Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Not Just Whistlin' Dixie

Recent City actions give the critical thinker cause to ponder where we're really headed. Dunwoody always had an intense reverence for the Farmhouse in spite of the fact that most of us aren't even sons of sons of farmers, and even more aren't better than first generation Dunwoodian. After all, how could we be since Dunwoody was mostly farms 50 years ago. But by golly, we'll have images of that farmhouse on the city logo and atop ever street sign in town. And that's OK, if that's all it were.

But that's not all.

Juxtaposed in time and space we have the Dunwoody Village Overlay District and associated ordinances mandating a strict adherence to a Williamsburg aesthetic. Dear reader, it doesn't matter what they want to call it, it is still Williamsburg, and to be fair, there is a Williamsburg, Georgia, but it is below the gnat line and not the Williamsburg afflicting Dunwoody. It is also interesting to observe that the beloved Dunwoody Farmhouse could never be built under these draconian restrictions. As popular as it is, if it weren't already there, it never would be.

What does this tell us?

Certainly that the powers that are have an almost perverse, conflicted affection for yester-year and yester-place. Not too surprising since many Atlantans who moved to Dunwoody in the early years were white flighters, joined later by folks from parts of the country where Williamsburg might well have been indigenous. And it seems they fit right in with that white flight mentality. So we shouldn't be surprised if Official Dunwoody seeks to spread homogeneity beyond the village and beyond architecture. In fact we shouldn't be surprised if Dixie is recognized as the de facto city anthem.

But there is a silver lining---a new game in town. When you're stuck in traffic around Mount Vernon and Chamblee-Dunwoody, don't curse the cars from Fulton, Gwinnett and Cobb clogging our streets. Put away that anger. Just look to the beloved farmhouse and find all the "Williamsburg Violations" you can. You will be surprised not only at how this helps pass the time, and how every time you play the game you find even more, but it won't be long before you're humming the tune to "Dixie". And if you have the courage, and your windows up, belt it out. Loud and clear!
"...in the land of cotton,
ole times there are not forgotten..."

Friday, March 20, 2009

What Homeschools Teach

If you believe that a school or teacher can and should be assessed by the educational outcome of the students, then we have a lot to learn from homeschools. There is a long, well documented track record of superior performance, but contrary to popular opinion (propaganda?) homeschool students are socially well adjusted, happier, and more likely to vote and engage in civic activities than regular kids. A further surprise to most is the reason why parents are choosing to homeschool. Less than 40% cite religious reasons, while almost 50% cite a superior education, and one in four cite a poor learning environment in schools.

So now we know a few things that really don't matter, that really don't work:
  • Hyphenated half-and-half made up degrees: english-education, math-education, etc.
  • Teaching in or out of your (made-up) field of study.
  • Self-aggrandising certifications and awards.
  • Pay.
  • Expensive books and the marketing behind them.
  • Constant curriculum churn.
  • Capricious assessments and the companies making a fortune selling them.
  • Expensive buildings.
  • Expensive bureaucracy.
  • Feel-good, make-it-fun paradigms.
  • Osmosis.
We also know what does work, what trumps all else: hard work and commitment. On the part of the parent/teacher and the student. Nothing, absolutely nothing else matters as much as these characteristics and these individuals.

And this is significant to Dunwoody because much of our demographic has the resources to make this commitment and simply choose not to. This would require sacrifice, personal sacrifice, perhaps even significant sacrifice. But if you don't view parenthood as a life-altering event, why should we pick up the tab? There are all too many folks who could be homeschooling, who could be providing their children the best all-around education available, but instead place their desires, their pleasures, their toys above their children's welfare.

The challenge from The Other Dunwoody is simply this: while waiting for your buddy to tee off on the ninth or while daydreaming through your mani/pedicure, ask yourself why you're not doing the best you can by your children.


Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Learning from Pollution

They have a saying in wastewater treatment: the solution to pollution is dilution. Apparently if you flush effluent downstream with enough clean water it is not only less noxious but also less noticeable. Of course this works only when you have enough clean water.

It seems like public schools may operate on the same principle.

Suppose a system holds back one thousand students due to academic failure. Now that sounds like a lot. But what if you reported that only one percent of the students failed to advance while an overwhelming majority, ninety-nine percent, advanced and many excelled. You failed the same number of students, but now it isn't as noticeable.

Unfortunately, people are noticing. They not only see the "expected" failures (IE: someone else's child) they are beginning to understand that their children cannot compete with students educated elsewhere. Many are beginning to conclude that their children receive the "finest education available" solely because it is the only education available to them. Consequently many believe vouchers are the best way to fix this problem.

But not all agree. Dave Belton, a Republican Board of Education member in Morgan County, has written a point-counterpoint guest editorial against vouchers for the AJC. To be fair, the question put to the writers was "Will Public Schools Suffer Under Vouchers?" and the direct answer is obvious: anything which reduces the size of a mature bureaucracy is harmful to the bureaucrats and consequently to the bureaucracy. Our Public Schools are a very mature bureaucracy.

