Texas Police Mean Business

A 72 year old woman was tased outside of Austin Texas back in May at a traffic stop. The woman claims the police used excessive force. Police spokespeople insist the officer dealt appropriately with a difficult situation. You be the judge.

Texas Police Mean Business

A 72 year old woman was tased outside of Austin Texas back in May at a traffic stop. The woman claims the police used excessive force. Police spokespeople insist the officer dealt appropriately with a difficult situation. You be the judge.

Fatal Merit Pay Flaw – Funding

Paying our teachers $100,000 plus a year is a noble idea. After spending a tour of duty in school district tech support, I firmly believe government school teachers are underpaid. Reforms tout the merit pay method as the savior of our schools. Michelle Rhee is a known fan of merit pay and has proposed the idea in D.C. NYC Mayor Mike Bloomberg too.

Can states really afford to reward their teachers at this level?

I questioned whether merit pay would be feasible budget-wise a few days ago.

from The Maine View:

Then there is the cost. The idea of a $100,000 plus a year teacher. As long as schools still run on tax dollars I don’t see that big a pay rate feasible. Something else would have to be cut. Sports, music, other teachers perhaps. I wouldn’t mind cutting the fat and more efficient spending in schools. In fact it should be a priority. None the less I don’t see many states being to afford such increases.

In Texas they have dropped one of two incentive programs

from Dallas News:

The TEEG plan began as a pilot program ordered by Gov. Rick Perry in the 2005-06 school year. It was expanded to a statewide program a year later by the Legislature, which put up $100 million for teacher bonuses at 1,150 schools.

Proponents said targeting the money to the best teachers at schools with a large number of low-income students would motivate teachers to do better and improve test scores and achievement at those schools. Individual bonuses were based primarily on test score results.

But studies showed that although affected teachers liked the extra money, more than three-fourths said the bonuses had no effect on the way they taught or their performance in the classroom.

Here we have a program cut because it just plain failed. Poorly planned and poorly executed, TEEG was a waste of money. It seems as though there wasn’t much more thought in this plan beyond a straight injection of money. The plan was especially flawed when taking into account that TEEG drew much needed funds from the already questionable state wide DATE plan. Of course this is not the first fumble in Texas education policy.

The situation in California is dire. The state is in a financial disaster. California’s budget is short an estimated $24 billion. No matter what the Governator decides to do, it is a given that education will take a hard hit.

from LA Times:

The governor would take $3 billion from public schools if the ballot propositions pass and $5 billion if they fail — potentially forcing a seven-day reduction in the school year — on top of billions the state cut several months ago. California’s public colleges and universities would lose $1 billion if the measures pass and $1.2 billion if they fail.

Administration officials said the education cuts would be cushioned by incoming federal stimulus funds.

But a lobbyist for school districts, Kevin Gordon, questioned whether the U.S. government would allow the state to use federal money to replace its own.

Such cuts would violate “the spirit of what leaders in Washington, D.C., intended,” Gordon said. The federal money, he said, was not meant to enable the state to cut its own spending.

You can bet merit pay doesn’t look like such a good idea when your pockets are empty. When the private sector is cutting back, employ bonuses will almost certainly be cut. Now imagine those bonuses are being funded by public tax dollars. Stretch that vision even further if you will, and picture that you’re now starring at a budget billions of dollars in the red. Extra pay will take a hit.

Perhaps we should think of implementing merit pay like getting to the Moon. It took almost a decade to get everything right and still it was a long shot. How many rockets blew up on the launch pad before we could even get one in orbit? Creative dedicated minds at NASA finally got it right. It took innovative thinking from those scientists to solve their problems. Maybe we need to start channeling a little of their ingenuity into this merit pay conundrum.

Texas And Gun Control

I seem to be writing about Texas a lot. This time I really wish I wasn’t.

Last Thursday, a Texas couple fired on a vehicle that had stopped near their property. Here is a report of the incident from the Houston Chronicle. I warn you it is difficult to read.

from Houston Chronicle:

Donald Coffey Jr., his father and friends were on their way back from joy riding near a levee and swimming in the Trinity River around 9 p.m. Thursday when homeowners Gale and Sheila Muhs fired at them with a 12-gauge shotgun, police say.

