Responding to the ridicule of teachers and the teaching profession by politicians and self proclaimed "experts"!
"Where is Albert Shanker now that we need him?" - Walt Sautter

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

I Tried to Restrain Myself But I Just Couldn't!

I was going to give everybody a rest and not write anything today, that is, until I read the Star Ledger editorial page. Then I just couldn’t help myself.
Here we go again, more “experts” with official titles from official sounding organizations all telling how the educational system should be overhauled to “benefit the children”.
The editorial was written by Mike Lilley, “Executive Director” of “Better Education for New Jersey Kids” and Tim Melton “Vice President for Legislative Affairs” at “Students Firsts”. Now who could argue with those bearing such lofty credentials from organizations with such prestigious sounding names?
The thrust of the article was, as is usual, an appeal to “reform” tenure, eliminate seniority and impose a new set of evaluation standards. All of these reforms are supposedly designed to eliminate poor teachers.
In my opinion, they are designed to place teacher employment at the whim of administrators, BOE members and politicians and to save money by enabling the elimination of the highest paid staff.
If we are really just concerned about removing poor teachers why do we propose to reduce job security for the vast majority of good teachers in so doing?
Additionally, with the loss of employment rights and the continual berating of the teaching professional how can we possibly expect the “best and brightest” to enter the field? (Anyone who enters teaching in the current environment certainly can’t be that bright!)
Also, how can we expect children to respect teachers when they are constantly portrayed as poor and lazy and not deserving of job security? (Believe it or not, in spite of all the poor teaching, most children can read the newspapers!)
Lastly, at the risk of being called racist, I would like to point out that it is widely accepted that Asian students are “smarter” than the rest (It’s either that or they never have had any poor teachers).
I disagree! My experience with those students is that they, as a group, are no smarter or duller than any other group.
Here’s the difference, they by in large, have a home life that involves respect for education and teachers. Poor efforts by the student are not tolerated. When the child does poorly, the teacher is not blamed, the child is encouraged to work harder (might I add, strongly encouraged).
Until the same mentality is adopted by the majority of American parents, no tinkering, teacher bashing, tenure “reform” or evaluation schemes will enhance learning in our public schools.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Comments on "Tenure - An Educational Football"

I commend the Wayne BOE for going against the Superintendents suggestion of allowing the nine players to continue playing. Shame on the Superintendent for bowing to the wishes of Coach Olsen and many of the football frenzied parents. If the Wayne residents don't like the BOE's decision, they can be recalled or voted out of office. The rest of NJ will be watching the next board of education elections.
Jack Parish
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He's 60 & he's pissed!!!! Watch out! ;-D

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After more thinking about this whole thing a bit more, I'd like to add a comment on my own piece.
I have a question:
"Where were the parents of these players?"
Didn't any of them have the courage to stand up and say "My son was involved in an act that could have easily caused death or permanent injury and I will punish him myself by not letting him to continue to play on the Wayne Hills Football team no matter what the BOE ruling might be".
This seems to be just another case of "I'll let the schools do the parent's job and if I don't like the way they do it, I'll berate and attack the school system".

Walt S.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Tenure - An Educational Football

