Archive

Archive for the ‘Quality Education’ Category

Education Nation: Teachers Want a Voice as Decision Makers

February 27, 2012 Leave a comment

There is a school in Washington State where the teachers decided what they wanted education to be like for their 650 kindergarten through 6th grade students. The staff collaborated as a group on what they believed constituted good teaching. Many of their group decisions continue to guide learning in every classroom at their school.

They began by redefining their teaching relationships with their students by deciding they would stay with the same class for two years instead of one. AND, they included students with special needs in their classrooms instead of segregating them out. They decided to be guides for their students allowing the students to direct their own learning. They did this through “inquiry based projects”. Several times a year these teachers helped their students develop questions in subjects that the students were interested in and wanted to investigate. The teachers then integrated reading, writing and communication skills into long-term projects.

Instead of giving all the answers to their students these teachers guide them in searching for responses to their own questions by assisting to help in research and identify and sort through information resources. These teachers have created a climate of collaboration not only between their students, but also the with the school staff, who supports their changed role in the classroom.

In their daily conferences with team partners, teachers encourage each other to make changes and try new things. One states, “Because we stay with our students for two years, we can’t use the same ideas with the class the next year, so we are always coming up with new projects.”

When teachers have a voice in their curriculum and a chance to be decision makers in formulating learning in their classrooms, learning is improved for each student. When teachers encourage a heterogeneous population in their classrooms, students become more involved in helping others to achieve and succeed. Everyone has a need to give and help those who are disadvantaged. When we segregate our population of students from each other they lose their sense of compassion for those who are unlike them.

Sir Ken Robinson, PhD, and an internationally recognized leader in the development of education, creativity, and innovation, presented at the November 2011 TEDx London conference. He states that education must be Personalized for the student, which improves motivation for teachers; that education must be Customized to students to their place within their community; and that education must include Diversity instead of requiring teachers to subscribe to conformity. Sir Robinson strongly recommends that learning involves local community partnerships where students are exposed to the world in which they live and become community participants.

When teachers have a voice in their classrooms and the curriculum they teach; when they have a chance to be decision makers in their profession, they become motivated and inspired. Their classrooms become learning centers where students accept responsibility for themselves and others. They are invested in producing and collaborating for the success of all. None are left behind because all are involved.

For the above to happen educational leadership must be supportive of creative teacher innovation within the classroom. They must trust their teachers and advise rather than dictate. Of course it takes secure leaders to pass on creative responsibility to their teachers. Secure administrators are a rare breed. Their penchant is to control rather than relinquish.

What an amazing torrent of creative energy would be unleashed if teachers had a voice in decision-making within their classrooms and supportive educational administrators!

“Civilization is a race between education and catastrophe.”

Post Script: Yes Rob, the teaching example I give at the top of this post is simple in its approach. I know that many teachers live and work in small communities throughout this great nation. Their school budgets limit funding to basic concepts. This is written for them. Innovation in small districts across our country depends on the educator’s imagination and ability to engage their students in meaningful and passionate intellectual exploration. It does not take money to develop creative minds; it takes commitment. Sir Ken Robinson writes about getting back to basics. To me, getting back to basics means organizing learning experiences for children which develop inquisitive minds with tenacious curiosity. Once those minds are set into motion it is essential to then teach children how to use their knowledge and curiosity in their own life applications. What good is knowledge if we are unable to solve the mysteries in our own lives? What good is knowledge if we are unable to apply it to expanding our own horizons. Yes, simple approaches develop amazing innovation.

Education Nation: What Teachers Want – Part 1, Salaries

September 29, 2011 Leave a comment

I watched the September 25th, Sunday NBC program called “Education Nation” hosted by Brian Williams. It was a Teacher Town Hall Meeting filled with teachers talking about teaching and the state of education. They came from all over the country. They taught in a large variety of public school systems, charter schools, teacher controlled schools, parent owned schools, and at all grade levels. Their backgrounds were from tenured to first year teachers, rural to big city schools, and from every walk of life imaginable. The teachers were well represented and candid.

A survey was taken. The national teacher survey and the town hall teachers agreed to the following points of professional concern in American public education. This is what they say they want in their discussions:

·    Raise teacher salaries
·    Give teachers a voice, a chance to be the decision makers
·    More supportive leadership
·    More family involvement
·    Help with student behavior

This post will discuss teacher salaries. The next additional posts on this subject will discuss each point listed above.

