Tag Archives: education

Cashing in on Fear:  The Catalyst Behind the Trump/Devos Education Budget?

The current focus on public school improvement is flawed.  Politicians, the public, and even some educators are caught up in a oversimplified mindset that lumps all public schools into one huge cesspool of incompetence.  It is dangerous to generalize anything, and public schools are no different.  It is not public schools in general we need to fix, but what is happening within each individual public school that needs our attention.  Many public schools are doing an excellent job educating children, but unfortunately, they are being dragged down the rabbit hole with those that are doing a poor job.

To say all public schools are bad and in need of improvement is a generalization that is simply not true.  According to education researcher John Hattie, the single biggest variance between a good school and a bad school is the quality of the teacher in the classroom.  Dismantling public schools in favor of charter schools and creating an open-door policy for parents to send their child to the school of their choice will not resolve inconsistent quality issues in the classroom.  Due to the human element, classroom quality issues are as likely to show up in charter schools as they are in public schools.  It is not a public school or charter school that makes the difference in a child’s education.  As Hattie points out, it is the quality of what transpires in the classroom that makes a difference.  Simply being hired by a charter school will not make a person a better teacher.  Enrolling a child in a charter school is not a guarantee of academic success or teacher competence in the classroom.  With the future of public schools in jeopardy and a shrinking teacher pool, it stands to reason today’s public school teachers will be tomorrow’s charter and private school teachers, so unless we resolve the quality issue we are doing little more than transferring the problem from one school to another.   Proponents of charters will argue charter schools will only hire the best teachers and cull the weaker ones.  They may try, but I am afraid they may find as the public schools have found, there are not a lot of master teachers walking around looking for a job.  Pile that problem on top of current hiring practices in many charter schools such as hiring unlicensed and inexperienced teachers and you have a recipe for disaster waiting in the wings.  Unless, charter schools can find the magic teacher formula that has eluded public schools, their savior status will quickly fade.  Unfortunately, at that point, we will have to sleep in the bed we have made due to a misplaced focus.

Some will say I am putting the blame on teachers, and yes, I am, but there is enough blame to go around for everyone including school administrators, school boards, politicians, parents, the public, and the students.  Everyone must share in the blame when students do not learn, but in rank order, teachers, students, parents, and school administrators are the most responsible.  Sorry, educators, but that is the bottom line truth in a nutshell.  Sorry, parents and politicians, but charter schools and private schools will not resolve the issue, especially since those schools have the same problem of finding quality teachers as the public schools.  At least, public schools have minimum standards teachers must meet to teach while most charters and privates schools can and often do hire almost anyone off the street.  Therefore, being called a charter school does not make a school better.  Regardless of what politicians say, and many parents believe, parent choice is nothing more than a distraction that takes away from the real education focus needed to fix schools and ensure students learn.  For any school to be successful – public, charter, or private –  the focus must be on quality, attitudes, and commitment. Promoting dismantling public schools shows a lack of commitment in any of these areas, and that lack of commitment has escalated over the past 16 years mainly for one reason – fear.

Since 9/11/2001, America has been at the mercy of fear.  Fear is the root of our current state of dysfunction in all areas of our lives including education.  We are currently in a state of dysfunction that is more dangerous than maybe anything this country has ever faced; we fear terrorists, we fear immigrants, we fear the Republicans, we fear the Democrats, we fear conservatives, we fear liberals, we fear any belief outside our own, and we fear and mistrust the color of a man’s skin.  This is not the first time in our history we have been in such a state of distress, but it is one of the few times in our history we have allowed fear to rule our lives and distract our focus.   In the 1960s, we feared thermonuclear warfare with the Soviet Union, but instead of allowing that fear to distract us, we used it to sharpen our focus.  Out of that fear, we put a man on the moon, built a national highway system second to none in the world, put greater focus on math and science in our public schools, and created the Internet as part of national defense.  Fear created a constructive response rather than the unconstructive response we are seeing today.  Since 2001, we have used fear as an excuse to fight two wars against terrorism with little to show for the loss of blood of the brave men and women who served our country, used fear to turn our political system and nation upside down, used fear to turn citizen against citizen, used fear to isolate ourselves from the world, and used fear to create a dysfunctional education dialogue that threatens to destroy an institution that helped make America great – our public school system.  In the 1960s, we turned fear into productive action while today we have allowed fear to drag us into uncooperative thinking and inaction.

