Archive for the ‘Education’ Category

Workforce Development And Training

Wednesday, May 31st, 2017

Workforce Development And Training

 

I am an advocate of open records access and workforce development and training. For many years I have been asking taxpayer funded public bodies for information on finances and evaluation of the effectiveness of the public money that they spend. Some of these bodies are very forthcoming and I would rate the local Shelby County government at the top of the accessibility scale and the old Memphis school board and the successor, Shelby County School Board, at the bottom.

Mainly my focus is local and generally I have not tried to get detailed information on any agency at the Federal Government level. In 2015 there was an article in the CA which caught my eye. This was an article about a $42 million dollar federal grant to provide no-cost career technical and academic training to nearly 300 people over five years. The facility designated was the Dr. Benjamin L. Hooks job Corps center at 1555 McAlister Drive here in Memphis.

As a taxpayer I felt I was entitled to enter and see the facility and learn how my tax money was being spent and how effective was the program. I drove out to the facility one day and was stopped at a guard gate. I told them that I wanted a tour and was told that I would have to make an appointment. I said fine, I would call and make an appointment.

I tried several times and never was able to get to anyone but an answering machine. I left word and a return call number and message but never got a return call. I was frustrated but I did not give up.

This year I tried again and after several calls I got the names of some of the staff. I was able to make a 10 AM appointment with Mr. Smith and I showed up for the appointment at 9:45 at the guard gate. I told the guard about the appointment and was told Mr. Smith was not in. I had the names of several other people and finally the guard tracked down Mr. Harris and I was allowed for the first time to enter the facility.

The facility is interesting. The facility history is that it started out as Memphis Preparatory School which was setup in the face of school integration in the 1970s. It eventually had to close due to finances and the property and the buildings eventually sold to the US Department of Labor for $1.975 million dollars. According to the 2015 CA news story the facility had 232 students aged 16-24 living at the center and 55 non-residential students. According to Mr. Harris this is still the approximate numbers.

I toured the facility with Mr. Harris and saw two dormitories which separately house women and men students. Also there is a child care building for children of the students and outside families able to get into the facility. I viewed classes which included carpentry, industrial electronics and medical and nursing assistant programs and forklift training.

I asked if they published a financial statement and he said he was not aware of one. Concerning performance reports of results I was able to pull up one on the internet as shown from 2012/2013. It showed a graduate average wage of $8.73/hour and a 44.5% full time graduate placement.

Upon further research the facility is run by Minact Inc. under a subcontract with the labor department.

A very interesting thing happened. Due to my telephone requests to the center I got an email from Mr. Wayne Gillard asking me for the best number to reach me. On his email he is listed as “Outreach and Admissions, Job Corps, Alutiiq Commercial Enterprises, LLC, 22 N. Front St, Suite 680, Memphis, Tn 38103.

I looked up Alutiiq and it is listed as a wholly owned subsidiary of Afognak Native Corporation. Here is a statement from their website.

Afognak Native Corporation (Afognak) is an Alaska Native Corporation (ANC) formed under the 1971 Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act (ANCSA) and through the 1977 merger of two Alaska Native village corporations: Natives of Afognak, Inc. and Port Lions Native Corporation. Native corporation shareholders are those Alaska Natives who were alive on December 18, 1971, and have proven their lineage to the respective region and village. Congress termed ANC enrollees “shareholders,” although being an ANC shareholder is truly more comparable to a tribal membership – it is a lifetime enrollment that cannot be bought or sold.

This all seems very strange to me. Is there anyone out there who can provide more information how native Alaskan tribes are involved so deeply in workforce development all over the country?

The Hooks center seems well run to me. My question is “What is the cost per student and what are we spending per student nationally on workforce development? Is our tax money being spent wisely? How can we find out? Open the Hooks center to the public and let the public see this facility as we are able to see Southwest Tennessee Community College and Tennessee Tech. Also provide detailed cost and result information to the taxpaying public. What do you think?

 

Help_Somehow my education got shortchanged

Saturday, May 13th, 2017

Help_Somehow my education got shortchanged

 

I call on my friends with broad liberal education, medical degrees, financial backgrounds or political expertise to explain to me the pillaring of this local Rhodes College associate professor, Rebecca Tuvel.

I picked up the Wall Street Journal this morning and read this article. Is this what our universities have come down to? Frankly transracial and transgender issues are not high on my list of issues that keep me awake at night. However I only have an engineering education and somehow I missed the course on those issues. However I appeal to you out there to help me understand this squabble and explain why Ms. Tuvel has been shouted down.

