Tuesday, September 12, 2017

If you have been sick, you could be a doctor

If you have been sick, you could be a doctor.

If you have been sick you could be a doctor.   Across our country, particularly in rural areas there is a distinct shortage of primary care providers.  So why not enlist people who have been sick to fill in for those shortages.  Particularly people with chronic illnesses who have had frequent interface with medical care providers.  That won’t happen because our society believes that physicians have a particular skill set and knowledge base that is important to the delivery of services.  It also will not happen because the American Medical Association (AMA) a professional association would not allow it.
On the other hand, there is also a shortage of teachers, particularly in the areas of math, science and special education.  Unlike medicine, our society believes that if you have gone to school you can be a teacher.  There is no sense that there is a skill set or knowledge base that is required for teaching.  And the National Education Association (NEA) the teacher union does not seem to have any issue with the shortage solution.
Governors in Oklahoma where teacher salaries are the lowest in the country, Arizona and Utah have agreed to allow districts to hire people as teachers who have no formal professional training at all.   These states are hiring teachers with 5 years of relevant experience in the field OR a bachelor’s degree or both. It is neither clear, nor defined, what relevant experience is.   That means that a person does not even need a bachelor’s degree to teach in these states.  The Vail school district in Arizona has hired 24 non-certified teachers to fill in the gap.  But not to worry, 17 of those non-certified teachers are parents of kids in elementary school.  Another 14 parents are teaching in the high schools.  Families should not be concerned.  The district provides coaching to these people twice a month.  Of course, the district is saving money because these non-certified teachers are earning less than a trained teacher would make. 
Other districts are trying to come up with different ideas.  Some districts are prevailing upon retired teachers to come back to the classroom.  In some systems, the school is providing virtual teachers.  Florida operates a “virtual school”.  And that was BEFORE the hurricane.  These virtual schools are staffed by a facilitator who is trained in the subject area.  Another solution is to use student-teachers.  School systems are hiring student teachers as students during the school year before the students have finished their degree programs.  The dean of Radford University does not think that is such a great idea.  “To retain teachers in the field, you want to make sure they’re ready.  Sling-shotting them to the classroom before they’re done with student-teaching is not the best idea.”
What is so confusing about all this is why is no one complaining?  Is our societal regard for the teaching profession so low that we really do believe anyone can walk into a classroom and deliver decent instruction?   This notion almost makes the Highly Qualified of No Child Left Behind seem sensible. 
People jump up and down about bad test scores but there does not seem to be any connect in the public mind between trained and qualified teachers and adequate instruction.   The teachers' union has been very quiet.  Must be that these unqualified people filling classrooms are paying dues and that is all the unions really care about.

So when you think about it, why go to school at all.  After all, we can all be anything we want to be, no training required.   I was sick last week.  Think I will be a doctor next week.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Still Going in Circles

Still going in circles.

