Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Resolve in 2012: Abolish No Child Left Behind

   The subject here is destructive education policies. But first: Have you heard of the Capital One Cup?

   It goes to the two Division I NCAA schools that win the most titles each year in men's and women's sports.

   The prize? In addition to the glittering silver keepsake: $400,000 in athletic scholarships. Inspiring, right?

   Don't you know Texas, or Florida, or USC, or some other booster-endowed NCAA mega power could use that extra scholarship money?

    OK. It's not inspiring; it's ridiculous.

    Now, imagine that in addition to awarding college behemoths with more riches, we decreed that a gridiron patsy like Columbia, Tulane or Florida Atlantic shut down its  football program for having too bad a record.

     This brings us back to destructive education policy.

     For years states have been approaches just as screwy, praising and rewarding already wealthy suburban schools, while shuttering "failing" schools based on distinctions that bespeak the sporting term "competitive mismatch." All along it's been the University of Texas teeing it up against Prairie View A&M.

    No Child Left Behind pretends to address learning disparities, but it makes matters worse in many ways.

    It is horrifically punitive toward schools with the biggest challenges, going so far as to shut them down for failing to meet achievement targets.

    I've seen how this system hurts inner-city schools and their neighborhoods. It works this way:

    Under the Overpass Middle School, ensconced in a pocket of poverty and despair, has low test scores, for obvious reasons. Under the gun from the state and NCLB, low test scores yield a revolving door of principals ("new leadership"), faculty ("a new team") and increasingly cyclops-like ("new focus") approaches aimed at state test criteria.

   Word gets out about this "failing" school and the junkyard-dog flogging it is getting. Good teachers stay away. Families flee. Failure becomes self-fulfilling. The district shuts down Under the Overpass Middle, depriving the neighborhood of one of its few uplifting and stable features. Thanks, folks.

     Meanwhile, the students are farmed out of their neighborhood to larger, more impersonal schools. Rest assured, few policymakers live under the overpass. Any damage they've wrought, they won't feel.

    On many dimensions, what has happened under "accountability" and NCLB is hurtful. For one, the standardization drumbeat impedes high achievers who don't need a constant drone about basic skills.

    For another, it shackles teachers to a system that's not about teaching but about following a script, and wasting untold instructional hours on standardized tests,  benchmark tests and test prep.

    For the children with the greatest challenges, with test emphasis ramped up at every step, schooling is drained of the wonder factor. Dropouts ensue. Who would want this? No policymaker would ever accept his or her child being served this way.

   If it sounded like a good idea, NCLB turned out to be a horror — Frankenstein in a good suit.

   The Obama administration realizes that the monster is about to hit the wall — or crash through it —  the one requiring 100 percent "proficiency" in core subjects nationwide next school year. 

    Almost from day one this administration has urged a rewrite of NCLB. However, the Senate is frozen into irreconcilable parts, and this House is sworn to resist Obama's every twitch. Consequently, the Department of Education has set up a system of waivers for states on a case-by-case basis.

    Lawmakers are incensed by this, but they know what NCLB requires regarding "100 proficiency" is beyond the pale.

    This is the year, with Democratic frustration over NCLB's untenable realities, with Republican frustration over the federal meddling it authorizes, it's time to kill NCLB.

    Don't tweak it. Don't adjust it. Don't give it "new focus." Don't find a "new team." 

    Kill it. Kill it.

    Stop the false comparisons that result in executioner-style resolutions. Turn the ax on No Child Left Behind.

    The death of this odious initiative would amount to the happiest of new years for American school children and those who seek to educate them.

    Longtime Texas newspaperman John Young lives in Colorado. Email:   





Monday, December 19, 2011

The synthetic, utterly bogus ‘War on Christmas'

   My wife knew what she was talking about, but her fine instincts were not enough to move me.

   "Write a Christmas book," she said. Nothing sells like a Christmas book. It's short. It's seasonal. It sells. You get it as a gift, you regift it next Christmas. 

    Sales receipts don't lie. Combine a cat with Christmas, a dog with Christmas, a reindeer, an orphaned tree, a gelatin mold with magic powers. Ka-ching.

     I could do it, I told my wife. But it would be wrong.

     Recently one TV talker decided these considerations outweighed any nod to personal integrity. But that was something he had left off at the hat rack when employed by Fox News anyway.

     Surprise: The War on Christmas became a best seller.

     The author's name gets no mention here, and needs none. The shill machine of Rupert Murdoch and Roger Ailes took care of that.

     The War masterpiece's subheading — "How the Liberal Plot to Ban the Sacred Christian Holiday Is Worse Than You Thought" — no doubt was added to bump up the word count so as to justify its hardcover binding.

