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Education Conference Gets Mixed Reviews
Audience Comments Stifled by Conference Leaders
By: David Deschesne
Fort Fairfield Journal, April 3, 2013
On Friday, March 22, Maine Governor Paul LePage and Maine Education Commissioner, Steven Bowen conducted their first education conference at Cony High School (CHS), in Augusta. The conference was held in response to school choice advocates from across the country who are urging Mainers to transform the state's public education system by allowing taxpayer funds to be used to pay private and charter school tuition.
The advocates, many of them from Florida and Indiana, made their cases at the conference before an audience of more than 200 legislators, school officials, and interested members of the public.
The keynote speaker was Dr. Tony Bennett, the recently elected commissioner of education in Florida. Dr. Bennett spoke about innovations he introduced when he was head of Indiana’s education department. Among those innovations were school performance grading, a focus on data-based teacher evaluation systems and teacher effectiveness.
Bennett followed three panel sessions. In the first, panelists advocated for giving students more pathways and choices in their pursuit of an education. They emphasized freedom in choosing schools; using virtual technology to augment classroom experience; and encouraging students to consider community college and post-secondary training in addition to the traditionally promoted four-year college.
The focus of the second session was on teacher effectiveness and quality, and the third concentrated on the initiatives that Florida has pursued to improve performance results, including rigorous academic standards, standardized measurement, data-based accountability and school choice.
Governor LePage said, in his weekly message after the conference, “A quality education is critical to any child’s well-being and future success. The status quo no longer works. Accountability, best practices and multiple options will help Maine students excel.”
Governor LePage spoke of options that must be made available to students and parents. “Giving students more learning options and the ability to determine what school is best suited for them will enhance every student’s public education.”
Over the past few months, Bowen and LePage have worked on a number of education proposals, which they believe will get Maine’s schools headed in the right direction. An emphasis on higher skill sets for teachers is a common feature of reforms around the globe.
“Currently, there are winners and losers in Maine’s education system. Union bosses and administrators enjoy many benefits and protections, while teachers and students have been displaced. There is too much money going to unions and administration when the money should be put into the classroom,” said LePage. “That is why I have made targeted investments in education. While cuts to many state agency budgets have occurred, Maine’s schools will receive $84 million in additional funding over the first four years of my Administration.”
While the paradoxical concept of publicly funded private education was endorsed by many, not everyone in attendance was impressed with the presentation at the conference. “What a boring morning at Cony High School this morning! We all got to be lectured for three hours by out-of-state change agents about how we should improve local education results by adopting one-size-fits all ‘reform,’ and fully yielding Maine's school district sovereignty and school board oversight to corporate control of our education system,” said Steve Martin, co-host of The Aroostook Watchmen radio program on AM780 in Monticello, who had attended the conference. “We were offered an opportunity to fill out cards and to ask questions, that presumably were to be read from the podium. After more than two and a half hours, one question from the audience was actually read and partly addressed.”
Martin said he had turned in four such cards with very pointed questions about the constitutionality of all the policy proposals but was routinely ignored.
Conference facilitators appeared to be using a variant of the Delphi Technique to gain a skewed view of the overall opinion of the audience in attendance at this conference.
According to The Deliberate Dumbing Down of America, by Charlotte Iserbyt, Senior Policy Advisor in the Office of Educational Research and Improvement, U.S. Dept. of Education during the first Regan Administration, the Delphi Technique appeared to be first used in August, 1955 during President Dwight D. Eisenhower's first White House Conference on Education. The Delphi Technique is designed to take a mass of people within a conference, split them up into small, separate groups seated at separate tables and identify those who are dissenting from the pre-established theme of the topic. Pre-selected leaders are assigned to each table to act at delegates where they are purported to represent the overall opinion of their respective tables to the facilitators in charge of the conference and purge all dissent in their final report on their table, thus creating an artificially contrived consensus skewed in favor of the conference leaders' overall goals.
What was being done at Cony High School appeared to be similar to the Delphi Technique in that questions were being asked from the audience, but since most were opposed to the big government command and control grid being sold by the conference leaders, those questions remained unaddressed, thus creating a false sense of support for the conference leaders’ goals.
Because public money would be used to support private and charter schools who educate outside of the public school infrastructure, the government would then gain de facto control over a segment of the education system it currently has been unable to pollute and corrupt with its “diversity” training and pro-globalist, one-world government, atheistic indoctrination. That control would come from the power of the purse, that is, taxpayer money dolled out to those schools with government strings attached that dictate not only curriculum, but also mandates bias toward same-sex couples, the unproven theory of evolution as the origin of life and other topics normally shunned by private, and, especially, religious-based schools. However, those points could not be made during the public comment section of the conference.
“Charlotte Iserbyt vocally barged into their little soiree from the floor and simply requested that they answer questions from the audience,” said Martin. “She was basically shouted down by Mr. Bowen. Others supported her call for citizen input, but they were likewise ignored. I waited another ten minutes before instructing the panelists and the audience that the Maine Constitution requires that Maine towns run our education system locally and that there had been nothing about local control—only top down corporate-controlled 'solutions' all morning long.”
After making those comments, Martin said he was quickly surrounded by two change agents who took the empty seats on either side of him in the audience. “Bowen did nothing to answer this critical issue but instead said they would post answers to our questions on some website.”
While so-called “school choice” may seem a viable option with taxpayer funded vouchers to send children to private schools, those schools would by default become de facto public schools thus negating the whole private school concept to begin with. It is a well-established maxim that those with the power to tax should never be vested with the power to educate. This has led some forward thinkers to suggest the elimination of government from education altogether, cease all taxation for it and allow families to keep their money and spend it themselves with the education providers they see fit to send their children to.