Over the last 16 years, fear has ruled our lives and governed how we respond to events and issues.  Our answer to just about everything today is to lash out negatively, cast blame, and think in short term solutions.  The current dysfunctional focus on public schools is an excellent example.  In the 1960s, when we were caught up in an arms race with the Soviet Union, we did not scrap our education system or try to improve it with our heads in the sand.  Of course, back then, there was an “us versus them” mentality in America and not the present “us versus us” mentality.  Today, there is a political venom flowing through the veins of our country that no amount of antidote is likely to cure.  We are trapped in pockets of group think where outside views are considered a threat and too often solutions are reactions to distractions rather than the real issues.  Charter schools and vouchers are prime examples of such distractions.  These vehicles of parent choice distract from issues such as teacher quality and child poverty.  Such distractions can easily be seen in the education cuts proposed by President Trump and Secretary of Education Betsy Devos in their 2018 education budget.  Instead of cutting vital education programs that support millions of public school children across the nation, they could have easily used a portion of the $21 trillion saved by dropping out of the Paris Climate Accord to fund their pet charter school and voucher projects, yet they chose to cut public education by over 9 billion dollars or roughly 14 percent.  Why?  Could it be they understand the best time to push a personal agenda is during times of fear?

Any budget is a statement of values, and the Trump/Devos education budget is no exception.  Anyone who looks closely at the suggested budget cuts and to the areas the cuts are redirected can see the ultimate goal is to dismantle public education in favor of parent choice options.  If passed, the Trump/Devos budget will cut the United States Department of Education funding by $9 billion and redirect $1.4 billion of that money to school choice.  The cuts will eliminate at least 22 programs including $1.2 billion for after school programs which will have a negative impact on 1.6 million, primarily poor, children; $2.1 billion for teacher training which is a vital component for developing quality classroom teachers in both charter and public schools; $27 million for arts education; $72 million dollars for international and foreign language programs; and $12 million dollars for Special Olympics programs.

President Trump and Betsy Devos say the federal government does not need to be involved in these programs.  According to them, the programs being cut can be more effectively handled and funded at the state and local level.  Maybe, they can be handled more effectively at the state level, but how can a poor state such as Mississippi fund these programs when it cannot afford to adequately fund the state public school programs it has?  Mississippi can’t, so where does that leave after school programs, arts education, foreign language programs, and the Special Olympics in the state?  It means either the citizens of Mississippi will pay higher taxes to foot the bill, or those programs will be discontinued.  Likely, the programs will be dropped or phased out.

Most people in Mississippi will feel some concern for losing after school programs, arts education, and especially the Special Olympics, but in a state where so many believe English is the only language needed in America, the loss of foreign language will barely be given a passing thought.  That is a shame.  I have a PhD, but by global standards I am illiterate.  I regret to say I speak one language, English, and although that has been good enough for me, it most likely will not be good enough for my grandchildren and especially my great grandchildren.

I recently read over 80% of the world’s population has access to a cell phone or mobile device, and within a year – a couple at the most – that number will grow to 90%.  According to David Rothkopf, author of The Great Questions of Tomorrow, we are possibly only a couple of years from every man, woman, and child in the world being connected for the first time in history through a man-made system.  Companies like Amazon have already gone global, and others will soon follow.  I am not talking about moving companies overseas; I am talking about Internet presence.  Amazon can touch anyone in the world whenever they please.  That is the future for all of us.  Our kids better be able to communicate with the world when that happens.  They will not only need the latest and the greatest technology tools, but they will also need a second language and preferably a third language if they hope to compete in the world market.  Speaking only one language will no longer be good enough even for Mississippi, yet, we have a President and Secretary of Education who want to cut foreign language programs.  Why?  How does that make any sense at all unless we are in such fear of the world that we plan to remain isolated indefinitely.

A contributing factor to fear is the unknown, and since 2001, as a nation we have been grappling with fear of the unknown:  fear of unseen and often unknown terrorists, fear for our livelihoods amid fluctuating markets, fear of leaders who so often put their personal agendas above the good of the people, fear of losing our guaranteed rights as citizens, fear of changing attitudes and values, and fear our public schools are no longer in capable hands.  We have seen our leaders grasp at straws for solutions, and turn against each other in the process.  We have witnessed politicians wage war on science somehow ignorant to the facts that throughout history governments who denounced science often lost.  We have watched as our leaders and our people have grown closed minded to the diversity that made us the greatest country in the world.  And, now rather than focus on the real issues, of teacher quality, academic support systems, and poverty, we are watching helplessly as our leaders slowly dismantle a once proud education system that produced Americans who revolutionized land and air transportation for the world, turned simple farmers into a skilled labor force for industry, and lay the knowledge foundation that led to the world’s first heart transplant, harnessing of nuclear energy, put the first man on the moon, and produced some of the world’s greatest literary giants.  Unfortunately, our leadership is in the market for a new vehicle, and they will not be satisfied until that vehicle is sitting in the garage with or without wheels.  It is sad, they do not understand there is no need to reinvent the wheel; all that is needed is to fix a spoke or two in the old wheel, so we can focus on what really matters – our children’s future.