I think universities ought to spend more time on getting rid of academic tenure and concentrate more on academic freedom of expression. My wife graduated from Rhodes and maybe I will consult her for a further explanation of these questions.

Our Local Apprentice Program

Wednesday, March 22nd, 2017

March 22, 2017

 

President Trump met recently with Germany Chancellor Merkel and he praised the German apprenticeship programs and indicated that he wanted something similar for the United States.

During my business career in metal manufacturing I had to deal with the local lack of trained employees in the various manufacturing skills. We needed welders, sheet metal workers, tool and die craftsmen, electrical technicians and smart draftsmen.

During this period (the 1970s and 80s) I traveled to Europe to various trade shows to see what was the latest technology in our field. I was particularly impressed with German and Swiss products and the well trained people who produced them. Their system was fairly rigid and based on education and testing at various levels of education. Depending on the results of the testing, students went on various paths. Some went on to prestigious universities, some went to colleges and many went to trade and skill training. This system resulted in a well trained and skilled work force.

Now locally we have the opportunity to form a similar program in the mid-south. Recently there was an article in the CA about Moore Tech (William R. Moore School of Technology) and the possibility of an auto mechanic training program involving the local auto dealers association and Moore Tech with the possibility of training and certification leading to well paying jobs in the range of $50,000/year to $150,000. Moore Tech has a high graduation rate (in the range of 80%) compared to 10% or less for institutions like Southwest Tennessee Community College.

The problem is that the Tennessee Promise program pays tuition for all students attending state owned community colleges in Tennessee but Moore Tech, which is a non profit system, is excluded from Tennessee promise. This makes no sense due to the obvious difference in graduation rates. Hopefully this exclusion will be corrected in the current legislative session.

Another problem is getting the Shelby County School system to cooperate and lease unused school facilities at a nominal $1.00 rate per year. There is a sign at the Shelby County School System headquarters that says “EVERY DAY, EVERY CHILD, COLLEGE BOUND”. It should say “EDUCATE EVERY CHILD TO REACH THEIR FULL POTENTIAL”. That potential could be planning space exploration or fixing that car that does not work right. Both are important.

We should ask the current Tennessee legislature to include Moore Tech and similar high performing job training programs in Tennessee Promise funds.

Let us find what works. What are your thoughts?

 

Could Mandatory Military Service Help Our Youth

Tuesday, March 7th, 2017

March 7, 2017

 

When I was young I was faced with mandatory 6 month military service and with a following service in the reserve. Looking back on that time and seeing the current problems with youth education and crime I have come to the conclusion that the re-institution of six months to one year of military service could benefit our youth in several ways.

I am in no doubt that the current political climate would probably not vote for such a change. But look at several factors. It seems to me that the current youth situation has several problems, namely lack of education, discipline and family structure. The military could provide all three elements for at least a significant number of our youths.

I think back on my military experience. When I graduated from high school (1951) I went on to college. When I graduated from college I was required to serve six month of military service including BASIC TRAINING. I went to Fort Jackson, South Carolina and it was somewhat of a shock. I went by train from Memphis to South Carolina and it took at least 24 hours to make the trip. I arrived in early morning and the drill sergeants were waiting for us and marched us of off to Fort Jackson. Several months later I was a new person.  I was in great physical shape, I learned how to make up my bed, I learned how to scrub large pots and garbage cans and to clean out the dreaded grease trap. I also learned how to get along with all types of people of all races and religions.

After basic training I was sent to Ft Benjamin Harrison in Indianapolis to finance school where I learned basic finance. More importantly I learned how to type which has been a lifelong benefit as computer came along.  The most important lesson I learned was discipline, organization and love of country.

Now it seems to me that many of our current youth could benefit from such a program. A dose of discipline, vigorous exercise, education and race and class mixing could benefit some of our current youth. Now the next question is should women be included? As the father of four daughters my reaction is that it would not hurt and might be of benefit.  Switzerland has mandatory military service for all able-bodied male citizens who are conscripted when they reach the age of majority, though women may volunteer for any position.

 

What are your thoughts?

Is Tenure In Education A Good Thing?

Tuesday, December 13th, 2016

December 13, 2016

Is Tenure In Education A Good Thing?

 

There was an article yesterday in the CA concerning the question of how to get rid of bad teachers and how the Shelby County School System (SCS) rates. The report is from the Thomas Fordham Institute. Although the SCS system is rated “Difficult” to dismiss an ineffective teacher, it is still much better than the famous “rubber room” teachers of the New York City school system.

