to me," Anderson said.

At St. Thomas, education school students say there seems to be a divide between men, who are more interested in making money, and women, who are already thinking about having families and figure it will be relatively easy to move between teaching and child rearing.

"Maybe it goes back to the motherly instinct," said Shannon Sand, a fifth-year teaching student from Grand Forks, N.D. "If you're a mother, you want your summers off. I have heard that a lot."

Enrollment figures from Minnesota State University, Mankato, as well as Winona State, show the number of men in teaching programs staying the same over the past several years. But there are signs that the male teaching population is aging, and that there aren't enough young men to replenish the ranks. Sue Grissom, Burnsville schools' human resources executive director, has noticed a far higher number of district male teachers ages 41 to 60 than those ages 21 to 40.

Educators say little is being done to boost the number of male teachers, though some suspect that men nowadays might find it easier to land jobs in male-starved schools than their female counterparts.

"We would like to have a balance of candidates within our schools," said Bill Book, Pinewood Elementary's principal. "But, ultimately, we seek the best candidates to educate students. Due to the disproportionately low number of males in relation to females, sometimes it's difficult to make it all work."
Norman Draper * 612-673-4547 --

Jerry P. Becker
Dept. of Curriculum & Instruction
Southern Illinois University
625 Wham Drive
Mail Code 4610

Dick Versace for Congress 9/30/07

Dick has an unlisted phone number. I had to reach him thru another source but I could not be given his phone number. When he did call me, I asked if he would be interested in speaking before my club. One thing about Versace, he was always interesting to hear. He said he couldn't talk right then because he had a Senator holding on another line and he would call me back. That's been two weeks ago.

I was Vice-President of the Bradley Chiefs Club and membership chairman when Coach Stowell was asked to step down and Versace was hired. I resigned my position and from the board when he addressed a group and said "My name is Versace, my name is Versace, my name is Versace and remember that".

The man has an ego larger than George B. and is a lot more arrogant. He might fit in well with Pelosi, Waters, Rangel and Edwards.

Some of you may remember when Dick resigned at Bradley after a half-hearted MCAA investigation into Bradley basketball violations. After Bradley was given a slap on the wrist and Versace left for "greener pastures", an attorney friend closely involved in the litigation said that "if the NCAA had asked the right questions, Bradley would have been fried."

The AD at Bradley told me that Versace racked up $10,000.00 in phone bill's in one month but Bradley hierachy wasn't concerned because they wanted a guy who could recruit. Dick could recruit all right but questions still remain why some of the talent sought widely by other nationally known colleges wound up at Bradley. Perhaps the board didn't know that when Coach Stowell had a $200.00 phone bill he was chastised by AD Chuck Osborne.

Any way, if you want politics as usual, Versace, Versace, and I mean Versace would fit right in.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

InPlay 9/27/07

Local Economic Developments include this statement from Peoria County dated 9/20/07, "On September 11,2007, First Bank filed a foreclosure and listed InPlay, LLC: Edward Lee Hoffman; Michael L. Stessman, Sr.; James R. Grube; City of Peoria; PJ Hoerr, Inc. and the County of Peoria as defendants. The defendants have 30 days to provide a written response. On May 6,2003, a Peoria County Gap Loan was issued for $150,000.00. Peoria County has a shared collateral subordinate position with the City of Peoria on a mortage, promissory note and personal guarantees. InPay's current balance (with Peoria County) is $105,739.49. Past due amounts is $5,793.64 which reflects amounts due since June 1, 2007".

The County makes loan decisions based on info submitted, yet none of us have ever acted in the position of loan officer at any lending entity. And as usual the banks have first position on recovery of any loan declared in default, for any equipment leased, the lessor may reclaim. All governmental lending agencies (taxpayers money) come last.

The large majority of the borrowers of Gap Loan money do pay off their loans. We do turn down a very few loan requests because they come on the recommendations of EDC and naturally on the recommendations of the banks but they do take the first position on financial recovery if the loans go bad. The interest we charge is usually between 3 and 5 per cent. Until very recently, we were not assessing a penalty for past due amounts. You can bet the banks do.

We should all hope InPlay is able to work their financial problems out for their sake, the sake of the communities economic development of the downtown and the sake of the taxpayers.

On a more positive note, I note that the long empty furniture store building between Lake and Glen is being remodeling into a financial institution and the old Thompson Grocery store on Knoxville is being remodeled into a doctors office (at times I note the remodeling job has been picketed by unions) and other to be leased space. Let's hope that tax PAYING businesses will eventually locate in the empty Menards building the K's Merchadise building and the long vacant old grocery store on far North Knoxville.

I note some other new buildings under construction including one off Monroe Street in the near north downtown area. Hope they are all tax paying bodies rather than like so much of the construction underway or proposed that are tax COLLECTING bodies.

Big difference to those of us who pay taxes.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Over Educated and Under Employed 9/24/07

"A Stingier Job Market Awaits New Attorneys" is a headline in today's WSJ. "Growth of legal sector lags broader economy; law schools proliferate." This warning may come to late for some graduates with school debts that may exceed $100,000 a year. Some may wind up working for as little as $20 an hour with no benefits. Most of the high paying legal jobs go to those who come from the most prestigous schools. Or are ranked near the top of their graduating class.

Many find late that the practice of law is not for them; still a legal education is a tremendous asset for a variety of professional paths. It may be discouraging to find that skilled workers; electrician, plumbers, computer technicians, welders, transportation workers, etc;, without a college education and without a huge educational debt are making more money than, say like, Israel Meth, a 2005 graduate of Brooklyn Law School earning about $30 an hour as a contract attorney reviewing legal documents for big firms. He uses 60% of his paycheck to pay off student loans-$100,000 for law school on top of $100,000 for the bachelors degree he received from Columbia University.