JL

©Jack Linton, June 18, 2017

Ten Teachers Schools Need to Fire Immediately

I am a firm believer there are many more good, even outstanding, teachers than bad teachers.  However, I sadly admit there are teachers who need to be chased out the school house door as far from teaching as possible.  They are not necessarily bad people, but they lack the “want to,” the “get up and go,” and in some cases the “content knowledge” to be a good classroom teacher.  Their lack of capacity to be a good teacher, their lack of passion for their profession, and for some, their lack of compassion for their students shows in their poor preparation for class, wasting student time showing movies and assigning busy work, and their disregard for school policies and procedures.  Such teachers are a black eye to the teaching profession and fodder for those who badmouth the profession.

As much as I hate to speak negatively about teachers, there are a few nauseating rotten apples that give all teachers a bad name.  The good teachers know who they are, but they won’t say anything, and the students know who they are, but no one in the schools will listen to them.  However, being retired, I can say who they are and even call them by name!  With all the negatives floating around about public schools,  it is imperative these deadbeats, these non-professionals, these blights on the good name of teachers be sought out and identified.  It is time someone told these poor excuses for teachers they are paid to be prepared for class, they are paid to teach and not show movies, and they are paid to enforce and follow school policy.  If being prepared is too difficult, if teaching takes too much effort, or if they don’t like the policies of the school district paying them, they need to find employment elsewhere – preferably outside teaching.  It is time the bad apples were called on the carpet to either put their classroom in order or pack their bags!

Ten Teachers Schools Need to Fire

Schools Need to Get Rid of these teachers . The teacher who . . . WHY?
MOVIE DIRECTOR uses class time to show movies from beginning to end under the pretense of teaching, but all they are really doing is wasting valuable instruction time. This person does not understand how to utilize movies as a teaching aid and needs to be trained, this person is lazy and looking for ways to kill time, or this person is incompetent in his/her content area.  The bottom line is either train this person or show him/her the door.
SLOTH regularly comes to class unprepared to teach. This person is lazy, has too many irons in the fire to prepare properly, or has other priorities over teaching.  Not replacing this person is an injustice to students.
 LOST DUCK hates his/her job as a teacher. This person is in the wrong profession and needs help finding something he/she will like better.  Take care to steer this person as far as possible from teaching.
DREAMER doesn’t hate teaching, but would rather be somewhere else teaching. Rather than cultivating green pastures where he/she is, this person is looking elsewhere for greener pastures.  Help this person locate that pasture – quickly!
BABYSITTER regularly gives busy-work assignments to keep students occupied rather than teach. This person doesn’t know how to teach or doesn’t want to teach.  Schools need teachers, not babysitters!  Get rid of this person and hire someone who wants to teach!
PLACE HOLDER teaches for a paycheck until something better comes along; It would be cheaper and the kids would be better off with a substitute teacher than this dud.
WARM FUZZY does not support or enforce the school rules and policies. This person makes things harder for everybody – themselves, colleagues, students, parents, and administrators.  Part of a teacher’s job is to support and enforce school rules and policies.  If a teacher cannot do that, the teacher should be assisted in finding another profession.
SCROOGE does not like kids. A person who does not like kids should not be a teacher.  This person needs a one-way ticket on the first train out!
BORN PERFECTION  

does not see a need to read or study professionally to become a better teacher – knows it all.

 

Teaching is a life time commitment to personal and professional learning.  Over time, those teachers who think they are above such a commitment, refuse to make such a commitment, or do not have the capacity to commit to personal and professional growth become a liability to the school learning environment and should be replaced.
LOUNGE JOCKEY is negative about kids, colleagues, parents, and the administration. This person is a cancer.  Cut this person before he/she sours everybody.  The Lounge Jockey loves to ride gossip, talk about everyone, and meddle negatively in everyone’s business.  Over time, this person’s negativity can ruin a school.

If you recognize a teacher on this list, try to talk to them, but be careful.  Confronting such an individual could be like telling a mama one of her babies comes from bad seed.  No matter how true or how nice you try to say it, you better be ready for fireworks and heavy duty explosives.  Therefore, it might be wiser to discreetly share this list with a bad apple teacher by circling one of the ten names in the chart and placing it in the teacher’s mailbox or leaving it on the teacher’s desk.  Will such action make the teacher change for the better?  Probably not, but it might encourage them to move to a charter school (Just joking – bad teachers don’t belong in any school).  The bottom line is that either colleagues or administrators need to get the attention of these people and help them change or move on.

