Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Two sets of data-where do they collide

There are two new sets of data out regarding employment in our nation's public schools.  One set of data tells us that between 1970 and 2010 the number of employees in our public schools grew by 84%.  Another set of data tells us that non-teaching employees grew by 130%.  These data were included in a report by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute.  It is entitled "The Hidden Half: School Employees That Don't Teach".  The increase is not particularly due to administrative staff.   When you look more closely, the increases come from teacher aides, speech therapists, psychologists, and nurses to accommodate students' special services needs.  The report hints that these additions have been brought on by the legislation in the 1970's that expanded students' rights.  It does not take a great detective to pinpoint The Education of All Handicapped Children Act (EHA) that was signed into law by President Ford in 1975.
While the report does not make a formal recommendation as to whether these staff increases are good or bad, it does strongly support creativity in options for districts to evaluate the cost-benefits of adding these new staff.
Clearly when evaluating "cost-benefits" the Foundation is only looking at dollars.   Prior to the EHA, children with disabilities were routinely totally excluded from public education or received an education that was not much better than training for sheltered workshops.  The "cost" to these individuals and their families, as well as to the communities in which they live, has never been calculated.  The push of the Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA), the successor to EHA, has required that as much as appropriate children with disabilities be educated with their non-diabled peers.  In order to pull this off, a large number of aides have been hired to facilitate the inclusion of children with disabilities in the general ed classes.  Whether this is a good thing of not depends on the characteristics of the child, not on the economics of the situation.
It is also strange that the report has determined that speech therapists and teacher aides do not teach.  Clearly the authors are very unfamiliar with the work of these people.  Speech therapists do very much more than articulation and teacher assistants are often the people who serve as the bridge between what the teacher thinks she is teaching and what the children really learn.
EHA told us that when schools decide to serve children, those schools must therefore, serve all the children.  That is clearly a good thing.  Can we do that in a cost effective manner.  Sure.  But let's make sure that when measuring costs we include human costs not just dollar costs.   Education is a human business.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Where oh where have the good teachers gone

I am of a mind that the good teachers have been driven into hiding by the reformers, the bureaucrats and the unions.  First the data.   Half- yes half- of all teachers in an urban setting depart within three years.  Why is that?   This is what I think.
 First of all the teachers are not properly prepared for teaching in an urban environment.  The pressure is on them not to suspend students.  That is fine.  But teaching should not be a combat zone and if nothing else teachers need,  at bare minimum, feel physically safe.  Because there are always openings in urban schools, the HR departments are hiring people who are "alternatively prepared" (read that as quick and dirty).   These people come in with the best of intentions wanting to help kids.  BUT they have not a clue about the situations into which they are walking.  Nor do they have the skills to manage the behaviors of kids who either have not learned school behaviors or for whom school does not hold the same middle class values as the teacher.  Make no mistake, these kids can be taught, but the teachers need the skill to do it.
Secondly, we need to leave the good teachers alone and let them teach.  Let them teach students and let them teach new teachers how to do the job.  Let's stop pestering them with all this testing and telling them that we are measuring what kind of job they are doing by test scores.  Doing this takes all the responsibility off the student for learning.
Thirdly, we need to ask for references for new hires and listen to the reference.  There are very few people who do not know 3-4 people who think they are great and can give a good reference.  That reality makes bad references all the more potent.  Recently a school system hired two teachers who had received bad references from at least two people.  Why were these people hired?  From what I was told, the HR department had slots to fill and these people had the credentials for the jobs.  All credentialed people are not qualified to teach.  Surely HR people should know that.  And if they don't they need to move on to other jobs.
Finally, every one in a school knows who the weak teachers are.  And I do mean everyone, including the custodian and the students.  We need to have the courage to get rid of these people who are not doing their jobs.  But then there are the unions whose primary purpose seems to be to get more money, more benefits and to hell with the students because the union will protect the job of every member regardless of that member's skill.
So where are the great teachers?  If they cannot be found in law offices, sales or other non lethal professions where they have been driven by forces mentioned above, they are hiding out in your neighborhood classroom hoping they will not be noticed so they can do what they really love to do.  If you know one of these teachers, protect them but don't blow their cover.   Our students need them.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Gotta Love This Woman

