Tuesday, March 19, 2019

So much money wasted

So much money wasted!

The news has been full of the scheme to spend millions of dollars to get kids into elite colleges for which they may or may not be qualified.   A great deal of money and a lot of conniving with sports’ coaches, college admission folks, and a crooked college admissions counselor.   Clearly these folks crossed the line, but many millions are spent every year in what is considered legitimate encouragement to enroll an offspring in a premier college or university.   It is okay to donate a building or two, perhaps a scholarship and don’t forget the totally legal test prep programs and advisors- all of which push hard for kids to go to college for their parents’ bragging rights if not their own.

Nationally we have the major academic push to prepare students for college and careers.  Truthfully, the careers part of that equation is a misnomer.   Schools are pushing kids to go to college and have a career after that.  In the meantime, there are very important high-paying jobs that are going unfilled BECAUSE they do not require a college degree.   For some reason we think a college degree opens the golden door to riches.  

We need to prepare students for the skilled trades!   Not only is our population aging but along with the general population are the people who build buildings, drive big trucks, install electric, repair plumbing- all of those things that not only literally build a nation but also repair a nation as homes and other buildings need attention.  If we do not attend to these builders, each of us may be doing a great more DIY or paying very high prices for a limited number of people with those skills.

Most kids starting college today take six years to do what the older generation did in four.  More importantly, 45% of students entering college never graduate.  What becomes of them?  They usually do not have a job skill.  Sometimes they have filled their schedule with light weight courses such as “Lady Gaga and the Sociology of Fame”.   Yes, really, that is a 3-credit course.  And besides being unemployed, they may also still be straddled with student debt.

Why?   Whatever happened to good vocational training for students who are not interested in working behind a desk?  Some people are catching on.  In Massachusetts there is a waiting list for kids to get into the vocational technical high schools.  I wonder how many of those schools were closed or discouraged with the race to get into college.

College is not the best choice for everyone.  Even people who graduate are not necessarily winners. Fifty percent of law school grads do not get jobs practicing law even allowing for our country being the most lawsuit happy on earth.   Not going to college is NOT a consolation prize; nor does it mean the student was too dumb to go to college.   It might mean that the student and her family were not interested in wasting money on ego and decided to use the talent to build a better career.  

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Throwing Good Money After Bad

Throwing Good Money After Bad

Maryland teachers clogged the streets of Annapolis on March 11, 2019, trying to convince the legislature to throw good money after bad.   They were insisting that the legislature needed to increase funding for schools in Maryland so that the schools would get better.  They insisted on this position in spite of the fact that throwing money at schools has yet to improve them.  
In 2002, an earlier commission, the Thornton Commission, provided a huge boost to school funding in Maryland.  Yet less than 40 percent of Maryland high school graduates can read at a 10thgrade level.  The gap between Hispanic and African American students and their white peers persists.  
An analysis by the Maryland Public Policy Institute found that increased funding encouraged administrative bloat and higher teacher salaries. Neither of which did anything to improve instruction.  The response to these findings by advocates of the latest race for more education funds, the Kirwan Commission, insist that this time there will be a new state bureaucracy that will ensure accountability. Am I confused or does this look like  more administrative bloat that does not impact students.
Maryland is already spending more per student than almost every other state. In fact of the top five highest per pupil school districts in the country, two were in Maryland.  Baltimore City schools come in at #4 nationally and Howard County Schools come in at #5.   Baltimore City is spending $15,818 per typical student and not very many would argue the citizens are getting their money’s worth.
In the headlong rush to implement this “one chance in a century” to fix Maryland schools, we have failed to address the primary cost of an education in Maryland or any other state for that matter-it is salaries. The amount of money is finite unless taxes are dramatically raised.  Giving more money to education, takes it away from other programs that may be just as necessary to the well-being of citizens.   Over 80% of school money goes into salaries.  Of course, there is the very high administrative bloat salaries, where it is not unusual for school administrators to make well over $100,000 a year.  In fact, Maryland has some of the highest school administrative costs in the nation. Still the bulk of the salary money goes towards teachers and other non-administrative school-based staff. Until there is a system in place where quality educators are rewarded and people who are marginal in their jobs are either fired or reduced in salary, nothing will change.  We will continue to throw good money after bad, resulting in more highly paid incompetent teachers.  More money won’t make them better.