JL

©Jack Linton, March 30, 2017

Riding Tall in the Saddle

As a young principal, I wish someone had sat me down, unscrewed the top of my hard head, and poured some common sense into my empty skull.  I would have been a much better leader if they had.  I learned about leading through trial and error with, unfortunately, more error than I would like to admit.  I now realize what many of my colleagues and staff could have told me years ago if I had been more inclined to listen – I blew it as often as I got it right.  Looking back at those early years, I thank the good Lord in heaven for having a sense of humor and allowing me to continue to learn and grow – heaven knows I didn’t always deserve it.   However, leadership is a journey, and learning from your mistakes is as much a part of the journey as getting it right – maybe even more so.

I learned the hard way that leading people is basically the same whether you are motivating a class full of middle school or high school students, coaching an athletic team, or involved in leading an organization with hundreds of employees.  Leadership is about being prepared to lead, establishing and building a foundation or platform from which to lead, and sustaining a clear focus on the cornerstones that lead to success.  Leadership is about knowing when to build fences and when to tear them down.  Leadership is about leading, not controlling, and most of all, it is about understanding THERE IS NOTHING SACRED ABOUT LEADERSHIP.  It is a people thing that will and should change to some degree as often as the people may change.  However, this takes time to learn, and although I wish I could say otherwise, I was a slow learner.

Being a leader is hard sometimes rewarding work, but more often frustrating and tedious work.  It is never ending, and it is all consuming.  It is unfortunate, but when you take a leadership role, such as principal, more often than not everything else takes a secondary role in your life.  That is why it is so important to have a spouse and family who understand the commitment and sacrifices leadership demands.  A supportive spouse and family are a must, especially if they understand the rank order of family and work are more often blurred than concise.  Family should always take precedence over work, but there are times when for a leader to function effectively, his job may briefly take priority.  The leader, on the other hand, must guard against such moments of necessity becoming the norm; he must always remember relationships are about balance, and he must do whatever it takes to maintain the balance between work and family.

Although I never did it well, I learned balancing relationships is crucial to successful leadership.  It is difficult to move an organization forward if relationships are rocky at work or at home.  Leadership is the art of moving people toward a common goal, and that cannot be accomplished effectively without strong relationships both at home and on the job.  Although there may be nothing sacred about leadership, relationships are the glue that holds everyone and everything together and enables the leader to focus on leading.  Relationships are critical and must be nurtured and cared for carefully as well as tenderly.

Relationships can be scary, especially for a first-time leader.  Relationships take trust, and at first, trusting anyone other than yourself is hard to do.  Therefore, the young inexperienced leader tends to read, research, and pray – pray a lot – for a secret formula or magical spell that makes his job easy.  In the beginning, I knew such formulas and magic had to exist.  Everywhere I turned, I saw people in leadership roles that carried themselves with such confidence that I knew there was something I was missing.  They possessed a confidence to ride tall in the saddle that was magical almost majestic.   I wanted what they had!  Fortunately, after years of trial and error, I finally discovered that great leadership is the result of an uncompromising work ethic, perseverance, getting up when you are knocked down, and luck as well as maintaining relationships that cushion the falls and brush you off when you climb back to your feet.  It wasn’t magical at all!

As my experiences grew, I learned through osmosis and hard-knocks when it was okay to bend and break the rules, when to stand alone, how to pick my battles, and when to challenge and cross over established boundaries.  It probably took too long, but I finally learned the secret to leadership lies in the ability of people in leadership roles to do whatever it takes to make positive things happen around them.  Leaders make things happen even when it is not popular, and they do not compromise success by taking a wait and see approach; they are proactive.  In other words, leaders learn to do two things: they learn to build relationships with others and they learn to build a relationship with themselves.  They do that by developing an inner confidence and trust as well as confidence and trust in others.  It is that trust that gives a leader the courage and confidence to ride tall in the saddle.

