A gathering spot for warriors fighting for their special-needs children

If you're one of the many who have come to the realization that your public school system is out to get away with doing the absolute minimum for your special-needs child and is not actually interested in helping or educating your child, join the crowd. Bring some passion and some factual evidence and step into the fray.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Nobody says you have to live on one side of the political spectrum or the other. Think for yourself, and go where you choose. Here's my spectrum; what does yours look like?

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

"Shovel-ready" FAIL

This is a true story. One of my clients is a very large (multinational, multi-billion-dollar) construction company. I've done some video projects for them, and in fact the image accompanying this post is from a video I shot for them on the day I was told this story. I've strategically blurred parts of the image to keep from getting in hot water with the client; here's hoping that works.

It was a video & photo shoot of a large highway/bridge project, and I was escorted around all day by the site manager, a nice older guy who'd had a 30-year career managing big projects. During the hours we were together, I asked a lot of questions, including questions about whether the company had benefited from Obama's stimulus plan, the so-called "shovel-ready" projects grants. This is what he told me.

"It started out good," he said. "We bid on this big bridge project and won the bid. But to get the job, we had to agree to a whole new set of rules on who we had to hire, how many of each type of person we had to hire, what we had to pay them, etc.

"It was a big problem for us to find the workers matching the description we were given. We simply could not find enough people with the skills we needed who were also willing to work on a very hard job in tough conditions.

"There are plenty of people out there who are willing to do this job, but we couldn't use those people, we had to use the people the government wanted us to use. So we worked at it and spent a lot of money chasing down applicants until, finally, we had a full crew. And that lasted about a day. By the second day, some of the workers who had shown up the first day decided 'the hell with it, this is too hard,' and they simply did not come back. By the end of the first week, we no longer had enough manpower to get the work done."

See, this is where the so-called Obama Stimulus runs off the rails. Using public monies to create infrastructure--fine, I'm all for that. But telling the construction companies how to do the work--micromanaging their operations and saddling them with wholly unrealistic rules and using racial quotas to further a social agenda---well, now you've just taken a good premise and strangled it.

The irony is, nearly every construction worker I meet on these shoots is a member of a minority group. Usually Hispanic, but with a good mix of blacks. The government didn't need to introduce more diversity into this population of workers, because frankly, the hard-labor jobs within the construction trade are so unpleasant that people with better options tend not to take them.

But try telling that to the pointy-headed progressive do-gooders who controlled the purse strings in this particular case. No, they were out to create jobs AND make new opportunities for people of color! Only they forgot one important thing--the second part of that whole lead-a-horse-to-water parable.

You can't make the horse drink, and you can't make people work at an admittedly nasty job when the alternative is getting a small but livable allowance from the government.

Take away the allowance, though, and now those bridges get built. Is this so hard to figure out?

I wouldn't want one of those jobs. I would do almost anything to avoid it. But I wouldn't go on welfare to avoid it--I would show up, every day, and work.

As for the too many people who would go on welfare to avoid it--well, we need to stop worrying so much about those people, and spend more time worrying about bridges, schools, crooked bankers, whether or not global warming is real, and many other pressing priorities.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Put A Tourniquet On That Bleeding Heart Already, Part II

(From Bryan Caplan, on the excellent http://www.econlib.org/):

When someone drops out of high school, overeats, or fails to exercise, you tell us that their behavior is only "human." But if a conservative or libertarian objects to paying taxes to help people who make these choices, you get angry. Question: Why are you so forgiving of people with irresponsible lifestyles, but so outraged by people who don't want to pay taxes to help people with irresponsible lifestyles? This seems morally perverse. If you're going to single anyone out for condemnation, it should be the person who behaves irresponsibly in the first place, not the complete stranger who asks, "How is this my fault?"

It's tempting to insist, "We're all sinners." But the hard fact is that there's a lot of variance in the population. People with extremely responsible lifestyles are just as human as anyone else. They're not gods, just mortals who do the right thing. We should hold them up as role models, instead of attacking them if they complain that they're taxed enough already.

(Rick adds: treating your local public school like a daycare center and showing zero interest in your child's education is also a "lifestyle choice." And don't expect me to pay for that one either. Of all the perverse subsidies high-achieving people are asked to pay to support the poor choices of low-achieving people, one that has to be absolutely off the table is the idea of busing high-performing students to low-performing urban schools).

The Important Lesson of the $5 Fine

In Chicago, where Rahm Emmanuel is trying to hold low-SES parents accountable for their childrens' school performance and behavior, the parents have spoken: No Way.

And this story holds an important lesson for us as we go into the final phase of redistricting.

With Emmanuel's blessing, a well-regarded charter school has been fining parents $5 per violation for their kids' transgressions, including dress code violations and breaking school rules.

This policy inspired several hundred parents to march on CPS headquarters, claiming the school was forcing them to "take food off their tables" and endure other profound hardships.

This is what happens when you put conditions on what was previously a no-strings-attached entitlement. When you move somebody's government cheese.

The parents could have responded by imposing appropriate discipline at home, stopping the fines by insisting their children comply with the charter's well-publicized rules, but instead they chose to take a stand AGAINST accountability, AGAINST high standards, AGAINST, in fact, their own childrens' best interests.

The problem of parents who can't be persuaded to send their children to school ready and willing to learn is so racially and politically charged that in none of the voluminous discussions about SES on this forum have any of the 04W or Southside commenters been willing to go anywhere near it.