      When Mohandas Gandhi said, "I love Christ. It's just that so many of you Christians are so unlike your Christ," I'm thinking he had in mind people who march around in superficial umbrage over something that, well . . .

       For example, they will head step right over the homeless man sleeping on a grate to gesture at and denounce the "Happy Holidays" in the storefront window paint.

       That's what it's all about, mind you. Two words. Two words that are part of a "plot" to "ban" a sacred holiday.

       Call a Christmas tree a "holiday tree"? Horrors.

       Well, brethren, those furrowed brows are like plastified, simulated evergreen boughs. Fake. Store-bought.

       Outraged over a holiday greeting? Get real. Real Christians can find real outrages out there on the windblown streets, in the soup kitchens, in prisons, in struggling-to-get-by nursing homes, where Medicaid reimbursement rates are life-and-death matters.

      Name your phony spiritual concern — that school pageants are too secular today, that local governments seek to treat the holidays in pluralistic ways. The same applies to retailers. They have Jews celebrating Hanukkah this month, as well as with adherents of Kwanzaa, and non-Christians of many stripes who just like the pretty lights and are in the mood for egg nog. They are customers. They are Americans. A business, or a nation, or a school district or city hall that doesn't serve all of these people is running a fool's errand.

       Some Americans don't get the whole secular nature of the American experience and never will. This nation was born as a refuge from sectarianism. Its First Amendment protections against the latter have made it the most religion-friendly construct in the history of self-governance.

     Yet you have Rick Perry telling Iowa voters that "war" is being waged against Christians. Talk about plastic indignation. 

      I lived in Texas for a long time — Perry's neck of the North American woods. To say that Christians, particularly the conservative, evangelical, Republican kind, are oppressed is to insinuate that the Dallas Cowboys play in a cardboard shack.

     What Perry really says with this "war on Christianity" pitch to Republicans is that he doesn't buy the notion that government should be neutral regarding faith. He thinks its job is to exalt and advertise a majority's piety.

     It is worth pointing out that the religious oppression the Pilgrims and Puritans fled was, in fact, Christian. Then to enforce the kind of Christianity they wished to see, these refugees created their own authoritarian systems.

     The founders forming this republic agreed that such an approach, tyrannical piety, was no way to run a country. Apparently today, most retailers agree it's no way to run a business.

     An amazing thing about the holidays, American-style: Everyone appears to enjoy them — that is, sadly, except for those who grow red in the face pointing at a storefront that proclaims "Happy Holidays."

      Longtime Texas newspaperman John Young lives in Colorado. Email:

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Is he worth an elementary school?

Because I focused a lot of my writing life on small-town issues and a communal pact to educate my two sons and their peers, long ago I arrived at my own formula to justify, or not, a big sum of money.

I broke down that sum into how many elementary schools it would build.

Back when I first started thinking this way, an elementary school cost about $1 million. That doubled in short order. Now, according to Reed Construction Data, it costs $5 million, give or take a few hundred thousand dollars. Meaning:

The next generation of stealth jet fighters planned by the Pentagon will cost 16.4 elementary schools apiece ($82.1 million). Worth it? Your call, America. And I trust you’ve made that call. (Whether you want to pay for it is another matter. Based on three decades of blue-sky tax policies, you want my sons and their peers, and their grandchildren, to pay for it.)

I made a similar calculation about comparative costs the other day when the Los Angeles Angels agreed to pay the equivalent of 50.8 elementary schools over 10 years for Albert Pujols to don a first baseman’s mitt.

Worth it? Apparently so.

Angels’ ownership believes that, with prices jacked up sufficiently, enough posteriors will plant in enough seats to see Pujols jack majestic missiles out of the park.

Then again, that will depend if the roof is retracted or not. A new stadium is set for March completion. Cost: 103 elementary schools ($515 million).

No need to single out baseball, of which I’m a fan, or of Pujols, of whom I’m an admirer. Consider professional basketball, where the players recently held out for a larger piece of the pay pie.

Did these laborers in long shorts have a gripe? Let's see: The average NBA salary is — hmm— well, imagine that: It's one elementary school, plus a really good playground. Or $5.15 million. Your call, sports fans.

I was thinking the other day of what certain people are worth. Is Mitt Romney really worth 40.4 elementary schools ($202 million)? So says Money magazine. No wonder he could lay an on-camera $10,000 wager on Rick Perry. No wonder he could run for president full time for, what, eight years?

Is Republican Florida Gov. Rick Scott worth 20.6 elementary schools ($103 million)? Really? Such is the worth of leveraging one’s way into and out of for-profit health care (just ahead of criminal subpoenas).

