My public school was not a quality education

My public school was not a quality education

RI Mayoral AcadmiesI no longer live in the community that I went to K-12 school in but I am still connected to many folks through FB. This morning a Warwick, RI city councilor posted an article I did not agree with, making a comment about how she was against the Mayoral Academies. I thanked her for the post, but told her I disagreed with her position. My experience at my high school was not quality and here are some of the various reasons why:

  • There was no direction. We took classes but it didn’t mean anything. There were some outside the box classes, I was part of a marine program once a week that I left the building for, there was a business/finance class I took, we had some history electives I liked where we actually read novels of people in history. Those made sense, whereas “history class” did not. I made no connection between my classes and my life.
  • There are no guidance. In fact my guidance counselor was the worst. and guess what? She was also the head of the RI Guidance Counselors Association for a period of time. What a union waste of time. Never mind that there was no guidance in terms of what you might want to do with your life, but guidance was basically just college applications. My counselor was obnoxious and rude and did not actually help me. I had a healthy list of 7 or so schools, with at least one reach school, one safety school and several match schools. My reach school was GWU. She told me I’d never get in.
    • First – that’s a terrible thing to tell a student.
    • Second, if you are going say something that abrasive to a student you MUST offer some alternatives. I had two schools in Wash. DC on my list. She “nixed” one of them. She NEVER suggested any other DC schools. Could I have done more research, sure. But at the college fair I went to, I only saw those two schools in DC (GWU and Trinity U.) She should have asked me if I knew of others schools in DC besides GWU that I may want to apply to. Because maybe I could have gotten into UMD, or American, or Marymount or something else
    • Third, She never talked with me about what I was interested in or help me find any other schools that might have fit my needs.
  • I graduated with a B+/A- grades and had no idea what I wanted to do. As I ended up in more a social service field – why couldn’t more of the classes fill those topics?
  • The best teachers were the newest ones, which a few exceptions. One of my worst teachers was a senior teacher and he just talked all day. I don’t even remember doing any work. Years later when I returned to get involved in the community, turns out this teacher is the President of the Warwick Teachers Union. What a croc! You want to know why I don’t like teachers unions, because they have leadership that I know was a terrible teacher! What kind of representation is that?
  • I never really learned how to write. I was baffled in senior year English why I couldn’t get a higher grade. I just didn’t learn to write in the way the teacher had expected. All I could do was write in a research based manner. Look something up, and regurgitate it onto the paper. I never learned any analysis or persuasion. I didn’t figure this out until college, where I quickly figured it out and managed to learn how to write in other styles.
  • I could go on but it actually is making me sad how much high school didn’t help me. If you really want to know more, ask.

65% of teachers support: hiring + firing decisions based on teacher’s performance in the classroom, not seniority

I happened across this article from PennCANThe path to success in 2015: Money AND reform” and wanted to share this piece of research:

Third Way, a prominent Democratic think-tank, recently commissioned Jeff Pollack, a prominent Democratic pollster, to analyze voter sentiment on education reform.

The results will be surprising only to those not involved in the daily grind of education policy.

Sixty-five percent of teachers and 86 percent of all respondents said that they either “strongly support” or “support” the following policy proposal: Ensure “hiring and firing decisions are made based on a teacher’s performance in the classroom, not seniority.”

PennCAN found similar results in a poll we conducted in 2013, as have other education reform organizations that have done polling on this issue.

Seems like the only people who don’t want to hold teachers accountable for classroom performance are teachers unions.

The article also talks about how we need Money AND Reform to make a serious positive impact on our kids’ education. This is a message that was loud and clear when I worked at Stand for Children. Stand started as an advocacy group for all children’s issues. It transitioned over time to focusing exclusively on education issues, mostly funding policy. After years of securing hundreds of thousands of dollars for education, the achievement gap still persisted. Instead of sticking to the status quo, they decided that money AND reforms were going to be needed to move our education system forward.

Unfortunately it’s not just about more money. It’s how we spend it and what programs are being utilized. And we must have an excellent teacher in each class and we can only determine that through effective evaluations.

