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Welcome….and Announcing My Candidacy

…….to the Blog of John Kelch, the “BHBL Citizen”,
a posting of  views on matters relevant to
the members of the BHBL School and Community.

I am running for the position of Member of the Board
of the Burnt Hills – Ballston Lake School District, and will be sharing my views on the issues here over the next few weeks.

Please share your thoughts and questions.

Teacher’s Union Calls Me Out On Facebook!

I welcome that the BHBL Teacher’s Assn. (our teacher’s union) has chosen to repost comments and actions I took (5) years ago on their Facebook site regarding inequities in information and data I found at the time and still have, and lament they (mis) characterize them as examples of me being “anti-teacher”; I note that they don’t state any of my statements were untrue, and urge community members to review some the facts quoted, (though dated).  They demonstrate that I have invested significantly in recent years on behalf of the community, with both the conduct of a Candidate’s Forum conducted by the League of Women Voters and the public posting of the District’s employee contracts on the School’s website being just two of the results of those efforts.   But I dispute that pointing out aspects relevant to public education, here at BHBL or more broadly, or the results of imbalanced actions mean that I am “anti-teacher” or don’t acknowledge the many contributions that conscientious and excellent teachers in our schools contribute, an assertion that does not align with actions and public statements I have made in Board Meetings in open session, or the dozens of conversations I have had with our teachers over the years.  And it doesn’t square with my position statement posted on the “Vote411” website.  Instead, it speaks to the conduct of our school Board and, at times, Administration in recent years and their collective culture of being less than responsible or open with the community in their actions, of slanting and parsing the pertinent information, and at times, downright lying to the community to effect internal agenda, and ceding the interests of the community, parents, and kids in ways that, at times, do benefit the interests of the teachers union inequitably with the interests of the broader community.

My intention is as a “public advocate”, to attempt to balance the overwhelming “voice” that drowns out the legitimate interests of parents and taxpayers that are under-represented and ignored when they speak, a constituency that is truly the reason that this institution exists.  I have advocated stridently for parents and kids in Building Councils and PTA’s when often mine was the only voice with that focus, and even as a financially-challenged retiree, finding facilities in often deplorable condition, I have supported investments to correct past lapses, while also supporting actions to maximize our ROI.

Teachers are not our enemy, they are the value here.  But management decisions have to be balanced and appropriate, and in the best interests of everyone, not the least of which are the people our schools exist for and those paying for it.

“Common Crap”

Depending on how one looks at it, there are (or were) (4) main pieces to “Common Core”, and each deserves highlighting.  They (supposedly were):

1)  Changing “standards”
2)  “Standardizing” schools and curricula
3)  ‘Measuring’ teachers
4)  Measuring the effectiveness of instruction on kids

(There were two others, I believe, that weren’t publicly discussed!

The first is easy (although, after looking at the detail, inexplicable!); as NY Education Commissioner Maryellen Elia has stated, “Educational standards have changed many times over the years”, and she’s right.  But NEVER with anything near this degree of disruption, and upon looking at the detail of what CC includes, WHAT, pray tell, supposedly made this “better” than what we were doing (recall all of those accomplishments with the ‘old’ standards, and the fact that things like math and even science principles haven’t changed since the invention of the abacus!)??  We’ll come back to this one …….

The second was “standardization”.  Anyone who looks at the detail of “public education” from outside the bubble and over the period that I have notices one glaring fact:  With virtually no significant notice by the consumers using and paying for it or even ability to view it over time, the education community has been hard at work,  feathering their own nest, and much of that has come at the expense of the their client’s interests.  You notice it in many ways:  Take “comments” on report cards, as an example – until the last decade, teachers used to write something personal and specific about each student as meaningful communication to parents about how Johnny or Janey were doing over the last semester.  No more.  Now they click-stroke a #18 or a #6 that appears on the report card as something meaningless like “is a pleasure to have in class” – totally impersonal and completely sans any specifics – but it’s “easy” (for the teacher!).  I remember when parent/teacher conferences used to be held at night, when parents weren’t working, to the parent’s convenience – no longer; everything is performed now such that TEACHERS aren’t inconvenienced, and recently I attended an elementary forum where the schools ‘sold’ elementary parents on reducing from (4) report cards to (3).

Who do “standards” serve??  The strength of America over my lifetime and career derived from diversity, from my ability as an employer to draw different ideas and different perspectives from the diversity of schools, teachers and teaching approaches – periodicals like Forbes and the Harvard Business review heralded this as one of “the strengths and differentiators of the American capability over other countries and work forces” – what will we get from “standardized”schools, “standardized” curricula, “standardized” teachers, and “standardized” educational material and tests to march to out of Washington?  Cloned minions, all with the identical information and all ‘conditioned’ to think the way Washington wants them to!  I WANT a diversity in teachers, I WANT diverse teaching styles and teaching approaches, so long as they convey what’s important, I WANT kids to leave the institution with an ability to bring what they hold uniquely to life and to the market, and we BENEFIT from schools that strive to differentiate themselves, not simply reduced to the ‘standard’ cardboard box!

