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A number of you have told me that you don’t look forward to reading the column on your computer screen. That’s not necessary if you have a printer. Print out the column and take it with you to the breakfast table or wherever else you choose to read printed material. (You can also call up past columns in case you missed them.)
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May 27, 2010
Nebraskans should hope that their governor—and very likely their governor for the next four years unless he decides to run for the Senate—is better informed on other serious problems of state government concern than he appears to be informed about the extraordinary problems facing inner city schools in the state’s largest city.
With Heineman’s outspoken approval, the State Education Department has tarred a list of Nebraska schools with a “persistently lowest achieving” label. Included are four inner city Omaha high schools—North, Central, Benson and South.
It started with a Federal agency setting an arbitrary 60% graduation rate as the level below which a school would be considered “persistently lowest achieving” and thus eligible for Federal aid. But as a condition of receiving Federal dollars, the local school officials would have to fire the principal and half the teaching staff or close the school. (How you help a school by closing it hasn’t been explained.)
State Education Commissioner Roger Breed raised the graduation rate level to 75% for Nebraska schools in an effort to qualify more schools for Federal dollars, but at the price of firing the principal and half the teaching staff or closing the school.
This had the ludicrous effect of requiring the four inner city Omaha high schools to fire the principal and half the teaching staff or close the school to qualify for federal funds.
One wonders if the governor, vigorously defending the policy against criticism by Omaha Public Schools Superintendent John Mackiel, realizes that (1) accepting the federal money would require four Omaha high schools (including two of the state’s best, Omaha Central and Omaha North) to fire the principal and 50% of the teaching staff or close the school and (2) Omaha Public School Superintendent John Mackiel does not contend that “money will solve all our problems,” as Heineman recently charged in a strongly-worded criticism of Mackiel.
A good many Nebraskans, including Mackiel and Omaha School Board members, better understand the extraordinary problems faced by the Omaha Public Schools—problems pointed up by Omaha World-Herald cartoonist Jeff Koterba in a drawing and 17 words, simple enough that anyone in the Nebraska Statehouse should be able to understand it. (Koterba’s recent cartoon on the subject is reprinted again here today. Of course, Jeff Koterba is open-minded and follows the issues carefully before going public with his views.)
Omaha North (which is a better high school today than when I graduated from it in 1941) is an example of a school which Governor Heineman and State Education Commissioner Roger Breed have, in effect, targeted as unworthy of federal aid unless Principal Gene Haynes and half the teaching staff is fired or the school is closed.
Do either Heineman or Breed understand the extraordinary challenges faced by a school located as North is and the extraordinary measures which are being taken—with considerable prospects for success—without any help at all from the state or federal governments?
Omaha North is in the second year of cooperating with University of Nebraska-Lincoln in a partnership to give a group of North students academic support to get through high school and then be given full ride financial support to attend the university.
Also at Omaha North, the Omaha School District’s high school engineering magnet program is moving to a privately-financed three-story $8 million building which will house the school’s Lead the Way pre-engineering program. North is one of nine schools in the country to offer the biotechnology portion of the national engineering curriculum.
Is this the kind of school that Governor Heineman and Education Commissioner Breed believes should be either shut down or have its principal and half of its staff fired in order to qualify for federal funding?
Fortunately, a Nebraskan familiar with the extraordinary problems facing the Omaha School District is willing to back the district with philanthropic funds if district officials refuse to discharge competent school principals and teachers in order to qualify for federal grants.
If the Heineman-approved eligibility-for-federal-funds standards are rejected by the Omaha School District, Superintendent Mackiel said, Susie Buffett’s Sherwood Foundation has pledged the same amount for teacher training. In the case of North and Central, this private funding wouldn’t be necessary if Commissioner Breed, with Governor Heineman’s approval, hadn’t raised the federal funding graduation-rate standards to 75%. Omaha North’s graduation rate is reported as 69.9% and Central’s at 70.3%--remarkably high in view of the extraordinary challenges facing inner city schools.
I have written on occasion that John Mackiel has the toughest job in Nebraska. He deserves cooperation, not criticism, for resisting a Nebraska state government policy which would require him to fire the principals and half the teaching staffs or close four inner city high schools in order to qualify for federal funds.
* * *
Enough heavy lifting. Let’s turn to a question which is of considerable public interest and discussion which has led to some conclusions with which I certainly disagree.
I speak of the continuing sports page commentary which, here in Nebraska, has some commentators apparently believing that University of Nebraska-Lincoln officials, with strong majority support from Husker fans, should and would jump at the opportunity to be included in an expanded Big 10 athletic conference.
