Tuesday, September 18, 2018

It's Just Math, Boys!

Some friends convinced me to go to a casino recently, I think maybe the third time I have been in my 60 years.  The idea of giving someone my money for no reason just doesn’t appeal to me.  Although I didn’t put any money down, I’ll admit it was fun to watch people I know lose their money.  Spirit of competition and all that.

Two bright gentlemen showed off their “systems” at the roulette tables.  One system involved betting on pretty much every number.  That person was able to maintain a large pile of chips that took some time to dwindle to zero.  Another “system” involves establishing a “lucky number” and then betting both sides of it in a “wedge.”  It’s all very scientific.  

With both systems, it seemed very important to know the term, double down.  Winning? Double down. Losing? Double down! One lost his money very quickly, the other took longer, but he too lost his money.  Of course, this shouldn’t surprise anyone with a basic understanding of math.  A winning number pays 35-1 and the wheel shows numbers up to 36. Seems fair unless you note that there is a zero and double zero on the wheel too.  That means your chances of winning are 37-1, and a winner pays only 35-1.  A small, but important difference that means the House always wins in the end. 

The odds don’t matter though, because this was admittedly fun (at least when it wasn’t my money being lost.). There are bright lights, big crowds, cheap drinks, exciting sounds, and plenty of cheering “winners.” There are no clocks and no windows, and this must be the only place left in the country where you can smoke.  Anything goes! Who cares about statistics and facts and odds and math?

Who cares indeed, as this same casino mentality has entered our political environment.  Statistics are boring, facts aren’t facts, truth is what I feel; who needs math?  Say what you want, the more provocative the better, and hope no one does the math.  Math is boring, but wild statements and accusations are the bright lights, ringing bells and cheap drinks of politics.  These candidates count on people not stepping away from the table and critically considering what they are saying.  When a small confrontation broke out at the casino roulette table, I’ll paraphrase a non-gambling friend who said dryly, “it’s just math boys, nothing to get upset about.”

At KASB, we do math.  Ted Carter and Mark Tallman are not casino pit bosses with green eyeshades and sleeve garters, but they do spend some time hunkered down with spreadsheets.  When a casino candidate makes a dramatic claim with no basis in fact, then doubles down when it is revealed to be false, Ted and Mark don’t ring bells, buy drinks, or flash lights. They just do math.  Too many administrators in Kansas schools? Let’s do the math- Kansas is below the national average for the number of administrators in schools.  Schools also have fewer employees in management roles than business and industry. It’s just math boys, nothing to get upset about.

Seventy-five percent to the classroom? A specious argument with ill-defined terms.  Just like those bright lights and cheap drinks, it sounds good, but doesn’t stand up to scrutiny. Shouldn’t we talk about how Kansas educators support student learning to achieve above average results at below average costs? It’s just math boys.

Someone else who does math is Dr. Lori Taylor, Professor of Economics at Texas A & M University.  Dr. Taylor is a well-known conservative academic who was paid $240,000 to study Kansas school finance.  Economist Taylor found that Kansas Schools are among the most efficient in America and need to spend more to properly educate students.  Dr. Taylor’s study was validated by another study for which the legislature paid $40,000.  Doing math can be profitable! 

Casinos are fun and entertaining.  Making up numbers makes for great sounds bites and media attention.  When it comes to my money, and our Kansas kids, I suggest we just do the math.  

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Veteran advice: ‘When they are at their worst, they need us to be our best’

Well, the Royals are dying on the vine, unrealistic expectations for the Chiefs are blooming, and the seeds of Jayhawk football victory are being sown . . . wait until basketball season. It must be time for the best day of the year: The first day of school! 

This year I had the opportunity to attend a school convocation and it brought back so many good memories. The sight of students walking to their cars after morning weights, the sound of the diesel engines cranking, the touch of handshake and hug greetings, the sweetish smell of disinfectant and the taste of school lunch cinnamon rolls brought back memories going back over 50 years!

The first day is such a special day, ripe with anticipation and excitement. For most of our kids, this is reality - a great first day of school.