PennCan’s article continues…

Ask any business leader and they will tell you of their disbelief that there is even a debate around this issue. Ask any political insider about this issue and they’ll say it’s impossible to get it done because of opposition from the teachers unions.

But the tide is turning and it isn’t just because teachers themselves are with us. It’s because of lawsuits like Vergera, where Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Rolf Treu ruled that seniority and tenure laws have a disproportionately negative effect on minority and low-income students by placing and retaining ineffective teachers in their schools. Politics usually eats policy for breakfast, until the policy becomes so bad that it’s indefensible.

Seems like the truth is that Education reformers want money AND reform and unions just want to pour more money into the system…we’re not against reforms unions want, but unions aren’t inclusive of the reforms necessary to move our education system forward. In essence, education reformers want to see more done to improve and unions want to exclude reforms that are helping students.

2015 will be an interesting year for PennCAN–we have a newly elected Democratic Governor who based his campaign on the development and implementation of a new school funding formula and a Republican legislature that isn’t interested in throwing more money into the same old system.

To be successful in this political climate, advocates will have to devise a plan for bridging this gap. Luckily for us, PennCAN agrees with both the Governor-elect and the Legislature. We have always been and always will be the organization that fights for more money AND more reform. In the next few years, we hope to have both.


Showtime’s “The Affair” features NYC Rubber Room

This past Sunday, Showtime’s Season Finale of “The Affair” featured a NYC rubber room!! I could not believe it. I thought that rubber rooms were reserved for documentaries like “The Rubber Room” or “Waiting for Superman.” As someone who is well versed in education policy it was great to see a mostly coveted education practice making its way into the public sphere through the realm of television.

Go here to see the only clip I could find featuring the rubber room

affair rubber room

The video doesn’t offer commentary. In the show, we see Noah, the main character having sex with another person in the school, then going into the  principal’s office, then showing up at the NYC Dept. of Education. There he punches a time card and sits down. He learns from his neighbor, Victor, that  Victor has been waiting 2 years for his resolution to come of the accusation. Noah asks if he can get a newspaper and the “proctor” says “If you leave this  room, you are quitting your job. In order to keep your job, you need to be in this room until 3:15 everyday.”

Noah asks if he can use the restroom and the proctor says “You need to give me your license and I’ll give you a hall pass.”

Later, when he admits to his wife that he’s been accused of sleeping with someone at his school and hasn’t been to work, she says to him, “You’ve been in the rubber room?” Like it is something everyone knows about! Except, apparently this reviewer of the show:

What the hell is a rubber room? Did I hear Helen right when she was talking to Noah about his many bed buddies during their time apart? That’s what she said when referring to him being caught with another teacher in school, right? Is that some sort of weird Montauk slang? I’ve never heard it, though then again, I could just be crazy.

Everyone else got it:

He casts a lascivious eye to a pretty fellow teacher at school and proceeds to have sex with her right there in the classroom. But he’s busted and sent to some sort of grown-up detention for disorderly teachers. He arrives at the Department of Education and learns that he just has to sit around and kill time indefinitely. His seat mate, Victor, who has read Infinite Jest twice is incredibly well read and has been hanging out in this “rubber room” for two years. Noah decides to make use of his time and start back on his book.

Sexual recklessness has had consequences personally and professionally. Helen has kicked him out of the house; schtupping in the classroom after school has resulted in Noah being removed from the classroom. (The idea of a detention room for teachers who are suspended with pay is a solution with ‘government bureaucracy’ written all over it.)

And even the commentors of these reviews know what a rubber room is:

Noah was sent to the infamous NYC Dept. of Education reassignment Center or “Rubber Room”, a not very nice holding pen where teachers who have been accused of wrongdoing wait for their hearings. They do collect full pay as they are technically not guilty of anything during the wait.

As a teacher of 39 years for NYC I am proud that I never had to spend a minute in the “rubber room”. They were supposed to do away with that wonderful establishment of punishing us and giving us secretarial duties in some cases. It was not a happy place especially if you did nothing wrong.