"Those parents" are indefensible, so instead, some of our intellectually dishonest and self-serving neighbors are continuously trying to redirect the conversation to how "privileged" we are in our "enclaves" and accusing us of not caring about children on the wrong side of some street.

Give them their due: the apologists for all these failing parents are loud and persistent, like a really bad case of tinnitus.

And pretty soon this political football is going to the BOE and City Council, where it will get kicked all over the lot, Errol Davis's reasonableness notwithstanding. Did you read the Tweets yesterday? Politicians and BOE members can hardly wait for Errol Davis to give them a plan so they can have their way with it.

I want you to remember this:

All the parents who could not be bothered to dress their kids appropriately, help with homework or impose discipline at home nevertheless had plenty of time and energy to rally at Chicago Public School HQ today for their right not to be held accountable.

These are the people whose values we reject, wherever they happen to live. And a great many of them live right here.

When the 04Wers and Kirkwooders and others decide they actually want to take on the problem of uninvolved parents, that's when they can come to us and ask us to make sacrifices to help their schools get better. Not until then.

Oh, you can try to force us to do it--and maybe Mr. Davis will cave or the BOE/Council will strongarm him. But you haven't thought of one thing--if and when that happens, we will just build a charter school here in our little "enclave."

We'll secure public funds; we'll make it better than any school APS runs right now--even SPARK or MES.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

How I Redistricted Myself

This is a true story.

In the summer just after my 16th birthday, my mom and me (and my five younger siblings) found ourselves, through a series of bad decisions on her part, in a housing project in east San Jose, Ca.

(My mom was getting child support from three ex-husbands, plus welfare, plus charity from her church, but she was never any good at managing money, so when she managed to gather her children together (we spent most of our childhood with grandparents and relatives), we were always dirt poor).

From the second-story window of the dilapidated bedroom I shared with my brothers, I could see the high school I'd be attending in the fall, William C. Overfelt High.

I wanted to see what I was getting into, so I scouted things out during summer school. I had been living with my grandmother for the previous couple of years, and attending an excellent public school, so I knew at once that Overfelt was not going to work out for me. The kids were hostile toward me (literally the only white kid there), hostile toward school and hostile toward their teachers. (This phenomenon--a rejection of all things educational by poverty-stricken inner-city families--is, in other words, not new).

I wanted none of it. To the southeast, about 3 miles away, was Silver Creek High, which (I learned through playing sandlot baseball and pickup basketball) had a much more diverse student population and a better academic reputation. But it was 3 miles away, I had no car, and I had no paperwork to show I was eligible to attend. If I tried to register at Silver Creek, certainly they would send me straight back to Overfelt, right?

I decided to give it a try--there was no way I was going to Overfelt. Without telling my mother (she would not learn about this until much later), I set off on foot for the first day of my junior year in high school, got a couple blocks from home, took a sharp right turn and walked to Silver Creek.

On the way there, I took note of a picturesque street (Nickel Ave) in a much, MUCH better neighborhood. I walked down the street and took a long look at a couple of the street numbers (I was looking for a gap). I then walked the remaining distance to Silver Creek, and into the Registrar's office.

I told the Registrar that my mother couldn't register me because she was working, and I gave her a home address on Nickel Ave.--an address I had invented for a house that didn't exist. (I knew this was a risky strategy, but I bet that a municipal school system would take an entire year to figure out my fraud, and I was right).

It worked. I spent the whole year in Silver Creek, and was a standout student, a good volleyball player and had major roles in both of the school's plays.

I had redistricted myself to a better school because, even at 16, I knew the difference between a school where I could succeed, and which was worth my efforts, and a school where I would be ridiculed for trying hard.

Throughout the school year, I lied to everyone about where I lived. When parents of friends (or friend with cars) drove me somewhere, I always had them drop me off at the corner of Nickel Ave. and S. King Road, telling them that I would be fine walking home from there. (In fact, I would have to walk a mile and a half from that point to get to our drab apartment).

I never once told anyone--even my closest friends--where I really lived, because I was terrified that if I did, I'd be found out and sent to the bad school near my home.

So when I say I think parents who cheat the system to get their kids into Inman or Grady should be given amnesty, you can see where I'm coming from. I did what they're doing, and for the same reasons.

If, 30-some years ago, the San Jose Municipal School District could not fix Overfelt High School because the households sending their children to Overfelt were uninterested in embracing education as a value, how likely is APS to be able to fix its wretched south side schools today?

Or tomorrow?

Those of you who are taking great risks and breaking laws to free your children from APS schools where too little learning takes place, you are my friends, and I am your friend.

The Grady-Inman Railroad

The Underground Railroad is alive and well at Inman and Grady. And I think we should legalize it and reward the lawbreaking parents and law-breaking school administrators who built it.

Let's leave aside for the moment the fact that the existence of this massive underground railroad is a scathing indictment of APS's crappy southside schools.

To get your kid into Inman or Grady when you're out-of-zone takes a combination of paperwork fraud and (more likely) insider assistance that is only something a truly desperate, truly determined parent would try to pull off.

Then, once they're in, they have to always worry about being found out, even as they struggle to provide transportation to a school far from home.

That kind of initiative--that level of willingness to do what has to be done for your child because APS can't and won't--should be rewarded, not penalized.

