Monday, March 31, 2014

Teachers are NOT underpaid

Sometimes I get tired of hearing over and over how underpaid teachers are.   Teachers in Maryland make an average of $46,000 for 190 days of work.   The average worker works 235 days.  That is subtracting 14 days (or 3 weeks) for paid holidays and 2 weeks for vacation.  In addition, teachers have a retirement plan that they can never outlive and for which the state and school district pay the bulk of the cost.  The same thing is true for their health care.  And there is one more thing, teachers are almost never fired.   So if they live and breathe, each year they get a step increase as well as a cost of living increase most years.  You can be the best teacher alive or the worst, and if you stay in the classroom your salary will just keep moving up.
That is not true for many workers in the real world.   Add to that the fact that teachers do not even work a 40 hour week.  Although they will tell you they put in long hours in class preparation.  The truth is that the more curriculum is systematized and spelled out for each day in these things called teaching guides, there is less and less that the teacher really has to create.
Now comes a winter from hell.  Most school systems have used many more days than were allotted in the original calendar.  So those districts are asking the state to waive or reduce the number of days schools need to be open.  If that happens, teachers will work fewer days but still receive the same pay.  Not so the hourly workers such as bus drivers, cafeteria workers and some classroom aides.  These people who are much lower paid to begin with will see their income go down even more.
There was a time when teachers were poorly paid.  They had to work during summer breaks to make financial ends meet.   That time has long since past but you wouldn't know it from listening to the moaning of the teachers' union who know only one song to sing- give us more money.
I do not believe test scores measure the ability of a classroom teacher, far from it.  But there needs to be some evaluation of teachers that is tied to pay.  If we still think of teaching as a profession, and some of us do not, then there needs to be compensation commensurate with performance.
That's how I see it teachers, stop your whining.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Old School

Lately I have been having this itch that I can't quite scratch.   I finally figured out what it was the other day.   It has been 52 years since I first became a special educator.   Times have certainly changed.  Back then kids with disabilities could be excluded from school just because they had that disability.   Now, of course, they can't.   There would be some who would tell you that students with disabilities are treated better than those without disabilities.   But I don't see too many people lining up to get a disability.

What troubles me is that in the old days of discrimination in schools, special educators fought hard to protect and provide services for "their" kids.   Today those people seem to have circled the wagons.   Instead of putting kids first, they are putting the system first and trying to figure out how to save money, even if it hurts a child.

The most simple example of that is what I call the "failure model".   Children with obvious needs are required to fail big time before they can receive services.  So a child might have to be in a general ed class, be bullied and feel stupid enough before it occurs to someone to remove that child.   The system dramatically over estimates the benefits to the child of being with plain kids.   Mostly the system forgets the cost to the child of feeling like a failure or being teased and bullied.   We are told that the kids have friends but they are not invited to social events.

In the olden days, special ed people would have been up in arms to fight that.   It is also true that in the old day general educators would sometimes put the kids with special needs out on the playground at a separate time from the plain kids so they could not mix.

People go into special education because they care about these kids and their needs.   What hurts is that sometime along the way they lose the spirit that brought them to the kids and seem to feast at the banquet table of the big boys and forget the most vulnerable who need them the most.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Kids always know

Recently we took a group of 10 Harbour School students to visit two state legislators.  One was a State Senator and the other was the Speaker of the House of Delegates.  These people represented the districts in which some of the students lived.
One person, the State Senator, invited the kids into her office.   She had prepared folders with information about the State Legislature and about her role in it.   She gave each of us State Legislature lapel pins and her business card.   She talked with the kids about what she did and about what they could do to advance their interests.  Then she listened while the students asked questions or told her about their school and why it met their special learning needs.  She made comments on what the students said; the comments indicated she was listening and hearing them.
Then we crossed the street to the State House where the office of the Speaker of the House of Delegates is located.  We waited a few minutes in a beautiful waiting room.  The Speaker came in, introduced himself and suggested we adjourn to the House of Delegates assembly room.  The students were pleased to sit in the chairs of delegates.  The Speaker talked about the wonderful history of the building and about the just over 100 delegates who meet there for the 90 day session.  Some students asked the Speaker questions about himself.  He answered them.  One student spoke about her school and why it was important to her.  He thanked her and said she had done a good job of presentation.  After about 15 minutes we had a photo op and then left.
On the way back to school I asked some of the students what they thought about the experience.   They all loved it.  However, they also noticed the difference between the two legislators.  As the students said, the Senator really listened to us and she seemed interested in us and our school.  They also said the Speaker seemed very busy and didn't really act like he had time for us.
It is important to note that these kids all have learning challenges.  They all go to a special school.  They wanted to talk about their school and what it has meant to them.   Unfortunately only one of the two legislators had the time or interest to hear.  The students got it dead right and they clearly knew who had the time for them.
You can't fool a kid.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Common Core is not a Federal Program

We have been hearing a great deal lately about Common Core and the federal requirements.  The fact is Common Core is NOT a federal program.   It was established by the governors or 45 states because they wanted a common core of curriculum standards for all states to be tested on.   The need for a common core and a common test was brought about by No Child Left Behind that requires that children be tested in every grade 1-8 and then again in English, math and science in grade 10.  As you might imagine, since the federal law defined testing but not the test, the quality of the different tests varied dramatically.   Some governors were being skewered because their test was hard and scores not so good.  At the same time governors in other states were looking like champs because their easier tests were producing higher results.   However, the law did require that all kids- and I mean ALL kids- be on grade level by 2014.  Anyone with a functioning brain knew that could not happen given the range of abilities of children and the lack of definition regarding just exactly is grade level.

So before the crisis reared its ugly head, the US Office of Education allowed states to request a waiver from that requirement.   No big surprise, almost all states did.

Now comes the Common Core.  Race to the Top, the Obama administration's playing card in education, allowed states to apply for money for schools.   Unlike No Child Left Behind, the program was voluntary.  Many states applied and got mucho money.  The big chink in the works is that one of the requirements for getting money was linking teacher evaluation to some achievement test scores.   It seemed logical to use the tests that were being developed to support Common Core.  But those tests  are being developed by regional organizations and will be different from region to region.   Common Core itself does NOT require testing, it is merely a listing of curriculum benchmarks.

Local school districts are developing curriculum to go with Common Core.  Teachers have had little to no experience with the new content and are rebelling at the thought of being evaluated based on how well their students do on the new tests that are supposed to be matched to the new curriculum.

Legislators are getting into the issue.  They are famous for wanting to do something about an issue they know nothing about.  Makes it a lot easier to come up with a magical solution.  Some GOP legislators in the House of Representatives have a bill that would bar the US Office of Education from coercing the states to adopt Common Core.   Clearly these folks have paid no attention to the origins of Common Core since the program was originated BY the states.

Is Common Core a good program?  Maybe.  Most educators agree that the standards are well beyond the neurological developmental levels of very young children.  So that will eventually make them irrelevant to elementary aged kids.   If this issue sounds like a re-run of all kids on grade level by 2014- well it does to me at least.   You cannot teach children or insist on their learning until they are neurologically ready.  Edict does not work.

But if it makes the GOP Representatives feel like they are responding to the people by insisting that the US Office of Education not coerce the states- well fine.  What would really be good is if we skipped the whole thing and went back to old school, where curriculum was developed by the states and local school districts based on community needs.   Now there's a great idea.  As far as testing is concerned, there really should be a better way to figure out what kids have learned.  Maybe they could demonstrate it!