Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Dollar Down & Dollar When you get me

Dollar Down and a Dollar when you get me

Teaching has never been a highly paid profession.   But the benefits have usually been great.  Health care is heavily subsidized by the district.   Retirement is one of the few fixed payment retirement plans left.  But all might not be well in Loveland.
First of all, teachers, like everyone else, are living longer.  That means school districts are paying longer.  In some states, teachers are outliving the retirement funds that have been built up.  Districts are using the funds from new teachers to fund the retirement payouts for older teachers and also trying to figure out ways to cut benefits so there will be funds to pay the new teachers when they get older.
Now there is a new issue on the horizon.   In order to increase incoming funds to pay today’s older teachers and, hopefully, secure funds for the new teachers when they get to retirement, states and school districts have been increasing the amount of money that young teachers contribute to the plan.
The long-term benefit of a defined benefits retirement plan is that eventually the teachers will use up their contributions and start receiving additional money provided by either the state or the younger folk coming behind them.  In order for this all to work as planned, teachers need to stay on the job at least 25 years.   That appears to be the tipping point at which teachers will collect their contributions and then continue to receive the fixed benefit and begin to tap taxpayers’ money.  The fact is that teachers in more than half of the school districts must wait 25 years before their retirement benefit is worth more than they invested.  However, many teachers may never see this benefit since 72% of current teachers are leaving the profession before even 20 years in the field. 
One solution to this situation is to move from a defined benefits program to a 403(b) retirement plan managed by the staff member with contributions from the school district.  As with all things in life, there are plusses and minuses to this approach.  The plusses are that the money in the investment account belongs to the teacher and is invested tax-free.  Another benefit is that the contribution from the school district is up front and becomes part of that teacher owned investment account.  The downside is the down slide.   Individual investment accounts are not a fixed benefit.  So it is possible that the teacher can lose money.  This scenario is not likely over the long haul but teachers are not known to be risk-takers. 
There is a shortage of teachers in our schools now.  Partly it is the fallout from all the non-teaching demands put on teachers by standardized testing.  And partly it is the fallout from women who make up the majority of teachers, being able to have many more professional options.  The fixed benefit retirement plan has been a big recruiting tool.  

Now the budget reality is hitting up against the recruiting reality.   Maybe the answer is to recruit more risk-taking teachers.  That could benefit instruction as well.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

The Dream has ended- but not quite

The Dream is Ended- but not quite.

I received a birthday gift in 1992.   It was the book, Horace’s School.  From that gift came a seismic shift in the way The Harbour School would go forward.  Horace’s School was written by Theodore R. Sizer.  It is about a fictitious school and faculty.  The book depicts the staff’s struggle to make their school more relevant to the students.   In the end the faculty decides upon an approach that does not measure learning by tests, but rather by what the students can DO to demonstrate what they have learned.   A rather radical concept for our school and for all schools at that time.

Out of that concept came a group that today includes 150 schools that have agreed to adhere to the coalition’s ten principles of what schools should be.   The principles are impressive.

After I read the book, I thought- we could do that!   Harbour never joined the Coalition of Essential Schools.   It was expensive and required a commitment that we could not afford.  But we did adopt and adapt the principles.

Over a period of five to six years, faculty determined what we wanted our students to be able to DO once they left our school.  These became our Global Competencies and were identified in our first year.  What is so intriguing is that 24 years later those competencies are still relevant and just as critical today as they were then.  Perhaps some even more so, such as the competency that students would be able to use media to get correct information.  Once we had the Global Competencies we kept scaffolding backwards from graduation, to high school, to middle school and finally to lower school.  At each level, we asked and identified, what students needed to do in order to reach the next level of skill.

This approach has served our students and our school well.  Our annual graduation survey shows that each year about 93-94% of our graduates are either in post-secondary education, working or both.  These results are far better than any other post-graduation surveys that are out there.

While The Harbour School has blossomed using this approach, The Coalition of Essential Schools has not.   The Board has decided to end the Coalition.   Part of the problem is that the current schools’ climate would be abhorrent to Sizer.  He believed that teachers were professionals and that they needed to meet the needs of students not the central office.  He would never have allowed tests to measure what kids learn.

The Coalition is no more.  That part of the dream is ended.  But the belief in kids and teachers and teaching students for a better life rather than a better test score lives on in many places- including The Harbour School.



Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Honoring character when it is in low supply

Honoring Character when it is in low supply.
As an educator, teaching character is one of the most important things that I do.  I believe it is one of the most significant end products of a good education.  In today’s climate, it is difficult to make the case for the importance of good character, when all around us people who are supposed to be our leaders are demonstrating poor character and mocking the good character in others.

Each of us lives in a box of our own experience or choosing. How we each got in our box varies by individual.   Some of us made poor decisions.  Others may have had negative events happen to us through no fault of our own.  Still others may have worked very hard to create the best box imaginable. Many people have had opportunities that have allowed them to build a good box.  Other people have managed to build wonderful boxes by making their own opportunities.   For some the quality of the box is measured by the number of dollars one has amassed to put in the box. A great space or a challenged space, our box is still our comfort zone.  

 No matter how wonderful the box, a person should not stay within those confines. The number of windows and doors in that box will determine the quality of our lives.  Coming out of our box helps to build character.  The more we explore beyond our box we see the character of others and that everyone is a variation of ourselves.

People with good character have a moral core.  That moral core does not belong to any one faith.  Indeed, it may not be a part of any organized faith at all.  We need to see other human beings as people who have wants and needs just as we do.  Who, on some scale, struggle to achieve the same things- good health, safety (physical and emotional), food, shelter and freedom to become whatever our talents lead us to.  We must see and respect the kernel of dignity in all of us. 

In the middle of the night, when fear is often rearing its ugly head, we all need a hand to hold; whether that hand is physically present or figuratively present in some special relationship.  It is something that cannot be purchased.  It is earned by the good character that creates connections with others.  We may think that power is important; that character does not matter.  But power has a very short shelf life.  Character is enduring.  If you ignore the circumstances of others because of your vaulted position, what kind of person are you?

We must teach our children to reach out to a hand that may be trembling.  The time may come when that trembling hand is yours and you will be grateful to whomever provides comfort to you.