Interesting.. I’m a young teacher and have never heard of such a thing. Is it only for professors with tenure? Or is it something used on the East Coast?

New York City. You might be able to find the New Yorker article on it and there also was a documentary film made about The Rubber Room a few years ago

May be unique to the NYC Dept. Of Ed, but boy is it infamous here in NY.

I worked in the Board of Education for a couple years as a school secretary. There is a “rubber room” and they do nothing there, but get paid for it. Most of the time its cause the teacher did something indecent, immoral or aggressive.

I have a friend who has been in the Rubber Room for 2 years because one of her students jokingly reported to a friend that she never checks for homework 😦 even if true, does not meet any of the above criteria 😦

You can thank your teacher’s union for the rubber room!

Education Fallacies: Correlation does not equal causation

Who really benefits from an attempt to deconstruct the legal argument argued in the Vegara case? Seems like it’s awfully convenient for unions to have Dean Erwin Chemerinsky write commentary about it. I wonder who called him and encouraged him to write it?

In this article, in the New York Daily News last week, Dean Chemerinsky makes many claims that I would ask readers to consider thinking for themselves about before believing at face value.

The causal relationship alleged by the plaintiffs in these lawsuits — that teachers’ rights cause minority students to receive substandard educations — is belied by readily available empirical evidence.

If the plaintiffs were correct, similarly situated students in states with weak protection of teachers — such as Texas, Alabama and Mississippi — would have higher levels of achievement and the racial achievement gap would be smaller in those states. But there is no evidence that minority students in Houston, Birmingham or Jackson outperform those in Los Angeles or New York.

In fact, a study published in the Harvard Educational Review found a significant positive relationship between rates of unionization (and accompanying job security) and student scores on the SAT and ACT.

The main problem with the argument is that the author is creating a straw-man argument. No one is claiming that removing tenure will automatically increase the performance of students. It is simply ONE factor that will have an effect. He admits to the fact that the relationship is “casual.” and yet tries to build a direct correlation to other states. There is a saying in logic, “correlation does not equal causation.”

As such, the student performance in places like MS, AL, and TX is not directly tied to teacher protection, but rather to a myriad of other issues, like curriculum, funding, and even socio-economics in minority populations. His “empirical evidence” is little more than a random correlation. If one bad teacher is protected by tenure and that teacher gives a substandard education to even one minority student, than the plaintiff’s argument is accurate. The core point is that removing tenure is one important step toward improving education. Removing the dead weight of ineffective teachers is a step in the right direction.

By the author’s same correlative reasoning, you could argue that weak protection of teachers is linked to higher childhood obesity rates or higher rates of teenage pregnancy, since all of those things are true in the states he mentions. He points to a Harvard Educational Review study that argues unionization increases SAT and ACT scores.

The main problem here is that unions are tied to the Democratic party, which means that the states with highest union activity are also the bluest states. Interestingly, red states, almost across the board, have higher rates of obesity, poverty, violent crime, teenage pregnancy, poverty, and substance abuse. They also happen to rank lower in education.

If we argue that unionization is a primary factor for increasing SAT/ACT scores, we would also have to argue that unionization is responsible for preventing so many of the other ills of society found in non-union areas. Or, would it be more rational to state that the relationship between unionization and SAT/ACT performance is a correlative one at best?

I’ve refuted the claims about teacher tenure in his article in this post: Education Fallacies: Teacher Tenure

Education Fallacies: Teacher Tenure

Not really sure where Dean Erwin Chemerinsky is getting is credibility and experience in the field of K-12 education and unions. Though….touting a union line….ya never know these days who is pulling the strings behind the curtain.

In this article, in the New York Daily News yesterday, Dean Chemerinsky makes many claims that I would ask readers to consider thinking for themselves about before believing at face value.

No one in the education movement thinks reforming tenure for teachers will alleviate the social problems that plague our children and families and are driving causes of difficulty in school. It is irresponsible for Dean Chermerinsky to make that claim. However, these children need the best possible dedicated teachers and tenure policies make it extremely difficult to fire teachers who have given up. Every minute that an underserved child has an ineffective teacher is wasting that child’s education.