JL

©Jack Linton, October 23, 2016

Twenty Tips for New Teachers (or Veteran Teachers)

Over the years, I have been asked numerous times for advice or tips I would offer new teachers or veteran teachers.  I always respond by saying the little I know is the result of professional reading (at least thirty minutes daily) and mistakes I made as a teacher and a school administrator.  I think the biggest mistake most teachers make is looking for perfection.  This mistake can cost them their joy as a teacher.  It causes them to lose sight of what teaching is about and why they signed on to teach in the first place.  Sometimes teachers become so blinded by the pursuit of perfection, they lose sight of the good they do, and as a consequence they drum themselves out of the profession.  No matter how badly they want it, there is no such thing as the perfect student, the perfect parent, or the perfect teacher, so my advice to teachers is to STOP looking for perfection, and replace it with an expectation of always “putting forth the best you can do.”  That is the highest expectation, teachers can ever hope to achieve from their students; it is the highest expectation they can ever expect of themselves.  Next, I would advise teachers to MAKE TEACHING A COMMITMENT:  commitment to the teaching journey, commitment to learning from mistakes, commitment to professional learning, and commitment to NEVER giving up on students or themselves.  After that, I would offer the following advice and tips:

  1. You WILL make mistakes – learn not to repeat them – learn to apologize and move on! Making a mistake is not a sign of weakness, it is a sign you are not sitting still;
  2. It’s okay to have fun! Good teachers figure out how to make learning fun!
  3. Use handouts as a teaching tool, not a “keep them busy” tool. Remember, teachers teach and subs give handouts!   Which are you?
  4. Use pre-test to assess your student’s existing knowledge. Pre-assessments will help you make your teaching more relevant and their learning more meaningful;
  5. Communicate with parents often! Nothing can be more unsettling to a teacher’s day than a surprised or angry parent who has been kept in the dark about their child’s progress;
  6. Greet students at the door like you are happy to see them – not like they are the plague;
  7. Be on time for duty! The safety of students and your career is on the line.  Monitoring duty in the cafeteria, in the hall between classes, before school, or after school is a necessity!  It is not a useless punishment your uncaring principal has placed on you;
  8. Make note of teachers who always complain and are unhappy – be nice to them, but stay away, unless you want to be like them;
  9. Be proud to be a teacher! You have the most important job in the world.  You influence young lives every day, so decide every morning if it will be a positive influence or a negative influence;
  10. Assign seats! Especially until you get to know your students.  Assigning seats also makes it easier and faster to take roll;
  11. If you do not plan to discuss and review homework in class the next day, DO NOT assign homework! Homework is only effective if it is used as a formative tool with timely feedback to students;
  12. DO NOT assign work in class that will not be discussed, reviewed, or graded. Like the teacher, students DO NOT need busy work;
  13. Never make an online assignment without first checking the websites, including links to other websites. Ask these questions – Is it active?  Like most everything, websites do not last forever.  Is it blocked by the school filter?  If blocked, seek help from the school technology person to unblock it.  Is it appropriate?  Make sure the content is appropriate for the student age level you teach as well as for the community the school serves;
  14. Always, always, always preview movies to be shown in class. Movies should be used sparingly in class and then only in small clips to support discussion of the lesson.  Showing a movie that takes up one to three days of class time is poor practice and a waste of instructional time.  Showing a movie in its entirety is lazy teaching;
  15. If you assign a book or website that may be controversial to students, their families, or the community do the following: (1) meet with the principal and seek his/her support by explaining why you have chosen the material and its value to the learning process; (2) Send home a notice to parents/guardians that some content may be offensive and explain why you believe it is necessary to use the material in class; (3) offer an alternative assignment for students and/or parents who object to the content (use of offensive language, use of graphic sex, etc.);
  16. Never argue with a student in class! You are the authority in the classroom!  If a student wants to challenge authority let him/her challenge the authority of the assistant principal or the principal;
  17. Teaching for student success:
    1. Pre-assess (pre-test) knowledge;
    2. Provide students learning targets based on pre-assessment needs;
    3. Teach what you want them to know;
    4. Use on-going assessment (formative) throughout the lesson. Check frequently for understanding;
    5. STOP and re-teach if and when necessary;
    6. Assess what you want them to know (summative);
    7. Use summative assessment as a formative tool (feedback) for student learning; and
    8. Re-teach if and when necessary.
  18. Being a TEACHER is NOT about teaching; it is about LEARNING! You may be the greatest presenter of content of all time, but if your students don’t learn, you have failed as a teacher;
  19. Remember, it’s okay to breathe! Teaching is a monstrous responsibility, but if you teach with the same passion and compassion you expect from your children’s teachers, you will be okay; and
  20. Enjoy the teaching journey! You are a part of an awesome group of people.  You are a teacher because you care.

These tips are basic, but if followed, they can serve the new teacher or the veteran teacher well.  Teachers must always maintain high expectations, accept nothing but the best from their students, and never give up on the least of them or themselves.  A tall order, no doubt, but kids will tell you – GOOD TEACHERS CAN DO ANYTHING!

