Tuesday, November 13, 2018

What's Money Got to Do With It?

What’s Money Got to Do With It?

What’s money got to do with it?   Turns out not too much.  The average teacher’s salary in Maryland is in the mid-60’s.   They work about 190 days out of the 365.  That means they are off almost as many days (175) as they work. The benefits are good and the likelihood of getting fired is very low. 

 In spite of these happy numbers, 44% of new teachers leave within the first five years. And that is 44% of all teachers, not just teachers who work with students with challenges.
The number of teachers in public schools is exploding.  It is growing much faster than the number of students.  The pressure for reduced class sizes, more special ed services, STEM teachers and English-as-a-second language have all pushed the numbers higher.  The question of how long the cost can be sustained by the taxpayers has not even been asked let alone resolved.

Teachers are getting younger and much less experienced.  In the 2007-08, the average age of a teacher was 55. In just ten years that number has dropped to a number where most teachers are in their late 30's.  In 1987-88 school year, the most common public school teacher had 15 years of experience.   Today that number is three years or less. 
Teachers have become more racially diverse, but they are still primarily white women.

So, what are the issues if it is not money?   First of all, it is the testing and the blame teachers get when the test scores go south.  The presumption is if your students get bad scores on the test it is because they have not been taught well.  We do not give the students or their families any responsibility for attending school, doing the necessary studying nor do we acknowledge that children have differing academic abilities that no amount of teaching is going to totally change.

In order to do the testing, school systems have instituted the pacing guides.  These guides ensure that the students have been “exposed” to the content that is being tested.  They also require the teachers to be on the precise section of the curriculum on each precise day.  There is no time to re-teach or teach differently.  The joy of connecting with kids and matching the pace of the program to the pace of the child’s learning no longer exists.

Then there is administrative support and the demand to decrease the number of out-of-school suspensions.  Teaching is not supposed to be a contact sport.  It is true that we have been suspending kids for the dumbest of reasons. So if you are truant (illegally absent from school) as a consequence we suspend you and make you legally absent from school.  Seriously dumb!   However, if you commit an act of aggression against a classmate and/or a staff person, that student needs to be suspended.  Recently a student smacked a teacher in a local school system.   The student was not suspended, he was counseled and the union said the teacher forgave the student and accepted his apology.  I would not be surprised if that teacher did not become one of those 44% of teachers who do not return next year.  Administrators are also worried about their numbers. The test scores of the students in the building and the number of suspensions each semester.   They are not protecting teachers.

In the end, what’s money got to do with it?   Not too much if you don’t enjoy the job and need to play duck and cover from your students.





Tuesday, November 6, 2018

Far Right and Far Left agree

Far Left and Far Right agree

What do Supreme Court Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Neil Gorsuch agree on?  Turns out that as with Anton Scalia and RBG the right and the left can come together and even do!

This current issue is the almost complete absence of civic studies in our public schools.   Why is that?   One of the reasons that is often advanced for the provision of a free education at public expense is that a democracy depends on an educated electorate.  However, it turns out that as we have been spending  more and more time preparing for standardized testing in areas students will seldom use, we have squeezed out what they desperately need and that is an education in how our democracy works.  And what their responsibility is as a citizen in that democracy.

It is pretty sad that while we are testing our kids on algebra II, Justice Gorsuch said that only about 25% of Americans can name all three branches of government and 33% can’t name ANY branch of government.   And, showing the power of the media, 10% of those surveyed THOUGHT JUDGE JUDY WAS A SUPREME COURT JUSTICE!!!   I wonder how they did on their algebra test.  Justice Gorsuch has made a plea for civility, making appeals to decency and good faith in both his legal practice and when speaking in public forums.  He has demonstrated these behaviors since being appointed to the Bench.

Justice Sotomayor believes that it is well-documented that the shift toward science and technology has left out civics.   Justice Sandra Day O’Connor has made the teaching of civics a mission of hers since she left the Court in 2008.  She founded a non-profit iCivics that provides elementary and secondary schools with digital resources and lesson plans to cultivate citizenship responsibility. This past fall Justice O’Connor announced she was leaving public life due to a diagnosis of dementia.   Justice Sotomayor will be taking her place on the Foundation leadership.

Why are our school systems ignoring this pressing need to educate our children?   The extreme partisanship of today’s politics has made all of us vulnerable to lies and half-truths.   If we knew more about how our government was supposed to run perhaps we could recognize when politicians are working to make us dysfunctional.  If Justices Gorsuch and Sotomayer can get it, why can’t the rest of us.  Hopefully everyone exercised the most important lesson of civics- vote!

