Monday, June 22, 2015

Don't Spend Time Next to the Cheese

Some years back a fine preacher named Chuck Comella gave a fine analogy of how we stay fresh and life giving. Seems his sister had brought him some very good, albeit smelly cheese. Now Chuck tends to put things in his refrigerator uncovered and he put his fine cheese next to an open pitcher of orange juice. Imagine his surprise when he drank his orange juice only to discover it tasted like cheese.

The point was that when we spend time in prayer and reading our Bibles, we can expect to "smell" more like Christ. The concept holds true in much of life, I.e if we run with the dogs, we'll likely get smelly and have fleas.




Sunday, June 21, 2015

Perhaps it's my impending 68th birthday or watching the daily left-right hate fest, but I am totally frustrated with the utter lack of 'communication' in today's political climate.

A while back the Director of The Family Action Council of TN posted an op-ed in the Nashville newspaper, The Tennessean, questioning same sex marriage and laying out a rational case for traditional marriage as he saw it. The furor that it generated was unbelievable. The first 38 comments in response were dripping with vile insinuations and ad hominem attacks that left me shaking my head.

Fast forward to last week when Pope Francis' encyclical "Laudato Si" was released. I read it and was immediately impressed by his loving and reasoned thesis that the ills of the world are traceable to our failure to acknowledge God's plan for mankind, nature, and the earth. While I disagreed with a lot of his conclusions, I do feel the document could certainly form the basis for the start of a meaningful dialogue. Hence I was deeply disturbed by many comments in response that attacked the pope as a pedophile, the institution of the church, liberation theology, socialism, communism, etc.... missing his major point entirely.

My boss often says that the left and the right both have it wrong. The left believes that if we have programs and policies that help the less fortunate all will be well. The right believes that if we implement the right economic policies and tax structures all will be well. Both see government as the answer. During the 2008 campaign, Shane Claiborne was asked by a young lady in the audience whether he favored John McCain or Barack Obama. His response was priceless, "It doesn't matter who gets elected, we'll still be engaged in damage control... As long as we put our faith in man and not in Jesus we will still have a problem.."

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Resurrection Sunday

Each year the highlight of Resurrection Sunday for me is our sunrise service. Our church is highly favored in that we have a beautiful campus that borders the Harpeth River and the sunrise service is held in field just a few feet from the river. I like to wake up very early to get there as the band sets up. This year was no exception except that I woke up very, very early… 4am… for  a service that doesn’t start until 6:30!! So I did what any man does when he has unplanned time on his hands, I turned on the television! I was just in time to catch the Easter Mass from St. Peter’s  Square. As I listened to the Pope recite the Mass with tens of thousands there, it occurred to me that the basic form of the Mass was described by Justin nearly 2000 years ago.  The majesty of that  ancient service in that ancient place with thousands of people, my brothers and sisters, overwhelmed me and brought tears to my eyes.

But then it was time for me to go “down by the riverside” to worship. As I backed out of the driveway, I marveled at the beautiful full moon lighting the country landscape behind our home. It took me back to a time several years ago when I was in a Ugandan village that was literally at the end of a cow path. There were no lights, no tv’s, no radios, just the sound of a thousand East African Christians who for two days, night and day, sang songs worshipping the same God that was praised in St. Peter’s. These Africans, most first generation Christians, praised with a fervor and a passion that was overwhelming. The memory of that night and the next morning still moves me years later.

So after a moonlit drive I finally got “down by the riverside” where I watched the mist rising on the Harpeth River and the sun coming over the horizon. Slowly around 800 or 900 of my closest friends came down and waited with me for it all to begin. I would think that the tradition of a service like we experienced is only a couple of hundred years old. The “liturgy of the service was to sing good  old Southern songs like “When the roll is called up Yonder”, “I’ll Fly Away” and other songs best sung to the accompaniment of banjo’s and guitars. All this was followed by a fine sermon culminating in an altar call to which about 10 or 15 people responded and changed their eternal destiny. It was  a great start to the Sunday celebrating Christ’s resurrection.

So what’s the point here. These separate experiences are a reminder that today 2 billion people celebrated the resurrection of the same Jesus in a variety of equally valid ways and despite their differences they are all our brothers and sisters. In a time when Christians are under attack all,over the planet it is even more important to celebrate our unity in Christ!

