Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Lying or Stealing-Which is worse?

Lying or Stealing – which is worse?

OK, neither on is something you look for in a leader.  But it seems we have it anyway.  Recently the superintendent of one of the largest school districts in the country was found guilty of lying on an ethics report about $146,000 he received as part of an outside consultant job.  As part of the deal with the outside company, he guaranteed that the school district would purchase large quantities of technology.  The man acknowledged his guilt and was sentenced to six months in the county detention center and two years of probation.  He is relatively young and his career is probably ruined.
Then there are other ways students are cheated and their futures stolen. It happens mostly in school systems where students are struggling to achieve academically and parents and taxpayers are demanding more for their investments.  They want to see higher graduation rates and higher grades.   So school systems are delivering both.  They are doing this by operating a shadow school system.  How does this work?   As the end of the school year approaches, kids discover that the courses in which they thought they were failing, now they are not. Magically grades have increased as students are asked to do minor projects which advance their grades. These events happen most often in high schools where the pressure for on-time graduation in four years is huge. So kids who have missed up to a third of the school year are still able to pass the course, gain the credit and graduate from high school “on time”.
Shadow school systems don’t just promote and graduate students who have barely attended school or not been proficient in the content.   These school systems offer courses that are a mere “shadow” of the real thing.  So transcripts show that a student has completed algebra 1 when in fact the content of that course was basic arithmetic because that is all the child is capable of doing.    One school system is now requiring that all graduates have a course in physics and chemistry.  Physics demands higher order math skills to address the content and to master the concepts. Yet the kids in that school district do not even earn basic scores in math on the standardized tests!   How are they going to master the concepts required of physics or chemistry?!   Not to worry, the transcript will show the credit.   It will not be until these kids get to college that they will find themselves completely unprepared to move on.  These school systems are stealing kids’ futures.  They are telling the kids and their parents that their children have earned credits in coursework they are lightyears away from mastering.   The administrators of these school systems get to brag about the higher standards they have implemented.   They get to tout the huge increases in graduation rates.  All the while stealing the students’ futures.   These administrators will not be brought to trial for their theft and they will not serve jail time.
Lying on an ethics form and steering purchases towards a particular company or stealing a child’s future by lying on a transcript- which is worse? Lying or stealing a future- you decide.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

When Enough is Enough

When is enough enough?

Go back a few years and teacher strikes happened fairly regularly, usually in one district at a time.   Then they pretty much stopped.  There was the Great Recession and everyone was happy to have a job, even a relatively low paying one.  But the recession ended.   Economies brought on by the recession began to ease as well.   Teachers’ salaries increased.  In Maryland, the average teacher’s salary is about $65,000, not bad at all for working 190 days a year.   Maryland is one of the wealthiest states in the country and school systems are sharing that wealth with teachers.
However, while all may be well in Mary Land, all is not well in other parts of the country.   Money for education in Oklahoma has been so reduced that many school districts are only open for 4 days a week.   Arizona, Kentucky and West Virginia have also not shared the better economy with their teaching staff.   Then there is the pending Supreme Court decision testing whether teachers’ unions can have a closed shop that required everyone to pay dues or a maintenance fee to the union.   With a 9thmember of the Court being a conservative, it is not looking too good for the unions.
So, what to do?
The revolution has begun.  It started in West Virginia.   The difference between this walkout and previous strikes is that the entire state was involved.  After several weeks of closed schools throughout the state, the legislature caved and teachers were giving a 5% raise across the board.
Then Oklahoma took up the call.   Oklahoma teachers didn’t just want more money for themselves, they wanted more teachers for smaller classes and newer and better teaching materials. The legislature gave the teachers a raise.  They said that wouldn’t be enough, the teachers wanted the other improvements for the students.  The legislature said “hell no”.   The union said fine, we are staying home.   Soon the Governor decided to grant the teachers what they wanted.  He soothed the legislature by assuring it that the improved economy would take care of the increased cost without a tax increase. We will see but the union got what it wanted.
Now Kentucky and Arizona have joined the fray.
What is going on here?   
It really is quite simple.  This is just another example of big talk- we care about our kids and the education they get, followed by little to no action to back up the talk.   OPUD- over promised, under delivered.  Everyone is thinking that the expected Supreme Court decision is going to bust the unions.   But these teachers are saying enough is enough.   Guess they aren’t quite busted yet.