My previous blogs have pointed out that a college degree may not be all it's cracked up to be. Many colleges mislead students by recomending fields with well-paying opportunities only for the graduate to find out these higher paid jobs only went to the top graduates or they were in a dying profession. My wife with straight A's and a Master's in Dietetics found the field crowded for the good paying jobs and not much chance of making it by opening her own business when local health organizations were offering the service free.

She and I agree (along with most of the teachers I talk to) that high schools offering and selling few Vo/Tech opportunities or little non-traditional training, are not doing many students any favors.

District #150 says it is offering a wide selection of classes this academic year that will teach skills needed whether or not the student goes to or graduates from college. It appears these efforts are late and kids that could have had a future in the non-college work place are already unhirable. But better late than never so we perhaps will see more kids ready and willing to work.

At the same time, the Head of the U.S. Department of Labor and local labor leader Dan Siverthorn says there are not going to be enough skilled workers to fill the jobs of the near future.

Many lawmakers are dragging their feet on tighter immigration laws for exactly that reason. With so many of our young people with drug and criminal records,no work ethic, no sense of responsiblity, an inability to read and interpret what they read, little understanding of history: the question remains, where are these skilled workers going to come from?

I have been asking this question for years and have yet to hear any satisfactory answer. We aren't even meeting our own present local needs for skilled workers let alone the needs of the future.

Yes, I know about the services offered by ICC, Bradley, Caterpillar and others but District #150 have another almost 1000 kids or more in high school and an equal number in the middle schools who are not being being prepared to be contriuting members to society. And no, new expanded libraries and new school buildings are nice but are NOT THE ANSWER. No, NOT even an expanded zoo, a new Children's Playhouse nor a new museum will solve the dilemna faced by we Peoria residents.

I quote from a book I highly recommend all of you read "In Defense of Elitism" by William A Henry III and summed up in an article "Why Equality is Ridiculous" by Harvey Mansfield, Professor of Government at Harvard. Henry writes "Opportunity does not need to be equal; it needs only to exist. One has to have the gumption to seize it and the preseverance to compete with others in the same situation."

Mr. Henry writes "that the crazy revolt against nature, led by Karl Marx, has brought us to deny that some people are better than others, as if denial could make our democracy pure."

When I watch "Marvels of the Modern World" on the History Channel or watch our Marines and Seabees who were heroes in action in World War II or watch Roger Federer play tennis, or listen to a symphony, why would I NOT believe that some people are better than others?

Where we are making our major failures in the raising and educating of our kids is denying that not all kids are equal, some excell in ways almost unimaginable to people with limit talents as myself. It is our jobs to search out that talent, encourge and assist the development of that or those talents so that we are indeed a community and a country of multi-skilled, multicultural society contributing individuals.

How can you compete with others in the "same situation" who have developed a work ethic, learned responsibility, had their talents discovered and developed and have been taught some basic living skills?

It is my candid observation that a very large number of all the students attending Peoria Public School District #150 haven't been properly presented with the opportunities they are capable of "seizing". It is my candid appraisal that teaching to the test may help those with the ability to memorize but is of limited use to those who might have the ability to innovate if "opportunities" were properly presented.

New Zealand and Rolling Back Government

"No Subsidies? No Problem" is a front page story in the JS today about New Zealand's 17-year success story without subsidies. If you click on my archives dated 7/20/05 you will find excerpts from an article written by a former New Zealand cabinet member titled "Rolling Back Government: Lessons From New Zealand." The author Morris P. McTigue said the basic question of "What did we get in benefits for the expenditure of this money" is always asked in the private sector but has not always been the norm for governments."

The article describes the successes of the private sector in running New Zealand's Department of Transportation; 5600 public workers reduced to 53; Forest Service, from 17,000 to 17; the Minister of Works (or public works, construction and engineering) from 28,000 to 1, the saving over a billion dollars per year but gaining a billion dollars per year in revenue and taxes.

Sheep farmers getting 44% of their income from subsidies went to 0 dollars subsidies in one year. They were putting more and more money into education and yet the system was failing. Sound familiar? New Zealand made some drastic changes and seventeen years later the system appears to be working very well.

Anyway, if interested in how we can more effectively run our government, click on my 2005 blog. What New Zealand is doing on a smaller scale, we could do here. But probably not until people get tired of the government taking more and more of our income every year and giving it back in huge subsidies to a select few wealthy "farmers" (landowners) and their lobbyists (and all private entities who are wrongly subsidized) who are laughing at most of us who work hard for what we earn. Most of us do not ask the government to subsidize us and protect us from failure. All most of us ask is to compete on a fairly level "playing field".

The more we ask others to bear our responsibilties and protect us from our own failures, the more we continue our slide to socialism and the more we become a welfare state.

I visited New Zealand approximataely 20 years ago. Maybe someone who knows more about the current situation will comment on this site.


Monday, September 17, 2007

Bac to School

Too many school drop-outs; not enough respect or authority in the classrooms; too little value placed on the teaching profession; too little art and sport in the curriculum; too much passive rote learning; and too much “theory and abstraction”.

United States schools? No, French schools quoting French President Nicolas Sarkozy, in an article in the October edition of The Economist and titled, “Bac to School”. France, the President concludes, needs “to rebuild the foundations” of its education system.