“Measuring teachers”  There’s no shortage of ‘left-brainers’ in life, and we have our share on our Board as well.  Businessmen need and love to view their world through numbers (frankly, we have no choice, because when the numbers aren’t there neither is the business!).  But try as we will, there are some things in life that defy being adequately ‘measured’ by numbers.  Ever look at a beautiful painting and try to ‘measure’ it with numbers (other than what you can get for it)?  Ever be helped by another person and be able to ‘measure’ that act in numbers?  Ever ‘measure’ the love of your kids or your spouse with numbers?  Ever think back to your own years in school about the teachers you had, knowing which ones truly cared, which ones were truly great teachers, and think about putting a number on what they contributed to your life?  A practice teacher literally saved my life, on her own initiative, and I spent (30) years looking for her before finally finding her and thanking her.

Yes, we’d like a mechanism upon which to recognize and reward our best teachers and to let them know why we feel so positively about what they do, to encourage those that might need improvement in certain areas to get that feedback and opportunity to do so, and to cull from the group those (few, I believe) that ended-up somewhere they don’t fit, but just because we’d like to make that easy to do by assigning “numbers” does not mean that “numbers” will be an appropriate mechanism to do that, nor that doing so with “numbers” are going to encourage the behavior we want in the institution.  Education is about as far in the “people business” as one can get, an endeavor by people and for people.  In fact, one of the reasons that I believe that the return on public education has been dropping steadily in recent years is an over-emphasis on “numbers” – in educational material, in testing, on kids, on schools, and on teachers.  Every child comes to school with different aptitudes, different assimilation abilities by discipline, with their own personalities and idiosyncrasies, and those are the wonderful uniqueness that each brings to the world – when did it become appropriate to force them all into the same square box at the same time and at the same rate to meet the whim of others??  Who are we doing this for and why??  As one mom of a couple of our students who served as the president of her PTA for several years stated, “Sure they’re getting grades, but what are they learning?”  And just as importantly, WHAT is it that we are “measuring” in our teachers?  I met with a senior teacher in the High School several weeks ago and said to him, “You’re all smart people, parents beat you over the head when their kids don’t get high “grades”, the school beats you up when your classes don’t get high “grades”, the State and the Governor threatens you over “grades” – if “passing tests” to attain “grades” is the overwhelming driver, than you’ve all focused on “grades”; learning (shrug), takes a back seat, right?”  He just looked at me, smiled and shook his head.  Should we be surprised – that’s what we’ve asked for!  We need to find another way ……

Irrespective, due to the political influence of the Teachers unions, once teachers spoke out, the politicians folded (what were they thinking??)

And then there is “measuring the effectiveness of learning on kids”, the ‘justification’ for creating longitudinal databases and streaming every iota of personally identifiable data to the State and federal government and sharing it with a plethora of private entities and warehousing it for all perpetuity.  WHY personally identifiable data, when blind data can equally measure the same thing and has been effectively used since the dawn of ‘data’??

When “911” occurred and the suggestion was that the ‘threat’ had come from within the Nation , our ‘Praetorian Guard’ panicked.  Abuses by the FBI and other government agencies in the mid-’70’s caused Congress to enact strong safeguards to protect the American citizenry from predation and invasion of privacy by powerful government intelligence capabilities that had been built to watch our external enemies (the same agencies I’d spent my military career as part of).  They put teeth in those protections, and indeed, almost nothing was collected on innocent Americans (by government).  Following “911”, the ‘Patriot Act’ dissolved all of those protections.  Congress also panicked, and in their haste, threw the ‘baby’ (of protecting the essence of American freedoms) out with the wash!  Overnight, the American ‘security’ apparatus got the green light to do whatever it took to gather anything and everything possible on every nook and cranny of America, and any consideration or hint of personal protections from exploitive abuse vaporized – the floodgates of money were turned full-on and any sense of limits vanished.  The only entities that had anything was the commercial marketing organizations that had been building sophisticated data warehouses for commercial purposes since the formation of the internet.  Government instantly became their ‘partner’, and that partnership included “I’ll BUY yours and give you mine, and with my ‘legal authority’, I can force people to give up ‘private’ information that you can’t get any other way”!  The Department of Defense became one of the primary collectors and holders of that ‘data’, and NSA and more than a thousand private-sector contractors became the collecting tools (all of that stuff that  government officials denied that Edward Snowden blew the whistle on).  But FERPA and CIPA prevented the private sector AND government from collecting the sensitive private info on children and families.  (What did “Common Core” obliterate?  BINGO!)  Initially, faced with the limits imposed by those laws, DOD bought all of the info that the private databases held.  In the middle of the first decade of the new millennium, when the privacy community learned what DOD was doing, there was an uproar, and the New York Civil Liberties Union sued them.  They won a few concessions on how the data would (ostensibly) be used, but they didn’t stop them from collecting it or of disseminating it widely among the ‘partners’.