So let's have amnesty for every single child and every single family now at Grady and Inman against the rules.

I like to believe that if I were alive in 1850s Iowa, I would want to work on the Underground Railroad.

If you helped slaves escape, you were considered an Abductor. What would you call someone who helped children escape a terrible future? Whatever the word is, you would have to be proud to be called that word, right?

POSTSCRIPT: After writing this post, I decided it was time to tell the story of how I set up my own, one-person underground railroad in San Jose when I was 16 years old. You'll find that true story just above.

Plantations, Circa 2012

We watched the movie "The Help" on Christmas afternoon, and boy, did those white people suck. If we are ever able to resurrect the dead, they'll have some serious explaining to do.

On the other hand, let 'em rot.

I was trying to wriggle out of my uncomfortableness by rationalizing that Iowa, where I'm from, was a Free State, and was part of the Underground Railroad. But Iowans were no saints. They ravaged the Indians who preceded them onto that fertile rectangle of land and then joined all the other so-called "Free States" in looking the other way while slavery ruled the South. Only when a law was passed allowing bounty hunters to cross state lines in pursuit of escaped slaves did the Free States decide slavery was worth fighting over.

I don't believe we acquire our fathers' debts, or that we are somehow liable for our forbears' acts of immorality. Because looking the other way as a crime occurs when you have the capacity to try to stop it is on the same octave of evil as owning slaves. Like about a C-sharp.

The other thing I realized is that there are many forms of slavery. When the Civil War finally ended Slavery 1.0, the Slavery 2.0 of the Jim Crow era popped up to take its place.

And now we have slavery 3.0, which is the inner-city government schools. Here are the similarities, if you are unlucky enough to be born into a poverty-stricken inner-city black family:

1. You are compelled to go.

2. Your family has no real options other than forcing you to go; they have no way to buy your freedom.

3. The plantation owner (the school system) gives you just enough sustenance to live, but not enough to prosper, and, when pressured by outsiders, maliciously cheats you out of whatever future you might have had.

4. An underground railroad springs up to deliver the children of a few desperate, clever parents to better schools.

Would white and black parents alike go to extraordinary expense and inconvenience to sneak their kids into Inman and Grady (Grady is not exactly Andover, unless you live in East/South/West Atlanta, in which case it is) if the schools there were not plantations?

Monday, December 26, 2011

The Country Music Song We're Livin' In

So your nothing-but-trouble relative, who spent the last decade runnin' a numbers game, finally brings ruin upon the whole family.

He bet the farm on a golddigger named Beverly, but she turned out to be the sly CEO of Lyin' and Cheatin, Inc...

You've always had trouble with this no-account relative.

For decades.

Always he's promised to do better--to BE better. But each time he's only sunk himself--and you--deeper into the manure pile.

This time, though, it's serious. He's left the family deep in hock and a truly painful reckoning is a-comin.'

But he comes to you and says, "look, I know I done wronged you so many times before, but you can really trust me this time. I'm on the mend. I've left my cheatin' ways behind. I'm clean, and I'm askin' you to renew your faith in me."

And you say:

"Hey, no problem! We know you done us wrong, but we are committed to our government-run schools and stay true to you we will!"

Wait. What?

Exactly. I can't believe ANYBODY is willing to just bend over and take more punishment like that, but ladies and gentlemen, you've SEEN some of the posts on our SPARK redistricting forum.

The air of resignation.

The "we have to deal with them, so we'd better make the best of it."

The utter lack of backbone.

Anyway, getting back to the narrative:

The next thing that happens--while the words "you can really trust me this time" are still echoing in your ears, is that you are ambushed in the woods by some gun-for-hire demographers. You'd softened up just for a moment, you see, and you got yourself sucker-punched.

Because that's how it works when you keep forgiving those who would prey on your kindness.

But when you go back to confront your relative, you're told to not make a big fuss because, "hey, they only wanted to talk atcha a little bit--don't pay it no nevermind."

(Powerful twanging of guitars; cut to a shot of a screen door bein' slammed shut; the other family members have finally HAD ENOUGH).

That's right. In MY country music video, this family ain't takin' no more junk.

The people in MY song--are you one of them?--have guts, a strong sense of right and wrong (they'll protect their sister neighborhoods as well as their own) and a limit for how much BS they're willing to take.

In MY music video, we say how things are gonna be. We don't take orders, and we don't roll over and play dead.

We confront. We extract promises, and hold feet to fire. We wind up putting an end to every last bit of lyin,' thievin' and obfuscatin.'

We make it clear who's the tail and who's the dog.

And then, just for good measure, we cut to a shot of an ACTUAL dog, and the pickup truck he's half hangin' out of.

Hey, if I'm gonna get this video on CMT, I'm going to have to follow the conventions of the genre.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

The elephant in the room

There are at least three very good reasons for refusing to even consider busing your kids out of this neighborhood. Two are obvious: first, that you worked hard to make SPARK (or Lin) what they are today, and don't want to start over. Second, you bought a house here for the schools here, not to be on a bus route to Hope-Hill Elementary.

The third reason is one I haven't heard anybody else articulate, and that's because it's a really prickly subject: the role of black urban culture in bad test scores and bad behavior in second-tier APS schools.

It is the elephant in the room, so let's stop ignoring it.