Every year, the states with the highest student performance are those with robust protections for teachers — places like Maryland and Massachusetts. One of the key reasons they are successful is that these states do a better job at getting resources to the neediest students and creating a climate where teachers have the support needed to succeed and therefore stay in the profession.

MD and MA may provide their schools with more resources but it is irresponsible to claim that high student performance is related to “robust protections,” i.e. tenure. I can speak from experience that plenty of unionized, tenured, long time teachers in Worcester, MA are sitting in lunch rooms gossiping about other teachers and talking about their retirement, talking about “sticking it out.” Their conversations were so obnoxious to me that I couldn’t eat lunch with them anymore. These teachers including the union rep are all clustered in one team where they are simply existing and not serving our students to their best.

Looks like Dean Chermerinsky needs a new research assistant….did he miss that MA teachers union made a deal to tie teacher evaluations to tenure, thereby reducing “teacher tenure” to something that can be measured? This strategic move occurred because the unions feared they would lose if the questions went to the ballot in November. Unions KNOW the public wants tenure reform, but stands on the side of teacher interest – not student interest.

I don’t know one teacher who said that tenure was a reason he/she became a teacher or left the teaching field. Recruiting and retaining excellent teachers has to do with these reasons below. It is irresponsible to claim that teachers leave the profession because of tenure reform, or that it is a reason that teachers teach.

Teachers say they leave because of inadequate administrative support and isolated working conditions, among other things. – Huffington Post

NEA says teacher quit because of: NCLB mandates, too little support, student discipline, underfunded & underpaid, lack of influence and respect.

“The reasons I will stay are, No. 1, money; No. 2, my wonderful coworkers; and No. 3, sheer stubbornness.” – NEA

Diane Ravitch’s blog: Yes, teachers may love children but that is not really why they become teachers. I became a teacher when I went to college because I loved my subject matter and I loved learning. I thought that I would excel at the passing down knowledge and culture and making ties between history and literature. I loved doing research and I loved explaining things to people- children, adults, whoever would listen.

Similarly, though there are some outstanding charter schools where teachers lack union protections, the lack of union protections never guarantees quality. New York State has plenty of schools where principals can hire and fire teachers at will. Many do not excel.

The reasons charter schools excel or not have little to nothing to do with their lack of teacher tenure. For every failing charter I can show you a successful one, with a waitlist of families.

Lessening the legal protections for teachers will not advance civil rights or improve education.

Actually, I disagree. Lessening the legal protections (not eliminating, but reforming) will improve education. We will be able to ensure that we have more effective teachers and less ineffective ones.

Every minute that an underserved child has an ineffective teacher is wasting that child’s education. Would you want that for your child?

Our Kids Should Not & Can Not Continue To Suffer Because of The Circumstances Society Created to Develop Ineffective Teachers

There is no one person responsible for ineffective teachers. As a society, we are collectively responsible.

Teacher preparation has evolved and improved over time meaning that newer teachers are going to be the best prepared from a teacher preparation standpoint. My best high school teachers were fresh out of teacher education programs. My most ineffective teachers were more senior teachers. One of my most ineffective teachers is now the president of the teachers union in that city. This perpetuates the problem of protecting ineffective teachers. The guidance counselor that was so ineffective for me, later became the president of the school counselor association of that state – continuing to perpetuate ineffective counselors. My state requires that guidance counselors are teachers for 3 years first. Teaching and counseling are quite different fields and the public sees this requirement as an “easy out” for ineffective teachers. Now we have an entire state of potentially discarded teachers who are happy to taking a desk job making schedules.

Education has evolved tremendously over time which changes in standards, testing requirements, curriculum, expectations of teachers and increasing needs for funding. It’s not senior teacher’s faults that things have changed rapidly and proper professional development was not provided.

After 10, 20+ years of lackluster evaluations, no teacher can have an accurate assessment of where their best professional development needs are. All the work that unions have done to advocate for pay, WHERE WAS THEIR WORK TO ENSURE APPROPRIATE PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT?? Either unions dropped the ball or teachers didn’t want the professional development they needed to be effective. Because it is easier to collect a pay check.

