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Education Reporting, Proposition 8 and Bay Area News Group’s Erotic Family Values

For those of you who don’t live in California or have been under a rock for the last 6 months, Proposition 8 is a proposal to amend the California Constitution to prohibit same-sex marriage and recognize only marriages between one man and one woman. Voting ‘Yes’ on Proposition 8 would effectively ban gay marriage; a “No” vote would allow it.

Again, this is an education site – the issue here isn’t for or against Prop 8. The issue is a cup of education reporting, a dollop of honesty and a sprinkle of irony. Stay with me here, you lewd and lascivious types. It gets saucy at the end. [Note: "NSFW" = a link is "not safe for work."]

In “If Gay Marriage is Allowed, Will Schools Promote It?” NPR looked at the ad campaigns on both sides. In one popular television spot [YouTube link] features:

“…a young girl who brings home a book called King & King.

“Mom, guess what I learned in school today,” she says in the ad. “I learned how a prince married a prince, and I can marry a princess!”

The ad was based on the real-life story of Robin and Robb Wirthlin, a Mormon couple living in Massachusetts, where gay marriage is legal. Two years ago, their son’s second-grade teacher read King & King to the class.”

Some say the ad is baseless fearmongering; others say it reflects the everyday reality of a legal redefinition of a societal norm.

In “Schools dragged into marriage debate,” Katy Murphy of The Education Report, a blog about Oakland’s schools, wrote:

“Whether you’re a campaign hack or just selling a home alarm system (or tires, or antidepressants, or disinfectant), scare tactics can really come in handy. And there’s probably no easier way to freak people out than to make them think their kids will be in harm’s way if they don’t vote a certain way or buy a certain product.”

One need not commit one’s life to textual exegesis to understand Murphy’s implication: supporters of Prop 8 are dishonest fearmongers [as are tire salesmen and those profit-hungry doctors, too?]. There are certainly over-the-top campaigners on Prop 8; Murphy, however, neglects to point out that those types are on both sides. Murphy cites the NPR article:

“National Public Radio did a story yesterday about how education has become swept up in the California campaign for Proposition 8, the same-sex marriage ban.”

Murphy is disingenuous once more. Education hasn’t “become swept up” in the Prop 8 debate; education is helping to push the broom – to the tune of $1.25 million from the California Teachers Association.

… and that was it. No mention of the Wirthlins’ MA case – despite it being explained clearly in the NPR piece to which she links – or any of a number of uncomfortable challenges that have either popped up already or surely will in the future. Murphy would like you to believe that the ad is a scare tactic based on irrational, hateful fundamentalism. She links to the YouTube response:

“Here’s the TV ad that prompted the story, followed by a response from State Superintendent Jack O’Connell.”

The ad is more than just a “response from State Superintendent Jack O’Connell.” It’s not a public service announcement by a state official; it’s a paid political advertisement produced and purchased by No On 8, Equality for All.

They write about the ‘scare tactics’ on their sister sites, too.

But what of O’Connell’s claims? Back to the NPR article:

“O’Connell says if Proposition 8 is defeated, that will have no bearing on the state’s education code. “There is no requirement, no mandate for any school in the state of California to have this [gay marriage] required as a course.”"

Very true, Superintendent O’Connell – though no one mentioned your straw man of “a course” being taught about gay marriage. One can assume safely that legislative decisions about society make their way into most classrooms implicitly or out of necessity. Consider that schools don’t have “a course” explaining how stealing private property is illegal, but it’s a lesson of our society, supported by law, that frequently pops up in schools. It will be no different [nor should it be, if Prop 8 is defeated] with a state’s legal ruling on marriage.

Murphy, seemingly horrified at any assertion for Prop 8, concludes:

“Do you think Prop. 8’s defeat — or passage — would have any real impact on education in California?”

Murphy could have peeped at her own website if she wanted to understand the concern some have when education and family values collide. When I accessed Murphy’s article, the right sidebar advertisement – just below that shiny, traditional apple-on-the-desk – was for Perry Mann’s 29th Annual Exotic Erotic Ball. Here’s a screenshot [click here for full-sized version]:

In case you haven’t attended, the Exotic Erotic Ball is “A Celebration of Flesh, Fetish and Fantasy,” and billed as “The World’s #1 Wildest, Sexiest Party.” You can view a generously tame [but still NSFW] photo gallery of the 2007 event here. OvaHere.com has a less-artistic, more realistic dump of [NSFW, either] photos from 2006′s Ball.

But this isn’t about Exotic Erotic Balls-past, it’s about what you get when you click an ad on The Education Report – for example, an ad on a disingenuous post about schools and values:

  • Pricasso, the Penis Painter
  • A dog with a sex toy in its mouth
  • Dozens of barely-censored photos

Click the link and add to the list yourself.