A government commissioned report reveals that two in five pupils leave primary schools with “serious learning gaps” in basic reading writing and arithmetic. One in five finishes secondary school with no qualification at all. Even the “bac” baccalaureate is under attack. France has set up after-hours service for secondary school, to supervise homework and help keep kids off the streets. The government is taking a harder look into the teaching profession and to perhaps soften up the unions before less palatable changes. France schools hold back kids called “redoublement” but some suggest it has no effect on a child’s progress. They talk about streaming of pupils by ability, so that children can stay with their age group, but the unions are hostile. France considers less abstract teaching, which might engage less-academic pupils.

The article states that Mr. Sarkozy will find it hard to translate his ambitious ideas into concrete plans. His wish-list for the curriculum is daunting: more art and sport, but also more “civic education”, comparative religion, “general culture”, trips to the theatre, walks in the forest, and visits to business.

I have always believed that schools should turn out a well rounded product but that schools are not to be “social agencies”. However, the original purpose of schools was to teach the basic materials or subjects, while controlling discipline, demanding respect and responsibility. More important now than in my days when we did have “good culture traits” when we left school even if we didn’t have them when we first entered any public school system.

Teaching comparative religion in our public schools? Probably not, but I would not oppose it if the teaching books covered the history of the major religions and the class was optional. Probably not going to happen in the public sector.

France’s rigorous system suits able pupils: half of all 15 year olds match the standards in writing, math and science but the schools fail the weakest. Comparable to us, I believe.

Comparisons to our local public schools are rife. For years I have said that we needed to challenge all students but we need to “stream” kids by ability rather than to socially promote or hold pupils back. Both social promotion and holding back have severe imperfections. That we should have longer schools days? Absolutely. But try to get either of these ideas past the unions. Our out of school by 2:30 dates back to days when kids had “work” to do after school, and the longer school days with after school “services” should be “a no-brainer”. Many parents have no idea what nor seem to care what their kids do after they get home in the middle of the afternoon.

More sports, yes, keep what is working and add more intramurals, and not in just sports. We already have too many “traveling teams” in some activities.

Busing more and more kids out of their neighborhoods causes immense logistic problems. Many of these problems could be solved as the French say, by “streaming" by ability (keeping kids in their own neighborhoods considerably reduces busing) and offering more services. Having the school day lengthened with more after school “services” and by using more private and public transportation would solve many of these logistic and safety problems.

Note that Mr. Sarkozy, himself a bit of a “leftist”, twice mentions the unions as hostile or a hindrance. Unions are thriving in the public sector but statistics show they have lost ground in the private sector. Much of that may change over the next decade as power shifts. I in no way oppose unions; but when less than ten out of more than one hundred thousand teachers are fired in Illinois in a whole year, something drastic is wrong with the school boards, (and public boards in general) administrations and union leadership.

Nothing in this article is new to me and I am probably preaching to the choir. Our public school systems need a drastic retuning but few have the guts to do it. But many do, they move, set up private schools, religious schools or home school.

As the world catches up to us and many say some countries will surpass us in the next decade, it may be too late. Time will tell but then again I do not believe we have the time to wait and see.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Education: Equality?

I agree, but what is said is not new to we who follow the education of today's children. To fully grasp the problem not even touched on by the writer in her brief dissertation, read "Enough" by the renowed black analyst and writer, Juan Williams. Or read some of my blogs on the subject of why some kids spend most of their lives "catching up". Many never do catch up.

Merle Widmer 9/16/07

From Education Week [American Education's Newspaper of Record], Monday, September 10, 2007 [Online], Volume 27. See this. ***********************
High-Achieving Students From Lower-Income Families Fall Behind, Study Finds

By Catherine Gewertz

The educational accountability movement's keen focus on bringing all students to academic proficiency risks leaving behind a group of particularly promising students: high-achieving children from lower-income families, a report released today contends.

The study analyzes national data to track the school performance of about 3.4 million K-12 children who come from households with incomes below the national median but score in the top quartile on nationally normed tests. It finds that they start school with weaker academic skills and are less likely to flourish over the years in school than their peers from better-off families.

Civic Enterprises LLC, a Washington-based research and public-policy group, and the Lansdowne, Va.-based Jack Kent Cooke Foundation, which co-produced the "Achievement Trap" study, urged researchers and policymakers to better understand the dynamics that allow high-achieving, lower-income children to fall behind, and to focus concerted attention on ways to help them.

"By reversing the downward trajectory of their educational achievement, we will not only improve their lives but strengthen our nation by unleashing the potential of literally millions of young people who could be making great contributions to our communities and country," the report says.

The report's release coincided with testimony by one of its authors before the education committee of the U.S. House of Representatives on possible revisions to the No Child Left Behind Act. Joshua S. Wyner, the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation's executive vice president, urged federal lawmakers to broaden the law's focus so that schools are held accountable for improving the performance of higher-achieving as well as lower-achieving students.

Hobbled From the Start

Higher-achieving children from lower-income families enter school with a disadvantage that shows up in their national test scores, the report says. More than 70 percent of 1st graders who score in the top quartile are from higher-income families, and fewer than three in 10 are from lower-income families.

In the ensuing years, the higher-achieving lower-income children are more likely to lose ground, according to the study. For instance, 44 percent fall out of the top quartile in reading between the 1st and 5th grades, compared with 31 percent of high achievers whose family income is above the national median, which was $48,200 in 2006, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

They are also more likely to drop out of high school or not graduate on time than those from economically better-off families, the study found. The difference persists through college and graduate school, with lower-income students less likely to attend the most selective colleges or to graduate.

The report does offer some optimistic notes. Of the higher-achieving students, it says, 93 percent of those from lower-income families, and 97 percent of those from higher-income families, graduate from high school in four years. Those rates are much better than the 70 percent of all students on average that researchers estimate get their diplomas on time. But the data still show too many "unrelenting inequities" that harm the prospects of capable children from lower-income families, the authors say.

