Monday, October 08, 2007

I work both sides of the bay since I live on the beach. The following I passed out at Suncoast Tiger Bay on October 9th. lee

I viewed problems with education from the inside while teaching college English for 28 years.

One doesn’t hear critics’ citing the biggest problem afflicting schools: the mediocre minds that clog education’s bloated, overpaid bureaucracy. My experience confirms the faculty-lounge shibboleth that smart people imbued with the ecstasy of learning go into teaching; dumb ones absent that tendency head for administration.

Academic weaklings home in on administration because that’s where the money is. Administrators craft school budgets and with somnolent boards’ ok award themselves bloated salaries. When applying for jobs, members of the country-wide administration cartel cite each other’s pay bloat as base and demand even higher salaries. This flim-flam has gone on so long unchecked that school superintendents will soon surpass the pay of the president of the United States.

Significant is that there is never a shortage of administrative job seekers but always a shortage of teachers. The administrative money scam lurks behind this equation.

Florida teachers must pass language-skills tests to get their jobs, but not administrators. The writing of marginally literate superintendents in both Hillsborough and Pinellas counties shows they have not mastered basic punctuation and grammar. Yet Elia’s almost $300,000 pay is more than the US vice president’s; Wilcox’s almost $200,000 salary is more than an associate Supreme Court justice’s.

The chief goal of education is mastery of words. The world considers no person educated bereft of the ability to write correct language. “Let me hear the man speak so that I may know his mind,” says Dr. Johnson. Let a sample of his writing pass muster to enter the ranks of the educated says academic standards.

Both Elia and Wilcox should have taken the same language tests as teachers to get their jobs. Administrators must by law in Massachusetts, the number-one school system in the country.

The two groups’ comparative grasp of bottom-line literacy is a barometer of the intellectual quality of superintendents in number-one Massachusetts compared to those in Florida.

Mastering grammar and punctuation is not a feat that requires Nobel-laureate brains. It’s a chore that begins early in a student’s life. Hence, a person’s not acquiring basic-literacy competence over the stretch of time from grammar school to graduate school and the award of an advanced degree by some slipshod university to such punctuation-impaired candidates means we deal with obtuse specimens who do not belong in education.

An administrator not astute enough to handle commas is unlikely to be smart enough to prevent the recent transportation meltdown in the Hillsborough County school system. Its solution required a pricey consultant. I read the consultant’s report. It was common-sense stuff that the on-site administration should have been able to come up with itself.

The Hillsborough County administration often summons ad hoc consultants to tell it how to extricate itself from situations smart top people would have anticipated and solved. This practice costs taxpayers double money: payroll for dumb administrators and consultant fees for hired brains to prop up dumb administrators.

My assessment of Dr. Wilcox’s grammar-punctuation deficiencies comes from his Nova dissertation and a smattering of his office writing. Grammar-punctuation errors riddle both. These are not abstruse linguistic conundrums that grammarians fight over at conferences; they are ordinary grammar-punctuation errors that public-school teachers weed from the writing of students for them to graduate and get a job. Yet Dr. Wilcox harvests close to $200,000 a year in tax money plus a car to lead a school system that imbues students with the writing competence Dr. Wilcox himself lacks.

Despite his crippled grasp of language, Dr. Wilcox’s lordly $200,000 makes invidious comparison with the entering teacher’s $34,000. The public gives pious praise to teachers but elects obtuse boards that award superintendents and featherbedding administrators big money. Boards never think to say, “You know, with all these administrator candidates lining up for jobs, we have a buyer’s market and can offer a reasonable salary, not the bloat at which the administration cartel has pegged the going rate. Who knows? Maybe a candidate with a valid academic degree, the ability to write and even punctuate, and a lively interest in learning instead of money will show up for the job.”

This step might lead to a downward spiral of the administration cartel’s hiking salaries to Enron-executive levels.

Pointing out Dr. Wilcox’s lack of competence with language gets no thanks. When this superintendent worthy appeared at the Pinellas Democratic Club and made a speech that made not a whit of sense, my fellow Democrats cheered him and booed me when I questioned the literacy of Republican Wilcox’s Nova thesis. Charged with identifying questioners, the Pinellas Democratic chair said she would never call on me again because my question was rude. The Pinellas school board member present to whom I brought up the problem snubbed me. Democratic women followed me into the parking lot to tell me I was unladylike to point out that Dr. Wilcox’s thesis was marginally literate. Dr. Wilcox spat some epithet at me as he exited. He may not know commas, but he knows invective.

Literacy standards get grim enthusiasm when it comes to inculcating them in students but horrified revulsion when applied to an overpaid superintendent. One could more easily get a pass for being a grave robber than for pointing out that the emperor has no clothes in this administration pay scam.

Email to Dr. Wilcox:

Dr. Wilcox: I request Information below. The first four come under the state's public-records law and require timely response; the additional ones come from curiosity of a Pinellas citizen’s interest in the county superintendent’s view of education:

1. What is your base salary and your annual salary's worth with all perquisites added?

2. What is the beginning teacher's salary in Pinellas County? The last time I asked you at Tiger Bay about teachers' salaries shortly after your arrival in St. Petersburg, you didn't know these data and justified your own bloated salary by saying with an air of self-congratulation, "You get what you pay for."