Our families and our kids have been laid vulnerable BY A LIE, just as Edward Snowden has courageously documented that the American people have been laid vulnerable by similar lies.  A cabal of feckless individuals, headquartered in Washington and including two Presidents, have self rationalized that “for our safety” all of the protections that the Constitution, Congress, and our courts have steadfastly maintained as a balance against what they knew would be overzealous police actions and over-empowered government agencies “drift-netting” every aspect of innocent lives, were deemed no longer necessary (and that from a guy that in various roles has gone out of his way to help every State and federal law enforcement agency in New York!)

The one word you will never find in the original documentation for Common Core is the word “parent”, because the framers considered them superfluous.  The arcane nature of this ‘improvement’ has, as it’s effect (if not it’s intent!), to remove parents from the last opportunity to help kids with their studies – to participate in the education of their children.  And for those parents that are watching closely the content and the changes to the curricula being modified in our schools, we are ‘dumbing-down’ our schools to ensure everyone (not the least our teachers and school!) can attain their all-important “grades”!

There is no other conclusion one can reach with the ‘shock-and-awe’ way that it was introduced here and other states simultaneously, that the disruption and chaos that was caused was intentional.  In the first year, when my son was in Middle School, the teachers and Principals virtually abandoned classes to examine what the impact would be (particularly on them) – kids came home day after day reporting that “all we had was a sub”.  This generation of kids paid dearly for the attainment of a political agenda, and successive generations of kids and families will pay as well.  As much as Andrew Cuomo has attempted to hide behind blaming an incompetent previous Commissioner of Education, his fingerprints are all over this debacle.

Our Board and our Administration have no place criticizing parents who wish to protest this action or insulate their kids from it, as best they can.  My son has one year left at BHBL, and will miss most of the effects of it; my advocacy efforts are in trying to leave something meaningful for those generations that will follow, as others did for us and our kids.

“Full-day”, “Full-year”, “Womb-to-Graduation”

As I stated to our Board one night in open session, “In the 20th Century, this Nation built some of the largest dams, buildings, and bridges ever constructed, built the most powerful military ever assembled, and won two World Wars, built the most extensive highway system spanning the entire Nation, created the world’s most prolific manufacturing capability (and lost it!), constructed and delivered to every home the most extensive electrical and communications systems in the world, harnessed the atom, went to the moon, invented the transistor, the computer, and the network that the entire world is now using to communicate, developed virtually every technology being used globally – and we did ALL of this at a time when comparatively few attended college and many didn’t even finish high school – with the knowledge and capabilities imparted by school teachers and slide-rules.  NOW, with four times the population than we started that generation with, look around – do you see ANYTHING like this going on in America today??  WHAT could possibly be the rational reason for justifying a “need” for usurping the lives of kids and families by conscripting them to “full-day, full-year, ‘womb-to-graduation’ public education”, and asking the people of this nation to not only tolerate this insanity, but also to pay for it?!  If you listen to the intentions of government actors, our teachers will be changing diapers and the “family summer vacation” will be just one more American casualty!  (Young parents seem to LOVE this, stating “GREAT!  We don’t have to worry about baby-sitting!”)  Already we’ve allowed our schools and our government to declare that something that a parent wants to do with their kids is an “illegal absence”!  When did WE give our government and OUR SCHOOLS that “authority”; when did we allow the interests of the people running our schools, to override those of its stockholders, the people paying for it and for whom it supposedly exists?

In ten consistent rulings since 1910, the US Supreme Court has ruled that “the Rights and interests of responsible parents in the education of their children EXCEED and take precedence over the interests of the State”;  where do you see that in practice in this State today – where do you see those considerations in even our school district??  That same institution has always held that “the responsibility to educate children rests with their parents”; public education’s role was to assist in that task, NOT to usurp it, to ignore the rights and interests of parents, and constrain their involvement.

