Monday, January 2, 2017

The truth as seen from Mount Kosciusko

Dr. Timothy Alford climbed to the top of Mount Kosciusko to issue his commandments on education in Mississippi last week.  It is not known if these commandments were written on clay tablets or gold plates but they did appear as sacred writing in the scrolls of the Clarion-Ledger.  However, JJ must engage in a bit of heresy and disagree with Dr. Alford.   His column is posted below along with some comments by yours truly. 

As news came out recently that the state leadership has hired a third-party firm to examine the Mississippi Adequate Education Program funding formula, and in the wake of last year’s heated ballot measure conversations regarding Proposition 42, I have been thinking a great deal about Mississippi’s poor health status and its lack of commitment to public education.

And whenever I do such thinking, I am right to credit my alma mater, Millsaps College. Within the halls of the Sullivan Harrell Science Building where so many young aspiring scientists have passed  reads an inscription from John 8:32: “Ye shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free.”

The opening shots are a claim to truth, the Bible, and moral superiority. 

 A clear-eyed pursuit of truth is a foundation of science, and the advancing field of population medicine is gathering more and more data from the social and computer sciences to further clarify Mississippi’s plight. The confluence of that information points to education as the chief determinant of health in a population. Health literacy is in fact literacy. To a family doctor from a small town whose kids benefited from good public schools, this means that Mississippi is not likely to move from the muddy bottom of health rankings without first lifting the public education system that educates nine out of 10 of its children. As former Gov. William Winter has long stated, the per capita income rises and falls with our commitment to public education.

Um, no one disputes this little truth.  In fact, both sides of the education debate state they are tired of seeing Mississippi finish dead last in education.  It's a shame he doesn't advocate "gathering more and more data" to determine if MAEP should be adjusted as he does for medicine. 

At the State Capitol we hear about spending more “efficiently,” and that too much money goes to administration and not enough goes to the classroom.  We also hear that the formula, which has actually not been implemented in 18 of 20 years, is “broken.” What if doctors had decided that penicillin might not be the perfect drug to treat strep throat because of the false assertion that a more effective drug was on the way? Science instructs us that such an irresponsible approach would risk inciting serious complications. I think it is fair to draw such an analogy between this common childhood illness and our suffering education system that educates 90 percent of Mississippi’s school children.

Here we go.  He considers his pet theory of how money is spent on education is to be the same truth as one that states penicillin cures certain infections.  Neither can be reviewed or questioned.  Well, at least he and doctors have the God complex so that is one thing they have in common.   One can almost hear Cartman screaming "Wee-spect my authowity!!!"  Wait a second, Dr. Alford is a medical doctor.  He comes by it honestly. Since Dr. Alford will later compare Superintendents to corporate CEO's, perhaps he should pay more attention to the private sector than what it pays. 

Any corporation worth its salt is going to review how it makes money on a regular basis, much less once every twenty years.  Many companies have gone broke when they failed to recognize reality or look in the mirror.  However, governments and politicians rarely do so. Mississippi is apparently no exception and that includes Dr. Alford.

The MAEP State Allocation Statement for 2017 gives full disclosure of how the Legislature’s shortfalls will hit home. In my hometown of Kosciusko, a community of 8,500 people, we will reach a record shortfall of $879,000 compared to what is deemed “adequate” by our state. The statewide reduction in per pupil spending per year is $830 since 2008 with no visible plan to restore that money. With all the talk of charter schools answering the call for failing districts, most Mississippi’s better districts remain on a starvation diet.

So, we hear that the formula is broken and we need to put more money in classrooms. More spending at the instructional level is needed to be sure. But I would humbly offer that students also benefit from qualified administrators. Must we be reminded that most educators are underpaid? The fact is, we know a lot more about the salaries of our administrators than we do the money that will flow retrograde to the State Legislative leadership as a result of generous corporate tax cuts.

There are less than half a dozen charter schools in Mississippi.  However, one word does not enter the good Doctor's vocabulary: innovation.  We should just line up keep doing the same things we've been doing and just spend more money.

