Recently in Education Category

The PLP's layoffs at Berkeley are being justified with the over-used rhetoric of doing more with less, but are a direct consequence of the PLP spending 10 years doing less with more. Ironically the centrepiece of less with more is the new Berkeley school building itself.

The project was budgeted at about $70M, and was built for $128M. There was also a loss of the $5M or $6M construction bond from the BIU which the Government forgave in exchange for no more wildcat strikes (which of course never happened).

So, let's call the overspend to build the new Berkeley $60M with the building opening 3 years late in 2006.

If that $60M hadn't been blown, how many teachers or maintenance staff could it have paid for at every school on the island?

Or, looking at it differently, if that $60M had been set aside to earn say 3% interest compounding since 2003, it would today be worth $76M. That's bigger than most Ministries annual budgets.

The interest alone on the $60M overspend would easily have kept those 8 laid off staff employed and a whole lot more.

The PLP always got a free pass on the overspending because the UBP's robust economy paid for it, so they just blew off as no big deal - as did much of the electorate.

Well, it's a big deal now. Particularly to those whose livelihoods are being lost because of Paula Cox's inability to manage the public's finances.

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With the latest installment of free was never free, and the PLP unwinding yet another of the PLP's election promises which never made sense in the first place, the One Bermuda Alliance Opposition should start broadening the response, and not keep them narrowly focused on each f-up.

The real kind of connections they should be helping the voter make is:

If the PLP can't deliver their 2007 election promises why should you believe the next set?

If the PLP can't fix a minor bus and ferry problem, surely no-one can believe that they can fix the economy they broke, the violent crime outbreak they denied, the tourism freefall they branded a turnaround and education that is not really an education?

If the PLP said tourism was turning around why is it at an all time low?

If the PLP said crime was declining why are we averaging one shooting murder a month in 2011?

These aren't isolated issues, they're all interconnected to a fundamentally flawed public policy, an inability to effectively run the most basic apparatus of Government, a glib willingness to campaign on knowingly empty and undeliverable promises, and a public sector infrastructure that is crumbling due to projects being built to achieve the goal of redistributing public sector wealth to a handful of insiders, not the greater public interest.

All that is happening now, transport cuts as tourism season kicks in (our 4% second economic 'pillar'), police cuts as violent crime spirals out of control and debt escalation are all because of those supposed victimless scandals of the BHC, the Berkeley overspend, the cruise ship terminal overspend and the TCD overspend to name a couple.

As the former BPSU head said, the PLP's screw ups were paid for by the UBP's sensible economic policies that carried them for ten years.

The corruption and waste of the past decade weren't victimless and without consequence. They just seemed that way because the UBP's economy was so robust.

The Bermuda Government should be sitting on several hundred million dollars of surpluses which they can use to hire more police officers, put on more buses, spend on the current account and stimulate with capital spending as revenues decline. Instead we're incurring expensive debt which could take more than 10 years to retire - and only if the hard sacrifices are made now to return Bermuda to sensible fiscal policy, which is not happening.

The UBP have tried to connect the dots in their budget replies over the years. But it was intangible because the effects of that mismanagement took years to metastasize. Now things are different. The critique has real examples and should be hammered home.

It's not enough to be right. The Opposition have to be persuasive. You can't drive change unless you win elections.

As the One BA emerges over the coming days (hopefully not weeks), one of the positives is that the Opposition can reboot the critique and start planting the seed in voters' heads of what I think their campaign should be.

Which would be something like:

Bermuda: They broke it. We'll fix it.

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The Education Minister today reminded parents that their children must be toilet trained before entering school.

This announcement confirmed what many already suspected:

It's only acceptable for politicians to be full of s#!t.

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Surely Dame Jennifer is self-aware enough to have foreseen the optics of her lineup of school adopters, a benevolent bunch who are dipping so generously into their pockets lined by the taxpayers to bail out our apparently broke Government who can't afford to maintain the schools.

That the Adopt a School Program is being funded by PLP insiders and beneficiaries of Government's decade long Adopt a Contractor program is unintentionally amusing and sad:

  • A former Premier.
  • A current Cabinet Minister whose construction equipment is crawling all over Marsh Folly as we speak.
  • The head of Rock Media who has been involved in all sorts of Government expenses.
  • And a PLP Senator and former Chairman whose consulting firm was running IT services over at TCD.

This stuff is comedic gold - a tragedy - delivered with the earnest seriousness of the self-deluded.

Of course there was one contractor notably missing, whose over-billing to the tune of tens of millions of dollars has outraged multiple Auditor Generals and could of course have probably covered maintenance of all Government buildings for many years.