Truth first.   I am not a fan of unions.   I particularly do not like teachers' unions.   I think they have ruined our profession and protected all the weak sisters.  
And I just read a piece about the new president of the National Education Association (NEA).  You've got to love her.   If she can pull off what she wants to do in the six years of her term in office it will be wonderful.
She takes office at a time when former friends and current foes alike are all over the unions.  Even the court in California has ruled that the teacher tenure laws long supported by the unions are unconstitutional because of the potential damage to students.  The Republicans are working to remove the dues checkoff from payroll and removing charter schools' staff from the requirement to belong to a union.  Even Democrats are joining the courts in challenging seniority rights and the tenure laws.
In steps Lily Eskelsen Garcia.  She has quite a life story. She is the daughter of a Panamanian mother and the granddaughter of a Mississippi sharecropper.  She started her career as a salad maker lunch lady in a school cafeteria.  She put herself through undergraduate and grad school and is the first person in her family to graduate from college.   Oh and she also won Teacher of the Year honors in Utah.   Her first husband committed suicide and her son who she adopted at 4 has been in jail more often than not for drug abuse and associated crimes.
She loves Common Core, is appalled by the testing that has taken over teaching and schools and wants the politicians to let the professionals manage their profession.  Good luck on that last one.
Both the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) and the larger union NEA, have officially supported the Common Core Standards.  Neither is happy about the implementation nor the link of teacher evaluation to Common Core testing results.
She has her work cut out for her.   Union membership is dwindling for a variety of reasons.  The remaining membership is divided on whether to go nuclear and blast the Obama administration and Secretary Duncan or to keep a lower profile and work within the system.  The NEA has already called for Duncan's resignation.  And there is already a splinter group called Badass Teachers Association whose membership is angry about the path education is on but is more angry at the response from the unions.
So Garcia has to figure a way to focus the union while at the same time keeping all its membership pulling in the same the same direction.  It would be good if she could create a united front with the AFT, something that has never happened.  Unlike the NEA, there are no term limits on the AFT President and she has held office for a very long time.   Of course Garcia did have the AFT President's daughter Rabbi Sharon Kleinbaum perform her second civil marriage ceremony to a man who speaks little English and Garcia speaks little Spanish.  Her husband remains in Mexico waiting a visa.  Lifetime Channel are you listening- there is a movie here.
Through all the stress, Garcia will be comforted by a salary of $283,124 and another 100K in benefits.  Guess the days of union organizers struggling just to survive financially are done.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Start of a new era

You might not have noticed but when schools closed this past June, it was the end of an era.  For the foreseeable future, this is the last time that white students will be in the majority in our nation's public schools.  When schools reopen in August and September, black, Latino, Asian and Native American students combined will make up a majority of our country's public school students.

This change is more than just a statistical blip.  Demographers believe that the previously thought of minority groups  will continue to grow and increase their majority in our public schools.  What does this mean for all of us?

First of all, we have already seen that state legislatures that are made up of primarily older white men have shown little interest in funding the public schools.  In many states public funds are offered to families in the form of vouchers to place children in private schools.  We are a democracy.  One of the reasons our governments fund public education is because an educated electorate is crucial to the operation of a democracy.  So whether we have children in public schools or not, whether we are people of color or not, public schools play a key role in the continuation of our democracy.

Secondly, public schools are also a key element in our workforce.  People of color will soon be a majority in our workforce and by 2042, it is predicted that they will represent a majority of our population.  Each and every one of us, regardless of race or ethnicity, has a significant stake in that.  State legislatures that fund public schools with the notion "that's not my kid in there" are totally missing the point.  That kind of ethnocentric short sightedness will take every one of us down a path we do not want to go on.  Even countries like Germany with a history of being unwelcoming to immigrants are seeing the light of their economic future.  They are encouraging the immigration of talented workers to meet their economic engine needs.  We need people to grow our economy.  If those people do not come from births at home they need to come from somewhere.  And we need to treasure and train the people who are here, one nation indivisible with liberty and justice for all.