Tag Archives: education

The English III Anthology Project

Here is the completed packet for those of you who have asked: English III Anthology Project. The best way to get this to you without email is to just post it here! This is the inquiry project my students will be working on this spring.


Health Care is a Right.

Yesterday’s post generated quite a bit of interest, and the arguments on both sides have been good (see comments). I’d like to extend the conversation a little bit more in today’s post . . .

Health Care is the Right of All Americans, Just Like Education.

Wait. Hold on. Is education a right? The answer is an undeniable “yes”. Education is a right affirmed by every state in the country, and every citizen is required to attend a public or private school. Mandatory schooling wasn’t provided by the constitution, nor was it invented by our founding fathers. A free and public education for every child in America didn’t happen until the early 20th century. It was a government response to an ineffective system in which only the wealthy could afford an education. While today’s public school system needs lots of modernization and reform, the national impact of mandatory schooling has been overwhelmingly successful for the better part of a century. Even the worst schools in America offer a comparative advantage to no school at all.

Since the creation of the public school system, our nation has expanded educational opportunities to include public high school and public universities. We’ve also seen the mutual benefit between public schools and private schools: each helps the other through free-market competition, innovation, and efficiency. The return on our investment is undeniable. In short, our national education system has been the central foundation for a prepared workforce ready to contribute to the national good in both public and private endeavors.

I would argue that if I have a right to be taught by a teacher, then I also have the right to be fixed by a doctor. Granted, that’s not how it is in our current system, so it sounds a little idealistic, but that’s how it should be. There was also a time when our nation couldn’t foresee how it could affirm the right to provide a teacher for every child, but we managed to do it.  Check out this selection from “A History of Public Education“:

Until the 1840s the education system was highly localized and available only to wealthy people. Reformers who wanted all children to gain the benefits of education opposed this.  The common-school reformers argued for the case on the belief that common schooling could create good citizens, unite society and prevent crime and poverty. As a result of their efforts, free public education at the elementary level was available for all American children by the end of the 19th century. Massachusetts passed the first compulsory school attendance laws in 1852, followed by New York in 1853. By 1918 all states had passed laws requiring children to attend at least elementary school.

Sounds a little familiar, doesn’t it?

Should We Bankrupt Our Nation to Affirm a “Right”?

Conservatives have pointed out that the cost of a national health care plan would be astronomical. They are right, but what they fail to mention is that the current system is even more expensive that the one proposed by President Obama.

Currently, health care costs are rising three times faster than income levels. Within ten years, the cost of health care in America is guaranteed to double. Sixty percent of bankruptcies are a direct result of health care costs, and eighty percent of those who declare bankruptcy for medical reasons already had insurance. If we continue with the status quo, health care costs will bankrupt our nation. 

The plan proposed by President Obama is expensive, but it’s less expensive than doing nothing. His plan is fairly straightforward: provide a public option for health insurance that will drive down the costs of private insurance. Those who choose the public option will receive basic coverage, those who elect to keep their private insurance may do so. Just as citizens now have the choice to send their children to public or private schools, so can citizens choose public or private insurance. And many of the benefits for the the public/private plans are the same as the benefits for public/private schools: the public schools drive down the cost of private schools, and the private schools force public schools to be more accountable and efficient (even more so with NCLB).

Naturally, there are skeptics who point to early provisions that appear to create nightmare scenarios: hefty fines for small businesses, fines for switching insurance plans, the elimination of private insurance, and a host of other fine-print disasters.  Others point to the CBO estimates of long-term costs. Most of these claims are flatly untrue, with no basis in reality. Others are still being debated, proposed, fixed, or adjusted by both parties. Still others may be of actual concern. The ink has barely dried on the first draft of the legislation, and there is much to be debated, amended, and discussed. I agree with conservatives that this legislation deserves to see the light of day and not be rushed through. I hope that the Democrats give this ample time to marinate and generate public discussion.

