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.

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.

 

Is your union looking out for teachers or for its own pocket?

©Depositphotos.com/Margaret Paynich

©Depositphotos.com/Margaret Paynich

And the truth comes out! The remainder of this article talks about the potential money lost to unions if union dues were voluntary:

If the Supreme Court overturns Abood, it would change the political landscape drastically. When Wisconsin’s Act 10 made teacher union membership voluntary, the unions in that state lost about one-third of their membership and a substantial amount of clout. If the same percentage of teachers quit the California Teachers Association, the union would lose approximately $62 million a year in dues. Considering the teachers’ union spent more than $290 million on candidates, ballot measures, and lobbying between 2000 and 2013—by far the most of any political player in the Golden State—such a loss would be crushing. And it’s no secret that CTA spending moves almost exclusively in a leftward direction. Between 2003 and 2012, the union gave $15.7 million to Democratic candidates and just $92,700 to Republicans—a ratio of roughly 99 to one. CTA has also spent millions promoting controversial causes such as same-sex marriage and single-payer healthcare, while opposing voter ID laws and limitations of the government’s power of eminent domain.

With such potential losses at stake, it makes sense that union would go to extreme measures such as in MI where teachers have a window of 30 days in August to officially opt out of union membership. And if you opt-out too early or too late there is nothing you can do but pay the dues. Or MI union will send your dues to collections. How is THAT protecting teachers?

And the “fourth co-equal branch of government” wouldn’t be the only teachers’ union to learn what it’s like to live on voluntary contributions. The National Education Association, which hauled in nearly $363 millionin forced dues in 2013–2014 and spent about $132 million of it on issue advocacy, would have to curtail its political largess considerably. Like the CTA, the NEA spends almost exclusively on progressive groups and causes. Over the years, the union has lavished gifts on People for the American Way, Media Matters, ACORN, Jesse Jackson’s Rainbow PUSH, and the Center for American Progress. Not surprisingly, the union’s political spending by party is lopsided, too. Between 1989 and 2014, the union directed just 4 percent of its campaign contributions to Republicans, usually backing the least conservative candidate in a primary election fight.

With all of these political contributions its easy to see how plaintiffs in CA have filed a lawsuit against the loss of their union privileges due to opting of of paying the political dues percentage. They are paying the other ~ 65% in agency fees – that doesn’t cover their extra maternity, life insurance and other benefits? How is THAT protecting teachers?

Like most union leaders, recently termed-out NEA president Dennis Van Roekel insists that all teachers should be required to pay the union. “Fair share simply makes sure that all educators share the cost of negotiations for benefits that all educators enjoy, regardless of whether they are association members,” he said in June. Sounds reasonable. But what Van Roekel doesn’t mention is that the unions demand exclusive bargaining rights for all teachers. Teachers in monopoly bargaining states have no choice but to toe the union line. There is nothing “fair” about forcing a worker to pay dues to a union they wouldn’t otherwise join. If Friedrichsis successful and Abood is overturned, it would be a great victory for true freedom of association.

Of course an NEA president says everyone needs to pay their fair share of union dues. But as the article says there is no alternative. Teachers aren’t allowed to negotiate their own salaries. Why not? Why can’t they just negotiate them at the their interview like other professionals? Because of the law is not an acceptable answer. I want the theory based answer. Do unions think teachers are ill-equipped to negotiate their own salaries? That does not sound like the way you respect professionals.

 

Will someone please explain these “agency fees” numbers?

©Depositphotos.com/Margaret Paynich

©Depositphotos.com/Margaret Paynich

 

I have been asking this question for some time, with no answers. How is the percentage for “agency fees” calculated? How much money do they “need” for collective bargaining activities? I am very much doubt that the only monies used for political activities is the 30-40% paid in union dues for that purpose.

Lets look at some numbers. Below, this article tells me that CA union dues are ~ $1,000/teacher/year. This fact sheet tells me that the CTA that it represents ~ 325,000 educators. Let split the difference here: “they may not opt out of the sixty to seventy percent of their dues the union determines is devoted to collective bargaining” and just say 35 % political and 65% agency fees for “collective bargaining.”

$1,000 x 325,000 = $325,000,000!! so many zeros I was blinded by the computer trying to read them! OK so lets split that into political (35%) and agency fees (65%)

Political =  $113,750,000; Agency fees= $211,250,000

So we all know what they spent the political money on….but where does the $211,250,000 Million go to? Does it REALLY cost that much to pay staff to negotiate contracts and answer phones or whatever they are doing. Maybe it does when unions drag out negotiations (they have to allocate for the funds somehow!)

Do we not believe that $325 Million isn’t better spent by our teachers?

And lets not forget in this post I encountered numbers that state that “By contrast, nearly 600 staffers at the NEA and AFT are raking in six-figure salaries, according to Association of American Educators (AAE) Executive Director Gary Beckner.”

600 staffers between NEA and AFT making 6 figures. How many teachers are making 6 figures? How many teachers are making 6 figures and shouldn’t be and how many should be and are not?

Typically, California teacher union dues cost upwards of a $1,000 per year. Although California law allows teachers to opt-out of the thirty percent or so of their dues devoted to overt political lobbying, they may not opt out of the sixty to seventy percent of their dues the union determines is devoted to collective bargaining. Requiring teachers to pay these “agency fees” assumes that collective bargaining is non-political.  But bargaining with local governments is inherently political.  Whether the union is negotiating for specific class sizes or pressing a local government to spend tax dollars on teacher pensions rather than on building parks, the union’s negotiating positions embody political choices that are often controversial.

