Tuesday, March 26, 2019

Get Shot or NOT

Earlier this year there was an outbreak of measles in Washington state.  Several children died.  Washington state has allowed parents to refuse to vaccinate their children and still allow those children to enter school.  Most state require that students be vaccinated; however, they allow for an exception for religious considerations.  After the outbreak of measles in Washington, some lawmakers are wondering if this exception should continue to be allowed.

Now there has been another unprecedented measles outbreak on the other side of the country in Rockland County, NY.   There school officials have said that children who have not been vaccinated may not attend public schools.  Forty-four families whose children were excluded from school had sued to insist that their children be allowed to return to school arguing that none of their children had contracted measles and, therefore, were not a risk to the population.   However, a federal judge has recently ruled on the side of the school district and denied the request for the children to return to school.

In the meantime, there is legislation in process in New York that would allow minor children to request and receive vaccination without parental consent.  Pediatric organizations have supported the legislation.

The notion that vaccines cause autism has been debunked routinely.  In Maine, families could refuse to vaccinate their children for non-medical reasons, including just a basic fear of the vaccine.  A Democratic sponsored bill would end all non-medical reasons for forbidding vaccinations.  On the other side, a Republican bill would leave medical exemptions at the “sole discretion” of the health-care provider.   Maine has one of the nation’s highest rates for nonmedical exemptions.

Maryland currently allows for a medical exemption and a religious exemption.  It does not allow for a philosophical exemption.   Some states do allow for that type of exemption.

The issue is, where does the right to decide for one’s own children begin, where does the child’s right to decide for itself or in consultation with another adult- and what are the rights of the other children in the school.

What should Maryland do as more religious organizations begin to weigh in?   Get shot or not?   Whose right is it.  

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.