Sunday, June 30, 2013

A fresh start for the Joplin Globe on MSSU coverage?

The two words at the top of the Joplin Globe's page one package on the upcoming changes at Missouri Southern State University- "Fresh Start"- may have a double meaning.

The departure of Bruce Speck as MSSU president offers the Globe an opportunity to recover from one of the darkest periods in its long history.

It was during that time that the newspaper's publisher Michael Beatty said farewell to any type of investigative reporting when he pulled Greg Grisolano off the MSSU beat at a time when Grisolano had been breaking one story after another about the problems the newly-arrived Speck was having.

Beatty not only yanked the troublesome reporter (troublesome to Speck and then MSSU Board of Governors Chairman Dwight Douglas) off the beat, but in an e-mail to the university president, explained how Speck could control media coverage.

Not only that, but the Globe also steered away from what has been a proud tradition of newspapers- supporting the First Amendment. When copies of the campus newspaper, the Chart, were pulled from a job fair because they had coverage that a university official thought was negative, the Globe was silent.

When Chart advisor T. R. Hanrahan lost his job because of the stellar work of his younger reporters, the Globe said nary a word.

The Globe needs a fresh start when it comes to coverage of Missouri Southern State University.
Whether today's articles by Emily Younker represent that fresh start remains to be seen. Ms. Younker started her coverage of one hand tied behind her back. Unlike many reporters who have covered a beat only for a short while, she cannot go through the back files to get caught up on what has happened (unless she goes back through the back files of the Chart, Southern Watch,and the Turner Report). That makes it difficult for any reporter to provide perspective.

That being said, Ms.Younker took an admirable shot at it, using quotes from officials like MSSU's head of the International Program, Chad Stebbins, to fill in the kind of material that normally would have been in a newspaper's archives.

Ms. Younker's accompanying story on Interim President Alan Marble's upcoming first day filled in a lot of the holes and answered questions that readers have been curious about as to how Marble ended up being an assistant to Speck in the first place. It was a solid piece of reporting.

The Globe's education reporter had three bylined stories on page one, including one on the Joplin R-8 School District's decision to install Wi-Fi on some of its activity buses. Of course, that should lead to a follow-up story about the reason why this is needed- the administration's insistence that nearly all high school assignments 1:1 capability. With no textbooks and all assignments needing the laptops, how long will it be before Joplin decides it needs to put Wi-Fi in all buses, if nothing else, just to become the first school around to do so?

The cost of technology will eat up so much of the budget, administration officials might have to consider passing up conferences like the one about a dozen R-8 employees are attending this weekend in Washington, D. C.

No, that won't happen.

5:41 back atop Amazon Joplin Tornado book rankings

5:41: Stories from the Joplin Tornado is back to the number one ranking in among books about the tornado. Only four of the books were in the top million.

1. 5:41: Stories from the Joplin Tornado, Randy Turner and John Hacker 123,384
2. Joplin 5:41, Kansas City Star 365,162
3. When the Storm Passes, Julie Jett 650,434
4. 32 Minutes in May, Joplin Globe 836,224
5. Scars from the Tornado, Randy Turner 1,044,604
6. Miracle of the Human Spirit, Mark Rohr 1,045,207
7. Spirit of Hope, Randy Turner and John Hacker, 1,050,633
8. 5/22: Stories of Survival, Stories of Faith, Scott Hettinger 1,624,596
9. Singing Over Me, Danielle Stammer, 2,145,881
10. Joplin Tornado House of Hope, Tim Bartow, 2,484,183
11. EF5 at 5:35, Kathryn Sandlin 3,919,822
12. Mayday in Joplin, Donald Clugston, 4,043,313

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Nixon: Tax cut bill is a dangerous experiment

Globe offers hard-hitting editorial...from another newspaper

Don't ever let it be said that I am not willing to admit when I am wrong.

In a Turner Report post Friday, I criticized the Joplin Globe for its editorials about things that have nothing to do with Joplin or the surrounding area. The editorial that caught my attention was one praising South African leader Nelson Mandela, a worthy subject no doubt, but not when there are glaring issues that need to be addressed- issues that the Globe has been studiously avoiding.

Imagine my surprise today when I started reading the Globe editorial and found it was about a state issue that does have an effect on local taxpayers- Gov. Jay Nixon's extensive use of airplanes to travel around the state.

Under the catchy title "Nixon's Bumpy Ride," the editorial includes this passage:

Let's be fair. Governors need to travel.

People who are victims of natural disasters expect their elected chief executive to witness their plight and outline government's response. To his credit, we believe Nixon has reacted with both professional obligation and personal sincerity to those disasters.

And people throughout the state also want face time to hear, and question, the governor's agenda and priorities.

But let's also be realistic. Some of this travel- particularly some fly-around news conferences and bill signings- is a waste of fuel and taxpayers' dollars. An hour of flying time costs an estimated $650.

The governor would encounter less turbulence if he booked his flying time based on gubernatorial necessities rather than gratuitous ceremonies.

I had to hand it to the Globe Editorial Board. This is well-written and I loved the "turbulence" reference. I was ready to eat my words and praise the Globe for tackling an issue that would actually resonate with its readers.

Then I read the five words in bold beneath the editorial- The Jefferson City News Tribune.

I looked up quickly and noticed something I had overlooked at first glance. Above the headline were the other words "Other View."

The Globe did not have an editorial today- not one about Nelson Mandela and not one explaining to its readers what LGBT means. 

The Globe Editorial Page, the page that should be providing the voices of local people on local issues did not contain a single word from anyone in this area, except, of course, from the Globe writers who provided the headlines.

The rest of this page included syndicated columns from Steve and Cokie Roberts and Jay Ambrose, the useless "Joke of the Day" by Argus Hamilton, a syndicated editorial cartoon, a quote and Bible verse.

The Globe Editorial Board must be saving the good stuff for the Sunday edition.


On the positive side, today's page one included three worthwhile stories, two from veteran reporters whose work I always enjoy reading and one from a college student.

The college student, Eli Yokley of the PoliticMo blog, offered an informative, by-the-numbers examination of Gov. Jay Nixon's decision to freeze spending in case the GOP-dominated state legislature overrides his veto and approves a drastic tax cut.

Wally Kennedy offers a look at some volunteers who have come back time after time after the Joplin Tornado and Andy Ostmeyer provides the daily bottom of page one feature with a story about the Missouri Fur Company, a living history group, that held an unusual 1840s type sale in the small Jasper County town of Waco today.

Ed Emery: The legislature did a good job this year

In his latest newsletter, Sen. Ed Emery, R-Lamar, grades the legislature on its performance during the 2013 session.

Personal perspective is critical in measuring the success of a legislative session. Another way to say the same thing is that where you start is important in determining where you end up. I agree with Abraham Lincoln that “government of the people, by the people, and for the people [should] not perish from the earth.” The perspective from which I approach governing is that individual liberty and economic freedom are evidence of good government, and they are a threat to bad government. One axiom of politics is that where you are is not as important as where you are going; such is the substance of compromise. Some of what I characterize as successes of the 2013 legislative session are very small advances in the right direction. Here are some of the most notable accomplishments of this year’s session.

Tax reform and the first tax reduction in decades: House Bill 253 establishes the Broad-Based Tax Relief Act of 2013, which would have lowered by .5 percent over a 10-year timeframe the personal state income tax and the corporate state income tax. This was a measure that encouraged more jobs and a healthier economy and would’ve put Missouri in a more competitive stance against our border states. The bill was vetoed by the governor, but lawmakers will continue to advocate for tax reform to bring more jobs to Missouri. 