Part One – Teacher Salaries – Some Reported Statistics:

·    According to teacherportal.com first year salaries range from $24,872 to $39,259.
·    An average salary for teaching across the nation is $33,950.
·    With 10 – 19 years the average salary is $48,088.
·    With 20+ years experience the average salary is $56,055.
·    U.S. teachers work about 1,913 hours over a 180 day school year that is 36 weeks long.

The average teacher’s hourly wage is competitive with many professions as indicated in the chart below. Teachers get the summer off and are able to supplement their wages through summer school, summer work, tutoring, coaching or other means. Teachers receive state benefits, pensions, and have a secure career with a retirement that is independent of social security.


According to a survey conducted by the NEA (National Teachers Association) Teachers spend an average of 50 hours per week on instructional duties, including an average of 12 hours each week on non-compensated school-related activities such as grading papers, bus duty, and club advising. This averages to 62 hours per 5 day week. Very little of this time is spent working directly with students in activities such as tutoring or coaching; far more time is reported on preparation, grading papers, parent conferences, and attending meetings. Teachers have a long week of which some is compensated and some is not. They have the summers off when other professionals do not.

The question was asked on Education Nation if teachers thought they should receive higher salaries – 74% in the room said yes, the national survey reported 75% of the teachers said yes. BUT, interestingly there were 10 other items that ranked higher in the survey. Melanie Allen, a Boston teacher said, “This (teacher salary issue) really strikes home for me because when I know passionate, excellent teachers who’ve left the classroom, it’s not because of lack of dollars, it’s lack of voice. We want a chance to be the decision makers. We’re on the ground, we know what needs to be done and we want the chance to do it.” I say BRAVO Melanie!

Teachers are not well represented by their unions or their spokesmen when it comes to their image, devotion, hard work, and determination to help their students succeed. Most have a passion for what they do and they need a voice, not only over what goes on in their schools, but on the national level where many of us are ready to hear them speak. We want to hear from the teachers who are on the front lines, not the union bosses who sit in their offices sipping coffee with their large salaries taken from the union dues teachers supply.

Do they want more money? Yes.
Are there 10 other things that are more important to them? Yes.
They don’t teach for money; they teach because they love what they do.

More to come in my next posts about what teachers want.

Education; It’s time for a new school model – STEM

September 22, 2011 2 comments

We have discussed in this blog many of the problems attached with education as they presently exist. Sadly, I have fallen into the trap of emphasizing the problems we already know; decrepit schools, unqualified teachers, teacher unions, bad parenting, useless teaching methods, parents sending unprepared children to school, wasted resources, corruption, etc.

Now, I am climbing out of the negative trap that I and so many fall into and will be writing about ideas, innovations, digital education, creative lateral thinking, new philosophies and techniques for helping children learn more and overcome their home deficiencies and parental neglect. It is my hope to change the dialogue to one of hope instead of despair. Let’s begin with a few important studies that inform and educate us regarding future trends and possibilities.

1. STEM is an acronym that stands for science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. In 2006, the United States National Academies expressed their concern about the declining state of STEM education in the United States. Its Committee on Science, Engineering and Public Policy developed a list of 10 actions federal policy makers could take to advance STEM education in the United States to compete successfully in the 21st century. Their top three recommendations were to:

·    increase America’s talent pool by improving K-12 science and mathematics education;
·    strengthen the skills of teachers through additional training in science, math and technology;
·    enlarge the pipeline of students prepared to enter college and graduate with STEM degrees.

2. The Department of Labor identifies fourteen sectors that are “projected to add substantial numbers of new jobs to the economy, or affect the growth of other industries, or are being transformed by technology and innovation requiring new sets of skills for workers.” These are: Advanced Manufacturing, Automotive, Construction, Financial Service, Geospatial Technology, Homeland Security, Information Technology, Transportation, Aerospace, Biotechnology, Energy, Healthcare, Hospitality, and Retail.

3. A study on Education and the Workforce submitted in August, 2011 by the Georgetown University Center confirms what teachers, parents, and public and private sector leaders have known for years: A post-secondary education is now the gateway to the middle class. The Georgetown study indicates that the lifetime earnings for people with bachelor’s degrees are 84% greater than those with only a high school diploma — whose lifetime earnings translate to just over $15/hour.

4. According to the Milken Institute Review, which everyone should read for its articulate presentation of the facts,  “In 1969, the average male college graduate working full time earned about 55% more than an average worker with only a high school diploma. Four decades later, this wage premium was 116%. Powerful economic forces, including technological change and globalization, have reduced job opportunities for less educated, less-skilled workers while increasing them for higher-skilled workers.”

5. The single most important trend in the world today is that globalization and the information/technology revolution have catapulted us into a whole new level of worker skills. We have cloud computing, wireless connectivity, Skype, Google, LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter and inexpensive Smartphones. We have gone from connected to hyper connected. The last I heard there were 3 million job openings with no one to fill them because our general population lack the skills to apply.

6. Thomas Friedman, New York Times, said, “We don’t have a jobs problem; we have a skills problem.” He goes on to write, “Think of what The Times reported last February: At little Grinnell College in rural Iowa, with 1,600 students, ‘nearly one of every 10 applicants being considered for the class of 2015 is from China.’ ” The article noted that dozens of other American colleges and universities are seeing a similar surge as well. And the article added this fact: Half the “applicants from China this year have perfect scores of 800 on the math portion of the SAT.”

We already know that many parents of the students who are failing and dropping out are not motivated or committed to performing their important parenting skills. Their children are unlikely to succeed in this competitive climate if they live in a home where parents are uninvolved. Since this abysmal parenting problem is unlikely to change, I find it is more positive to focus on the teachers. They are the ones who are expected to teach skills in order to prepare their students, the ones who care, for the competitive future.

It is unfortunate that teachers have to spend time teaching character, values and disciplining students who come from homes where these attributes are nonexistent. It wastes their valuable teaching time with students who have a future. How many students who want to learn and succeed are stuck in classes with peers whose main goal is to disrupt and distract because they lack the discipline and intellectual ability to focus and learn? Enough said, let me focus on teachers, our valuable, hardworking teachers, at least most of them.

How do we change the systems/curriculum in our schools so this present generation of children is able to successfully compete in a one world labor market that is connected by the internet and World Wide Web? How does our educational system provide the skill sets needed for motivated children to succeed and fulfill their aspirations?

Computers are the language of our students; this is how they communicate with each other and their parents. I was at my son’s BBQ over the Labor Day weekend and spoke to some of his friends. I asked them how they communicate with each other and their families. They replied they Twitter or Facebook for quick notes and email to get longer messages to their friends. They Skype with their parents and extended families. They don’t know what a postage stamp is and they don’t write letters. This generation is more computer savvy than their teachers, parents, and anyone who is a generation behind them. They are involved in everything and disdain the obsolete, like the Encyclopedia Britannica. It’s Google folks; it’s Wikipedia; it’s the internet!

For starters, I suggest we think about the following ideas for teachers:

·    We offer computer skill seminars to all existing teachers before each school year begins, some will be refresher courses and some will be starter courses. We teach them not only to become proficient in operating their computers and computer software, but we also teach them the skills in how to join in the conversation and operate the latest technological innovations and communications; Twitter, Facebook, Cloud Computing, Skype, Google and all of its components (Gmail, Ngram, Google Docs, etc.), LinkedIn, to name a few.
·    Have each school create their own email system so professional communication can be stored for future reference and information gathering. Teachers should not use their personal email accounts.
·    We include in our university education curriculum’s courses or laboratories for new teachers that emphasize computer skills and all of the latest online technology and methods of communication. They must be proficient in order to graduate.
·    We gift each teacher their own computer. We give each teacher a free laptop like federal and state governments give cell phones and laptops to many of their public employees. The taxpayer bears the cost for these perks for government employees why shouldn’t they do this for teachers, who impact every child in our country?
·    We require teachers to communicate with their students in online conferencing tutorials, like many corporations do with online conferencing when they brainstorm for solutions to corporate problems. Think of this, teachers and groups of students working out problems online, collaborating as a team for the success of all.
·    There is a program at New Humanitarian private school in Russia called “Curators”. These are designated teachers whose job it is to oversee students in each grade. Curators generally do not conduct lessons but observe classes, identify problems and take children to meals and activities. Many children stay at school until 6 p.m. doing homework with curators.
·    Every teacher should study and teach courses in “thinking,” as in critical thinking. A dissident Soviet educational philosopher named Georgy Shchedrovitsky argues there are three ways of thinking: abstract, verbal and representational. To comprehend the meaning of something, you have to use all three. Teachers should be “thinking” in their classrooms. They should delight in barraging children with word problems and puzzles to force them to think broadly. To do this they must think broadly!
·    Classes should be videotaped. This way we could critique how teachers interact with and nurture relations between children. The administrators and staff could work on reviewing footage and discussing methodology with teachers in order to improve their teaching skills and student interaction.
·    At New Humanitarian children are graded and ranked, with results posted. The school master says, “they send an entirely different message to the kids: ‘Learning is hard, but you have to do it. You have to get good grades.’ ” In our school systems we instill an ethos that everyone’s-a-winner. This is destructive and dishonest. A child needs to know when they are not a winner. They need to know they are being left behind.

