Cost of the status quo is way more expensive

Cost of the status quo is way more expensive

Just read this great article by a parent who works in a public charter school. Charter schools are not immune to the problems of traditional public schools – But you also can’t

©Depositphotos.com/Margaret Paynich

©Depositphotos.com/Margaret Paynich

read this article and proclaim traditional charters are superior. Please focus on the content of the article, about parents making choices for their own kids.

These are two former blogs about this very topic – what parents decide for their own kids:

When the only option is a failing school & Sounds good in theory, but not in practice

This article is written by a parent working in the same school her own child attended.

My 8-year-old daughter’s class was chaotic after her first-year teacher got married in Chicago and then relocated to Texas after Christmas break. It was hard enough to bring on a new teacher in the middle of the year, but the situation was only exacerbated when the replacement teacher was also brand new to the profession. (In fairness, my daughter’s class of 28 students was difficult to manage even for more experienced teachers. Teachers had to tap into their inner guru each and every day.)

My administration was trying to work with the replacement teacher, but it was painful for me to watch professional development attempts being made for a novice teacher who was in full crisis mode. Assurances from my school leaders that, with more instructional coaching, the class would gradually get better in time, fell flat with me. It was now February—how much more time could my child afford?

The complacency that the administration goes through in keeping this teacher, or hiring her in the first place. I talked a little bit about how teacher education needs to be improved in this blog but I am tired of administrations doing what they can to help (even if it’s ineffective) and settling for that being the best they can do. We need all of our kids to have an excellent education and large part of that is a great teacher.

My kid wasn’t ambivalent; she knew what she wanted. In fact, she begged me to transfer her out of the school that she had once loved. Even at 8, she was willing to say goodbye to all her friends to gain a sense of emotional safety and sanity.

I love my school and count many of my colleagues as my friends. The teachers (including my daughter’s former teachers) work extremely hard, and it’s obvious that they care about the students. And since it’s a charter school, parents like me feel fortunate that our kids’ names were pulled from the lottery and granted admission. I’ve often lamented that all kids and parents don’t have access to good schools like this one, district or charter.

But now I found myself contemplating the unthinkable—transferring my little girl out.

Parents are dealing with these struggles every day. Charter or traditional public school we need to make sure that every child has an effective teacher. I keep saying that our kids aren’t going to get those days of lost education back. We need to care right now about getting the best kids in the classroom.

The mom continues…

Last week, a colleague passed on a powerful article about the author Doug Lemov, who wrote “Teach Like a Champion,” to my principal, who then passed it on to me. These bits from the article gave me peace about the decision I made:

The evidence suggests that a child at a bad school taught by a good teacher is better off than one with a bad teacher at a good school. The benefits of having been in the class of a good teacher cascade down the years; the same is true of the penalty for having had a bad teacher.

In 1992, an economist called Eric Hanushek reached a remarkable conclusion by analyzing decades of data on teacher effectiveness: a student in the class of a very ineffective teacher—one ranked in the bottom 5 percent—will learn, on average, half a year’s worth of material in one school year, whereas if she was in the class of a very effective teacher—in the top 5 percent—she would learn a year and a half’s worth of material. In other words, the difference between a good and a bad teacher is worth a whole year.

Here you go. Evidence that our kids are literally loosing out by not having a great teacher. Parents are left with very few options if they feel their child is not getting an adequate education. And sometimes they choose another school, yet they shouldn’t have to. While education theorists and unions and the media are criticizing themselves daily, our nation’s kids are sitting in classrooms with ineffective teachers. We need to spend more time “on the ground” with kids and teachers and less time in the ivory towers of “theory” and “rhetoric.”

The mom ends:

It means that if any one of my students’ parents were to have insight into the day-to-day happenings in the school or classroom the way I am privy to it as a staff member, would they trust that their child was getting the absolute best education possible?

In other words, it means that educators need to approach our practice with the same diligence we would have if our own biological child sat in every single class.

My household operates on a tight budget, so the $700 a month private school tuition bill I now have to pay really hurts. But now that my little girl is excited about learning again and is able to focus in class, I realize that the cost of the status quo was way more expensive.

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Education system must change to put the best teachers where they are needed most.

Education system must change to put the best teachers where they are needed most.

Huffington Post reported on a Superintendent’s Summit this past May. The writer proposes 3 ideas that would change our schools. The first is one I am very much a fan of – changing teacher education programs.

Ok, that is not exactly what he says, he says there is a paradigm where the gifted students have all the resources and great teachers and the new teachers usually start with the most challenging students and fewest resources and support.

New teachers should first start with gifted students and the best-behaved classes in order to prepare for more challenging classrooms. Teaching the gifted students should not be a reward that educators are able to cash-in after many years of service, but rather the education system must change to put the best teachers where they are needed most.

How does he propose that would occur? In union run states it’s near impossible to fire a teacher, let alone reassign veteran teachers to underperforming students and slide the new teachers in. Even in states like GA where there are no unions, the teacher step system and nepotism rule over the system to the point where the writer’s suggestion is virtually impossible to implement.

Secondly, I am not sure that working with gifted, well behaved students would prepare a teacher to work with challenging students. There are certain mindsets, behavior management strategies, educational learning practices, patience and caring for EVERY student that a teacher must possess to succeed in challenging classrooms. Those are not skills learned in teacher education and not gained working with well behaved students. The right teacher education program and the right learning experiences through student teaching must be obtained at a minimum.

I would also argue that sending veteran teachers to work with challenging classrooms proves part of my point. They may not have gained those skills necessary to manage the behavior of a challenging classroom and if they believe they have, they may operate like a prison or the military instead of instilling hope and opportunity to our students. This is also because the description of challenging classrooms has evolved over time to a much different environment than any of our veterans teachers ever grew up with. School is much different than when I attended and I am only 30 years old.

Also, who says those veteran teachers will even agree to teach those students? They may retire or quit if they are forced out of their cozy advanced students classes. I really don’t see logistically or practically how this would work.

Right now, teacher education programs are short maybe 30 credits, about one year. Student teaching programs run from a couple of weeks, to a 6 month stint, sometimes one year (first time I saw this was Clark University in Worcester, MA). While they have classes on pedagogy, they rarely cover psychological, social-emotional skills or education learning disorders. My ability as a school counselor to assist students and teachers with student learning is derived from my ability to understand psychology first and implementation of curriculum second. Then a teacher can come from a place of understanding “why” a child isn’t learning and not just managing their behavior to gain compliance on school work.

I recently wrote about how we need to have the right teachers in the right place at the right time. I am hopeful that this was the essence of his statement. Also maybe we could have the student teaching performed at challenging schools, so where ever a new teachers teaches he/she may have some of the experience they need. But, with so many ineffective teachers in challenging schools, I am not sure I want our student teachers learning from those teachers either.

 

We all have a stake in education and deserve a voice

We all have a stake in education and deserve a voice

My first thought when I read this article by Education Post was to come out guns a-blazzing for the public to have input in education issues. When I read one of the first supporting links, I’ve come to a slightly different feeling.

In this The Educator’s Room post, the teacher is simply stating that teachers want to see more of themselves in leadership positions. I would argue that the opportunities aren’t readily accessible or teachers don’t try hard enough to get those opportunities. I had an idea of starting an institute that would coach and train teachers to run for office. I think effective teachers carry many of the qualities of a great public official, but so few end up going in that direction. And honestly, unions have not been helping to make these opportunities possible or maybe there would be fewer complaints about how there is never a teacher to provide input.

It could be that teachers are just tired, and don’t have the energy to pursue something different. Their teacher salaries don’t allow for a huge savings that you could campaign without working and still pay your bills. Teachers are more generically also women who traditionally carry multiple roles in their household in addition to teacher, wife, mother, care giver…etc. I want to make those opportunities more available to teachers.

However, to follow the author of the Education Post piece, yes I think that non-teachers are often criticized and left out of important discussions about education.

The first is that we, tax payers are paying for the schools, and we should have say in whether we are satisfied with the results or not.

©Depositphotos.com/Margaret Paynich

©Depositphotos.com/Margaret Paynich

As parents,  we have a right to make sure our child is in the best possible school for him or her. We want and deserve to have choices. We see how school affects our kids and that feedback is valuable. How parents feel about the school and the staff is valuable.

Student have a tremendous amount of feedback that we rarely, if ever listen to. This is their education. They need to have a say in what works for them and what can be done differently. That doesn’t mean you give in to silly things, but talking with students to get that one or two tidbit that you didn’t know that would really make a difference for them.

Other people with related skills should be able to consult on those skills – such as finance, human resources, health, counseling, management – many items that teachers often may not.

I’m not over here telling you what should be in the English curriculum. But I can tell you that the high school graduates we need should be able to do x,y, and z. I know from my own personal experience that I didn’t learn how to write anything but a simple research paper in all of high school. And I never understood why I didn’t get a high grade in 12th grade English. By the time I got to college I realized I lack certain writing skills and worked to build them.

But I can tell you that many students are not engaging with traditional curriculum and I think they would perform better and be more engaged with all electives based classes with intentional ways of developing English skills. Model UN doesn’t have to be an after school program, or just an elective. It could be regular class where you learn history, writing skills, public speaking skills, strategy, team work, and responsibility. And it’s a real entity of the World that brings real world experience right to students. Why can’t you have gardening classes where you can learn science, math and incorporate a reading and writing element. I learned more in my “elective” history classes than I ever did in my required classes.

These are common observances that all people have and they all have a right to express them and others should listen and take that into account. When the public has questions about the school department budget, they have as much responsibility as a tax payer as the person who wrote the budget to ensure it’s spent well.

Personally, I have a Master’s in school counseling. I interned at an at-risk middle school in Worcester to specifically have that experience to learn from. You know a good teacher when you see one and who know those who are just biding their time. The biggest revelation I had was that no matter if I spent 30 minutes counseling a student, he/she was just going to have to return to 7 hours of subpar teaching. my work would probably be erased in the first 30 minutes. These kids need to be rescued from their own school. I felt like they were just required by law to be there and everyone is just going through the motions. These are experiences that are worth while that deserve to be heard.

I try to stay in my “camp” if you will when I make suggestions, but my 60-credit masters in school counseling gave me much greater knowledge of psychology and how students and adults learn than many teachers received training in. I may not be qualified to contribute in a curriculum way, but the implementation and how students learn is something that I know about. Differentiated learning is very important. Looking at a student and working to discover what emotionally, academically or physically is holding him back, before you discipline, assume that the student “doesn’t want to learn”, send to the principal’s office…and the rest of the menu of discipline. If you treat kids like animals, they will most certainly act like animals.

Career and college guidance. That is a whole other story. Schools are doing very little if any college and career guidance. Not in middle school where it needs to be and not with every child in high school. Schools need to admit they are not accomplishing these goals and make sure that utilize community resources to do so. And you HAVE to start in middle school if you have any hope of the student starting 9th grade on the right foot. All the resources being poured into high schools are completing missing the beginning of the pipeline.

 

High school dropout still has tests

High school dropout still has tests

group of african american university students in lecture hall

group of african american university students in lecture hall

I’ve written previously about how the harm anti-reformers are claiming tests bring to students is more of the grit and character they need. I’ve written about how parents seem to make decisions about testing with little or no regard for that what reality means for the student when they go to school on test day and how prepared they will be for future tests.

A U.S. News article really brings it home for us with a very specific story. It’s titled:  Opting out isn’t an option in the real world. 

The writer talks about how she avoided tests too, actually avoided school all together and dropped out. She talks about how life is one big test and that there are endless tests after you leave high school.

I didn’t want to be reduced to a number or a statistic, a score or a grade, a label or a stereotype. I filled in the bubbles on tests in poetic form, ABABC.And then I dropped out. And that’s when tests got real.

But she couldn’t run away from those tests.

Then I was studying alone for the GED, then the SAT, then the community college placement test on breaks at the coffee shop where I worked. Plowing through a year at a commuter school, where too many went and too few stayed, and fighting my way to university. And then working the next 15 years for a civil rights organization fighting to secure equal educational opportunities for all students.

It took all that for me to finally understand that you actually can’t opt out, walk out or otherwise check out of tests as a permanent strategy. Not if you want to get anywhere. Because, regardless of your feelings about them, tests will never stop. On the way to wherever you want to go lie a series of tests – whatever your direction, whatever your goal. There are the college admissions tests. The Armed Services qualifying tests. The get-a-job tests. The get-a-better job tests. The licensure tests. The promotional tests. Moments where you have to prove yourself – your skills, your knowledge, your merit, your determination.

She brings out a true reality that the real world hits you with. In high school and college if you go, there are known structures and expectations. Once you are out, you’re on your own. And you are going to hope you have the skills to make it on your own.