Workers’ compensation and Second Injury Fund reform: The Legislature sent to the governor a bill (SB 1) to fix the currently insolvent Second Injury Fund, a fund originally created to protect employers who chose to hire workers who had been injured in the military. The Second Injury Fund suffered from a combination of abuse and the effects of the recession that impacted Missouri and the nation. Thousands of Missourians are currently awaiting settlements. This bill will help those most in need, making the state more competitive.

Prevailing wage reform: This year, the Legislature made the first significant change in prevailing wage laws in 40 years. Missouri’s prevailing wage law establishes a minimum wage rate that must be paid to workers on public works construction projects such as bridges, roads, and government buildings. Missouri’s prevailing wage is calculated by the Division of Labor Standards and uses data on the wages paid for occupations in each county to set the rate contractors are paid on public works projects. Nearly 70 percent of Missouri counties don’t have any wages reported. In those cases, the system looks to collective bargaining agreements, sometimes including different states or previous reported wages, which usually inflates the rate taxpayers pay. Currently, the rates for projects in our rural communities are too high, thus forcing jobs to be eliminated and important projects in rural communities to be abandoned. House Bill 34 would establish a new method for calculating the prevailing wage for third and fourth class counties to ensure jobs and projects continue in rural areas. 

Progress on revising Missouri’s Criminal Code: Updating Missouri’s Criminal Code is a top priority in the Senate. Although Criminal Code legislation wasn’t ultimately sent to the governor, it remains a central topic at the Capitol. Officials have studied the Criminal Code for the past couple years in an effort to better streamline state laws, which have been muddled over the past 30 years by continuously adding, amending, and omitting provisions in the Criminal Code. After the 2012 legislative session, the Joint Interim Committee on the Missouri Criminal Code was formed to make recommendations to improve the effectiveness of Missouri’s criminal laws. The panel crafted a report of recommendations and testimony, and this session’s SB 253 details several proposals for moving Missouri’s criminal laws forward.

Some successes are measured in what could have happened, but was prevented. Although substantive reform of Missouri’s complicated system of tax credits was not accomplished, no new credits were implemented and two existing tax credits were allowed to expire — this has never happened before, and in my perspective, signals a positive change of direction regarding tax credits. From the individual liberty and economic freedom perspective, two additional successes included the failure of Medicaid expansion attempts and failure of an attempt to raise Missouri taxes by more than $800 million a year for 10 years. If the prosperity of future generations and our own is an objective, then stopping both of those initiatives was absolutely critical. 

In a free republic, politics are not permanent — in other words, laws imposed this year can be repealed the next and vice versa, but setbacks of this session included the failure of Senate Bill 210 on the last day. It would have slowed the race by the Department of Education and the governor to impose the Common Core curriculum on Missouri children as a national curriculum standard. Go to for more information supporting why most Missourians will not be happy about what is about to happen in the realm of public education without their knowledge.

When asked by a news organization for a grade, I gave this session a B. That grade may be optimistic, but it is based partially on the groundwork that seemed to be laid for the 2014 legislative session.

The Common Core nightmares that await us

Common Core Standards are here to stay, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and school administrators have been telling us, but what they have not been telling us is that these nationwide standards are opening the door to more and more standardized testing.

And with standardized testing comes companies that make profits not only with tests, but with materials to prepare for those tests, and with ready-made curriculum based on those tests, just like we saw with all of the school districts in Missouri, including Joplin, that fell hook, line, and sinker for McGraw-Hill's Acuity tests, which were allegedly designed to prepare students for the Missouri standardized tests, which were also made by McGraw-Hill.

It never worked in Joplin, where test scores have decreased ever since administrators bought the Acuity package.

Common Core Standards will be the same thing on steroids.

If students are going to be tested three times a year, then gullible school districts will be shelling out hundreds of thousands for test preparation materials, and before you know it, there will be no time to do anything but teach to the test.

Pearson, one of the companies that has been involved in the creation of Common Core Standards, has been selected by Missouri to create the tests. Pearson, not so coincidentally, is hawking a series of materials to help schools prepare for those tests, out of the goodness of their hearts, I am sure.

Though the teach to the test philosophy and the expense of the test prep materials are a major problem, they are far from the only problem that these tests create. The tests will be given online (you know, the wave of the future) and that creates many more problems.

The Joplin Schools were involved in a pilot test for Pearson last year and it was a nightmare. I administered the test to a class of 28 students. As they logged onto their computers, they were greeted with a series of screens, each containing confusing, poorly-worded instructions- if they were able to log in.

If somehow they were able to navigate their way successfully through those instructions, they could be well on their way through the test, when they would be thrown off-line and had to start all over again. By the time the hour was over, only four of the 28 students had successfully completed the test.

Since that was a pilot test, I am sure that some of the problems will be worked out by the time all Missouri schools are taking the test to see how students in the Show-Me State compare with those in other states.

However, problems in administering online standardized tests seem to be a common occurrence. The Oklahoma Education Association is asking that McGraw-Hill's 2013 standardized tests be invalidated.

Randy Atkins, a middle school principal in the Western Heights Public School District, offered the following description of what happened in his building:

Western Heights Middle School administered 1904 tests. Thirty-eight exams were invalidated due to computer shutdowns. Eight exams were "restarted" (students who were kicked off after they answered sample questions but before they answered operational questions were allowed to "restart" their exam after the SDE was contacted and given detailed information). The high school had 170 invalidations and 12 "restarts."
The OEA report is filled with similar anecdotes from across the state.

The Indiana State Superintendent of Education is suing McGraw-Hill because of similar problems in the testing.

Missouri students will not be given McGraw-Hill tests after this coming year when the MAP tests are phased out in favor of the new Common Core tests provided by Pearson, but if the tests to come are anything like what I saw during the pilot test in Joplin, we are in for a nightmare. The same problems described in Oklahoma and Indiana are what we experienced.

Diane Ravitch, a former top U. S. Department of Education official during the administration of President George H. W. Bush, wrote about this madness in her blog today:

Remember the days when teachers wrote their own tests, knowing what their students had been taught? Remember when teachers were trusted as professionals? Now, we put our faith in big corporations and their computers. Better to put our faith in well-prepared professionals.

Well written, but not likely to happen unless something happens soon. With the advent of Common Core Standards, we are completing the process of selling our children's future while pouring billions of dollars into the testing and technology companies that are driving education in the United States.

This is not 21st Century learning. If we were still emphasizing the teaching of history in our schools, we might recognize that this is more reminiscent of the 19th Century.

The days of Standard Oil may be long gone, but the robber barons are back in full force and our children are the ones who will pay.

Friday, June 28, 2013

Joplin Schools Watch addresses administration's Big Brother tendencies

In their second post on their Joplin Schools Watch blog, reporters Laela Zaidi and Rylee Hartwell, both Joplin High School students, address Tuesday night's board meeting, including a mostly overlooked (except in the Turner Report) new $20,000 device that will enable upper administration to receive immediate feedback on whether teachers are implementing their new initiatives and technology in the manner expected.

The Big Brother comparisons are apt.