Tuesday, March 5, 2019

It's Easier to Pass the Bar

It’s Easier to Pass the Bar

It seems to be easier to pass the Bar exam to become an attorney than it is to pass the Praxis licensing exam to become a teacher.   More than half of aspiring teachers fail all or part of the Praxis exam required by eighteen states and optional in five others.
The data show that more than half of aspiring elementary school teachers fail all or part of the exam the first time.  In fact, only 38% of black candidates and 57% of Hispanic candidates ever pass the test at all, compared with 75% of white candidates.
This situation presents multiple problems.
First of all, why are the fail rates so high?  Do the reasons lie in the quality of the test or the quality of the preparation for black and Hispanic candidates?   The National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ) estimates that over 8,600 candidates of color are excluded from the classroom each year because of test failure.   Yet there is a huge push to increase diversity in the nation’s teaching pool.
There are 4 subtests to the Praxis (reading/language arts, mathematics, science and social studies).   Science and social studies have the highest fail rates.  Over a 3-year period reviewed by the NCTQ, over a quarter of the test takers did not pass.  Only certified public accountants have a lower pass rate on their exam.   Doctors, nuclear engineers and lawyers, all have higher pass rates on their licensing exams.
Let’s start with the test.   Is the Praxis testing what is relevant to being a successful teacher.  In testing terms, is the Praxis test valid, that is does it measure what it says it measures- predicting who will be a successful teacher.   No study has been done to see if high Praxis scores correlate with high quality teacher evaluations.  Additionally, unlike other professional licensing exams, there is nothing in the Praxis that relates to how to teach school.  The Bar exam measures an applicant’s knowledge on court proceedings and legal precedents.   Nothing in the Praxis quizzes applicants on learning theory or education practice.
Then there is the issue of preparation.   A review of the content of an undergraduate elementary school teacher’s course work shows that 3 out of 4 programs do not cover the breadth of knowledge of mathematics content required by the exam.  Two out of 3 programs do not require a single course aligned with any of the science topics on the exam.   Additionally, one-third of the programs do not require history or geography aligned with the exam content.
Given this information, why do states persist in using the Praxis exam as a gatekeeper for the teaching profession?
Advocates of the testing program will tell you that the test ensures that people entering the teaching profession will be of “high quality”.  But high quality in what!   Every other professional testing exam measures the knowledge and skill set for the profession.   None measures basic academic knowledge.  
If we are concerned about the basic knowledge set for elementary teachers why not push that requirement down into the teacher preparation programs.  If candidates need more academic preparation, that is the time to do it.   Once the student has completed his/her professional preparation, we should be measuring knowledge and skill set for the profession.   Otherwise it might be easier to become a lawyer.

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

We need to stop lying to our children

We need to stop lying to our children.

Last week a newspaper reported on the outcomes for its vocational training programs.   In the last ten years only 26% of the students enrolled in the programs actually earned trade certifications.   Meaning simply that the four years high school vocational training had not yielded those good paying jobs that were promised.  In some instances, certification requirements for the trade required eighth or ninth grade reading and mathematics levels which the students did not have.  Why did educators lie to the students and their families and lead them to believe that a lucrative career in plumbing, electrical work or as a technician awaited them at the end of four years of schooling?
Similar instances occur with children with disabilities.  A child is good at video games and tells his parents he wants to be a video game designer.  The parents do not want to dash their child’s dreams.  So, they agree with the child that he will be a video game designer.  The fact is that very few people get to do video game design for a living and those people receive a great deal of rejection before they finally succeed.  Just because a child is good compared to other kids with disabilities or even with other typical age mates, it does not mean that child is going to be among the 1 or 2% who make it in the industry.  Yet we continue to lead children down the primrose path allowing to believe that these aspirations have a prayer of coming true.
I am not suggesting that we dash kids’ dreams.  What I am suggesting is that we stop lying to children and encouraging them to chase after job choices that are not going to be there for them.  That isn’t dashing dreams it is building reality.  It is being honest with our children.  They have a right to have us honestly reflect with them about their futures.
Helping children chase after stars that are within reach makes those stars real.   It also allows children to use their time in school wisely learning the skills that they will need for the real world not some fantasy island.
Interviews with the graduates of the vocational programs the newspaper wrote about were very sad.  Graduates thought they were preparing for a real career, only to discover they had been lied to and cheated of their right to a valid vocational training program. It’s way past time for us to stop lying to our children.

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Rules & Reason

Rules and Reason

Rules are a good thing.   They give structure to life and keep us all in our proper lanes.   Rules let us know what to expect and give guidance on how to behave.  Rules are fine and make life more predictable, except when they make no sense at all and we insist on keeping them and holding people accountable for them.
Our school is a school for children with learning challenges.   We serve 16 of the 24 school jurisdictions in the State of Maryland.   We also serve the District of Columbia schools which include DC public schools and numerous charter schools that are within the political confines of the District of Columbia.
Our school does a graduate survey ever year.   We check to see how many graduates are working, in post-secondary education or both.  We have been doing this for over 20 years.   We go back to our very first graduating class.  Every single year, well over 90% of our graduates are working, in post-secondary education or both.   These results are quoted not only to show off but to show that we know what we are doing in preparing our students for life after our school.
The Office of the State Superintendent of Education (OSSE) - even though there is no state,  has decided to limit referrals because we refuse to offer a course in the history of the District of Columbia and two-years of a foreign language.  We have never done this because it is the view of the school that the time of a student with disabilities would be better spent on improving English language skills, learning to write a coherent letter or email, deciphering credit applications, understanding the latest and greatest news and other important life skills that we each need to survive.  Our graduate survey supports the notion that our kids are successful post-high school.   We have a solid minority of our grads who have completed 4-year college degrees. Even the rep who came to visit us acknowledged that her two years of high school foreign language had been of no use to her whatsoever.
In past years, the District of Columbia representative has allowed its students to earn a Maryland private school diploma that is accredited by the Maryland State Board of Education and does not require DC history or the foreign language.  
Now there is a new “sheriff “ in town.   He is not willing to take the path less travelled regardless of the benefit to DC students.   He insists, in spite of documentary evidence to the contrary, that DC reps never allowed this work-around in the past.   
Rules are rules, he says; to which I respond, reason is reason and there is no cure for stupid.

