Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Let's get to work

Let’s Get to Work

The whole point of the Common Core curriculum is to prepare kids for college and careers.  At least that is what it says.  But the truth is, the things kids need to do to be prepared for any career whether or not it requires college are not addressed in the curriculum at all.  And parents and students will ignore these skills at their own peril.
First of all texting and emailing to the contrary, employees need to know how to talk to people.   My grandfather made that point to me very long before technology had taken over communication and it is as true today as it was so many years ago.  Almost every career requires verbal conversation with other humans.  Students need to learn how to express their opinions without being offensive to others.   They need to learn how to be active listeners so that the person to whom they are speaking feels heard.   Active listening doesn’t mean the listener needs to agree with the speaker but it does mean the speaker needs to feel that what has been said was absorbed.
Secondly, jobs require that people dress appropriately to the job.   While it is lovely to consider oneself fashion forward, the fact remains that some of that forward fashion is unfit for the workplace.   Even on a dress down day, jeans with strategic rips are going to be acceptable in very few workplaces.   Ditto sexually provocative and suggestive clothing.   A student can insist that his/her apparel is self-expression protected by constitutional rights.  Insist all you want.   The employer just won’t hire you.  And the other thing you should know is that employers can be quite creative in selecting a reason to terminate your employment.  Dress for success- corny but true.   Appearance makes it clear how important a person thinks the activity is.  We need to teach students to dress like what they do is important.
Personal social media is out there for all to see.   When students post sexually inappropriate topics, those topics will hang there for a future employer to check out.   Employees should not be using workplace email for personal messaging.   Everything that is posted on an employer’s email reflects on the brand of that employer.   Employers do not want to see their brand tarnished.
Sick day leave is not a right.   Sick day leave is a privilege by which a person gets paid even though he or she is at home trying to get well.   Employees should not feel the obligation to use up every sick day whether or not they are sick.  No matter how great a person is at his/her job, no job is getting done when the employee is absent.   Parents and teachers should model the behavior of staying home only as necessary.   Absenteeism at school is the forerunner of absenteeism at work.  Never a good thing.

Email is a more casual form of written communication than is a hard paper document.  Nevertheless, when it is being used for a business purpose grammar and sentence structure needs to be recognized.   Schools need to teach kids how to write a formal email that is part of a business communication and how to write a personal email that may have all manner of truncated sentences and abbreviations known only to the youngest generations of users.  Everything an employee does under the employer’s brand is a reflection of the employer.  Students need to be taught these work skills.  If we in schools are serious about preparation for college and careers then we need to teach the real job skills.  Trust me being brilliant in algebra II or biology 101 probably won’t get you to work and it sure won’t allow you to keep on working if you don’t have these job skills.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Neither Black nor White

Neither Black nor White

There is a big push now to try yet again to integrate schools.  Evidently integration in public schools has been on the decline since the late 1990’s.   School systems are once again trying to re-address the issue.
I am confused.
So, my African-American child gets to sit next to a white kid in school and somehow he gets smarter, learns better and my property values go up.  On the other hand, the otherwise high achieving white kid next to mine starts to fall behind in her learning and her family’s property values go down.  How does this happen?  And as an African-American parent, I am really annoyed that my kid needs to go to school with white kids to get smarter.
Yet research tells us that when schools are racially integrated black kids do better in school.  BUT, as any statistics 101 student will tell you correlation does not equal causation.
What are the independent and dependent variables in this equation?  In the research race has been the independent variable.   But the real question is what are the key factors in what makes a good school.   I refuse to believe that it is simply racial composition.   If that were true, all black schools would be bad and all white schools good and we know that is not true.
Good schools have some common components:
Safe and secure.   Children who go to schools that are safe, both physically and emotionally, are open to learning because they are not putting energy into self-protection.  The first human need is to be safe.  Along with that need goes the need for food. 
Clean and well stocked physical environment.  Good schools are clean.  Walls are free of graffiti, holes and visible patches.   Classrooms have paper, books, writing tools and appropriate technology for all the kids.
Experienced, skilled and caring teachers.  It is not enough for teachers to love the children.  If a person does not love kids, he or she should leave the profession.  Enough said on that point.  But love won’t get you a job or into college.   Teachers need multiple skills to teach kids with different learning styles to read, do math and engage in academic inquiry.  They need experience to get these skills and good in-service training.  Unfortunately, the way the unions have set up the system, once teachers get the experience they need to be good teachers, the union agreement allows folks with seniority to move to other “better” schools.  How are the weaker schools going to get better with only the weaker less experienced teachers.
Support services and Activities.  Counselors, art and music teachers and after school activities all make schools places that kids want to be and to help them find success whatever their interests.