The application will allow administrators and technology specialists, presumably Technology Learning Coaches, to live monitor one-to-one technology implementation. This will put teachers into a position where their artistic teaching abilities are placed in jeopardy, as many teachers still do not use fully use technology to administrators standards. However, this app will force educators to make lessons plans which are technology driven.The cost of the application is $19,200.Other policies adopted include a $15,000 plan to put Wi-Fi on four school buses. The cost will be covered by the Joplin Schools Foundation. Huff explained why the Wi-Fi was necessary, “On the long conference trips, the students will be able to do homework. We’ll be wired up and on the road.”

Issues everywhere in Joplin, so Globe editorial praises Nelson Mandela

Before I say anything else, let me make it clear that I have a great admiration for Nelson Mandela. He will go down as a hero for the ages.

That being said, it is sad that there is so little going on in Joplin that today's editorial in the city's newspaper of record, the Joplin Globe, praises Nelson Mandela.

We used to call that "Afghanistanism," a peculiar thing that happens when newspapers avoid saying anything about the controversial issues that face the community because they might offend somebody or cause a major advertiser to take its business elsewhere.

At a time when we have millions and millions of dollars going through this city, when change is everywhere you look, it is vital to have a voice that speaks clearly and resolutely about  the things that matter to the community.

It is also important to point out things that the community does not know.

The Turner Report is still the only media source that has addressed the incredible number of teachers, approximately 100, who were enriching the Joplin Schools in August 2012, but who will not be in Joplin classrooms in less than two months when the 2013-2014 school year begins. When about one of every six teachers is leaving the school district, an amount far more than the usual, it is a matter that needs to be addressed.

When Missouri Southern State University is about to launch a search for a new president, it might be an opportune time for a series of editorials examining the mistakes that were made when Bruce Speck was selected. History, after all, does have a tendency of repeating itself.

Sticking with education, I would certainly like to know what the Globe Editorial Board thinks of Common Core Standards, standards-based grading, and the ever-increasing amount of technology in Joplin classrooms. Strong opinion on the editorial page is the sign of a newspaper that has its finger on the pulse of the community.

Instead of praising Nelson Mandela, though he is certainly worthy of praise, how about praising lesser known people. How about praising someone who has gone above and beyond volunteering since the Joplin Tornado? How about recognizing the many unsung heroes who serve our community in various ways- police, fire department, churches, schools, businesses.

Of course, you would have to know the community in order to find these unsung heroes.

Until then, keep on singing the praises of Nelson Mandela or see if anything is going on in Afghanistan.


It is summer, which is always a time for reruns on television. Apparently, the same thing holds true with the Globe. On Thursday's page one, the Globe ran an AP article about the Supreme Court's decision to strike down a portion of the Defense of Marriage Act and legalizing gay marriage in the places where states have approved it. It was accompanied in a package at the top of the page by Roger McKinney's story, which localized it with comments from those supporting and opposing the decision, and explaining to Globe readers what LGBT means.

Today, a similar top-of-the-page package was devoted to the Senate's passage of the immigration bill, with an AP story paired with Wally Kennedy's localizing of the issue. Kennedy's story, as you might expect from the newspaper's top reporter, was more than just a by-the-numbers piece. It thoroughly explained the issue.

And Kennedy did not see the need to explain to Globe readers what a Hispanic is.

Hartzler: Marriage is between a man and a woman

In her latest newsletter, Fourth District Congresswoman Vicky Hartzler gives her equivalent of the "it's Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve" one-liner, as she addresses the Supreme Court's decision striking down a portion of the Defense of Marriage Act and allowing gay marriage:

The Supreme Court released their decisions on the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and California’s Proposition 8. I led several colleagues in a press conference responding to the Court’s decision.
I believe that the Court got these decisions wrong. The Court’s activist ruling on DOMA ignored the vote of a bipartisan majority of Congress. This sets an alarming precedent, disempowering Congress from making national policy with respect to marriage. I will continue to work to defend the rights of Americans to make marriage policy. We should work to promote the truth of marriage between a man and a woman, ensuring that our children have both a mom and a dad.
Additionally, the Court ignored the voices of millions of Californians who went to the ballot box to protect marriage with Proposition 8. Not only did the Governor and Attorney General abandon the people of California by refusing to defend them in court, the Supreme Court, by denying supporters of Proposition 8 standing to defend their own initiative, trampled on the people’s rights and left them voiceless. This ruling is a loss for democratic self-government and the rights of the people to stand for marriage as the union between one man and one woman.
While California has silenced their citizens, the Supreme Court has not created a Constitutional right to same-sex marriage. Missouri’s policy of one-man and one-woman marriage stands. It did set in motion, however, a bureaucratic nightmare as the federal government will have to interpret 50 state marriage laws in order to confer benefits.
We must not forget that 38 states, including Missouri, have spoken out and defined marriage as being between one man and one woman. Thankfully, the Court did not overrule those voters. I believe that the government should work for the people of this country, and five unelected judges should not override the will of the people. We will continue to work to protect marriage laws defining marriage as a union between a man and a woman across the country. It is best for our country, our society, and our children.

Billy Long on immigration: We can't repeat the mistakes of 1986

In his latest newsletter, Seventh District Congressman Billy Long writes about proposed immigration legislation.

Our nation’s current immigration system is broken.  The laws that we currently have are not enforced and many of those laws are increasingly unable to effectively regulate immigration.
The number of foreign-born residents in the United States is at the highest level in U.S. history.  In the past 50 years, the number of foreign-born residents of the United States has gone from just under 10 million in 1960 to 40 million in 2010.
We must solve the illegal immigration problem by first securing our borders.  When our borders are left open, it allows criminals, drug traffickers and potentially even terrorists to enter the country.  I support doing what is needed to secure the borders until we have firm control over who enters our nation.  Specifically, I support requiring the Secretary of Homeland Security to certify to Congress that the United States has operational control over its southern border.  This has to be the first step in the process of fixing our immigration system.  We must authorize and deploy more border security personnel and technology and have border-states work closely together to ensure we are maximizing all of our efforts.
I am absolutely against amnesty.  We cannot reward bad behavior by granting citizenship to those who broke the law and came here illegally.  In 1986 our immigration laws were amended by giving millions of illegal immigrants amnesty in exchange for more secure borders.  Unfortunately the amnesty came but our borders were not secured; we cannot make this same mistake again.
We must also designate any members of criminal gangs as inadmissible to the United States and deny any chance at citizenship.  Additionally, any immigrant with a serious criminal background should be denied entry and any chance at citizenship.  Becoming a citizen of the United States of American is a privilege, not a right, and should be taken seriously by those who seek it and those who grant it.
We must also require those who came here illegally to go to the “back of the line” behind those who are going through the legal immigration process.  Those who have committed fraud, such as using a false social security number, or who have done anything to “get around” the legal system should be denied citizenship.
I believe in legal, regulated, and appropriate levels of immigration.  America is a nation of immigrants.  Our forefathers immigrated to this land in search of freedom from tyranny and oppression, and immigration has remained a prominent feature of American society throughout the history of our nation.  America is an attractive nation for immigrants to come build families, conduct scientific research, create businesses, and prosper as members of our vibrant communities. 
We cannot repeat the mistakes of 1986. 