The unintentional political messaging here is that Government is well and truly broke and the circle of friends remains fully in tact. Government as charity inwards and outwards.

If I was the UBP or BDA I'd be rounding up $10,000, and offering to sponsor a school (with a nice placard) and waiting for the PLP to say "Hell no!"

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We will not make progress in education until we align the language we use to measure and discuss it with reality.

In reality, to graduate implies proficiency. You cannot graduate 99% of students if a mere 23% of them are proficient in math for example. The other 77% did not graduate, they were simply moved on from the education system.

There is a lot to say here, but we need to be honest with the students. They deserve honesty. To tell someone you've graduated tells them that they have acquired some skills and a level of education that is valuable to employers.

To tell people that you're 'graduating' implies that what they have achieved has value to an employer. This does not if the overwhelming majority are not proficient in math.

It is unfair and immoral to tell someone they've graduated, with the knowledge that that graduate is unemployable. And it is unfair to blame employers for a supposed systematic failure to employ Bermudians if large numbers of those Bermudians cannot meet minimum standards.

As we see with Customs (and the Fire Service and others), the pool of Bermudian applicants are simply not even close to meeting the most basic expectations to be employed: read, write and problem solve.

At this morning's session of the Joint Select Committee investigating causes in the rise in crimes of violence, the Collector of Customs said that there had been 236 applicants for 12 entry level vacancies, but that only 12 of these had passed the written tests with only eight getting through both the written and drug tests.

The Customs example demonstrates that too many Bermudians are under-educated and over-drugged. If you can't pass a written test or a drug test you are unemployable, not the victim of discrimination.

Today's revelations should put to bed any further discussions of the supposed conspiracy by employers to not hire enough Bermudians. Our economy is built around highly skilled intellectual capital. We are not preparing our people to participate in it.

Lowering standards and legalising drugs is not the solution.

Today the Board of Education admitted, with statistics, the disconnect between 'graduating' and standards, the true extent of the problem.

But the language of politicians must change from denial and social promotion to brutal honesty. The Government must stop pushing the blame and the impact of our broken education system onto the private sector employers. It is dishonest and dangerous.

Parents too have a role to play, and if parents won't participate or home situations are unhealthy then Government must step up and step in to drive individual performance with extreme measures (local boarding schools for example).

This problem has been decades in the making and will take at least a decade to fix. But the impact of the current undereducated generation is only just beginning.

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There's nothing I find more entertaining than the classic political apology, when a politician apologises for saying what they actually believe for a change. Today we were treated to a truly comical version from PLP Senator Marc Bean who last week lambasted his party for a 12 year epic fail.

"My Government, from 1998 to today, has failed," he said. "I give my Government a triple F."


"It's like we bought a house built on sand and instead of fixing it we've changed the curtains and we've changed the tiles," he said last week.

It gets even better though. This wasn't just the the normal insincere apology of convenience. This wasn't just the forced apology, it was public groveling, humiliation, begging for forgiveness. And how do you do that in PLP land? Well, you have to do a complete and utter reversal and parrot the well worn old faithful PLP narrative of.....

It's all the UBP's fault!

How unoriginal. 12 years later, after over a decade in power with an Opposition in disarray, the PLP's failures are the fault of the UBP?

"Upon reflection I recognise that my words may have created discomfort among the hardworking men and women in this Government who since 1998 have striven to overcome the failed education system, the economic inequity and the institutional racism that we inherited from the former Government."

If only we had a local Daily Show. They wouldn't even need to ridicule, it's just so patently absurd in the first place.

And to think one of the PLP's nasty attack ads during the election was that one of the UBP's candidates was a puppet and was having words put into his mouth.

Who's the puppet now?

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A reader writes on an alternative to the Santa Claus Parade.

I, too, was at the parade, less by choice, and was shocked at the performances of not one, but all the dance groups. The costumes and moves of what were often very young girls was disturbing, not to mention the music. Interestingly many of the girls were followed in the street by their mothers who, judging by their dress, often seemed to have the same agenda.

But the real show, which the media didn't pick up on, was taking place inside Wesley
Methodist Church, where a group of Cedarbridge singers and music students with the
Bermuda Philharmonic were performing Vivaldi's "Gloria". Even if it was Vivaldi, who
can stir the soul of all but the most musically insensitive, the performance was outstanding. The talent and obvious dedication of these students was incredible, and
they did their school and country proud.

At one point, the conductor stopped the performance and motioned for one of the
soloists to sit down while the church vibrated to the beat of the latest 20 megawatt
hit right outside the church door. But the students took it in stride, and resumed
where they left off with confidence.