MEMBERSHIP:

CTA is California’s largest professional employee organization, representing more than 325,000 public school teachers, counselors, psychologists, librarians, other non-supervisory certificated personnel, and Education Support Professionals. It is affiliated with the 3.2 million-member National Education Association.

How do you define harmful? Where is the “grit” factor?

Trying to wrap my head around this tweet I saw this week:

lily harmful tweet

 

How do you define harmful? Here is one example in the article she references:

The pressure placed on students is enormous. Children understand all too well that their test results may be used to label them or their school as a failure.

In Oklahoma the state legislature and governor doubled down on the testing obsession to declare that no third grader could go to fourth grade if they missed the mandated cut score on the reading test by even one point….one point on one test given on one day. Unbelievable.

The arrogance of politicians who voted to give themselves the final say as to whether a small child should be held back regardless of the professional judgment of the teacher or the wishes of the parent is unforgivable. Even after the outrage of parents and teachers helped to overturn the policy, the harm done to the over 8,000 eight-year olds labeled as failures is inexcusable.

So which is it? Are we responsible for making sure EVERY SINGLE CHILD is ready to college and career? Or are we responsible for making sure that there aren’t any tears at test time? Should a child be advanced to the next grade simply because the parent or the teacher says the child should be? Teachers have been advancing students for years because of social promotion, ineffective teaching or dislike for a student. Letting a teacher decide should not be the only factor. Having additional information regarding a academic achievement and preparedness for the next grade are important considerations.

In this post I discussed a friend of mine in Massachusetts, a state every loves to talk about as a “such a great education state,” who received excellent grades an graduated top of her class, to find out she was not able to perform college level school work. Top of her class and in remedial classes.

Maybe children wouldn’t be “failing” the test if their parents spent more time with them at home, reading and working on school work, and if teachers were engaging and connecting with their classes.

And if a child needs to stay in a certain grade level to completely learn the material it is going to be better in the long term if the student actually learns the material – no matter how it feels to be kept back. The real world is a tough place and if this is one way that children learn how to accept changes that are best for them, then that’s a good lesson to learn.

By passing students who aren’t ready for the next grade, who didn’t learn everything they needed to learn you are actually harming them. They may continue to be set back because they didn’t fully learn the material in the first place. They may not be properly prepared for college and career and then who’s fault is it if the student isn’t able to support his/herself as a productive member of society?

As we have read in Paul Tough’s book: How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character, adversity can be helpful to develop character of individuals who are successful.

Do what is ultimately  best for your child and ensure he/she is learning everything he/she needs to learn to be successful. And if it creates healthy adversity, it might even be more helpful for your child to learn to overcome earlier than later in life.

 

 

 

Not the right teacher, in the right place, at the right time

©Depositphotos.com/Margaret Paynich

©Depositphotos.com/Margaret Paynich

I’ve been thinking about this alot lately. Teachers become extremely defensive whenever we try to talk about effectiveness. But the reality is that our kids need to learn and be in the best environment to do so. It doesn’t necessarily mean that you are an in effective teacher all the time everywhere – it doesn’t mean that you didn’t earn your degree and learn how to be a teacher – it just means that you are not the right teacher, in the right place, at the right time.

I remember a friend of mine who is a teacher at a charter school here in Atlanta and she mentioned how she is going to be taking over some classes for a teacher who is leaving. I was amazed! Their school actually has attentive students (though not for lack of effort but into it), flexible curriculum, basically a teacher’s dream compared to traditional public school settings. Yet, she still didn’t feel comfortable in that setting. She apparently needed an even more controlled, smarter, more motivated group of kids to teach. The upside is that she knows that, and she seeks it out.

Perhaps we go too far when we say “ineffective teacher” because surely there is a classroom environment that this teacher would thrive in. But we all have to be willing to acknowledge when a situation is not one that the teacher or the students thrive in. There may not be enough positions available in all the schools with attentive and engaged students for all the teachers who best work in that environment. But that does not mean that the students who are harder to teach should suffer with a mismatched teacher.

Many of the teachers who would thrive in a more controlled classroom are simply less equipped to teach today’s students. a decade or two ago we all lived in a different environment. Kids were simply easier to teach in those days. Today’s teachers need to be able to compensate for the social emotional disadvantages our poorest children suffer from. They need to have stellar classroom management skills – and not the bossy, military style threaten and yell style, but a compassionate and firm style that teaches classroom standards without shredding students of their dignity with punishment and yelling.

Then there is the “real” reason we have a problem. I would bet that a majority of teachers don’t have a second career lined up. I’m willing to bet there are few immediate opportunities available to teachers if they are not teaching. Perhaps in part to the subpar education they themselves earned. When a teacher is challenged about their role as a teacher, what do you think is a pretty common reaction? Their own self interest. The school district has a responsibility to the students first and foremost. But the teacher may have a responsibility to his or her family over the students in his/her class. If a teacher has a choice between putting the classes first or putting their own family first…..I’ll bet the family comes first most of the time. Therefore, even if it is in the best interest of the students to have a different teacher, their teacher will stay for the paycheck. For their family.

No matter how hard it is to do, the school district has a responsibility to the students first and teachers second. If that means letting some teachers go and hiring teachers that are more adequately prepared to manage a classroom today, then it needs to be done. The school district can’t weigh the needs of the teacher to support his/her family over the needs of students.