Educational reform is the only real source for the revitalization of our country.

Education: A teacher’s response…

September 20, 2011 1 comment

I sent my pal Rob, who is an X-Teacher, an article from the New York Times on character development. His response is poignant for all of its ideas, hard work and sincere effort on the part of the many teachers and staff who participated in their search for solutions to student motivation and behavior problems. I am posting the letter here as I feel it makes an important statement from an educator who was fighting the good fight. I have another post but thought it could wait. Read this and see how you feel. It is posted as it is written except for a few minor corrections made for clarity of thought.

Hi Sandra….. Hope this finds you well….

The “gritty” NYTimes article about character development brought these things to mind for me:

·    STARS
·    TAP
·    Random Acts of Kindness
·    Bulldog Bucks
·    Traffic Tickets
and others which lacked witty acronyms or slogans.

These were some of the “character-based” initiatives that were required for each teacher to implement at the middle school in which I taught.

STARS: Each letter stood for some character trait; those that I do remember are S= Success, T=Teamwork, A=Achievement, R=Responsibility (or was it Respect?  probably was Responsibility, as this was in the time before bullying became such a focus, thereby not a real emphasis on Respect back then)…  and the final “S”, I just don’t remember what it stood for. Each IDT (Inter-Disciplinary Team) had to meet and brainstorm and agree to and submit to the faculty its clever acronym for the “new” “character building” program that year; STARS, (submitted by my IDT by the way) won the honor by majority of votes.

TAP: This one, the Teacher Advisory Program, was in effect the year I started teaching and lasted for only a few years longer. It was a “special” extended homeroom period once a week during which time the teacher was to “get to know” those students and become their mentor, their adviser, that one teacher each student could count on and come to with any problem they might have. This program was to be centered on teaching values, with several resources available in the faculty section of the library (Media Center didn’t exist then) in case one needed help with planning a lesson or two.  This program was resurrected a year or two after STARS fizzled out.

“Random Acts of Kindness” was a big focus for a marking period or two. Teachers were given a quantity of mini certificates which were to be discreetly given to students who were observed performing a kind act to another. Students could feel better about themselves having been recognized for doing something kind.

“Bulldog Bucks” was the name of the recognition/reward initiative of my IDT in which students were given “Bucks” for not only being kind to others but for completing homework, having materials, raising hands, and other expected student behaviors.  Unlike just receiving a certificate of kindness, Bulldog Bucks had an added incentive in that students could “cash in” their bucks for homework passes or save them up to attend the big ice cream party at the end of a marking period. Of course some students found ways to trade bucks for favors, bully others into parting with theirs, or even steal them on the sly. So each student then had to sign each buck, making it personal with a deterrent for fraudulent use. I recall that Bulldog Bucks went bankrupt before the end of that school year.

“Traffic Tickets” were an effort to improve conduct and behavior in the hallways.    Students were to monitor themselves and each other. This program didn’t last very long, as there were too many police and no consequences for the offenders.

Another program that began in earnest was some sort of small group sessions of selected disruptive or behaviorally challenged students meeting weekly with the school psychologist and the school counselor. What they actually did there, or what they talked about, or any results, or really just anything about this program was pretty much kept under wraps. These students missed a class a week, and were responsible for making up the work. Don’t know how long it lasted. God knows they could still be having these sessions even to this day!

