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

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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.


Can we teach all electives and no “subjects”?

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I know that this is a concept that will be shut down by “education professionals” nationwide, and I have neglected to show my support for the idea until I have been able to support the idea more thoroughly. However, I must begin talking about it with this article about Finland to stop teaching “subjects” and start teaching “topics.”

Subject-specific lessons – an hour of history in the morning, an hour of geography in the afternoon – are already being phased out for 16-year-olds in the city’s upper schools. They are being replaced by what the Finns call “phenomenon” teaching – or teaching by topic. For instance, a teenager studying a vocational course might take “cafeteria services” lessons, which would include elements of maths, languages (to help serve foreign customers), writing skills and communication skills.

More academic pupils would be taught cross-subject topics such as the European Union – which would merge elements of economics, history (of the countries involved), languages and geography.

There are other changes too, not least to the traditional format that sees rows of pupils sitting passively in front of their teacher, listening to lessons or waiting to be questioned. Instead there will be a more collaborative approach, with pupils working in smaller groups to solve problems while improving their communication skills.

How archaic is it to teach “English” “Social Studies” “Math” and “Science”? The new common core standards allow for much collaboration between skills and topics. Teachers are already working together on teams to collaborate their lessons.

Not only does it make sense to teach “electives” instead of “core subjects” it will be more engaging, interesting and fun for students!!!!

Why is Model UN or Model Legislature only an after school activity? Can’t that incorporate history, writing, public speaking, group work….etc. In college I had a class called Model UN and we used law texts and literally created a UN in our classroom week after week. Why wouldn’t that make sense as a K-12 class?

Why not an astronomy class? Or Gardening class? Or any other number of science explorations that would be fun, instead of dull science class trying to teach you everything in 4 classes. You can learn math and science topics and writing and possibly some history all in one fun “elective” style class.

The best part is, you can even intermingle grade levels. If one room school houses can teach all grade levels, then you can have different levels in your elective style class and have the older students do harder work and younger ones the easier work and they can even teach each other.

I learned so much more in my elective history classes where instead of reading the text book, we read biographical novels. Psychology class, current events – were all more interesting. We need to start incorporating business education into classes – so let’s do math and history and writing in that too.

I’ll bet you teachers would be more excited about teaching these electives all day and not teaching to a text book.

“There are schools that are teaching in the old fashioned way which was of benefit in the beginnings of the 1900s – but the needs are not the same and we need something fit for the 21st century.”

The reforms reflect growing calls in the UK – not least from the Confederation of British Industry and Labour’s Shadow Education Secretary Tristram Hunt – for education to  promote character, resilience and communication skills, rather than just pushing children through “exam factories”.

We should be focused on teaching and developing skills, not drilling subject matter.

Teachers were naturally a but resistant because all they know is what they have done all their lives.

Even in Finland, the reforms have met objections from teachers and heads – many of whom have spent their lives focusing on a particular subject only to be told to change their approach.

Ms Kyllonen has been advocating a “co-teaching” approach to lesson planning, with input from more than one subject specialist. Teachers who embrace this new system can receive a small top-up in salary.

About 70 per cent of the city’s high school teachers have now been trained in adopting the new approach, according to Mr Silander.

“We have really changed the mindset,” he said. “It is quite difficult to get teachers to start and take the first step… but teachers who have taken to the new approach say they can’t go back.”


MEA attempts to ruin credit of 8,000 teachers

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In my last post, I discussed the new Michigan right to work law.

By March of 2014, a year after the law went into effect, we have some news. Remember the teachers who filed lawsuits over the timing of their request to leave the union?

As a result, the Mackinac Center, a free market think tank in Michigan, filed a lawsuit against the MEA for attempting to force teachers to stay in the union and to continue to pay dues against their will.

Shortly after the lawsuit was filed the union informed the teachers named in the lawsuit that they were no longer members and back dues were no longer being sought.

Those suits were settled in the plaintiff’s favor, but in the words of the article:

“There is nothing unique about the situations of Ms. Chanski and Mr. Arthur, yet the MEA insists on treating some 8,000 other teachers differently by threatening to ruin their credit by turning them over to a collections agency,” Wright said. “We think the MEA should comply fully with Michigan law and realize that teachers are able to make up their own minds about whether or not they see a benefit to being in the union.”

The MEA admitted last Wednesday during a hearing at MERC that it has created a policy to go after about 8,000 teachers who so far have refused to pay dues in cash or give the union credit card or bank account information as part of its “e-dues” scheme. A federal appeals court rejected the MEA’s attempts last year to block a state law prohibiting school districts from deducting union dues as a payroll function.

“What public school employees who are still under a union contract have to ask themselves is what is different here,” Wright said. “They should ask themselves why the MEA was willing to let these two people go, but appear perfectly willing to stick it to anyone else who attempts to exercise their worker freedom rights.”

