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The Dalai Lama, Capitalism, and Schools

April 19, 2014 Leave a comment

One of the most emailed articles today is “Capitalism and the Dalai Lama” by Arthur C. Brooks of the conservative American Enterprise Institute. While Brooks did not make a direct inquiry into the Dalai Lama’s views of schools, some of the Dalai Lama’s responses to his questions underscore the failings of the US brand of capitalism. For example:

(The Dalai Lama) made it abundantly clear that he did not advocate an every-man-for-himself economy. He insisted that while free enterprise could be a blessing, it was not guaranteed to be so. Markets are instrumental, not intrinsic, for human flourishing. As with any tool, wielding capitalism for good requires deep moral awareness. Only activities motivated by a concern for others’ well-being, he declared, could be truly “constructive.” 

Money per se is not evil. For the Dalai Lama, the key question is whether “we utilize our favorable circumstances, such as our good health or wealth, in positive ways, in helping others.” There is much for Americans to absorb here. Advocates of free enterprise must remember that the system’s moral core is neither profits nor efficiency. It is creating opportunity for individuals who need it the most.

And after spending time meditating with the Dalai Lama and interacting with him at length, what action does Mr. Brooks believe our country needs to take?

We need to combine an effective, reliable safety net for the poor with a hard look at modern barriers to upward mobility. That means attacking cronyism that protects the well-connected. It means lifting poor children out of ineffective schools that leave them unable to compete.

My guess: the American Enterprise Institute will likely NOT heed Brooks’ assertion that the free enterprise system’s “moral core is neither profits nor efficiency”. They will instead suggest that school choice, public education based on free enterprise’s assumptions, is the bet way to “lift poor children out of ineffective schools” and will tout the use of standardized test results and the application of business practices to save tax dollars. In short, the AEI will go for profits and efficiency instead of using our nation’s wealth in positive ways to help others”. It IS encouraging to see the Dalai Lama reaching out to US capitalists and encouraging to read that at least one conservative writer has absorbed the message… Now let’s see if he will advocate that his fellow capitalists to engage in truly constructive activities… activities motivated by a concern for others’ well-being.

High Stakes Testing Dying in OK

April 19, 2014 Leave a comment

Oklahoma, like Texas, has overreached in its testing and the legislature is responding with rollbacks after getting an earful from parents, teachers and other voters. What kinds of legislation is being appealed?

  • “…the mandatory retention of third-graders who fail the state’s reading assessment administered under the Reading Sufficiency Act” which was repealed by overwhelming majorities in both the house and senate
  • The common core
  • A battery of tests in social studies and geography in the 8th grade, which, when coupled with previously passed legislation eliminates all testing of history in the K-12 continuum
  • A-F ratings for schools based on assessments

The reasons for abandoning “reform” are mostly political.

“I think their constituents are getting engaged and involved. They are paying attention to the issues, and they will look at their options when it’s time to vote,” said Meredith Exline, president of Oklahoma Central Parent Legislative Action Committee.

Oh… and one other issue came to light after the legislature passed all of these “reforms”: changes require money!

Amber England, government affairs director for Stand for Children Oklahoma, which advocates for school reforms, said repealing mandatory retention could be seen as a sign the government has failed to properly fund reading programs that were supposed to make the Reading Sufficiency Act successful. She pointed to Oklahoma’s ranking as 49th in the nation in per-pupil funding.

“Schools are being asked to do a whole lot of new things, but they are not getting any money to do them,” England said. “These measures are in jeopardy because the Legislature hasn’t provided the money to do them properly.

So this development in OK, hardly the most progressive state in the nation, is heartening on some counts. They demonstrate that voters who are opposed to the top-down imposition of unproven practices can raise their collective voices and effect change— a sign that democracy may still be alive. They provide evidence that legislatures will need to either raise additional funds for “reforms” or pay the price at the polls. And, they indicate that parents are mad as hell about the testing straightjackets and will either unite to repeal legislation or withdraw from the testing regimen.

The development is disheartening, though, because given the choice between providing more funding to make OK’s public school spending competitive with other states or backing down on changes… it decided to avoid increased spending. It is also disheartening because other articles on the Common Core indicate the withdrawal of support for it was based as much on the content of the new standards (i.e. the inclusion of evolution as settled science) was as much a provocation as the common core’s link to testing. Finally, it is disheartening because the children who lived through the poorly conceived testing regimen, the poorly conceived efforts to address their learning deficiencies through the elimination of “social promotion”, and the narrow interaction that resulted from these “reforms” can never recover the time they lost preparing for tests that turned out to be immaterial.


Paying the Price for Bad Legislation in NC

April 19, 2014 Leave a comment

The headline to the press release says it all: “.North Carolina Public Schools Are Facing Teacher Shortage”… and the report is brief enough to paste below:

It is getting harder to recruit new teachers to North Carolina Public Schools, according to Wake County Public School System Chair Christine Kushner. She says another obstacle was thrown in the path of incoming teachers when a state additive for teachers with a Masters degree was eliminated.

Kushner said, “And now, with the elimination of the state supplement for master’s degrees, we’ve seen that we’re no longer competitive for those same teachers.”

Legislators recently proposed raising starter teacher salary, but Kushner says a complete reform of teacher pay is necessary in the legislative short session this year. Leader’s of the state’s largest school system held a press conference on Thursday announcing that over 600 teachers has left their position since July 2013.

And three days later, this:

School leaders announced Thursday that nearly 7% of teachers in the Wake County Public School System resigned their positions since July, 2013, the start of the school year. Dr. Michael Maher, Asst. Dean for Professional Education at NC State, says not only are teachers leaving the profession, but fewer students are entering university’s to study teaching.

Maher said, “The UNC system as a whole, our 17 campuses, we’re the top producers of teachers in the state of North Carolina. We prepare nearly half of all new teachers in the state. We are seeing declines across the entire set of campuses.”

Maher says the pipeline is drying up, and that will ultimately impact student achievement.

Over the past year I’ve read of a litany of bad ALEC legislation passed by NC, including some crazy ones like eliminating additional pay for advanced desires, offering performance bonuses of $400 for higher test results (as if a 1% increase in pay for one year was an “incentive”), eliminating “tenure”, etc. All of this was supposed to improve student results while limiting the costs to taxpayers. As the results are showing, they only got half the equation right.


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