Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Digital Divide or Tutoring Divide?

As I have been saying during my campaign, Plano has a Tutoring Divide. Many parents are providing private tutoring for their children to overcome the shortcomings in the PISD elementary school curriculum. Plano ends up with lop-sided results: many National Merit Scholarship winners on one end of the Tutoring Divide and mediocre results for the rest of the district, resulting in an Acceptable rating from the TEA.

What has the district done to remedy this situation? Nothing!

The district is more interested in the Digital Divide: providing internet services to the poor. See this article: Plano school district wants to provide wireless network to poor students, by Matthew Haag. What has this to do with education? Nothing!

Why is the PISD wasting time with issues not related to education? Because the Digital Divide was part of the Clinton-Gore liberal agenda.

Yes, the Clinton legacy is alive and well in the Plano ISD Board of Trustees.

The City Council can spend its money to address the Digital Divide if it wants, but it is an inappropriate use of school resources. You need a board member who is not pursuing partisan politics. You need a board member focused on education to fix the Tutoring Divide. You need new blood on the board.

Vote for Robert Canright

Cronyism Hurting PISD?

Lecia Medlock is suing the Plano ISD in Federal Court. Ms. Medlock was laid off after complaining of cronyism. She says that district officials derailed her appeal to save her job to stop her accusation of "blatant cronyism" in promotion decisions from public disclosure.

Is cronyism contributing to the poor performance of Plano schools?

Why does the Plano ISD get sued so often? Could it be that this administration and board of trustees runs roughshod over everyone?

It is time to get new blood on the board!

Vote for Robert Canright

Tuesday, April 28, 2009


My daughter was surprised to find Plano did not offer an elective in Philosophy. I enjoyed having a class on Philosophy when I was in high school and she hoped to have a similar experience. Talking about this with another parent, I was asked how Philosophy could be taught in high school. That is an excellent question.

One might expect a survey course in Philosophy, like I had, would be best for high school. After thought and research, I think a course on Plato's Republic is very feasible for high school. As I have described elsewhere, combining a commercially available course by a college professor from the Teaching Company with a scripted and unabridged enactment of The Republic available from Agora Publications would bring Plato's Republic within reach of high school students who are ready to stretch their minds.

A course on the Philosophy of Capitalism would be a good elective for seniors. The Teaching Company has a course, "Thinking About Capitalism," that is excellent. This course could be combined with reading books such as "The Wealth of Nations" by Adam Smith or "Capitalism, Socialism, and Democracy" by Joseph Schumpeter.

I saw a US Congressman on C-Span say he had no choice but to vote for a bank bailout because he did not understand economics. Notice he did not say he did not understand math or science. It is ignorance of economics that is ruining our economy, hence our students should have a high level course on the theory of Capitalism. What is available now in an economics course in high school is good for what it seeks to do: explain the mechanistic elements of economics. But understanding the philosophy of Capitalism is what is needed to understand big issues like globalization.

I mentioned in another blog post that Scarsdale High School is backing away from Advanced Placement (AP) courses and is offering advanced courses of their own design. We can do the same. A course on Plato's Republic and a course on the Philosophy of Capitalism would prepare our students to excel in a highly competitive world.

Robert Canright

PS: I have prepared a syllabus for a Continuing Education class on Plato's Republic. An interested group of adults can study Plato's Republic. Contact me if you are interested.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Plano Senior High Debaters Take Second in Global Contest

Congratulations to Plano Senior High debaters Crystal Xia, Gursimran Singh, and Javed Laljiani for taking second in a global debating competition held in New York City, at New York University.

Kudos to their coach Cheryl Potts. You can read the details in this press release.

Plano is a great community with talented students, teachers, and coaches.

Our thanks to Bickel & Brewer for making this experience possible for our children.

Robert Canright

Friday, April 24, 2009

Elementary School Reading and Writing

I've been asked to provide more details on the problems I see in the elementary school English Language Arts program. Here is a list of problems followed by explanations.

  • Lack of phonics
  • Lack of vocabulary
  • Weak on grammar
  • Weak on writing
  • No penmanship
  • Poor attitude towards skills

Lack of phonics: When my daughter was in elementary school I was not surprised that phonics was not taught, so I taught my daughter phonics as best I could. My daughter fought me on phonics because her teacher really wanted the kids to guess words without sounding them out.

