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Common Core clarity PDF Print E-mail
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Written by Ozaukee Press   
Wednesday, 16 April 2014 15:01

Grafton school officials gave critics clear, reasoned responses in defense of national academic standards (and so did a potential presidential candidate)

Grafton School District officials did a good job of defending Common Core academic standards at a meeting last week. They made it clear that the rigorous national standards are making Grafton schools better and are not interfering with local control of curriculums.

    The educators were responding to complaints about the Common Core standards from several residents at the April 7 School Board meeting. Their responses were effective, but it’s too bad Jeb Bush wasn’t there to drive home their points.

    There was no way Bush was going to attend a Grafton School Board meeting, of course, but he is worth mentioning because on the day before the meeting this former governor of Florida and son and brother of former U.S. presidents who may run for president himself spoke words of uncommon clarity on the subject of Common Core.

    Said Bush: “I understand there are those opposed to the standards. But what I want to hear from them is more than just opposition. I want to hear their solutions for the hodgepodge of dumbed-down state standards that have created group mediocrity in our schools.”

    The words had considerable heft because Bush was addressing them to his own Republican party, including the members of its archconservative wing who have turned a non-partisan educational initiative into a political issue, and because he aimed his comments at the fundamental flaw in the campaign against Common Core.

    The standards are vilified for being a one-size-fits-all remedy, yet that consistency is their strength, the reason they are the answer to the “hodgepodge” Bush was talking about.

    Common Core is a set of academic standards meant to serve as goals for students in all states to reach. They are more stringent than most state standards, some of which, as Bush said, are dumbed down.” And that’s the point: American academic achievement in grades K-12 is falling short; Common Core demands that schools, teachers and students improve.

     At the core of the opposition to Common Core is the notion that the sensible idea of nationwide academic standards is really an attempt by the federal government to take over local education. It was one of the criticisms voiced at last week’s Grafton School Board meeting.

    There is no evidence the claim is true. The standards were developed in 2010 by academics not associated with the federal government. They were approved by 45 state governments.

    Not surprising in a time when publication on the Internet lends some sort of credibility to all manner of assertions regardless of their intrinsic worth, a number of other arguments against the standards are rooted in myth.

    For example: Common Core usurps the power of local school boards to set curriculum; it gives the federal government power to tell school districts what to teach about sex; it will require schools to take retinal scans of students; it was bought and paid for by Microsoft magnate Bill Gates.

    In spite of the patent absurdity of such claims (including, perhaps, a plot by Gates to indoctrinate potential software engineers with love of the Windows operating system and contempt for Apple), the enemies of Common Core carry on their mission to insinuate politics into education. A bill was introduced in the last session of the Wisconsin Legislature to create a committee dominated by political appointees to rewrite standards for public schools. It died without a vote, but look for it to come back as a zombie in the next session

    At the Grafton School Board meeting, criticisms of the school district’s adoption of the national educational standards in language and math were answered articulately and persuasively. School staff members, School Board members and the school superintendent made it clear:

    Common Core does not dictate what is taught in Grafton schools.

    The school district has “absolute control over curriculum standards.”

    Common Core is increasing the rigor of school standards and as a result Grafton schools are improving.

    Jeb Bush could not have said it much better.


 
The fine print of government spending PDF Print E-mail
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Written by Ozaukee Press   
Wednesday, 09 April 2014 14:31

A student’s now famous science project and the success of a county shared-ride program suggest that government waste won’t be found in type fonts or taxis

A 14-year-old boy has found a way to save taxpayers nearly half a billion dollars a year by simply changing a typeface used in government documents.

    Or so it has been reported on the Internet and elsewhere. It sounds too good to be true, and it definitely is, but the fact that the story has generated attention measured in incalculable numbers of words, hits, posts and comments across the media sphere is a reminder that the term “government spending” is synonymous with waste and excess in the minds of many.

    For a science project at his Pittsburgh area middle school, Suvir Mirchandani posited that if the federal and state governments changed the type font used in their documents, substituting Garamond for Times New Roman, they could save $467 million a year. Unfortunately, his eureka! discovery turned out to be more wishful thinking than fact.

    The student based his calculations on the amount of printer ink needed to reproduce documents using the Times New Roman font versus the lighter, finer Garamond font. The flaw here, as was widely pointed out, is that most government documents are printed on offset printing presses, a far more economical process than computer printers for large quantities and, for smaller quantities, with copiers that use toner, which is much cheaper than printer ink.

    Type experts cited a bigger problem. The Garamond typeface is not as legible as Times New Roman. To make the documents easily readable in Garamond, a larger type size would have to be used, requiring about the same amount of ink as the Times New Roman font.

    Suvir probably won’t achieve lasting fame as the poster boy for cutting government waste, but let’s give him an A-plus for producing a thought-provoking proposal that captured the attention of vast numbers of Americans to the point of, as they say, going viral. That alone is an accomplishment that suggests the boy will go far.

    Besides, everyone who has choked on the outrageous prices charged for tiny amounts of ink for their computer printers owes a debt of gratitude to Suvir for including in his paper a suspicion-confirming statement that printer ink is priced so high it costs twice as much as expensive perfume. The claim has been checked and it’s true: An ounce of Chanel No. 5 costs $38; the same amount of Hewlett-Packard printer ink costs $75.