While they now call the tests you take in school “high stakes,” they are the lowest you will ever encounter. And the only ones where, if you don’t do so well, somebody actually has an obligation to help you do better. Because after you leave the comfortable – or even not-so-comfortable – nest of high school, it is all on you. You alone will be held accountable for what you know and what you don’t. What you were taught and what you weren’t.

Because you can’t walk out of the ACT or the SAT. 
Not the GRE, LSAT or the bar exam. 
Not the cosmetology exam, the Test of Adult Basic Education or any professional exam. 

She makes the point the sometimes the best thing to do is make change from within. While the tests aren’t perfect, they are better. And that some teachers may be more preoccupied with their jobs than student success on tests. I’m glad she said it, because it would be hard for me say it!

What I learned in my own journey through education, and later as an advocate, is that sometimes the most radical thing you can do to change the system is not to secede, but to succeed. That sometimes fighting the system means working from inside it, pressing for the things you and your peers need. To raise hands, raise issues and raise stakes by participating, instead of by withdrawing. To call for attention – and for change – so that all students get the skills and knowledge they need to thrive. Not just some.

And one of the best chances we have to do that right now – as tedious or regimented as they may feel right now – is through these new tests, which finally measure what matters instead of just how many bubbles you can fill in.

Don’t play into anyone’s hand. Or fall for the things you’re told about those tests by adults who may actually be more preoccupied with their job security than your education.

Don’t opt out of testing & life – opt in.

This rhetoric is taking us in the wrong direction

This rhetoric is taking us in the wrong direction

A few months ago John Thompson wrote a tweet to me that was really offensive.

hatred of unionsContrary to what some think, especially, John Thompson I do not hate unions.

First, all I said was that I quit a job at a grocery store because I didn’t want to be in the union. And Thompson twists that into a “deeply rooted hatred” of unions. I simply did not want to pay the union fee, didn’t see the benefit. I already have and pay for a safety net, it’s called taxes and the city/state/federal government.

Did he fail to read this post where I talked about how I used to be blindly in support of teachers unions? Until I took a public policy class and realized often times teachers unions get in the way of teacher progress?

How does that read as a “deeply rooted hatred” of unions?

I don’t hate unions – I just don’t think they are helping advance education when they stand in the way of reform our kids desperately need. Or when they:

– Have 600 staffers nationally making 6 figure salaries on the backs of teachers

Secretly influence elections in the millions of dollars on the backs of teachers

– Do whatever their political agenda is without regard for teacher’s real interests

– Michigan Education Association pulling all sorts of antics to keep union members even if it means ruining teachers in the process

Teachers Union puts up smoke screen while they deny workers their rightsMEA attempts to ruin credit of 8,000 teachersYou believe every lie your union tells you, don’t you?Union in Taylor, MI tried to circumvent right-to-work law and lost

Tout the union line, even when they KNOW it’s hurting kids

– Advertise that they are working for great public schools for all students when the reality is that teachers are their client, not students

Withhold union member benefits when teachers disagree with union political strategy and choose not to make the political contribution in their union dues

Force teachers to pay union dues through payroll deductions making it almost impossible to opt out

Charge non-union members pretty much the exact same fee as voluntary union members and call it an agency fee for contract and negotiations work

Thompson – you know what I DO hate?

People who abuse people and animals, people who think not all kids can learn, people who participate in the child sex trade……must I go on?

This type of rhetoric is what is stalling progress – just like how anti-reformers harass pro-reformers at levels that are really unnecessary as noted in this post.

I think unions had a place and a time, but especially with teachers, the time has come to evolve or move on. Many of the protections unions offer are now part of employment law that every other citizen benefits from.

I am in complete support of district union collaboration – when it leads to a better education for all students – such as this post: School take over plan that is working – Lawrence, MA

Sounds good in theory, but not in practice

In response to this post about AL moving towards charters: AEA spews lies in response to “School Choice” March, I received this comment:

“…By the way, the people who decided to send their kids to a private school chose to do that, oftentimes not because the school was “failing”, but because of too many black people. Their choice to abandon public for private is their choice, but they shouldn’t get a voucher for it. Afterall, they are the one’s who turned their back on the local community, rather than fighting for it. As someone in the Dekalb Democratic Party you ought to know that racism is usually a determining factor when kids are sent to private school. The same will happen with charters. The domino affect means fewer good kids in public schools and what’s left will continue to drag society down rather than good people finding a real solution. Really it’s laziness on their part and people like you who just run away from the problems, opening schools that “get away” from the less fortunate, and closing schools they “don’t like anymore”. Seriously, it’s downward spiral once kids start abandoning a school, but you know this. Frankly, it’s astounding your arguments here and that you consider yourself a democrat…”

©Depositphotos.com/Margaret Paynich

©Depositphotos.com/Margaret Paynich

1. I never mentioned race, you did. So I would have to say it is you who is the racist one against black people because your mind went there.