Fireworks guidelines provided for City of Joplin

(From the City of Joplin)

As Independence Day approaches this year, the Joplin Fire Department encourages citizens to keep safety in mind as they handle fireworks to avoid any problems. The public should also know and adhere to all regulations involving the sale and discharge of fireworks in the City of Joplin to provide a safer environment for their families, neighbors and the community as a whole. Also citizens are encouraged to be a good neighbor and remove any trash or debris from the fireworks they discharge.
Fireworks may be sold within the City of Joplin on July 1,2,3,4 only; and may be discharged only on July 1, 2, 3, and 4 from the hours of 12 Noon to 11 pm. The City prohibits the sale, possession or discharge of bottle rockets within the City. Any bottle rockets found will be confiscated immediately, and any variances of these rules may result in appropriate fines and confiscation of all possessed fireworks.
It should also be noted that during the set-up and event of the Independence Day Celebration at Landreth Park, all private fireworks will be prohibited in Landreth Park, as ordered by the Joplin Fire Chief . The notice is being posted in the interest of safety and is in accordance with the City of Joplin Code (SEC. 58.65 Item C). The order will be in effect on July 3 and 4, 2013 for Landreth Park in Joplin.
The notice will be posted at all fireworks stands in the City of Joplin, as well as posted at the main entry points of Landreth Park. The Police Department has set a protocol in handling violations of this order, starting with a verbal warning to the possibility of arrest if repeated violations occur.
Other fireworks safety tips include:
1. Think first and foremost of SAFETY when discharging fireworks.
2. Follow all of the Manufacturer’s instructions.
3. It is recommended that children do not use any firework. However, if they do, always have adult supervision.
4. Only discharge fireworks in an area clear of any obstructions, and that has short grass or a noncombustible surface.
5. Clear the area of any trash, wood piles, yard debris, etc.
6. Make sure that everyone is a safe distance from the discharge area.
7. Have a method of extinguishing devices immediately, i.e. a garden hose, bucket of water, fire extinguisher.
8. DO NOT HANDLE DUDS. They may go off several minutes later.
9. Always use punks to light the firework. Using lighters or matches may cause the firework to ignite prematurely.
10. Do not hold a firework in your hand and light it.
11. Do not discharge fireworks toward or near people, houses or other structures, flammable or combustible items.
For more information about fireworks safety, contact Dale Brooks, Fire Safety Officer, at 417-624-0820 ext. 1307.

Joplin police chief, fire chief to appear on Newsmakers

(From the City of Joplin)

An upcoming Newsmakers interview program on KGCS-TV focuses on public safety in Joplin. It features Joplin Police Chief Lane Roberts and Joplin Fire Chief Mitch Randles. They provide an update on their agencies and discuss future plans, including the development of a public safety training facility.
The program begins airing the week of July 1 on KGCS and will repeat throughout the month. Initial airdates include:
Monday, July 1 – 9:30 p.m.
Wednesday, July 3 – 5:30 p.m.
Sunday, July 7 – 9:30 p.m.
Tuesday, July 9 – 9:30 p.m.
The program will also air at 5:30 a.m. Saturday, July 27 on KOAM-TV.
Newsmakers is produced by KGCS-TV at Missouri Southern State University. Programming may be seen over the air on digital channel 22 and on regional cable television systems including Cable One, Mediacom and Suddenlink.

Carthage Press, Neosho Daily to add new online commenting system

GateHouse Media, the company that owns the Carthage Press, Neosho Daiy News, Pittsburg Morning Sun, and more than 400 newspapers nationwide, is going to a new online commenting system designed to make conversation more civil:

GateHouse has implemented Viafoura's audience engagement functionality and social monetization platform on its portfolio of more than 400 community websites, which combined, reach more than 10 million readers and across the Web and mobile platforms.The move will require users to comment using their Facebook and LinkedIn log-ins.“Readers want a more civil, accountable conversation online and using Vifoura's tools allows us that opportunity, while providing a very social commenting experience for our users,” said David Arkin, Vice President of Content & Audience for GateHouse Media.“We are always in search of ways to deliver the best possible user experience to our audiences,” Arkin said. “Viafoura was the natural choice to help us deliver on our mission to provide a superlative user experience while providing new monetization opportunities for our brands.”

Apparently, GateHouse Media will try everything to improve except actually spending money on its news product.

Blunt: This is why I oppose immigration bill

McCaskill praises Senate passage of bill renaming bridge for Stan Musial

Lane closings planned on 171

(From MODOT)

Route 171 Resurfacing:
Lane Closings at Night Beginning Week of July 1
Jasper County -- A project to resurface Route 171 from the Missouri/Kansas state line north of Asbury to Route 96 in Carthage and do other improvements along the roadway is scheduled to begin the week of July 1, the Missouri Department of Transportation said.
Crews will work at night and are set to begin the project at the Kansas state line and progress south and east toward Route 96 in Carthage.
During the first few weeks of the project, crews will install new guardrail in areas.
When the resurfacing portion of the project begins, drivers can expect one-lane traffic where crews are set up working. A pilot car will lead drivers through the work zone.
The work will take place at night between 7 p.m. to 6 a.m. Monday through Friday.
Project Details:
Install new guardrail in areas.
Resurface Route 171 between the Missouri/Kansas state line and Route 96 in Carthage.
Widen intersection of Route 171 and Route 96 near Carl Junction to add turn lanes. The intersection will be closed over a weekend later in the project to complete this work.
Rehabilitate the railroad bridge in Webb City.
The contractor on project is Blevins Asphalt Construction Company of Mt. Vernon, doing the project for a low bid amount of $5.2 million.
The project is scheduled for completion by mid-September.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Huff: All Joplin Schools will have storm shelters

In this video from KFOR in Oklahoma City, Superintendent C. J. Huff talks about building safe rooms for all schools in the Joplin R-8 School District.

Severe thunderstorm warning issued for Jasper County

(From the National Weather Service)












Teen bloggers: Huff's for hire, $8,000 a pop

Two of my favorite former East Middle School students, Joplin High School senior Laela Zaidi and junior Rylee Hartwell, have launched a new blog, Joplin Schools Watch with a solid piece of investigative reporting on the amount of money R-8 Superintendent C. J. Huff makes when he delivers his speeches across the nation. The title, Huff's for Hire.

Leave them a comment if you like what they are doing and let them know you appreciate their work.

Joplin Globe explains to its readers what LGBT means

Nothing is more amusing than when our area's newspaper of record, the Joplin Globe, has to localize a national story about a subject that, for the most part, it has totally ignored over the years.

Such a case happened when the U. S. Supreme Court struck down a portion of the Defense of Marriage Act Wednesday and the Globe had to localize it. Given the task of following the newspaper's usual approach and finding some people on both sides of the issue was veteran reporter Roger McKinney.

The gay marriage package was at the top of page one of the print edition, with the Associated Press article on the left and McKinney's on the right, with an AP photo completing the package.

The Globe story was the only one that devoted an entire paragraph to explaining what LGBT was to those who might have thought it was Large Gray Buckskin Trousers or Lunchmeat, Gravy, Bacon and Tomatoes.

I would be curious to know if McKinney put that explanation in on his own or if an editor thought it needed to be done. If an explanation was required, it probably would have been better to have put it in parentheses right after the acronym rather than devoting an entire paragraph to it and revealing just how uncomfortable the Joplin Globe was with this story.

It is a good thing that the Globe decided to localize this story since it is the only bylined story in the A section that is about Joplin.

Didn't anyone tell the Globe that news is happening in this city every day. You don't even have to take the national story of the day and localize it to find something important going on in Joplin.

Should I mention those 100 teachers who are leaving the Joplin School District.

I suppose I shouild since the Globe still hasn't.

A reading from No Child Left Alive; parental warning not required

Teachers and former teachers will probably appreciate this reading from my novel, No Child Left Alive. Unfortunately, teachers in the Joplin School District will probably recognize themselves having to go through the mindless "team building" activities in which adults are treated like children.