Dr. Alford ignores economics.  It is quite clear he cherry-picked his facts because if he had conducted some authentic research, he would've seen that the better school districts spend less money per pupil than the failing ones. Teachers make up a larger share of the workforce in better school districts than in those that fail. They spend less per pupil. Indeed, the most recent Children's First Report (issued in 2013) stated that only 40% of JPS's employees were teachers.  Desoto County was 49% while Madison and Rankin Counties were at 56% and 54% respectively. That is efficiency in action.  Jackson and Canton spent more per student than all other local school districts.

However, Dr. Alford thinks it is a good think to have more administrators.  Yup, school districts should either get more top-heavy or they need to pay the suits even more money.  No wonder he considers "efficiency" to be an evil word.  The purpose of the corporate tax cuts was to help Mississippi businesses improve and thus grow the economy but Dr. Alford sees them as something to be plucked, not grown.  It is almost a catch-22.  Mississippi needs a growing economy to improve the revenue available for education but it needs to spend more money to improve education and thus grow the economy.  

Let’s take one school administrator as an example. The Madison County Schools, for instance, educates over 12,000 students at 12 schools. The district has well over 600 teachers and many more support staff. It has an annual budget of more than $100 million. The superintendent of that system makes somewhere near $150,000. That is a healthy salary, but I would challenge Speaker Philip Gunn and Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves to find a handful of businesses with 600 employees whose CEO’s make less than $150,000. The fact is, several CEOs whose home offices are located outside the state of Mississippi, will make more in a single day than the average school administrator does in a year. These are our children. Many of these tax immune CEOs live out of state. Let’s fix that formula!

No actual evidence is presented to support his claim about what these CEO's make.  However, evidence is not needed when one is parroting talking points.  What does Dr. Alford suggest? Impose an income tax on out-of-state CEO's? Such a tax would obviously be impossible to implement so the only other option is to... drum roll... increase the salaries of our Superintendents and other administrators.  You're going to be able to keep your perfumed princes and pay them even more money if he has his way.  Just tax the corporations some more. They owe it to our children.  How much more should we pay them? 10%? 25%? Dr. Alford doesn't say.  He just tries to morally shame us into dumping more money on the suits, economics be damned.

One little note to Dr. Alford if he is going to go this route and start comparing salaries in Mississippi to salaries of CEO's or teachers elsewhere: factor in the cost of living.  Some of those higher salaries for teachers or CEO's won't seem so high in some cases but that would again require some knowledge of economics.  

But I believe we might also start the conversation with the fact that our per-pupil student expenditures are $600 less than Alabama, $1,100 less than Arkansas, and $2,000 less than Louisiana. Much of what Reeves and Gunn are doing is a distraction from the fact that we aren’t spending enough on public education, period. We should not forget during this “formula renovation” that our per pupil and teacher spend is the lowest in the United States.

They also have much larger budgets than does Mississippi.  Louisiana's constitution also protects its public education from budget cuts.  That is one reason Louisiana universities see their budgets cut in half  while public schools are left alone when times are tough.  Those two states also have larger populations and larger cities.  Birmingham, Shreveport, Baton Rouge, Lafayette, and New Orleans.  They also have more industry and manufacturing than the Magnolia state.  The actual truth is Mississippi is a rural state with a small industrial base.  There is only so much that can be taxed. 

Four hundred years ago Galileo shocked the world and turned the church on its ear by asserting that earth was not at the center of the universe and was in fact in orbit round the sun. For centuries “the truth” was ignored, suppressed, and even abused.

Galileo’s discovered truths in fact came slowly, over time and with a price. Likewise, because of the laws of science, the stakes for educational attainment have been raised, as it is not only a predictor of per capita income, but also the overall health of a community and the inherent costs therein. Yet we still do not talk of spending more in the single best place to invest as a society.

 Oh, damn.  Now he is comparing our leaders to the Catholic Church in Galileo's time.  We get it, Dr. Alford, we get it.  If we disagree with you, we are a bunch of flat-earthers.  One must also ask what does this guy mean when he claims we do not "talk of spending more" money on education? Hell, that subject has dominated the discussions for the last few years whenever the legislature meets.  Can this guy make an actual point without arguing "I'm good and if you oppose me you are evil" argument?