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

# School Too

We have heard a lot lately about sexual aggression at the recent hearings for the confirmation of Supreme Court Justice Kavanaugh.   Good thing we work in schools where that kind of thing doesn’t happen right? No, actually quite wrong.
It is easy to believe that the k-12 education profession, that is predominately female, is immune from sexual harassment.   In fact, there is a phenomenon called vertical sex segregation.  Have you ever noticed that even though the education profession in schools is  heavily female in its professional staff, the principals in the higher-paid, higher-powered positions are often men.   There are power imbalances between the lower status teachers and the higher status men.  This situation often shows up with new, younger staff.  Younger staff are very much aware of the power imbalance and want to do well and please their bosses.
Based on data collected by Education Week, one in four teachers has been sexually assaulted on the job!   Sixty percent of those who witnessed the assault did not report it. When asked who they told about the misconduct, the union reps were least likely to hear of the situation.  Usually teachers told friend and/or family members.
The three major reasons teachers did not report the assault were: they didn’t think they would be taken seriously, they didn’t think anything would be done, and, finally, they feared retaliation.  Many women feared they would lose their jobs.
I remember in my days as an administrator in a local public school system that our supervisor for speech therapy never assigned young therapists to a particular principal.  When I asked her why, she said that he came on very strong to young, attractive staff and they had no way to combat his aggressive behavior.  I asked why this principal was allowed to continue this behavior, why wasn’t he called out.  Her response was simple.  He is a principal; he will deny it; everyone will believe him.  Oh, and he was a married, upstanding man in the community.  So young therapists went to other schools.   Older more mature therapists went to his school.  We had several psychologists who were also known for their sexually aggressive behaviors.  The cure- just stay away from them.  
In the survey of teachers, Education Week found that teachers were desperate to tell their stories to make the workplace safer for colleagues.  But men held all the power.   Men would deny.  It would be her word against his.  He had the more powerful position.  She would be exposed, be retaliated against and nothing would change. The pain would not be worth the gain. Any of this sound familiar?
We talk a lot about making schools safer for our students.  We do not think about how the power imbalance in the education profession mirrors the rest of the world.  Sexual assault is happening #schooltoo and it is happening to the teachers of our kids.

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Getting Rich on the Fears of Kids

Getting Rich on the Fears of Kids

If you are old enough you remember air raid sirens in schools. That was when we all huddled in inside classrooms away from windows waiting for the bombs to fall.   These drills were an outgrowth of WWII and the air raid attacks in Europe.  Thankfully the bombs never fell on the U.S. and the war had been over for five years or more but we still hid in bathrooms and inside hallways just in case.
Then came the Cold War and the fear of the nuclear bombs.  We all went through duck and cover drills.  Children were taught to put their hands over their heads and hide under their desks.   These were sturdy wood and metal desks so surely they would offer protection from the nuclear bombs that, again thankfully, never fell.
Now we are engaged in a new shooting war.   There is big money on the line as entrepreneurs seek to train teachers, children and other school personnel to prepare for active shooters entering our school buildings.   Through the first five months of this calendar year there have been 18 active shootings in schools.  There are 98,817 public schools in the U.S.  Those are only the public schools.  That means there is a 1 in 5489 chance that an invader will enter a public school.  Slightly more than the 1 in 6072 chance of getting killed in an auto accident.
One of the differences of the active shooter drills is that there is a new computer simulation created by federal agencies to make the drills seem very real.  Add this experience to our children’s infatuation with video games and you have a recipe for disaster.
When we had air raid drills and when kids ducked and covered, there were no visuals or sound effects to add to the alarm.  The authorities felt they were helping us.   We kids just thought it was one more thing, like fire drills, that we did to prepare for what would not happen.
These active shooter drills have the potential for real harm to kids and teachers.  Already school systems have allowed teachers to opt out of the training if previous trauma or violence experiences would cause them to relive these terrible experiences.
What about the kids!  Do they get to opt out if they confuse computer simulated drills with video games? Do they get to opt out if the computer simulation brings back memories of home or neighborhood violence?  Do they get to opt out if they are already experiencing mental health issues for other reasons?
Capitalism is a wonderful thing.  Our economy is based on entrepreneurs who have struck it big with the next great idea.   Do we really want that next big idea to be on the backs of scaring our kids and giving them nightmares?  Maybe another approach would be to spend that money on getting to know our students so we might prevent these tragedies in the first place.  

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

It's a miracle!

