Bill O'ConnorHendersonvilleNews Stories

It looks even worse than reported


By Bill O’Connor –

Further down we will happily respond to BOPE member, Mr. Wood’s letter to the Editor, but now, sadly, on to what is really happening.

I reported to you, as have numerous others, the USA results among 65 countries whose 15 years-olds were tested for reading, science and math; our kids were reported as ranking 14th, 17th, and 25th, respectively. These tests are called the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA), and are given every three years by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). Results from 2009 (the ones cited above) are the latest made public. The complete 2012 results will come out late this year. The nearby chart, called a 2012 update, for the same data as the above rankings comes out worse for the USA, but does show the wonder of which countries did better than we did. The differences are mostly small between the two sets of rankings but unfortunately are all lower in the latest. American kids finishing 17th, 23rd, and 31st in the three test areas above.

The most striking thing about these charts of 65 country results, other than the poor showing of Americans, is that mainland China (Shanghai) finished first in all three, and Kyrgyzstan finished last in each, and these two countries share a 600 mile border. So it isn’t a matter of place. As opposed to the capital, Beijing, Shanghai has always been the economic center of China like New York for us. If you want to see more than these charts, the link is: We can take cold comfort in the solid splat recorded by the Kyrgyzers, who left plenty of space between themselves and number 64 in all three subject areas.

Here is commentary on the results from Lori Taylor, associate professor at Texas A&M University’s Bush School of Government and Public Service:

“The U.S. fell particularly short in the share of students achieving the highest level of math performance. Only 2 percent of U.S. students reached the top rung. By comparison, more than 4 percent of students in Canada, Finland, Korea and eight other OECD countries attained that level—as did 11 percent of the Hong Kong students and 27 percent of the Shanghai pupils.”

Seeing my country 14th in the percentage of math excellence really hurts, because math helps us see and understand puppies and the universe. It is the key to all of science, economics and most of the human achievements of the last few thousand years.

If the Henderson County Public Schools (HCPS) can’t make a better challenge than Mr. Wood below, to these columns, will they keep pretending that the county’s “TOP Scholars” means the top 380, 430, or some large number of seniors? How does number 139 feel standing up there on stage, knowing that number 1 is up there too – and vice versa? If this really has to continue, how about having a really meaningful ceremony for, say the top 10 or 12, the “Henderson Dozen” or some such to recognize real excellence and inspire determined striving for more of it. We could have a program to follow and report on them for decades to provide ongoing future inspiration; if only the Federal Department of Education would fund an “Excellence Czar” Department, and let us. Do we really need to build a wall around every job so that no new work or ideas can ever get in? Young people from settled backgrounds don’t need much inspiration beyond their families. It is those raised in an environment of barely surviving, just getting by, and turmoil in their lives who need to see a way to climb up and out. We won’t stop asking.

There is no surer sign of corruption than secrecy. The unwillingness to share public information openly without resistance clearly shows that inquiries are on the right track. An old bomber pilot I knew in Libya said: “When you are taking flak, it means you are over the target.” We can’t fundamentally change people because the tendency to hide and control is part of human nature. There is a little in all of us, but it overwhelms the personality of some. These are drawn to government like bees to honey. While it may come to that here, there is really only one way around them that doesn’t include going to court, and that is going to the legislature and using the power of the vote to demand that we, as parents, get control of the money to educate our kids. This way we can choose where and by whom our children are schooled. Anyone who truly believes that someone else should make that decision for them is lost already.

There are no better judges of teaching than parents and students. Our children can whip the tails off of, and run mathematical circles around, the young people in China. If they remain subject to the Soviet-style bureaucracy like we have on Fourth Avenue, and all the Fourth Avenues in the country we will have squandered our kids’ potential. And in losing our future through losing our children’s potential we will have lost a lot more. If our freedom is lost it will go faster than it can ever be regained; it will take generations, or centuries. We must take back our children’s education from a demonstrably unconcerned government. If they deny their lack of concern to you or to me, show them the charts. There are no experts in Washington or Hendersonville who will care more for the children than us.