Notice something else omitted from his virtuous vituperation? The word "accountability".  I've read similar screeds and they all say the same thing: spend more money but don't account for how it is spent.  Trust us because we know better than you how to spend it.  Such thinking allows Mississippi to spend what it does have right into last place.

Mississippi teachers have done so much with so little, producing world-renowned musicians, writers, teachers, physicians, athletes, engineers and theologians. Imagine what could happen if our teachers had the support of legislative leadership. Unfortunately, perspective, reason and logic are sorely lacking in our State Capitol. It is as if the leadership believes it, too, is the center of the universe and somehow not subject to the truths of science and the economy that govern the rest of the United States.

What if we value our teachers and paid them at the national average? What if we really behaved as if our children were our most precious resource and increased per pupil spending to at least regional average? What if we funded pre-K statewide since that alone would get more children through the reading gate? These should be key ingredients for any education formula fix. Perhaps the formula doesn’t need fixing, rather the politics needs fixing.

We are reassured that the truth will ultimately prevail but Mississippi has been in the desert a long time, held down by politics. Now more than ever the hard science suggests that Mississippi’s health and economy will forever languish until it commits to taking care of its children rather than its corporations.

 That, my friends, is the truth.

Wow.  Who does he thinks produces jobs and tax revenue? Do such things just come out of thin air? Does he even understand economics or is he practicing Ali Shamsid-Deen economics? 

The Dr. Alfords of Mississippi see education as a sacred priesthood that should not be discussed by anyone but the privileged few.  A different kind of one percent. School districts can blow money on consultants.  They can blow money on their favorite lawyers.  They can blow money on bonds.  They can blow money on everybody but teachers as the good ole boys hire friends and family, actual needs be damned.  However, let someone question this spending and he is labeled a heretic who hates the children.  Get out some matches and stakes, there is some burning to do.  Don't even think of mentioning efficiency, accountability, or innovation and that my friends, is the real truth.

Fully funding MAEP would require the legislature to spend at least another $100-200 million per year.  Dr. Burnham asked for an additional $300 million back in 2011 to fully fund MAEP.  Where exactly can we get the money? Raise taxes? Cut spending for say, Ole Miss, Medicaid, and highways? Borrow the money? Will the good doctor tell us how much more money we should spend and how we can get it?  JJ would love to get back the money spent on Kior or lost on Outlets of Mississippi but that money is gone.  It is true there are more needs than resources.  However, where exactly are we going to get the money? 

Data is data and a periodic review of how we spend our money is smart.  In fact, it is criminal negligence not to do so. Is the formula valid? Should it be adjusted? Can it be improved? Those are valid questions that should be asked but are apparently opposed by Dr. Alford. The difference between this writer and Dr. Alford is I don't think he is evil or on a par with those who would burn Galileo at the stake.  He simply has a different viewpoint on how to improve education in Mississippi. Such differences make for a debate that should be had among our leaders.  However, the same can not be said for him.  He does after all, speak the truth.  One does not question the truth.  A true God complex on display is Dr. Alford's column.


Anonymous said...

Interesting CEO/School District model...results equal pay?

How many administrators would tie their compensation to student success?

Anonymous said...

Money is not the problem with public schools. Students from private schools always score better on standardized tests than public school counterparts with a fraction of money spent per pupil

Anonymous said...

Dr. Alford, the champion of the downtrodden, has gone to a CASH ONLY medical practice after spending over 30 years preaching about Medicaid expansion, etc. to "greedy" Mississippi physicians. What a HYPOCRITE!

Anonymous said...

The problem is so simple. Many of the children do not respect authority. Many of them have parents who do not respect authority. Self-respect has been replaced with self-esteem and it is certain many have no esteem for anyone except the cool drug dealer or gang member. Esteem for gold chains and money and tennis shoes. Glory in taking picture of self with large handgun to publish on Facebook.

Attention to authority must begin in Kindergarten and be enforced throughout all 12 grades. The result will be graduates ready for college, apprenticeship, or the military. An educated workforce who pay taxes instead of freeloaders.

Anonymous said...