MEA admitted that 1,500 teachers correctly followed the process of declining union membership and dues in the 31 day window in August. However, another 8,000 have refused to pay cash or give over credit or debit card info to have the union enforce dues payment that was just made legal to refuse to pay. They have devised a plan to to “go after” 8,000 teachers – I’m sorry, this is supposed to be a teachers union, that protects teachers? And they are attempting to impact 8,000 credit scores for what? To forcibly collect dues that the state has declared teachers don’t have to pay?

Do you see what I mean now when I tell you that unions say one thing and mean yet another? This proves yet again that unions are only in this business to collect dues (they have to pay their national talking heads 500K a year after all) and not about protecting teachers and definitely not about kids.

Teachers Union puts up smoke screen while they deny workers their rights


As I mentioned in this recent post, I’ve been promoting the idea that teachers should pay for union dues independently of the auto withdrawal from their paychecks. One twitter commentator mentioned that in Michigan this is happening! I started reading to see what how it has been unfolding.

Late in December 2012, Michigan State Legislature passed a law lifting the requirement for workers to pay union dues and the requirement to join the union.

As I watched the video clip above, a union worker states that she feels the law is taking away their rights. Their rights to what exactly? They may still join. They may still pay their dues. They may still have a union. The union may still collectively bargain. You know what does change? The automatic flow of cash from taxpayers to unions, circumventing the workers choices. From what I read in this piece about how teachers don’t have a voice in their unions, and my post on the issue, I’d say this new law provides and opportunity for the union to go back and listen to the other members and create better policy. This new laws gives more rights, the right to keep your money and not join a union.

Some teachers are already suing the union over their behavior towards this new law:

Their complaint alleges the union is violating the intent of the right-to-work law by only giving them a very brief period — the month of August — to drop their membership.

One of the eight, Coopersville teacher Miriam Chanski, told MEA in a May letter she was leaving the union. MEA denied her request because it was sent in too early.

She claims the union did not tell her this at the time. She only learned of the August opt-out window in September. That was when MEA informed her she would now have to pay another year’s dues.

“It surprised me that there would be more to the process — I had not heard anything else,” she told the local ABC affiliate.

It got worse for her when MEA said that if she didn’t continue to pay, they would report her to a collection agency, which would negatively affect her credit rating.

“My credit is very personal to me and it’s something I take pride in,” Chanski said.

Let’s keep in mind – the union is claiming that the new law is taking away workers rights…while the union is literally

  • Giving folks a 31 day window to leave the union
  • Denied a teacher who submitted her request to leave the union in May, which was too early. Then they did not inform her that she submitted her letter too early, until it was already September, claiming she owes another year’s dues.
  • AND, even though she tried to cancel her membership and the union failed to give her proper follow-up, if she doesn’t pay the dues, they will report her to a credit reporting agency which could have an impact on her credit score

WAIT A MINUTE!! Who is this union working for? Not this teacher. Not any teacher that doesn’t agree with the union. This sounds more like a cult, than a group that is supposed to be protecting teachers.

Last week, Linda Evon, a Pickney special needs classroom assistant, also filed an unfair labor practice complaint against MEA. She said she tried to quit the union Sept. 4, only to be told the deadline had passed on Aug. 31.

Amazingly, this was the response when asked for a comment from the MEA:

A spokesman for MEA did not respond to the Washington Examiner‘s request for comment

Of course not! They aren’t going to publicly disclose that they are trying to preserve union cash over teacher’s own rights. This is an embarrassment to the time when unions were actually needed. But they have transformed into protecting workers in a time when laws were not in place to protect workers to a time when all they care about it collecting union cash.

And they have the nerve to make this complaint:

Big Labor hates right-to-work laws because they typically mean fewer members and therefore less dues revenue. Union leaders complain that they cause what economists call a “free rider” problem, since workers still get the benefits of union contract negotiations. Nothing prevents unions from negotiating “members-only” contracts though. They’d just rather have the additional dues coming in.

A free-rider problem? Because workers benefit from the union’s contract negotiations and don’t have to pay. Someone PLEASE enlighten me about how the “collective bargaining fee” is calculated. If you are negotiating on behalf of 100 or 10,000 teachers do you really do more work? Free-rider problem, what a bunch of absolute baloney!

Of course, with the impending law, many unions rushed to negotiate contracts with a 10 year security clause, locking in the automated union dues. Hello what? The union just negotiated it’s own salary for the next ten years?!!? Teachers in the city of Taylor in MI filed suit to eliminate the 10-year security clause and won.

Teachers should pay union dues out-of-pocket

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I’ve been excited about this issue ever since I saw this blog post from a fellow blogger: Union Says Gov. Martinez Committed An “Act Of War” Over Dues. The Governor of New Mexico simply suggested that teachers union dues should not be automatically deducted from teacher pay checks. If teachers want to be part of the union, they can choose to pay to dues themselves.

I support this notion because it seems to me like an illegal or legal but extremely unethical practice where something like this occurs:

Union and LEA agree on an amount of dues in the contract.

Union and LEA agree that the LEA will deduct the dues from teacher paychecks and automatically pay it to the unions.

This seems like the LEA is paying the union to negotiate the contract with the LEA.

While, in theory, members can opt out, generally speaking teachers have zero control over the union dues. Even when membership was not chosen, there was a mandatory CBA fee – of which was mostly the same as the membership fee. How in the world do the unions calculate the CBA fee? Seems like a huge scam to me.

“You don’t want to be a member, its ok, we’ll just charge you most of the dues as a mandatory fee, that you have to pay simply because we negotiated a contract for you, whether you wanted us to or not.”

I wonder if the teachers unions would spend more time paying attention to the wishes of all its teachers if they had to collect the dues from each and every member. In fact, maybe they would spend more of their time collecting dues and less time creating abusive campaigns against education progress.

The union is not the government. The only monies automatically collected from pay checks go to the government. Every other entity on the planet has to collect monies on their own, and unions should not get the unfair advantage of ease of payment.

I see it as taxpayer dollars going directly into the hands of unions with little or no say or control from the teachers unions are supposed to be protecting.

Michelle Obama, I don’t want any bad schools!

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In this last post I discuss how Democrats are cavalier about students and their education, and here we have Michelle Obama confirming that sentiment – to an extent.

Huffington Post, via the AP reported that last Friday, Michelle Obama  called education the “single most important” civil rights issue facing the country and pleaded with young people to make going to school a priority, even if all they have is a “bad school.”

As part of a speech at the White House honoring Black History Month, the First Lady stressed the importance of staying in school, especially when so many have fought to allow attendance.

“And today, thanks to their sacrifice, there are no angry mobs gathering outside our schools,” she said. “Nobody needs a military escort to get to class, but that doesn’t mean that our children don’t still face struggles when it comes to education.”

Mrs. Obama, who attributes her own success to education and heads an initiative that encourages young people to pursue post-secondary education, said too many students still attend dilapidated schools or schools that lack the latest technology or the college prep classes and college counseling they need.

Students fall behind in life when they fall behind in school, she said.

“So, like many of you, I believe that education is the single most important civil rights issue that we face today,” the first lady said.

She said education will help solve issues like mass incarceration, racial profiling, voting rights “and the kinds of challenges that shocked so many of us over the past year,” an apparent reference to police-involved killings of black men in Ferguson, Missouri, and Staten Island in New York City.

The first lady urged the young people in the audience to “translate the victories that these women won into habits in your own lives.”

“That means going to class every day. Every day. No matter what obstacle life may throw your way, go to school,” she said. “Go to the bad school that you have. Go to school.”

I agree that education is a civil rights issue of our time. And I agree that students shouldn’t go to no school at all, if all you can do is attend the “bad school.”

But I really don’t like that statement. I understand her point is that you should go to school no matter what…but I feel like in some ways it ignores or excuses the bad schools. I would have liked some more language in there about how we’re working to fix them or to seek out alternatives if you have a bad school, but still go to school. Its the same thing as a legislator telling their constituent, “Yes I know your school isn’t performing well, but there is nothing we can do about it right now.” A little more compassion would have been appreciated. I was also not at the speech, perhaps she did speak more about it?


What does your high school graduation say about your school? A look at The Met charter school

I know that my mother was considering The Met school for my younger sister but I feel like I have some responsibility in helping her attend the school because I pretty adamantly recommended that she take a look a the school before making a decision about where to attend high school. I still remember that day when we toured The Met. Almost a year ago, this last May, my sister graduated from The Met school in Providence. Even though I no longer lived in RI, I made sure I could attend her graduation. And I am so glad that I did! I think the enthusiasm exhibited in the graduation is a testament to the school experience as a whole. Two things stand out in my mind from the graduation. The first was how the students walked across the stage. This is what we are used to….mundane, walking appropriately, receive your degree and walk off. Maybe a photo is snapped while you are standing there.

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During the Met graduation, maybe one or two students walked traditionally, every single other person, my sister included, skipped, jumped, ran, or otherwise enthusiastically crossed the stage. They were hugging their advisors, and not just an appropriate hug, but over the top enthusiastic embraces. To me, this embodies the goal of The Met by demonstrating that students are encouraged to be who they are and develop their passions at The Met. They learn their academics through the lens of their passions – through independent projects, dedicated time for internships, and classes like math that are integrated for their individual learning. The Met kids looked like this:

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I also got the sense that these kids wanted it and earned it more so than other students in traditional public schools. Usually students who look for a different school environment do so for two reasons – either their parents are well informed and want to offer their child something different – or the student is not being successful in traditional public schools and they are looking for an option that is going to allow them to be successful. I saw many of those kids as students who may have dropped out, may not have graduated, may not have found their passion, may not have become contributing members of society, and attending this school made it possible for them.

The second thing that really stood out to me was that as each student came to the podium, there was a big screen that indicated the student’s name, school small at The Met, what they are passionate about, and what their future plan is – most if not all has some level of college as their next step. Intermingled in the graduation were student performances and a student who was aiming to accomplish a Guinness Books of World Records record. The student speeches were compelling. This was the best, least boring graduation I have ever attended. Here is a video of students and staff talking about The Met School: