"The whole people must take upon themselves the education of the whole people and be willing to bear the expenses of it. There should not be a district of one mile square, without a school in it, not founded by a charitable individual, but maintained at the public expense of the people themselves." -- John Adams

"No money shall be drawn from the treasury, for the benefit of any religious or theological institution." -- Indiana Constitution Article 1, Section 6.

"...no man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship, place, or ministry whatsoever, nor shall be enforced, restrained, molested, or burthened in his body or goods, nor shall otherwise suffer on account of his religious opinions or belief; but that all men shall be free to profess, and by argument to maintain, their opinion in matters of religion, and that the same shall in no wise diminish enlarge, or affect their civil capacities." – Thomas Jefferson

Thursday, January 17, 2019

Traitors or Heroes: Ben Franklin

Today is birthday number 313 for Benjamin Franklin. He was born in Boston on January 17, 1706.

Franklin is the only founding father to have signed all four of the key documents establishing the U.S.: the Declaration of Independence (1776), the Treaty of Alliance with France (1778), the Treaty of Paris establishing peace with Great Britain (1783) and the U.S. Constitution (1787).

Most people know about Franklin, the statesman and philosopher. Here are some relevant Franklin quotes for today...

THE NEWS MEDIA

Apology for Printers
If all printers were determined not to print anything till they were sure it would offend nobody, there would be very little printed.
ON COMPROMISE

Queries and Remarks Respecting Alterations in the Constitution of Pennsylvania
Has not the famous political Fable of the Snake, with two Heads and one Body, some useful Instruction contained in it? She was going to a Brook to drink, and in her Way was to pass thro’ a Hedge, a Twig of which opposed her direct Course; one Head chose to go on the right side of the Twig, the other on the left, so that time was spent in the Contest, and, before the Decision was completed, the poor Snake died with thirst.
THE EMPIRE DIMINISHED

Rules By Which A Great Empire May Be Reduced To A Small One
[A] great Empire, like a great Cake, is most easily diminished at the Edges.
HEALTH CARE

Referring to private hospital funding alone:
That won't work, it will never be enough, good health care costs a lot of money, remembering 'the distant parts of this province' in which 'assistance cannot be procured, but at an expense that neither [the sick-poor] nor their townships can afford.' … '[This] seems essential to the true spirit of Christianity, and should be extended to all in general, whether deserving or undeserving, as far as our power reaches.'
LIBERTY

Pennsylvania Assembly: Reply to the Governor
Printed in Votes and Proceedings of the House of Representatives, 1755-1756 (Philadelphia, 1756), pp. 19-21. [November 11, 1755]
Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.
WAR

Letter to Mary Hewson
All Wars are Follies, very expensive, and very mischievous ones. When will Mankind be convinced of this, and agree to settle their Differences by Arbitration? Were they to do it, even by the Cast of a Dye, it would be better than by Fighting and destroying each other.
TRAITORS OR HEROES

Letter to Thomas Jefferson (March 16th, 1775).
In 200 years will people remember us as traitors or heroes? That is the question we must ask.


Franklin was one of the most well known and well-respected scientists and inventors of his day. We have him to thank for (among other things)...


FURTHER EXPLORATION

Benjamin Franklin: An American Life by Walter Isaacson

VIDEO (30 minutes): Walter Isaacson: "Benjamin Franklin: An American Life"

NOTE: This is an edited version of an earlier post celebrating Franklin's birthday. I've added some quotes and information and corrected some links.

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Tuesday, January 15, 2019

2019 Medley #1

Avoiding Special Ed Students, Charters,
Teacher Strikes, Teacher Pay, Guns in the Classroom,
Cheating Low-Income Students, Myths About Teachers, Reading Wars, Science Fact

PRIVATIZATION: STUDENTS WITH DISABILITIES NEED NOT APPLY

Charter Schools More Likely to Ignore Special Education Applicants, Study Finds

Public schools accept every child who enters. The money to educate those most expensive to educate students comes from public funds. When the legislature allows public funds to go to private corporations in the form of charter and vouchers, that makes it more difficult for the real public schools to fulfill its mission. We can't afford to pay for three separate school systems.

Public tax money needs to go to public schools.
The study found that charter schools were 5.8 percentage points less likely to respond to a query claiming to be from a parent of a student with severe disabilities.

So-called "no-excuse" charter schools, which serve predominately low-income minority students in a strict, college-prep academic environment, were 10 percentage points less likely to respond.


PRIVATIZATION: PUBLIC SCHOOLS ARE FOR THE RABBLE

How to Teach Virtue? Start with a Charter School.