When you read Mr. Belton's op-ed piece, you can easily get lost in the usual educrat talking points: SATs are somehow flawed while self-assessments are not; social obligation to educate every child contradicting the depiction of parents as the ultimate shareholder; etc. In short, the Kool-Aid is talking. But then there is the territory all public school apologists approach but none fully explore:
"I have nothing against private schools. But please don’t pretend that poor kids are going to be able to use these small vouchers to get into the private school of their choice. Private schools only accept kids they want, and these vouchers won’t be nearly large enough to pay for good private schools. No, what will happen is that rich kids will use these vouchers to flee public schools in droves, leaving poor kids to wither on the vine —- unfunded and uncared for."
It appears Mr. Belton proposes to hide the pollution of the impoverished by diluting it with what he implies is the manifest superiority of the wealthy. He is saying what few in, or taking, his position will say: that poor kids, by and large, are doomed to failure in our Public Schools. Or perhaps he is suggesting that their success depends on the presence of the children of means more so than it does the teachers, administrators or board members. In fact, without these other, richer children, he claims the poor will be unfunded and uncared for.

Now the unfunded part is just nonsense. School funding is per full time equivalent student, which in DeKalb means "any student in home room on March 5th." Turns out they don't ask for a Parent Financial Aid Form, they just count heads.

The uncared for part is absolutely amazing. It says that the poor are neglected not only by their own parents but they are also uncared for by those underpaid, self-sacrificing professionals who toil tirelessly in our Public Schools. That teachers and administrators cannot choke down the Ripple without cleansing their palette with Perrier. He is also clearly stating that Public Schools fail the poor and the system needs the rich to dilute this failure. He has correctly concluded that subjecting Public Schools to objective measures of success and failure would reveal that Public Schools fail those who need them most and hide behind those who will succeed regardless.

While this particular component of his anti-voucher argument is repulsive, it remains difficult to support vouchers. After all, it really isn't the parent's money and if there is a societal obligation to educate there should be an equal, if not greater, parent-student obligation to learning--and this simply isn't there.

However, it is equally difficult to support Public Schools--if we didn't have them, would we create them and would they look anything like what we have now?

But Mr. Belton is right about some things. First, the ultimate shareholder is, or should be the parent, and the best way to hold a school accountable is to hold the parent accountable (IE: responsible) for their own children's education. And that starts with money. And second, a vast majority of our successful students will ultimately be in private schools, leaving Public Schools for children of those who cannot or will not meet their parental responsibility.


Sunday, March 1, 2009

Millar Distances Himself

Oh, yesterday's over my shoulder
So I can't look back for too long
There's just too much to see waiting in front of me
And I know that I just can't go wrong
That's right Fran, you just can't go wrong, so it must be us. Or that's his story and he's stickin' to it.

In the latest release of the Dunwoody Fan Magazine, Fran opines that we, the voters, (OK, 35% of the registered voters) were simply brilliant in voting for cityhood based on his advice and the advice of shills for CH2M Hill and the wannabe politicos running the Citizens for Dunwoody, but not so smart when it came to electing a mayor and council. Turns out it turned out the way these things generally turn out: it didn't pass the smell test then and now by golly, as the sweet perfume of his salesmanship dissipates, it is really raising a stink. Seems folks, not just The Other Dunwoody, have begun pointing out to their fine Rep that this cityhood thing is not at all what he said it would be. In fact, it is beginning to look like this is a scam of Madoff proportions.

So what's a successful politician to do? That's right. Duck and cover. "Please remember that the City Council chose to go in a different direction of governance than anticipated by most people." Not exactly a mea culpa, but Fran does acknowledge things aren't going well: "I see attempts for no-bid contracts and possibly hiring employees and vendors primarily because someone worked with them before." Sounds like Fran is seeing what we in The Other Dunwoody have seen all along--more of the same old cronyism in politics, except this time it's the frat boys and not the good old boys.

And after all, just what was "anticipated by most people"? Well that would be what they were sold/told by the leaders who brought this upon us. After shenanigans to get SB82 through the house and a manipulative referendum in mid-July scheduled well before publishing Task Force reports and in a presidential election year no less, Millar lays the blame at the feet of other politicians and the voters that supported them. How quickly he went from "we did it the right way" to they went another way.

Well, "Please don't blame me when you go to the polls" may not cut it this time. When a building advertised as glorious, innovative and safe collapses on top of folks the architect and engineer should expect to be held responsible. And that's just what...wait...what's that sound? Is it? Can it be? Yes! It is! It's Fran! Fran jammin' to Boofay...
With these changes in platitudes, changes in attitudes
Nothing remains quite the same
With all of my running and all of my cunning
If I couldn't laugh I just would go insane
If we couldn't laugh we just would go insane
If they weren't all crazy they would go insane