APS truly, madly, deeply wants to solve some of its test-score problems by infusing second-tier schools with a creamy white solution of high-performing students. And right now they actually think they're going to pull it off. APS's $65 million deficit, they reason, is the perfect political cover for some large-scale social engineering camouflaged as cost-cutting.

And if there's one thing I learned while threatening to sue (and then suing) APS, it's that it's almost impossible to stop the people in the Trinity building from doing something stupid when they put their minds to it.

The bureaucrats who stonewalled us and got the district sued have a particular blend of arrogance and sense-of-entitlement that is oh so very North Korea, only blacker. So you're in for a big disappointment if you expect redistricting to be handled professionally and sanely.

Errol Davis is a righteous dude, but our Board of Ed is a formidable opponent to anyone wishing to do good in this school district. Our BOE reps are really just Costco-sized versions of APS bureaucrats--Now! Even MORE arrogance! And with EXTRA BONUS senses of entitlement! (Because, after all, they rationalize, they were elected by their (now deeply regretful) constituents).

The District is going to use numbers it creates (or finesses) to persuade you that there is NO OTHER CHOICE than to bus your kids away from schools that YOU have made into good schools----

----and INTO schools that can NEVER be made into good schools because there is a critical mass of parents and children in those neighborhoods who cannot and will not allow excellence to occur.

The neighborhoods APS wants to send your kids to have been infected by a self-loathing urban "culture" which considers assimilation and achievement via hard work to be "lame."

This culture accepts as a norm the one-parent household; accepts as a norm the casual use of vicious and sexually-charged language (the vernacular of its "musicians" and "entertainers") by children, and simultaneously blames its hardships on, and expects to feed from, the hands of others. What passes for a "value system" in these neighborhoods is something you wouldn't want to get on your shoe, which is why you live here and not there.

Houses can be renovated, streets can be spruced up. But neither APS nor anyone else can fix the adults in many Atlanta neighborhoods; people whose children come to school not to learn but to disrupt learning.

APS makes a serious effort to help the children--as serious as its limited capabilities will allow-- but it is a clumsy, hapless whale swimming against the tide.

But--notice the whale segue!--here comes the legacy of the disgraced and departed Bev Hall.

Yes, just in time for the holidays, say hello to the Ghost of Scandals Past!

Hall discovered that if she manipulated test cohorts, she could achieve illusory gains on the supposedly "fair" NAEP tests that she could then trumpet as her the legitimate fruit of her own hard work.

Hall's proteges at APS now realize they have the same opportunity. "Why, if we move a bunch of kids from SPARK to Hope-Hill," they reason, "we will have amazing jumps in test scores, and the children will be much easier to police.

"We can make ourselves look like geniuses simply by manipulating who takes tests, and where. It has worked before, and will work again!"

You've got to admit it--they're right. If SPARK children were bused to Hope-Hill, the school's test scores would rise, and the percentage of little-thugs-from-thug-parents would be diluted, perhaps even to a level where teaching and learning could occur.

So, you--the parents at SPARK--now have an opportunity to do what APS could never in a million years do, and that is dilute the percentage of low-achieving and bad-behaving kids in APS's second-tier schools. Isn't that why you had children in the first place? So your offpsring could sacrifice their futures in order to buoy the children of low-achieving, deeply resentful parents and buoy the fortunes of low-achieving, deeply resentful APS bureaucrats?

What? No? You didn't have that in mind? Where's your civic-mindedness? How could you be so callous? What about the concept that you must do what Brenda Muhammed says is "in the best interest of ALL the children of Atlanta?"

One's heart breaks for the children of no-account parents. Good people everywhere want to help those kids, even as we deplore the disastrous decision-making that leads to poverty-stricken one-parent households with absent, deadbeat dads.

But you didn't cause the cancer that is inner-city black culture and you are not responsible for fixing it. You want to help? Help with time and money. Not by handing your kids over to amateur--and amateurish--social engineers masquerading as school officials.

Your children are not some currency you've been given to gamble with. You have a job to do, and that is to provide them the best possible start. Period. So get going on that, and don't let yourself flinch when the arrows and epithets start flying.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

The Case for a Bailout

It took awhile, and you have to unwrap multiple tissue-paper layers of courteous language to find it, but parents throughout out neighborhood are finally saying this to APS:

Forget about ANY plans involving busing our kids out of their current school zone. Not ever gonna happen. Slow down, start over, and by the way, we'll be bringing our own demographers to this next round of talks. (Okay, parents haven't said that yet--but they will).

Let's fast-forward through the next part of the dialogue, the part that is about to happen:

APS: We have to find $65M in savings somewhere, and we have to relieve overcrowding, and the fair way--the obvious way--is to move kids from crowded schools to schools where there's space.

PARENTS: We understand the problem, but you must take busing off the table. We won't do it.

APS: The schools are safe, the transportation can be managed, and the performance of the schools will improve once your kids are there.

PARENTS: We are not going to bus our kids away from the schools we've worked hard to build into schools that we don't think can ever be made to meet our standards for academic achievement and especially student comportment.

APS: If you don't agree to busing, our only recourse will be to cut staff, damaging schools.

PARENTS: Cut the bloat in central office, not teachers and staff at schools.

APS: This "bloat" you imagine we have--we don't really have it. We can't cut enough central office staff to erase the deficit. We will have to cut teachers, janitors, nurses and school staff. You'll have more kids in dirty classrooms with no nurses, no specials, no extras. Or you can have clean classrooms, extras and specials--but you'll be riding the bus.