Friday, October 10, 2014

Thoughts on Common Core

Common Core is a hot topic and generates a lot of hoopla. However, when folks on both sides of the issue are pressed, they tend to provide simplistic explanations that do little to illuminate the debate.  
Supporters of Common Core argue that if you are against it then you must be for our children living in the “intellectual darkness” of inferior standards. Those in the opposite camp argue that Common Core is a “Big Brother” top down initiative from politicians in Washington and a gross over reach by the Federal government. Both these explanations are simplistic and ignore the reality of the situation.
The truth of how Common Core came to be is quite complex and is thoroughly documented in many well researched papers on the Internet. If you are really interested, I’ll be happy to provide links to thoughtful and generally non-hyperbolic discussions of the topic.

That said, I offer the following points:

1)      The historic education standards used in Tennessee and other states are content standards, i.e. the standards define the information or content that we want students to master.  Common Core differs markedly in that it is a “process standard” designed to teach children to “think” and “solve” problems critically.
2)      Anyone who has tried to solve a 3rd grade Common Core math problem knows  that assessing Common Core is much more complex that just grading a multiple choice test. Since we now want to assess “how” the student thinks, we must use artificial intelligence algorithms that have not been properly researched or tested for this purpose. The Common Core tests are being developed by a consortium called the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC). A full review of this group is beyond the scope of this brief narrative. However, representatives from the testing companies are prominent among the members. These tests are expected to raise the cost of student testing significantly (along with profits to the testing companies). The increased costs for this testing have been largely hidden from the public and legislatures. These increased test costs are highly significant in a time when most states are faced with budgetary limitations.
3)      In order to be eligible for the administration’s “Race to the Top” initiative, states had to agree to implement Common Core. In the quest to secure “Race to the Top” funding, Tennessee signed on for Common Core very quickly. So quickly in fact that the adoption was rushed and not well thought out. Many teachers feel they were inadequately prepared for the implementation. Despite the fact that it is implemented in Tennessee classrooms, we are still utilizing the previous TCAP exams. Although the test data from last year has been very slow to emerge, it appears that these tests results suffered during the last class year. Our legislature has wisely held off implementation of the PARCC testing. However, this puts our children in a very precarious position of once again being tested to the new Common Core standard with tests designed for the old state content standards.
4)      During my interface with classroom teachers in the 2013-2014 school year, I was told that Common Core “shoe horns” all the students into a prescribed “proper ways of thinking”. Most of the brightest students already develop unique problem solving paths and several teachers I have spoken to feel that the Common Core rubric adversely affects them by forcing them into “appropriate” ways of thinking that do not make sense to them. Having tried to follow the Common Core “appropriate ways of thinking” to solve problems, I can totally relate.

In summary:

·         The people pushing Common Core the hardest may be more motivated by profit or the promise of Federal funding than our children's well being.
·         Rather than blindly pushing Common Core, our state administrators might want to look at the evidence where it has been attempted. Most of the evidence I have found is either inconclusive or negative.
·         The legislature needs to take a close look at the cost impact of PARCC testing and its impact on our students and education budgets with an eye to scrapping the Common Core all together. 

·         As parents and concerned citizens we need to get the facts and be prepared to counter the loud (and well funded) forces who are pushing Common Core.
As a very respected national educator put it at the 2013 American Education Research Association (AERA) conference, “When the world's largest software company (Microsoft) and the world's largest testing company (Pearson) are the biggest proponents of Common Core, it should give one pause to wonder why.”

The Tennessee Legislature will again address the Common Core during the next session. As concerned parents, grandparents, and community leaders we need to make sure we understand the issues and share our concerns with our legislators in a respectful, informed manner.

Lastly, According to the Heritage Foundation, the federal government provides just
9%-10% of the funding for public education in the states, yet it is the source of 41% of the administrative

compliance burden for the states. Perhaps the time has come to do a cost benefit assessment on the impact of accepting Federal funding. 

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

PBear Goes to School


For the last year and a half I have been going to school, but not like you might think. In May of 2012 a colleague of mine at Middle TN State University, asked if I would join a National Science Foundation (NSF) grant project on which he was working. This grant, called Master Teacher Fellowships, was designed to support exceptional high school science and math teachers who teach in under served rural schools. The five year project was designed to give them additional skills to help them to become mentors and raise the competency of other teachers in their schools.