Well done, KF. I read Dr. Alford's article last week and chuckled at the, as you say it, "moral superiority" that reeks throughout the article. It kind of reminded me of the Wizard of Oz..."I'm smarter than you...unless you get real data involved (i.e. look behind the curtain)."

Anonymous said...

I believe Germany has set their education system where they test each student around the 8th grade. That test determines if they should pursue either a vocational/technical training school or get a degree in higher education. Our state is suffering from a dumb workforce. It's pathetic. If we would stop trying to send every single student to college we would have a lot of issues solved. Many students can't even succeed in college without using athletics as a crutch. I know that's going to break some of the readers hearts here. All public schools are for is basically a "farm" to develop school athletes...that can't even read and write on a grade school level. Yet, for the sake of many things, their excuse is the sports give them a way out of the desperate living situations. If these kids worked as hard in the workforce as they do at sports then they would see a different way of life. Cut the athletics out of the budget, start training the students who are not college material in o tech schools and this state will be much better off.

Anonymous said...

Part of the problem with this is that we still don't have the recommendations. There isn't enough time to do this well and if there are any substantive changes this could very well end up like the sweep of intra agency funds this year where there are lots of unintended consequences that it takes a year to fix. Particularly where education is concerned legislative leadership hasn't wanted to listen to the boots on the ground and we found out last year that they are willing to be openly petty about "punishing" those who disagree with them. This isn't a great setup for success. The one public meeting was held with little notice and at at time parents and teachers couldn't attend. If you are serious about making changes you do due diligence and make sure you are taking the time to get it right.

Has Nothing To Do With Athletics.. said...

That was a terribly laborious read that I'm certain must have value. Public school education will never be fixed until we bring back the rod. But, that will never happen, so there's that.

Anonymous said...

... legislative leadership hasn't wanted to listen to the boots on the ground ...

No need to listen to the boots on the ground because they aren't saying anything new or different than they said for the last 20 years.

Anonymous said...

KF, you over look that school districts that spend less per pupil are in better condition. They may have better fund raising capability to get band instruments , for example.
5:48 am is typical of those looking for an easy fix to complex problems. It's not the "rod" and he doesn't really understand that more important forms of discipline have been lost like the ability to expel and suspend based solely on the judgement of those having to deal with the student.
There aren't " good conduct" grades anymore. We couldn't have " star" athletes unable to exchange in sports because their conduct didn't meet the minimum " B" level required so that got tossed. Making your conduct grade so you could participate in the " fun" and more social activities mattered to students and still would.
I attended large public schools and paddling was never used. But, parents knew they would have a child at home rather than at school if the child couldn't behave appropriately. Parents have too much authority as do armchair experts who don't know what they don't know.
Parents didn't run the schools when they worked well. The community importance or "hissy fits" of a parent didn't help little Jane or Johnny if they didn't behave or caused problems. Politicians didn't think they were education experts.
Those with agendas have succeeded in keeping knowledge from being taught and teaching nonsense with absolutely no basis in fact or reality.
We learned about everything and learned to evaluate what was learned. We read Marx and Mein Kamp and Madison and Jefferson and so know why the latter had better ideas and what causes governments and societies and philosophies to fail in application.
We learned about civics and so I knew in the 5th grade what was required for citizenship in this country and every other country so I knew the Birther movement was based on ignorance. I know why vaccinations are important because I learned the role of government in keeping citizens healthy because I know without government intervention, we'd still be suffering from the plague!
We learned about other cultures and it didn't keep us from seeing the strengths of our own but reinforced those strengths and helped us recognize where the dangers could lie.
We did away with subjective testing so we reward memorization not comprehension. We don't teach our young people how to extrapolate or decide relevancy or put information in rational context.
But, that all that went away so now we see what is left..."fake news" and " propaganda" and beliefs and feelings dictating policy in everything including education rather than rationality and facts.
We've become a people who can't weigh the validity of opinion. So those who seek power and wealth for themselves and wish to manipulate us can do so easily.
Most who read this piece will take sides and probably take yours , KF. They won't understand that you and Dr. Alford both have good points worthy of consideration and that neither of you are infallible or know what you don't know. Instead of stimulating a discussion that might lead to real solutions, we will again be stuck in a never ending argument where it's about who's " right" instead of what is the most rational approach to a solution. We won't look at what got broken and how or what is proven to work. We'll chose who we like or him.