Having leveraged his fortune in obtaining elected office, Scott says Florida spends too much on elementary schools.

By the way, after Scott was forced out as CEO of Columbia/HCA, the company admitted to 14 felonies and settled with the federal government for 120 elementary schools ( $600 million).

Let's talk Wall Street. In October, Goldman Sachs reported third-quarter losses of 85.6 elementary schools ($428 million). You see? Everyone suffers in a recession.

Goldman Sachs announced at the same time it had set aside $10 billion for compensation and bonuses.
So, you can see why some people whose needs are met, whose elementary schools have already been built, have taken to deriding Occupy Wall Street protesters. How dare those scruffy squatters bring to public attention how resources, public and private, are so insanely misdirected, not just via payrolls and pink slips, but as pertains to what the public needs, like education.

The next time you see a grade schooler, ask is he or she is saving up to pay for today’s priorities.

Longtime Texas newspaperman John Young lives in Colorado. Email:

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Moths to Gingrich's flame

   It was an amazing statement from a Republican, and just what Democrats wanted to hear.

   It came from ex-Colorado congressman, hard-right foghorn and recently candidate-for-everything Tom Tancredo:

  "I firmly believe this … The greatest threat to the country that our founding fathers put together is the man that's sitting in the White House today."

   Tancredo was appearing at an event to support Colorado Republican Senate nominee Ken Buck, a tea party darling. His words drew loud applause.

    Democrats would thank them both for this kind of rhetoric when Buck lost to centrist Michael Bennett in the Senate race. Meanwhile, Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper routed Tancredo and another tea party product, Dan Maes, in a three-man race for governor.

     Advantage Dems. Advantage voices of reason. Oh, and thank you, Newt Gingrich.

     Before Tancredo let fly with this bombast, Gingrich coined it. In a Fox News interview, he affirmed writing in his book To Save America that the Obama administration was as "great a threat to America as Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union."  (Maybe so as not to be charged with plagiarism, Tancredo called Obama a greater threat than al Qaida.)

    Suffice it to say, then, that thank-you notes go out this week from Democrats thrilled that Newt the Bomb Thrower is at the head of the Republican pack. Talk about an easy target, and we aren't talking girth.

     How joyous should the Ds be about this development? keeps a running cumulative poll: Obama vs. the Republican front runner. For weeks, the RCP average showed Obama leading Mitt Romney by one to 2 points. When Gingrich started outpolling Romney among Republicans (now by an average of 7.5 points nationwide), Obama suddenly had a six-point advantage.

   What is the reason for Newt's surge? Clearly, it is the same reason why hard-right Ken Buck was the man who Republicans sent up in the Senate race in Colorado, and Sharron Angle in Nevada, and Christine O'Donnell in Delaware. The tea party is the GOP's life force. He or she who enunciates best what it is thinking and saying will be its standard-bearer.

   As in Obama depicting "Kenyan, anti colonial behavior." (Gingrich)

   As in Justice Sonia Sotomayor being "racist." (Gingrich)

   As in saying the nation was "in danger of becoming a secular atheist country, potentially one dominated by radical Islamists." (Yes, Gingrich)

   You realize what you are hearing from this man; you are hearing Rush Limbaugh in a better suit. And isn't that the way it's always been?

   If Rush got caught playing fast and loose with OxyContin scrips, Gingrich got caught — reprimanded, the first sitting U.S. House speaker so disgraced — for misusing tax-deductible contributions. He was fined $300,000.

   Rush, while howling about Godless Democrats and out all those Christian family values he upholds, as well as "defending marriage," has been through several marriages. He is on No. 4. Guess who, at wife No. 3, is playing catchup? Gingrich.

   Well, then, Limbaugh never cheated on and dumped his life-mate while she faced grave illness, as Gingrich did wives Nos. 1 and  2. Until death? See you later.

   You understand, it's all about Christian principles, as Gingrich stressed to a campaign gathering the other day in a South Carolina church. The congregants seemed less interested, naturally, in Newt's track record as a moral person than with his fealty to anti-choice politics.

   Wait, you say: The key reason Gingrich has risen in the polls, aside from right-wingers' discomfort with Romney, is that at times he has appeared to be the only adult in the room during the comedy chautauqua advertised as the GOP presidential debates. It's true.

   And the Democrats are sitting in the living-room audience, applauding his every measured word.

   When it comes to a paper trail, a list of damaging quotes as long as Lincoln's arm, and a track record of achievement headed by shutting down the government (helping assure Bill Clinton's re-election), well, what better candidate could the opposition ask for?

   Unless. Rush, will you run?

   Longtime Texas newspaperman John Young lives in Colorado. Email: