Tag Archives: public school educators

House Bill 957:  Same Song Different Verse

Does it ever end?  From Mississippi Senator Angela Hill’s bill to do away with the Mississippi Department of Education to Speaker of the House Phillip Gunn’s bill to bounce the MAEP education funding formula for a new less expensive formula, the assault on Mississippi Public Schools goes on, and on, and on.  Since 2013, to inform people of efforts in Jackson to weaken and dismantle public schools, I have written enough for a book on the plight of public education in Mississippi.  For those who have listened, I along with many others have written and warned about what is happening, and true to those warnings, the nightmares are becoming reality.  With little to no input from state educators, legislating and railroading changes to public schools that are not always in the best interests of children and teachers appear to be escalating.  In Mr. Gunn’s case, he has done everything from writing a new education funding formula to handpicking the man who could push his bill through the House to the Senate in record time.  Never mind the bill contains issues, and it is less than complete as acknowledged by the House Education Committee Chair.  According to state leadership, those are trivial things that can be worked out later.  Right, and we can believe teacher pay in Mississippi will be raised to the national average in the near future!  As for Mrs. Hill, buying into the reasoning behind her chaotic idea to do away with the Mississippi Department of Education makes about as much sense as conceding all government control to local independent fiefdoms, but maybe chaos is her end game – at least for public schools.

There is a little more rationality in Mr. Gunn’s proposal.  He argues the MAEP formula was written almost twenty years ago and has failed to keep up with classroom needs.  He is partially right.  MAEP became law in 1997, but what the public does not hear him say is the formula has failed to keep up with classroom needs because it has been fully funded only twice in those twenty years.  It is Phillip Gunn and his fellow legislators who have failed to meet the needs of the classroom – not the current funding formula!

Why should anyone with a lick of common sense believe a new formula will fare better?  Two maybe three years down the road, 2020 maybe 2021, we are likely to hear once again legislators cannot be held accountable to an education funding bill passed by a previous legislature – only then, they will be talking about the 2018 Legislature.  State legislators have successfully gone down that road before, so why should they stray from a proven path.  They won’t, especially when they have duped the public into believing public school educators are the bad guys and private and school choice hungry legislators are the saviors.

I do not suggest all legislators are at war against public schools; there are a few who stand by state educators.  Those few are the reason Richard Bennett, Republican Representative from Long Beach, was handpicked by Gunn as the new House Education Committee Chair.  As a colleague and friend, Gunn knew Bennett was not likely to be swayed to any degree by those few dissenting voices.  From day one, not only did Bennet blindly champion Gunn’s funding bill, he did all within his power to railroad the bill into law.  By his own admission, he has never read the MAEP formula, so he really doesn’t know if the new bill is better or not.  His job was to run Gunn’s bill through the motions and get it to the Senate quickly with as few questions as possible.

Thank goodness there were a few legislators in the House who asked, “Why the rush?” For Gunn and Bennet that was simple, push hard and fast, and don’t allow time for study and knowledgeable pushback that might delay the bill’s passage.  As Democratic Representative Jay Hughes of Oxford noted, the 354-page bill was filed Thursday, January 11; dropped to the House floor Tuesday, January 16; and passed on to the Senate Thursday, January 18.  In comparison to time frames legislators usually work under, that is a remarkable achievement.  Such swiftness and urgency are almost unheard of, especially with a funding bill that should be studied, discussed, and tweaked often prior to any vote.  Instead, Bennet asked the House to fast track the overhaul of the public school funding formula.  He told lawmakers they would have two years to work out any discrepancies or problems in the bill, so they shouldn’t worry about any issues – just pass it.  Does that mean once passed they can manipulate the law anyway they choose?  Of course, it does; they’ve been doing that for years.

This smells strangely of deeds that should be scraped from shoes before entering the house.  Why soil the carpet when it is simpler to clean the mess at the door?  For whatever reason, Mr. Bennett and Mr. Gunn have chosen not to do so, but Mr. Bennet has given his word they will clean up their act over the next two years.  He seems to think his word is good enough, but he has been in Jackson long enough to know better.  Teachers were given the word of state legislators in 1997, but legislators honored their word only twice over the next two decades.  Why should anyone who believes in and supports public education in this state believe Mr. Bennet now?  He is most likely an honorable man, but educators in this state have been bitten too many times in past years by legislators professing to be honorable men.  If you need a reminder of leadership ethics in Mississippi, think back to Initiative 42, and the boatload of mistruths used to confuse and divide the public’s support of public schools.