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Barking up the wrong tree

Barking up the wrong tree

The school shootings in Florida and the one recently much closer to home in Southern Maryland were terrible events and have brought the fear of school invasion to a new level.   The Maryland State Legislature just completed its 2018 session and is requiring every school district to have school resource officers (or an affiliation with the sheriff’s office ) in every school.  Don’t be confused, a school resource officer (SRO) is a person with a gun in a school.   The idea is that this one person with one gun will protect and defend our children from an armed invader.   We know two things about this situation.  The first thing we know, sadly, is that the SRO may choose not to risk his/her own life by confronting the invader.  We saw that in the Florida invasion.   The second, and perhaps more important thing we know, is that school invaders are kids with a grudge against the school or are upset about a personal relationship.
School invasions go back to the 1800’s.  Better news media and social media make us all know about them more quickly now.  Columbine was the first school shooting incident that gained traction in the national news in recent time.  After the Columbine shooting, I asked our students if they were afraid.  To a student they said no, because our teachers care about us.   The root cause of that shooting was the same as all of the subsequent shootings, the perpetrator felt alienated from the school or felt to be unknown by the school.
So we have a pretty good idea of what turns otherwise fairly typical kids into people intent on destroying other people.  It is not clear to me how throwing more money into armed guards is going to fix the problem.
There are about 132,000 schools in the United States.  That means a student in a public school has about a .01% chance of being in a school with an invader.   Thirty-three thousand of those schools are private.   As of the end of 2017, private schools have been spared the horror of any large scale shooting.  I think there is a clear reason for this difference.  It is simple to me.   Private school students are known to their teachers.  The schools are much smaller.  Kids are not numbers; they are faces with names and interests.  Teachers ask about family members and family events. That just doesn't happen in secondary public schools and not in many elementary schools.
School districts in Maryland will be spending millions of dollars to hire, train and equip armed SRO’s.  One or maybe two of these people will be guarding high schools with 2,700 or more students.   How much better it would be if these millions could be spent on more clinicians who had the time and interest to care about and talk to kids.  People who wanted to give these kids an identity within the school.   People who were not wasting their skills pushing test scores around.   We need to spend those dollars on saving kids not shooting at possible invaders. And let us hope, that if we get all these new SRO’s and a shooter does come into the school, those 1-2 people won’t be off somewhere barking up the wrong tree.

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

The "Can't do it" trap

The “Can’t Do it “ Trap

There are lots of things students can’t do.   They can’t fly; they can’t leap tall buildings at a single bound; and they don’t have x-ray vision.  They probably won’t be professional athletes or win an academy award for acting. Those are all low probability events.
And there are lots more things that they can’t do NOW but might be able to do with fine, fine teaching unless we allow ourselves to fall into the “can’t do” trap.  Everyone has seen that trap.   It is lying in wait for everyone who teaches children with disabilities, poor kids or students with unstable home situations.   Those traps are waiting for each and every teacher who needs an excuse for why her teaching has failed.  It is very easy to just glide right into that trap.   As the saying goes, “when you are deep in a hole, the first thing to do is to stop digging”.  So here are some ways to avoid all those excuse making traps.
Give ‘em some love.   There are people who will tell you that you should not get emotionally involved with your students.   My advice is, if you aren’t emotionally involved with your kids, get out of the profession.   Many students of poverty, dysfunctional homes and/or with disabilities that make them feel they are a disappointment to others, need love.  So tell your students you love them and care about them. Trying to learn is a risk taking behavior.   Children are much more likely to take that risk with someone they believe cares about them and wants the best for them.  They also need to feel that it is safe to fail.   They need to know that they will not be humiliated and that the teacher’s love and caring will provide a very soft landing if at first they do not succeed.  So tell your students you care about them early and often.
Students need teachers.   They don’t need pity for their circumstances nor do they need teachers to use those circumstances as an excuse for low expectations.   We already know what the child’s yesterday looked like.   We can teach to the child in the present and through that teaching we can define what his/her tomorrow will be.  Think of every lesson as a stepping stone toward tomorrow and a positive future.  A child may not be able to read today, but with the proper instruction step-by-step she will be able to read tomorrow.  Teachers need to keep their eyes on tomorrow and build the stairway toward that tomorrow by starting with expectations today, not excuses for why-not.
Teachers need to be human with their kids and recognize that the students are human as well, young but human.  If we want the children to respect us we need to build relationships with them.  Talk to them (not preach).   Find out what their burdens are today.  Is someone sick at home?   Is someone home period?  Did a boy or a girlfriend reject them?   Are they in competition for affection with another peer or some adult in the home?  Share your own similar experiences. Let the kids know you respect their challenges and that you too are facing challenges.  Those connections will make it much easier for the teacher to discipline or be trusted by the student when the student is presented with challenging work.   Life is all about honest relationships.
Good leaders have a lot to do with avoiding the can't do traps.  Every teacher is a leader.  Leaders need to lead; you cannot blame the system or blame the student challenges.  If we don’t believe in our hearts that we can change these kids’ lives, we should have stopped digging a long time ago because we are deep in the hole.  “They can’t do it” trap is a deep hole.   We need to stop digging and start delivering the future for our students.