JL

©Jack Linton, August 24, 2016

It’s The First Day of School, Teachers Don’t Worry

It’s the first day of school, teachers don’t worry

            About low pay – they can’t afford what you are worth;

It’s the first day of school, teachers don’t worry

            About long hours – artists never see the clock;

It’s the first day of school, teachers don’t worry

            About politicians – they’ve never had your back;

It’s the first day of school, teachers don’t worry

            About public opinion – they haven’t a clue what you do;

It’s the first day of school, teachers don’t worry

            About evaluations – they need you more than you need them;

It’s the first day of school, teachers don’t worry

            About teaching – make compassion your passion;

It’s the first day of school, teachers don’t worry

            About state tests – teach their content with your heart;

It’s the first day of school, teachers don’t worry

            About personal breaks – teachers have big hearts and bladders;

It’s the first day of school, teachers don’t worry

            About not being good enough – your best is all anyone can ask;

It’s the first day of school, teachers don’t worry

            That America’s kids are behind the world – you know that’s B.S.;

It’s the first day of school, teachers don’t worry

            That parents don’t like you – sometimes they don’t like themselves;

It’s the first day of school, teachers don’t worry –

            Smile – Feed a young soul with your light;

It’s the first day of school, teachers don’t worry –

            Pray – Stay humbled by the lives you help shape;

It’s the first day of school, teachers don’t worry –

            Play – Laugh, dance, and celebrate the day;

It’s the first day of school, teachers don’t worry –

            Stand tall – Not many have the courage to do what you do;

It’s the first day of school, teachers don’t worry –

            Seize the moment – Be ready to make a difference;

It’s the first day of school, teachers don’t worry –

            Give – Your best gift is that you care;

It’s the first day of school, teachers don’t worry –

            Love – You teach because you love kids;

It’s the first day of school, teachers don’t worry –

            You have the most important job in the world;

It’s the first day of school, teachers don’t worry –

            Take a deep breath and enjoy the ride!

 

Remember the three most important influences in a child’s life are  . . .

  1. God
  2. Family
  3. Teachers

Everyone else is gravy or sour milk.

 

JL

©Jack Linton,  August 3, 2016

Silver Spoons, Plagiarism, & Arrogance: The Gateway to Improving Public Schools

Despite the controversy swirling around Melania Trump’s plagiarism Monday night and the alleged plagiarism thrown Donald, Jr.’s way Tuesday night, I thought both of them presented themselves well at the Republican National Convention, especially Don, Jr.  He was well prepared, articulate, and came across as a strong future candidate for public office.  In fact, he even stuck his foot in his mouth like a true politician when he spouted off about the dire condition of public schools in The United States.  A guy raised with a silver spoon in his mouth and educated at a $50,000 dollar per year boarding school should be the last person to speak about problems in public schools, especially when that part of his speech, as his principal speech writer later admitted, was borrowed.  Borrowed or plagiarized, every schoolboy, even the ones in public schools – the schools that Junior said are run “like Soviet-era department stores that are run for the benefit of the clerks and not the customers, for the teachers and administrators and not the students,” – know to give credit where credit is due, but maybe schools that cost more per year to attend than most Americans earn per year are not so superior to public schools.  I am sure many are, but I am also confident there are many public schools that can compete with the elite schools of the rich as well.  You cannot assume a school is excellent by its price tag no more than you can assume a school is inferior by its “public” tag.

I agree improvements are needed in many of the nation’s public schools, but as a former private school and public school educator, I am tired of hearing people (mostly Republican politicians) criticize public schools without also acknowledging there are many excellent public schools.  Yes, there are public schools that are horrible, but to lump all public schools into one large cesspool of despair is wrong and blatantly dishonest.  It is also transparently deceitful for Republicans or anyone else to propose plans of improvement more aligned to disembowelment of public schools than improving them.  The present Republican plan of taking money from public schools and giving it to big business, loosely controlled charter schools, and school privatization ventures will not cure the problems in America’s public schools.  If anything, such actions will eventually break the backbone of the American public school system, but that is likely a part of the plan as well.  The current Republican solution to improving public schools is little more than thinly disguised re-segregation of public schools.  The Republican call for neighborhood schools simply means white neighborhoods should have their schools and black neighborhoods should have their schools.  Such a plan along with so called parental choice plans will eventually lead this nation to a greater gap between the haves and have nots – only this time it will impact white children as well as black children.  When that happens, Republicans and the nation as a whole will not have to worry about public schools being “an elevator to the middle class” as Donald, Jr. stated in his speech since there won’t be a middle class!

