You can describe this annotation as How to ruin a joke in 150 words or less. I apologize for over-analyzing humor but this clever, often-funny piece does seem to beg for a few notes. The Common Good, founded by Philip K. Howard, the author of he Death of Common Sense: How Law is Suffocating America and several "son of" sequels, speaks against legalistic shenanigans that enrage many of us. Publishers Weekly hit the nail on the head when they called Howard's collection of anecdotes about lawsuits out of control "powerful but myopic."
Myopic is a good way to describe Common Good's characterizations below. We may chuckle but that chuckle is accompanied by a "Yes, but..." dash of reality. Take a look at this part of the Common Good Mission Statement: Teachers cannot maintain order in their classrooms, or even put an arm around a crying child. It doesn't have to be this way.
Who are they talking about when they say teachers? Which ones can't keep order? What kind of order are they talking about here?
Think about the civil rights/social justice/education equity perspectives of members of the Common Good Advisory Board as you chuckle over the absurdities below.
Common Good Advisory Board
Hon. Howard H. Baker, Jr., former U.S. Senator and Ambassador to Japan
Griffin B. Bell, Partner, King & Spalding; former U.S. Attorney General and Circuit Court Judge for the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals
Hon. Bill Bradley, former U.S. Senator and National Basketball Association player
William R. Brody, President, Johns Hopkins University
Christopher DeMuth, President, American Enterprise Institute
Alain C. Enthoven, Marriner S. Eccles Professor of Public and Private Management, Emeritus, Stanford University
Dr. Thomas F. Frist, Jr., Chairman, The Frist Foundation
Hon. Newt Gingrich, former Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives
Mary Ann Glendon, Learned Hand Professor of Law, Harvard Law School
Eric Holder, former Deputy U.S. Attorney General
Frank W. Hunger, former U.S. Assistant Attorney General
Robert D. Joffe, Partner, Cravath, Swaine & Moore
Robert A. Kagan, Professor of Political Science and Law, University of California, Berkeley
Harry P. Kamen, retired Chairman and CEO, MetLife
Hon. Tom Kean, Co-Chair, President, Drew University, and former Governor of New Jersey
Steven Kelman, Albert J. Weatherhead III and Richard W. Weatherhead Professor of Public Management, Harvard University
Charles Kolb, President, Committee for Economic Development
Shelly Lazarus, CEO, Ogilvy & Mather, and Chair, Board of Trustees, Smith College
Robert E. Litan, Co-Director, AEI-Brookings Joint Center for Regulatory Studies
Dr. Paul A. Marks, President Emeritus, Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center
Hon. George McGovern, former U.S. Senator and Ambassador to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization
Lawrence J. Mone, President, The Manhattan Institute
Jeffrey O'Connell, Samuel H. McCoy II Professor of Law, University of Virginia
Margaret O'Kane, President, National Committee for Quality Assurance
Dr. Herbert Pardes, President and CEO, New York-Presbyterian Hospital
Hon. Peter G. Peterson, Chairman, The Blackstone Group and former U.S. Secretary of Commerce
Stephen Presser, Raoul Berger Professor of Legal History, Northwestern University Law School
Diane Ravitch, Senior Fellow, The Brookings Institution, and Visiting Fellow, Hoover Institution
George Rupp, former President, Columbia University; President and CEO, International Rescue Committee
John Silber, President Emeritus, Boston University
Hon. Alan K. Simpson, former U.S. Senator
Shelby Steele, Research Fellow, Hoover Institution
Hon. Richard Thornburgh, former U.S. Attorney General and Governor of Pennsylvania
Deborah Wadsworth, Senior Advisor and Board Member, Public Agenda
John C. Whitehead, Chairman, Lower Manhattan Development Corp and former Deputy Secretary of State
Common Good mourns the death of two Advisory Board Members in 2003. Andrew Heiskell, former chairman of Time Inc. and a civic leader, died on July 6 at the age of 87. The Hon. Paul Simon, former U.S. Senator and founder of the Public Policy Institute at the Southern Illinois University, died on December 9 at age 75.
September 7, 2005
Top Ten New School Rules
Many educators spend their days complying with burdensome regulations and dodging lawsuits. So, for those teachers and principals heading back to school this fall, Common Good has put together a list of ten new school rules to help them stay compliant and lawsuit free.