3. Can you confirm that a Pinellas County teacher must pass a pre-employment basic-skills writing test? Can you confirm that the Pinellas County superintendent does not have to pass a basic-skills-and-literacy test as teachers do as condition of employment and as must all administrators in Massachusetts, the number-one school system in the country?

I would like to see the folder with the unsuccessful candidates’ applications who competed with you for the job. Where can I review this information?

5. Do you think a superintendent's academic achievement matters as an indicator of intelligence and hence ability to lead the schools? Would a better superintendent have core-academic degrees in, say, history, mathematics, or philosophy rather than degrees with courses such as curriculum instruction, instructional technology, or urban education?

6. Have schools of education that provide such exotic studies as the three cited trivialized education for school administrators and teachers?

7. Do you think it’s important that a school superintendent has read the core literature of Western civilization such as Aeschylus’s Oresteia, Shakespeare’s Richard III, and
Hamilton’s Federalist Papers? Why or why not? Have you read these?

8. Your Nova Ed.D. award shortly preceded your hiring as Pinellas superintendent. Would the Nova records people report that you did Ed.D. coursework there and that your Ed.D. process required the three to seven years needed in most universities? How long did it take you to earn a Nova Ed.D.? Did the Nova Ed.D. require competence in two other languages besides English as most university Ph.D.s require? What were your two foreign languages?

9. A shibboleth in faculty lounges is that smart people go into teaching while academic weaklings go into administration. Is this accurate or unfair? Does the fact that neither you nor Hillsborough County superintendent Maryellen Elia has a firm grasp of grammar and punctuation validate this claim? Do you infer that most taxpayers would resist your bloated salary when compared to that of teachers if they knew you had not mastered basic writing skills that Pinellas teachers instill in students who graduate under your supervision?

10. What is the highest salary made by a teacher in the Pinellas school system?

Excerpts from Dr. Wilcox’s Writing

CITATIONS ARE REPRESENTATIVE and do not include all errors.

Dissertation title page note to a St. Petersburg reporter: “… read it laying down…”

Verb: illiterate present participle: lie-lay-lying-lain. A sentence precedes the ellipsis, so it needs an extra period.

Page 3: “The specific research question was: What technique…”

Misused colon: a sentence should precede it.

Page 5: “…the British, French, and Confederate flags have been flown…”

Passive verbs afflict the document throughout.

Wordiness abounds:

Page 26: “Some individuals may believe that the resources and improvements which come with these programs within a school magnet program, most of which were located in predominantly Black inner-city schools, were as important to the Black students located in these schools as was increasing the number of non-black students to desegregate the school.” 52 words

Edit: Some believe magnet-program resources were as important to Black inner-city schools as desegregation. 13 versus 52 words

Page 43: “Teaching methods which complement the magnet curriculum theme, need to be identified with and also accompanied by state-of-the-art staff development to assure that teachers understand and utilize the teaching methods.” 30 words

Redundant comma separates subject and verb. “State-of-the-art” is a moss-grown cliché. Educationese “utilize” appears instead of “use.”

Edit: Leaders should stress magnet-teaching methods and staff development that ensures teachers master and use them. 15 words versus 30

Page 61: “All data collected for this process objective was qualitative as represented by the three curriculum documents.”

Subject-verb disagreement: “data were.”

Page 70: The quantitative data was… Disagreement of subject-verb: “data were.”

Page 75: “As a promotional technique, Astronaut Tracy Caldwell was in attendance, as was the Mayor of the parish and dignitaries from the Chamber of Commerce.” 24 words

Redundant comma cuts off restrictive trailing adverbial clause. Mayor” is lower case unless a proper name follows it.

Edit: Astronaut Tracy Caldwell, the mayor, and Chamber-of-Commerce dignitaries attended to promote the event. 13 versus 24 words

These bloated specimens display educationese as does the thesis throughout. Educationese sounds as if computer androids manufactured it. This bizarre dialect emerged from schools of education and never employs one word when it can use two; it shuns a single-syllable word if it can blow the word up to a sesquipedalian monster. The spread of educationese faux-academic glop has given academic writing a bad name.

Revision: “Teachers’ methods complement curriculum; staff development helps teachers achieve goals” 11 versus 30 words

“…the likelihood of their within-a-school magnet program being successful…”

“Program” should be “program’s”: possessive before the gerund.

Page 80: “There are likely a myriad of possible reasons parents of non-Black children may not send their children to these schools, many of which these parents may not share with others” 29 words

Subject-verb disagreement: “myriad ‘is,' not ‘are.’” The structure of this sentence ranks so defective that reading it is like riding a spavined horse. Both experiences give you a crick in the neck.

Edit: Non-Black parents do not send their children to magnet schools for myriad unknown reasons.” 13 versus 29 words Another specimen wordy sentence like those found throughout: “A condition beyond the control of the researcher was that the enrollment within a school magnet program is voluntary and is impacted by many variables for only which children’s parents are knowledgeable,” 32 words

Sense: “for only which” should be “for which only.” This is another riding-a-spavined horse sentence.