In the first place, I don’t know of any evidence that a majority of Husker football fans are as enthusiastic about Big 10 membership for Nebraska as are some sports commentators. In the second place, I think some of the commentators’ arguments are at least questionable if not clearly irrational. (I was tempted to say “silly.”)
As to what seems to me to a clearly irrational argument: One commentator says Nebraska would surely accept an invitation from the Big 10—composed entirely of members of the prestigious Association of American Universities—because it would give Nebraska greater “academic prestige.”
Well, in the first place, Nebraska is also a member of the Association of American Universities, a status totally unrelated to membership in any particular athletic conference.
Then there is an additional consideration, relating directly to the matter of academic achievements of athletes—a factor which should carry considerable weight whatever conference you belong to.
Nebraska athletes have been awarded “Academic All-American” recognition in greater numbers than the athletes from any other American college or university.
A total of 271 Husker athletes have produced academic records earning them honors as “Academic All-Americans.” Notre Dame is in second place, having produced 214 such athletes. The best the Big 10 can do is third-place Penn State with a total of 162—40% fewer Academic All-Americans than the University of Nebraska-Lincoln has produced.
Behind Penn State in the top 10 are the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, with 161 Academic All-Americans, Stanford with 140, Augustana College in Illinois with 132, Bucknell with 119, Texas with 118, Emery with 114 and UCLA with 113.
Eight other Big 10 schools make the top 25, ranging from Ohio State in 13th place with 106 Academic All-Americans to Illinois with 89. Ranking below the top 25 are two Big 10 schools—Indiana with 76 Academic All-Americans and Iowa with 68.
The Big 10 is, after all, primarily an athletic conference, and in the matter of “academic prestige” in an athletic conference, what should carry more weight than the fact that the University of Nebraska-Lincoln student athletes have compiled a far better record than any Big 10 school.
Another journalistic commentator started with the questionable assumption that all sorts of Nebraska fans are pulling for the Huskers to join the Big 10. (I know of no soundly-based poll of public opinion which indicates that a strong majority—or a majority at all—of Huskers fans are eager for the Huskers to join the Big 10.)
This sports commentator reported on a luncheon discussion with two Cornhusker fans and three other Omahans who are University of Iowa Hawkeye fans. The report was that there was general agreement among this little band of football fans that they would welcome a Nebraska entry into the Big 10 because that would mean the Iowa Hawkeyes and the Nebraska Cornhuskers would meet on the football field every year.
There was a reference to the last time the Hawkeyes and the Huskers met, in 1999 and 2000. There was no report of the scores. I can tell you (an “As I See It Exclusive”) that the Huskers beat the Hawkeyes 42-7 in Iowa City in 1999 and 42-13 in Lincoln in 2000.
The Huskers and the Hawkeyes played a number of times over the years, starting in the second year of UNL football history in 1891. (Iowa won, 22-0.)
Over the years, Nebraska won 13 times, Iowa 5 times and two games ended in ties.
It would be understandable that some Hawkeye fans are anxious for the rivalry to resume through Nebraska membership in the Big 10. Their motive presumably would be revenge.
* * *
It was inevitable that there be occasional legal challenges to the anonymous internet delivery of insults and some times serious accusations. There is a sort of “twitter” mentality not supported by the courage to be publicly identified with the e-mail message.
Pennsylvania’s attorney general is demanding that Twitter unmask two of its users. He argues that the subpoena relates to a criminal case.
The attorney general’s subpoena was quickly attacked by “advocacy groups.” An official of the Public Citizen Litigation Group declared, “Anonymous speech is a long-standing American right.”
I suppose that assertion is based on the First Amendment guarantee of freedom of speech.
But it seems to me that the constitutional guarantee is most logically and legally applied when the freedom of speech is exercised by a person who has the courage of his convictions and is willing to be publicly identified as the source of that free speech when challenged.
* * *
Closing on the customary upbeat note:
Over the years I have had occasion to comment on the fact that a friendly, warm personality is one of the winning characteristics of my roommate for the past 58 years. A recent example:
On our way to a flight to Chicago, Marian was first past the security checkpoint where you show your driver’s license and your boarding pass.
I followed shortly thereafter, and the woman who was checking credentials said something like: “You must be the husband of the woman who just went by.” I agreed that this was the case.
“A very nice lady,” the security officer said, an appraisal based on what must have been less than 60 seconds of conversation with my roommate.
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