Too often we write off our teenagers, and Cedarbridge gets a lot of flak for the
actions of a few, but here we have a great example of something truly good.
Bermudians need to hear of this stuff - perhaps more would try to aim for something
better than showing off to gangsta rap.

A phenomenal performance. Hopefully the press won't miss it next time.

Well done to all those involved, parents, teachers and students.

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A reader writes on the closure of Whitney, perhaps the beginning of the end for the successful aided schools:

Today's announcement of the closure of the Whitney Institute is interesting. The failure to maintain the physical plant to acceptable health and safety standards seems to be at the core of the dispute and subsequent closure. What is interesting however is the shift in language between April and now. In announcements made just a couple of months ago the public was led to believe that as a Government-aided school, the Government was responsible for the upkeep to ensure a clean and safe environment and one that complies with health and safety codes. Fast forward to today and the not-so-subtle announcement by Minister Horton that Whitney's Trustees could not give an assurance that they could remain a viable school within the public school system for five years - hence, the closure. What was not addressed in today's press reports was where the responsibility lay for funding of property management and maintenance. The inference now was that it was the Trustees responsibility, albeit the specifics of the level of Government funding and how it is applied within the multi-million dollar school budget was not elaborated on.

There is no doubt that this closure now becomes a convenient announcement for Government. It is not inconsistent with Government's strategy of dismantling relics of the pre-1998 regime (the Minister's announcement would have been markedly different had Victor Scott School found itself in the same scenario). But, I cannot
help but enquire as to whether the school's Trustees were negligent in not ensuring that required property maintenance was done. I don't think we've seen the last of 'he said, he said' over this one.

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Another week, another education debacle:

Whitney Institute Middle School will close this summer, its board of trustees told the Ministry of Education today, The Royal Gazette understands.

Potentially permanently.

Here's the kicker: the complaint is that the school needed renovating yet Government hasn't moved on it and it is now unsafe.

Contrast that with a very urgent renovation that did take place: the renovation of an Official Premier's Residence for $1.5M that remains unoccupied over a year later.

Education? We'll get to it. Vacant home for Premiers. Check.

PS The Gazette is likely to have an inside track on this story, the Editor is a Trustee of Whitney. He's got a fine line to tread on this one.

[UPDATE: The Gazette has informed me that the Whitney story was obtained after a Whitney staff member contacted the paper, and reporter Tim Smith pursued it.]

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Here we go again.

In typical control freak fashion, Government is positioning itself to take the aided school model (aka the successful model) and turn it into the public school model (aka the unsuccessful one).

Yet again Government has it bass ackwards. They pick the path that gives them total control but flies in the face of proven results.

You expected something different?

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It looks like the final count with be 22-14, which is a push.

The parties traded 2 seats, with the UBP taking 2 in St. George's and the PLP taking St. David's and Southampton.

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From the Department of Incredibly Conspicuous Spelling Mistakes (and lazy blogger cheap-shots), comes the PLP's press conference transcript today entitled:

Educaiton/Finance Press Conference Comments


That just about sums up the problem.

[Update: It was corrected within an hour]

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I am utterly convinced, certain, that whoever is doing the PR strategy for the PLP is a student of the approach used very effectively over the past 10-20 years by the US Republican Party, and particularly George Bush's political handler Karl Rove.

I know not everyone follows US politics as closely as I do, but it is indisputable that the PLP are emulating the exact methods that were used to give the Republicans a political resurgence in the mid-1990s but has produced such terrible results in Iraq and elsewhere.

I could go on for days about this, but there is an exact emulation of the Republican talking points to try and portray domestic opponents of the war (ie. most Democrats) as unpatriotic being tried in Bermuda.

In the US, if a Democratic politician is critical of the war in Iraq, or dares express even the slightest bit of dissent, they are accused of "not supporting the troops".

The slogan "Support the troops" has become a method to intimidate and discredit politicians and advocacy groups, while it's obvious to most rational people that if you believe a war is un-winnable that it isn't particularly supportive to keep soldiers fighting because a politician wants to save face.

What does this have to do with Bermuda? Well, strangely enough it's to do with education.

Rational, thinking people clearly understand that Government is misusing statistics to artificially inflate the graduation rate (and tourism arrivals) to 80% from 58% previously. This is a particularly egregious attempt to generate a positive headline in the wake of an education inquiry which said the public education system was 'on the brink of meltdown'.

Not surprisingly The Minister maintains that nothing funny is going on (while conceding they've changed how they treat non-graduating students), although it's obvious that the denominator in the graduation rate calculation has been reduced which jacks up the graduating percentage.