The data also suggest the distance still to be traveled in understanding and addressing the dynamics in racial achievement gaps.

Among lower-income students, Asians showed a significantly better chance of staying in the top quartile in math during high school than did other students, and African-American students were the least likely group to rise into that top tier in reading or math, according to the report.

Michelle M. Fine, a professor of social psychology and urban education at the City University of New York, said she welcomed the examination of how economic class can affect children's education. But addressing the needs of all disadvantaged children, she said, entails a more nuanced examination of how race and class intersect to influence their performance.

"Something is clearly working for those lower-income Asian kids that isn't working for the lower-income black kids," she said, referring to the racial-performance breakdowns among lower-income students in the report. "A class-only analysis isn't going to give us the whole picture."

Solutions must go beyond the policy thrust advocated in the study, she said, to systemic improvements in districtwide school financing, equitable distribution of highly skilled teachers, and access to quality preschool.

Jerry P. Becker
Dept. of Curriculum & Instruction
Southern Illinois University
625 Wham Drive
Mail Code 4610
Carbondale, IL 62901-4610
Phone: (618) 453-4241 [O]
(618) 457-8903 [H]
Fax: (618) 453-4244
E-mail: jbecker@siu.edued black news analyst; Juan Williams.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Free Advice??

A letter in the WJS recently told the old story again of asking a professional for advice: A woman told this story to an attorney friend. She said she was seated next to an doctor at a dinner party. She described having a pain in her knee, and asked the doctor what to do about it. She said he told me what to do, and it worked. But he sent me a bill. Do I have to pay it? The attorney says "You certainly do. You asked for his professional service and he supplied it."

The next day she received a bill from the lawyer.

Probably means there are no free lunches either.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007


I'm told be an extremely reliable source to pull up http://www/ to double check some of the emails being sent to us referring to immigration (and other topics). Snopes is a site determined to track down all sorts of urban legends annd verify their truth.

Go Cubs? Who said that? Check it out!!!

Jerry P.Becker -

If you have any interest in education and the future of our youth, get on J. Becker's email list. Well worth a few minutes to read him and others like Gerald W. Bracey quoted below.

Merle Widmer

From Education Week [American Education's Newspaper of Record], Volume 27, No. 2, p. 26. See

Growing an Achievement Gap

By Gerald W. Bracey

The Bush administration has claimed lately that rising test scores and a narrowing black-white test-score gap reflect the success of the federal No Child Left Behind Act. Even if this is true-and it is not at all clear that it is-the achievement gap, broadly conceived, is growing. Let me explain.

I recently visited an elementary school in Fairfax County, Va. Although Fairfax County is generally affluent, the homes in this neighborhood are modest by any standard. The parents are workers-in food services, in dry cleaning, in construction, in lawn care. The school contains students from 40 nations, and its ethnic makeup is 39 percent Hispanic, 32 percent Asian, 6 percent black, 18 percent white, and 5 percent "other." More than half don't speak English well, half qualify for free or reduced-price meals, and the school's mobility rate is double that of the district as a whole.

Yet, because it manages decent scores on the Virginia Standards of Learning tests, the school is fully accredited by the state and has met the No Child Left Behind law's requirements for adequate yearly progress.

But all the above doesn't really give you a feel for how the school operates or its successes.

SIDEBAR: In some schools today, principals patrol the halls listening to make sure that the teachers are all following the exact sequence laid out by the scripted reading programs.

The school burbles. It's a sound that emanates from kids who are content to be where they are. Student artwork covers the hallway walls. Classroom walls are richly decorated. Some students are painting a huge cafeteria mural showing the Taj Mahal, the Pyramids at Giza, and other wonders of the world. In one hall, I meet a group returning from "butterfly-release day." They had watched as caterpillars transformed themselves into butterflies, and they had just gone outside to set them free. Science from the real world, not from a book. Students sometimes worked in small groups, sometimes worked alone, and sometimes listened to the teacher talk to the whole class. Questions were plentiful.

It's as if the school lives under a shield. As if being part of an affluent district, though not affluent itself, offers cover, a kind of Strategic Defense Initiative, protecting it from state and federal dictates.

Unfortunately, in many impoverished districts, no such armor protects the children or the teachers. In such districts, children endure an endless diet of math and reading test-prep worksheets. "Bubble-kids"-those perceived to be on the threshold of passing the test-get extra time in reading and math, sometimes in gym class. "Sure things" and "hopeless cases" get identified and ignored. Science, if it happens at all, happens in the two dimensions of a book. Thinking about those butterflies, I was reminded of a California superintendent's retort on being asked why her district wouldn't be making any more whale-watching field trips: "Kids are not tested on whale watching, so they're not going whale watching." Music? Art? Social studies? Plays? Chess club?

In some such schools today, principals patrol the halls listening to make sure that the teachers are all following the exact sequence laid out by the scripted reading programs. One teacher who gave a creative answer to a question while using the highly programmed Open Court reading series was severely reprimanded by her principal. "But it was a teachable moment," she said.To which he replied, "There are no teachable moments in Open Court!" Some principals have contracts specifying that test scores must rise by a certain amount each year. They administer copious "formative evaluations," which are merely mini-tests to see if the kids are making progress toward the big tests at the end of the year.

The outcome of this gun-barrel focus is the gap I mentioned at the outset. It was described well recently by the president of the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation, Chester E. Finn Jr., a longtime public school critic, and initially a supporter of the No Child Left Behind law. "It's increasingly clear," he said recently in an online newsletter, "that making schools and teachers focus narrowly on test results, especially in basic skills, squeezes a lot of the juice out of the curriculum and out of the educational experience itself. ... America's true competitive edge doesn't come from producing more engineers than India. It arises from the creativity, rebelliousness, and drive that result from a broad liberal education and the values and convictions that accompany such teaching and learning."