Parents, don't worry! This is not one of the chapters that C. J. Huff thought was obscene.

The book is available at the link on the upper right hand side of this page.

No Child Left Alive arrives in Joplin

A few moments ago, the UPS truck brought the first 100 copies of the book that got me fired, No Child Left Alive, to Joplin. Previously, the book had only been available on Kindle.

Following my usual tradition, the book will be on the shelves at Changing Hands Book Shoppe later tonight and then it will be at Always Buying Books sometime tomorrow (Friday).

The first signing for the book is scheduled for 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday, July 20, at Always Buying Books.

No Child Left Alive is also available online at Amazon and Barnes and Noble and its own website on Create Space. It is still available as an e-book from Amazon Kindle.

Former Sarcoxie Board member may use insanity defense in child porn case

Documents filed today in U. S. District Court for the Western District of Missouri indicate former Sarcoxie Board of Education member John R. Lewis may employ a mental disease or defect defense when his case comes to trial later this year.

Lewis faces a charge of sexual exploitation of minors.

His lawyer, Dee Wampler, Springfield, asked for a psychiatric exam to take place between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. July 2, and continuing the same hours the following day, if necessary.

"The purpose of this examination is to determine whether Lewis was, at the time of his the commission of the alleged acts constituting the offense, able to appreciate the nature and quality of the wrongfulness of his acts as a result of a mental disease or defect."'

The man conducting the examination has a long history of testifying for people charged with sex crimes.

Dr. Plaud has a long record of recommending freedom or light sentences for sex offenders, including violent ones. In the hundreds of cases in which Dr. Plaud has testified he has never once said that a sex offender cannot be rehabilitated.

Published accounts indicate Dr. Plaud charges $200 per hour for "testing" the sex offenders he is paid to represent and over a five-year period the Boston-based psychologist has billed Massachusetts taxpayers for nearly half a million dollars serving as the go-to shrink for public defenders representing defendants in sex cases.

Plaud does not limit his expertise to Massachusetts, having testified across the country as a hired gun for defense lawyers.

And sometimes, as in the case of Kanakuk Kamp director Pete Newman, who Plaud offered favorable testimony at his sentencing hearing on charges of molesting underage boys, Dr. Plaud's testimony seems to fly in the face of what is considered established fact in psychology.

Dr. Plaud testified that Newman could be salvaged, adding that Newman was not a pedophile, but was a "victim of repressed homosexual urges."

Dr. Plaud said if Newman's homosexual urges could be controlled, he would never offend again.

In 2009, Plaud told the Boston Herald, "I have never testified that someone is sexually dangerous. The best statistics show that most sex offenders don't reoffend."

He never said where those statistics came from, but the statistics must not have included David Partridge, one of those who was released based on Dr. Plaud's testimony.  Partridge went on to rape and threatened to kill a Fitchburg, Mass. woman. Dr. Plaud vouched for Partridge despite a record that included two violent rapes, one of a 13-year-old girl.

Another defendant who received the benefit of Dr. Plaud's testimony was Antonio Maderos. The judge disagreed with the doctor's assessment that Maderos would not reoffend even though Maderos' rap sheet included the 1989 rape of a 14-year-old girl, and then three sexual assaults after he was placed on probation.

And that wasn't all. Dr. Plaud still recommended Maderos for release even though after Maderos was once again placed on probation, he was charged with raping his 14-year-old son.

No matter what you think about Dr. Plaud's consistent efforts to free sex offenders, the one thing you must never do is to accurately describe him in court.

In a 2008 Schnectady, N. Y.  case, Dr. Plaud testified against the civil commitment of career sex offender Christopher Houghton, who had sexually abused eight children by the time he turned 13.  After being institutionalized until he was almost 20, Houghton was released and almost immediately sexually assaulted two teenage girls.

Dr. Plaud had an explanation for Houghton's criminal activities, according to an article in an October 2008 edition of the Schnectady Gazette. Substance abuse and other factors, the doctor said, had caused Houghton to have "a lapse of judgment."

His testimony was not persuasive and Houghton was committed, but that judgment was overturned in 2009 because the attorney for the state prejudiced the jury by referring to Dr.  Plaud as "a hired gun."


The case against Lewis is spelled out in an affidavit from Southwest Missouri Cyber Crimes Task Force member Charles Root. The affidavit is printed below:

1. I am a Task Force Officer (TFO) with the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), assigned to the office of the Joplin Field Office of the FBI, Joplin, Missouri. As part of the Affiant’s daily duties as an FBI TFO, the Affiant investigates criminal violations of federal law relating to child exploitation including violations pertaining to the illegal production, receipt, and possession of child pornography (18 USC 2252(a)(2) and 2252(a)(4)(B)) and other federal statutes involving child exploitation. The Affiant has received training in the area of child exploitation and child pornography investigations, enticement, inducement of minors and has had the opportunity to observe and review numerous examples of child pornography in all forms of media, including computer media. The Affiant has been employed with the Joplin Police Department since 2004 and has been a sworn law enforcement officer since 1994. The Affiant is assigned to the Southwest Missouri Cyber Crimes Task Force. 

2. The statements contained in this affidavit are based on information the Affiant learned through personal knowledge, investigative reports from other Investigators familiar with this investigation, and conversations with Investigators familiar with this investigation and who are formally trained and experienced in conducting investigations involving child exploitation.

3. On October 4th, 2012, Missouri State Highway Patrol (MSHP) Trooper D/DCC Sgt. Jamie Musche initiated an investigation at the request of the Jasper County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office regarding a Sarcoxie School Board member, identified as John R. Lewis, exposing himself to a Sarcoxie High School Student while they worked at his residence located at 4360 Dandelion, Sarcoxie, Jasper County, Missouri. The information regarding Lewis exposing himself was forwarded to the Jasper County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office after a school official overheard a conversation between Sarcoxie High School male students. The school official later talked to one of the students who confirmed he was present at Lewis’ residence when Lewis exposed his penis in close proximity to another students face. 

4. After taking the initial complaint on Lewis, Sgt. Musche interviewed two (2) of the male Sarcoxie High School students that were present at the time Lewis allegedly exposed his penis. Both males were 16 years old at the time Lewis exposed his penis. Both students disclosed to Sgt. Musche about an incident that occurred in the late spring of 2012 when they were working for Lewis at his farm outside of Sarcoxie, Missouri. Both students disclosed that after swimming in the creek with Lewis, he stood up in an all terrain vehicle, in which one of the students was seated next to him, when he pulled down his underwear exposing his penis just a few feet from the face of the student seated in the front seat of the all terrain vehicle. The students disclosed conversations Lewis had with them about masturbating and how he would touch them on the buttocks when they were working. 

5. On December 5th, 2012, MSHP Trooper Sgt. Brad Bearden, Troop D Criminal Unit, and Sgt. Musche contacted Lewis at his residence located at 4360 Dandelion, Sarcoxie, Missouri. Lewis allowed both Investigators to enter his residence to speak to him. They sat with Lewis at his kitchen table and explained to him the nature of their contact with him. Sgt. Musche advised Lewis he was not in custody and was not under arrest. During the interview, Lewis denied exposing his penis in close proximity to any Sarcoxie High School student that worked at his residence. At the conclusion of the interview Sgt. Musche asked Lewis for his consent to search his computers for any images of child pornography. Lewis stated he had images on his computer he did not want to be made public. Lewis stated he had 2 computers in his residence, a desktop and a laptop. When Lewis mentioned the desktop he pointed to a nearby office that was visible. 