The Muhses, both 45, are charged with aggravated assault and are being held in the Liberty County Jail in lieu of $25,000 bail each. The couple is expected to appear in state district court in the coming week.

Authorities are considering upgrading the charge to murder or capital murder, Bishop said.

The boy, struck in the face, was among eight people, including four children, who had been on the river outing. Four people, including another child, were shot.

The boy’s 5-year-old sister, Destiny, and their father, Donald Coffey Sr., 36, were hit but have been treated by doctors and released.

The fourth shooting victim is family friend Patrick Cammack, 30, whose condition has improved since surgery. Doctors had to leave a bullet in his head, said his wife, Cindy Nelton, who was also there that night.

Nelton said the ordeal happened over two or three minutes in “pitch darkness.”

She said she was driving a sport utility vehicle with the boy’s mother, Becky Coffey. Two of the women’s children, including Destiny, were in the back.

Driving alongside them in a Jeep were Cammack, the elder Coffey, “Little Donald” and Cammack’s son.

The men stopped to use the bathroom and got out of the Jeep near the Muhses’ home in the Westlake subdivision south of Dayton when a woman’s voice boomed through the darkness, Nelton said.

In a message peppered with expletives, she said, the voice ordered the group to get their vehicles off the property.

“And then I heard a shot and our windows were blown out,” Nelton said.

Nelton, who never saw a shooter, said she immediately stomped on the gas and screamed, “We’ve got kids in this vehicle! Y’all need to stop shooting!”

A second shot, and possibly others, came in reply.

I read the story first at The Moderate Voice. Discussion on the story centered the circumstances of the shooting. Most of the commenters, a number of whom were gun owners, raised concerns about the shooting taking place in “pitch darkness”.

from The Moderate Voice:

Rudi
If your a gun owner or hunter please explain how anyone shoots “in pitch blackness”? These whackjobs shoot at someone they couldn’t see.

Rambie
I remember in my hunter safety course that you are NOT supposed to shoot until you can SEE the target clearly. If they were shooting in pitch black, then they shouldn’t have been shooting at all. Don’t they have flash lights in Texas?

T_Steel I had a ex-Special Forces fella at the gun range I go to tell me the same Rambie: don’t shoot until you can clearly see the target.

Firing into darkness at “targets”?? That’s what gang members and wackjobs do.

I think T_Steel hit the nail right on the head. A responsible gun owner does not fire blindly. It also sounds like they didn’t give an intelligible warning before they fired. It seems they just yelled for the cars to leave then fired. The article is not clear, but I’m sure it will come out in court.

I haven’t seen many solutions to this problem.

The far left will say, as was said in the article, that we need to ban guns entirely. I completely disagree with this approach. Responsible gun owners make up such a minute portion of gun crimes that would not curb gun violence.

The far right and libertarians will take the opportunity to argue against the leftist push for more controls. I can’t agree with that position either. I don’t mind the hunter having rifles/shotguns, people owning handguns for protection, but assault weapons and armor piercing bullets don’t belong in the hands of civilians. How many animals are you killing that have kevlar vests?

Again I agree with T_Steel who said that guns don’t kill people, it’s the people pulling the triggers. I don’t see what type of legislation could have prevented a tragic case like the one in Texas. A commenter suggested mandatory safety classes and background checks should be required for anyone purchasing a gun. Background checks are absolutely necessary as is the 5 day waiting period. I am doubtful that mandatory safety classes will be more than wastes of money. Some people will go to them and follow the rules. Even that wont guarantee that attendees will follow the safety tips given to them. I think I can safely speculate that the Texas shooters would not have followed what they learned in the safety class as they couldn’t even follow common sense.

Stupid is stupid. You can’t legislate intelligence.

Texas And Gun Control

I seem to be writing about Texas a lot. This time I really wish I wasn’t.