PARENTS: We will not tolerate any further degradation of the school experience. No cuts in teachers or crucial staff; no elimination of specials, honors classes, AP, or anything like that.

APS: We can't raise property taxes, because families unaffected by all of this would never go along with that. They would just call you a bunch of spoiled, privileged white folk who won't compromise.

PARENTS: Agreed. No property tax hike.

APS: We're sorry, but you've given us no workable option.

(A frosty silence ensues).

Well, here's a workable option:

Pursue a bailout.

If GM can get one; if some banks are "too big to fail," then certainly in the world of intown Atlanta, APS is too big to fail.

So: who's going to bail us out, and why should we feel justified in asking?

Let's tackle that second question first.

There's a deficit because of Bev Hall's mismanagement (with the BOE complicit; it failed to watchdog Hall, with disastrous results; how did a projected $65 million budget deficit not pop onto anybody's radar screen until Hall had already snatched her last bonus check and fled to Kauai? How did the BOE not know about this MUCH sooner?)--

--AND because APS is paying a fortune to teachers it fired and must put through the due-process mechanism. (If you add up the AJC's numbers, the HR cost of the cheating scandal will exceed $10 million).

There are other reasons, such as APS having to overpay for wireless and other technology (the "e-Rate" scandal) and the horrible inefficiency of the special ed program, a swamp Errol Davis is just now beginning to drain....and of course the cost of providing too many non-educators with cushy jobs at the Trinity building.

But who here wants to argue with me that the taxpayers of APS were defrauded by the Beverly Hall regime on a massive scale. Anyone?

If it had just been sloppiness and bad record-keeping, we'd have no moral right to ask for outside help. But we were literally cheated.

That doesn't mean anyone has to help us, but it sure means we don't have to feel bad about asking.

What would happen if we went to the state lawmakers representing this area and insisted they at least draft legislation that would cover the part of the deficit resulting from the cheating scandal--all the HR and legal costs, basically. We could certainly see that a bill was introduced.

What if we then went to every foundation, every donor, every federal muckety-muck, and said, please help us this once, and we'll pledge never to let ourselves get caught in the perfect storm of a person like Hall and a BOE like...well, like our current BOE.

There is no guarantee anyone would help us, but I think we can make a convincing case that a one-time bailout is appropriate.

You know who won't help us with this effort? APS. They want to use this opportunity to social-engineer quality in some of their 2nd-tier schools by moving around good students and involved parents. It must be irresistably tempting to them to think that they can upgrade a school like Hope-Hill, for example, without having to do any hard work, but just by fiat.

Then they can observe the resulting success, success they had no real hand in creating and which may in fact be illusory (because while current Hope-Hill kids would benefit, how much would it hurt the high-achieving kids who were formerly at SPARK or Lin? How do you measure that?) and then trumpet their own expertise. In other words, THEY CAN PRECISELY FOLLOW THE BEVERLY HALL TEMPLATE.

Why did many Americans support bailouts of firms like GM? Because we understood that those companies (and indeed the whole economy) had been victimized by a relatively small number of unethical, vicious, greedy people.

How is this situation not EXACTLY like that one?

APS is soon going to say to us, unless you have some other idea about how to find 65 million dollars, we are going to have to get those buses warmed up.

At that point, it might behoove us to have something more to say than "no."

So, how about: "Then I guess we'd better all get busy looking for some money."

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

C is for Con Job

What Cecily Harsch-Kinnane and other progressive do-gooders want to sell you is the idea that diversity, by itself, is always a virtue, and that you cannot possibly get too much of it.

What you are actually buying is an agreement to allow children from bad neighborhoods to come into your neighborhood and use the public school you paid for (and have tirelessly supported) until it is overcrowded and/or underachieving.

Artificially introducing diversity in Atlanta is like living in an orange grove and taking vitamin C supplements. You get enough already; you don't need to buy more from the pill salesman. I have 20 interactions in Atlanta a day with people not like me. There's a hugely diverse population here, and it is most decidely NOT self-segregating. You see people of color at Kroger. At the ball game. At Atlantic Station. Every place you go. I get about 3,000 percent of the minimum daily requirement of diversity every day. I don't need any supplements.

If our neighborhood schools had 2X the capacity they have, would I be in favor of allowing more students from unfortunate household situations largely brought about by the selfishness of adults and terribly destructive govenrment entitlement programs --

--(I'm sorry, I meant to say, would I allow more "diverse" students)--

--to enroll here, and thereby flee their own underachieving neighborhood schools?


But that is not the question in front of us.

The task we have right now is summoning the will to say no to holier-than-thou progressives who want to use guilt and race to bait us into taking a bad deal on redistricting. And if you don't see that deal coalescing in front of you right now (all the official statements to the contrary notwithstanding) then you'd better start paying attention. A bad deal is coming, and diversity is the Trojan horse they're going to use to wheel it into Midtown.

Now, nobody wants to turn their back on the many Atlanta children unfortunate enough to be born to parents who can't or won't get involved in their kids' schools.

Is this our problem? Technically, no. We can't fix those parents. But should we take on part of the job of fighting for those kids in an organized way, anyway? Is it a moral imperative? I think it is.