Society has further developed to a point where the needs of the community are constantly imposed on schools with socioeconomic, health & wellness and safety issues that weren’t as relevant in the last several decades. Schools are not properly equipped to behave as parents in today’s society. It has become almost impossible to serve all children’s needs.

When society introduced pension systems for government employees, it partially served as an incentive to keep employees working a career for that government office. Even in city & county operations, no one anticipated that the appeal of a long term career with the same office would potentially stunt professional growth in exchange for the safety & security of long term employment & the promise of pension in retirement. In some cases (please note not all cases) a student who received little or no counseling to develop his/her passions might look to teaching as a relatively easy job to obtain, keep and make a consistent pay & pension.

While none of these circumstances are the fault of teachers – OUR KIDS SHOULD NOT AND CAN NOT CONTINUE TO SUFFER BECAUSE OF THE CIRCUMSTANCES SOCIETY CREATED TO DEVELOP INEFFECTIVE TEACHERS. We need to do everything possible to make sure that our kids have a highly qualified, motivated, caring, effective teacher RIGHT NOW. Every minute that a child is taught by an ineffective teacher, or with a self serving principal, administration or school board – WE ARE WASTING THEIR LIFE, WE ARE KNOWINGLY ALLOWING THESE CHILDREN TO SUFFER THE FATE OF A POOR EDUCATION. This is not the education that our children need and deserve to be fully contributing citizens. And not the education our taxpayers are expecting with their tax dollars.


Student Advocate in Teacher Contract Negotiations?

Yesterday, I posted about When are public school students going to be represented? and I received a very interesting comment that reinforced an idea I had. The comment was “I wonder if there is a way to get kids to advocate for themselves, and change the education system from the bottom up?”

I am currently training to be a CASA volunteer in DeKalb County. A CASA volunteer is a court appointed special advocate to talk with all the parties of a Department of Children and Families case and make recommendations to the court/judge as to what is in the best interest of the child. In the court already there is an attorney for the child, and an attorney for the parents. Yet there is still a need for a CASA because sometimes what parents and children want is not actually in the children(s) best interest.

Teachers and school administration all have their own interests that often do not coincide with the best interests of students. Teachers want more pay, additional pay for hours worked beyond the current schedule (extending the school day), tenure, evaluations that do not include evidence of student progress (or regression)…etc.

Teacher pay is locked up in a chicken vs. egg debate around a desire to see results and then provide more pay, but teachers are having trouble providing those results with the current resources. While the teachers are asking for more money and the administration is refusing or simply doesn’t have it – Students are still being taught by ineffective teachers, and what is the guarantee that teachers and students will all perform better with more teacher pay? Are you telling me that teachers are doing the bare minimum now and would be more willing to go to greater lengths if they were paid more? While teachers are withholding some quality waiting for pay increases and the district is refusing – they should have to directly explain those perspectives to the student advocate.

Teachers have traditionally fought against extending the school day without increasing pay. While this may be a fair point of view, the district is asking the teachers to perform extra school duties in extended day because extended school time is shown to be incredibly beneficial for students. But students won’t receive it because teachers won’t do it and administration won’t pay for it. Both sides will need to explain that to their student advocate.

Tenure – Teachers like security in their jobs. Traditionally, districts might be less inclined to appreciate tenure because it hinders their ability to staff schools with highly qualified, effective teachers. Teachers should explain to the student advocate why they deserve tenure instead of ensuring that every student has a highly qualified, effective teacher.

Teacher Evaluations – Teachers are generally in rejection of teacher evaluations with student progress measures. Teachers should have to explain to the student advocate that while students livelihoods depend heavily on student progress measures such as standardized tests – that the teachers shouldn’t be held accountable to the same level. Basically, the tests impact the kids, but the teachers should be immune to the effects. Kids lives are effected every single day by standardized tests but teachers don’t think they should be held accountable to the same tests. How is that fair to students? Teachers should have to explain that to the student advocate.

What do you think about having a student advocate involved in teacher contract negotiations?