Tuesday, November 15, 2011

An Open Letter: Ann Summers

Something is Rotten in the State of Nebraska

Public comments made at the Douglas County Board of Commissioners meeting. Public discussion on the Memorandum of Understanding for the GOALS Initiative and the Superintendent’s Plan to Improve Attendance in Douglas and Sarpy Counties.

by: Ann Summers

This GOALS Memo, states the following:

We believe that education is important for the success of our children and community.
We believe that attendance at school is the single most important element to the student's ability to learn and be successful in school and life.
We believe that parents/adult caregivers have the greatest influence on children for attendance and academic success.
We believe and acknowledge that within our community, parents/adult caregivers are occasionally challenged in meeting the needs of their children.
We believe that unmet needs of children and families can contribute to non-attendance to school.
We believe and recognize that there is a strong correlation between early truancy, continued academic and behavioral problems, eventual school dropout and delinquent behavior development.
We believe it is the responsibility of the community to support the children, parents/adult caregivers, and schools on attendance issues.
We believe that the GOALS initiative is a community resource that supports children.  Etc.”

This memo, as is clearly stated represents belief, not proof.  The entire memo repeats this word, “believe,” and then in a jumble of legalese, proposes to draw conclusions from these beliefs, “whereas,” and so forth.  Nowhere is evidence offered or even a suggestion made that the support for the policies suggested are based on anything more than beliefs and opinions.  But it is my opinion that the voting and taxpaying people of the State of Nebraska deserve much more than opinion on which to have their legislation based.

Perhaps the writers of this memo are experts.  If I am an expert, you may allow me belief that children learn better with classical music played during class.  I might further believe that they be made to listen, since “occasionally,” children deprived of music have become violent or dropped out of school.  But the minute I want to spend millions of taxpayer dollars to implement these beliefs, I must show proof.  Not correlative proof, but causative proof.  Where is the data and where is the proof?

I have seen education studies that use correlation to suggest a cause between non-attendance and low academics, as well as the reverse:  high academics and high attendance, but these studies, (including a meta-study in California and one in Ohio), in their own words and conclusions, merely suggest “causation.”  There is no proof of cause, and certainly not for all families, and yet, a law has been passed that will affect every single family in Nebraska, whether their children attend public schools or not. 

LB800’s spin-off GOALS memo has stated that it will offer “evidence-based” assistance.  Does this mean that the State can show evidence that increased attendance will result in increased academic performance?  How?  How will these increases be measured?  How will they be tracked?  Who will measure them?  Since the memo refers to accountability, who will be held accountable if millions of taxpayer dollars are spent against the will of the voting public with no positive, measurable results?  If the county attorney’s offices are swamped with absentee students and their families in the process of being turned from students into “cases,” and no good comes of it, will the county attorneys recompense those families, drop all charges, and reimburse taxpayers for all the litigation costs?

State and Federal education budgets are for education, not litigation.  If litigation and law enforcement measures are to increase so exponentially that social, family and juvenile services as well as county and state officials must sign-off in order to rubber stamp the implementation of LB800, we can see that public support is nonexistent.  Since this is public money, and since the State cannot prove that these programs are beneficial to all students, Nebraskans must have the choice to opt out.  I urge officials not to sign this memo, and to voice their disagreement with LB800. To support one is to support the other, and to make a critical error in not only logic and statistics, but of common sense.  Studies showing correlation are not equal and cannot be replaced by studies showing causality. A rigorous study with double-blind control groups and a large sample of subjects is required to support the governor's case, and to date, there is no such study. I propose that if cause is "possible" and "suggested" and further study is needed, then let us do this research first, and then pass policy that requires expenditures.

Be aware that although this legislation has passed and has found administrative support, it is one opinion with which more and more Nebraskans disagree.

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