Chester Finn doesn't understand (or support) the purpose of public schools and thinks that charter schools, with their history of corruption and failure, are the places to inculcate students with values. Finn's single year as a public school teacher apparently qualifies him to judge all public schools to be valueless.

Privatizer Michael Petrilli, also mentioned in the article, is president of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute,  a stronghold of ed reformers most of whom have no experience in actual education other than as students. Petrilli himself has never taught in a public school or studied education. His college degree (from a public university) is in Political Science.

Let us hope that the era of public education ruled by edu-ignoramuses is coming to an end.
Yes. The title is sarcasm.

But the idea must be acknowledged. It sprang from the mind of one of most venerable Famous Educators, a hoary pillar of the never-ending education reform movement, Chester E. Finn, known to his fellow reformistas as ‘Checker.’ Checker is currently paterfamilias of the Thomas Fordham Institute group, one of whom, Michael Petrilli, recently suggested that the education reform movement has been so successful in accomplishing its goals that it was currently fading into media obscurity. As if.

I have never been a fan of Finn’s approach to school reform. (Click here, for example.) Finn, whose teaching career spanned one full year, is one of those private-school, private-colleges, wordsmithy edu-pundits who look down—way down—on fully public education, seeing it as a hopeless tax-funded entitlement program for subpar youth.

PRIVATIZATION: TEACHER STRIKES

Is The Los Angeles Teacher Strike A Different Kind Of Strike?

Peter Greene writing in Forbes explains to business readers that the Los Angeles teachers strike is different than strikes of the past.

Teachers are striking to save public schools...and against those who believe that we can afford two, or even three different publicly funded school systems.

Public tax funds need to go to public schools, not private corporations in the form of charters or vouchers.
Teachers in many school districts and many states across the country find themselves in the unusual position of working in an institution led by people who want to see that institution fail. Back in the day, teacher strikes were about how best to keep a school district healthy, but these modern walkouts are about the very idea that public schools should be kept healthy at all. UTLA demands for smaller classes, more support staff, safer schools, community schools, and charter school oversight are not about making their working conditions a little better, but about keeping public education alive and healthy.


INDIANA GENERAL ASSEMBLY WANTS SOMETHING FOR NOTHING

Lawmakers: Raise teacher pay by cutting elsewhere

I suppose we can't really blame legislators for wanting something but not wanting to pay for it. Just like many Americans, they're hesitant to invest in the common good. Someone may get something they (gasp!) don't deserve.

We can't have universal health care because we'd have to pay for it. We can't repair our crumbling infrastructure because we'd have to pay for it. We can't worry about climate change because it might cost money.

We're Number One!!

Hardly. We're a selfish lot. All our politicians claim that we're "the greatest country in the world," but are we? We're not the wealthiest. We haven't got the highest life expectancy, or the lowest infant mortality rate. There are other countries with fewer people living in poverty and other countries where people are happier.

On the other hand, our military spending is #1 in the world.

Perhaps if we spent a little more money on planning for our future, and less on blowing up other people, we'd be better off.
Indiana legislators want to give educators a raise, but they don’t want to pay for it. Their plan: Shame school districts into cutting spending elsewhere so they can target dollars to teachers.

Their tool for doing this is House Bill 1003, unveiled this week by House Republicans and presented Wednesday to the House Education Committee. It would “strongly encourage” districts to spend at least 85 percent of their state funds on instruction; it would subject them to public scrutiny if they don’t.


CONTROL GUNS, DON'T SPREAD THEM

When You Give a Teacher a Gun…

If you think we ought to be spending millions of tax dollars to arm teachers read this.
If you think teachers should have guns in school, you’re just wrong. It’s not “up for debate” any more than gravity.

If you’re a teacher who reads all of this and thinks, “Well, that’s not me. I’m different. I’ve had a gun for years. I’m a hunter, and a responsible gun owner. I’m all about gun safety. I was in the military. I just want to protect my students and colleagues”, then you are precisely the kind of person who should never be permitted to have a loaded weapon in a school. You’re exactly the sort of person that shouldn’t be allowed to carry a deadly weapon into a room full of children looking at you as someone who cares about their learning, and their well-being.


CHEATING LOW-INCOME STUDENTS

Kids In Disadvantaged Schools Don't Need Tests To Tell Them They're Being Cheated

They already know.
...I've never met a union official who believed schools in impoverished cities didn't need improving. I never met anyone who works in a school or advocates for public education who was fine with the opportunity gap that plagues so many children in this country.