Can we help those kids while simultaneously excluding them from enrollment in our overcrowded neighborhood schools? Sure we can. Is it hypocritical to do so? No, it is highly moral to do so.

So how do we do that?

We should volunteer to adopt a school in another part of Atlanta and help improve its facilities and raise money for it.

We should also put heavy pressure on underachieving parents and underachieving politicians to do more for their own neighborhoods. There are ways to do that. Is it meddling? Yes, let's call it meddling. I'm pro-meddling. We should fight for those kids --kids who are mostly the victims of their own no-account parents. We should fight for them because their own parents won't.

I'm all for doing that. But I am not going to be forced to drive our daughter to a school in Buckhead or up to NAHS someday because somebody sold my kid out on the basis of their feel-good idea of "diversity."

No way, no how.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Honey Badger Don't Care

I love the "What I've Learned" feature in Esquire. You get the benefit of the accumulated wisdom of some very smart people like Regis Philbin and some people who have figured a few things out via some hard knocks (like Tim Allen).

Or the "Ask Jimmy the Bartender" feature in Mens Health--same thing. Great advice!

Recently, David Brooks of the New York Times did a series of columns on life lessons from folks who have lived a good long while. Excellent reading!

The point is, it's always less painful to learn something from somebody else's mistakes if you can.

So here, for your benefit, is what we have learned from our mistakes with APS:

1. Put on your headphones and listen to your iPod.

When you go to a meeting with APS people, you're going to be told over and over again what a great job they are doing and how they are using data-driven best practices and how they are on the upswing and how things are continuously improving. Put on your headphones and ignore this crap, because it's just a spiel Bevvy Hall told everyone to tell to parents.

Hall believed in the old football adage that the best defense is a great offense. So by always going on the offensive--always telling parents things were great and getting better all the time! --Bev was able to prevent APS from undergoing any real scrutiny for nearly all of her tenure. Until, of course, she left office utterly disgraced...

2. Don't worry about asking nicely, because it doesn't matter.

There are a great many people I know who really believe that if you ask a municipal employee to do their job better in a really nice tone and with your practiced empathy on full display you'll be able to persuade them not to hate your privileged ass and actually do the job they were hired to do in a halfway-competent manner.

I probably believed that at one point. But I now know it's a sucker bet, and it never works.

3. If you really want something done, there's only one way to do it, and that's to get a lawyer.

APS is condescending-to-openly-hostile to parents--you're the paper and APS is the scissors. But lawyers are the rock. So bring the rock with you. Trust me on that.

My prediction is that this whole redistricting thing will end up a bonanza for lawyers, and the communities with the best lawyers will win. I hope I'm wrong. But just in case, I want to find the Crazy Nastyass Honey Badger of lawyers.

What the F?

My first thought when I heard there would have to be a major redistricting plan to accommodate the mini-baby-boom in Midtown was this:

Oh, fuck.

We’re going to have to let our BOE make a big decision, and as sure as the sun comes up in the East, they’re going to screw it up.

Our BOE: individually, they're about the least talented group you’ll come across, but cumulatively—that’s where they really work their magic. Because cumulatively, they can’t agree on how to turn on a light switch. Cumulatively, they make the Supercommittee (you know, the one that never had a chance of reaching a deal on the U.S. budget) look like a model of cooperation and compromise.

We didn’t need (or pay much attention to the thought of electing) a smart, talented BOE last election day because we had Bevvy Hall, and she looked to the world (and to Atlantans) like the real deal. By that same token, the BOE members we have today probably thought getting a slot on the BOE would be an easy gig; nothing much to do but stand back and bask in the shared glory of Bevvy’s accomplishments.

But then, of course, it all turned to shit, and our BOE panicked, blew the investigation into the cheating scandal, disintegrated into Board of Ed Fight Club, got into a lawsuit, nearly got tossed out of office by Gov. Deal, and now...here we are. A BOE you wouldn’t trust to grade a second-period spelling test (I’m not sure all of them can spell) and we have to let them make the biggest decision in Midtown in the last 15 years.

Again: oh, fuck.

But as you play out the various scenarios that are likely to occur (and all the scenarios I can imagine have the BOE making a series of stupid decisions, resulting in more catastrophic damage to our system and neighborhood), it is comforting to remember this one thing:

You can get a divorce.

You can secede from this union. (You have to be careful saying that around here, because if you’re not, pretty soon you’re ringed by tattooed young men in pickup trucks shouting some sort of rebel yell, but yes, you can secede).

You can tell APS to go eff itself. (See illustration. Now, work into a sentence).

You can start a charter school or start a movement to force-convert existing schools into charter schools.

Now, if you do that, APS is going to FREAK OUT.

They are going to pull out all the stops to block you.

They realize that if you win, it’s the beginning of a process that ends with them dead or irrelevant in a few years.

And like any bureaucracy, they’ll fight with all their might to avoid that.

But who is going to say to us (and our lawyers): no, you cannot have a great school in your own neighborhood. You must continue to use subpar schools wherever APS tells you to go, because the greater collective good is better served if you and your children suffer and are shortchanged.

I can’t believe that would really happen. Not in post-racial Obamamerica. But even if it does happen, we can appeal.

Remember the scene in Fried Green Tomatoes where the Kathy Bates character doesn't mind smashing up her own car because "I'm older, and I have better insurance."

Well, we're more affluent and we can afford better lawyers. We'll win in the end.


