Students – and adults – don’t know history

In 2010, students performed worse on [history] than on any other NAEP test. That year, less than half of eighth-graders knew the purpose of the Bill of Rights, and only 1 in 10 could pick a definition of the system of checks and balance on the civics exam.
Some students do learn civics. But many have not. One history teacher reported that his students thought “they probably knew more about the Constitution and our government than most adults.” So he challenged them to question many of the adults they knew. The kids were right – most adults had not learned their civics.
80% of the adults they surveyed couldn’t name all 10 Amendments in the Bill of Rights, or what each Amendment did. 50% of that group, didn’t know there were 10 Amendments in the Bill of Rights. 92% of the adults surveyed couldn’t name the three branches of government, and didn’t know that the term “Congress” included both the House of Representatives and the Senate. The largest eye-opener… 97% of the adults had know idea what each branch’s duties included. They attributed everything (making the laws, raising taxes, sending in the military, etc. ) to the Executive Branch. My kids got a large boost in self-confidence when they were able to tell the surveyed adults that only the Legislative (Congress) Branch can make laws, raise taxes, or send in the military; and that the Judicial Branch only decided if the laws were Constitutional. They had the most fun telling the adults, that the President’s job was to enforce the laws, or as one student put it “So, really the President is basically just like a spokes model for a company, right? , he just advertises the country to the world.”
In order to pass 8th grade US history, every 8th grader has to pass the US Constitution Test (100 multiple choice and two short answer/essay questions) with a 70% or better on the multiple choice section and 70% on the two short answer/essay questions. The test is given the last month of the school year, and students are allowed to take the test three times. The students thought it would be fun to challenge the principal, and have him also take the test. He accepted the challenge. They were not allowed to use notes, books, computers or any informational source other than their own brain.
80% of the class passed on their first attempt, the remaining 20% passed on their second attempt. The principal, (who admitted to ‘cheating’ by using the internet in his office to look up some answers) didn’t pass. His score was only 62% on the multiple choice and he didn’t answer the short answer/essay questions.
This is sad – and dangerous for our country.

A form of child abuse?

Dan Mitchell ponders whether sending your child to a government school could be a form of child abuse.

I like these comments from one of the linked articles:

Our economy can grow like it used to only if minds are not encapsulated in limiting bubbles and actions restricted by boxes to prevent action, other than a rule to do no harm. Government has moved in every direction to limit thought and action, all of which discourages living out of the bubble and box.

Innovation, creative challenges to the way things are done, making waves and wakes, all those things that disturb the bureaucrats and civil servants among us, are the keys to boosting us back to prosperous times.

and

How is a young person going to learn if teachers do not respect their efforts on science projects and other mind expanding projects? Public schools are becoming very hazardous to our children.

 

A cri de coeur from a teacher

“A school in which I used to teach was failing. Is failing. Has always failed. Our staff … couldn’t make a dent in that school. … The only reason that the 60% of the kids who bothered to show up daily even came to school was for the 2 free meals and the climate control.” Such is the lament of a frustrated teacher.

Here are a few more highlights (lowlights?):

  • [The kids] had no desire to learn. They did not CARE if they failed.
  • [They] were usually passed up to their current grade based on age
  • I had kids who read at 2nd grade level [in 11th grade]
  • 4 years of prison-without-bars, as [some kids] called it.

Money is not the answer. This teacher says that the failing school had “great gobs of money”. The school that teacher finally moved to has very little money – “I have to buy my own equipment. All of it.” – but that school is succeeding.

US News rankings of public high schools

U.S News recently released its rankings of the best public high schools in the United States. (http://www.usnews.com/education/high-schools/articles/2013/04/23/us-news-releases-2013-best-high-schools-rankings?int=edu:ft&int=ed8556) The highest ranked school, which was in Dallas, TX, scored 100% in college readiness, 4.0 in Math, and 3.7 in Reading.

By contrast, the highest ranked NH high school scored only 38% college ready, 2.3 Math, 3.4 Reading. 44% of the students were rated Not Proficient in Math – and this is ranked the best school in NH. The NH average, though not listed, appears to be about 2.0 in Math, which translates to 63% of high school students NOT proficient.

Perhaps the New England Common Assessment Program (NECAP) is more difficult than the tests used in other states, but it does seem appalling that a large majority of NH high school students are ranked Not Proficient in math. I hope to have more information in a future column.

More evidence for school choice

School choice improves academic outcomes and saves taxpayers money. What more could you want? Well, there is more: Choice improves performance of the public schools, lessens racial segregation, and “strengthens the shared civic values and practices essential to American democracy.”

A new report surveyed 51 empirical studies covering five policy areas:

  • Academic outcomes of choice participants
  • Academic outcomes of public schools
  • Fiscal impact on taxpayers
  • Racial segregation in schools
  • Civic values and practices

Almost every study found a positive effect, 5 found a neutral effect, and not a single study found a negative effect.

Before this empirical evidence existed, “there was some excuse for making policy based on speculation, anecdotal observation, and intuition. Today, the effects of these programs are known, and there is no longer any excuse for policymakers and opinion leaders to be ignorant of the facts.”

Education: administrators way up, scores flat

From 1950 to 2009 the number of students increased 96%. During that same time the number of administrators increased more than 700%. Zero improvement in scores or in graduation rates. Those are just a few items from a report by the Friedman Foundation for School Choice.

New Hampshire is one of 21 states that have more non-teaching staff than teachers. From 1992 to 2009, the number of NH students has increased a modest 12%; the number of non-teaching staff has grown 80%. If administrators had increased only as fast as students, NH would save almost $250 million EVERY year. That would be more than $31,000 for every classroom.