Anonymous said...

Start your own blog 8:05.

I know what you don't know said...

... so I knew in the 5th grade what was required for citizenship in this country and every other country ...

I can "weigh the validity" of that claim and it weighs as much as a steaming pile of freshly dropped bovine manure.

Kingsnake said...

8:05: There is some truth to what you say. However, I'm not claiming my positions are "truth" or comparing Dr. Alford to the Inquisition. That is why you have discussion and debate as I stated in my last paragraph and you somehow ignored. It is the Dr. Alford's who refuse to have a debate and classify this as good v. evil or truth v. lies.

Bring Back The Rod said...

8:05....Two things:

First: Learn how to make paragraphs.

Second: 'Bring back the rod' is metaphorical for 'Let's have a little discipline back up in here'.

It's after 8 a.m. and you're supposed to be in your cubicle at the State Department of Education solving important problems and planning trips out to evaluate screwals.

Anonymous said...

Schools are no longer about the pursuit of learning. Real learning is dangerous. It's the smart ones you have to worry about and all that jazz. They (schools) are merely extensions of a government bureaucracy that changes the rules every so often to make itself "more efficient". As long as bubbles are filled in on a scantron with a #2 pencil, all is well; if not that, then a modernized version/reiteration of that.

When you thrown money at a bad situation hoping for it to improve with money alone, all the money does is fund A LOT of misery. That's what money does with the wrong attitudes handling it. Fund misery.

Anonymous said...

@8:01 I think teachers are saying very different things than they were twenty years ago. But, keep ignoring what they are saying about testing. Keep moving away from self contained classrooms in the lower grades. Send first graders to different teachers for every subject and on top of that change their class makeup every four weeks based on where they placed in their latest MAP test. It's no big deal if the teacher never really gets to know the kids in their class because it is constantly changing and they have six different sets of them in a day instead of one. No big deal that a child who was in the high reading group got moved to the low group for a month because they were bored with the test and just clicked on through the prompts. No big deal at all.

Anonymous said...

ROFLMAO. You're right 12:25, the Legislature, er, the Republicans in the Legislature forced all those problems upon the schools.

Anonymous said...

1:36 - Our schools have failed for sixty years. Republicans have been in control for five.

Anonymous said...

The republicans did not cause the problem we have in our schools. The democrats did not cause the problem we have in our schools. They both had to have a hand in it. Along with them we had way too many people glad to sell our children for a few dollars. A few dollars and some power is all it takes to buy the life of their children, or in most cases, the lives of other parent's children.
Why don't these other parents do something about it. Because they may not care about their children. They agreed to let the school system take over the responsibility of raising their children.
It just so happens that our school system is not that good at parenting either.

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Trollfest '09

Trollfest '07 was such a success that Jackson Jambalaya will once again host Trollfest '09. Catch this great event which will leave NE Jackson & Fondren in flames. Othor Cain and his band, The Black Power Structure headline the night while Sonjay Poontang returns for an encore performance. Former Frank Melton bodyguard Marcus Wright makes his premier appearance at Trollfest singing "I'm a Sweet Transvestite" from "The Rocky Horror Picture Show." Kamikaze will sing his new hit, “How I sold out to da Man.” Robbie Bell again performs: “Mamas, don't let your babies grow up to be Bells” and “Any friend of Ed Peters is a friend of mine”. After the show, Ms. Bell will autograph copies of her mug shot photos. In a salute to “Dancing with the Stars”, Ms. Bell and Hinds County District Attorney Robert Smith will dance the Wango Tango.

Wrestling returns, except this time it will be a Battle Royal with Othor Cain, Ben Allen, Kim Wade, Haley Fisackerly, Alan Lange, and “Big Cat” Donna Ladd all in the ring at the same time. The Battle Royal will be in a steel cage, no time limit, no referee, and the losers must leave town. Marshand Crisler will be the honorary referee (as it gives him a title without actually having to do anything).