Working people who have to make a living in the private business world are faced every day with the truth that their jobs depend on several things, that is their skill level in marketable skills (computers, medicine, electrical, mechanical etc. etc) and the general business environment which is growing or not. Unions were formed and grew when management abused their power and held wages down regardless of skill level. The principle of tenure (job security based on years of service) is a part of the local teachers’ union contract. Management would like to have job security based on a teacher’s skill level. The union therefore wants provisions in their contract that somewhat protects teacher dismissals from something other than a lack of teaching skills.

Now comes along charter schools, private and parochial schools, home schooling and vouchers. All of these alternatives do away with the tenure principle and job security depends on teaching skill level. With the probable increase of charter schools and vouchers under the Trump administration, the future of tenure will be probable.

This change is coming at the K1-12 level. I have always thought that the real abuse of tenure is at the higher university education level. Real reform should come at this level and let those tenured professors, who in many cases go off the rails on political opinions, face the real world job market based on their marketable skills. Maybe then the price of higher education will come down and the outcome of this college education will improve. What are your thoughts?

What Is The Best Way To Educate Little “SHUTUP”

Monday, December 5th, 2016

December 5, 2016

What Is The Best Way To Educate Little “SHUTUP”

Last week I wrote about Betsy DeVos, the possible new  federal Secretary of Education. She favors competition in education by giving parents a choice between public, charter, private or parochial  schools with the education tax money following the student.

I received a number of thoughtful replies some of them heart wrenching.  One person told me about a young child in first grade when asked his name said it was “SHUTUP”.  Apparently this is not an uncommon happening. Another person told me about two 5th grade boys that he mentors from time to time. They both see professional sports as their only future. One of those students has eleven kids in his dad’s family, and nine in his mom’s.

These stories are not uncommon and it points to the basic problem which is the breakdown of the family structure. It takes a family to raise children, not a village. I do not have the answer to restoration of the basic family structure, but the one problem that I think can be solved is to give a choice to those families that still have an existing family structure and let them choose where their children have the best chance to break out of the poverty/crime cycle that exists today.

Now some good news on SCS transparency. I sent an open records request to Superintendant Hopson asking him for data on Shelby county charter schools and the amount of money given to each. I asked that this be sent electronically and they in fact did send it electronically. I have attached it for our readers’ review. I also looked at the 2015 CAFR (comprehensive annual financial report) of the school system and found that there were 109,950 students (charter schools included) and that the amount of money available per student was $11,583 each. The charter school allocation per pupil was $7734 without transportation and $8030 with transportation. The difference obviously is the cost of the school system bureaucracy and possibly the salary and benefits to the administration employees and the meeting of federal and state regulations.

The new school system CAFR for 2016 should be available soon and I will take a look at it and report. In the meantime I would like your thoughts on the various ways forward to improve educational outcomes of our students. Improvement is critical to our future.

Betsy Devos, Education Secretary, What It Could Mean For Memphis

Tuesday, November 29th, 2016

November 29, 2016

Betsy Devos, Education Secretary, What It Could Mean For Memphis

Recently  I got an invitation from Van Menard to visit a local charter school, Leadership Preparatory Charter School, 4190 Elliston Road, Memphis, Tennessee. The head of school is Ms Valissia Allen, a very smart lawyer born in Detroit who ended up in Memphis via North Carolina.

The visit to the school was quite impressive but I must admit that I have been in very few public and charter schools. Leadership Prep is starting at the bottom of the school age cycle with the first and second grades. They feel that they must get in on the ground floor of the learning cycle if they are to break the disastrous mold of failure of large inner city school populations like Chicago, New York or DC. The children were in uniforms, well organized and disciplined. I asked for test data to compare against other schools and am awaiting the test data to see if what I saw with my eyes can be verified with believable and understandable results.

Thinking about education you cannot help but think about the incoming Trump administration. On the campaign trail, president-elect Donald Trump made many ambitious promises. When it comes to education, Trump is already delivering with his announcement of Betsy DeVos as his pick for the next secretary of education. His choice of DeVos is a clear signal that he intends to be “the nation’s biggest cheerleader for school choice.” The effect on Memphis could be dramatic.

DeVos is a prominent and generous supporter of school choice, which includes empowering parents and local communities to take greater ownership of education policy.

School choice advocates, unlike our local school board, say increased current federal control over education policy is unacceptable. They point to wide disparities in test scores between white and non-white students as proof that urgent action is required to ensure that all students are receiving a quality education. Our local SCS board has filed an expensive lawsuit asking for greatly increased funding. Yet Washington, D.C., despite spending nearly $18,000 per pupil, has one of the worst high school graduation rates in the country. Many students cannot read at grade level. One story I was told during my visit to Leadership Prep was that one child did not know his real name as he had always been called “Hey Kid” or “Buddy”. This is the clay that Leadership Prep is trying to mold.