As a closing thought, I’d like to let my readers know that the Republicans have offered their version of a health care plan, titled the “The Patients’ Choice Act of 2009.” The plan eliminates tax breaks for employers who provide health coverage to their workers, and offers a $5,710 tax cut to families and a $2,290 cut to individuals to help them pay for health insurance coverage. Thanks for the coupon, chumps!

I invite readers, especially those who disagree with Obama’s plan to post comments with specific links to specific details that worry them the most. I’ll do my best to research the concern and either change my mind, prove you wrong, or offer to agree to disagree. Similarly, I invite those who agree with Obama’s plan to submit links to instances where the Republicans have offered misinformation.

The Problem with School Vouchers

The idea behind school vouchers is fairly simple – the state writes you a check for what it would otherwise spend on educating your child in a public school, and you apply that amount toward the cost of a private school tuition. At first, vouchers seem like a great idea. No child should ever be required to languish in a failing school, and all parents should have the freedom to send their child to whatever school they desire. I absolutely agree with these two ideas. Nevertheless, there are 5 reasons why vouchers are a bad idea.

1. The First Five Minutes. If we created a voucher program, we’d have to grandfather the 30,000 kids already in private schools in Kansas. At $4,200 per student, the first five minutes of a voucher program would cost our state $126 million. If we can’t pay for the kids we have in schools now, we certainly can’t afford to adopt 30,000 more. If the goal is to rescue kids in failing public schools, it should not begin with a $126 million check to the private schools.

2. Sorry, We’re Closed? The KC Star recently reported that most private schools in Kansas already have a waiting list. So while vouchers would immediately benefit the kids inside the private school system, there is little hope for those outside the private school system. Even if private schools would eventually expand to welcome all students, a voucher program requires the subsidization of the entire private school system before the first needy kid gets help. If the goal is to help kids trapped in failing public schools, the solution cannot logically begin with footing the bill for private schools.

3. I Thought You Hated Socialism? I hear a lot of conservatives complain about how unfair it is that the government gives welfare checks to those who don’t want to pay for their food, housing, or health care. They argue that the poor should simply work harder to escape poverty instead of relying on government handouts.  During the overhaul of the welfare system during the Clinton administration, welfare as we knew it was transformed  into a temporary assistance program with a 5 year lifetime limit and a requirement that the recipient find a  paying job of 30-55 hours per week within two years or forfeit any further assistance. This was a pretty good idea. I’m sure voucher proponents who supported the new welfare restrictions would readily support similar restrictions for vouchers: 1) income limits of no more than the federal poverty level of $10,000 per year, 2) demonstrate ongoing attempts to find success within a failing school for two or more years, and 3) the school receiving the vouchers would be required to accept new students and comply with federal assessment restrictions. If the goal is to rescue kids from failing public schools, then voucher supporters ought to be comfortable living with the same restrictions that they thought were appropriate for other government assistance programs.

4. Accountability and Oversight. It has become trendy for voucher supporters to point to the lack of oversight or accountability as a primary cause of failure in public schools. The brainchild of the pro-accountability movement is No Child Left Behind, which I wholeheartedly support. I support it so much that I think no school receiving government funding of any sort ought to be exempt, including private schools. After all, who knows what those private school teachers are teaching kids these days? Consequently. any school receiving a voucher should be required to comply with the same federal standards of accountability that apply to public schools. What’s good for the goose is good for the gander. If the goal is to help kids trapped in failing public schools, then the government should protect its investment in private schools by demanding results.

5. Parental Backlash. There are two reasons why parents invest in private education: to avoid the brutality of public schools and to embrace the morality of private schools. Vouchers blur the lines of both reasons, and will likely threaten the order of things. Parents pay good money to keep their child away from corruption, and when the school starts importing it by the busload from the other side of town, parents will probably object. If the goal is to help kids trapped in failing public schools, it will have to be with the blessing of conservative parents who are comfortable with “urban influences” (a tongue-in-check term) invading their contrary way of life.

Voucher programs are an oustanding way to rescue kids trapped in failing public schools. If that’s who benefits, then I support them. But I suspect that the pro-voucher movement is populated by politically active parents who use the false idol of the disadvantaged kid as a ruse to punish the public schools and pay for the private education of their own children. Just a hunch.

Two Books

One of the things that I’ve learned about getting awards is that they tend to lead to other awards and other forms of recognition. This can be a hard pill to swallow. If you don’t think you deserve the first award, then those that follow are equally awkward. Nevertheless, I’m going to do my part to shamelessly promote two books that feature yours truly:

 BOOK #1

The first book is Conversations with America’s Best Teachers: Teacher of the Year Award Winners Give Practical Advice For the Classroom and Beyond by J. William Towne. With a foreward by Kathleen McCartney, Dean of the Harvard Graduate School of Education, Conversations with America’s Best Teachers provides in-depth interviews with 18 National Teacher of the Year Award winners and finalists as they offer practical advice to all K-12 teachers and parents. Inside you will also learn about the 10 commonalities that nearly all great teachers have as well as finding out what books have helped to shape and influence these teachers (text is from the website).

I think the coolest thing about this book are the reviewers:

Conversations with America’s Best Teachers provides valuable advice and creative methods for dealing with many of the problems teachers face in classrooms all over the country. Every teacher should read this book.”

– Richard Riley
Former U.S. Secretary of Education


“This is a book you need to read if you want to be – not just a better teacher – but one of the best teachers!”
– Harry Wong
Author, The First Days of School


“Towne may not have had America’s best teachers in school, but his book provides a national service in helping create more of them. Everyone with an interest in education- and that should include everyone- should read this book and will be glad they did.”

– Milton Chen
Executive Director, George Lucas Educational Foundation


“You can open Towne’s book on any page and find wisdom.”

– Jay Matthews
Washington Post


“Right out of the mouths of a remarkable collection of teachers. A pleasure to read!”

– Deborah Meier
NYU Steinhardt School of Education


“This book renews our faith in the world’s most important profession.”

– Dr. Spencer Kagan
Author, Kagan Cooperative Learning


Conversations with America’s Best Teachers makes a tremendously powerful case for teachers as empowered leaders.”

– Virginia B. Edwards
Editor, Education Week / Teacher Magazine


“The valuable insights of successful teachers in Conversations with America’s Best Teachers will not only benefit other teachers looking for solutions, but anyone who wants to know the real joys and challenges of the most important work in this country.”


– Michelle Rhee
Chancellor, District of Columbia Public Schools


“Worthwhile reading for educators, policymakers, and anyone interested in transforming today’s public education system.”

– Dennis Van Roekel
President, National Education Association


“Towne has done a great public service to all those who care about educating our children by highlighting great teachers and the work they do.”

– Randi Weingarten
President, American Federation of Teachers, AFL-CIO


“I hope this book becomes a primer for teachers in training.”

– Kathleen A. Carpenter
Editor, TeachersNet Gazette


“These pages will inspire awe, appreciation, and sometimes shock at what is required to excel in the world’s most important profession. I hope that every teacher — and every school administrator — reads this book!”

– Eric Adler
Co-Founder & Managing Director, The SEED Foundation


“Inspirational! A must read for every teacher and parent. Both new and experienced teachers can benefit from the wisdom of these accomplished educators.”

– Joe Aguerrebere
President, National Board of Professional Teaching Standards


Conversations with America’s Best Teachers is a much needed addition to the education reform literature.”

– Robert Hughes
President, New Visions for Public Schools


“A must read for all teachers, new and experienced!”

– Patirck F. Bassett
President, National Association of Independent Schools


“Fun and interesting. You’ll learn something from each of these teachers whether you’re a peer or a wonk. Towne has done a remarkable service here.”

– Andrew J. Rotherham
Co-Founder and Publisher, Education Sector and Eduwonk.com

If you want the Amazon link for Conversations with America’s Best Teachers, click here.