“We’re going to work through it,” Bennett said.  “This is not something cut in stone.”  Maybe so, but I for one will have to see it to believe it.  True, HB 957 may be an attempt by the legislature, as some have suggested, to apologize for years of inadequate funding and compromise with a formula that provides a watered down though more realistic funding formula in the eyes of legislators.  If that is so, House Bill 957 may be a bullet all educators have to bite and learn to live with at some point.  However, it does not make it easy when the process is surrounded by haste, isolation, and secrecy.  Trust means inclusion and respect, which is something public school educators have rarely received from state legislators.  It’s not easy to trust when educators have watched helplessly as other legislative promises that were cut in stone crumbled under them.

JL

©Jack Linton, January 20, 2018

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Today’s Teachers vs The Way It was Back Then

Public education in Mississippi, in the United States, is a dead horse many politicians and a large faction of the public refuse to stop beating.  By underfunding public schools, shifting support to charter and private schools, and openly bashing teachers for everything from poor test scores to the spiritual collapse of the nation, public school haters have effectively beaten public education and its supporters into submission, yet, they refuse to unsaddle the dead horse and move on.  There are others they could pick on, such as themselves, for the less than satisfactory conditions in education and society.  Lack of political and public support for underfunded, underappreciated, and undervalued public schools is well documented, but villainizing public educators is far easier than sharing responsibility.

Sitting astride their decomposing steed, they reminisce about their glory days in school.  They recall the “good old days” when public schools were home to superhero teachers, angelic students, apple pie baking moms in lacy aprons, uncompromising no-nonsense dads, and principals welding a board of education nicknamed “Old Hickory.”  These buckaroos worship at the alter of “The Way it was Back Then” –  a time when there were no bad teachers, kids were only mischievously delinquent, and Coca-Cola miraculously taught the world to sing in perfect harmony amid fields of butterflies flitting under skies painted with candy striped rainbows.  If you listen to the saddle busters, the world and everything about it was cool and perfect in the “The Way it was Back Then” until public schools kicked prayer out the school house door and messed up everything.

I lived and taught school in “The Way it was Back Then,” but the world singing in perfect harmony and mischievous innocents somehow escaped me.  Yes, over time, prayer became less conspicuous in public schools, but only after it disappeared from most homes.  Granted, there were many good teachers back then, but no more than there are today.  Forty years ago, you were considered a good teacher if you kept a low profile and did not bother anyone, and no one was bothered by you.  If you left parents alone, and never troubled them about their child’s behavior or grades, you were a good teacher.  You were a good teacher if you did not send discipline referrals to the principal’s office, and if you were popular with all your students, you were considered the best of the best teachers.  Little has changed over forty years, teachers still get brownie points for all the above, but today, in the era of accountability, it is much harder for a teacher to be considered good just by laying low out of the principal’s hair.

In a profession where every Joe on the street believes he can do it better, and political and education gurus who haven’t been in a classroom in years, if ever, dictate how to educate kids, today’s teachers must be better than good; they are expected to be perfect.  They must have the thick hide of a rhinoceros to withstand twisted evidence they are the problem rather than the solution; they must hold their tongue when factors beyond their control such as poverty, inadequate funding, and apathy in the home toward education are left out of the student failure equation; and they must cower before an accountability system that has become more about judging and dismissing teachers than assessing the strengths and weaknesses of student knowledge.  The result is public school educators feel so negatively stigmatized and traumatized they are fleeing the teaching ranks in droves.  Forget about recruiting new blood!  Why would a bright, energetic, young person with compassion for children want to be a part of a profession in which teachers are expected to be mechanical in their approach to learning, unquestioning before the data gods, submissive to political whims, and tied to research that often is only given the light of day if it is convenient and relevant to the ideology of the status quo.  In an era, where selective evidence is used to undermine teacher quality, turn teachers into scapegoats, prescribe quick fixes, and look at school reform as a process rather than a cultural change, it is a true miracle the American public-school teacher has yet to be added to the nation’s extinction list.

I say these things not to be negative, but to illustrate teaching is not for the faint of heart.  Even the best teachers I worked with during the “The Way it was Back Then” would not have stayed in the profession more than a year or two if they had been subjected to the distrust and lack of respect today’s teachers face.  Also, today, teachers never have a moment of peace from change.  They are subjected to change with every new fad, book, article, or political agenda.  Of course, change is not all bad, but when it occurs solely for the sake of change itself, to sell books, or is politically motivated, it can be frustrating and even demeaning.  Who can blame teachers for rolling their eyes and thinking “this too shall pass” when presented the latest, greatest ideas or programs?

Today, other than change, the only constants in the life of teachers are cutting corners to make financial ends meet for their families, providing parenting in the classroom for kids who don’t get it at home, bringing their “A Game” to class every day regardless of the cards they have been dealt professionally and personally, and being unappreciated and ridiculed for their efforts.  Teachers are not perfect.  However, they do not deserve to be unfairly judged and persecuted, especially for those things over which they have little or no control.  Contrary, to popular misconceptions, teachers are human, and occasionally, they deserve a break as well as a little TLC!

The good news is teachers, with few exceptions, are making a difference in the lives of their students.  They sacrifice, jump through hoops, dance sideways, do cartwheels, do whatever it takes to help students learn and become responsible citizens, and they do so despite a never lifting veil of distrust.  The cynicism against public schools is sad since so much of it is the result of perceptions caused by clueless negative hearsay.  Most school naysayers do not have an inkling as to what goes on in public schools; how could they?  With few exceptions, they have not set foot in a public school or any other school since they were high school students themselves.  Before anyone gives a blanket condemnation of public schools, it would be nice if they first visited one to see for themselves rather than blindly accept scuttlebutt and data that fails miserably to tell the whole story.  Yes, there is work to be done in public schools, the same as there is in private and charter schools as well as any other institution that depends on the human element for success; however, I am confident if the naysayers would put political and personal agendas aside for a closer look, they would be less likely to condemn public schools as a whole.

I taught school during “The Way it was Back Then,” and I will tell anyone who will listen, teachers have come a long way, baby, and the best is yet to come!  The challenges will not dwindle and go away; if anything, they will continue to grow, but the overall quality and resiliency of today’s teachers give hope the challenges will be recognized, addressed, and eventually rectified.  When it comes to quality teaching for all children, forty years ago was not the “good ole days” as so many seem to believe.  We are living the good days; thanks to better prepared, knowledgeable, caring teachers.

There are more challenges to educating children than ever before, but the number of teachers with the knowledge and skills to address those challenges are as great, probably greater, than any time in our history.  Therefore, my advice to everyone – teachers, parents, administrators, politicians, and the public –  is don’t look back; keep your eyes on the future.  Overall, we have good teachers in the driver’s seat, and if we hold on to them, support them, and don’t rock the boat every time there’s an uncomfortable swell, they will get our children and grandchildren safely to their tomorrow.  However, we must be willing to give them a chance, and not desert them to wolves with agendas other than doing what is right for children.  Although the current mindset toward public school education, it should be clear by now, you cannot beat a good horse to death, and expect to ride it to victory in the race.

JL

©Jack Linton, December 1, 2017

Public School Educators should follow Trump’s Example

The title of this article is probably one of the stranger things I have said, but it is true.  If public education is to survive, it is imperative public school educators take lessons from Donald Trump.  They must study the way he orchestrated his speeches into repetitive “trumpet” calls to action that ultimately sent him to the White House.  They must pay close attention to how a man who is intentionally simple and self-promoting could get inside the heads of a nation and become the most powerful man in the world.  Public school educators must learn to play Donald Trump’s “trumpet game!”  Their survival most likely depends on it.

If public school educators learned to use Trump’s “trumpet” formula, there is no reason why it shouldn’t work for them as well.  What Trump did was not magic or sleight of hand.  It was not even complicated, but it was brilliant.  His speeches were nothing more than self-marketing at its most flamboyant and magnificent.  Of course, most educators are not as ostentatious as Trump, but they could still learn from him by studying his rise to power.  When it comes to marketing, educators have a lot to learn, and there is not a better teacher than the current President of the United States.

If people hear something often enough, they begin to believe it – good or bad.  If people hear whimpering, whining, and apologies often enough they begin to believe something is wrong.  Therefore, it’s time educators stopped whining and being apologetic!  Educators need to learn from the President to be more aggressive and self-promoting.  They need to start telling the public what they want them to know, and they must keep preaching that message until the public believes it.  The days of the sweet little timid unassuming school teacher are over.  If public schools are to survive, confident self-promoters, not afraid to toot their own horn, are needed, and Trump’s formula is the vehicle to enable teachers to market themselves successfully.  For instance, look at the following example of how a teacher might sound using the Trump “Trumpet” Formula:

How Teachers Might Express themselves using the “Trumpet” Formula

Hello America.  I am a public school teacher – a great teacher.  My friends tell me I am a great great teacher.  People I don’t even know call me and tell me how very very great I am.  Believe me I am a great teacher.   But, my profession is under attack by a misinformed public and politicians.  Politicians are total scum bags.  They have fought against me and other great public school teachers for many many years, but they can’t beat us.  Can’t do it.  Total losers.