Sgt. Musche also observed a laptop computer on the kitchen bar. Lewis stated he had downloaded images of naked children from a nudist website to his desktop computer. Lewis refused to give consent to Sgt. Bearden and Sgt. Musche to search the computers. 

6. Based on the above information, the Investigators secured the residence and Sgt. Bearden obtained a search warrant to search Lewis’s residence including the computers and all electronic storage devices. During a subsequent search Sgt. Musche located an additional desktop computer in a basement bedroom along with multiple electronic storage devices. He seized all computers and electronic storage devices located inside the residence. 

7. After seizing the items, Sgt. Musche submitted them to the Southwest Missouri Cyber Crimes Task Force (SMCCTF) for analysis. Detective Larry Roller of the SMCCTF examined the seized electronic evidence. Detective Roller reviewed 19 multimedia files that he labeled as child pornography due to the activity depicted. Detective Roller also located 113 still images of suspected child pornography. The multimedia files and still images primarily depicted male children, with the youngest child being approximately 5 years of age, engaged in the display of genitalia, masturbation, oral sex, and anal intercourse. 

8. During Sgt. Bearden and Sgt. Musche’s contact with John Lewis at his residence, he became adversarial and was found to have a very large weapons collection. 

Hartzler bill would allow retired or off-duty police to carry weapons at schools

(From Fourth District Congresswoman Vicky Hartzler)

Congresswoman Vicky Hartzler (MO-4) has introduced H.R. 2541, the Police Officers Protecting Children Act, which would allow certain off-duty and retired law enforcement officers to carry a concealed weapon on school campuses.
“This common-sense bill addresses a question on all of our minds: how do we keep our children safe?”, said Hartzler. “These dedicated men and women of law enforcement should not be barred from providing an extra layer of security for our schools just because they are off the clock or have retired from active service to their communities.”
“This legislation, if signed in to law, would turn control over to local school boards to decide how to implement the new policy, giving them the ability to tailor school security to their needs”, added Hartzler. “The federal government should not prohibit men and women with years of law enforcement training from keeping our children safe.”
The Police Officers Protecting Children Act has been referred to the House Judiciary committee for its consideration.

New review praises religious aspects of 5:41: Stories from the Joplin Tornado

The religious aspects of our book, 5:41: Stories from the Joplin Tornado, were praised in a review posted today for the book's Kindle edition:

Pits the savage, unfathomable ferocity of the storm against the indomitable people affected. The authors made the courageous choice to include the foundational role survivors' faith played in this largely Christian community. Particularly effective were the transcripts of Pastors' remarks at various memorial services. Why do I focus on this aspect? Because increasingly, positive accounts of religion - & in particular Christianity, are often completely ignored or 'revised' in humanist terms. To have done so with the Joplin story would have been especially poor journalism. Instead, the authors provide a truthful account - an accurate profile of most - but certainly not all - Joplinites. Finally, the book was informative & often intensely personal. The victims speak best for themselves through poignant testimonies & obituaries and with their uplifting & staggering outpouring of love. This is not your typical "disaster porn."

5:41: Stories from the Joplin Tornado is available in both Kindle and paperback versions from and is available in Joplin at Always Buying Books, Changing Hands Book Shop, and Vintage Stock on the Mall.

5:41 and the other two books in the Joplin Tornado trilogy, Spirit of Hope and Scars from the Tornado will also be available for purchase at the 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday, July 20, signing for No Child Left Alive.

Audio provided for my interview on Super Dave Show

During my second interview on Blog Talk Radio's Super Dave Show, i talked about a number of education issues, including Common Core Standards, teacher preparation, classroom discipline, homeschooling, and technology in the classroom. My part of the show is on the second half of the audio.

Listen to internet radio with superdaveshow on BlogTalkRadio

I will be on Super Dave radio program this morning

I will be back on the Super Dave program on Blog Talk Radio this morning between 8 and 9 a.m. to talk about education issues.

If you are not able to listen live, I will try to post an audio link later.

Heat advisory continues for Joplin area

(From the National Weather Service)


Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Fact-checking Arne Duncan's Common Core Standards speech

The idea that the push for Common Core Standards was well underway even before the Obama Administration began is questionable and so are a lot of other things Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said in a speech Monday to the American Society of News Editors.

In an article in Education Week, Michelle McNeil fact-checks Duncan:

He didn't mention Race to the Top Round 3, the bridesmaid round as we call it, when common standards adoption and implementation mattered even more. Implementing common standards and participating in a testing consortia were required in order for any of the nine finalist states to get their consolation prize. (UPDATE: I should point out that the department did this to make sure states didn't backtrack from the promises they made in the original rounds of competition.) 

Also going unmentioned was the $360 million in Race to the Top funds Duncan used to help states develop common tests linked to the common standards. His speech was almost entirely focused on the standards themselves. 

Duncan used the speech to take on his critics, basically accusing them of taking the easy way out as they sought to derail other education-improvement efforts. 

"Some of the hostility to Common Core also comes from critics who conflate standards with curriculum, assessments and accountability. They oppose mandated testing and they oppose using student achievement growth and gain as one of multiple measures to evaluate principals and teachers. They also oppose intervention in chronically low-performing schools. Some seem to feel that poverty is destiny," he said. 

"It's convenient for opponents to simply write it all off as federal overreach—but these are separate and distinct issues--and they should be publicly debated openly and honestly with a common understanding about the facts."

Arne Duncan should try sticking to those facts before he chastises others for dishonesty.

Transcript provided for Arne Duncan's Common Core Standards speech

Secretary of Education Arne Duncan made the case for Common Core Standards during a speech at the  American Society of News Editors annual convention in Washington, D. C. Monday.

The transcript of that speech is printed below:

Thank you, Clark. The work you are doing to help the next generation become more sophisticated in understanding the news is absolutely vital. To have full power over their lives, young people must understand the world they live in. They have to read, they have to follow the news, and they have to vote. All that is such an important part of what it means to be educated. So, thank you.
Traditionally, this event has been an opportunity for federal leaders to talk about touchy subjects. For example, you asked President Kennedy to talk about the Bay of Pigs. So, thanks for having me here to talk about the Common Core State Standards.
Academic standards used to be just a subject for after-school department meetings and late-night state board sessions. But now, they're a topic for dueling newspaper editorials. Why? That's because a new set of standards—rigorous, high-quality learning standards, developed and led by a group of governors and state education chiefs—are under attack as a federal takeover of the schools. And your role in sorting out truth from nonsense is really important.
So I'd like to explain how we arrived at this place. I'll talk about information and misinformation, and ask you to help Americans draw a bright line between the two.
I'd like to make the case that these standards have the capacity to change education in the best of ways—setting loose the creativity and innovation of educators at the local level, raising the bar for students, strengthening our economy and building a clearer path to the middle class. But for these new standards to succeed, Americans will need to be clear on what's true and what's false.
News Literacy and our Common Worry: Ensuring a Generation Critical Thinkers
You and I wake up every day to similar worries and similar hopes. We just attach different labels to them.
You wonder whether there's a market for serious news. You wonder whether a generation that grew up on text messages and Twitter will read about interest rates and Iran.
I worry about the one in four young Americans who don't graduate from high school—and the three out of four young people who are ineligible to serve in the military. I worry about the 90 million American adults with below-basic or basic reading skills.
If you don't worry about these things yet—you will. Because they put your future at risk—and ours.
For America to prosper—and for journalism to survive—we need a generation that reads, writes and thinks.
Where the Common Core Came From: A Crisis of Low Standards
You may have heard President Obama say that America used to be number one in the world in college completion just one generation ago. Sadly, today, we have dropped to number 12 among young adults. That's reality and that's unacceptable.
We're not going to pave a path to the middle class with the cheapest labor. We're not going to reverse the polarization of wealth in this country through unskilled jobs. The only way that we can promise all of our young people a genuine opportunity is through a world-class education.
What our young people need, and deserve, is an education that leaves them not just college-ready but innovation-ready. As Tom Friedman has written, they need an education that prepares them for the reality of today's flat world—a world where you invent your own job, change careers, and constantly acquire new skills. The real world demands readers, writers, and critical thinkers—people who can work with others and communicate skillfully. It's the same thing you demand.
The problem is a lot of children, in a lot of places in America, have not been getting a world-class education. But rather than recognize that, for far too long, our school systems lied to kids, to families, and to communities. They said the kids were all right—that they were on track to being successful—when in reality they were not even close.
What made those soothing lies possible were low standards for learning. Low standards are the equivalent of setting up for a track-and-field event with hurdles only one foot tall. That's what happened in education in a lot of places, and everyone came out looking good—educators, administrators and especially politicians.
The truth—the brutal truth—was that we had thousands of schools where as few as 10 percent of students were reading or doing math at grade level, and where less than half were graduating.
The truth was that in a school with 100 low-income kindergartners, only 29 could expect to enroll in college, and nine—only nine—could expect to graduate.
For those few who made it to college, remediation rates were high. Our competitiveness was in danger.
The Power of the Common Core
Fortunately, in 2007, a group of governors and state education chiefs decided they were unwilling to perpetuate this cycle of deception, dysfunction, and low expectations. They set out to develop a new set of learning standards aligned to the demands of the real world—to the kind of deep learning that your children and my children will need to thrive in a globally competitive economy.
What happened was far beyond anyone's expectations: 45 states and D.C. voluntarily adopted these new standards. Nobody foresaw that development in 2009. It's a testament to the courage of these state leaders and the power of a good idea whose time had come.
It was powerful for two reasons: because these standards were rigorous enough to prepare students for the real world, and because they would be shared among a number of states. Here's what that means:
Today, I believe, literally for the first time in American history, a child in Mississippi will face the same expectations as a child in Massachusetts.
Today a fourth grade teacher in New Mexico can develop a lesson plan at night and, the very next day, a fourth grade teacher in New York can use it and share it with others if she wants to.
Today, the child of a Marine officer, who is transferred from Camp Pendleton in California to Camp Lejeune in North Carolina, will be able to make that academic transition without a hitch, instead of having to start over in a widely different place academically.
When these standards are fully implemented, a student who graduates from a high school in any one of these states—who is performing at standard—will be ready to attend and succeed in his or her state university without remedial education. Historically, in far too many communities, more than half of those who actually graduated from high school needed remedial help in college.
We are no longer lying to kids about whether they are ready. Finally, we are telling them the truth, telling their parents the truth, and telling their future employers the truth. Finally, we are holding ourselves accountable to giving our children a true college and career-ready education.
The New York Times has called the Common Core "a once-in-a-generation opportunity" to bring our public schools up to levels of our high-performing international competitors.
I believe the Common Core State Standards may prove to be the single greatest thing to happen to public education in America since Brown versus Board of Education—and the federal government had nothing to do with creating them.
The federal government didn't write them, didn't approve them, and doesn't mandate them. And we never will. Anyone who says otherwise is either misinformed or willfully misleading.
Let me say that one more time—the federal government didn't write them, didn't approve them, and doesn't mandate them. Anyone who says otherwise is either misinformed or willfully misleading.
Now, I will tell you what we did do, and then you can do your job by confirming it and by questioning anyone who says otherwise—because all kinds of people are saying all kinds of things that are simply not true.
The Common Core: Not a Federal Project
When the Obama administration came into office in 2009, the Common Core standards were in development, and gaining momentum. We set out to support states and districts in changing the conditions that were limiting educational opportunity, and raising standards was a vital part of that.
With governors and state leaders making major progress on standards, we gave them all the support we could, within the bounds of what's appropriate for the limited federal role in education.
Our big competitive reform fund, Race to the Top, awarded points—40 points out of 500—to states that were collaborating to create common college- and career-ready standards.
It was voluntary—we didn't mandate it—but we absolutely encouraged this state-led work because it is good for kids and good for the country.
And at the time, no one knew how many groups of states would come together to create their own set of common standards. It turned out to be one big group of 46—but it could have been several, or even many, groups of states uniting around different sets of standards. So this notion of our pushing for one set of standards was never correct. In fact, we were totally agnostic on the number of state consortia. We just didn't want 50 states to continue to work in complete isolation from each other.
Moreover, there's a huge difference between creating an incentive—which was absolutely the right thing to do—and mandating particular standards—which is never the right thing to do, and we never will do. The states choose their standards; they have been free, and always will be free, to opt for different ones.
Did the points, and the dollars, matter to the states? Absolutely. But it's not the only reason or even the most important reason why states adopted the Common Core. To be clear, total Race to the Top dollars were less than one percent of what we spent on K-12 education every single year.
States signed on to the Common Core because it was the right thing to do. They knew that their children were being cheated and they refused to continue to be a part of it—and for that they deserve our deepest praise and gratitude. In fact, dozens of states that didn't get a nickel of Race to the Top money are committed to those higher standards—and American education will be better because of it.
These standards are under attack now.
Why Strong Standards Change Everything
Where Standards Used to Be
It's important to remember where this all started. Before 2009, No Child Left Behind created pressure for schools and districts to meet standards and hit cut scores—and in response, 19 states actually dummied down their standards to make more of their students appear more proficient.
Here's how low the bar was. You've heard about the NAEP test—the one we refer to as the nation's report card. Fourth-grade reading standards in 35 states—75 percent of the country—were set below what NAEP considers the bare minimum or "basic."
In 2007, Tennessee was one of only two states to receive an "F" for its academic standards, from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Ninety percent of students there scored "proficient" on state reading and math tests, yet only 26 percent were proficient according to the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP)—90 percent versus 26 percent. Same students, different tests, and wildly different results—all because Tennessee had pathetically low standards.