    You can’t blame people for wanting to believe a bright teenager figured out something government bureaucrats were too dull to get. The $700 toilet seats once bought in large numbers by the Pentagon and the $320 million “bridge to nowhere” Congress almost approved have achieved icon status in the annals of government waste.

    Yet for every one of those egregious squanderings of taxpayer money there are many other examples of government expenditures that deliver solid value in making people’s lives better.

    Here is an obvious one: the Ozaukee County shared-ride taxi service.

    In February, the service set a record by providing 9,224 rides in a single month. As readers will learn from a story in this week’s Ozaukee Press Good Living section (typeset in a member of the Times New Roman type family), this growing demand is driven in large part by the need of workers to get to their jobs, giving the shared-ride service a role in supporting the county’s economy. Other Ozaukee County residents need the rides in the cars, minivans and buses operated by the county to get to doctor appointments, the grocery store, church and other destinations that would otherwise be out of reach for people without access to personal vehicles.

    This is not a traditional taxi service; the shared-ride feature makes it more like riding a bus. The people who benefit from this service pay for it, but not the full cost, because that would be beyond the means of many of them. The rest is paid for by county, state and federal taxpayers.

    Yes, this is our tax dollars at work, not in the cynical, joking sense we often hear, but seriously at work to meet genuine need that is otherwise not be filled. (See what the driver interviewed for the Good Living story says about the people, ages 6 to 90, she has transported.) By all means, let the fight against government waste go on. But now we know that two places we’re not likely to find it are in the type fonts used in government printing and shared-ride taxi services like Ozaukee County’s.



 
Wired for arrogance PDF Print E-mail
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Written by Ozaukee Press   
Wednesday, 02 April 2014 18:51

AT&T’s demand for nearly $100,000 to bury phone lines in lakefront parking lots is an affront to taxpayers by a utility shielded from regulation

The arrogance flaunted by AT&T in telling the City of Port Washington it can like its outrageous charge of almost $100,000 to bury parking lot telephone lines or lump it should surprise no one.
 
   The Wisconsin Legislature in 2011 passed a law that granted AT&T immunity from regulation by the Public Service Commission, allowing the company to charge customers any price it wants for landline telephone service and to treat customer complaints with any degree of indifference it wants. It’s obvious that AT&T now feels empowered to stick it to taxpayers as well as customers.

    The near six-figure charge is a joke, but no one is laughing except AT&T. There are only a few telephone wires to put underground as part of the city’s project to improve the lakefront parking lots behind the Duluth Trading Co. storeand Port Washington State Bank. What’s more, AT&T won’t have to dig the trenches; its lines will go into the same trenches used for We Energies power lines.

    The city has asked AT&T to reduce the charge to a reasonable amount that reflects its actual costs, but according to one alderman, “it will not budge.”

    This would send the telephone company to the top of any graph tracking utility rip-offs of communities trying to improve the look of their streets and public spaces. The utilities have the municipalities at their mercy in projects that require putting overhead wires underground, and experience around here shows they take full advantage of it.

    In 2010, members of the Port Washington Common Council were appalled when We Energies charged almost half a million dollars to bury power lines along a short stretch of the rebuilt Highway 33. The bill was paid. It would have made no sense to invest in the rebuilding and beautification of the thoroughfare between Port and Saukville without clearing the sky of the blight of wires and poles.

    (Incidentally, in another gauge of the absurdity of the proposed parking lot charge, AT&T charged only $11,500 to bury its lines for that Highway 33 project less than four years ago.)

    In the Village of Fredonia, plans to eliminate the utility poles and wires in the rebuilding of Fredonia Avenue were dashed when the cost estimate for burying the lines came in at a breathtaking $600,000 to $1 million. The village asked voters in a non-binding referendum two years ago if the money should be spent. You can’t blame the majority for voting no.

    With their inflated charges for burying lines, the utilities are blocking progress communities need to make. The necessary improvement of streets and public spaces requires enormous investments of taxpayer money; to do that without addressing community aesthetics makes no sense. Utilities should be supporting efforts to make their infrastructure less obtrusive

    Judging from the aerial clutter, you would think electricity and communication via wires were new inventions—utilities are still stringing wires on poles the way it was done a century ago.

    It’s not just about unsightliness. As power outages from storms and accidents attest, overhead wires are vulnerable. Burying all utility lines to make them safer, more reliable and out of sight is for now an unrealistic goal, but doing it in increments should be a policy: When utility lines are installed or moved, they should go underground.

    To its credit, Fredonia has not surrendered in the wires war. Village President Chuck Lapicola said the village still hopes some of the utility lines along its new main street can be buried. Trustee Jill Bertram persuasively expressed the reason to do that, saying it could be 35 years before the road is rebuilt again, “so we’ll never get another chance in our lifetime.”

    As for Port Washington’s parking lot project, the utility lines are going to be buried regardless of the cost. If AT&T insists on extorting nearly $100,000 from taxpayers and the private property owners who will be covering some of the cost, all that is left to say is: Shame on AT&T.

 
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