Tuesday, September 26, 2017

What's race got to do with it?

What’s Race Got to Do With It?

This past weekend dozens of NFL football players, coaches and owners exercised their 1st amendment right to free speech by taking a knee during the national anthem.  The President tweeted they should all be fired.  Sixty years ago, this month, nine kids integrated Central High School in Little Rock Arkansas.  It was three years after the Supreme Court had ordered the integration of public schools “with all deliberate speed”.   Southern states refused the order.  When these seven girls and two boys showed up for school, profanities were shouted at them, their lives were threatened and the governor called out the national guard to keep these kids from entering the school.  The entire incident made the national and international news.  It was sickening to see all these other kids and adults shouting at these nine teens.  Finally, in embarrassment, President Eisenhower nationalized the Arkansas national guard and also sent in the 101st Airborne to protect the children.  The troops stayed all year and the school was integrated.  Today an African-American girl is the president of the student council.  But the events in Charlottesville, VA last month demonstrate quite clearly that ignorance is alive and well.  Still we don’t talk about race.  Trump said his feelings about the NFL players’ actions have nothing to do with race.  His feelings are all about respect for the flag.
Some of us are disgusted about what happened at Charlottesville, and some others are disgusted about the player’ demonstrations and, just maybe, there are some of the same people disgusted about both situations.  But we don’t talk about it.
Some educators are responding with avoidance, ambiguity or fear.  We can no longer be fearful as educators to address the things that really matter in our society and it isn’t discussions about the Oxford comma or steps in solving an equation.  As educators, we are firmly entrenched in believing in meritocracy.  This belief is particularly alive and well among white teachers.  As administrators, we need to educate our teachers, particularly majority teachers, about how to lead conversations that explore the basis of hate, racism and anti-Semitism.  We need to talk about why some white people believe that somehow being fair to some people takes away fairness from other people.  What is the basis for all this hate that is a cancer growing within our society.  Millions of people died because of slavery and Nazism.  We need to be straight with our kids and teach them that we are a great country with some very ugly spots in our history.  Our teachers must be brave and wade in.  Our administrators need to be leaders, not just bureaucrats shuffling paper.  We all need to be ready to look at the world through the glasses of other folks.  The level of hate that has been demonstrated recently and the failure of leadership to call it out, has no place in our society.  

These painful moments can also be teachable moments.  It is an ill wind that does not blow some good.  What’s race got to do with it?  Quite a bit, if we just take our heads out of the sand.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

If you have been sick, you could be a doctor

If you have been sick, you could be a doctor.

If you have been sick you could be a doctor.   Across our country, particularly in rural areas there is a distinct shortage of primary care providers.  So why not enlist people who have been sick to fill in for those shortages.  Particularly people with chronic illnesses who have had frequent interface with medical care providers.  That won’t happen because our society believes that physicians have a particular skill set and knowledge base that is important to the delivery of services.  It also will not happen because the American Medical Association (AMA) a professional association would not allow it.
On the other hand, there is also a shortage of teachers, particularly in the areas of math, science and special education.  Unlike medicine, our society believes that if you have gone to school you can be a teacher.  There is no sense that there is a skill set or knowledge base that is required for teaching.  And the National Education Association (NEA) the teacher union does not seem to have any issue with the shortage solution.
Governors in Oklahoma where teacher salaries are the lowest in the country, Arizona and Utah have agreed to allow districts to hire people as teachers who have no formal professional training at all.   These states are hiring teachers with 5 years of relevant experience in the field OR a bachelor’s degree or both. It is neither clear, nor defined, what relevant experience is.   That means that a person does not even need a bachelor’s degree to teach in these states.  The Vail school district in Arizona has hired 24 non-certified teachers to fill in the gap.  But not to worry, 17 of those non-certified teachers are parents of kids in elementary school.  Another 14 parents are teaching in the high schools.  Families should not be concerned.  The district provides coaching to these people twice a month.  Of course, the district is saving money because these non-certified teachers are earning less than a trained teacher would make. 
Other districts are trying to come up with different ideas.  Some districts are prevailing upon retired teachers to come back to the classroom.  In some systems, the school is providing virtual teachers.  Florida operates a “virtual school”.  And that was BEFORE the hurricane.  These virtual schools are staffed by a facilitator who is trained in the subject area.  Another solution is to use student-teachers.  School systems are hiring student teachers as students during the school year before the students have finished their degree programs.  The dean of Radford University does not think that is such a great idea.  “To retain teachers in the field, you want to make sure they’re ready.  Sling-shotting them to the classroom before they’re done with student-teaching is not the best idea.”
What is so confusing about all this is why is no one complaining?  Is our societal regard for the teaching profession so low that we really do believe anyone can walk into a classroom and deliver decent instruction?   This notion almost makes the Highly Qualified of No Child Left Behind seem sensible. 
People jump up and down about bad test scores but there does not seem to be any connect in the public mind between trained and qualified teachers and adequate instruction.   The teachers' union has been very quiet.  Must be that these unqualified people filling classrooms are paying dues and that is all the unions really care about.