The convocation speaker was none other than KASB Risk Management Assistant Executive Director Rod Spangler. If you know Rod, you know he had the crowd laughing, but who knew an insurance guy could also have wise and poignant advice for a room full of educators? Rod’s advice relates to the hardest part of being an educator, “When they are at their worst, they need us at our best.”

And this statement caused me to think about those sights and sounds again. For some students, the sight of the building brings a sense of dread. The sound of voices brings back memories of teasing and bullying. The touch is an unfriendly push in the hall. The smell of the lunch room means sitting alone hoping no one notices at the same time you are hoping someone will join you. The taste is that of anxiety welling up from your stomach.

Kansas has one of the highest suicide rates in the country. Across the country kids are killing themselves and each other. For me, it took a veteran talking about being belittled in school in the same context as combat experience to understand the seriousness of the trauma that some students endure. Members of my family suffer from trauma years after leaving our schools. Don’t just picture kids from poverty here folks, bullying - and the resultant depression, anxiety and trauma - doesn’t take the time to check parents’ bank accounts.

My wife likes to say, “Let’s stop admiring the problem and do something about it.” So, when I talked with her about the trauma kids inflict on each other, and said, “kids can be so mean.” Her answer wasn’t an acknowledgment, but a question, “So how can we help students understand what they are doing to each other, and the long-term effects?” Now isn’t that a great question?

Let me leave you with three thoughts for the best day of the year:

  • It is a great day and the vast majority of our students see it that way.
  • When they are at their worst, they need us at our best.
  • How can we help kids understand the hurt they are capable of inflicting?

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Nearly half of Kansans fail simple test

August and November are coming: How will you score on this important metric?  

Although they originated with a Kentucky court case, the seven Rose Standards are well known to Kansas educators and policymakers. Cited by the Kansas Supreme Court, adopted by the Kansas State Board of Education, voted into law by the Legislature and signed by the governor, there is general agreement the standards are an excellent foundation upon which to build a system of education. There is also general agreement that the standards are difficult to measure.

Serving on the Governor’s Education Council and co-chair of the council’s metrics committee brings me more opportunity to think about how we measure school success, especially as we think about the Rose Standards.

Because one of the best measures of an education is how it is used over a lifetime, I jokingly suggested we develop an obituary/eulogy rubric. While much better ideas are being discussed, one thing for certain is we have the opportunity to measure two of the Rose Standards coming up in the next few months, both with one simple “yes/no” question.

The second Rose Standard states that a student should have “sufficient knowledge of economic, social, and political systems to enable the student to make informed choices.”

The third standard requires “sufficient understanding of governmental processes to enable the student to understand the issues that affect his or her community, state and nation.”

If those two standards are learned, the student will show mastery by voting in every election for which they are eligible. “Yes” or “No,” did you vote? It has been estimated 45 percent of eligible voters in Kansas stayed home in 2016, thus failing our simple mastery test.

In spite of the fact that four of the amendments to the U.S. Constitution deal directly with keeping paths to the ballot box open, nearly half of Kansans choose not to go. Certainly, there are those who prefer small turnout and want to make voting a privilege instead of a right, but over our nearly 250-year history, Americans have acted consistently to ensure this important right.

In 1869 the 15th Amendment prohibited the denial of voting rights based upon race. In 1920, half of the population was added to the voting roles by the 19th Amendment. In my lifetime, using poll taxes to keep people from voting was banned by the 23rd Amendment and the voting age was moved from age 21 to 18 by the 26th Amendment.

As a former government teacher, it hurts to know almost half of my former students are not exercising this important right. The two Rose Standards I was supposed to teach have not been met by even the simplest of standards.

My hurt feelings matter far less than the “Night of Terror” victims who were jailed and tortured for protesting for women’s suffrage in 1917. A movie made the Mississippi Burning victims famous by documenting how they died registering voters in the 1960’s South. Deacon Jimmie Lee Jackson was shot after attempting to register for the vote five times as depicted in the movie “Selma.”

I may have failed with my students, but maybe I can succeed with you. I am confident that school leaders are voters, so this is not a call for you to vote. This is a call to you to help your friends and neighbors understand and care about the issues enough that they go out and vote!