Archive for March, 2010

Education in Crisis; An Incidental Conversation in a Bedouin Tent, Part 6

March 24, 2010 Leave a comment

I was traveling in the 70’s with my husband. He was consulting in the Middle East and I was his sidekick. He was involved in desert irrigation. I was involved in photography. We were guests of the desert Bedouin as he studied ways to bring water into these arid places. One evening as we sat in a large tent drinking tea with our translator, the Sheik joined us. He was interested in America, and we discussed many topics that long, memorable night. His curiosity was insatiable.

He was particularly captivated with our conversation on American families and education. When he completed his questions we stood to say goodbye. He looked straight at me and with a smile in his intense dark eyes, he said, “Uneducated mothers do not raise educated children.”

Setting aside the misunderstandings many Americans have regarding this part of the world, this comment stayed with me as it foreshadowed the insight of his words. I had no children then, when he changed my life and my perception. I am sure you have had an incidental conversation with someone passing through your life. They came and went, and left you with an altered perception. Somehow, nothing was the same after their incidental remark. Growth had occurred.

Let me fast forward 25 years to an article written in the Washington Post by George Will, March 21, 2010. He is writing about Education Secretary Arne Duncan’s vow to unleash upon the public schools, “legions of lawyers wielding Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act…to rectify what he considers violations, such as too many white students in high school Advanced Placement classes. He says his rights enforcers, 600 of them, with a $103 million budget, will remedy discrimination…”

Will goes on to say, “Plainly put, the best indicator of a school’s performance is family performance (emphasis mine)—qualities of the family from which the students come.”

Family is the crucial element in a child’s life. Family means 2 parents. It means both parents living together in full support of their children while fostering emotional security and safety, which encourages the ability of the children to explore their creative and natural curiosities. Parents, who are intensely involved with their children, offer environments and upbringing where AP courses and high SAT scores are often the result of educated parents, with a family income, who live in the same home with their children.

I was surprised at George Will’s statistics. Would it surprise you, as it did me, that 71.6% of African American children and 51.3% of Latino children are born to unmarried mothers? Could these single parent families, with low incomes, no fathers, and sparse discipline be a reason why AP classes are filled with “white students” as Arne Duncan claims? The government cannot hide behind “rights” when the real reason for “disparity” in AP classes is due to the lack of family structures within the minority communities. The government camouflages the breakdown of family structures within these communities as a “civil rights issue” when it is a family structure issue.

Family, 2 parents in the same home, is the blood that fills the veins of the children. Mothers are the child’s first influence. It is she who teaches values, compassion, and respect. It is she who puts their little feet on the road to education and fulfillment. It is the father who brings balance.

“Uneducated mothers do not raise educated children.”

Education in Crisis; American Diploma Requirements & Then There’s the British! Part 5

March 17, 2010 Leave a comment

I recently read an interesting article on the real costs of public education in the Unites States. It is called, “They Spend WHAT? The Real Cost of Public Schools”, by Adam Schaeffer. Adam B. Schaeffer is a policy analyst with Cato’s Center for Educational Freedom and author of “The Poverty of Preschool Promises: Saving Children and Money with the Early Education Tax Credit,” Cato Institute Policy, Analysis no. 641, August 3, 2009.

Mr. Schaeffer makes the case that the real cost to educate our children in an average public school system is equivalent to the cost of a private school education. If  this is true then why are we required to educate our sons and daughters in a public system that is generally mediocre, run by teacher unions for their benefit, that costs as much as private schools, and which doesn’t produce  scholars, problem solvers, innovators, or serious thinkers, and whose dropout rates are staggering? Maybe, if we gave that money back to the taxpayer they could use it to send their children to private schools that are exceptional or above average and their children could receive an education that prepares them to meet or exceed life’s challenges.