So when you think about it, why go to school at all.  After all, we can all be anything we want to be, no training required.   I was sick last week.  Think I will be a doctor next week.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Still Going in Circles

Still going in circles.

Education, like the Lionel Christmas trains, keeps going in circles.  Remember how in the days before technology, those old dependable Lionel trains just went around and around the holiday tree in a big circle.  Today’s educators and politicians must have been incredibly impressed with those trains because they have been taking education in circles ever since.  Let’s consider the latest news on the education front as schools begin to open for the new school year.
Under the federal No Child Left Behind law every student would be on grade level by 2014.  There was not a single sober person alive at the time who believed that was possible.  But that didn’t stop us from making it the law.  When that miracle didn’t happen the US Congress passed the Every Child Succeeds Act that kept the testing but allowed states to define what “success” means.  The Maryland State Board of Education has recently decreed that success will look differently for low achieving schools than it does for the higher achieving schools.   Under the new system, a school that has only 10 percent of its students passing the statewide tests in 2017 will be required to have 55 percent of its students passing by 2030.  Meanwhile, a school with 60 percent of its students passing the tests this year will be required to have 80 percent of its students passing in 2030.  The idea is that the Board didn’t want the mountain to be so high to climb that it became impossible.   Don’t be upset by the fact that the Statewide passing average was only about 30% this past year.  Seems like all concerned will have to do some mountain climbing.  You have to applaud the Board and the politicos though.  No matter how irrelevant to success the testing program is, no matter how discouraging it is to good programing,  we will stick with it.   You can’t blame the politicians.  They aren’t supposed to know anything about education and since we believe they all went to school, that should make them experts.
The teachers’ unions are HUGELY at fault.  These people are supposed to be the professionals.  By definition, a professional cares about the people it serves.  Oh, yes the unions decry the testing because they don’t want to be measured by the results.  But why don’t they talk about the damage all that testing does to the kids they are supposed to care about.  When was the last time a union went out on strike or made too much testing for the kids a contract issue?  Never in my lifetime.
Meanwhile, school systems have cut what really matters to kids in school in order to raise test scores.  Children endure hours of reading and math instruction in the vain hope of raising the test scores.  Reading and math are TOOLS to solve problems and get information.  Yet we are force feeding these skill subjects to kids as if achievement will get them into heaven.  Time in the school day is finite.  So adding reading and math instruction more time means so called “less important” subjects like art and even science must go.  Now the new Baltimore City CEO is talking blasphemy.  She wants schools to make room for things like civics (imagine kids learning how their government runs!), science and art.   Some schools are embracing the new directive by hiring a science or social studies teacher!   I mean how radical is that.  
But not to worry.  But some principals are not so happy.  As one principal said, “Where are we going to find time for to fit this all in?  Are we going to take away from reading?  Are we going to take away from math?  And how will this affect our test scores?” Interesting question.  Good thing he didn’t ask, how will this affect the quality of education we are delivering to our students.  Or, do the test scores really matter in the long term achievement of every child’s success.
It is not Christmas but the train is still going round in circles.