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Unfair & Uneven

Unfair and Uneven

Local school districts are at the beginning stages of preparing their FY 20 budgets.   So are the non-public Maryland State Board of Education accredited special education centers. The two processes are both unfair and uneven when it comes to the non-public special education sector.  There are similarities and differences between these two processes.
The Maryland accredited non-public special education schools are neither private nor public.  They are private in that they can hire and terminate staff without regard to union rules and regulations.  They are public in that each of those staff members must meet the same certification qualifications as public school personnel, even though they are paid dramatically less.  These schools are also required to follow specific MSDE regulations.
But the public schools have privilege that the non-public schools do not have.   The local school districts can put as much money into the education of their students as the county councils and county executives will allow.  It is not unusual for public school systems to increase an annual budget by 3-5%.   Whereas, the non-public schools are given an annual budget inflator cap each year. For FY 20 that cap is 1.9%, well below increases in public school budgets.   As a result, even though non-public staff need to meet identical certification standards, they are paid as much as 15-20 thousand dollars less after about five years of service.  Add that discrepancy to the fact that children are only sent to non-public schools when the public schools acknowledge they cannot provide an appropriate education to meet the learning challenges of the children they refer.
So staff in non-public schools meet the needs of the most challenging learners at a dramatically reduced salary.  What’s fair about that?
The inflator rate offered to non-public schools is supposed to equal the Cost-of-Living Index for Urban Areas (COL-U).   However the increase in funding offered to local public school districts by the state for the upcoming school year is well above this number.  Definitely an uneven playing field.
There are lots of other inequities.   Public schools may high substitute teachers with only a high school education.  Non-public schools are required to only use people with a college degree.   MSDE monitors non-public schools very closely. Monitoring teams are sent in every 3-5 years and for several days they examine every aspect of the school’s operation.   The sheer size of public school systems prevents that kind of drilled down monitoring.  In many instances public schools monitor themselves.
No one really cares except the people who work in a non-public school and the students in non-public schools and their families; they are getting a first-rate education even if the staff are paying for it with reduced salaries. The playing field is unequal and uneven but we keep playing because we do really care about the kids.

Tuesday, February 5, 2019

Maryland Among the Biggest Losers

Maryland Among the Biggest Losers

Quality Counts is a system that grades all 50 states on the Chance-for-Success Index.   It is supposed to give a snapshot of a person’s prospects for successful outcomes over a lifetime from early childhood to adulthood and the working world.
States are scored on 13 separate indicators.  Four of them deal with conditions in early childhood experiences that are big predictors of success in formal schooling.  Six of the indicators focus on formal education from pre-school to college.  The final three try to look at a snapshot of adulthood.  States are graded on an A-F scale.  For a number of years Maryland ranked number 1 or number 2 in the nation, often switching places back and forth with Massachusetts.  Massachusetts is still number 1 but Maryland has dropped to 8thplace.   Its score has had the second largest drop in the country, second only to Vermont.   Interestingly, the District of Columbia has made the greatest gains.
While the Kirwan Commission has spent two years developing a plan to improve Maryland’s education, important components of the state’s educational program have slipped.  Maryland is one of the wealthiest states in the nation based on per-capita income.  It has the second highest percentage of adults (following Iowa) in the percentage of adults working full time in the workforce.  Maryland adults are well-educated.   The big issue seems to be the performance of its children on the National Assessment of Educational Performance test.   Unlike the more successful states, well under half of Maryland’s 4thand 8thgraders are proficient in these basic achievement tests.  Four the last 4 years, Maryland’s governor has bragged that he has invested more money in education than any other governor.  That is a truthful statement.  What is not mentioned is that the amount of money invested is the bare minimum required by Maryland law through its maintenance of effort requirement for both local school districts and the state.  The National Educational Assessment of Educational Performance is a consistent measure that does not vary as educators chase the next guaranteed to improve education.  Many educators believe that the popular Common Core curriculum is ineffective because it is inconsistent with the neurological development of children.  It would seem to make sense that before we throw billions of dollars toward the recommendations of the Kirwan Commission, we carefully examine the factors that are sending one of the richest states in the country and one that had the best educational rating into free fall.  Why is Maryland the second biggest loser in the chase for the best educational system.