Since it is proclaimed that we have worldwide dominance in education, let us compare the U.S. public educational system with that of the United Kingdom. We need to begin with the high school graduation requirements for the United States as calculated by the National Center for Educational Statistics, U.S. Department of Education:

Grades 10 thru 12: The educational system calculates “credits” in the Carnegie unit, which is a standard of measurement that represents one credit for the completion of a 1-year course. (All States differ in their requirements.)

Mathematics; 3 credits – Algebra I, II, and Geometry

English; 3 credits – Grammar, Literature

Science; 3 credits – Biology I, II, and Chemistry (Physics or Astronomy if offered can be selected)

Social Studies; 2 credits – American History, World History (State & Federal Government, Civics or Geography if offered can be selected)

Foreign Language; 2 credits

Electives; 3 credits – Physical Education, Art, Music Appreciation, Theater, Vocation or Technical Classes, if any of these are offered due to budget cuts in high schools across the country

The average American school day usually begins at 8:00 am and ends at 3:00 pm. This is 7 hours of school per day for five days. However, there is one hour for lunch, so that leaves us with 6 hours of teaching. Most high school teachers have to take roll and get class settled. This takes from 5 to 15 minutes, depending on the teacher. Best case scenario of 5 minutes, we now have instead of 6 hours of teaching, 5 ½ hours of instruction, this is 27 ½ hours of classroom instruction per week.

The American concept of a school transcript is unfamiliar in the UK. Schools in the UK do not generally rank pupils within their year; currently, the principal standards are the GCSE (3 years), AS-Levels (2 years) and A-Level examination results at the end of the 2 year AS-Levels.

The UK instead teaches for comprehension. The first level of education is called the General Curriculum for Secondary Education (GCSE) and the exams are taken after 3 years of general education and, if passed, the student proceeds to the next level of education, AS-Levels. All of the knowledge they have acquired in the 10 or more subjects they take for 3 years in the GCSE level is tested on that one important exam for each subject. The GCSE exams are rigorous and require not only questions and answers, but also written essays, which evaluate the level of subject comprehension and integration within the 3 years of instruction. The GCSE is a single-subject examination set and marked by independent examination boards.

There is no official method of equating British and American primary and secondary educational qualifications. The educational systems are entirely different and attempts to compare them must be done on a strictly conditional basis. However, in general 5 GCSE passes are considered to weigh closest to the three-year American high school diploma.

Now let’s take a look at the British system of education. It ranks among the best in the world and is where many foreign heads of state send their children to be educated and to learn English as a second language. The British philosophy of education has a different perspective and produces different results when compared to the American system. Their school week is usually 40 hours of classroom instruction, includes Saturday, and there are required extra curricula activities above this.

National UK Curriculum Core subjects are: English, mathematics, and science; Foundation subjects are design and technology; information and communication technology; history; geography; modern foreign languages; music; art and design; physical education; religious education; and citizenship.

Below is a quote from a UK boarding and day school:

“The pupils here work hard and are worked hard and it is important that they leave us with the best possible examination results. Most do and that is as it should be. None of us though must forget that there are many fundamental qualities which are not examinable: curiosity, shrewdness, initiative, an awareness of beauty, a sense of humour, a sense of responsibility and a gift for friendship. These and other basic qualities need to be developed in an institution which regards itself as educational. The development of many of these qualities requires time and commitment.”

The first year in the British system, called the “F Block”, somewhat equivalent to our 9th grade in the American high school, includes the following hours per subject per school week:

English, 4 hours

French, 4 hours

Mathematics, 4 hours

Sciences, 9 hours

History, 3 hours

Geography, 3 hours

Creative Arts (a modular course), 4 hours

Divinity (study of all religions), 1 hour

Option A (may select from German, Spanish, Extra English, Extra Mathematics), 4 hours

Option B (may select from Classics, Music, Extra English, Extra Mathematics), 4 hours

All students are expected to participate in Games, physical activity, at least twice a week after school. These games last for several hours and are generally team games. Each week there is a 45 minute meeting in small groups that is led by a staff member and it covers an informal discussion of issues such as smoking, drug abuse, healthy eating, as well as personnel issues such as friendships, home-sickness, relationships, loss and death.

