Friday, October 18, 2013

We’re Number 49! Roll Tide!

The Kansas Supreme Court met early this month to hear oral arguments in the Gannon School Finance case.  For those of you who have never visited the court room, I always expect to see Captain Kirk emerge from an elevator (aka turbo lift) and take the center chair.  It looks a little bit like the bridge of the Enterprise. (Apologies to you Next Gen fans.)

But I digress…

It was interesting to witness the Justices grill both sides with tough questions about their arguments, and they played no favorites as they posed hypotheticals to test the limits of ideas and arguments.  The lowlight of this process was when a Justice asked if Kansas was ranked 49th, would that meet the requirements of the constitution?

Yes, the state’s attorney replied, being 49th would be “good enough.”  Followers of this column and of the Tallman Education Report know that Kansas in fact ranks 7th in a composite measure of student achievement.  It is interesting that when state policy makers argue about school funding, independent charter schools, vouchers and other “reforms,” their claim is that 7th isn’t good enough.  But in the highest level of jurisprudence in the state, the argument is that 49th is “good enough.”  (Just for a point of reference, Mississippi is 50th.) That’s a little bit like Nick Saban arguing to his Athletic Director that if they can just beat Kansas every year, it would be good enough.  Roll Tide.

A few days before the court hearings, a board member from southeast Kansas shared a poem by Charles Osgood with me.  It is called "Pretty Good," but it could be called "Good Enough."  It offers an excellent lesson.

Pretty Good
By Charles Osgood

There once was a pretty good student.
Who sat in a pretty good class
And was taught by a pretty good teacher.
Who always let pretty good pass.

He wasn’t terrific at reading;
He wasn’t a whiz-bang at math;
But for him education was leading
Straight down a pretty good path.

He didn’t find school too exciting,
But he wanted to do pretty well.
And he did have some trouble with writing,
And nobody had taught him to spell.

When doing arithmetic problems,
Pretty good was regarded as fine;
Five and five needn’t always add up to be ten.
A pretty good answer was nine.

The pretty good student was happy
With the standards that were in effect.
And nobody thought it was sappy
If his answers were not quite correct.

The pretty good class that he sat in
Was part of a pretty good school.
And the student was not an exception;
On the contrary, he was the rule.

The pretty good school that he went to
Was right there in a pretty good town.
And nobody there ever noticed
He could not tell a verb from a noun.

The pretty good student, in fact, was
A part of a pretty good mob,
And the first time he knew what he lacked was
When he looked for a pretty good job.

It was then, when he sought a position,
He discovered that life can be tough,
And he soon had a sneaky suspicion
Pretty good might not be good enough.

The pretty good town in our story
Was part of a pretty good state
Which had pretty good aspirations
and prayed for a pretty good fate.

There was once a pretty good nation.
Pretty proud of the greatness it had.
But which learned much too late.
If you want to be great,
Pretty good is, in fact, pretty bad.