Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Everything Old is New Again

Everything Old is New Again

There is an amazing research study that is going on at a Baltimore County high school.  The school has introduced an HVAC training program for kids that don’t want the full vocational school and want a career that does not necessarily include college.   I cannot imagine how they thought that up.  Someone must have been reading old Baltimore County yearbooks.  Fifty years ago, all Baltimore County high schools had a vocational component that was separate from the County vocational schools.  Of course, in those days there were also three separate high school diplomas.  People weren’t burdened by the egalitarian notion that all students are created equally. 
Of course, they are not.  The PARCC tests are supposed to measure a student’s readiness for college and careers.  But the only careers that today’s educators seem to care about are those that require a college education.  Many students do not have the academic acumen to do college level work.  We address that issue by burdening students and colleges with zero credit remedial courses for which students pay college tuition but do not receive college credits.   Many other students are just not interested in a math or language based career.   Too bad about that; the wise elders (and politicos) have determined that college is good for everyone whether you want it or not.  
The article about this great experiment references a girl who was thinking of dropping out of high school because she just didn’t see the relevancy of the program to her life.  Then she started the HVAC training program.  She loves it and is learning the skills to go to work in the HVAC industry with starting salries in the 60-70K range, about what a starting lawyer makes if he/she can find a job in law, and more than a starting teacher.   Oh, and she won’t be burdened by college debt. 

Our democracy would not be threatened if we allowed for human difference.  Democracy should make everyone equal in the eyes of the law.  It cannot make everyone equal in skill and talent.  We cannot do that by decree either.   Everyone can’t learn the same things and everyone does not even want to learn the same things.  Wouldn’t it be nice if we went back to the good old days where we recognized and accepted that as part of human difference?   Ok, not everything in the past was cool.  I won’t mop my floor wearing heels, make-up and a nice dress.  Smart people hold onto the best of the past while embracing the good of the future.  Differentiated diplomas and curricula were great ideas that were.   Too bad they went. 

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Just What the Union Ordered

Just what the Union ordered

This is a true story.   A teacher in Maryland painted a red perimeter square around his desk area.  Students were not allowed to cross the perimeter.  A student did cross the line.  Two versions of what happened next were presented.  The boy said the teacher grabbed him and pushed him out of the prohibited area.  The boy fell and broke his arm.  The teacher said the boy stumbled on his own when directed by the teacher to leave the area.  The parents sued the school for child abuse.  The school district terminated the teacher’s contract for physically pushing the student.  The local board of education supported the administrative decision.  The union appealed the case to the State Board of Education.  The State Board of Education supported the union because there were conflicting stories.  HOWEVER, the teacher was terminated.  He was terminated for defacing public school property by painting the red perimeter line on the classroom floor.

Another true story.  A teacher received unsatisfactory evaluations for 5 years in a row.  Each year the union alleged favoritism by the administration of the school and demanded a transfer for the teacher.  Each year the teacher was transferred in the usual dance of the lemons where bad teachers are just transferred to different schools.  After five years, the school system finally took action and terminated the teacher.  The union filled appeals all the way to a state court.  The union and the teacher alleged that the current principal discriminated against the teacher and that the teacher had heard the principal make comments about other teachers that were anti-Semitic and/or negative about older staff.  The teacher in question was neither older nor Jewish.   No other school staff had complained about these alleged remarks.  The union’s case was that since the principal had engaged in discriminatory speech about other groups, he probably held the same kinds of negative opinions about the specific teacher who had been fired.  The court ruled that the teacher should be terminated since there was no evidence that the alleged negative comments by the principal impacted the evaluations of this teacher who was not a member of the targeted groups if the comments were even made.  After 5 years, the teacher lost her position.

In many large cities in our country, school districts maintain waiting rooms for teachers who are in the process of being terminated.  In order to keep these teachers out of the classroom, they report daily to a “waiting room” where they read, watch TV or surf the internet on personal devices.  They receive their full salary and benefits during this time.  There can be as many as over 100 teachers in this never-never land and the taxpayers pick up the tab.  The school districts are paying “protection” money to protect the students from these failed teachers.

These examples are different but the issue is the same.   Teachers’ unions will bear any cost to keep a teacher in his/her job.  They evidently feel no obligation whatever to the children being served (or not in many of these instances) by the teacher.  Are there teachers who have been unjustifiably fired or received poor evaluations?  I am sure that is the case.  I am also sure that there are multiple protections in place for those people.   It is unreasonable for a school district to spend five years trying to dismiss a teacher.  It is unreasonable for a school district to not be able to remove a teacher who has pushed a child or acted in a bizarre manner.  We need to remember that the purpose of school is to educate and protect the kids.  Why were the unions allowed to turn this system upside down so that the teachers’ needs are coming first?  We have been hearing a lot lately about draining the swamp.  There is draining to do among some teachers.  Why do the unions continue to fight a rear guard resistance operation.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Where have all the teachers gone?

Where have all the teachers gone?

It is old news that teachers are not staying in the profession very long.  What is new news is that the problem is worse in Maryland, the state with the highest median family income in the country.  The Maryland State Department of Education reports that nearly half of new teachers who have completed between one and two years of teaching will leave the field by the beginning of the third year.
So, what is the difficulty?
First of all, Maryland is not very attractive for teachers.  It ranks 46th in the country on a teacher attractiveness scale according to a report from the Learning Policy Institute.  It is right down there with Mississippi and New Mexico, not a great place to be.
Is the issue money?  Probably not.  Compensation of Maryland teachers ranks 5th in the country, for its average starting salary of $43,235.   The state is 7th in average overall salary of $66,482.  And remember these numbers include high salary states such as Alaska with its very high cost of living.
The turnover rates hurt education.  In Prince George’s County, one of the largest school districts in the state, 42.2% of its teachers have less than five years’ experience.  Over all in the State, 29.7% of teachers have less than five years’ experience.
Teachers report the promise of support from administrators is seldom forthcoming.  Others feel micro-managed.  Gone are the days when a teacher closed the classroom door and did what she or he knew how to do best, teach children.  Now there are pacing guides and standardized tests to measure what the kids have been taught rather than what they have learned.
More money is not necessarily the answer.
A few weeks ago, The Harbour School was selected as one of the Top Places to Work in Maryland.  The project is administered by the Baltimore Sun newspaper but the winners are selected by a completely confidential survey of the organizations' employees.   This was the 4th time in 5 years that The Harbour School was selected by its staff as a Top Place to Work.  The school did not participate in the contest in year 2. Once nominated the group administering the  contest for the Sunpaper surveys each employee through an email contact.
 Of the 75 organizations selected by their employees several were small to medium private schools.  There were also tech companies, real estate companies, health care groups, and accounting firms.  What is notable by their absence was not a SINGLE public school system.  Organizations are nominated by employees so any of the thousands of public school employees could have nominated their employer.  None did.  
I can’t speak for the other private schools but it would not surprise me if the situation was not similar.   Salaries at The Harbour School are lower than those of the public schools.  The tuition for non-public special education schools is set by the Maryland State Department of Education and it does not provide for equitable salaries with the public schools even though credential standards are identical.  So it is not high paying salaries that make Harbour staff happy.

Staff at Harbour do not function in a labor/management model.  People are committed to a common goal- the students.  There is something to be learned here.  People, including teachers, want to not just feel valued but BE valued.  Maybe if that principle were demonstrated in our public schools all staff, teachers and administrators, would stay around longer.