Down in Concord

“Lord, the money we do spend on Government and it’s not one bit better than the government we got for one-third the money twenty years ago.”
— Will Rogers

To date, the House has passed 50 bills – some good, some bad. It has killed 53 – some bad, some good. That leaves only about 490 House bills left to consider. And then the House will consider Senate bills and vice versa.

For legislative nerds such as myself, there was one fun outcome. HB 136 (sponsored by a Democrat) proposed to increase the pay for State Reps to attend meetings of the county convention. The House Committee on Municipal and County Government unanimously recommended in favor of this bill, and further recommended that it be placed on the Consent Calendar.

What, pray tell, is the Consent Calendar? I’m glad you asked. Every week, generally on Thursdays, the House Clerk publishes a calendar of legislative events for the following week. (You can see them at http://www.gencourt.state.nh.us/house/caljourns/default.htm.) The three main sections of the calendar are the Consent Calendar, the Regular Calendar, and Committee Meetings.

Items on the Consent Calendar are considered non-controversial, not needing further debate, and are handled with a single voice vote for the entire group of items. Bills on the Regular Calendar are subject to separate debate and separate votes. Any one Representative may “pull” an item off of the Consent Calendar and have it discussed at the end of the Regular Calendar.

HB 136 was pulled off of Consent by a Representative who was not comfortable with the idea of Reps voting themselves a pay increase while voting for budget cuts in their counties. After several Reps spoke against the bill, it was defeated on a roll call of nearly 2-1 (116-228).

It is rare for a bill to be pulled from Consent, even rarer for the full House to overturn a committee recommendation. So the defeat of this bill – well deserved – was fun to see. It may be the last time that happens this year.

The House thankfully killed HB 168, which would have increased the beer tax, and killed CACR 2, which would have led to increased taxes. Sadly, but not surprisingly, it also killed CACR 1, which would have made it harder to increase taxes.

Also not surprisingly, the House killed HB 323, which would have given workers the freedom to choose whether or not to join a union. Should people be forced to join a union in order to work for the state government?

By a narrow margin (186-165), mostly on party lines, the House passed HB 185, which increases by 25% a tax on fuel oil. The bill now goes to a second committee, where there is a (slim) possibility the tax can be killed. Most bills go to just one committee, then to the House floor, and then if passed, to the Senate. Bills that raise or spend money go to a second committee. HB 185 first went to the Resources, Recreation, and Development Committee. Now that it has been approved by the full House, it goes to the Ways & Means committee, then back to the House for a second vote.

Four bills from last week’s column will get floor votes on Wednesday, February 20. HB 330, which would have allowed a county income tax almost surely will be killed. That is the only good news. HB 335, which would have blocked an increase in the tobacco tax, probably will be killed on a near party line vote. Republicans oppose a tax increase because it will particularly hurt the poor, and because it will hurt business in towns close to the borders, where neighboring states’ residents come to shop.

Democrats oppose HB 335 and oppose HB 354, which would have reduced the Business Enterprise Tax, because they think with higher tax rates they will get more money for them to spend. They don’t realize that slightly lower taxes now can encourage more businesses to open or expand in NH, thus increasing tax revenue in the future.

HB 370 would repeal school choice for lower income families. The current Education Tax Credit allows businesses to donate money to a scholarship organization, and then take a partial credit against their business taxes for their donation. The scholarships are targeted toward families with below-average income. Recipients can send their kids to a public charter school, to a different public school, or to a private or parochial school.

Democrats proposed HB 370 to repeal the Education Tax Credit. For a party that claims to believe in a woman’s right to choose, the Democrats oppose a woman’s right to choose what school to send her children to. They think the government should make that choice for her, based solely on her zip code, not on what is best for her children. They claim that the program costs money that should be spent on public schools, but the fiscal analysis shows that repealing the program will actually cost the state money.

The repeal probably will pass the House on a party line vote. If you believe in lower-income families having more choice about which school is best for their children, there is still time for you to contact your Reps and ask them to oppose this bill.

The week of February 19-22, there will be another 113 public hearings, and the House will vote on 74 more bills. Here are some of the more interesting hearings:

Tuesday, 2/19 10:30 in LOB (Legislative Office Building) room 201 – HB 617, increasing the gasoline tax and registration fees. Anyone who wants to testify can just show up and sign in, then wait your turn.

Wednesday, 2/20 9:15 LOB 102 – SB 183, repealing photo ID for voting.

Thursday 2/21 10:00 in Representatives’ Hall, HB 290 and then HB 609, both having to do with carrying firearms. They obviously expect a very large turnout to have scheduled Reps’ Hall instead of a normal LOB committee room.

HB 290 would prohibit unlicensed persons from openly carrying a pistol or revolver in a public building. The sponsors clearly don’t understand this simple truth: law-abiding citizens obey the law, criminals ignore the law. Criminals don’t openly carry weapons; they carry concealed without a license. This bill would take defensive weapons away from the good guys and do nothing to take guns away from the bad guys.

HB 609 would allow the voters of each school district to authorize licensed school employees to carry a concealed weapon on school property. We all hope that the occasion will never arise where a criminal intent on mass murder makes his way into a school, but if the unthinkable happens, would you want a licensed school employee to be able to stop the murderer? This bill does not mandate concealed weapons; it lets the voters of each district make that decision. This is local control as it should be. One other point – some bad guys will be deterred just by the thought that some adults might be armed, even if in fact nobody is actually armed.

In the coming weeks we will learn more about Governor Hassan’s proposed budget. Already it is apparent that her revenue estimates are unrealistically high. Legislators will have to make some hard spending choices that she avoided making.