Upon completion of the GCSE exams, students may leave secondary schooling; alternatively, they may choose to continue their education at vocational or technical colleges, or they may take a higher level of secondary school examinations after an additional year of study known as AS-Levels. Following two years of study, students may take A-Level (short for Advanced Level) examinations, which are required for university entrance in the UK. The A-Levels are equivalent to our freshmen year at American universities. Many students take a “Gap Year” (a year off), which includes travel or rest, after completing their A-Level examinations and before entering their chosen university. They need it! My sons attended Rugby School and they needed it after 5 years of hard work. After their Gap Year they went off to MIT in Cambridge, MA.

Do we have the best public educational system in the world, as has been often said by our politicians and many educators? If so, how do we explain dropout rates, graduates who cannot fill out a job application, graduates who cannot calculate the square footage of their house so they can buy carpet, or the graduate who has no employable skills or technical knowledge?

Can we as a nation continue down an educational road that leads to dead ends and flawed results? How do we justify 27 ½ hour weeks of instruction in our dilapidated schools, where teachers generally teach to the test and where children are not required to solve problems, analyze or think?

We MUST do better than this!

Education in Crisis; Teachers and Tenure, Part 4

March 11, 2010 Leave a comment

Definition of Tenure:

A system of due process and employment guarantees for teachers. After serving a two-year probationary period, teachers are assured continued employment in the school district unless carefully defined procedures for dismissal or layoff are successfully followed.

As initially conceived, academic tenure guarantees the right to academic freedom. It protects teachers and researchers when they dissent from prevailing opinion, openly disagree with authorities of any sort, or spend time on unfashionable topics. Thus, academic tenure is similar to the lifetime tenure that protects some judges from external pressure. The intent of tenure was to encourage original ideas to be expressed by giving scholars the intellectual autonomy to investigate the problems and solutions about which they are most passionate, and to report their honest conclusions. Originally this was a good idea.

Tenure Today: Jennifer DeFoor, a 35 year old 2nd grade teacher, sexually abused a 14 year old female student and had sex with her 18 year old brother in front of her. She was convicted but still remains on the Alabama school payroll because it could take up to six months or more to remove her. State law requires tenured teachers to go through a dismissal process whose legal costs are formidable if not followed exactly.

Last year the Los Angeles Times ran a series documenting the unwillingness of the education bureaucracy to fire bad teachers. There was the teacher who told a student who tried to commit suicide to “carve more deeply the next time”, and another who kept pornography and cocaine at school. Both are still teaching. And then there is the notorious New York “rubber room” where teachers waiting for legal action to be completed sit with full pay and no teaching responsibilities, some for several years. They collect pay and do nothing.

The Indianapolis Star reported that Lawrence Township schools quietly laid off, with generous cash settlements and confidential agreements, a teacher accused of sexually assaulting a student; another accused of kissing a high school student, and another with a 20 year history of complaints of injuring and harassing students, including a 1992 rape allegation. When the story ran last summer these teachers still held active teaching licenses.

In New York City in 2008, three out of 30,000 tenured teachers were dismissed for cause. The statistics are just as grim nationwide; 0.01% in Chicago, 0% in Akron, Ohio, 0% in Denver, 0.01% in Toledo. In no other socially significant profession are workers so insulated from accountability. Year after year 90% of teachers are rated as “satisfactory” by their principals because firing a teacher invites a costly court battle waged by the teacher unions.  (Newsweek, March 6, 2010)