It’s a Miracle!  You will NEVER believe this!
This just in!  Training public school teachers to work with kids on the autism spectrum actually helps the kids achieve in mainstream classes.
A new study looked at elementary school teachers who had children on the autism spectrum in their classes.   Researchers involved 60 schools in ten school districts in California, Florida and Georgia.  
For half of the teachers, a website was made available to them with learning modules to assist them in relating to students with autism and modifying instruction for those students.  Teachers at the other schools participated in three days of specialized on-site training.
Following the two types of training, videos were taken in the classrooms to see if there were any differences in the interactions of the two groups of teachers.  Analysis of the videos showed that the teachers who participated in the live actively engaged training were significantly better in adaptive communication, social skills and executive functioning.  There were no controls to make sure that the teachers who were supposed to watch the videos actually did. 
Researchers say these results are meaningful because general educators in most states are not required to learn about autism despite the large potential of children on the spectrum being in their classes.
What are these school systems thinking?   Children with disabilities, any disability, need specialized instruction to reach their full potential.  It is fine to insist on children with disabilities being educated with plain students as much as is appropriate, but what about the training for those teachers who are working with these kids?
Is the thrill of being with a plain student so wonderful that children with disabilities are subjected to teachers who lack the specialized skills to meet their needs?   I know that people who feel strongly about full inclusion are very invested in children with disabilities being in a classroom with non-disabled students.  If their child had a heart condition would they feel as strongly about sending their child to a general practice or would they insist on a health care provider that had special training in cardiology.  Seems to me it is the same issue. If my child has special learning needs, I want my kid taught by a specialist in learning challenges.  But these are people who believe in miracles, give teachers some specialty training and they do a better job with the special kids who need it.  Will miracles never cease.

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Do schools really prepare kids for careers?

Do Schools Really Prepare Kids for Careers?

Standardized testing is all about measuring the student’s preparation for careers and college.  It is interesting that we can do that without taking to heart what employers say they are looking for in an employee.
Employers repeatedly say they have trouble finding new employees with good oral-communication skills. Yet relatively few public schools teach these skills and even fewer teach them in a real-world worksite.
In almost every survey, employers say they need people who are good communicators.  They say this skill is more important than good reading or writing skills.  Good oral skills are the things employers want most but cannot find.  No, algebra was never mentioned.
You cannot find a single employer who does not value these skills so why are they not taught.   Probably the reason schools are not teaching these skills is that they are not tested on the standardized tests.   Common Core curriculum standards do mention the skills; it is just that they are not taught because they are not tested.
Employers say they cannot find staff who can construct a clear, concise message that is tailored to different audiences.  New hires cannot discuss issues as a team, prepare to respond respectfully to differences of opinion.  They do not appear confident nor make eye contact.  
The training provided by schools included book reports, Power Point presentations, and class room discussions.  Nothing about what employers are wanting in employees.
Employers have started to do their own training for these skills.
Soon Maryland will replace the PARCC tests with the MCAP.   The MCAP hasn’t been created yet but we are told it will test essentially test what the PARCC measures but will take less time and will be more easily scored.
Why doesn’t anyone pay attention to what employers want?  Why do we talk about students being career ready but not developing the skills that make the student career ready?
There is nothing in the request for the new MCAP developers that indicates they need to reach out to employers to see what schools need to be teaching and measuring for real post-secondary success.  Until they do there will continue to be the mismatches between schools and jobs.  These mismatches keep begging the answer when kids question the importance of school.

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

Where oh where will the teachers be?

Where oh where will the teachers be?

It is no secret there is a shortage of special education teachers.  Most school systems are still missing several at this time in the school year.   But what would you do if you needed 9000! special education teachers!  There may not be 9,000 special ed teachers without jobs in the entire country.
But that is just the spot the great state of Texas finds itself in.  Of course, it is their own fault.  For the last ten-to-twelve years, Texas has capped the number of children who may be identified as having special education needs.  The cap was 8.5% of the school age population.   Nationally, about 13% of school age children have disabilities needing special education. If your child was among those beyond the 8.5%, your child got no service in spite of the federal law requiring that all children with special needs between ages 3 and 21  be given an individualized free appropriate special education.   Texas must have forgotten it is no longer the lone star state, it is one of 50 and as such needs to obey federal law.
Two years ago, the Houston Chronicle did an investigation after numerous parent complaints.  That investigation triggered an audit by the U.S. Office of Education.  The department found that Texas had violated federal law. Texas has been directed to eliminate the cap.
The Texas department of education estimates that by 2021 they will be adding about 150,000 students to the rolls of special education.  That will necessitate the hiring of about 9,000 new special ed teachers if the current ratio of 1 teacher for every 16 students with special needs is sustained.  The State has started to add incentives such as forgiving student loans in order to get more special ed teachers but that hasn’t begun to move the needle.  Plus there is now a plethora of lawsuits working their way through the courts by students who have been deprived of a free, appropriate special education as required by federal law.   Texas is estimating the uptick in services could cost as much as three BILLION new dollars.  Additionally, special ed teachers leave teaching in Texas at a much higher rate than other teachers.  So Texas doesn’t just need to find new teachers, it also needs to replace the teachers who are leaving.  It is a lot like trying to empty a sinking canoe with a bucket.
The State acknowledges that money is only part of the issue.   People must be found to do the job and to do it well. The State agency is recommending schools modify their staffing models to fit the available staff.  Not sure what that means but sounds a lot like adding more water to the chicken soup but no additional chicken.
The situation is sort of like what happens when you tell one lie.  And then you need two more lies to cover for the first one and then…. Well you get the picture.
Texas is reaping the effects of lying to families and citizens for all these years, by telling them the state is serving the needs of children with disabilities in Texas-- NOT