Sunday, January 31, 2010

Compulsory Attendance Laws Interfere With Education

HARBESON: Education should respect the individual

Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels’ State of the State address placed a lot of emphasis on the ineffectiveness of the government school system. He told us that Indiana’s education system is failing many elementary-age kids in what most people consider to be its most basic assignment: teaching students to read.

As part of explaining the government’s latest and greatest idea on how to fix this mess, he said, “If after four years, the system has failed in this most fundamental duty, then it will simply have to try again until it gets it right.”

I just have to ask - Why, Gov. Daniels? Why do they have to try again until they get it right? Why should you or any of us assume they can get it right?

Why don’t we just admit we do not now, and never did, have an organization devoted to education? What we have instead is a compulsory attendance system that’s merely dressed up in fancy political clothing to look like it’s all about educating the individual.

Think about it, if the government education system is a wonderful, enlightening place to be, why would we need to compel attendance? And since we do compel attendance and funding, what motivation and incentive do schools really have to be competent, let alone improve from that basic level?

If the government schools truly offer a valuable service families want, then there’s no need to compel attendance. Families would voluntarily send their children there and students would be happily engaged in learning as they freely chose from a variety of interesting options offered.

Lately, I’m learning nearly daily about the ways compulsion has increased regulation so deeply that education now has nothing to do with making sensible decisions that are in the student’s best interest; it’s only about the numbers. Is that really what education is supposed to be about?

When are we going to simply look at the evidence and admit the system we created just doesn’t work well? Not only for teaching the basics of reading, but also in creating inquisitive, curious people who know how to think for themselves. People who will be skeptical of what they’re being told and who will critically examine even long-accepted standards, such as government compulsion being morally good.

Under a compulsory government-funded system, instead of treating students as individuals, we use them as pawns for political game-playing. Politicians create big ideas intended to build their version of a “superior” country or individual state and government employees at all levels are expected to carry out their grand plans. This means there can be little focus on creating an inviting place filled with attractive programs that include lots of flexibility to meet individual needs, desires and differences.

Instead, the focus is on forcing students to attend, to stay even if they are not learning, and most of all, to comply. But perhaps that’s the intent. Maybe the system really doesn’t want us to think too deeply, maybe it’s merely to get us used to complying in other ways when we are adults.

How else can we explain it when people applaud Daniels when he says Indiana will “never give up on its children?” Our children are not the state’s, yet few consider that this is precisely what this statement means at its root.

No reform will work as long as we remain convinced that compelling attendance and funding is necessary. I for one am completely ready to discard any educational system that relies on such compulsion. It’s time we started focusing on education that meets individual learner’s needs and not government’s demands.

Sellersburg resident Debbie Harbeson advises her readers that the best way to compel her attendance anywhere is to have plenty of snacks available.

Monday, January 25, 2010

It's Always Nice To Read The Thoughts of Other Voluntaryists

Saw this post, Why Voluntaryism Is the Best and Only Legitimate Moral Philosophy, on Wendy McElroy's blog. It's from a guy named Ross Kenyon, a senior in American History at Arizona State.

Excerpt: I am a voluntaryist because I respect the wishes of individuals to live their lives as they see fit so long as they are non-aggressive, and I hope that the same courtesy will eventually be shown to me. I oppose coercion no matter what costume or badge is worn and I do not acknowledge the validity of involuntary relationships.

Read more here.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Determining Graduation Rates in Government Schools

HARBESON: It’s time to get deeper with graduation numbers

If you were a business owner with eight stores and only two of them reached your minimum sales goal for the year, would you say it was a success?

What if you were in charge of a walking program created to help people complete a fitness walk and two out of eight people who participated reached the mileage goal, would you consider your program a success?

If you were a football coach and your record was 2-8, would you consider that season a success? I mean, if you’re not IU of course.

No matter how you look at it, two out of eight just doesn’t sound so great, does it? Yet this is how many Clark County public high schools reached Indiana’s 90 percent graduation rate goal. I have no idea whether that goal is reasonable or not, but government officials are the ones who set it so I assume they think it’s within reach.

So what does it mean that most of the county’s schools didn’t make the grade? Is it just a number to add to all the other numbers that really don’t mean much because they are without consequences?

