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American Education on the Decline – so Goes the Nation

January 20, 2014 1 comment

Parents make the rules and set the boundaries for their children. They set them up for success or failure.

All children are required to attend school in the USA. Our schools are the recipients of the children who these parents raise. They enter our classrooms either prepared to Launch into the Future or Dead on Arrival. I could go on about the teachers and their unions; the ways in which they block innovation and change, the ways in which they game the system for their benefit with the children left in their care losing ground internationally. But this is a rehashing of the obvious. What is important to know is that the American public educational system is now ranked 37 in the PISA (The Program for International Student Assessment). More than half a million 15-year-olds around the world took the PISA in 2012. The test, which is administered every three years and focuses largely on math, but includes minor sections in science and reading, is often used as a snapshot of the global state of education. The results, published in December, 2013, show the U.S. trailing behind educational powerhouses like Korea and Finland.

It is useless to ask, “Who is to blame?” All are to blame; Parents for their irresponsible parenting and inability to have a vision for their children who are undisciplined and chaotic; Teachers for their unique capacity to remain mediocre in times that demand innovative change and diversity of thought; Unions who force every American teacher to pay dues to an organization that enslaves their members to an ethic of unexceptional performance; and Politicians who squander the promise of the youth of this nation as they waste time and opportunities to transform and revolutionize our educational practices in America. ALL are to blame.

Not much has changed since 2000, when the U.S. scored along the OECD (Organization for Co-operation and Development) average in every subject: This year, the U.S. scores below average in math and ranks 17th among the 34 OECD countries. It scores close to the OECD average in science and reading, ranks 21st in science, and 17th in reading. The U.S. scored below the PISA math mean and ranks 26th out of the 34 OECD countries. Fifty-five percent of students in Shanghai-China were considered top performers, while only nine percent of American students were.

One in four U.S. students did not reach the PISA baseline level 2 of mathematics proficiency. At this level, “students begin to demonstrate the skills that will enable them to participate effectively and productively in life,” according to the PISA report. Even the top students in the United States are behind: This year, the PISA report offered regional scores for Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Florida. Massachusetts, which is a high-achieving U.S. state and which averaged above the national PISA score, is still two years of formal schooling behind Shanghai.

Why is this important and why should we pay attention to this? Because, as parents, educators, and politicians we should be extremely concerned about how well our children are learning and retaining knowledge; how well they transfer their  knowledge to their life experiences; and how well they implement their dreams and visions using their knowledge. It is statistical fact that a rising PISA score for a country is a good indicator that the economy of that country will grow as well.

“Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”

Nelson Mandela

Parents, Education and Our Children; Who is to blame for our national student failures?

January 14, 2013 3 comments

We live in a culture where “Good” parenting, “Responsible” parenting is not a serious part of our national discussion. We do not make the connection between Parenting and Education. We think they are disconnected and we rarely discuss how they are intricately woven together and inseparable. When our school systems fail our children we blame the teachers, the teacher unions, the bureaucracy, the school districts, the lack of money, the political parties, anything that points the finger outside of parenting. Is this because we are a culture that is unable to accept responsibility for our decisions and actions, or the blame for our national failure as Parents?

We rarely look into the classroom to see what it is that brings disorder and distraction into the educational lives of our students. If we look inside these hallowed rooms we will see children who suffer from various, or all forms of the following: emotionally impoverished, intellectually neglected, physically undernourished, desperate for acceptance within their peer group, and because of  low self-esteem they follow; they do not lead.

Who has birthed and raised these children? What do they see when their children dress like vagabonds, speak illiterately, live slovenly lives, lack basic civilizing manners and respect for authority, their peers, and their parents? Or, are these children the mirror of their own lives? What is it about parenting that so many do it so badly?

It is done badly by so many because of repetitive life cycles preceding birthing that few transcend and break. My parents did, as so many of their generation. As a culture we have failed to address how we help those, who are trapped in these cycles, to understand the seriousness of birthing and parenting. When we abandon the real causes of dilapidated and non functioning educational systems, we abandon the children in them. There is a memorial to the Holocaust Jews in Boston. It reads something like this (paraphrasing)…“First they came for the Gypsies and I did nothing; then they came for the Jews and I did nothing, then they came for the Christians and I did nothing, then they came for me and there was no one to do something…” Who in our culture is serious about doing something?

We blame our failures in parenting on poverty; I say it is ignorance and the inability to transcend it. I was poor; we lived in poverty. The difference in my life were parents whose vision for their children was rooted in education. They knew then, as we know now, that you cannot succeed if you are undereducated or illiterate. We did not take food stamps, charity, or assistance of any kind. There was the fundamental definition between pride and shame. Shame was repugnant. Their pride eclipsed poverty. They knew it was their responsibility to improve the next generation, their children.

The usual cultural chorus I hear is, “Those times were different from these times”. That is correct; we now live in times where those in poverty are kept in poverty by what we now call ‘Social Services’. However, parenting hasn’t changed in a millennium. When Children reach up they still need the comfort of big arms, the comfort of soft voices when they cry, the comfort of community, and the stability and security of family, which means 2 parents – a Father and a Mother. These things never change, Never!

A generation has failed their children and in doing so have bound them to poverty and degradation. These children come to our schools and to our teachers unprepared in the most basic life skills; positive self esteem, good health, early cognitive skills, and intellectual and creative curiosity. BUT, more importantly, these hapless children are not provided a home, no matter how diminished in material things, that is stable, secure, with 2 parents working together to bring the generation they birthed into a greater vision from which they came. The educational statistics for minority communities are horrific. There will be no recovery in our life time if we fail to do something. The solutions are not about money or political programs.

Teachers are not baby sitters and they do not teach values. They teach Mathematics, English, Science. Teachers are not disciplinarians or policemen. Educational facilities should not be places where parentally abandoned children are dumped to cause chaos.

“If we don’t stand for something we are apt to fall for nothing.”

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; 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

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