Teaching is the best profession in the world – not the oldest, but the best.  Public schools have all the best teachers – the best tile on the floors – the best ringers in the bells.  Other schools fail in comparison.  Look at charter schools – total disaster.  They are not even real schools.  They’re fake.  They’re fake schools.  Public schools are real.  Tremendous schools!  Public schools have cafeterias.  They serve the best government commodity food in the world.  It’s true.  The cafeterias are the best, they are.  You can eat “pig-in-a-blanket” with syrup for breakfast.  The ladies in the cafeterias serve the best cheesy cheese over rice in the world for lunch.  You can even grab and squeeze their biscuits, it’s fantastic.

Public schools are the safest schools.  They have the best walls around them – chain link walls, walls of iron and steel.  Great walls that can be seen from Mars – so far away they look like tiny Ninja fortresses.   And, think, the parents of ELL students – non-English speakers – paid for it.   It’s true.  Public schools have the best arts and sports programs in America – in the world.  They’re great – tremendous!  Unlike some schools, public schools even make time for academics.  People tell us, very very important people, tremendous people, that America has the greatest underfunded education system in the world.  It’s unbelievable.  It really is.

Support public schools.  Tell your sons and daughters to support public schools.  America has a great great dependency on public schools.  It’s huge.  Tremendous!  Friday night football in the fall, Prom – backseat romps in the spring, and baby’s first holiday onesie at Christmas.  Traditions we will lose unless America stands tall for public schools.  If Americans allow politicians to screw public schools, traditions will die and societal problems will grow.  Believe me, they will become huge!  They will be enormous!  It’s true. Please don’t.

Last but not least, public school teachers totally understand it’s gonna be politicians first – Republicans first, Democrats second.  But, can we just say, “Public School Education,” third?  Is that okay?  It would be tremendous.  Huge!  Friday night football would remain king!  People, great great people, special people, people I don’t even know, will call it huge.  Tremendous!  Together we will make public schools great again big time.  Thank you.  You’re great – the best.  It’s true.

[End Teacher Example]

Hey, this worked for Donald Trump!  Verbally repeat or publish something often enough in social media and people will eventually start to believe it.  How else could a billionaire with no political experience and little in common with the masses get enough votes to become President of the United States?  His looks are not that appealing, and he doesn’t come across as overly smart, so what made him interesting enough to win the confidence and trust of the people?  The answer is simple.  Although his message was rarely clear and to the point, he kept to the point.  His message, “We will make America great again,” never wavered.

Though simplistic, he was never uncertain about where he stood.  He never backed down.  He got inside America’s head and he stayed there with a simple combination of telling people what he wanted them to hear and what they wanted to hear over and over and over again.  Throughout the election campaign, he was the dominating aggressor to the point of being rightfully labeled a bully, but he never strayed from his message nor was he ever boring.  Americans love to be entertained, and he delivered big time!

Educators can learn a lot from Donald Trump.  To change attitudes toward public education, educators need to take his lessons to heart.  Like Trump, to win, educators must get inside people’s heads.   They must develop a message of simple, but aggressive repetition.  For example, if teachers had maintained a unified repetitive stand that Common Core Standards were GREAT, TREMENDOUS, and WOULD MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN, instead of becoming boring unsure defenders of the standards, the negative hoopla, most likely, would have, in a very short time, faded away without the need to drop the standards, change the name of the standards, or any other such nonsense.  Educators must learn to say what they want people to know and remember, and like Donald Trump, they must say it often.

However, probably the greatest lesson educators can take from Trump is simplicity.  According to a report by Evan Puschak, founder of NerdWriter, Donald Trump favors simple sentences when he speaks.  He rarely uses complex or compound sentences.  Puschak stated 78% of Trump’s words are one syllable with only about 5% of his words having three to four syllables.  In a separate report by Matt Viser of the Boston Globe, Viser used a Flesch-Kincaid analysis of answers Presidential candidates gave to debate questions to determine Trump’s responses were consistently on a fourth grade level – simple and easy for anyone in the audience to comprehend.  In the world of communication, simplicity is power.

Unfortunately, unlike Donald Trump, educators like to put their “smarts” on show when they speak, especially in front of the public.  As a result, they often speak over the heads of their listeners or down to their listeners.  They hit them with professional jargon and acronyms until they put them to sleep or turn them off completely to what is said.  Therefore, when it comes to communicating with parents and the public in general, educators would do well to forget their diplomas and the fancy cute acronyms, and speak the language of the people.  When it comes to communication, the old adage, “keep it simple stupid” (KISS) is by far the best strategy.  If you don’t believe it, ask Donald Trump; his “trumpet” call took him all the way to the White House.

JL

©Jack Linton, February 4, 2017