Here is some of what Ms. Devos proposes to do if confirmed for the Education job.

  1. Re-authorize the Washington, D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program
  2. Have Federal Dollars Follow Low-Income Students; Not Schools
  3. Continue to Be a Champion for Charter Schools

Charter schools are the fastest growing form of public school options and increasingly popular among African American and Latino students. In some cities, successful charter schools are providing low-income immigrant families with the means to live out the American Dream.

Ever since Lyndon Johnson’s administration embarked on creating the Great Society in the 1960s, a significant sum of federal dollars have been devoted to helping the most disadvantaged students. Today, Title I of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act provides nearly $15 billion in funding for low-income neighborhood schools

Unfortunately, the funding process has grown cumbersome and complicated. More importantly, there is scant evidence that it is truly living up to Johnson’s intention of “providing a good education for every boy and girl — no matter where he lives.”

I look forward to coming changes in education policy and to fostering competition with quality charter schools in competition with public schools. What are your thoughts on public schools, charter schools and private and religious schools, their funding and their public measurable results?

 

 

The Case For and Against The Shelby County School System Education Suit

Monday, November 14th, 2016

November 14, 2016

The Case For and Against The Shelby County School System Education Suit

 

I have reviewed the Shelby County School System (SCS) complaint and the answer by the State against the suit. Also I have reviewed the case brought by Hamilton County and several other Tennessee counties. Here are the essentials.

SCS claims that the State and the Defendants have breached their duties to provide a free, adequate and equitable education arising under the Tennessee Constitution and Tennessee statute.

The Defendants responds that “with regard to their duties and responsibilities and duties, the applicable Tennessee law and constitutional provisions speak for themselves.” The constitution says the following.

The state of Tennessee recognizes the inherent value of education and encourages its support. The General Assembly shall provide for the maintenance, support and eligibility standards of a system of free public schools.

The SCS then goes on to a list of what they call “Relevant Facts”.

They point out that the SCS has made drastic cuts because of a lack of funding and that this lack of funding has directly impacted the SCS system’s ability to provide all of its students with a free, adequate and equitable education pursuant to the Tennessee Constitution and Tennessee statute.

The complaint goes on to list of job cuts caused by funding cuts. They list that their students are mainly African-American, Hispanic and Asian-Americans. They also complain that there are students of non-U.S. origin  and students with disabilities. Also they complain that schools in the District have extremely high poverty rates.

The SCS case is mainly based on their opinion that the State must provide sufficient money per the Basic Education Program (BEP) to guarantee all Tennessee children their constitutionally mandated outcomes.

 

General Overview of the BEP

  • The funds generated by the BEP are what the state has defined as sufficient to provide a basic level of education for Tennessee students. This basic level of funding includes both a state share of the BEP and a local share of the BEP.
  • The BEP has three major categories (instruction, classroom, and non-classroom), each made up of separate components related to the basic needs of students, teachers, and administrators within a school system.
  • Student enrollment (average daily membership) is the primary driver of funds generated by the BEP.
  • There are 45 BEP components most of which are based on student enrollment (ADM). For example, students per teacher, assistant principals per school, or dollars per student for textbooks.
  • Unit cost adjustments (salary, health benefits, insurance) are essential to maintaining a similar level of funding from year to year, due to inflation. For example, in 2006 over 100 million new state dollars were required to maintain full funding of the BEP.
  • The funds generated by the BEP are divided into state and local shares for each of the three major categories (instructional, classroom, non-classroom).
  • The state and local share for each school system is based on an equalization formula that is applied to the BEP. This equalization formula is the primary factor in determining how much of the BEP is supported by the state vs. the local district.
  • The equalization formula is driven primarily by property values and sales tax, applied at a county level. For example, the state and local equalization shares for County System A would be the exact same state and local shares for City System A, within the same county
  • All local school systems are free to raise additional education dollars beyond the funds generated by the BEP.

 

Let’s face it. Education and family are the keys to life success. However there is no guaranteed outcome. The children from educated and wealthier families have a built in advantage. However I know of many instances where these children have blown their advantage and ended up without success or happiness. Our recent election has pointed out the problem we have with the influx and the obligation of educating children of illegal immigrants. We have an obligation to educate them but it obviously drains the available resources.