Most likely, Donald Trump, Jr. has spent very little time, if any, in a public school, good or bad, but yet he speaks as an authority as to what transpires within them.  Has he or his father ever walked in the shoes of a teacher or a school administrator?  No, they are businessmen, and they can no more tell public school teachers and school administrators how to improve their schools than teachers and administrators can tell them how to run their corporations.  Schools are not businesses!  In the business world the Trumps have the luxury and resources to pick the best materials to make their business a success, and even then, they sometimes fail and have to claim bankruptcy.  Teachers and administrators do not have the same luxury and resources.  They are dependent on the meager funding provided at the local and state levels, and their success is largely dependent on the children conceived within the boundaries of the school district.  Private schools like The Hill School, where Don, Jr. attended school, can choose students they want based on academic standing, family affluence and the thickness of mama and daddy’s wallet.  Public schools do not have such choices!  They must serve all children regardless of academic standing and family pedigree as well as serve the children of mamas and daddies without a wallet.  They must take the kids they are dealt regardless of background, physical and/or mental state, and home environment.  Unlike a business, public schools cannot choose to work only with the best raw materials; they must do the best they can with what they get often with little parental or political support.  Teachers and administrators in our public schools are brain surgeons on a thirty minute time clock with less than adequate surgical tools and resources.  For the most part, they are devoted, caring, hardworking people working in a bankrupt social and political system.  So, yes, it bothers me that Donald Trump, Jr. has the audacity to lump all public schools together as failures and talk negatively about public schools that he knows little if anything about other than what a speech writer wrote for him.

Don, Jr. said, “Growing up, my siblings and I were truly fortunate to have choices and options that others don’t have.  We want all Americans to have those same opportunities.”  Let’s be honest, and look beyond convention rhetoric.  Donald, Jr. and his siblings had the choices they had because they have a rich father.  The idea or assumption the Trumps or anyone else in the Republican party will dig deep into their pockets to provide poor or middle class children the same opportunities for an education as the rich is preposterous, especially when you consider that Republicans consistently refuse to fund even an adequate education for poor and middle class children in Republican dominated states such as Mississippi.

Maybe, Donald Trump will be different if elected, but I have yet to hear him say anything about education that the Republican Party does not want to hear.  I sincerely hope he is at least a notch above the kind of education reform Mississippi has in recent years been subjected to at the hands of state Republicans – reform that includes bullying educators, refusal to fund an adequate education for public school children, even though it is the law, funneling public school dollars into unproven charters and privatization, and bankrupting the state fiscal system that students, parents, and educators depend upon to support public school education.

If Donald Trump wins the election and truly wants to improve public schools, he needs to get with public school teachers and administrators personally and listen to them; he needs to get with education researchers and universities and listen to them; he needs to listen to these people because, like him, they also want to improve public schools in America.  When it comes to public school education, he needs to stop listening to the business world and the politicians and do what he has always done – surround himself with knowledgeable people in education that includes people who have actually taught in public schools – good and bad.  He needs to work with education leaders and education innovators who recognize the good things that are happening in education and how to replicate them; he needs to work with education leaders and innovators who understand the problems schools face and how to best address those problems; he needs to work with education leaders and innovators who recognize the educational needs of children; and, he needs to work with education leaders and innovators who recognize and understand the barriers keeping schools from meeting those needs.  What we do not need is another Republican or Democrat who thinks he knows the problem and how to fix it without including educators in the discussion.  What we do not need is more education rhetoric from Mr. Trump, his son, or anyone else including politicians and educators.

When it comes to the education of our nation’s children, educators across this nation have had a belly full of political leaders who talk the talk but fail to walk the walk .  It will take more than a big ego spewing generalities to bring about needed changes in public schools; it will take a big man who has the wisdom, vision, and guts to stand against a political system and public handicapped by tunnel vision when it comes to public school education.  It will take an extraordinary leader to put a stop to the norm of browbeating educators into humbled submission.  It will take a leader with high expectations for success, but an even higher appreciation for the humanity and educational expertise of teachers and school administrators devoted to the children of this country.  Is Donald Trump that man?  I don’t know.  Like thousands of educators, I am waiting to see, if silver spoons, plagiarism, and arrogance are the gateway to improving public school education, or if someone will finally realize it takes people who know what they are doing and talking about, hard work, and common sense to bring about improvement.

JL

Jack Linton, July 21, 2016

Warning Shot Fired at State Educators by Mississippi Legislature

After House Bill (HB) 449 in 2015 and HB 49 in 2016 failed to become law and silence state educators, the Mississippi Legislature may have delivered a coup de gras with the recent passage of HB 1643, Section 44.  Section 44 reads . . .