Thursday, November 3, 2011

Law of Unintended Consequences: Affirmative Action Edition

During the last years of the Bill Campbell jobs-for-cronies program we jokingly referred to as "Atlanta city government," I had the odious task of going down to City Hall East to try to fix a car registration issue. The line at the desultory, fly-specked city office was quite short, but glacially slow. I suffered through a long wait, gradually came to the head of the line, and there I discovered exactly how the black "it's our turn now" leadership in Atlanta was on its way to destroying this city.

There was one very attractive young female clerk, with impossibly long, lustrous hair ("extensions," whispered the black lady next to me in line), who was typing our information into a terminal. Only "typing" isn't exactly the word for it. She was really pecking with two fingers, because she didn't know how to five-finger type. Only "pecking" isn't really the word for what she was doing, either, because her fake fingernails were so long--extending more than an inch past her fingertips--that she was unable to really "peck" the keys at all, but instead had to carefully place the edge of her fingernails on top of a key, one at a time, and gently push.

If you could see now how comically slow this process was, you would not believe it could actually happen in a professional office--even a government-run office. You'd think she was a parody of an office worker, playing for laughs. But to me it seemed an obscenity, a deliberate "fuck you" to the taxpayers of Atlanta, and without knowing a single thing about this young woman it was nevertheless possible to infer everything about the runaway city government under Bill Campbell, who infamously once proclaimed (after a U.S. Supreme Court setback for Affirmative Action), "I don't care what (the government) says, we'll always have Affirmative Action in Atlanta."

Campbell was imprisoned for his most visible acts of corruption, but what really hurt the city--and continues to hurt the city---was his race-and-resentment based politics. It was an attitude that said, "we are running things now, and we are going to extract as many good-paying jobs as possible out of this system, squeezing it until it cracks wide open if need be, and we're not going to be too concerned about whether the actual work of governing gets done or not, and we're certainly not going to do it at the pace y'all might expect."

This explains why, as late as 2011, it still took six months for the poor bastard who opened Killer Burgers on Piedmont Ave. to get his final few operating permits, a matter that would have taken a competent bureaucracy a matter of hours. "It was the worst six months of my life," he told the AJC.

But let's get back to the pretty young clerk with the long fingernails and the paucity of job skills. Undoubtedly she was the product of the Atlanta Public School system, which would have (then, as now) utterly failed to help her gain any marketable knowledge or skills. She nevertheless managed to get a nice-paying City of Atlanta job on the basis of a curvy figure and despite the fact that any man wanting to get close to her would have had to really watch out for those--well, you'd really want to protect your shrubbery from those Edward Scissorhands nails, you know what I mean?

So she gets the job, and this is where the whole thing--the whole concept--the whole idea of black-run, now-it's-our-turn, we'll-run-this-city-like-a-jobs-program-if-we-want-to construct goes bad:

See, that young woman...she can't ever move up. She lacks every skill necessary to get a better job out in the real world. So she's stuck working the only place she can ever work, which is for a black-run bureaucracy that will forgive her for being useless as an employee.

This means the slot she occupies can never be freed up for another person (black or any other color) to come in and take that job. So one city job parceled out to one underserving daughter-of-a-crony jams up the system for perhaps 40 years, whereas if you'd hired a deserving person for the job, someone with ambition and skill, they would quickly want to move up and out (probably to the private sector), thus freeing up that job for the next skilled, deserving person. By keeping ambitious people in the pipeline, you turn that job over many times over forty years, providing livelihoods to many people instead of just one bored chick with fake nails.

I hope it's starting to dawn on you that I'm not really against fuck-you politics. These are city jobs, and they're not the best jobs in the world (although they're the best jobs many APS-educated young people may ever get), and somebody has to fill those seats. I'm all for a black-run city government running its own informal Affirmative Action program. But when you put dreadfully underskilled people into these jobs, not only do you create an incompetent government, which hurts growth and provokes taxpayer outrage, you also fail at the task you are surreptitiously undertaking: to provide as many relatively good-paying jobs as possible to as many black people as possible.

If you're going to do a shadow Affirmative Action program, do it right. Hire better people and give them a short time to develop and get better, and heavily incentivize them to move to the private sector (you can do this by reducing city-paid benefits, or keeping city salaries slightly below market level).

Then: don't hire people who will take a lower salary because they've historically been bad employees and have few options. Hire young people on the way up who don't have much experience but show a lot of potential. Put the action in Affirmative Action.

Make it your goal to circulate many people through clerical jobs and low-level jobs each decade. There are few jobs in city government where retention is important. The Q.E.D. for this is obvious to anyone who's ever actually had to deal with city inspectors and clerks. These folks are so catastrophically bad -- and so incredibly unmotivated-- that it is impossible for anyone to make the case they have skills and/or experience worth retaining.

The place where this phenomenon--which I'll call the Atlanta Constipation--is most destructive is in the Atlanta Public Schools. I'll write about that next.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Why you should care about APS special ed...even if your child isn't in the program.

To my fellow intown parents:

How many new teachers could SPARK or MES hire with the $1 million-plus APS just spent on legal fees to defend itself in the beating and abuse of an autistic child?

(See front page article in today's AJC: http://www.ajc.com/news/atlanta/an-expensive-fight-over-1188082.html )

That $1M figure doesn't count the estimated $600,000 settlement paid to the family--a family we know well--to educate their child, Stefan, privately until he is an adult.