Kids facing an infinite series of phonics exercises are not enjoying that broad liberal education. They're not growing butterflies or watching whales. If the reading and math scores in the drilled schools rise, some people will claim success. Others will say, "At least they're getting more of an education than they used to." Somehow, I don't think so.
Gerald W. Bracey is an independent researcher, policy analyst, and writer in Alexandria, Va., and a fellow of the Education Policy Studies Laboratory at Arizona State University, in Tempe, Ariz. His most recent book is Reading Educational Research: How to Avoid Getting Statistically Snookered (Heinemann, 2006).

Jerry P. Becker
Dept. of Curriculum & Instruction
Southern Illinois University
625 Wham Drive
Mail Code 4610
Carbondale, IL 62901-4610
Phone: (618) 453-4241 [O]
(618) 457-8903 [H]
Fax: (618) 453-4244

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Peoria's Escalating Property Taxes

Here is a copy of another email just received from the person planning on relocating in Peoria from St.Louis, MO. I had just emailed him a copy of what I received from Peoria City Manager Randy Oliver calling attention that the City of Peoria only receives 11% of Peoria County property taxes, Peoria County receives 10%, the Peoria Park District receives 9%, all other bodies including I.C.C., Greater peoria Sanitary District, Library Board, etc., receive 10% combined and Peoria Public School District #150 receives an astounding 60%.

Here is his email:

That breakdown is very interesting. To answer your question, according to the St. Louis County website, the county's park maintenance budget for 2007 is $5,217,090 (that portion of the budget is provided here ).

(Peorian's note: the overall Peoria Public Park District has an astounding budget of $49,800,000.00.)

On that particular topic, my wife and I both spend a lot of time at the gym, so I was happy to hear that Peoria had both a new Gold's Gym and the new RiverPlex. In researching the two I learned early that the RiverPlex was part of the park district, which was an immediate red flag. From all my past experience dealing with government owned facilities inevidably leads to frustration. Beaurocrats simply do not run enterprises such as this as effectively as private parties because, among other things, the financial motivation to please customers is missing (I know I'm preaching to the choir here).

In fairness, though, I was still going give the RiverPlex a fair chance at my membership fees and called to get information on membership rates, hours of operation, etc. After sitting on hold for 25 minutes, my intial reaction was confirmed, and I hung up without ever speaking to a person. With a new Gold's Gym in town, I will not even waste my time visiting the RiverPlex after that display of governmental customer service. There is a plethora of reasons why socialism has always failed its subjects throughout history, and those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it. It sounds like some of Peoria's officials need some history lessons.

Property Taxes in Peoria

I recived this email reprinted below last night. Today, I recieved my "Notice to Taxpayers of Assessment change". My 2007 Fair Market value has been raised by $46,000.00. We have spent not one dime on improvements on or in this property in the last 10 or more years except replacing a worn out roof. More on the assessed valuation on my house later. I will pick up paperwork to file a protest tomorrow.

As a proerty owner and taxpayer and a Peoria County Board member, I encourage anyone who feels their new assessments are out of line to immediately gather your facts including photographs, documentation of all improvements, documentation of needs for improvements such as new fences, driveways, ect. and extimated costs of everything you would have to improve before you believe you would get anywhere near the Fair Market Value of your property. Document every reason you feel that your taxes are out of line. Be sure to get asking prices and sales prices of all properties sold or for sale in your immediate neghborhood. Contact your neighborhood assosication for information about other property holders that are as dismayed as I am about someones $46,000 illusion that my property is anywhere near the amount shown as Fair Market Value. Get the paperwork and set an appointment for a hearing with the appeals board by calling 672-6022.

One City Councilman suggested my email "friend" from St. Louis move into his neighborhood where he has many amenities within walking distance, an 1100 square foot living space on a 9000 square foot lot. He paid $280.00 property taxes last year.

Here is the letter with the name of the writer from St. Louis with his name deleted as per his request:

"Dear Mr. Widmer,

My wife and I will be moving to Peoria early next month for a new job opportunity. Last weekend we made our first house-hunting trip to Peoria. Needless to say, we were absolutely appalled when we learned that property taxes were roughly three times what we pay for our home near Clayton, which is an affluent area on the outskirts of St. Louis. Although admittedly I am not very familiar with Peoria yet, I certainly have not seen anything to begin to justify these outrageous taxes. The area where we currently live offers incredible amenities, a beautiful city, and a highly desired school system for a fraction of the property taxes. Not long ago we lived in Tennessee and paid less than a sixth of Peoria-rate property taxes (and no state income tax to boot), so we actually thought our current Clayton-area property taxes were high.

Driving home, my wife was very disheartened and we decided that we are going to rent, for now at least, rather than purchase a new home. Frankly, we can rent a nice apartment for just a little more than what we would have to pay in property taxes on a new home. In other cities we always felt like we were building equity with our house payments despite other expenses that come along with a house (taxes, interest, upkeep, etc.). With Peoria's tax rates on top of the other non-equity-building-expenses common to purchases anywhere, we feel like we would just be throwing away too much money for buying a house to make sense right now.

Since our trip I have been perplexed by Peoria's tax rates, but today I stumbled across your blog. Reading through several of your posts explained a lot. I appreciate the information you provide in your blog, as well as your fight to lift the burden on tax payers. Why people would continue to elect officials into office that take so much money out of their wallets is beyond me.

