Tag Archives: schools

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

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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

Common Sense Standards: Why Not Give Our Children a Chance?

Diane Ravitch is an education historian who has been torn between supporting Common Core Standards and not supporting the Standards. As of today, she does not support the Standards, but she has left the door open to change her mind by saying, “While I cannot support the Common Core Standards, I will remain open to new evidence. If the standards help kids, I will say so. If they hurt them, I will say so.” I respect that she is “open to new evidence” supporting the Standards, but what evidence does she have that supports the Standards will not help kids? She has criticized the Standards as untested and unproven, but wouldn’t that be the case for anything new that has yet to be given a fair chance to be tested or proven? Aren’t her concerns and the concerns of other Common Core critics untested and unproven as well? Does she really not support the Standards, or are her words examples of the age old education problem of “riding the fence” or “let’s wait and see?”

When it comes to support of the Common Core Standards, I am not a “fence rider.” Although I do have reservations about assessment of the Standards, I stand behind the commitment our schools have made to use them to improve the education of the boys and girls in Mississippi. I applaud the state’s educators for their bold commitment to enable Mississippi children to build the knowledge and skills they need to be competitively successful in today’s and tomorrow’s world. Such a commitment in the face of impending privatization of public schools, education misinformation or propaganda, ignorance, good old boy political posturing and attacks by those poor souls in favor of leaving things as they have always been in Mississippi is the stuff that makes for runaway bestselling novels in the New York Times and blockbuster movies in Hollywood. Thank the good Lord we have educators courageous enough to stand against the status quo and say this is what is best for Mississippi’s children!

As an educator for almost four decades, I believe the Common Core Standards are the best chance of improving education for children, especially in Mississippi. Of course, I realize my experience in education falls short of the evidence the naysayers seek that the Standards will make a positive difference in a child’s education, but I believe Ravitch might agree with me that past education experiences carry as much validity at this time as the limited non-conclusive evidence supporting or not supporting the Standards. Lack of clear evidence either way is at the core of her struggle to support or not support the Standards. Unfortunately, there are those who argue the lack of support from such a well-respected scholar is justification enough not to move forward with the Standards. They might be right if the variations of state standards we have spoon fed our children over the years had any real substance, but that has not been the case. They might be right if Mississippi could afford to start over from scratch and create its own new standards. We have tried that several times – FLE, MCT, MCT2, SATP and SATP2 – and each time after the politicians, concerned parents, business community, and scared for their jobs state educators gave their input as to what should and should not be included in the state standards and how it needed to be assessed and scored, we were left with a watered down state standardized mess that held little merit or benefit for students. I cannot speak for a nation, but I can speak from experience in Mississippi that standards should be strengthened, assessments should be administered that are timely and relevant, and classroom instructional practices should be aligned and tweaked to provide a more relevant and meaningful education for the state’s children. The Common Core Standards, which are not perfect but better than what we have offered students over the past several years, are the common sense approach to making those things happen.

Our children are not inferior to other children across the nation, but yet year after year, we are ranked on or near the bottom when it comes to education performance. There are three primary reasons for that: (1) Poverty – 35% of our children live at or below the poverty level; (2) Lack of commitment to education as a priority by many in our state legislature as well as in our homes; and (3) Inconsistent instructional practices in the classroom. In Mississippi, the quality of a child’s education often has as much to do with geography as it does with the child’s ability to learn. Until we raise the level of education commitment and quality for all children including those in impoverished areas of the Mississippi Delta and our inner city schools, Mississippi will continue to lie fallow at the bottom of the pile in the areas of education, economic development, and the general welfare of the people.

I do not have an answer for poverty, but a commitment to educate all children with the knowledge and skills they need to pull themselves and their families from the gutter of impoverished helplessness is the first step. I do not have an answer for the lack of commitment to education as a priority in Mississippi. The lack of education commitment is deep rooted in our culture and political system; nevertheless, we must do whatever it takes to eradicate such a culture from our existence. However, there is an answer for the plague of instructional inconsistencies that have ravaged Mississippi classrooms for too long. The answer lies in the consistent and sound instructional practices promoted through the Common Core Standards that if given a chance can and will make a serious even dramatic difference in the lives of Mississippi children.

My strongest reason for supporting the Common Core Standards is that I support and believe in the teachers of Mississippi, and they are telling me that Common Core Standards are the right thing to do for our children. As one teacher wrote, “Look at how America ranks in education. Look at where Mississippi ranks. Now, someone explain the case for not trying anything new to me.” Another teacher wrote, “We should be ashamed! If opponents would read the standards they would recognize that the goals are actually similar to goals stressed decades ago when people could read, write and complete math equations without the help of spell check and calculators. I say bring it on. As a teacher, I say ‘I am ready!’” I believe Mississippi is also ready! It is ludicrous not to try something new when what we have done for so many years in the classroom has not consistently worked. Consequently, it stands to reason and common sense that the Common Core Standards should be given a fair chance to succeed. Again, I cannot speak for the rest of the nation, but Mississippi has nothing to lose by implementing the Common Core Standards and everything to gain. Obamaphobia will be vanquished in a couple of years and in a few short years the good old boy politicians who want to railroad the Standards out of Mississippi in favor of the status quo will hopefully be relegated to sipping ice tea and swatting flies on their back porches. But, if we are not careful the impact of their insecurities and lack of foresight will plague our children for generations to come. Diane Ravitch may be wise in her cautionary counsel regarding implementation of the Standards across the nation, but for Mississippi the implementation of the Standards represent a major step up the ladder for our children. The question is will we be brave enough and committed enough to climb that ladder, or will we remain grounded as a stepping stone for the rest of the nation. Will we have the common sense to give the Common Core Standards and our teachers a chance to succeed on behalf of our children? Will we embrace the Common Sense Standards and give the people of Mississippi a chance to move out of the past into a brighter future?

JL

©Jack Linton, January 5, 2015