Education, like the Lionel Christmas trains, keeps going in circles.  Remember how in the days before technology, those old dependable Lionel trains just went around and around the holiday tree in a big circle.  Today’s educators and politicians must have been incredibly impressed with those trains because they have been taking education in circles ever since.  Let’s consider the latest news on the education front as schools begin to open for the new school year.
Under the federal No Child Left Behind law every student would be on grade level by 2014.  There was not a single sober person alive at the time who believed that was possible.  But that didn’t stop us from making it the law.  When that miracle didn’t happen the US Congress passed the Every Child Succeeds Act that kept the testing but allowed states to define what “success” means.  The Maryland State Board of Education has recently decreed that success will look differently for low achieving schools than it does for the higher achieving schools.   Under the new system, a school that has only 10 percent of its students passing the statewide tests in 2017 will be required to have 55 percent of its students passing by 2030.  Meanwhile, a school with 60 percent of its students passing the tests this year will be required to have 80 percent of its students passing in 2030.  The idea is that the Board didn’t want the mountain to be so high to climb that it became impossible.   Don’t be upset by the fact that the Statewide passing average was only about 30% this past year.  Seems like all concerned will have to do some mountain climbing.  You have to applaud the Board and the politicos though.  No matter how irrelevant to success the testing program is, no matter how discouraging it is to good programing,  we will stick with it.   You can’t blame the politicians.  They aren’t supposed to know anything about education and since we believe they all went to school, that should make them experts.
The teachers’ unions are HUGELY at fault.  These people are supposed to be the professionals.  By definition, a professional cares about the people it serves.  Oh, yes the unions decry the testing because they don’t want to be measured by the results.  But why don’t they talk about the damage all that testing does to the kids they are supposed to care about.  When was the last time a union went out on strike or made too much testing for the kids a contract issue?  Never in my lifetime.
Meanwhile, school systems have cut what really matters to kids in school in order to raise test scores.  Children endure hours of reading and math instruction in the vain hope of raising the test scores.  Reading and math are TOOLS to solve problems and get information.  Yet we are force feeding these skill subjects to kids as if achievement will get them into heaven.  Time in the school day is finite.  So adding reading and math instruction more time means so called “less important” subjects like art and even science must go.  Now the new Baltimore City CEO is talking blasphemy.  She wants schools to make room for things like civics (imagine kids learning how their government runs!), science and art.   Some schools are embracing the new directive by hiring a science or social studies teacher!   I mean how radical is that.  
But not to worry.  But some principals are not so happy.  As one principal said, “Where are we going to find time for to fit this all in?  Are we going to take away from reading?  Are we going to take away from math?  And how will this affect our test scores?” Interesting question.  Good thing he didn’t ask, how will this affect the quality of education we are delivering to our students.  Or, do the test scores really matter in the long term achievement of every child’s success.
It is not Christmas but the train is still going round in circles.



Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Who Wants This Prize?

Who Wants this Prize?

The Mayor of Baltimore is offering free tuition to the Baltimore City Community College for all 2018 graduates of Baltimore City high schools.  Such a deal!   Except that fewer people every year want to attend BCCC.  In fact, 8000 Baltimore City students bypassed BCCC and its reduced tuition of about $1,573 per semester to attend Baltimore County Community College at a cost of just over $3000.  That is double the total number of students currently attending the City Community College.
Why is that?  Well for one thing the outcomes from BCCC are terrible.  Only 3.3% of the entering class in 2010 graduated four years later with an associate degree.  This is the lowest percentage of any community college in the state.  The percentage of students transferring to 4-year colleges is the second lowest in the state.  The State pours more money into BCCC more than any other community college and yet the outcomes are still terrible.   What’s the answer?
First of all, 93% of the entering freshmen need remedial coursework before they can even begin to do college work.  That is the highest of any community college in Maryland.  The State legislature has recently shaken up the composition of the Board of Trustees to shift the emphasis to help the college realign its priorities and connect to employers.
This may be terribly undemocratic but when it comes to college preparedness, we cannot simply declare college readiness and move on.   The vast majority of Baltimore City high school graduates, all that testing notwithstanding, are not anywhere near prepared for college.   Additionally, many of these kids do not come from a background where college graduation is a value.   That is not bad, it is just different.   What many of these kids need and want is a decent job with a basic income.   The same can be said for students attending Coppin University but that is a blog for another day.
The emphasis at the City Community College needs to shift to preparing students for emerging and existing jobs.   The certificate programs at the College are one of the few bright spots and graduates are doing well in passing the exams.   We should stop wasting students’ time preparing them for more advanced academics.  Let’s teach them the math they need to become an auto mechanic, an HVAC repair person, a PT or dental assistant or a practical nurse.  The same can be said for the reading necessary for these jobs.   Literature and algebra can come much later if at all.  A basic course in civics would be good as well to help create an educated electorate. 

Right now, only about 250 Baltimore City high school grads entered BCCC last year.  The Mayor wants to increase that number to 1000.   Unless the program changes dramatically, that will be throwing good students after bad ones and offer a prize that few people want.