Meet KIM Waaaaaade at the Entergy Tent. For five pesos, Kim will sell you a chance to win a deed to a crack house on Ridgeway Street stuffed in the Howard Industries pinata. Don't worry if the pinata is beaten to shreds, as Mr. Wade has Jose, Emmanuel, and Carlos, all illegal immigrants, available as replacements for the it. Upon leaving the Entergy tent, fig leaves will be available in case Entergy literally takes everything you have as part of its Trollfest ticket price adjustment charge.

Donna Ladd of The Jackson Free Press will give several classes on learning how to write. Smearing, writing without factchecking, and reporting only one side of a story will be covered. A donation to pay their taxes will be accepted and she will be signing copies of their former federal tax liens. Ms. Ladd will give a dramatic reading of her two award-winning essays (They received The Jackson Free Press "Best Of" awards.) "Why everything is always about me" and "Why I cover murders better than anyone else in Jackson".

In the spirit of helping those who are less fortunate, Trollfest '09 adopts a cause for which a portion of the proceeds and donations will be donated: Keeping Frank Melton in his home. The “Keep Frank Melton From Being Homeless” booth will sell chances for five dollars to pin the tail on the jackass. John Reeves has graciously volunteered to be the jackass for this honorable excursion into saving Frank's ass. What's an ass between two friends after all? If Mr. Reeves is unable to um, perform, Speaker Billy McCoy has also volunteered as when the word “jackass” was mentioned he immediately ran as fast as he could to sign up.

In order to help clean up the legal profession, Adam Kilgore of the Mississippi Bar will be giving away free, round-trip plane tickets to the North Pole where they keep their bar complaint forms (which are NOT available online). If you don't want to go to the North Pole, you can enjoy Brant Brantley's (of the Mississippi Commission on Judicial Performance) free guided tours of the quicksand field over by High Street where all complaints against judges disappear. If for some reason you are unable to control yourself, never fear; Judge Houston Patton will operate his jail where no lawyers are needed or allowed as you just sit there for minutes... hours.... months...years until he decides he is tired of you sitting in his jail. Do not think Judge Patton is a bad judge however as he plans to serve free Mad Dog 20/20 to all inmates.

Trollfest '09 is a pet-friendly event as well. Feel free to bring your dog with you and do not worry if your pet gets hungry, as employees of the Jackson Zoo will be on hand to provide some of their animals as food when it gets to be feeding time for your little loved one.

Relax at the Fox News Tent. Since there are only three blonde reporters in Jackson (being blonde is a requirement for working at Fox News), Megan and Kathryn from WAPT and Wendy from WLBT will be on loan to Fox. To gain admittance to the VIP section, bring either your Republican Party ID card or a Rebel Flag. Bringing both and a torn-up Obama yard sign will entitle you to free drinks served by Megan, Wendy, and Kathryn. Get your tickets now. Since this is an event for trolls, no ID is required. Just bring the hate. Bring the family, Trollfest '09 is for EVERYONE!!!

This is definitely a Beaver production.

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There will be a hugging booth where in exchange for your young son, Frank Melton will give you a loooong hug. Trollfest will have a dunking booth where Muhammed the terrorist will curse you to Allah as you try to hit a target that will drop him into a vat of pig grease. However, in the true spirit of Separate But Equal, Don Imus and someone from NE Jackson will also sit in the dunking booth for an equal amount of time. Tom Head will give a reading for two hours on why he can't figure out who the hell he is. Cliff Cargill will give lessons with his .80 caliber desert eagle, using Frank Melton photos as targets. Tackleberry will be on hand for an autograph session. KIM Waaaaaade will be passing out free titles and deeds to crackhouses formerly owned by The Wood Street Players.

If you get tired come relax at the Fox News Tent. To gain admittance to the VIP section, bring either your Republican Party ID card or a Rebel Flag. Bringing both will entitle you to free drinks.Get your tickets now. Since this is an event for trolls, no ID is required, just bring the hate. Bring the family, Trollfest '07 is for EVERYONE!!!

This is definitely a Beaver production.

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