10. A student may challenge any grade he or she receives.
Judge Throws Out School Grade Case, The Herald Sun (NC), April 12, 2005
Parents of Girl Expelled for Cheating Sue to Get 'F' off Private School's Transcript, Associated Press, February 8, 2005
Father Sues Over Grade, Benjamin Niolet, The News & Observer (NC), February 1, 2005
Athlete Loses Court Bid for Eligibility, Mark Reiter, The Toledo Blade , September 17, 2004
9. No valedictorian shall be named without due process of the law.
Best in Class: Students Are Suing Their Way to the Top, Margaret Talbot, The New Yorker , June 5, 2005
Suit Exposes Cultural Clash, The Baltimore Sun, June 7, 2005
8. The assignment of homework shall be subject to judicial review.
Judge Tosses Homework Lawsuit, Associated Press, March 9, 2005
Lawsuit Seeks to Ban Homework During the Summer, Associated Press, January 20, 2005
7. The allocation of funds shall not be done according to common sense and need--thus, teachers must purchase their own supplies.
25% of City Teachers Short on Credentials Janey Says, V. Dion Haynes, The Washington Post , April 5, 2005 (Principals cannot "purchase supplies without having to go through central administration," a process that "takes 30 to 40 days.")
Census: Nation's Public Schools Awash in $250 Billion in Red Ink, Associated Press , March 18, 2005
The Burden of Law, Diane Ravitch, Miami Herald , March 1, 2005 ("Schools today are being strangled by a ton of laws, regulations, contracts, mandates and rules. If we do not figure out how to restore authority to teachers and principals, then our schools will continue to become ever more expensive and ever less effective.")
Teachers Hit the Bankbooks, Joe Williams,New York Daily News, November 9, 2004
6. Since merit pay would violate teacher-tenure rules, the best and most dedicated teachers will be awarded gold stars.
The Dropout Problem: Not Students, but Teachers, Rachel Proctor May,
Austin Chronicle , August 12, 2005 (In a 2003 study of "why [Texas] teachers leave the profession, 61% cited salaries.")
New York's Revolving Door of Good Teachers Driven Out, Michael Winerip, The New York Times , June 1, 2005 ("Teachers nationally give four main reasons for quitting: discipline problems; lack of administrative support; too little freedom to do their jobs; and, the biggest, money.")
5. Students who chronically disrupt class will be asked kindly to stop. (But students may be expelled for possession of kitchen utensils, scissors, sunscreen, or other items that vaguely resemble weapons or drugs.)
Keeping Suspended Students in School, Trisha Howard and Peter Shinkle, St. Louis Post Dispatch, May 24, 2005 ("Two-thirds of the district's 19,321 infractions through early this month have been committed by the same 2,314 students--about 6 percent of the district's enrollment.")
The Breakdown of Discipline, Peter Simon, The Buffalo News, May 18, 2005 ("Ninety-five percent of the students in the district do what they're supposed to do every single day," says William Jackson, head of the Buffalo School District's security staff. "It's the 5 percent who cause the trouble.")
Student Discipline, The Charlotte Observer, April 24, 2005 (Teachers interviewed by the Observer agreed: "Discipline rules and policies are sometimes inconsistent, unevenly applied and too often ignored. Students know they can commit some offenses and get no punishment.")
Code of Conduct Not Fully Enforced, School Study Finds, Liz F. Kay, The Baltimore Sun, April 3, 2005 (A survey of parents, teachers, administrators, and students in Anne Arundel (MD) County schools found that "nearly half of respondents" think "some students 'persistently disrupt the learning environment' and should be placed in alternative education.")
Disorder in Schools, Beth Weitzman and Tod Mijanovich, The New York Times, October 25, 2004 ("[I]n cities and suburbs throughout the United States, students feel unsafe because they believe their classmates can 'get away with anything,'" write New York University researchers Beth Weitzman and Tod Mijanovich.)
Discipline Bill on Perry's Desk, Helen Eriksen, Houston Chronicle, June 10, 2005 (Students who "possess or exhibit weapons ... are routinely expelled and placed in alternative education programs, regardless of the student's knowledge or intent.")
Bill Would Legislate Maryland Students' Use of Sunscreen, Daniel de Vise, The Washington Post, April 11, 2005 (A recent survey of 24 Maryland school systems found that four "require a doctor's order for students to apply sunscreen. Eleven require at least a parent's note. Eight systems require students to leave the product with the school health officer." Montgomery (MD) County, schools "treat sunscreen as an over-the-counter medicine. A student must bring in a doctor's note to apply it, and only older students are allowed to carry it with them at school.")