Here's a story for you. A friend of a friend has a child who was pronounced dyslexic by PISD. The parent bought phonics material and taught her child to read. Her child continued to have trouble at the PISD school and the mother could not understand how that could be since her child could read at home. Well, it turned out that the teacher was forbidding the child from sounding out the words. The parents sold their house and moved to Allen. The Allen ISD said the child was not dyslexic, but needed extra time to read. I have another friend whose child did have dyslexia and was so disappointed by the way PISD dealt with dyslexia that he pulled his child from PISD and sent his child to a private school.

By the time my second child went to PISD I had discovered a good resource for teaching reading: "Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons" by Siegfried Engelmann. My son is successfully reading out loud long Greek names in Plutarch's Lives of the Noble Greeks and Romans, while I've seen other boys his age halt their reading when they reach an unfamiliar word.

Lack of vocabulary: Teaching spelling is the closest PISD comes to ensuring our children have learned any vocabulary. PISD wants children to guess the meaning of words and move on in their reading. When I was in elementary school I was taught to stop and look up a word I did not know. Furthermore, when I was in fourth grade we had graduated reading assignments specially designed to impart a significant vocabulary. I'll always remember thinking, "conflagration, what on earth is that?" But I dutifully looked it up and I have found a good vocabulary to be a life long blessing.

By the time my daughter was in high school I decided the vocabulary she received from her education was inadequate and I paid for vocabulary drilling. A good vocabulary should be taught in elementary school so children can benefit from it all through their years in PISD.

Weak on grammar: Yes, they teach some grammar, but it is a light weight dip into the subject. When I was in fifth grade I had comprehensive instruction in grammar. We learned to diagram sentences. When you become serious about writing you find grammar indispensable for self-editing. Fifth grade grammar in PISD is pretty weak. I went to Borders and purchased an English Language Arts book for 5th grade and I am using that to teach my son the three basic sentence types: simple, compound, and complex. Once you understand the difference between a compound and complex sentence, you can better understand why a comma or semicolon is used to demarcate sentence clauses.

My son was being taught to learn how to use commas by guessing and then being corrected without being given adequate instruction on the proper use of commas. You might think this is obviously a stupid way to teach because you do not actually teach and instead you make children think grammar is confusing and hard. Yet, PISD is embracing an approach to teaching that avoids teaching. I'll always remember an administrator from PISD saying to teachers that they are supposed to be, "a guide on the side, not a sage on the stage."

Weak on writing: It stands to reason that if instruction on grammar and sentence structure is weak that instruction on writing is going to be weak, and it is. When my daughter took an English composition / rhetoric class at Collin College she was surprised at how her papers were being marked. She asked me to check one of her papers and I had to agree it needed more correction than she expected. So I asked her, "have you ever had a paper in Plano corrected this rigorously?" She said no. She had never had proper proper feedback on her writing.

No penmanship: Plano does not penmanship. If you are not taught good penmanship while young, it is difficult to pick it up as an adult. You can tell at a glance the quality of a person's education by the way that person holds a pen. Good penmanship is a mark of distinction. Some successful businessmen believe personalized thank you notes to customers are an important business practice, but that not cannot have ugly handwriting. My mother has the best penmanship I have seen. She was taught penmanship with the Palmer method when she was a child. It is a shame our district ignores penmanship and makes good penmanship one more burden for the busy parents to provide for their children because the district ignores it.

Poor attitude towards skills: Reading, writing, grammar, and penmanship are all skills and our district follows a trend in education that disregards the value of skills by calling them stultifying and mechanistic, to use John Dewey's own words.

Some progressive educators want to skip teaching skills and focus instead on teaching critical thinking, but that is a short cut that short changes our children

Our children deserve the best education we can provide.

Vote for Robert Canright.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

The Rotary Challenge

The Rotary International has a nice "Four Way Test of the Things We Think, Say, or Do."

1. Is it the TRUTH?
2. Is it FAIR to all concerned?
4. Will it be BENEFICIAL to all concerned?

Here is my 1-minute pitch to the Metro Rotary.

Is it true that the Plano ISD Administration is doing great job? No! My charts that are posted at my website and presented at the Rotary show that Allen ISD is the best managed school district around us and that the Plano ISD, by providing mediocre results at the highest cost, is the worst managed district around us. To compensate for the mediocre education provided for the average student, many parents send their kids to private tutoring, as I have previously mentioned.

Is it fair that Plano children need to have private tutoring to make up for problems in the Plano curriculum? No!