And finally good schools have pushy parents.   The fact is that public schools are ultimately funded, or not, by politicians.  In a democracy politicians respond to getting re-elected.  Pushy parents make demands.  Politicians ignore those demands at their peril.

You will notice that none of the variables of what makes a good school is the race of the students.  What is true is that many schools with mostly minority students lack most, or all, of the above variables.  And perhaps, most importantly they lack pushy parents.   So what to do.
 If school officials really wanted to integrate schools, they would pour the first four ingredients into the mostly minority schools, even if there were no pushy parents.  If they had the stomach for it, they could work to make a level playing field so that with the exception of pushy parents, all schools had a similar level of the first four variables, including experienced teachers.  

I am betting that a well-kept school with good, experienced, caring teachers (and perhaps pushy teachers in the absence of pushy parents) would be every bit as attractive to the parents of minority kids as it is to the parents of currently majority white kids. 

I can tell you one thing.   If my kid, regardless of race, had a school with the traits described above, I wouldn’t care what color the other kids were.  

Monday, March 13, 2017

The City that Cried Wolf

The City that Cried Wolf

It is that time of year again.   Baltimore City Public Schools are whining about not having enough money to fund the schools for the next school year.   As is per usual, they trot out the number of teachers who will be cut from employment, the increase in class sizes and all the special activities that will be cut.   This year the City is short a mere 130 million dollars.  The school system is asking the State to come up with a big chunk of that money.   The per pupil cost to educate a child in Baltimore City Public Schools is already one of the highest in the State at over $15,500 per child, and that is the average cost.  In spite of the investment, outcomes are terrible.
A reasonable question is why the shortfall yet again.   Didn’t anyone see this coming?   There are two primary reasons for the reduction in State funding.  The first reason is that the funding formula from the State is based on real estate taxing base (the primary funding source for schools) and on the number of children enrolled in the system.   Baltimore City has bargained away a large portion of its real estate tax base in order to attract or keep big businesses in the city for the jobs they provide.   So, that action has lowered the real estate tax base for the City.
Secondly, families have been leaving City schools in droves so the number of students attending public schools continues to drop.
There are other reasons the City is in fiscal distress but these are reasons that are not so easily acknowledged or changed.   Baltimore City itself does not contribute the amount of money to its own school system that other districts in the State contribute.  Yet each year the City comes to the State legislature and asks for more money.  This year will probably be no exception and out of a magnitude of guilt, the State will come up with some more money just as it does every year. 
Another reason is the teachers’ salary scale.   The average teacher’s salary in Baltimore City is the highest in the state.  Throwing money at this problem for the last 40 years has not changed anything.
Come this fall, Baltimore City will have terminated very few teachers.  It will have a reserve of a few hundred teachers who do not have assignments but are paid to show up “just in case”.   Bad teachers being paid more money does not improve teaching performance.  Nor do bad teachers improve outcomes for kids.
There needs to come a time when crying wolf needs to stop working.  The City needs to contribute more of its own money AND it needs to stop paying more money to use the same failed approaches that have not worked all these many years. No one denies that the challenges for the City schools are huge.  Then stop doing the same things and expecting different results. Maybe if the State did not come to the rescue this year, the new CEO would have the leverage to do something dramatically different.  Shouldn’t be much worse and at least we could stop the insanity.