Part of the original grant proposed industry participation in the project for two reasons. The first was to explore how industry could become more involved in supporting education. The second was to provide an opportunity for an 'outsider' to observe teachers in the classroom and share these observations in a report. In other words I was sent back to school. Like many of us, I assumed that school was about like it it was when I was there. Let me be the first to tell you things have changed dramatically since I graduated from high school in 1965. But I would go on and say that if you have children in K-12 right now, things are much different than you remember them.

Most people seem to agree that education in our country is in disarray as reflected by the fact that only 37% would rank U.S. Public schools as good or excellent. At the same time, 77% would rank the school where their child attends as good or excellent. Clearly there is a huge disconnect. The truth is that by most objective measures our education system is in need of reform and the school your child attends may well have systemic issues of which you are unaware.

Many people blame the problems with the education system on the teachers unions, “non-caring, unqualified teachers”, and a tenure system that is believed to protect under performing teachers. This view has permeated the “group think” of a great number of Americans who now demand “accountability” for our teachers. This focus on teacher accountability has resulted in ignoring many other substantive problems that contribute to the overall problems within our education system.

The reality is that numerous research studies confirm that the number one strategy for improving school performance is parental and community involvement. This is true regardless of whether the school is affluent or poor, rural or urban, multicultural, etc. The first step in getting involved is to become aware of what is really happening in your school district. An ever burgeoning cadre of bureaucrats are running our schools and they need to be accountable to parents and the community. Your participation can help make that happen.

Monday, June 2, 2014

Why Graduation Rates are Suspect

On May 2nd the National Assessment of Education Progress published the 2013 results of the 2013 Mathematics and English tests for High School seniors. The test has not been given to seniors since 2009 and the hope was that the tests would show significant improvement. Alas, the test results were essentially unchanged since the last time the test was administered.

However, at the same time that student performance remained unchanged against a reliable benchmark, graduation rates reached the highest ever! That presents an obvious conundrum. If all other factors have remained the same, how can graduation rates increase if student performance is unchanged? The "educrats" have postulated all manner of reasons. 

I would like to suggest "gun decking" as the most probable cause. "Gun decking" is an old Navy term that refers to changing data after the fact to reflect a more desirable outcome. In many schools there is a process called "credit recovery". Credit recovery allows a student to take a failed course online with minimal supervision and accountability. Credit recovery allows a student to take multiple choice tests multiple times until he or she attains a passing grade. Most teachers I have spoken to have a very dim view of credit recovery. Some will go so far as to call it a joke. In order to participate in credit recovery, a student has to have achieved at least a 50% grade in the failed class. The real problem is that in many schools, teachers are not allowed to assign a student a grade any lower than 50%. Thus a student is incentivized to do nothing throughout the school year knowing full well that credit recovery will rescue them. Is it any wonder that students show up in subsequent classes unprepared or that most students reporting to college require at least one year of remediation before they can begin a post secondary course of study. They have learned little more than how to keep choosing multiple choice answers until they get it right!

If you have a student in K-12, you should be concerned as to whether this practice is prevalent in your children's schools. Even if your child is doing well, fairness would seem to dictate that the grading process have integrity.

Monday, April 28, 2014

What Has Happened to Integrity

Most of my life I have worked in situations where falsifying data was unacceptable because lives could be affected. People could die if aircraft maintenance records, bridge safety records, or flood vulnerability records were falsified. If people were to die due to the consequences of falsifying data in these cases people would probably end up in jail.

Today yet another scandal came to light as revelations surfaced that VA records had been falsified so that an administrator could get a $9000 bonus. As a consequence veterans may actually have died from lack of treatment to which they were entitled. Our President has once again expressed outrage and promised to thoroughly investigate. Even as he does that he pats himself on the back and says "my government has provided increased funding for the VA." (Actually I thought it was "our" government, but what do I know.) The truth is that more money cannot solve the ethical problems that have led to multiple recent breaches of trust in several federal government agencies! However, jail time for the guilty party in this current VA case might help civil servants get back on the right track.

I am not sure what we can or should do as responsible citizens to address the general lack of integrity in our government. I do think that being informed is a good start. A friend of mine, a retired Air Force officer has recently teamed up with retired Major General John Singlaub in an effort to get people better informed. They have recently been sharing a movie called The Agenda. The movie shed a lot of light on how we have gotten where we are and serves as a clarion call that we need to get involved. If you have time you might want to watch it.

You can watch the movie online at  http://vimeo.com/63749370 .

:-) Lonnie