Last Thursday, a Texas couple fired on a vehicle that had stopped near their property. Here is a report of the incident from the Houston Chronicle. I warn you it is difficult to read.

from Houston Chronicle:

Donald Coffey Jr., his father and friends were on their way back from joy riding near a levee and swimming in the Trinity River around 9 p.m. Thursday when homeowners Gale and Sheila Muhs fired at them with a 12-gauge shotgun, police say.

The Muhses, both 45, are charged with aggravated assault and are being held in the Liberty County Jail in lieu of $25,000 bail each. The couple is expected to appear in state district court in the coming week.

Authorities are considering upgrading the charge to murder or capital murder, Bishop said.

The boy, struck in the face, was among eight people, including four children, who had been on the river outing. Four people, including another child, were shot.

The boy’s 5-year-old sister, Destiny, and their father, Donald Coffey Sr., 36, were hit but have been treated by doctors and released.

The fourth shooting victim is family friend Patrick Cammack, 30, whose condition has improved since surgery. Doctors had to leave a bullet in his head, said his wife, Cindy Nelton, who was also there that night.

Nelton said the ordeal happened over two or three minutes in “pitch darkness.”

She said she was driving a sport utility vehicle with the boy’s mother, Becky Coffey. Two of the women’s children, including Destiny, were in the back.

Driving alongside them in a Jeep were Cammack, the elder Coffey, “Little Donald” and Cammack’s son.

The men stopped to use the bathroom and got out of the Jeep near the Muhses’ home in the Westlake subdivision south of Dayton when a woman’s voice boomed through the darkness, Nelton said.

In a message peppered with expletives, she said, the voice ordered the group to get their vehicles off the property.

“And then I heard a shot and our windows were blown out,” Nelton said.

Nelton, who never saw a shooter, said she immediately stomped on the gas and screamed, “We’ve got kids in this vehicle! Y’all need to stop shooting!”

A second shot, and possibly others, came in reply.

I read the story first at The Moderate Voice. Discussion on the story centered the circumstances of the shooting. Most of the commenters, a number of whom were gun owners, raised concerns about the shooting taking place in “pitch darkness”.

from The Moderate Voice:

Rudi
If your a gun owner or hunter please explain how anyone shoots “in pitch blackness”? These whackjobs shoot at someone they couldn’t see.

Rambie
I remember in my hunter safety course that you are NOT supposed to shoot until you can SEE the target clearly. If they were shooting in pitch black, then they shouldn’t have been shooting at all. Don’t they have flash lights in Texas?

T_Steel I had a ex-Special Forces fella at the gun range I go to tell me the same Rambie: don’t shoot until you can clearly see the target.

Firing into darkness at “targets”?? That’s what gang members and wackjobs do.

I think T_Steel hit the nail right on the head. A responsible gun owner does not fire blindly. It also sounds like they didn’t give an intelligible warning before they fired. It seems they just yelled for the cars to leave then fired. The article is not clear, but I’m sure it will come out in court.

I haven’t seen many solutions to this problem.

The far left will say, as was said in the article, that we need to ban guns entirely. I completely disagree with this approach. Responsible gun owners make up such a minute portion of gun crimes that would not curb gun violence.

The far right and libertarians will take the opportunity to argue against the leftist push for more controls. I can’t agree with that position either. I don’t mind the hunter having rifles/shotguns, people owning handguns for protection, but assault weapons and armor piercing bullets don’t belong in the hands of civilians. How many animals are you killing that have kevlar vests?

Again I agree with T_Steel who said that guns don’t kill people, it’s the people pulling the triggers. I don’t see what type of legislation could have prevented a tragic case like the one in Texas. A commenter suggested mandatory safety classes and background checks should be required for anyone purchasing a gun. Background checks are absolutely necessary as is the 5 day waiting period. I am doubtful that mandatory safety classes will be more than wastes of money. Some people will go to them and follow the rules. Even that wont guarantee that attendees will follow the safety tips given to them. I think I can safely speculate that the Texas shooters would not have followed what they learned in the safety class as they couldn’t even follow common sense.

Stupid is stupid. You can’t legislate intelligence.

Texas Grading Policy Epic Fail – Minimum grades for failing students

“Everything is bigger in Texas” is how that oft used saying goes. When it comes to education policy in Texas the saying still applies. The state’s newest exercise in grading can be nothing but a massive failure.