 BOOK #2

The second book is A+ Educators: A World-Class Tribute to Our Best Teachers by Randy Howe. The synopsis from Amazon reads as follows:

A+ Educators profiles seventy-five amazing classroom teachers who have received recognition on the state and national level. Inspiring profiles of more than sixty amazing teachers. What makes a great teacher? While there is no particular formula, one thing is certain: Great teachers are worthy of the respect and admiration of students, parents, and colleagues, and they should be publicly recognized for the love of learning they inspire. A+ Educators profiles more than sixty amazing K–12 classroom teachers who have received the highest honors—including both National Teachers of the Year and winners of annual teaching awards in their respective states. The teachers come from all fifty states and from all grade levels and subjects. They are the trendsetters of the new century, using innovation, technology, and good old-
fashioned common sense to deliver the best possible education to their students.
Ok, so enough about me.

It’s All About the Issues: First Installment

 True Tax Cuts for the Middle Class

According to independent tax analysis, individuals and families who earn less than $112,000 per year would get a bigger tax break under Obama than under McCain. Those who earn less than $66,000 would see a substantially significant break under Obama. Neither Obama nor McCain will raise taxes for individuals or families who earn less than $227,000.

Affordable Health Care for All

Obama’s health care plan first seeks to lower costs through marketplace efficiencies, then takes the coverage offered to members of congress and makes it available to every American at competitive prices. People who cannot afford it (based on their annual income) will qualify for discounted or free coverage. Americans may choose between their existing private insurance, or coverage provided by the federal government. Children are required to be covered, regardless of how or where. Obama’s health care plan will cost $40 to $50 billion dollars a year.

By contrast, McCain’s plan includes three main points: provide a tax credit of $2,500 to individuals and $5,000 to families to offset medical costs, use the power of marketplace competition to reduce costs, and work with the governor of each state to address its uninsured citizens.

Obama’s plan is better for three reasons. First, Obama offers coverage while McCain offers a tax credit. The federal government already pays $48 billion per year in uncompensated care to the uninsured who cannot be legally turned away from emergency room care, so giving away money in tax credits only adds to the amount of federal money spent on health care. Second, McCain pushes the problem of the nearly 50 million uninsured Americans to the states, and there’s no evidence that the states are prepared to offer a solution. Third, both campaigns offer dozens of small fixes that seek to reduce health care costs through market efficiencies and competition – but without comprehensive coverage, McCain fails to address the biggest federal expense: uncompensated care. If you don’t have insurance, lower health care costs are irrelevant.

Quality Public Education for Every Child – Not Just the Squeaky Wheels

McCain’s support of school choice will circumvent the problem by offering individual relief to “squeaky wheel parents” who apply for transfers. A better solution is to fix the entire school through the mandatory reforms established in No Child Left Behind – a federal law that has given schools a relatively short period of time to reform, but isn’t afraid to show its teeth once the period has elapsed. Our government cannot simultaneously support two national school systems: one failing and one flourishing. We must follow through on our promise that all children must attend successful schools.

An Energy Plan with Real Results

While McCain continues to suggest that he wants an “all of the above” approach to energy reform, he has invested an enormous amount of political capital into drilling as the cornerstone of his reform plan. Although politically popular (with two-thirds of all Americans supporting it), there is no evidence that lifting the ban will offer relief within the next two decades. Even the Department of Energy “projected last year that with the ban in place until 2012, new drilling would produce only 7% more oil in 2030, and the impact on oil prices would be “insignificant.”

To emphasize the minimal impact that offshore drilling would have, Obama made mention of an equally effective means of saving money at the pump: inflate your tires. While this backfired politically, it does illustrate how little offshore drilling would affect Americans. Estimates range from about 2 to 10 cents a gallon in approximately 7-10 years. By contrast, inflating your tires will save you the same amount of money immediately.

The mantra “drill, baby, drill” was a ubiquitous chant in nearly every major speech given at the RNC, and McCain uses offshore drilling as a rallying point to energize the masses on a daily basis.

I seriously question why the offshore drilling battle is so important to McCain.