Here's what those of you who DON'T have children in the APS special-ed program need to know. (And I speak to you now as a parent of such a child, and as a parent who also decided to sue APS):

Special-ed kids routinely disrupt "mainstream" classrooms. In our case, we discovered (to our horror) that our child was disrupting his 2nd-grade class at SPARK every single day, making it impossible for the two truly heroic teachers who had that classroom (Melissa St. Joy and Jenny Lockwood) to do their jobs properly. (The parapro assigned to our child routinely "took his breaks" during these mainstreaming sessions, at the time when his presence was needed the most).

Did you know that your child's teacher faces significant administrative pressure NOT to talk to you about any disruptions caused by special-ed kids, even if you ask point-blank about it? Do you even know right now if your child's classroom has any IEP (Individual Education Program--AKA "special ed") kids in it?

If you don't know, find out. Don't talk to the teacher, go directly to Becky Pruitt or Yolonda Brown. Insist she confirm the number of IEP children participating at any point in time during the school day in your classroom (many children, like ours, only visited the mainstream classroom for a small portion of the day). You may be told there are no IEP children present in the classroom on a permanent basis. This is sleight-of-hand; they just don't want you to know about the 2, 3 or 4 periods a day when IEP children "drop in" for their mainstreaming sessions. You may be told that it's "confidential information" that cannot be shared with you.

Tell them you don't need to know the child's name or sex, but you have a right to know what, if any, IEP services are being provided during your child's classroom-day. Stick to your guns.

Many parents like us desperately want their children to be mainstreamed as much as possible. We want our child to be around "neurotypical" kids--it's good for him. But when he is, he consumes 100% of the teacher's attention. And that is not fair to the other kids. Even though it benefited our kid to be mainstreamed, we could not, in good conscience, continue to see all of the other kids denied the teacher's attention and skill.

So we stopped. But it's likely many other parents of IEP kids either don't know or won't care if their kids are causing a disruption. (And not all IEP children cause disruptions, but I stand firm in the belief that all IEP kids demand a disproportionate share of the teacher's attention, and when this happens, it is a disservice to the other kids, who are already in a classroom that is more crowded than it should be).

Here are the points I want to leave you with:

1. The APS special-ed program is a disaster of epic proportions. If you want to know more, read about it in detail elsewhere on this blog, where you will also find our lawsuit (the actual lawsuit) as well as the recent outside audit of the PEC (dense, heavy reading but quite damning).

If you thought the cheating scandal was the worst problem APS has, well, let me just say the meltdown of APS Spec Ed could well turn out to be the costliest, and the one that directly affects your family the most.

2. The people working special-ed for APS have neither the skill nor the will to mainstream special-ed kids into your kids' regular-ed classroom in a way that does not adversely impact your child's education. (Oh, they will tell you they do--in fact, they will SHOUT OUT LOUD that they do, but they don't).

3. (And this is the most important thing you should take away from today): Throw your support behind private special-ed schools. (Full disclosure: our son now attends a wonderful private special-ed school, the Orion School over on Ponce by the IHOP). Schools like Orion not only help these vulnerable children in a way APS never has (and never will), they also remove spec-ed children from your child's mainstream classroom and allow your child's teachers to do a better job.

If you don't believe me, ask any teacher you know (and who will talk to you off the record) how much better they could do every day if they didn't have to contend with the unfair demands placed on them by special-ed rules and requirements.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Two questions every intown parent must ask themselves in August 2011

You're seeing APS stripped naked now in stark fluorescent lighting. Pretty scary, isn't it? The budget mess, the OIT debacle, the running-aground of the SpEd program....oh, and the lying, cheating, lawbreaking administrators.

So why would it be your default position--your unexamined yet deeply held premise--that APS ought to be allowed to continue to own and run schools like SPARK and even MES?

There is no reason to continue to allow thoroughly mediocre (on their best days) municipal employees to drag down schools in neighborhoods where parents expect--and can afford--excellence. The underlying assumption parents make is that we can't expect our public schools to be too good, because that would somehow be unfair to neighborhoods where the parents aren't as engaged or affluent.

It's not a zero-sum game. If you force your local school to get better, that doesn't mean its improvements must come at the cost of some other school somewhere else. And if you work hard to give your local school every advantage, and that creates a huge performance gap between it and the less successful schools, you are not the bad guy. The parents who allow their children to attend the underperforming schools are the bad guys. Every community has enough parent talent to run a school. Just not the will.

What does it take to run a school? Obviously it's work than parents want to add to their already overflowing plates (or they'd be taking it on in greater numbers than they are), and yet less than you'd think. You have to manage a budget, hire a great headmaster (a combination of principal and executive manager), find the fine line between oversight of the process and micromanaging day-to-day decisions (and stay on the proper side of it); rigorously and continuously evaluate teachers, and report all business transparently to the parent group. That's pretty much it.

Let your headmaster hire a staff and worry about things like the cleaning service and the tree pruning service. Let the parents worry about funding, HR snafus and a developing a fair but exhaustively thorough method of grading teachers. (This is the magic potion: find a way to make your school a paradise for gifted teachers and pure hell for substandard ones).

It's not rocket science. It can't be that difficult, because a thoroughly mediocre and demonstrably corruptible bunch of municipal employees to do it for us now--so how tough can it be?