Reading about public education on a news site [Bay Area News Group] and one click later you’re staring at a dog chewing on a dildo.

Ms. Murphy, you let me know if you  or anyone at the Bay Area News Group  would like to have a conversation about why some parents are worried about what their children encounter in even the most benign arenas.

Grading the Candidates on Education Funding: Richard Hanna and Michael Arcuri, NY 24th Congressional District, US House of Representatives

Thanks to the Observer-Dispatch, we’ve got the local candidates’ views on education – grades and analysis below.

The New York 24th District of the United States House of Representatives covers parts or all of 11 counties in Central New York State. Incumbent Michael Arcuri [D] is being challenged by Richard Hanna [R].

The O-D asked candidates in some state and federal races about their proposals for education funding. Here are their answers:

Michael Arcuri, D-Utica

michael arcuri, congressman, 24th district NY

Education funding is a state issue, but if the federal government wants to regulate it, it cannot keep passing down unfunded mandates to states and localities.

Although the No Child Left Behind program has a role in creating standards to help students, it is woefully underfunded, which hurts local schools. No Child Left Behind takes away educators’ incentive for creativity and development of new methodologies for teaching children, and assumes that all children learn at the same pace.

NCLB’s cookie-cutter approach is also detrimental to school districts like Utica where many languages are spoken. I hope to see legislation reforming the No Child Left Behind program to encourage teacher creativity, so innovative programs created here in Utica can be shared with Auburn and Binghamton, and students aren’t just taught to the test.

I also believe the federal government must finally step up to the plate and fund programs like NCLB and IDEA sufficiently.

Grade: C-. Congressman Arcuri knows so little about education at both the local and federal levels that he repeats meaningless criticism and offers no plan for future development. Arcuri’s answer says little and means even less. His ignorance of education and education funding – both important issues to saving what’s left of a Central New York economy suffering from rapid atrophy – is apparent. That, and it expresses a near-total misunderstanding of No Child Left Behind.

On a positive note, Arcuri’s particular strain of ignorance is cheaper than most.

News to Rep. Arcuri: Education funding has been a federal issue since President Lyndon Johnson’s Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 [which he followed with the Higher Education Act in the same year]. A not insignificant number of schools in the 24th District – the district in which Arcuri has lived for years and has represented in Congress for two – rely on the Title 1 funds from that 43-year old legislation. To say education funding is wholly a “state issue” is disingenuous. As every taxpayer, politician and bake-saler knows, we fund our schools from the top down and the bottom up.

Arcuri’s line about No Child Left Behind taking away a teacher’s “incentive for creativity and development of new methodologies for teaching children” will tickle the unions’ fancies and play well with compassionate voters. Unfortunately, his criticism is baseless and misleading. Had he examples of how average teachers developed “new methodologies” for teaching children before NCLB, he might have an interesting point. But the evidence of 20 years of stagnant, unimpressive performance in Central New York schools renders Arcuri’s objections moot.

The truth is that Central New York’s teachers are not innovative researchers held down by NCLB. Blaming NCLB for our uninspiring performance is scapegoating; reducing the legislation to a barrage of tests to which teachers must submit ignores both the purpose of the Act and the failure of teachers/administrators to implement it properly. That some teachers “teach to the test” is the fault of district leaders and administrators, not No Child Left Behind.

Arcuri’s argument about NCLB being underfunded is sound, and his point about urban, multi-lingual districts resonates. But instead of parroting victimization and offering no plan for how to rectify NCLB’s shortcomings, a responsible Congressman should encourage districts to meet legislation halfway as they lobby for better funding that could lead to the successful implementation of education reforms.

We’d like our schools to be efficient, productive and cost-effective in Central New York. If we are to see those results, both sides have to accept responsibility – and our Congressman needs to facilitate that shared effort. Until then, we will continue to lose our most talented graduates and the jobs that come with our most promising businesses.

Central New York suffers from an economic wasting disease. Congressman Arcuri’s thoughts on education funding offer hollow moans and no solutions.

Richard Hanna, Republican

Richard Hanna, congressional candidate, 24th district NY

Current educational policy pits the property owner against the educational system. If we are to compete in the new global economy, it will be through the value- added nature of education.

We need a less adversarial way to pay for our public schools. New York state’s universities produce some of the finest students in the world – we must stop the brain drain.

Rebuilding our economy will help offer opportunities for these people to build their lives here. Tough economic times call for hard decisions, but education funding should be the last thing we cut. We must, however, spend our money more wisely and understand that more money does not necessarily mean a better education or produce better outcomes.

Many improvements could be made to the No Child Left Behind Act. It has not produced the outcomes it was expected to. Testing and accountability issues must be addressed.

Grade: A-. Hanna’s answer is short on specifics, but he’s got his eye on the right issues.

Property taxes weighed on Central New Yorkers even before the economy and fuel prices caused their own strains. Hostility between taxpayers and schools is building and Central New York can’t afford the tension.

Education is Central New York’s best bet for attracting employers and encouraging our brightest to stay in the area – or, as Hanna put it, to “stop the brain drain.” Cutting education funding straightaway should be our last resort. We will only begin to address our place in the global economy if we align our schools with successful education reform efforts and the needs of the economy while funding those efforts adequately.

Spending money “wisely” and looking at the results, including using “value-added” measures, will alleviate  tension between taxpayers and public schools while strengthening our local economy. We can’t just throw money at the problem – thankfully, both Hanna and Arcuri seem to agree there.

Hearing that Hanna seeks “improvements” to NCLB is welcome. The Act is flawed, especially with its implementation and support – its outcomes are, as Hanna states, different than what we expected. Testing, accountability, funding and implementation are critical issues for reforming and reauthorizing NCLB.

I wish that Hanna had mentioned explicitly that most important issue to education reform – teacher quality, and specifically, how we might improve teacher quality, hiring and retention in Central New York. Then again, I wish that any candidate in Central New York had spoken about teacher quality.

On the question of education funding, the advantage goes to Richard Hanna.

Grading the Candidates on Education Funding: James Seward and Don Barber, 51st District NY State Senate

Thanks to the Observer-Dispatch, we’ve got the local candidates’ views on education – grades and analysis below.

The 51st District of the New York State Senate covers Otsego, Tompkins, Cortland, Chenango, Herkimer, Schoharie and Greene Counties. Incumbent James Seward {R] is being challenged by Don Barber [D].

The O-D asked candidates in some state and federal races about their proposals for education funding. Here are their answers:

James Seward, R-Milford

James Seward, 51st district, ny state senate candidate

As the state works toward a more sound fiscal plan, there are several items that need to be considered, and no doubt education funding will come under the microscope. We must avoid, however, cost shifts and new pressure on property taxes. People are already struggling to pay their school tax bills. Many area school districts are under pressure to keep up with education mandates, particularly rural, low-wealth districts in our area. I have already fought for pension cost relief, and energy savings for schools. I am also calling for an end to unfunded mandates, and encouraging school consolidation and superintendent sharing where it makes sense.

We need to continue to improve accountability in our schools, and also make sure students are getting every advantage possible to keep up with our ever changing world.

Grade: A-. Seward’s concise answer nails several key issues and how he will deal with them. Controlling property taxes while maintaining the effectiveness of current education funding resonates with many in his District. The real specifics of school budgets – pensions and energy are two elements spiraling out of control – must be addressed. Though an end to unfunded mandates may be the pipe dream of all candidates, consolidation, sharing resources and an eye on the future make up for it.

Don Barber, Democrat

Don Barber, 51st district, ny state senate candidate

We must continue to shift funding for education from the property tax and fund it through the state. Funding would be based on a fairer state tax system, including a millionaire’s tax that would only affect the top 1 percent of earners. The state must take over the 97 underfunded mandates that don’t affect the student-teacher relationship.

Finally, we need publicly funded, privately delivered, quality, universal health care. Currently, the school budget is driven by the exorbitant cost of private health care to such an extent that the benefits para-professionals receive exceed their entire salaries.

Most school professionals receive this expensive health care benefit in retirement. If we remove employer responsibility for providing health insurance, we can finance universal health care through a payroll tax similar to Medicare’s. School budgets would decrease by a huge margin under this plan.

Grade: D+. There’s no denying that Barber is a thinker. The problem is his uncommon mixture of good-faith lack of clarity and deliberate smoke and mirrors.

Barber’s idea to “shift funding… from the property tax” to the state conveniently forgets from whom state funds are derived: taxpayers. Barber cites a “fairer state tax system” which is unclear aside from it being an income tax on the very top earners [to an extent unexplained]. And when Barber figures out mandates as they relate to the mysterious “student-teacher relationship,” I’ll be glad to talk over how to deal with those expenditures. Until then, it’s rhetoric that will get coos from the teachers’ unions and a blank stare from me.

Barber’s proposition on health care is unique among Central NY candidates’ education funding solutions. Unfortunately, it’s dishonest.

He is right that school budgets, and therefore school funding, will go down if NY adopts a system of universal healthcare. Healthcare costs, including what is drawn by pensioners, simply won’t be a part of the school budget.