Even one school who reached the goal doesn’t feel like the percentage really tells them what they need to know. Before the official graduation rate was released from the State Department of Education, Clarksville officials said their reported graduation rate of 92.6 percent doesn’t “reveal the whole truth.”

Clarksville officials felt it was important to separate out two categories included in the percentage: those who graduated on waivers and those who transferred to homeschooling.

A student who graduates with a waiver has enough credits to graduate but did not pass the State Graduation Qualifying Exam. Teachers in the subject area the student failed on the exam can certify the student as qualified in that subject.

Clarksville realizes the potential for abuse here and evidently wants to take a closer look, which sounds like a good idea. Clarksville also decided to pull out the percentage of students who transferred to homeschooling because they worry that some families might be using the ability to transfer to the home education as a way to drop out.

However, the real potential for abuse here is that a school will create what’s known as a “push-out,” a student whose family is “strongly encouraged” to homeschool because it’s an easy way for the school system to raise its graduation percentage.

It’s important to remember here that the problem isn’t homeschooling; the problem is how the government schools should count the kids they are failing to graduate. Families should voluntarily choose homeschooling as an alternative and not be pushed into it by school officials trying to improve their statistics and remove perceived troublemakers.

It’s unconscionable if homeschoolers get stuck in the middle of what is really a government school problem and I could say more about this issue, but for now, I do think it’s a reasonable idea for all schools in the county to be as open as Clarksville has been about their graduation percentage data.

So I challenge all the principals and superintendents in Greater Clark and West Clark school districts to give residents the same data Clarksville did.

What percentage of your kids graduated on waivers? Are you also doing what Clarksville is doing, and counting as homeschoolers some students you suspect should really be considered as dropouts?

If Clarksville — one of only two schools who actually reached the graduation rate goal — believes it’s important to inform the public with deeper data, shouldn’t those of you who failed to reach the goal do the same?

Sellersburg resident Debbie Harbeson suspects two out of the eight IU football fans will be mad because she made fun of the team’s record.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Government Officials Are Clueless About Costs

HARBESON: Answers are simply tough to come by

It was a simple question. I only wanted to know the cost of two recent mailings I received from a couple of state government employees who claim to represent me.

Was it an unreasonable request? I don’t know, but I’m only trying to be financially responsible and monitor how my money is spent.

Yet, I did not get an answer to my question. Oh, I received responses; they just didn’t answer the question. Maybe that’s all I can expect from politicians.

One of the mailings was an oversized postcard from State Rep. Paul Robertson informing me about several publications available from the Indiana House of Representatives.

Since I’ve been told it’s important to participate in government, I e-mailed him to inquire about the cost of mailing the postcard. He responded to me very quickly and told me it costs 44 cents to mail a postcard.

I replied explaining more clearly that I wanted to know the entire cost which would include design and production, as well as the number of postcards mailed.

Time passed with no answer, so I sent another request and this time an assistant replied, who said he was waiting on an answer from the publications office. More time passed and I sent another request reminding them of my inquiry.

Later that day, I noticed someone from a state government computer did an Internet search and found my Web site, which led to my blog, which led to this person checking out the blog’s archives. This happened minutes after resending my request.

Oddly enough, I haven’t received any response since. I wonder why. Surely exercising my free speech rights doesn’t make me less of a constituent, does it?

Around the same time, I also received a mailing from my state senator, Jim Lewis. I requested the same information about his mailing. As frustrating as my experience was with Robertson as far as getting an answer to my question, my experience with Lewis was even worse.

I received an e-mail response that was signed by Lewis but was sent from the e-mail address of another government employee named Bridget. It’s hard to say who actually wrote it, but the response did not even come close to answering the question.

If she did have a hand in writing it, I think she has a fine career ahead of her in government service.

The main message of this response was that if I didn’t want to receive these mailings, they could take my name off the list. If anyone is interested in reading this response, just e-mail me.

I’m not sure why my question was so difficult to answer. At the minimum, I’m sure they could find out how many were mailed out and then let me know where I could get further information.

I’m only trying to find out the cost of a product I’m paying for. If I received such a nonanswer when asking a private business a similar question, like the actual interest rate being paid on a loan, the Attorney General would be on their case faster than these people were out on the Internet checking me out.

