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No wonder there's an education crisis

Its been a stellar year for Vermont education. Local districts and the federal government are usually strong contenders for the silliest and most inane actions in education awards. Nevertheless, the august panel of Vermont Society for the Study of Education (VSSE) judges found the state completely overwhelmed the competition. The Study Commission to Study the Studies of the Study Commissions Award The legislature formed a new study committee to study why education costs are going up. In 2004, the legislature conducted a study of the cost drivers. The state department of education reported on cost increases in 2002. In 2001, the legislature received a report on special education cost-drivers. No action was taken on these reports. Although past the deadline, the new report has not been filed. The Dont Think at All AwardEuphemistically called Think Twice, Sen. Peter Shumlin and Rep. Gaye Symington earned this award for the its not a cap, cap. This law controls costs by requiring citizens to vote twice on school budgets that exceed limits. Thus, the public is completely relieved from thinking about their school budget. We think it is obvious that the voters that elected us are too dumb to analyze their own school budgets, said one legislator. Government Efficiency AwardThe Commissioner has informed the legislature that the report on the Operational Effectiveness and Efficiency of the Department of Education will be late. Getting the Public Out of Public Education AwardMany thought Commissioner Cates proposal to eliminate local school boards would be the winner. In a surprise upset, Senate education chair, Don Collins, stole the honor with his cumbersome and unnecessary statewide calendar law. By requiring that any combined spring and winter break occur during town meeting week, parent absenteeism from school meetings is assured. Lamenting the lack of public involvement, the state monitors and chastises schools for insufficient public participation. The Crisis in Government AwardDemonstrating that the crisis is not in education but in the governments inept help, this award goes to the most confused, inconsistent and hopelessly bureaucratic action. Rep Duncan Kilmartins early education law won, hands down. Unable to resist any ornament, a ten page law mandating task forces, study commissions, reports, evaluations and accreditations solved a problem that arguably didnt exist. It controls costs by allowing private providers access to public money. It limits enrollments by grandfathering wide-open enrollments. It targets services to needy children by making everyone eligible. It reduces costs by requiring new and expensive accreditation processes. Education chairpersons Don Collins and Janet Ancel receive recognition for condoning this cacophonous, conflict of complete confusion. Just how many students are there anyway? Award To correct their inability to count students, the state shortened the number of days students are counted from 40 to 20. By counting less, we dont have to reconcile different numbers, state department staff assured the legislature. Several legislators, in order to maximize accuracy, suggested we quit counting entirely. State education department officials retorted that their counters were well trained by the tax department. Repealing the Law of Gravity AwardThis award, recognizing lightweights who float on their own hot air, was earned by the House Education Committee. By abolishing the normal curve, it was found that no district needs to spend over 20% above the state average in special education. This effort comes at the time that the legislature is lamenting low scores on problem solving skills. The Blame the Victim Award-The Vermont legislature commissioned an out-of-state independent study that said federal mandates would drive Vermont school costs up 20%. Rather than deal with the problem of declining federal revenues and increasing mandates, legislators found that local spending must be controlled. The Total Irrelevance AwardRecent agendas of the state board include pledging the flag, calling the roll, hearing the public, announcements, and the consent agenda. Having taken no substantive action in seven years, the board now seeks to define a vision for Vermont education. Garnished with empty-headed jargon and platitudes, the board proposes five solutions without a problem. Beat the Dead Horse Harder AwardIn Vermont, failing schools can be predicted by three factors: (1) the percent poverty, (2) lesser amounts spent per pupil, and (3) the number of minority groups. Rather than assist these schools, they are punished with extra bureaucracy and, ultimately, can face take-over by the state. Gov. Douglas, Commissioner Cate and the state board jointly earned this award. Sid Glassner, executive director of the Vermont Society for the Study of Education can be reached at essmont@comcast.net .

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