Many Texas school districts have imposed minimum grades teachers can give to students. A score of 50 or 60 has been set in some districts, with a few raising the bottom to 70! When I went to school a 70 would have been a C-/D+ depending on the teacher. A student could theoretically not turn in an assignment or completely bomb a test and still receive an average score.

from Web Watch

Republican Senator Jane Nelson, a former teacher who introduced the bill, said the practice of putting a minimum on student grades encourages students to “game” the system.

“Kids are smart and can figure it out,” she said. “A student in one of these districts with a minimum grade of 70 can sit in class and say, ‘I don’t have to do any homework, I don’t have to answer any questions on tests, and they still have to give me a 70 no matter what.”

Let’s teach our children how to cheat the system. That’s a noble aim to teaching. Districts employing these policies cite dropout rates and providing a “safety net” as reasons for the minimum grading policy.

from Dallas News

“There are students who make mistakes and wind up with poor grades in one grading period during the semester,” said Leslie James, assistant superintendent for policy and planning in the Fort Worth school district. “If they are not allowed to turn it around, it can become hopeless for the student. They need an opportunity to bounce back.”

James’ comment shows the lack of faith in teachers. Now while I have been an advocate in greater accountability of both teachers and students, this sort of micromanaging hurts classroom efforts. James is telling teachers, “I don’t believe you will give students adequate opportunity to make up work they’ve missed. You wont give them help to boost their poor grades either. You also don’t know how to grade students. Let us tell you how to do your job.” A teacher is in the classroom with these students. Few teachers want to fail anyone. Their job is to produce success in their students. So when they do we must recognize there is reason behind that.

This whole notion of a safety net disturbs me to no end. In “A for Effort. F in life.” I wrote about the dangers of protecting children from failure in school. Instilling children with a sense of entitlement to rewards without the work sets children up for massive failure in life. I haven’t change my mind. There is no safety net in life. An employer is not going to keep an employee who constantly performs below expectations but believes they are doing just fine. How can this person be expected to improve?

We are preparing kids for the outside world. The rewards from quality work can be great and ultimately more satisfying than just doing the bare minimum (or less than that in Texas’ case). The consequences of failure in the real world can be a cardboard box with the safety net of a soup kitchen.

Texas Creationism Fight

Two sides of a long standing debate have chosen the Texas school curriculum as their battleground. Evolutionists and creationists are butting heads on what should be taught in public schools. On thursday the Texas Board of Education narrowly voted to uphold evolutionary science as mainstream teaching in classrooms. Social conservatives on the board were able to amend the ruling. Teachers will now be required to “evaluate critically a variety of scientific principles like cell formation and the Big Bang”, “analyze and evaluate the sufficiency or insufficiency of natural selection to explain the complexity of the cell”, and examine “current theories of the evolution of the universe including estimates for the age of the universe.”

I don’t have a huge problem with teaching creationism, as long as it’s kept in it’s proper context. Creationism is not science, it’s a religious belief. In a public school it must be kept as such. Religious schools are there for a reason. They give those who want religion and education to be linked with an alternate choice to what they may disapprove of in public schools. Of course home-schooling is probably the best option if you want total control of what your children are being taught.

Another issue I take is the upholding of one belief as fact over others. If one proposes Christian creationism be taught in schools, you can bet that will open the floodgate for teaching other religions creation theories. With the percentage of non-religious citizens estimated to be on the rise and half of Americans believing in evolution this is the wrong way to go. I must also say that in the survey on evolution people were only asked whether they believed in evolution or not, not what alternative to evolution they believed in or any at all.

When it comes to something like allowing Christmas celebrations in schools, or even saying the damn word, we’ve gone too far. However, when it comes to teacher religious beliefs as anything otherwise there’s a problem. It has to be all or nothing. Not because that is the most efficient way, but because there will be lawsuits up the wazoo concerning the fairness. Do schools really have the money to waste on things like that? Do we really want our teachers bogged down with even more varied curricular requirements? Can we afford to dilute our children’s learning even further?