Education for the Aughts Podcast: Dennis Prager and Independence Day, Hillsborough County Grade Inflation, and Utica Area Schools Falter

This edition of the Education for the Aughts Podcast addresses three topics:

  • A look at patriotic curricula in public schools – what we had and where we’re not;
  • Grade inflation in Hillsborough County, Florida;
  • Lack of accountability in New Hartford, NY and a financial boondoggle in Utica, NY.

You can play this Education for the Aughts Podcast by clicking on the triangular ‘play’ button on the player below [or at the bottom of the post if you’re reading this in RSS] – it will expand and begin streaming audio. Alternatively, you can download an mp3 file of the podcast to listen in your own media player.

And, if you like what you hear, you can subscribe to Education for the Aughts Podcast using RSS or using iTunes.


… and a partial transcript with links from the podcast is below.

I listened the other day, as I do most days, to talk radio host Dennis Prager. He lamented on this Independence Day that American children just don’t sing patriotic songs anymore – and he’s quite right.

Dennis’s point reminded me of something in my historical archives – a program of instruction for Arbor Day in New York State Schools, May 8, 1896. The program is a 16-page guide from the Dept. of Public Instruction that outlines activities and themes that schools might cover on the celebration of Arbor Day.

Near the end of that program is a list of songs that school-children could sing:

Keller’s American Hymn
Flag of the Free
Hail, Columbia
Star-Spangled Banner
Battle Hymn of the Republic
Columbia, Gem of the Ocean
Columbia, God Preserve thee Free
and America

Following that, there was an “exercise on the American Flag.”

Remember, folks, this was for *Arbor Day*. That our current celebrations of American holidays pales in comparison to what we’ve done in the past for even fairly unimportant holidays, shows how much we have, to quote Virginia Slims, come a long way, baby – and that’s not always a good thing.

The inimitable Suzie Creamcheese, who blogs at The Wall, passed on yet another tidbit about Hillsborough County.

Hillsborough County, Florida – for those of us outside the state, we can just think of this as the greater-Tampa area – has a grade inflation problem. A big one.

As The Tampa Tribune opined a few weeks ago:

“It used to be that a 4.0 grade-point average was considered a perfect “A,” but the numbers posted by some recent Hillsborough high school graduates have been positively stratospheric – including the county’s top GPA of 8.68 earned by a student at King High School who was this year’s numbers leader.

Who knew there was even such a thing as being more than doubly perfect?”

Well, Tribune editors, if you hadn’t realize by now that Superintendent Elia and her administration think *they’re* doubly-perfect, now you do. See, they’re just passing on to the students the back-patting that’s given administrators in Hillsborough County a grievous case of bursitis over the last year.

Later in the piece – and it’s a must-read – we see real evidence of grade inflation from the mouths of babes:

“As one Chamberlain High School student recently put it: “In our class, anything under a 5.0 is considered mediocre to sucky.” And here we thought a 5.0 was better than perfect.

The district would provide considerable more transparency and accountability if it ceased monkeying with the labels and scoring systems and simply made high school courses appropriately hard and fair.

Schools should give extra credit to students who push themselves the extra mile, but there’s no need to pile it on so thick.”

A sensible suggestion, no doubt.

In an absolutely useless rebuttal to the Tribune’s editorial, Superintendent Mary Ellen Elia, back-patter extraordinaire and anything but a scholar, explained to we who are so intellectually deficient, why these GPAs are so high:

“The Tribune’s June 14th editorial is yet another unnecessarily harsh jab at the public schools.”

Actually, Ms. Elia, it’s a fair treatment of a glaring problem with your terrible administration. She went on to explain to we who are ignorant dolts and the like why, exactly, these GPAs are so gosh-darn high:

“There’s a simple reason the GPAs are higher: Students take more classes and more challenging classes. Good for them.”

Yes, Superintendent Elia – and since you’ve weighted those class grades so outrageously, your students wind up with GPAs that mirror Mary Lou Retton’s scores on the floor exercise.

Your system created the problem, then you tell us that we’re dumb for not realizing how the system works. If you want to know why I don’t live in this otherwise wonderful part of Florida, there ya go.

[April Griffin's endorsement of Stephen Gorham]

On a more local note, there’s a bit of news out of New Hartford, New York regarding public information requests. The blog New Hartford, NY Online, an offshoot of the New Hartford Concerned Citizens, would like to see New Hartford Central School comply with the Freedom of Information Laws – or FOIL, for short. They say:

“That’s right; it is a law, but the New Hartford Central School just doesn’t seem to think they need to comply.

We have received emails from our readers asking us when we think we might get a copy of the Employees Union Contract that was approved by the school board in January. The clock keeps ticking…”

Hopefully their clock has a fresh battery, because it may have to tick for quite some time before the district responds. One is sometimes driven to think that FOIL, to public school administrators, is just something you make hats out of in ed school.

And on Fault Lines, the Greater Utica Blog, we learned that the Utica City Schools administration is pushing a $187 million dollar bond. Says one Ms. Bernadette Eichler in the Utica O-D:

“Over the years, I have worked with brilliant, creative and caring administrators, teachers, members of the Utica Board of Education, college staff and community members.

Their wisdom, leadership, support and ideas did indeed bring the students in the Utica district to a higher level of academic achievement. These abilities and talents also created a stimulating environment for learning, as well as provide opportunities for students to explore and try new ideas.

Now this leadership and support groups of Utica have an unbelievable opportunity to once again demonstrate their wisdom and talents by supporting the $187.6 million bond issue.”

Fault Lines mashes the nail right on the head:

“Wow. These are the same people who studied a project for months that they could not carry out, shuffled administrators like they were a deck of cards, couldn’t keep student schedules straight, ran out of textbooks, and spent a ton of money at Proctor and now want to spend more at the same school.”

And to make matters worse, a commenter on Fault Lines said that the project:

“won’t cost tax payers a dime.”

To hearken the earlier Arbor Day discussion, we’d do well to remind our kids on the next Arbor Day that money, especially tax money, doesn’t grow on trees, contrary to what their schools’ administrators seem to think.

Ms. Eichler may find this bond proposal to be an “unbelievable opportunity,” but she’s wrong – I most certainly believe it, as it’s just another in a series of local boondoggles we in Upstate New York are asked to approve. I’m reminded of one we defeated here in Cooperstown – I forget how much, probably in the trillions – about which an architect on the project explained that new windows would, “Increase learning by double digits.” I was tempted upon hearing that explanation to show him a *single* digit – and if you can’t figure out which one, pretend it’s the old SAT and go with “C.”

The only bit of sweetness here is when we read that Ms. Eichler is a retired deputy superintendent of the Utica City School District. Thank God for that.

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