I noticed you mentioned you have been labeled as anti-growth because of your stance on taxes and spending. For what it is worth, if I did not have an incredible job opportunity in Peoria, I would never choose to live there because of the taxes. Also, as I mentioned earlier, the absurd tax rates tipped the scale against us buying property for the time being. I image than many young professionals would feel similar. So, at least from my perspective, if anyone is stifling growth in the community it is the proponents of taxing and spending.

If by chance you share this with anyone, please do so anonymously. I would prefer not to burn any bridges before I even get to town (there will be plenty of time for that later). Keep fighting the good fight.

Best regards."

Sunday, September 09, 2007

Why Black Leadership May Need to Work More Closely With White Leadership

An article in the August 4 issue of The Economist titled “Where Black and Brown Collide” and an article in the August & issue of USA TODAY titled “Immigrants a Scapegoat for Blacks’ Unemployment”, point out some interesting facts about the rapid escalation of Latinos to the United States, many who are here illegally, has raised tensions between Latinos and blacks in some states and major cities. While black leader Barrack Obama has assured Hispanics that an alliance exists between blacks and Latinos and that they are brothers in the fight for equality, others are not so sure. An upcoming trial in Los Angeles involves the alleged killing of a fourteen year old black girl by two Hispanics. “We’re being overrun,” says Ted Hayes of Chose Black America which has led anti-immigration marches in south-central Los Angeles. “The companeros have taken all the housing. If you don’t speak Spanish, they turn you down for jobs. Our children are jumped on in schools. They are trying to drive us out.” Mr. Hayes says he has nothing against Hispanics in general and he is friendly with many of them.

Quoting The Economist, “Last year Pew, a pollster, found one third of blacks believe immigrants take jobs from Americans-more than any other group. Yet in some ways their views were benign. Blacks are less likely than whites or even Hispanics to believe that immigrants end up on welfare or commit crimes. Latinos on the other hand, appear to make no such concessions. One survey in Durham, NC, found that 59% of Latinos believed few or almost no blacks were hard-working, and in a similar proportion reckoned few or almost none could be trusted. Less than one in ten whites felt the same way.

One in eight residents is now Latino in Durham, up from 1 in 80 ten years ago. They live mainly in the poorest parts of Durham which happen to be black. By 2000, blacks in all ten of America’s biggest metropolitan areas were more mixed in with Hispanics than with whites.

In poor areas, closeness often means conflict. Los Angeles tallied more than 400 racial hate crimes last year---the most, as a proportion of all hate crimes, for at least a decade. Blacks fared worst: they comprise just 9% of the population of Los Angeles County but were the victims of 59% or all race-hate crimes. Seven out of ten, their persecutors were Latinos. Hispanics, who make up almost half the population, were victimized by black less than 1% of the time. These numbers greatly understate the violence; they do not, for example, include the victims of a dozen interracial prison riots last year, which left two dead.”

As to black claims of escalating unemployment, the USA TODAY says “despite a steady increase in foreign born immigrants from 1980 t0 2000, US black unemployment dropped sharply during those years.”

What does this have to do with Peoria? A lot. Dan Silverthorn, speaking before the Southwest Kiwanis Thursday, said that there is $3 billion worth of construction projects under construction or approved or near approval in the area. He says there are not enough skilled workers in the area to fill these jobs. Interpretation: Skilled workers may need to be imported into this area. We may see a greater influx of Latinos on a smaller scale than the influx that hit Durham “like a storm”. Dan made note of Peoria Public School District #150 for its failure to turn out more willing and semi-skilled workers to fill labor jobs paying $60,000.00 a year and more. . He specifically pointed out the fine Vo/Tech programs at Pekin High; programs that #150 board members were asked by various leaders and members of this community to study years ago.

The black leadership of this community is saying they are doing their best to get black youths the same education offered white, Asian and Indian kids. The problem is, they say, the lack of equality and racial discrimination. That “old saw” is getting older and more wrong every day. It is not hard to sell the uneducated and those who never learned to work that they are victims.

While School District #150 boards from 1993 forward are rightfully blamed for the lack of offering and ‘selling” alternate educations; mainly Vo/Tech, opportunity for equal education and employment has never been better in Peoria than it is today. New curricula being offered this year and some last year, may help the semi-skilled labor but only if kids can see a brighter future than some of our leadership has shown them to date.

I’ll cover more of why black leaders are claiming “victimization” and why most of the real black leadership think the Martin Luther King dreams are and have been turned into nightmares. Maybe the encroachment of Latinos as larger quantities of newer minorities may finally convince blacks, and white leaders too, to listen to leaders like Juan Williams and Bill Cosby.

I’ll comment on William’s book titled, “Enough”, on a blog soon and what he and other real black leaders believe; that too many “phony” black leaders are destroying the King dream.

Racial Profiling

“The NAACP at a Crossroads” by Michael Meyers, executive director of the New York Civil rights Coalition and a former assistant national director of the NAACP and published on 9/04/07 in the WSJ characterizes the problems with much of the leadership of people who call themselves African-Americans. He writes that “the NAACP should urge black Americans, at long last, to drop their hyphenated African roots. Blacks are several hundred years out of Africa and hyphenating is not only minimal but mostly pretence and posturing.” (Refer my blog of 8/02/06)

Meyers says “the NAACP is in dire straits, financial and otherwise. It is cutting 40% of its staff including youth coordinators, ect. He says to correct itself, “The organization must reclaim its mission as a racial healer, rebutting the crazed racial slandering of militants who want to keep our nation divided into racial camps. Recommit itself to inculculating solid middle class value and use intelligent efforts to persuade people to disband the moral rot of segregation.”