And again, Barber fails to point out that the tax money has to come from somewhere. When “the state” absorbs or creates a new program, the state bills us through taxes.

Barber’s agenda is clear: universal health care and more taxes on the wealthy. That’s fine for a campaign platform, but it doesn’t address education funding – and we should raise an eyebrow at the bait-and-switch.

On the question of education funding, the advantage goes to James Seward.

Grading the Candidates on Education Funding: David Valesky and James DiStefano, NY State Senate 49th District

Thanks to the Observer-Dispatch, we’ve got the local candidates’ views on education – grades and analysis below.

The 49th District of the New York State Senate covers Madison, Onieda, Onondaga and Cayuga Counties. Incumbent David Valesky [D] is being challenged by James DiStefano [R].

The O-D asked candidates in some state and federal races about their proposals for education funding. Here are their answers:

David Valesky, D-Oneida

David Valesky, 49th district, ny state senate candidate

As the state faces an extreme fiscal crisis, my goal remains to reduce state government spending without impacting education. I have already voted for $1 billion in state spending cuts at the August special session. I anticipate we will do more in the upcoming special session, including efforts to consolidate state government and taking a hard look at the Medicaid system.

While I have also supported capping property taxes, I believe cutting state education funding is the wrong answer, as this will only increase the burden on property tax payers and negatively impact education and its critical role in our economic recovery.

Grade: C-. At least Valesky is honest. He makes it clear that he won’t support cuts to education and that he’s looking for cuts elsewhere. But consolidating state government and reforming our Medicaid system aren’t directly related to funding education – and Valesky doesn’t make the case for a positive impact on education funding even with their indirect relationship. It might be the right answer, but he’s answering the wrong question.

There’s more to education funding that throwing money in or taking it away. Valesky mentions nothing about how we might be using the funds we currently have. Are we spending effectively? Efficiently? Valesky doesn’t bother addressing the billions already on the table.

James DiStefano, Republican

James DiStefano, 49th district, ny state senate candidate

DiStefano did not submit a response.

Grade: F. No response constitutes failure. If DiStefano or his associates would like to submit a paragraph or two on education funding, I’ll post it here.

On the question of education funding, the advantage goes to David Valesky.

Grading the Candidates on Education Funding: Joseph Griffo and Michael Boncella, NY State Senate 47th District

Thanks to the Observer-Dispatch, we’ve got the local candidates’ views on education – grades and analysis below.

The 47th District of the New York State Senate covers Oneida, Lewis and St. Lawrence Counties. Incumbent Joseph Griffo [R] is being challenged by Michael Boncella [WF].

The O-D asked candidates in some state and federal races about their proposals for education funding. Here are their answers:

Joseph Griffo, R-Rome

joseph griffo, 47th district NY state senate

Education is an essential investment in developing the citizens of the future and the work force of tomorrow. New York must continue to invest in schools.

Not all investments produce results. The millions spent in the education bureaucracy to test, assess tests, interpret tests and design tests are millions that should go into the classroom. At the local level, districts must accept that difficult times will mean an end to annual increases above inflation.

Consolidation of administrative and support functions is necessary to maximize the funding that goes into teaching students. The state aid formula must be simplified. We need to work with the School Consortium to develop the right formula.

Giving districts a set amount per student, with added revenue for districts with high needs, while eliminating categorical items, could help give schools greater freedom to manage their budgets. During this time of limited revenue, state capital project funding, which can run into hundreds of millions across the state, must be focused on critical needs only.

Grade: A-. Griffo starts strong by stating clearly that education is a priority for New York State. His honesty about the lack of return on some education “investments” is both refreshing and practical.

Though his position on the wasteful education bureaucracy is correct, Senator Griffo’s opposition to testing is slightly misguided. Tests and assessments aren’t the biggest problems; it’s the shoddy, ineffecient, ineffective implentation. I suspect that Senator Griffo would agree with that delineation.

And finally, someone has said that school districts must face the same financial realities that we face.

The consolidation of services has been touted by several candidates, and I hope that Griffo and others will pursue those solutions if elected. Simplifying the state aid formula can only help. Giving districts a “set amount per student” in base expenditure could help ground and solidifying spiraling, chaotic budgets and encourage school boards/districts to re-assess their fiscal plan.

Griffo’s fiscal sense, capped by a needs-only attitude toward costly capital projects, is sound, forward-looking and responsible.

Michael Boncella, Working Families

Boncella did not submit a response.

Grade: F. No response constitutes failure. If Boncella or his associates would like to submit a paragraph or two on education funding, I’ll post it here.

On the question of education funding, the advantage goes to Joseph Griffo.

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