Superintendent Mc Grath, in (3) consecutive public meetings whose purpose was to “sell” the community on the $35M Renovation Bond, started his narrative with “100 years ago, the parents and other members of this community chose, rather than to send their children out of the community to school, to fund the building of a local school district ….”  We, the members of this community, have continued to pay every dime since and to send our most cherished there; the school doesn’t belong to the Administration or the Board – they are trustees!  It certainly doesn’t belong to the Commissioner of Education (a political appointee), the Regents (more of the same) or the Governor (an individual whose ego has confused “significance” with ‘how horribly he can disrupt people’s lives’), or to the feckless politicians who gutted-out the “Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act” (FERPA) and the “Child Internet Protection Act” (CIPA), legislation enacted by previous, far more responsible Congresses to protect the interests of families and children, just so that government and private sector actors could stream and warehouse the most intimate details of child and family privacy directly from our schools and use that information to affect and render them vulnerable for the rest of their lives.  And it doesn’t belong to (just another!) President who wants to leave his ‘brand’ on humanity either.  (The federal government has no Constitutionally authorized role in public education; since the 1960’s they have ‘bribed’ and blackmailed their way into controlling it using our money!)

When “911” occurred and the suggestion was that the ‘threat’ had come from within the Nation , our ‘Praetorian Guard’ panicked.  Abuses by the FBI and other government agencies in the mid-’70’s had caused Congress to enact strong safeguards to protect the American citizenry from predation and invasion of privacy by powerful government intelligence capabilities that had been built to watch our external enemies (the same agencies I’d spent my military career as part of).  They put teeth in those protections, and indeed, almost nothing was collected on innocent Americans (by government).  Following “911”, the ‘Patriot Act’ dissolved all of those protections, Congress also panicked, and in their haste, threw the ‘baby’ (of protecting the essence of American freedoms) out with the wash!  Overnight, the American ‘security’ apparatus got the green light to spend whatever it took to gather anything and everything possible on every nook and cranny of America, and any consideration or hint of personal protections from exploitive abuse vaporized – the floodgates of money were turned full-on and any sense of limits vanished.  The only entities that had anything were the commercial marketing organizations that had been building sophisticated data warehouses of personal data for commercial purposes since the formation of the internet, and government instantly became their ‘partner’.  That partnership included “I’ll BUY yours and give you mine, and with my ‘legal authority’, I can force people to give up ‘private’ information that you can’t get any other way”!  The Department of Defense became one of the primary collectors and holders of that ‘data’, and NSA and more than a thousand private-sector contractors became the collecting tools (all of that stuff that  government officials denied that Edward Snowden blew the whistle on).  But FERPA and CIPA prevented the private sector AND government from collecting the sensitive private info on children and families.  (What did “Common Core” obliterate?  BINGO!)  Initially, faced with the limits imposed by those laws, DOD bought all of the info that the private databases held.  In the middle of the first decade of the new millennium, when the privacy community learned what DOD was doing, there was an uproar, and the New York Civil Liberties Union sued them.  They won a few concessions on how the data would (ostensibly) be used, but they didn’t stop them from collecting it or of disseminating it widely among the ‘partners’.

Childhood has always been acknowledged to be the period whereby children learn by making mistakes, and part of that included that most mistakes would remain between the school and their parents.  Now, every mistake, every action, every part of their developing aptitude, trait, and recorded thought has become a byte in a perpetual government database that ‘remembers’ far more than even the individual will, and that ‘data’, shared with plenty of private entities, will become a major source that influences and determines, without their knowledge, their opportunities for life.  The government – OUR government – has decided it will own our kids from birth, and is using their latest “educational enhancements” to make that a reality.

 

Many things to be considered ….. (Part 1)

Since my first look under the covers of our school district eight years ago, I’ve been very busy.  In addition to being upset by much of what I found hidden and misrepresented, I’ve also found many positives.  Most importantly, I engaged, serving on Building Councils, on the Renovation Bond Committee, in PTA’s and the PTA Council.  I’ve sat with teachers and Principals to understand their issues, probed the details of both financials and especially our operating practices.  Ive engaged both the Board and the Superintendent in many discussions, and looked as far as Washington to understand actions.   I’ve been both uplifted and in some areas, disappointed.

First, let me share what I also shared in a public session:  The major causes of our problems in public education are NOT related to what the Governor has described as “lousy teachers”.  In fact, as I shared with the Board, the quality of our teachers hasn’t changed since I attended school decades ago.

Our issues are ALL management issues, and related to failures at every level, from actions in local schools and school boards all the way to the Whitehouse – broadly, every time the politicians get involved in “improving” education, all that’s accomplished is that they horribly disrupt it and, in the end, make it worse.

When I began, our cost/student was $12k/student year, already the highest in the Nation and one of the highest in the world; now, at over $20k/student year- it now costs more to send a tot to Kindergarten for a year than it does to send a student to SUNY!  And the worst part is that as the cost increases, the results have only decreased.  And (as yet) indications are that Common Core has only made things worse.  …… (to be continued)