“None of the funds provided herein may be expended to make payments or transfers to the Mississippi Association of School Superintendents. Furthermore, none of the funds provided herein may be expended if any local school district expends any public funds to make payments or transfers to the Association.”

Over the years, the Mississippi Association of School Superintendents (MASS) has been a major education liaison between educators and the Mississippi Legislature.  After July 1, 2016, Section 44 may put an end to that relationship, but as grave as the loss of an association devoted to promoting and improving education may be, the gravest consequence of Section 44 may well be the silencing of educator voices across Mississippi.  By prohibiting payments from public funds to MASS and threatening to withhold state funds to any local district violating Section 44, the legislature fired a warning shot aimed at all state educators.  They sent a strong message that if any educator dares side or speak against them, as some superintendents did during the controversial and heated Initiative 42 campaign in the fall of 2015, there will be consequences to pay.

Bill author, House Appropriations Committee Chairman Herb Frierson, R–Poplarville, made it clear Section 44 of the bill is retaliation for what he called personal attacks against state officials by state school district superintendents during the Initiative 42 campaign.  He said, “When they attack people like that, they’re biting the hand that feeds them, and maybe the next time they need to think about that.”  However, the record supports the problem goes much deeper than Initiative 42.  Prior to the Initiative, House Education Chairman, John L. Moore introduced HB 449 in the 2015 legislative session that threatened to penalize educators $10,000 dollars for exercising their freedom of speech on school related issues.  He renewed his effort to silence educators in the 2016 legislative session when he introduced HB 49, which was basically a repeat of his failed 2015 bill.  The objective of both bills was to silence the voice of educators across the state who spoke in protest against state legislators who refused to honor the law and fully fund education.

Frierson said, “There’s very little trust between the leadership and school administrators and most of it goes back to the 42 campaign.”  He is right; little trust exists between state leadership and educators in general, and the vindictiveness of HB 1643, Section 44 will do nothing to build trust between the two factions.  The distrust between the two, which began long before Initiative 42, will only grow deeper as a result of such pettiness.  This rift began when state legislators repeatedly went back on their word to fully fund MAEP (Mississippi Adequate Education Program), and refused to work and listen to state educators on education issues.  This divide escalated with Initiative 42 when legislators placed an alternative measure on the ballot, which confused the issue and made it difficult at best for the Initiative to pass.  Trust between the two deteriorated further when legislators misled state voters with threats of budget cuts to other agencies if the Initiative passed – cuts that nevertheless became a reality after the Initiative was defeated.

HB 1643, Section 44 was a stroke of political genius.  By taking a less direct route than Moore and embedding the retaliatory action against school superintendents in the appropriations bill, Frierson kept his intentions under the radar as a part of the greater bill.  However, the impact on educators will be everything Moore hoped for, if not more.  Section 44 is most likely a death blow to MASS, and due to fear of reprisals against them, it may likely usher the end of educators speaking out for fairness, integrity, and common sense on education issues.  As Frierson would say, “If it does, it does.”  After all, why should free speech stand in the way of the greater power of the state legislature?

It is ironic some of the exact things the Mississippi leadership detests most about the federal government are forced on Mississippi citizens by the state leadership.  They detest the federal government usurping the power of local government, yet Section 44 tells local school districts how to spend local dollars.  They openly despise Common Core Standards because they argue the federal government bullied schools into using the standards or risk losing federal funds.  Doesn’t Section 44 do the same when it threatens to withhold state funds from local school districts that fail to take part in the legislature’s vendetta against the superintendent’s association?  It appears the Mississippi Legislature may be as power hungry if not more so than the federal government they rail so vehemently against.

Isn’t it also ironic America’s most basic right, free speech, is the right many Mississippi legislators want to strip from state educators?  In the United States of America (Mississippi is a part of the United States), instead of reprisals against free speech, shouldn’t there be reprisals against those who advocate such?  However, retaliation against either side will not resolve this issue.  As Frierson said the issues boil down to trust, and at this time neither the legislature nor state educators trust the other to do their jobs effectively.

After the defeat of Initiative 42, Lieutenant Governor Tate Reeves spoke about pulling both sides together as a family.  That has not happened.  All anyone needs to do is examine such bills as HB 49 and Section 44 of HB 1643 to see educators are not regarded as family by the state legislature.  If they were family, legislators would be more inclined to listen to them, and not try to silence them.  However, maybe Mr. Reeves’ words were for show only, and what Frierson, Moore and many others in the legislature really want is for educators to prostrate themselves before them.  If so, who is next – small business owners?  Ministers?   Simply put, Section 44 is nothing less than heavy handed tyranny that should scare all Mississippians into waking up!

JL

©Jack Linton, June 4, 2016