Is it beneficial to the parents to be forced to pay for tutoring? No!

Does driving parents to find tutoring build goodwill? No! Parents have sued the district in court over the problems in the math curriculum, where's the good will in that?

I told the Rotary their own 4-point test demonstrates they should vote for Robert Canright for Place 7 and turn out the incumbent. I asked that everyone there vote for me.

Then I appealed to everyone there who was not yet persuaded to read my website and blog with an open mind and to put the welfare of the children over commitment to a candidate, to put the welfare of the community over commitment to a candidate and to vote for Robert Canright.

Robert Canright

Debate Team Now in New York

Debaters from Plano Senior High are now in New York City. The Final Four of the National Public Policy Forum is this weekend.

I'm dying to know if they made it to the final! Tell me if you know.

If you are not familiar with the National Public Policy Forum, sponsored by the law firm Bickel & Brewer, read about it at this link.

We have great kids in Plano and they accomplish great things. Imagine the heights they could scale if we fixed the problems in the elementary and middle school curriculum!

Robert Canright

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Dumbing Down and Connected Math

The Plano ISD Administration is dumbing down our children's education. It is a nation wide problem and our administration slavishly follows foolish fads in education, so it is falling into the same quality problems plaguing other school school districts.

But our neighbors are not falling into this trap. The Superintendents at Allen, Frisco, and Richardson seem to think for themselves instead of mindlessly jumping onto the latest bandwagon. The Allen, Frisco, and Richardson ISDs do not use Connected Math, only Plano. Allen, Frisco, and Richardson show better test results than Plano.

When my daughter reached middle-school, I found the curriculum there was solid. I was able to discontinue tutoring and rely upon the schools. The math curriculum at Plano Senior High was awesome.

Now Connected Math is used in middle-school and I see I must tutor my son all the way through middle-school. I hope they do not destroy the math curriculum at the Plano high schools until after he has gone through them. They will surely wreck the high school math curriculum, as the day follows the night. After dumbing down math from grades 1 to 8, many children will be unable to do the quality math currently in our high schools. Instead of admitting they were wrong to dumb down grades 1 through 8, they will dumb down grades 9 through 12 as well. When they complete dumbing down math from grades 1 through 12, the Plano ISD will be totally wrecked.

I do not believe the tutoring industry will be able to replace the high school math program, it is too good and too extensive to be replaced by tutoring. Once the PISD Administration finishes dumbing down math from grades 1 through 12, then you will see the district stumbling and falling.

Connected Math (CM) is a program developed at Michigan State University. The proponents of CM say it, "Develops deep understanding of important ideas." Connected Math sacrifices math skills for what they consider "understanding." What is the point of understanding math if you can only do the simplist math with great difficulty?

Connected Math is part of the dumbing down of America. Google "dumbing down of America" and you will find a lot of hits. Seach for that phrase and you will find very many books. It is a plague upon America and it is very present here in the metroplex, as decribed by Dr. Troy Camplin in this OpEd article in the Dallas Morning News.

Parents have objected vigorously in the past to Connected Math. Click here to see the lawsuit against PISD over Connected Math. Click here to see the disposition of Dr. Jim Wolgehagen, math coordinator, during that lawsuit. The parents felt they had to sue the district because the Administration and Board have turned a deaf ear to the citizens of Plano.

The Plano Board of Trustees does not represent the citizens of Plano; it represents the PISD Administration. The board persists in failing to provide the over sight it should because the citizens of Plano do not vote.

Not only am I better qualified than any Board member to provide the over sight for math and science curriculum, but I will represent the citizens of Plano and provide the over sight that is missing from this Board of Trustees.

Vote for Robert Canright to save our schools!

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Plano's Secret: the Tutoring Industry

I just about choke when I hear a PISD Trustee brag about the great job they do. Many parents break their backs to compensate for the shortcomings in the Plano curriculum so our children can succeed in spite of the problems with the curriculum.

For years I sent my daughter to a Chinese school on Sunday for math. Two of her classmates were at that same Chinese school. There were hundreds of children at this one school, and that is not the only Chinese school around.

There are many Kumon centers, and a large number of different tutoring businesses.

It is a lot of work and pressure on a parent who wants to do the tutoring himself. It is almost overwhelming.