2. Parents send their children to private or charter schools for a variety of reasons – avoiding an underperforming school, religious or educational style preference, or personal experience just to name a few.  I believed that one major concern with “vouchers”  was that money could be sent to a religious school and that is a conflict of church and state. But it makes sense that the money should follow the child wherever the parents decide is best for them. Educational style differences such as The Met in Providence or even the Waldorf school or Sudbury School here in Atlanta are all reasons why parents may choose another school. Traditional Public schools do not generally offer these alternative, hands on, democratically arranged school curriculum so parents would have to send their children elsewhere.

3. Turned their back on the community? What about principals like here in my feeder pattern who would only allow parental involvement on HER terms and pushed soo many parents away that they created their own charter school practically next door. What about school administrators who don’t fire ineffective teachers and principals, or just move them around? How does that serve the community? When we graduate students who are not equipped to lead successful lives and therefore end up in a life many would not consider positively contributing to society – the schools were a big part of that result. And you are concerned that parents turned their backs?

4. I was talking with a teacher friend of mine who if getting her PhD and currently works running a program to assist with suspended and frequently offending students in schools. She admitted that if she lived in an underperforming school district, that she would send her child to another school, but would still work within the community to make that community school better. That’s a beautiful act to take – however, if you are a single parent, or even a two parent household with multiple jobs/kids, it maybe all you can do to manage relationships at your children’s actual school. It could prove difficult to split time between a school your kids do attend and the neighborhood school.

5. Again, who is the racist one, who doesn’t believe in the capacity of students? You state that when we take the “good kids” out of the poor schools the schools just get worse and will drag society down. The only thing that determines how well a school does are the students and teachers in the school. Has nothing to do with the students who are not there. The money follows the child and that is the same everywhere.

6. Everything you say sounds good in theory. The problem is, when a parent is faced with what they should do with their child in the moment – its going to be what is best, not necessarily what is best for the community. Parents have a responsibility first to their child, not the community. Parents choose other schools not to diminish the community but to do their best to offer their child a quality education. Kids don’t have any time to waste. Every minute that they spend in an underperforming school is a school day the child will never get back. There is more on this posted here: Democrats are cavalier about students.

Union in Taylor, MI tried to circumvent right-to-work law and lost

Labor Laws

©Depositphotos.com/Margaret Paynich

In this post I mentioned that teachers in the City of Taylor, MI were suing to release the security clause which was the union’s attempt the force automatic dues payments for 10 years, regardless of what the law states.

The Michigan Employment Relations Commission ruled Friday that teachers in the Taylor Public School District are not bound by their contract to pay union dues for the next 10 years, saying the provision violates the state’s right-to-work law.

Michigan’s law, which took effect in 2013, makes it illegal to require employees to join a union or pay fees comparable to union dues as a condition of employment. A number of teachers unions negotiated new contracts shortly before the law took effect to avoid falling under the measure, which makes financially supporting a union voluntary.

The Employment Relations Commission ruled that the security clause violated the states right-to-work law provision of forcing dues payments. 

“For Taylor teachers, the ruling is clear that the extraordinary 10-year union security agreement should not bind the teachers,” Wilcox said. “They should be free to withdraw their financial support from the union. The commission held that Taylor Federation of Teachers’ and the Taylor School District’s action was intended to delay the application of PA 349 for 10 years beyond its legislatively mandated effective date.”

Wilcox said that other districts with similar contracts “should be very concerned about this decision, as it could easily be applied to them.”

The ruling reinstates the teacher’s ability and freedom to withdraw financial support of the union. The commission agreed that the provision was intended to circumvent the law that was likely to pass at the time.

I hope that other districts with similar contract provisions such as the security clause do follow in their footsteps and protect the worker’s right to withdraw financial support.