But I'll set that aside and instead make this point: stories like the Trentonian's give us clear evidence that kids who are in these schools themselves know full well what is going on. They are saying, with unmistakable clarity, that their instruction is unacceptably poor. They are telling us many of their peers have given up and have no interest in school.

What are multiple administrations of standardized tests going to tell us that these kids aren't already telling us themselves?


CHALLENGING THE MYTHS ABOUT TEACHERS, PART 2

About that “Most public employee teachers are in these positions because they lack the talent to compete in the private sector” comment...

Greatest. Idea. Ever.

Put those people who believe that "those who can't, teach" in a long term subbing position...in an underfunded school...with children who live in poverty...and then have their evaluation be based on test scores!
I could maybe respond by saying that the inherent ignorance displayed by this proves how valuable having an education really is and that the reasoning he/she attempts to use to put down teachers really is proof that public education is not respected as it should be.

Yet I will respond by saying that I would teach that person’s student if that was the case.

But first, I might ask this person if he/she would be willing to become a long-term substitute teacher in an underfunded school where many in the student population are affected by poverty and then have his/her name attached to the test scores.

Then I will just carry on – teaching.


THE READING WARS REDUX

Why The Reading Wars Will Never End

Peter Greene speaks truth. We haven't learned how to quantify the skills of the human brain. Anyone who tells you that "this program will help every child read" is shoveling bullshit.

Every person who has ever tried to teach a group of six-year-olds to read understands that you have to use every tool you have.
The heart of the problem is that we don't know how to tell what works. And that's because we don't have a method to "scientifically" measure how well someone reads.

Yes, we have tests. But testing and pedagogy of reading are mostly locked in a tautological embrace. I think decoding is The Thing, so I create a test that focuses on decoding, then implement classroom practices to improve decoding skills and voila-- I scientifically prove that my decoding-based pedagogy works. Mostly what we're busy proving is that particular sorts of practices prepare students for particular sorts of tests. Big whoop.

...Reading, as much as anything in education, demands that we measure what cannot be measured.


SCIENCE FACT

Come To Miami, Florida’s Sea Level and Sewage Capital

The United States stands alone in denying climate change. Its impact is already being felt around the world...take Florida, for example. Guess who is being hurt the worst...
As nuisance flooding increases, the wealthy are moving to higher ground, formerly less desirable areas – and pushing out low income residents. Climate gentrification creating a new generation of climate refugees.


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Friday, January 11, 2019

Public Shaming: A Scarlet Letter

Fear blocks learning. Teachers who know this no longer use dunce caps. They don't put test grades on the class bulletin board or punish the lowest achieving students for not succeeding.

Studies involving the neurological impact of shaming and frustration show that children need to feel safe in order to maximize learning.
...if students do not feel comfortable in a classroom setting, they will not learn. Physiologically speaking, stressed brains are not able to form the necessary neural connections.
The evidence is clear that when students feel unsafe, physically or emotionally, they do not learn as well. This isn't anything new. Educational psychology classes cover Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs. We know that safety...as well as emotional security...must be established before higher levels of performance on Maslow's hierarchy can be reached. When students experience humiliation in the form of failure at school, they usually aren't spurred on to higher achievement. They are, instead, left trying to learn with a brain that is disrupted or impaired in its development.
Behavioral neuroscience research in animals tells us that serious, fear-triggering expe- riences elicit physiological responses that affect the architecture of the brain as it is developing. These experiences cause changes in brain activity and have been shown to have long-term, adverse consequences for learning, behavior, and health.


ACADEMIC SHAMING

This current knowledge of neuroscience has apparently been lost on the administration at Mingus High School in Cottonwood, Arizona. Students in their junior or senior years who are missing credits must wear a red badge instead of the standard grey badges assigned to upperclassmen. This has the humiliating effect of singling out students who, for one reason or another, have had academic difficulty.

My Child Has to Show Her Entire School That She’s Failing With a ‘Scarlet Badge’
Publicly shaming my child and countless of other students for falling behind academically is wrong. I know how hard my daughter is working to get her grades up, and I know how discouraged she feels when she walks into school every morning with the “scarlet badge.” Yet she knows that every time a teacher or fellow student sees her red badge they think less of her.
Fortunately, the author/parent of the above article contacted attorneys from the ACLU who have informed Mingus HS that the "scarlet badge policy" is in violation of FERPA, the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act Regulations.


The author continued...
This badge scheme subjects all students, particularly students with learning disabilities, to ridicule and discrimination. Students with learning disabilities, who may already struggle to keep up, have faced increased pressure in their academic performance knowing that other students will know what their grades are if they are given a “scarlet badge.”


LUNCH SHAMING

Shaming techniques are commonly used when children don't have enough money to pay for their lunch. In such situations, children are forced to forego the school's hot lunch and eat peanut butter, or some other meager substitute.
In June of 2016, with just days left in the school year, Jefferson County resident Jon Bivens neglected to reload the balance for his son's cafeteria meal plan. The year was nearly over, and by his calculation, there was still enough money left in the account to get through the year. Then, one afternoon in the final week of school, his 8-year-old son committed the unspeakable act of buying himself some ice cream with his meal swipe card. With just $1.38 left on his balance, the boy was unable to pay for his next lunch.

The authorities at Gardendale Elementary School did the only logical thing in this situation. They branded the child's arm with a rubber-stamped smiley face and the friendly message, “I Need Lunch Money.”

Of course, schools have other options besides branding. The New York Times reports that “in some schools, children are forced to clean cafeteria tables in front of their peers to pay the debt. Other schools require cafeteria workers to take a child's hot food and throw it in the trash if he doesn't have the money to pay for it.”
Shaming, of any kind, has no place in education and thankfully, some states are forbidding it. Unfortunately, it hasn't totally disappeared. Some students are still shamed for not having any lunch money...and others, like those students at Mingus HS, are shamed for not getting good enough grades.

So-called educators who shame children should be relieved of their licenses. Forcing students who are struggling in school to wear a "scarlet badge" or stamping the arms of children without lunch money with ink, is no better than branding them with a scarlet letter.


UPDATE: January 12, 2019


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Saturday, January 5, 2019

Challenging the myths about teachers

It's always dangerous to read comments on the internet. The anonymity afforded users makes it easy for them to rant, bitch, and promote myths and lies. The last week of 2018 was no different.


The Wall Street Journal posted the following article on Dec. 28th...

Teachers Quit Jobs at Highest Rate on Record by Michelle Hackman and Eric Morath.  (Note: This article is behind a paywall. You can read a review of the article at The Hill, Teachers in America quitting jobs at record rate)

The authors discussed the teacher shortage, last year's state-wide teacher strikes, and the lack of support that teachers get. You can read about all that on your own...today I'm going to focus on the comments the article generated.

Now, I know that the editorial page of the Wall Street Journal is very conservative so it's not surprising that many of the people who comment are similarly inclined. For one reason or another, some of those conservatives, seem to hate public education, public school teachers, and public sector unions (surprise, surprise!). Many left angry and ignorant comments about teachers and public schools (comments on The Hill report are similar). Not all, of course. There were people who were defending public schools, teachers, and unions, but they were in the minority and fought a losing battle against ignorance and envy.

The anti-public education comments fell into three general categories focusing on teachers, teachers unions, and failing schools.
  • Teachers are the cause of school failure: Teachers aren't very smart, make a lot of money, only work part-time, and get plenty of benefits.
  • Unions are the cause of school failure: Unions have destroyed the teaching profession, the union bosses make huge salaries, and unions protect bad teachers.
  • Other causes of school failure: Parents, students, administrators.
Most of the comments were based on myths and popular media images of public schools and teachers. Every public school teacher/parent should be ready to challenge those myths.

MYTH: AMERICA'S FAILING PUBLIC SCHOOLS

The basic assumption for nearly every anti-teacher/public education comment is that America's public schools are failing.

Wrong.

They're not.

Over the last couple of years, I have written, read, and reported on posts that explained that America's public schools are generally successful. Please read one or more of those before proceeding. I'll wait...
Now that we understand that America's public schools are among the best in the world and that poverty along with the neglect, ignorance, or avoidance of the effects of poverty are the cause of low student achievement, let's address the first set of comments, those about teachers.


MYTH: TEACHERS' SALARIES AND BENEFITS MEAN HIGHER TOTAL COMPENSATION

Teachers are not paid too much compared to other college graduates when you factor in their benefits. In fact, it's just the opposite.

The teacher pay penalty has hit a new high

The teacher pay gap is growing. From 1996 to 2017 weekly wages for teachers dropped by $27. For other workers, weekly wages grew more than $130. The weekly wage penalty (not including benefits) for teachers reached more than 18% in 2017. The weekly wage gap varies by state, but in no state does the teachers' weekly wage equal other college graduates. In Indiana, the difference in 2017, was -21%!

Benefits do not make up the difference, either. The total compensation penalty for teachers reached 11% by 2017. In other words, teachers, on average, make 11% less than other equally-educated workers even when you include benefits.

What about pensions? Don't teachers get fabulous pensions which suck taxpayers dry?

Different states have different rules regarding teacher pensions, and those rules change frequently. Some states, like Illinois, have been fighting over teacher pensions for years. Other states have good pension plans...some have terrible plans. You can check out this article for an overview. If you'd like to see what the average monthly pension is for teachers in your state, read What Is the Average Teacher Pension in My State?


MYTH: TEACHING IS JUST PART-TIME WORK

How about the teaching year...do teachers work only 6 hours a day, for only 8 or 9 months? Do "summers off" and vacation days mean that teachers work only a fraction of what the average American worker does?

In Indiana, teachers teach at least 180 days a year. In most school systems teachers are required to be in school between seven and eight hours each of those days. Before I retired, my school system's contract required that we work 7 3/4 hours a day. We also had an additional 5 days each year that we had to work...classroom preparation, in-service days, etc. Our contracted days and hours each year were 185 days at 7 3/4 hours a day which (when divided over the entire year) comes to about 27.6 hours a week ((185 x 7.75)/52=27.572).

The average American, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (July 2018), works 34.5 hours a week. So, is it true that teachers work an average of seven hours a week less than the average American worker?

Actually, no.

Most teachers work more than the required daily hours. Some come in early to prepare for the day's lessons or tutor students, some stay late grading or, again, tutoring. Some do both. The actual number of hours the average teacher spends working each day varies, but it's almost always more what's written in the contract. When I was a classroom teacher, I averaged about nine hours a day, plus another hour or two at home grading and planning...and sometimes on weekends...

Furthermore, many of the "vacation days" during spring break, summers, winter break, etc., are work days for teachers, who spend several weeks each year in continuing education (required in Indiana), curriculum planning, and classroom preparation.

So, do teachers work fewer hours than other college graduates? No. If you want more information on this topic, read this...

Teachers work more overtime than any other professionals, analysis shows


MYTH: THOSE WHO CAN, DO. THOSE WHO CAN'T, TEACH

It's true that in past years the average SAT/ACT test scores for teachers has been higher. There was once a time where teaching was one of the only careers open to bright, young women. Now that other occupations are open to those women who achieve higher test scores, the average test score of teachers in the U.S. is...well...average, at about the 48th percentile. Teachers are not the top test takers in the nation, but they well within the average range. The old canard about teachers coming from the bottom third of their graduating classes is not true. Some do, of course, but that's true in every profession. Did you ever stop to think that your family physician might have finished in the bottom third of her graduating class? What if the pharmacist who fills your prescription scored the minimum on his licensing test?

What about the course of study for teachers? Is the teacher preparation program at state and local universities easier than other courses of study?

Peter Greene, who blogs at Curmudgucation, wrote that asking whether the classes are hard or easy is the wrong question (emphasis added).
I agree that college teacher training programs are, at best, a mixed bag, and at the bottom of that bag are some truly useless programs. Talking about "hard" or "easy" is really beside the point; we'd be better off talking about useful or useless, and some teacher prep programs really are useless. Some programs involved a lot of hoop jumping and elaborate lesson planning techniques that will never, ever be used in the field; this kind of thing is arguably rigorous and challenging, but it's of no earthly use to actual teachers.
Some classes are very difficult but useless. Other classes may seem easy, but have a lot of practical use for pre-service teachers.

When I look back at what was useful in my own preparation I can acknowledge that The History of Education wasn't that difficult. Neither were some of the other courses I took like Math for Elementary Teachers or Children's Literature. On the other hand, when I was a student I learned something that served me well as a pre-service teacher.
I got out of my courses what I put into them.
So, while The History of Education wasn't all that useful when I started teaching, Educational Psychology and Child Development were...Math for Elementary Teachers was...Curriculum Development was (at least it was back in the day, when teachers actually had an impact on curriculum)...as were my "methods classes" and many of the other courses I took.

The most useful courses, however, were the ones in which I spent time with children, learning to relate to them and learning how to explain things to them. And, like most teachers, once I started teaching, I understood that being an educator is not easy.

Since I put some work into my courses, my college teaching preparation was useful even if some of the classes weren't very difficult. Other teachers often talk about what a waste of time some of the classes were. Perhaps for them, they were. Maybe I was just lucky.

Those young people who go into education because the preparation is easy, or go into education after they graduate in order to pad their resume, find out quickly that teaching is not as simple as your third-grade teacher, your middle school math teacher, or your high school English teacher made it look. That's why so many beginning teachers leave the field within their first five years. That's why the ones who make a career in education are the ones who are willing to work...the ones who love what they do enough to invest their time, energy, and passion.

So, do people become teachers because it's an easy course of study? Possibly. But those who do, usually don't last in the field of education. Perhaps some of them even become state legislators...


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