Scissors Get Girl into Legal Trouble, Susan Snyder, Philadelphia Inquirer, December 11, 2004
No Exceptions with Zero Tolerance, Brannon Stewart, WALB-TV (Albany, NY), November 18, 2004
Earring Gets 8th Graders Expelled from Clinton Middle School, Steve Gehlbach, WATE News 6 (Knoxville, TN), November 17, 2004
Boy Returns to School after Butter Knife Suspension, Richmond Times Dispatch, October 14, 2004
Student's Suspension Over Air Gun Upheld, The San Diego Union-Tribune, April 19, 2004
4. Since legal constraints don't allow principals to use their judgment, they shall fill staff positions by closing their eyes and pointing.
How Do I Fill a Teacher Vacancy in My School?
3. Teachers found guilty of criminal behavior shall be immediately transferred to another school.
Measure Shakes Teacher Stability, Duke Helfand and Joel Rubin, Contra Costa (CA) Times, August 9, 2005 (Over the last ten years, the Los Angeles Unified School District "has attempted to dismiss just 112 permanent teachers--or about one-quarter of 1 percent of the district's 43,000 instructors.")
Appeals Court Says Teacher Arrested as Drug Suspect Should Lose Job, Samuel Maull, Associated Press, July 7, 2005
Class Clowns, David Andreatta, New York Post January 24, 2005 ("Nearly half of all public-school teachers brought up on disciplinary charges over the past five years--with offenses ranging from drug use to corporal punishment--are still in the school system and earning full salaries. ... In about one out of 10 cases, teachers beat the rap or charges against them were dropped. But in 37 percent of cases now closed, teachers held onto their jobs either by order of an independent arbitrator or by settling their cases with the city Department of Education.")
Mr. Mayor, Eva's Right, Richard Scwartz, New York Daily News, October 28, 2004 ("Last year, the system canned fewer than 75 teachers for cause. ... In that same period, 370 teachers were arrested for crimes such as theft, drug possession and sexual abuse.")
2. To avoid lawsuits and injury, students will take virtual field trips and no running will be tolerated during recess.
Wailupe School Bridge Was 'a Long Time Coming', Suzanne Roig, The Honolulu Advertiser, August 27, 2005 (Parent-signed consent forms are required for students to visit a community park adjacent to school.)
In the Pursuit of Safety, Teeter-Totters and Swings are Disappearing From Playgrounds, Chris Kahn, South Florida Sun-Sentinel, July 18, 2005 (A tall metal sign posted at all 137 elementary schools in the Broward (FL) County school district warns children not to play "without adult supervision" or to use equipment "unless designed for your age group." "No running, pushing or shoving," commands the sign.)
Safety Always an Issue on School Trips, Martha Irvine, Associated Press, June 11, 2005 (Field trips to "faraway destinations" are being curtailed in some locations.)
1. Teachers must devote equal time to instruction and paperwork.
Job Conditions Create Shortages, Special Ed Teachers Say, Ray Hagar, Reno Gazette-Journal, August 28, 2005 (In 2002, a national study found that special education teachers have to do more than double the paperwork of teachers in general education. Special education teachers do an average of five hours of paperwork a week--completing forms and doing administrative paperwork--compared to two hours for a general education teacher.)
The Dropout Problem: Not Students, But Teachers, Rachel Proctor May, Austin Chronicle, August 12, 2005 (Teachers in Texas are quitting for three big reasons: "pay, administrative (or administrator) hassles, and classroom management issues.")
Special Education Teachers: Supply, Demand Not Always Balanced, Olivia Clarke, Northwest Indiana Times, March 27, 2005 ("A lot of special education teachers say they want to get out of special education because of the paperwork," says Bob Marra, associate superintendent in the Indiana Department of Education's Division of Exceptional Learners.)
Mobile's Schools Sued by Teachers, Rena Havner, Mobile Register, March 4, 2005 (Last fall, 2,300 teachers filed a formal grievance with the school board over having too much paperwork and too little pay. Now, some teachers who say the board ignored the grievance have filed a class-action lawsuit against the board and Superintendent Harold Dodge.)
Bill Would Help Cut a Teacher's Paperwork, Isabel Mascarenas, Tampa Bay's 10 News Now , February 10, 2005
Teachers Complain About Lack of Planning Time, Dionne Walker, The Annapolis Capital, November 1, 2004 (In 2003, Anne Arundel (MD) County, teachers worked an average of 48 hours a week, according to the Maryland State Teachers Association (MSTA). This year, "the number is over 60 hours. ... No Child Left Behind has teachers inundated with forms and evaluations, said Lissa Brown [of MSTA]. 'They all use the same words: 'I don't have time to teach.'")