Many people, including myself, Denis Pitcher through his blog, Grant Gibbons and others have pointed out the undeniable changes in methodology.

So how does the PLP's increasingly ridiculous website try and play the criticism:

The UBP vs. Bermuda's Students

Of late, UBP critics have questioned how Bermuda's class of 2007 could have achieved such a high graduation rate. The UBP's lack of faith in our students and their capabilities is truly disturbing.

That was the opening, this is the finish (read the full spin here):

Those who seek to undermine the accomplishments of our students by calling into question the statistics their hard work helped generate should be ashamed of themselves.

What complete, mindless nonsense. Firstly, faith isn't going to fix education. Secondly, demanding higher standards and better results is not undermining anyone's accomplishments, it is how you support the students.

This style of stupid political spin is beyond acceptable. I can't believe this has to be said, but demanding an honest assessment of graduation rates year over year is supporting the students. Messing with the number is not.

Bermuda can't have an honest and productive policy discussion about ways to improve the education system (or anything else for that matter) when one side is trotting out such idiotic memes as this.

That has got to be one of the most shameless attempts to deflect responsibility and shut down honest policy debate that we've seen yet - although I'm sure it won't be the last.

It's a style of politicking that we don't need importing here. Just ask a growing number of Americans how well things have worked out when their politicians didn't challenge the administration over a war for fear of seeing their face in an ad with the words "Representative So- and-So doesn't support the troops" as Congressional elections approached.

We don't need to go down this road.

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Unfortunately, the ascendancy of Dr. Brown to his party's leadership and Premier has heralded the importation and emulation of the worst aspects of the American political system without some of the best.

There's of course The Entourage (justified for an American President but not for the Premier of Bermuda - who is the equivalent of a small town mayor), a Press Secretary whose job is mostly to obstruct the press, rampant litigation (sue whenever possible) and ego props like a Council of Economic Advisors, the Premier's Gala Weekend (ie. Inauguration) and demands that people stand when Dr. Brown (not the head of state) enters the room etc..

Most significantly however, and this started before Dr. Brown but has - as promised - been taken to the next level, is the blatant manipulation and withholding of statistics to present a far different picture than actually exists.

Since the Department of Statistics was moved under the Cabinet Office, statistics have been misused to hoodwink the public.

Most notably is Tourism, where the Premier has benefited substantially from distorting air arrival numbers as an indicator of a rebirth of tourism and continues to bask in the glory of turning around tourism; a lie which was revealed in full a few weeks ago when the business traveler numbers were finally split out.

This constant misuse of statistics is why I don't believe a thing that this Government tells us - zero - which is one of the worst traits of the US system: politics has transcended policy. The Government seems to view facts as pliable if you put enough PR people on them, and PR is the most important office in the Government.

The current administration in the US, with it's massive appointed senior policy making staff, believes in 'creating it's own reality' as a Bush aide famously told Ron Suskind and mocked the "Reality-based community". The primary objective is to spend time and money to manage public perception, usually through lies, damned lies and statistics.

I say all that to preface my complete lack of belief in the latest graduation rates, released on Friday. Quite simply, it is not credible to present the rosy picture of public education after a well documented 53% graduation rate and in the wake of a devastatingly damning review of public education.

Either the Education review was a total waste of money, or Cabinet is at it again with statistics. Those of us in the reality based community will go with the latter.

There is no way that a 22% increase in the graduation rate year over year when not nearly enough time has passed for any serious reform to the public education system to have been implemented let alone had an impact is possible, yet the public is supposed to believe the latest numbers.

Sorry. I don't.

It's pretty clear that they've changed the baseline (most likely as they are now only reporting those who entered the graduating class it seems), lowered the graduation requirements or are grading a lot more lax.

But the fact is that they can really do whatever they want here, because the certificate they're using is a local creation that has little to no weight against other systems such as the GCSE in the UK.

This behaviour is so fundamentally counter-productive to actually improving public education - or any other issue for that matter. If the Minister and his colleagues can't be honest then they need to be replaced. Public education is far too important to be subject to constant political spin.

To be honest, I'd thought that the education review had actually heralded in a willingness to not dress things up anymore and be brutally honest about the state of things. But that's clearly not the case.

Evidently trying to make people feel better as an election approaches is more important than education.

This manipulation of stats and performance has become so pervasive that there is one American political creation that we could use: a Government Accountability Office.

That's one aspect of the US system that we could actually use here, as well as Public Access to Information and modern anti-corruption laws by the way.

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