He says “the NAACP must make public education the civil-rights issue of our times. Everything else will fall in place if young blacks overcome illiteracy, stay in school, and are inculcated with a love for learning and for the pursuit of excellence instead of trained to accept mediocrity and quotas as a means of social advancement.” (Then again, our schools must offer more for those who want to be competent in a skill that does not require a college degree, but for certain they must graduate from high school with basic skills, such as reading, writing, computing and communicating)..

Continuing, he says “Holding school authorities accountable-even black teachers, board members and (other authorities), must be the priority. That means tutoring pupils and coaching teachers so that they pass standardized competentcy tests, and eschewing notions that such examinations are “culturally biased”.

The only practical way to integrate America is to personally defeat the habits and prejudices of communities and groups to live, work, marry and socialize with “their own kind”. I’ve personally noted that many meeting discussing community problems and events have not been represented by anywhere close to equal percentages of whites and people of color. Most interesting were the public hearings on the location of a new or expanded Glen Oak School.

Why not?

You may wish to read this Wall Street Journal article in its full context. Formal schooling, at least through high school, for better or worse, is still the best way to reach a lawful self or family supporting goal. In my blog of 6/20/07, I quoted an article about the attitude of black student Paul , “If you go to them (sic) white people, they congratulate their own color. I want to own my own business because I’ll be darned if I’m going to sit there and work for a white man all my life”. This attitude will most likely put him behind immigrants form Asia, India, Hispanics and Europeans and certainly behind any person of any color who depends on his or her efforts and attitude to make a meaningful success in life. Going thru live pretending to be victimized by the whites (and other blacks) helps keep our prisons system to continue expanding to warehouse peoples of all colors who feel they are victims of “the system”. (Sure there are people who don’t like people because of their color, some white people don’t like me. And a lot of black people don’t like Jesse and Don Jackson. So what??).

Some of these black “leaders” better be listening to what a lot of Latinos are saying about some of the misguided “victimized African-Americans”. Maybe read what a majority of Latinos surveyed are saying about misguided blacks who live in Durham, N.C. and were quoted in the news lately. (See my next blog today)

Also, read my blog, temporarily misfiled by myself, on hyphenated names where I say if “leaders” wish to use hyphens when talking about black people; then please call me a “Swiss-German-American.”

I’ll probably say “knock that crap off”. My dad fled Switzerland for what he heard was for a new better life. He became of citizen and never wished to return nor did he ever tell people he was from Switzerland unless asked. I believe that most people, who came from Africa one way or another, do not wish to return and live in any part of Africa even today. Many of you know that most of the world’s greatest slavers where not from this continent. And that some of the countries in these continents still practice slavery as I type this document.

When we start accepting people for who they are and having reasonable learned dialogue about our similarities and differences, all the while being prepared as an individual and a state, to defend ourselves from those who would do us bodily harm, will we live in a state of reasonable assimilation, integration and harmony.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Mental Health Problems - Symptoms, Diagnosis and Treatment

I’ve held off on blogging about this subject although it is of deep personal concern to me. When I attended The National Association of Counties Legislative Conference in Washington, DC in March 2007, I selected “The Non-Violent Mentally Ill in Jail: Solving the Growing Intergovernmental Crisis” as one of the presentations to attend. One of the documentaries we all viewed showed the mentally ill in confinement in Dade County. Prior to and since then, I’ve understood the criminality of putting the mentally ill behind bars. Some of you may have seen the TV two hour presentations of the mentally ill in the Los Angeles County Jail.

A panel (Massengill) was created to study the killer in the Virginia Tech Massacre with a report due next week. Reports say that “Cho" had no record of violence in 23 years.” Quite believable but other symptoms were detected such as his expulsion from a classroom for failure to remove his cap and sun glasses. Refusals to accept authority should be sure signs of a disturbed individual. I’m afraid the report will not shed much insight into his personal life that hasn’t already been reviewed, digested, speculated on, and written in journals. By using “not politically correct preventative action” perhaps Cho would be alive today as a contributor to society or in a place where he could not kill a lot of people and a lot of people, who shouldn’t be dead, would be alive today.

That we have a massive problem; the chairman elect of the National Association of County Behavioral Health and Disability Directors calls “the lack of community care for mentally ill is a “national tragedy”. We had our own trauma when Zeller was closed because it was said “costs appeared to outweigh benefits”.

Preventative actions are ALWAYS CHEAPER than actual destructive happenings. The VT murders have cost and will cost that community untold millions of dollars. Had Cho lived his trial and incarceration might have been enough to bankrupt a less affluent community.

On July 30 and 31st, the JSEB talks about how armed authorities should respond in a confrontation with mentally ill people. That’s a separate but important problem. The major problem is how to get him or her to recognize they need help with a problem that is getting out of hand and then take corrective or preventable action. This usually takes some community observation and input as the distressed or sick person can always act reasonably normal around family of authorities. Authorities and Crisis Intervention can not commit a person without some real proof of disorder. And then commit he or her to what if they are of legal age and don’t consent?

I twice talked to Senator Dick Durbin about what to do before mental health disturbances evolve into a lethal force standoff or some innocent people are slain by a mentally stressed person who “breaks” after a particular highly stressful (to him or her) event. This I believe is what the panel will describe during testimony. Durbin said the Federal Government understands the problem, are seriously concerned and things are happening in DC. I’m not sure enough is happening at any level, county state or federal. Some local officials do not seem to be too concerned. Others, lip concern is SOP for many politicians.