My opinion is that we need to stick to the basics. Teach children to READ, WRITE AND ADD/SUBTRACT. Give the parents the option to send their children to public, charter, private or religious schools using our education taxes as long as they all meet the state educational standards. But we cannot turn over our taxing authority to local school boards. They must compete with other educational venues and let the winners be those schools that produce the best results.

 

Lack Of Transparency At The Shelby County School System

Monday, November 7th, 2016

Lack Of Transparency At The Shelby County School System

 

The Presidential Election tomorrow highlights the absolute importance and necessity of Open Records and Transparency. The lack of transparency is putting our constitutional system of government in great jeopardy.

Locally, in late October I sent an email to the Superintendent of the Shelby County School system as shown below.

I would like to view the following documents. I would also like copies of these documents (in electronic format if available) or paper if not available in electronic format. This is in Davidson County Chancery Court case 15-0355-I. Thank you for your prompt reply. 

08/31/2015 Complaint Petition

03/30/2016 Unopposed Motion for Withdrawal and Substitution of Counsel for Plaintiff

05/09/2016 Defts’ Unopposed Motion for Extension of Time Within Which to File Answer

07/08/2016 Notice of Substitution of Counsel for Defendants

I received an answer as follows from Ms. Kasheena Byers, legal assistant to the SCS legal department. “Your request is denied. SCS does not have any documents responsive to your request.” Obviously she was mistaken or did not want to respond.

I then went to the Davidson County Chancery Court and looked at their website. All of the requested documents were on their website and available. Obviously the legal department at SCS also had copies of these documents.

I have attached the original suit by the SCS system (filed 8/31/15) and their notice of substitution of Counsel. I have also posted a similar suit filed by the Hamilton County School system (filed 3/24/15) before SCS System filed their suit.

Now I have several questions. Why did the SCS System not respond honestly to my open records request and Why did they not join the similar suit filed by Hamilton County School System rather than spending Hundredsj of Thousands of dollars to file their own suit?

These two school systems believe that MORE MONEY (with them setting the tax rate) is the answer to our educational system and their obvious failures. I believe that in this country we spend more than any other country in the world and get second class results. We need a new educational system giving parents a school choice of where their tax money should be spent, public, charter, private or religious schools. Also the Shelby County School System should open up their document files and give taxpayers easy access to all information that is not restricted by the Tennessee open records law.What do you think?

Slow Walking Open Records Requests

Monday, October 17th, 2016

October 17, 2016

Slow Walking Open Records Requests

 

I know I am a pest about open records but all you have to do is look at what is going on in this terrible upcoming national election to see what politicians do to slow down or deny full open records requests.

Locally I asked to see an update on how much the Shelby County School System has spent on the lawsuit requesting that the local school boards in Tennessee be given the power to set education funding tax rates to suit their own interpretation of what is required for adequate public education. I asked for this information on September 6, 2016 and finally got the information on October 8, 2016. I had to send a copy of my driver’s license (to prove I was a resident of Tennessee) and I had to mail a check for $24.85 and then had to wait for a snail mail return of the documents. Below is the result. Almost $390,000 spent to date.

The real questions are a)where is this lawsuit now, b)what are the chances of success and c)what is the budget for this effort? However under the Tennessee open records law they are not required to answer these questions. They can just keep on spending without any accountability. Another obvious question, why the switch from Lewis Brisbois Bisgard & Smith LLP to Baker Donelson PC?

My wish in this matter is a full and complete open statement as to the state of this lawsuit and the possible future costs. What are your thoughts? After all it is our tax money they are spending.

 

 

Law Firm Date Bill
Lewis Brisbois Bisgard & Smith LLP 4/29/15 2899.50
Lewis Brisbois Bisgard & Smith LLP 5/20/15 19612.5
Lewis Brisbois Bisgard & Smith LLP 6/6/15 18749.70
Lewis Brisbois Bisgard & Smith LLP 7/27/15 65513.65
Lewis Brisbois Bisgard & Smith LLP 8/31/15 75157.15
Lewis Brisbois Bisgard & Smith LLP 9/21/15 66915.36
Lewis Brisbois Bisgard & Smith LLP 10/22/15 68684.78
Lewis Brisbois Bisgard & Smith LLP 11/24/15 18713.00
Lewis Brisbois Bisgard & Smith LLP 12/10/15 4214.20
Lewis Brisbois Bisgard & Smith LLP 2/18/16 3729.14
Baker Donelson PC 4/21/16 5980.28
Baker Donelson PC 5/11/16 19686.50
Baker Donelson PC 6/17/16 5168.00
Baker Donelson PC 7/18/16 2024.50
Baker Donelson PC 8/17/16 12827.65
Total Spent to August 2016 $389,875.91