And we must break the union mentality in working with our teachers. The fact that $427 from a failed teacher buys just as much lobbying as $427 from our best may guide union policy, but it can’t be made to guide ours. It isn’t fair to taxpayers, to our students, and it isn’t fair to our teachers. Among 899 people doing any job, 1 in 20 every year will be in the wrong place. Their destiny truly lies along a different path and we expand their lives when we help them find a wider set of choices. And help the entire corps of teachers to be more effective, happier, and motivated to their best. Without the best teacher corps we will not improve our relative position in the world. The dozens of countries ahead of us on these charts are not waiting for us to catch up.

Mr. Rick Wood’s Letter to our Editor

Mr. Wood might have challenged us on these scores and charts, rather than trimming, bobbing, weaving, and evading like a correspondence school lawyer. Or he could have told us “not to worry, that our Henderson kids are right up there with Shanghai; the Tribune is all wet, we just haven’t publicized it yet”. Along with the rest of us, Wood is going to have to live with results of our local schools effectiveness and, I really wish I did have it wrong. The School System encompassing the Board and Administration is used to coddling from the happy-talk Lone Ranger Gazette, and the morning papers in both our county, and the one up north. They can count on similar happy-talk from folks like HRM. Dunkle at the Stalag 13 Junior Annex up in Biltmore Park; wait – wasn’t Stalag 13 run By Colonel Klink? Yes, yes it was, and the rest of the crew up at Biltmore Park, I guess, take turns playing Sergeant Schultz whenever on camera. (Speaking of the northern county, have you, gentle reader, ever looked up the source of the word “bunk” as in; that’s just a bunch of bunk? (hint: Congressman Felix Walker).

Mr. Wood does have a minor, but forgivable, spelling/comprehension/courtesy problem, likely from the schools he attended, though possibly more fundamental. Wood confirms that his retired teachers’ NEA has two lobbyists on the payroll. That is no doubt far fewer than the state NEA as a whole. While he knows that the association for retired teachers is the NEA, rather than say what he certainly should know, he is willing to claim ignorance of the plain fact that the HCAE, in the state and on the web, is quite literally a front for the NEA; lipstick on the p*g, so to speak. A simple test is in one of my previous columns he seems to have partially, or uncomprehendingly, read. If he wishes to find the NEA behind the HCAE it’s just where he left it, if he more carefully re-reads that passage.

Mr. Wood mentions the hours spent fulfilling information requests such as mine. I did offer to do that work for them and was refused; if they just grant me access to the financial files on their network, I won’t bother them again and will leave the records as I find them. I’ll even settle for electronic file copies. It has been 1,320 hours since I hand delivered my requests. Denied simple access to the data, I’ll be happy to pick up the requested information whenever ready, to save time. As to what I report, with his leave or without, I will report what I find rather than just be another mouthpiece for any Supreme Central Committee, or BOPE. The 4-color public relations apparatus of the schools is more than capable of its own happy-talk, and has yet more willing enablers below the “Fatz Cafe”, speeding around in a, doubtlessly, very correct electric car somewhere, and in Biltmore Park. Wanting the Tribune to roll over for a belly rub too, Mr. Wood apparently has much more tolerance for happy-talk, saccharine pronouncements, and the incurious, lickspittle reporting of the standard Central Committee press release conduits than most.

A Note For The Energy Czar

I learned a lot from Ike Nooe, a consulting client from Frankfort, Kentucky. I had saved him a lot of money in my first year working for him and we were discussing second year plans. I started by noting the first year results as a base. He interrupted saying: That’s done! You already got credit for it. Thanks very much. NOW – what are you going to do this year?” A real first rate challenge is great for keeping the blood flowing.


We will take this up pretty soon in more depth, but as I was fishing around in the state law I came across the gun law section. It made smoke come out of my ears. If you read the detail and try to imagine how to comply with the concealed carry minutiae, you can see it is nearly impossible to actually carry a weapon in any useful way without risking felony. It is written to gut, filet and lard fry the 2nd Amendment. Twain said “When the legislature makes a joke, it the law, and when they make a law, it’s a joke.” In this case a very bad joke and an anti-constitutional set of laws. If you have concerns on any public issues including school security, that need to be aired, contact me with complete confidence in our respect for your privacy at: or or call 828 890-0412.

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