Most of us know, as Angie Ulrich of Peoria stated in her recent letter the JSEB Editors that way too many “not” normal people are warehoused away from us “normal” people. Angie believes we should spend more money on “community based services instead of building more bridges.” Unfortunately, the bridge collapse in Minnesota quickly revealed the need of least $1.6 trillion dollars to prevent physical bridge tragedies. And that’s just bridges. Maybe the figures are embellished a little by engineers who need jobs too. But Angie is correct in her letter.

It’s past time for hand wringing and 2nd guessing. It is time for some serious dialogue and some serious spending. Many programs are working across the country and some are in development study stage such as “CBT” as described in Forbes and the WSJ this spring. The article reads that “health insurers are especially attracted to CBT since it aims to heal a person after 10 to 25 visits in contrast to lifelong conversation with therapists as depicted in Woody Allen movies.” Integrated Behavioral Health claims over half of their cases involve CBT up from 10 to 20% a decade ago.

Who among us elected and high profile people are looking for preventative measures? In January 2004, Present Bush said the following “This year, some 600,000 inmates will be released from prison back into society. We know from long experience that if they can’t find work, or a home, or help, they are much more likely to return to prison…” What I don’t believe he said that most people and they are people, coming home have histories of drug or alcohol dependence. An increasing number have mental health problems; without treatment, relapse is likely. Figures ranging from 20% to 70% are deemed mentally ill in our jails and prisons. Coming back to their neighborhoods without treatment of some kind, no money, and no job, no real family, often times is disastrous.

Experience shows that it is difficult to get many mentally distressed people to admit they have a problem, similar to many not wanting to admit to have a drinking or drug problem.

Some will say the government will try to commit all people that act differently than the expected norm. Some will try to commit relatives for access to their money. It is my belief that most of my family and friends feel that we must often take actions to save someone from themselves and to protect others such as the once terrified and now dead Virginia Tech attendees. Most laws never please everybody.

I do not profess to know all the preventative sources that are available in Peoria. I know there are programs available for those who can afford substantial billings. The problem is most people can’t afford or even know about the proper treatment for their condition.. The police and crisis intervention can only go so far.

A one hundred million dollar bill was making its way thru congress for year 2008. 2008?? We should have programs in place years ago and needs properly defined and agreed upon by the community. Not much money for 50 states. The money is to help the mentally ill within the county health and human services systems.

I am a great believer in letting communities keep more tax dollars to service each local communities particular needs and build our local relationships of determining our priorities, reaching reasonable agreement with each other by open and honest dialogue.

We are talking serious corrective action money but I believe the costs can be sold to a community easier than a new ball park, a new zoo, a new museum and bricks and mortar for unsupervised computers in our public libraries.

A consortium with roots going back to 1993 or 4 is attempting to gain support and money to attack the homeless problems in our community. My involvement from 1993-9 in efforts to solve this issue gave me the insight to see that many deemed perpetually homeless were mentally ill and did not want to come “in from the outside”. Many felt that they were denied or shunned by the community and refusing a permanent lifestyle was their way of telling us that they too had rights and they had the right to continue to lead the lifestyles they were living. And some were satisfied to have little responsibilty.

We always have problems sorting out the problems of our personal lives and the life of the community in which we reside. We need stronger leadership to help us sort PRIORITIES OUT and BETTER LEADERSHIP to HONESTLY SELL the well researched real needs of this community. All with abnormal mental health affect the entire community. Just ask the surviving families, loved ones, acquaintances, or the entire community affected by what happened at Virginia Tech...

Books to Read That May Be Worth Your Time

The Reluctant Fundamentalist – Author M. Hamel – An insight into the unhappy outcomes of those who believe and try to spread fundamentalism whether in the MidEast or the U.S.A

The Ghost Map – Author Steven Johnson – The Story of London’s Most Terrifying Epidemic – and How It Changed Science, Cities and the Modern World. This author reminds the reader of past health catastrophes and how and why many greater catastrophes may and will, strike again. He gives some important messages about what cities can do to stop epidemics from spreading and reminding us of the most terrifying catastrophe that there is no solution to – nuclear death and destruction.

“The Power of Play” – how spontaneous, imaginative activities lead to happier healthier children - Author David Elkind. Dr. Elkind reminds of that this society is structuring too much of our children’s learning and reminds us that children start out learning by playing without much structure and should continue to have play and imagination be continued thru into their formal schooling and entire lives.

“What Came Before He Shot Her” – Author Elizabeth George. The title aroused my curiosity because it sounded like a stupid novel. Instead, this fiction describes what happens too much of the time when kids are born into a family with no father and a mother more interested in herself than her family. The author weaves a tale of “how and whys” kids get involved in situations and lifestyles far beyond their ability to comprehend outcomes. Far too many kids cannot overcome the circumstances detailed in this book (and in real life) or to develop the ability to cope when they do not have some fairly strong family ties for support, good role models and proper guidance. It describes how society’s failures lead kids into gangs that eventually have the power to control the thoughts and actions of young people. The book describes why “snitching” happens; it’s called other names in other countries but the meaning is the same. Well, just read the book as it will well be worth your time.

If you are interested in how religious landscapes are changing, read “God Needs No Passport” by Author Peggy Levitt. It gives facts and figures and details different approaches to traditional religion. The book also describes the effect that immigration has had on religious groups and in this country. There are more than 10,000 denominations in the U.S., most purporting to worship one God, many times an interpretation of a God of their own choosing.

For some light reading, try ‘Goodnight Texas” by Author William T. Cobb or “Body Surfing” by the always interesting Author Anita Shreve.

Much of what I read makes me want to blog continuously but as I’ve said many times, it takes too much of my energy to compose, edit and publish.

What I do write, you can criticize. Better yet, create your own blog site and give me your address so I can read your full views on positions. When you attack me personally on my own blog site, you may recall I am not a pacifist.