After reading the article again today, these things came to mind and perhaps I’m anxious enough to talk with you about it that I just couldn’t wait until Friday’s class (in the gym) to share. Each of those programs came and went, some lasting longer than others, but mostly they were short-lived. I think TAP lasted several consecutive years; the others hardly a year at most.

And what, Sandra, do you think these programs accomplished? All of the thought and planning, and meetings and planning, and time and effort, and more meetings that went along with each of these ideas??

And why, Sandra, do you think these well-intentioned programs “failed”?  What was the biggest deterrent to their extended successes?  The program itself?  The kids?  Think the most obvious answer is………..

Thanks for sending the article. It was very interesting to say the least.
Hope to see you at the gym on Friday!

Education; Teacher Cheaters in Pennsylvania!

August 7, 2011 1 comment

I have a friend who is a teacher. She told me after reading my prior post on the Atlanta Teacher Cheaters, “Teachers shouldn’t be judged so harshly. Too much is expected of them. They have too much on their plate.” Stunning!

Why are we making excuses for teachers who are unable to educate their students without cheating them and stealing their futures? Who do the teacher unions speak for in this appalling 11 year intellectual theft?

The New York Times reported on July 31 that Pennsylvania joined the many states whose teachers are involved in a massive teacher cheating scandal involving 89 schools, 28 of which are located in Philadelphia, whose inner city children are mostly black. If, like Atlanta, this has been going on since 2000, think of the drastic, mind numbing consequences for these students who have been allowed to cheat and actually were assisted by the teachers in their cheating!

This is 2011. This cheating began in 2000 and eleven years later these students, who were robbed of their future by these teachers, have been out of school for 6 years. Where are they now? What are they doing? Where do they live? What glorious dreams do they have? Who stands for them?

Let’s look at Teacher Cheaters from the perspective of the student. Let’s call him Nate. He is a minority student in the Atlanta or Philadelphia school system and in the eighth grade. When he entered the eighth grade he was not performing at his grade level. It is the end of the year and he is being tested by his teachers to see if they brought him to grade level or above. He is too young to understand the terrible consequences for his future if he is passed on without certain scholastic proficiencies. At this time in his life he does not think of his future. He does what his teacher directs him to do and if the teacher teaches him how to cheat that is what he learns how to do well. He cannot read nor do mathematical skills at his grade level, but he does become proficient in cheating as taught to him by his Teacher Cheaters.

Nate is passed from one grade level to another with the assistance of the Teacher Cheaters and he graduates with a diploma, which he can barely read. Or worse, he may have dropped out of school. Nate needs a job because he is now 18 years old. His parents have given him the boot and told him to support himself. He can’t read well; he can barely do the most basic math skills; and his spoken language is unintelligible or filled with the most deplorable grammatical speech patterns, which condemn him to a life of poverty, crime or flipping hamburgers at McDonald’s for minimum wage. It was told to me once, “The spoken language is what determines your class, prosperity and success in life.” This subtle influence that plays upon the ear is as true as the sun rising in the morning.

Nate is doomed. He never had a chance. His Teacher Cheaters got their bonuses, promotions, and Federal Funding for 11 years as Nate struggled to make sense of his time in their prison.

Never before have teachers had so many reasons to cheat. Student scores are now used to determine whether teachers and principals are good or bad, whether teachers should get a bonus or be fired, whether a school is a success or failure. If the Teacher Cheaters were doing what they were hired to do there would be no reasons to cheat. Is this broad based scandal foreshadowing the wholesale incompetency of teachers, administrators, and unions? Are they covering up this horrible crime against the youth of our nation? If they are doing what they are paid to do there would be no reasons to cheat.

Instead of accepting responsibility for their crime against Nate, teachers are finger pointing towards a host of others, which I find irresponsible, time consuming, and unproductive! When they cheat a student they cheat the entire country. I am so happy I home schooled our sons. They are now very successful young men who can read, speak articulately, and add, subtract, divide and multiply.

“If a seed of a lettuce will not grow, we do not blame the lettuce. Instead, the fault lies with us for not having nourished the seed properly.”

 Buddhist proverb

%d bloggers like this: