The Vast Right Wing Conspiracy: All Politics is Local

As much as I hate quoting a Democrat Boss Daley was right, all politics is local. I have been spending a lot of time this week e mailing back and forth with the superintendentof our local school system. Over the past five years he has wasted millions of dollars instituting a program he calls an “equity” training program in our schools. The idea behind this program is rooted in failed educational philosophy from the late sixties and early seventies. The idea is that the achievement gap between White and Asian students and urban African-American students can be overcome if White teachers in the schools are more sensitive to so callled “Black” culture.  There has been no closing of this achievement gap in our schools in the five years of this program. There are other programs that seem to be working,  notably Geoffrey Canada’s program in NYC  ( see David Brooks in the NYT May 8th 2009  http://www.nytimes.com/2009/05/08/opinion/08brooks.html?_r=1 ) 

I have written several opinion pieces for our local paper which have been highly critical of the superintendent and the program. He has recently defended the program’s philosophy but has not supported it with any studies or data.  He recently answered a question about the cost in print. I thought his answer was evasive and disingenuous I am publishing my fourth pinion piece below.

Fourth Editorial Education

I read Dr. Price’s reply to a sound off question with my critical thinking skills engaged. The questioner asked Dr. Price to how much money had been spent on the equity program in the last three years. Whenever you deal with a public official you need to analyze the words very carefully.  

Since the questioner only asked about the last three years Dr. Price gave information only about those years. Public officials seldom volunteer information that is not in their favor. He did give a lot of information for which he was not asked. Information about total dollars spent on professional development and how the percentage he claims that was paid to PEG compares to that total.  He did this in order to make the taxpayer think he isn’t really wasting a lot of out money. Even if we accept the $426,125 figure as accurate we must also ask what Dr. Price considers “total expenses?”

I have an analogy.  Let’s say you took your son to a Reds game. I might ask you how much it cost you. You might think, two seats at $22 each, the game cost $44. In a way that would be accurate. Maybe you bought some sodas and a couple of hot dogs. You bought a hat and a program. You paid to park and burned a few gallons of gas going down there, so what did you really spend on the Reds game? Maybe it was more like $150. I am just wondering if during the equity training, Dr. Price bought any hot dogs.

Does Dr. Price include textbooks bought for the equity program for teachers and students as part of total costs? Does it include expendables like workbooks and other material which get used up? What about airfares, hotels and meals? Have teacher spent time away from their classes to participate in equity work? If so are the expenses for substitutes included? Does he include other professional development activities that grow out of the equity work like trips to present papers about “othering” at conferences?

Dr. Price also shows us something about the way he thinks about our money. He makes three references to federal grant money as if that is somehow “free” money. Where does Dr. Price think federal grant money comes from? Federal dollars are also our money, Dr. Price. The federal government doles a few of our tax dollars back to us as grants and in programs and we are supposed to think we are getting something for free.  This Washington D.C. run Ponzi scheme makes Bernie Madoff look like a small time grifter.

There is more important question here than the money spent; does this program produce results? I think most of the citizens of Middletown would pony up a more that few extra dollars if they had some solid evidence that their schools were producing real improvements. In my articles I have asked Dr. Price to show data from his tenure as our superintendant supporting that what he is doing actually works.  As of yet I have seen no data. I have e-mailed PEG and asked them to reference any independent studies that support their program. As of this writing I have received no reply.

I did however find some information about a program that is closing the achievement gap. I hope you saw the column by New York Times writer David Brooks touting the Harlem Children’s Zone charter schools that was reprinted in the Middletown Journal on Monday May 11th.  If you missed it please find it online and read it!  These schools, in an urban area, are producing real results. The secret to their success isn’t cultural awareness but an emphasis on basics and creating, “a disciplined, orderly and demanding counterculture to inculcate middle-class values.”  The schools are also described as, “no excuses schools (that) pay meticulous attention to behavior and attitudes.”  At the end of his piece Mr. Brooks challenges other cities to adopt this system. I say, why not here and why not now.  Let’s bring this system to the attention of our school board and our next superintendant. The original column by David Brooks was printed in the New York Times on May 8th, 2009. The same date as Dr. Price’s latest reply. Again, I love irony!

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