Translated to plain English: “The magnet program is voluntary, and only parents know children’s needs.” 14 versus 32 words

Page 76: Terminal objective one was: Techniques will be identified….

The writer should review colon use. The above colon is dead wrong. It splits a linking verb and its predicate nominative.

Page 79: “…magnet program being successful at attracting…”

Program’s being: possessive before the gerund

“…within-a-school magnet program, regardless of actions taken by staff.”

Redundant comma cuts off a restrictive adverbial prepositional phrase.

Page 80: Another limitation was that students within a school magnet program only contributed to a part of the school’s racial composition.

Misplaced adverbial modifier should go before “to.”

Page 81: Programs within a school magnet program has been ordered by the Federal court as part of a desegregation plan.”

Subject-verb agreement: Programs…have been ordered

Page 82: “Indicated” appears three times on this page. The writer substitutes “indicate” for “say” throughout and “utilize” for “use.”

“The same is true for the Recruiter for the Office of Magnet Programs who has increased the number of personal contracts with the prospective students and parents as a means to increase non-Black enrollment.”

Lower-case “Recruiter.” If there is only one recruiter, the “who’ adjective clause is nonrestrictive and requires a comma before it.


November 4, 2004

“Thank you for sharing this information with me which will provide the opportunity…”

Comma after “me” for nonrestrictive adjective clause

November 10, 2004

“You expressed concern about students missing two days of school.”

Possessive before the gerund: students’ missing

November 8, 2004

“Thank you for your letter and your “hand” made thank you notes.”

Dr. Wilcox invents an exotic use for quotation marks. No rule sanctions the ones around “hand.” He also splits a closed compound (handmade) and would do well to hyphenate “thank you” as two words before a noun acting as a single adjective.

“From your letter and from my conversation with others it has become clear…”

Comma after “others” for long introductory prepositional phrase

“The administration and Sarah’s peers feel differently.”

“Feel” is a linking verb. A predicate adjective, not an adverb, follows it: “different,” not “differently.”

“I am in receipt of a copy of your letter dated October 20, 2004 regarding…”

Comma after 2004 for conventional material

“You asked, ‘What lesson was this supposed to teach (your) daughter?’”

Dr. Wilcox must mean “my” instead of “your. The parentheses should be brackets for an author’s interpolation in a quotation.

“Well, I am not sure it is “supposed” to teacher her….”

Dr. Wilcox applies idiosyncratic quotation marks here. One would like his citation of the rule for these.

“I hope she learns that her family loves her and will support her, but they also know when to let go because sometimes it’s just time to move on.”

The redundant comma after “her” splits a compound noun-clause direct object of the verb “learn”: “that her family… but [that] her family….” Pronoun reference: “They” should be “it,” referring to collective noun “family.

The above quote comes from the only extended piece of Wilcox office correspondence that I have. I thought it a good letter, compassionate and psychologically adept, until I arrived at the clichés “to move on” and “to let go” in the exit paragraph. This hackneyed psychobabble converted Dr. Wilcox’s letter into banal condolence template. When a person invokes “move on” and “let go” to persuade the one addressed to forget about the injury the latter suffered, it elicits suspicion that the moving on and letting go are for the person-doing-the-addressing’s convenience, not for the comfort of the person addressed.

“…about the toll it has placed on Sarah and your family, and about what it has cost us as a school family.”

The comma after “family” is superfluous: it separates two adjectival prepositional phrases. The “and’ joining them obviates the need for a comma.

The one-and-a-third-page letter from which the above quote comes is part of the non-dissertation writing that convinces me that separate people wrote the dissertation and the letter. The forensics are too different to believe one person wrote both in my view.

Email to the president of Nova: ;; ;

Dr. Paroncy:

I inquire about what academic rigor Nova applies to approval of its doctoral dissertations.

This question interests me since encountering the 2003 Nova dissertation of Dr. Clayton Wilcox, superintendent of Pinellas County Schools.

Your online dissertation guideline

( cites strict standards for grammar, punctuation, and writing that the Wilcox dissertation does not display. His slender 83-page thesis cites only 12 items in its bibliography and lacks footnotes. Given the wordiness and plethora of passive verbs, the thesis would run fewer pages with these faults amended.

I question authorship since my rhetorical forensics say the dissertation style varies from the one displayed in Dr. Wilcox's Pinellas superintendent’s office communications.

I know that Nova's credit stands behind each dissertation it accepts to fulfill the doctoral requirements of the university. Universities that don’t exercise care about the quality of students’ dissertations get the reputation of being diploma mills.

I attach a partial list of the grammar-punctuation-style errors in the thesis and office communication for your review. I attach also the only extended piece of office writing I have by Dr. Wilcox. Comparing it to the style of the thesis forms basis for my inferring that different people wrote the dissertation and the letter.

I would appreciate your sharing with me your assessment of whether Dr. Wilcox's dissertation be coincident with Nova's standards.

Thank you.

Lee Drury De Cesare

15316 Gulf Boulevard 802

Madeira Beach, FL 33708