Here is an email I received from a parent:
"The education my child is receiving [in Plano] is not good. If you came to my house, you would think I home school. Our living room has book shelves full of books, workbooks, flash cards, learning games, manipulatives, etc. I shop at all the local teacher stores, have several shelves worth of textbooks, and spend as much time as possible online to learn how to teach him the concepts he is missing out on at school."

Parents, through personally tutoring their own children or by paying for tutoring, are the source of PISD success. The PISD Administration and Board of Trustees has let us down and forced us to tutor our children for the basics.

Karen Dillard's program is outstanding for SAT, ACT, and the PSAT tests. The PSAT tutoring is how Plano gets National Merit Scholarships.

The Plano ISD Administration has fouled up the elementary school curriculum. They are in the process of fouling up the middle-school math curriculum with Connected Math. The tutoring industry has been keeping Plano ISD afloat. But if the Adminstration fouls up the high schools next, the damage might be more that the tutoring industry can float.

I am very worried that Plano ISD is going to sink. We need new blood on the Board of Trustees to halt the decay in our school quality.

Vote for Robert Canright

Measuring Growth?

Schools across the country have been struggling with performance problems on government mandated standardized tests. One approach administrators around the country are pushing is to change how you report performance. There is a big movement towards "standards-based report cards."

Here is a link to one online article with a rosy view of standards-based report cards. There is some balance in this New York Times article on standards-based report cards: Report Cards Give Up A’s and B’s for 4s and 3s by WINNIE HU, March 24, 2009.

Two points caught my attention in the NYT article. (1) Children were crushed by low marks in the beginning of the year because the report cards measured growth instead of achievement. They were compared to what they were supposed to know by the end of the year, so half way through the year they are scoring 50%, or 2.0 on a 4.0 scale. (2) The article mentioned 39 skills being measured on one report card. The other article mentions a school with 54 skills being measured.

So measuring growth with standards-based report cards can be depressing to children and way too complicated for the teachers to realistically use.

When my daughter was in 2nd grade they gave her a math test on the first day to measure her performance on a test that was going to be administered at the end of the year. They tested her on material she had not been taught. She was depressed and thought she was not good in math. I asked why they did that and was told this was how they decided to measure growth. Boy, was that stupid!

Standards-based report cards are a bureaucrat's fantasy. Beware of efforts to measure growth.

Changing our children's report cards to standards-based report cards will be an expensive, confusing, wasteful mess.

And efforts to change the TAKS test are a waste of time and money. Either the TEA succeeds in discovering a method to raise the scores of under-performing schools, or the State Legislature admits defeat and abandons standardized testing.

Our options with TAKS testing are simple: success or failure.

Efforts to change either the test or the testing measurements are a deception. Remember there are businesses that profit from testing and they don't want testing to ever stop or become stable. They love selling tests. They love being paid to rewrite tests. Testing has become a racket that raids our pockets.

Our Legislators are enslaving us to Pearson.

Plano needs a member on the Board of Trustees that is not going to sell out to big business. Plano needs a a member on the Board who can cut through the baloney and make decisions that will help your child instead of helping big business.

Vote for Robert Canright

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Elementary School Math Problems

I've been asked to describe the problems in the Plano ISD elementary school curriculum. Here are the problems in a nutshell:

  • Poor attitude
  • Lack of skills
  • Watered down problems
  • Very little homework
  • Buckshot approach to math
  • Unprepared for middle school
  • Tutoring divide
Poor attitude: The curriculum is poisoned from the start by a bad attitude. Some math curriculum writers think elementary school math is hard for children to understand, consequently they make it hard to understand. Elementary school math is not esoteric knowledge; it is a skill to master, like reading.

Lack of skills: The focus of elementary school math in Plano is on understanding math instead of doing math. Math skills have fallen from the curriculum and parents have to teach the math facts and arithmetic skills at home if the parents recognize the importance of math skills. This means parents must pay for tutoring or purchase material and personally teach math skills at home.

Watered down problems: The math problems assigned in elementary school are low quality problems. The goal seems to be teaching to the TAKS instead of teaching skills necessary for competence. This also requires parents to pay for tutoring or purchase material to provide the appropriate level of work.

Very little homework: One learns by doing, but our children do little homework in elementary school. The curriculum is so bad, too little homework is really a blessing. That gives more time for tutoring, but widens the gap between those being tutored and those not being tutored.