What is so disturbing, setting aside the sensationalism generated by some teachers, is the immunity enjoyed by thousands of teachers who let their students down in more ordinary ways. Their mantra is; it’s the Parents or absence of Parents, it’s society with its distractions and pathologies, it’s the kids. So they keep the assembly line flowing with “social promotion”, regardless of academic performance. Kate Walsh, president of the National Council on Teacher Quality, says, “By 1992 there was such a dramatic achievement gap in the United States, far larger than in other countries, between socioeconomic classes and races. It was a scandal of monumental proportions, that there were two distinct school systems in the U.S., one for the middle class and one for the poor.”  The decline in American education is embarrassing and has put our nation at risk. There was a time when American students tested better than other students in the world. Now we do as well as Lithuania. (Newsweek, March 6, 2010)

Nothing is more important than hiring good teachers and firing bad ones. Teaching in public schools has not attracted the best and the brightest. It is said that men and women enter education because they can’t make it in any other profession. McKinsey & Co., the management consulting firm, reported that most school teachers are recruited from the bottom third of college-bound high school students. Finland takes the top 10%. Newsweek, March 6, 2010

But what makes a good teacher? Bill Gates announced recently that his foundation was investing millions in a project to improve teaching quality in the United States, he added a rueful caveat, “Unfortunately, it seems the field doesn’t have a clear view of what characterizes good teaching”. Gates said, “I am personally very curious.”

I am too!

Education in Crisis; The Parents, Part 3

March 7, 2010 1 comment

I changed my mind.

I was going to write about teachers in this post but I have the cart before the horse. We first need to look at Parenting skills in our country. After all, parents are every child’s first model; they come to the parents first, and to the teachers second. Some children, or maybe most nowadays, are deposited with baby sitters, day care centers, or other care givers as they work their way to the teachers. Maybe teachers are their last stop in a country where we have traded parenting in for profit. Michael Douglas said, as his son faces 10 years for meth trafficking, “I did what my father did and put career first”. We don’t have to do what our parents did. We can learn from them and reinvent ourselves.

We are a nation of ethnic diversity. We all come from somewhere else. All our children come together into the same educational system. Teachers inherit the children we have parented. If our parenting is not done well it is the teachers who must deal with the ‘crushed spirits’ of those whose parents were deficient in their responsibilities to their children. It all begins at the beginning, BIRTH.

Definition: Disable (v) – Crushed Spirit; to withdraw hope, to deflate curiosity, to promote an inability to see beauty, to deprive imagination, to make abject. (Mullins New Thesaurus: 2009 Edition)

Parents instill values. Children are innocent when they reach us. They only know what we teach and demonstrate to them from birth through their early years. “Peek-A-Boo, I See You!” discusses signals that children send us. They are curious, imaginative, adaptive, and energetic when they arrive. We have the ability to encourage or ‘crush’ these wonderful innocent qualities they bring with them. It is inexcusable to say “I did what my father did…” What kind of an excuse is that? Did we not learn from our own experiences what we craved from our parents and what went missing? Did this not make an impression on us? Is Michael Douglas telling us he accepted his childhood and so he duplicated it for his children? Sooooo, he is sorry and apologetic as his son faces the possibility of 10 years in jail. I knew what was missing from my childhood and vowed that if I had children they would not miss it. I would give to them what was not given to me. Please do not say you are sorry, that really doesn’t fly in the face of parental actions and the havoc they wreak on children.

With the state of technology today we have more help through blogs, internet, media, and friends to raise our children in an environment rich in love and activity. When children fail they are telling you I need love and attention. I want you to see me. No one wants to fail. Children see daily the rewards of success through education. They want to succeed because they seek approval, just as you do when you do something your boss recognizes. We all seek approval and want to be successful and happy.

Parenting begins with bonding at birth, baby care, cuddling, holding, responding, and giving. This builds security and comfort within babies. Children do not need video games and television. They need parents who are involved in their curiosity and imagination and who take them into the world to explore these curiosities. They need parents who teach them how to be civilized, respectful, and compassionate. They need lessons in healthy eating, discipline, determination, family values, and the importance of achieving. They do not need parents who make excuses for their failure.

It is common sense! What is it about parenting that people do not understand? Maybe we should have courses in high school on childbirth and parental responsibilities in child rearing. The three most important investments a person makes in their life is who they marry, how many children they have, and which house they buy to raise their family. We do not teach any skills in our educational system that relate to these decisions and they are decisions that live with us for the rest of our lives.

Are teachers our baby sitters? Do we expect them to teach family values? Do we expect them to discipline our out-of-control children? Do we expect teachers to raise our children in the hours they have them? I am not making a case for teachers. I am asking parents, whose crushed children enter our educational system, what it is they expect these teachers to accomplish with these broken humans we abandoned for profit?

The educational system will improve when our parental responsibilities improve. It is then we can point a finger at teachers who do not teach. We will remove their excuses for not taking responsibility for their profession, if it is indeed a profession at this point in time. Professionals have a code of ethics. Professionals do not accept the low percentage of student proficiency, 39 percent of fourth graders in math and 33 percent in reading, with a wide gap between black and white students in reading and math.

We have to begin at the beginning. First, raise them well then turn them over to teachers to teach them well. We will then stop our children’s foreboding slide into mediocrity as other  nations bolt ahead and into the future leaving our children behind to be the worker bees.

Education in Crisis; America’s High Schools & Rhode Island, Part 2

March 2, 2010 4 comments

Central Falls is one of the poorest towns in the state of Rhode Island. There are lots of boarded up windows, abandoned buildings, and decrepit factories. It is a depressed community. Wikipedia states the median income in Central Falls is $22,000. Teacher’s salaries at the high school average between $72,000 and $78,000 (which exemplifies a nationwide trend in which public sector workers make far more than their private sector counterparts and with better benefits). Fifty percent (50%) of their students are failing all of their classes, the graduation rate is under 50%, and only 7% of its 11th graders were proficient in math in 2009.

Does this sound like a high school where you live? It has too, because we have more than 5000 high schools in our country that are considered “non-performing” and 2,000 of those high schools produce more than half of the nation’s dropouts.

Sooooo, to try and alleviate the serious educational problems these students face at the Central Falls High School, School Superintendent Frances Gallo developed a modest plan to help her students in this failing school. She asked her teachers:

  • to work 25 minutes longer each day without extra pay
  • to eat lunch with the students once in a while
  • to help with tutoring students after school

The teachers didn’t blink. They refused these onerous demands of doing extra work for no extra pay (to help their failing students graduate). The Central Falls Teachers’ Union refused to accept a reform plan for one of the worst performing high schools in the state.

Superintendent Gallo didn’t blink either. After learning of the union’s decision she notified the state of Rhode Island that she was switching to a plan she hoped she could avoid and she fired the entire staff at Central Falls High School, 100 teachers, the principal, all administrators, and assistants. They all lost their jobs.

Superintendent Gallo is replacing everyone!

The Teacher’s Union responded at a rally at the city park before a school committee meeting. George Nee, president of the Rhode Island AFL-CIO, told the crowd, “This is immoral, illegal, unjust, irresponsible, disgraceful, and disrespectful.” Mark Bostic, a representative from the American Federation of Teachers, said it would stand behind its teachers “as long as it takes to get justice.”

NOW, who among us will stand behind the students “as long as it takes to get justice”?  Who among us will SHOUT OUT  that the failing rates across this country is “immoral, illegal, unjust, irresponsible, disgraceful, and disrespectful”? The students at Central Falls High School are failing, dropping out, and living wasted lives in an economy that demands, more than ever, an education in order to have a future? Where are the parents and where is their voice? Does anyone hear their voice?

Since I am a self employed business owner with no benefits, I must leave this post to attend a meeting. I will have more to say in the next post about Teachers, Unions, and our “Obsolete” (Bill Gates said this), “State of Emergency” (Oprah Winfrey said this), “Unrecognized Educational Crisis” (Former U.S. Secretary of Education, Ron Paige said this) educational system.

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