I guess they don’t really have any incentive to answer this question though. It’s not like they are helping a constituent in a manner that’s going to help them gain the benefit they value most: A vote.

They say they want my participation and involvement as a citizen. But apparently that has nothing to do with digging around and trying to learn how government operates and how they spend money. I obviously misinterpreted the call to action. Silly me.

Sellersburg resident Debbie Harbeson is a simple person who asks simple questions. This is simply natural since she’s so simple-minded.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Homeschoolers Aren't The Problem

Earlier this week, I had an editorial column published in the Ft. Wayne (Indiana) Journal-Gazette.

It was in response to an editorial they published calling for increased regulation of homeschooling families in Indiana.

For some context, here's their story about the original situation that started the whole thing. However, if the story just sounds kind of strange and brings up a lot of questions for you, then for even more context, you might want to read this blog post going deeper into the possibilities of this particular situation, one in which the facts of what really happened are hard to come by.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Another Post On Federal Stimulus Jobs

I happened upon the blog post, Pity the Poor Private-Sector Workers, by Robert Higgs of The Independent Institute and I thought I'd post it here because it covers the same theme as my most recent article but from more of a macro perspective.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

The Problems of Creating Jobs With Government Grants

I have a friend, Christa, who often has interesting stories to tell in response to my columns and she's given me permission to post any of them here that I think my readers might enjoy reading.

In the past, before she knew better ;), Christa was a government school board member and here's a story she tells in response to my column asking whether increased government jobs are the answer.

Creating a job with a government grant is one of the worst things any government official can do. It will come back to haunt everyone involved.

Say the government wants to give you a grant to hire a Reading Recovery teacher for two years. That sounds fine and dandy, right? Free services for our kids (at least that's the way everyone looks at it 'cause that money grows on trees and all).

So what happens at the end of two years? You have a bunch of parents used to getting Reading Recovery for their kids, and now they suddenly think their children can't survive without it.

And inevitably that teacher who you hired with the grant just happens to be one of the good ones (maybe the only good one you can find in your entire district), but she also happens to be the lowest person on the seniority scale. You have to let go of the only decent teacher you've come in contact with in 10 years, and ALL the parents are furious. You're the horrible, mean board that can't manage to find the money to keep the pleasant Reading Recovery teacher once the grant runs out.

But you're still stuck with those 30 grumbly NEA-militants who just won't go away.

And of course everyone knows you could come up with that Reading Recovery teacher's salary if only you cared about the children. Or what's even worse is when over half the board just can't stand to be accused of not doing all they can "for the children" so they keep the Reading Recovery teacher and just keeping spending your local district into oblivion with no regard for the local taxpayers because it's "all about the children."

Just saying what could happen if one were to create a job with a government grant.

Are Increased Government Jobs Really The Answer?

HARBESON: With jobs, sometimes less really is more

Last month, I wrote a flippant column about the information on the federal government’s stimulus Web site. It should be obvious now why I chose not to dig deeper — I was waiting for this paper to send a reporter out to do the work for me.

I’m glad I waited because it took him six articles to report on the local impact. If I had continued to study the Web site, my hourly rate would have surely dipped further into negative numbers. Let’s use the time he saved me to discuss the jobs created.

I noticed that many of the reported jobs created are government jobs. I don’t understand how this helps. A government job is not productive in the sense that any new wealth occurs, so the private sector has the burden of supporting yet another government employee.

This means less money is available for private businesses to hire the productive labor which pays for the government job. So how does adding another government job stimulate the economy?

I’m puzzled when people applaud these jobs. If we see a couple struggling to support their kids who suddenly decide to solve their problem by creating more kids, would we applaud this?

Some of the stimulus funds spent on new local government jobs will be paying salary costs for the first three years. This is bad enough because in three years the money will have to come from somewhere else. But what’s even worse is the government-mandated requirement that these jobs can’t be eliminated for at least 10 years!

By creating these government jobs, citizens have just been forced to pay for them for seven more years after the stimulus funds run out. It doesn’t matter if our local community decides something else is more important in a few years. We’ve just been completely handcuffed by the decisions of a few politicians.

I’m particularly interested in these jobs because this is exactly what Clark County government has done in the past. The time period involved in these requirements makes it easy for these jobs to get so embedded in the system that everyone conveniently forgets what happened. Then when future budget problems occur like we are seeing at the county level currently, we are told they don’t have enough money for all the “government services” and that we “must maintain them.”

This is how government grows.

Some of the reported jobs were in the private sector and upon first thought this sounds better. However, looking closer, these jobs created are completely dependent on the government funding to exist. So is this any improvement over the government jobs? Is it helping to build an economy able to sustain itself?

I also noticed that stimulus money was spent locally on giving raises to people who already have government jobs. This “stimulus” only increased future costs for those jobs that already existed before the stimulus at a cheaper price. How does this help the unemployed?

There was another example of stimulus funds being spent locally on people who already had the government jobs before the stimulus package. Stimulus funds paid for these employees to get training for certifications. However, these certifications were not needed at all for their job. Can someone tell me how this helps? Is it because a person was paid to give them the needless certifications?

Finally, a local politician actually rationalized stimulus spending because it created work for the reporter. But if we want to create work for reporters, it’s much more stimulating, not to mention cheaper for the taxpayer, when famous married people just get caught having flings.

SIGLINE: Sellersburg resident Debbie Harbeson thinks it’s very stimulating when other people do the work for her.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Someone Should Bench These People

HARBESON: Jeff council gets bad marks for bench rules

Jeffersonville government officials and a few City Pride committee members who want to get rid of advertising benches on city sidewalks sure worked hard to imagine possible problems that could be caused by these benches.

One invented problem was driver distraction. Evidently they are very concerned that people will look up from texting while driving, get distracted by a particularly fascinating bench advertisement and wreck their car.

Then we heard from the bench bigots — those who want all the benches to look exactly the same. I guess these people wake up in the middle of the night with the song “Signs” blaring in their heads, the lyrics nightmarishly changed to “signs, signs, everywhere signs, blocking-out-the-green-metal-scenery, breaking my government-controlled-mind.”

Well, they can all rest easy on their government-approved benches now, because the Jeffersonville City Council passed an ordinance full of new regulations for advertising benches.

Why didn’t they just ban these benches outright? Well, the pesky U.S. Constitution got in their way because commercial messages are constitutionally protected free speech.

Of course, if you’re paying attention, you know the Constitution never stops governments from doing whatever they want. It’s always manipulated so the government gets the upper hand. That’s why the law says they can’t ban it, but they can control it. And again, if you’re paying attention, you know that when you control something, it’s pretty easy to get rid of it.

As proof, city resident Mike Cozzin, who runs an advertising bench business, tried to tell them no one would buy advertising under these regulations and he likely would go out of business, but they didn’t care. This fellow resident, their own neighbor, complied with every previous request the city made about his benches for the past 16 years. He cooperated with every change they demanded. But none of that mattered.

They could have stopped to consider how their action might harm others. But they didn’t.

Talk about getting a sign. It could not have been clearer if they had all given him the one-finger salute. Their action clearly said, “Gee, your family is just not a part of our awesome ‘comprehensive’ plan.”

However, let me give one shout-out to Councilman Ron Grooms, because he voted no on the third reading. He’s at least willing to consider consequences of his actions.

Cozzin thought perhaps he could be grandfathered in since he’s complied like a good little boy. But they told him they had to deny grandfathering, and it’s the Constitution’s fault because the Constitution demands everyone be treated the same. This is what happens in a free country, of course, because if you’re going to decrease freedom, well, you have to decrease freedom to everyone equally.

Wait, I mean except for the government itself. The ordinance’s details on the specific regulations and requirements for benches happen to exactly match the city’s current benches. Amazing isn’t it?

I’m kind of surprised other small business owners did not take up for this guy. Were they afraid if they did, then the council would vindictively ban sandwich boards, something many downtown businesses use on the same sidewalks? Were they quiet because the advertisements on the benches were for their competitors? I just don’t know.

Cozzin was doomed from the beginning if he believed that government property is property the people all “own” together. This is just not true and simple logic tells us so.

Someone ultimately has to have control, and in this case, it’s the same people who prefer conformity and think they know better than others what is aesthetically pleasing.

Even if it harms their neighbors.

Sellersburg resident Debbie Harbeson is often told to sit on it. But her butt just refuses to conform.