Buckshot approach to math: The children see many topics at the same time. There is little focus, so math looks like a confusing hodge-podge of problems. The administration calls this "spiraling", but spiraling could have more focus on individual topics, build from simple to more challenging problems, and then move on and circle back for review later. The buck-shot approach makes math look like a confusing mess.

Unprepared for middle-school: The low level of math skills makes the children unprepared for middle-school math. Math problems should be more challenging in middle-school, but many of our children never master the math skills necessary for middle-school.

Instead of fixing the elementary school math curriculum to eliminate the deficiencies in middle school students, Plano has chosen to water down, or dumb down, middle school math with the Connected Math program (more about this another time).

Tutoring divide: There is a gap now in Plano between those students with private tutoring and those without. This leads to a system where the cream-of-the-crop is highly competitive and gets a truckload of National Merit Scholarships, while many students, especially economically disadvantaged students, fall behind.

The tutoring divide explains why Plano can be a mediocre district with a TEA Acceptable rating while many students get National Merit Scholarships.

Elementary school mathematics is not very complicated. The PISD administration has a poor educational philosophy in regard to math. Plano administrators do not know how to effectively teach math.

For thousands of years, societies around the world have taught the math facts to their children and moved their civilizations forward, charting the stars, sailing the seas, and even made flying possible for mankind.

Dumbing down education by throwing out the math facts and down-playing math skills is putting the average Plano student at a disadvantage.

The problems in elementary school math are not difficult to fix. Getting past a stone-walling Board of Trustees and correcting the problems in the PISD administration is hard. Math is not a problem, politics is a problem.

The first step to fixing the problems in Plano's elementary school curriculum is to vote out the Board of Trustees.

Robert Canright

PS: I can confirm that the districts that out perform Plano -- Allen, Frisco, and Richardson -- do not use Connected Math

Friday, April 10, 2009

Cheating Policy

The news is that the Plano ISD is planning to make it easier and more rewarding for children to cheat in school. That is what it means when a child does not get a zero for being caught cheating on that assignment.

Here is a link to the article in the Dallas Morning News:
"Plano ISD considers alternative grading policy By MATTHEW HAAG"

For years I have taken a stand against cheating.

On April 28, 2007 I wrote: "We Need to Address Cheating"

On May 4, 2007 I wrote: "Cheating and the PISD's Glass House" where I discussed how the PISD Administration and Board lost their moral authority to admonish cheating when they named a school after a convicted felon.

On February 20, 2008 I wrote: "Good Leaders are Ethical Leaders", where I discussed what I now call "The Pledge to Justice":

The Pledge to Justice
We do not steal, we do not cheat, and we do not hurt other people.
We are people of integrity, competence, and compassion.

Cheating and stealing are closely related. It is a small step from cheating to stealing.

On February 28, 2008 I wrote: "Plano ISD Sends Wrong Message About Theft." The PISD administration interfered with discipline at Plano Senior High and forced some cheerleaders who had been caught shoplifting back onto the cheer squad over the objections of the staff at the school.

Clearly, the PISD Administration and Board of Trustees have been soft on cheating and stealing for years. The message they give to the world is that cheating and stealing are good if you can get away with it, if you have political pull.

If there are no consequences for cheating, then the Administration and Board would be encouraging our children to cheat: there would only be an up-side to cheating, there would be no down-side. Honest children would be the laughing-stock of the cheaters, and that is where I would guess this Board of Trustees is headed.

The district curriculum and budget are clearly mismanaged. If the incumbent in Place 7 and the "establishment candidate" in Place 6 win, then clearly no amount of mismanagement will ever dislodge the board members. I predict that if the board candidates win, that the consequences for cheating will fly out the window after the election and the cheating that is already a problem in Plano will be rampant. That will be one more nail in the coffin for the reputation of the Plano schools.

Here is an appropriate quote from Herbert Spencer:
"The ultimate result of shielding men from the effects of folly, is to fill the world with fools."

The flip side to that quote is that honesty is wise.

I believe honesty is empowering.

On February 22, 2009 I wrote: "The Trust Texas Project" where I suggest a reputation for honesty in finance could be a competitive advantage in strengthening the banking industry in Texas to gain prominence in national and international financial circles.

If you have never voted in a school board election, then this is your time to shine. We stand at the edge of the abyss. If the clique running the school board remains intact, Plano will become a cheaters paradise and our district will fall into an irreversible death spiral.

Please vote for Robert Canright for Place 7 on Saturday May 9.
For Place 6 I recommend Steve Navarre.

Robert Canright