Like we saw in too many states, the proficiency cut scores on Tennessee's assessments were intellectually dishonest. They actually corresponded to a student GPA of a D-minus, and concealed huge achievement gaps, especially for disadvantaged students.
Then, two Tennessee governors—one Democrat and one Republican—Phil Bredesen and Bill Haslam—decided to challenge the status quo and change everything. They started telling the truth about student learning by raising standards. Measured against these higher standards, test scores looked much lower and achievement gaps looked much wider. Proficiency rates dropped by more than half. Achievement gaps that were already large, more than doubled.
Yet Tennessee showed real courage and stuck by the higher standards—and, last year, Tennessee's students made the biggest single-year jump in achievement ever recorded in the state. High standards and high expectations are the first step toward higher performance.
What These Standards Do
In that effort, the Common Core standards mark a sea-change in education. Not only do they set the bar high, they give teachers the space and opportunity to go deep, emphasizing problem-solving, analysis, and critical thinking, as well as creativity and teamwork. They give teachers room to innovate.
And, all across the country, teachers have responded. Three out of four say the Common Core standards will help them teach better.
A few weeks ago, I had a group of local teachers to dinner, and I asked them about the Common Core:
  • One fourth-grade teacher from Maryland said: "I think most teachers love and embrace the idea ... that we're not just teaching them to spit back formulas to us ..."
  • A middle-school teacher said: "It's giving us a lot more time to get kids into really engaged discussions and deeper thought. ... These standards open up all kinds of new directions."
One teacher—a county teacher of the year—even brought in a quote from one of her fifth-graders. Here's what the student said:
"Sometimes in the past, we knew what the steps were to solve a problem but we could not process it in a way to make sense of the big mathematical idea. Now we start with the big idea and we discover the math within it."
That's what an 11-year-old fifth-grader said!
The Controversy over the Core
The Common Core is Under Attack through Misinformation
Unfortunately, not everyone shares that 11-year-old's enthusiasm. The Common Core has become a rallying cry for fringe groups that claim it is a scheme for the federal government to usurp state and local control of what students learn. An op-ed in the New York Times called the Common Core "a radical curriculum." It is neither radical nor a curriculum.
We need to be very clear about definitions here.
  • Standards—learning standards, academic standards—are the goals, typically set by states, for what students should know by a certain age.
  • Curriculum—on the other hand—is what teachers teach to help students meet those standards. Curriculum is generally chosen at the district or even the school level—and in many cases individual teachers actually decide on the curriculum and classroom content.
When the critics can't persuade you that the Common Core is a curriculum, they make even more outlandish claims. They say that the Common Core calls for federal collection of student data. For the record, we are not allowed to, and we won't. And let's not even get into the really wacky stuff: mind control, robots, and biometric brain mapping. This work is interesting, but frankly, not that interesting.
The Washington Post laid out the facts in an editorial I will quote:
"Lost in the hysteria being whipped up about Common Core standards is that the movement to infuse new rigor in schools started at the state level... This sensible and badly needed reform should not be derailed by misguided and misinformed opposition."
Now, I don't think the Common Core is going to get derailed. But this misguided, misinformed opposition is making life more difficult in several states, where various forms of anti-Common Core legislation have been introduced. A lot of that legislation is based on false information.
Some of the hostility to Common Core also comes from critics who conflate standards with curriculum, assessments and accountability. They oppose mandated testing and they oppose using student achievement growth and gain as one of multiple measures to evaluate principals and teachers. They also oppose intervention in chronically low-performing schools. Some seem to feel that poverty is destiny.
It's convenient for opponents to simply write it all off as federal over-reach—but these are separate and distinct issues—and they should be publicly debated openly and honestly with a common understanding about the facts.
That's where you come in.
The Role of Journalists: Telling Truth from Fiction
As you know, good journalism is more than just claim and counter-claim. It's investigating what's true and false, what's a responsible statement and what's not. Many of you have done fine work on that front.
You understand the truth about the role of the federal government with respect to common core standards: We didn't write them, we don't mandate them and we don't regulate them.
That's why leaders on the left and the right—Randi Weingarten and Mitch Daniels; Dennis van Roekel; and Jeb Bush—and so many others—support the Common Core standards, even if they disagree on many other issues.
You also understand that the federal government has nothing to do with curriculum. In fact, we're prohibited by law from creating or mandating curricula.
So do the reporting. Ask the Common Core critics: Please identify a single lesson plan that the federal government created, or requires of any school, teacher, or district.
Ask if they can identify any textbook that the federal government created, endorsed, or required for any school, teacher, or district in their state.
Ask them to identify any element, phrase, or a single word of the Common Core standards that was developed or required by the federal government.
If they tell you that any of these things are happening—challenge them to name names. Challenge them to produce evidence—because they won't find it. It simply doesn't exist.
Responsible Conservative Voices
Many thoughtful, strong conservatives are already speaking the truth and showing real courage. Governor Mike Huckabee recently wrote: "I've heard the argument these standards 'threaten local control' of what's being taught in Oklahoma classrooms. Speaking from one conservative to another, let me assure you this simply is not true... They're not something to be afraid of; indeed they are something to embrace."
Columnist Michael Gerson—President Bush's former speechwriter—wrote recently that if the Common Core "is a conspiracy against limited government, it has somehow managed to recruit governors Mitch Daniels and Jeb Bush, current governors Bobby Jindal and Chris Christie, and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce." Gerson concluded, "A plot this vast is either diabolical or imaginary."
Imaginary is the right word.
In this change, the state chiefs are in the driver's seat. I have talked with virtually every governor in America—and visited almost every state. I've spent time with every state chief—because I know that when it comes to improving public education—the buck does not stop here in Washington. It stops in Albany, in Lansing, in Tallahassee and in Sacramento. In public education, the buck stops with the states.
That's why you have seen this administration devote so much energy to helping our states succeed—at the same time that we continue to try to work with a dysfunctional Congress. I have great, great respect for the men and women serving in Congress today, but the institution is fundamentally broken.
Congress has let six years go by without fixing No Child Left Behind—and the unintended consequences have been devastating for children and for public education.
Fortunately, through the waiver process, we found a way to minimize the damage, while supporting bold and courageous work in states all across America.
We've set a high bar for states on issues like closing achievement gaps, evaluating principals and teachers, and turning around low-performing schools—but we've given them lots of flexibility in how they get there.
Tight on goals, but loose on means—that's our theory of change. It's the exact opposite of how No Child Left Behind was structured.
But I look forward to a day when we don't have to rely on our waivers to support states in their efforts to improve education. I'm pleased to see that Congress has finally begun the reauthorization process—though I worry that the current effort is plagued by the traditional partisan politics that stymies both innovation and creative solutions.
I would urge and beg members of Congress who care about this issue to spend more time talking with governors and state chiefs on both sides of the aisle about the kind of support they want from Washington—and then work together to develop a bipartisan bill to fix NCLB. That's how we will get to the reality of better educational opportunities at every stage of the education journey—from cradle to career.
We're seeing terrific ideas originating from the states as we work with them on flexibility. To name just a couple of examples:
  • Kentucky is making moves to focus accountability for high schools on a basket of indicators of college and career readiness, ranging from the ACT to preparedness for military service to industry certificates. No longer are they forced to focus on a single test score.
  • Similarly, Nevada is looking to multiple measures in a rating system that includes not just achievement and graduation rates, but measures like college remediation rates, advanced diploma rates, and participation and performance in college entrance exams.
Let's not pretend that we have all the answers here in Washington when the blueprint for improving schools is already being implemented all across America by hard-working, committed educators and leaders from across the political spectrum.
That's why I am still hopeful. Because as I travel outside of Washington, I see every day what happens when educators get to do their best work—when they are free to create and innovate.
There's still so much more work to do. Raising standards is only one part of the job. We need to support great teaching. We need to make college affordable. And we need to make high-quality preschool available to every child.
And as this works moves forward, we need guardians of the truth to separate fact from fiction.
Whatever your views about public education, it is indefensible to lower learning standards. It hurts everyone, and children from disadvantaged communities most of all. There is simply too much at stake—for the country—for our future—and for your industry.
If your state lowers standards, you lose a high bar for reading, for critical thinking, for writing, and for taking ideas seriously. You lose one of the cornerstones of democracy. Because the power of democracy depends upon an informed electorate—and a free press.
America's children will live in a very different world from their parents. Our obligation is to prepare them for it. We all share that responsibility.
Thank you.