Several years ago, tenure for school superintendents was revoked in New Jersey. It was replaced with limited contracts, usually about five years in length. Additionally, last year superintendent’s salaries statewide were capped at $175,000. Also, there has been much talk of hiring persons with no educational credentials but with “managerial experience” to fill the role of superintendent.
As a result, the elimination of tenure has forced many superintendents to become even more obliging handmaidens of any BOE member or local politician who may potentially influence the granting of a future contract. The days of superintendents acting on their own moral and educational principles are rapidly fading or in many cases have faded.
Additionally, many experienced superintendents have retired in New Jersey and headed for adjacent states seeking better paying positions (while simultaneously collecting New Jersey pensions).
The reason I am writing about these developments arises from two recently published news stories.
The first was written today on the Star Ledger editor page by the superintendent of Perth Amboy Public Schools. It is entitled – “Superintendent Laments the Toll Tenure Takes”.
In the piece, Superintendent Janine Walker Caffery tells of how tenure protects poor teachers who have committed a wide variety of inappropriate acts. She goes on to cite the cost of removing a tenured teacher to be $100,000 and three years. Of course, she prefaces these statements by giving the obligatory “most New Jersey teachers are honest, hardworking people of great integrity”.
(I think she and many others feel that a few hollow accolades will suffice for a reduction in salaries, rescinding of worker rights, loss of job security and lack of respect)
I have questions about Superintendent Caffery’s statements and motives.
Firstly, does her lament of tenure arise from her no longer having it or from sincere concern about poor teaching? (If she is really concerned about poor teaching maybe she should address the teaching that goes on – or doesn’t go on – in many college classes )
Secondly, could an article such as this further her standing with those holding her next contract in hand?
Thirdly, should firing a person from a long held position be easy in any circumstance?
Fourthly, why does it cost $100,000 to advance tenure charges against a teacher? Where does all that money go? Possibly to lawyer’s fees?
Why not address the outrageous legal fees paid by Boards of Education every year and not just those for tenure cases? Maybe spending for legal services by local Boards should have been capped along with superintendent’s salaries?
Now let’s address the second article which prompted me to write this diatribe.
Nine members of the Wayne Hills Football team were arrested for assaulting two Wayne Valley students and leaving one of them unconscious.
Initially, no disciplinary action was taken by Wayne’s superintendent and the players were not suspended from the championship game that was to be played on the following weekend. After an outcry from the public, the superintendent then announced that they would be suspended. Finally, after a BOE meeting was attended by the team and their parents the players were reinstated and allowed to play. (The superintendent did more flip flopping than Mitt Romney and John Kerry combined).
Why all the back and forth? I think it is obvious that here again the superintendent felt compelled to act in behalf of the interests which would serve him best. The superintendent is an interim and maybe he would like a full time contract? Even if he weren’t an interim, the lack of tenure I am sure would have influenced his decision(s) just as it did now.
If superintendents without job security can be pressed to act in any way desired by one or a group of influential people, how do you think a lowly teacher would be forced to act without the protection of tenure? (Many are even now with tenure by threats of transfer, increment withholding, etc.)
Would all the children of BOE members suddenly become scholars? Would the children of local politicians become much brighter? Would discipline measures regarding the children of “connected” people become lax or maybe non-existent ?
What do you think?

PS
Now I read that the Wayne Hills BOE decision is that they do not play? It appears that educational decisions depend not on principle but upon which way the wind is blowing and how strongly! What a surprise!

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Education A Through Z

As in days of old, when the new king was crowned, his first task was to dispose of the offspring of the former king and replaces them with his own. So it seems to be in Trenton and Washington.
With every new administration a new educational scheme, with an official sounding acronym, is concocted while the old one is exiled to a dusty basement file somewhere in the state’s or nation’s capitol.
Meanwhile, teachers and administrators scurry to conform to the new set of edicts and demands. The role of the school often becomes that of a test preparatory program and the sole goal of the teacher is to be sure that the students score well.
For example, way back in the seventies, we had “T and E” (Thorough and Efficient”), QEA in the 1980s (Quality Education Act), QSAC in the 2000s (Quality Single Accountability Continuum), NCLB in the 2000s (No Child Left Behind) and CCCS in the 2000s (Core Curriculum Content Standards). Additionally, we have endured a plethora of tests, again each with its own acronym designation ESPA, GEPA, HSPT and SRA.
Oh, and let’s not forget the “Open Classroom”. Although it wasn’t a test or an official state program it was a very popular educational scheme. Also, how about the current “Educational Reforms” and the additional proposed “Educational Reforms” of the present administration? They too, I think qualify as educational schemes.
There are a few questions that should be asked about the aforementioned.
“Have any of the programs helped in the education of our children?”
“Have any made the work of teachers and the schools more productive?”
“If any of the previous plans experienced any success why then are they continually replaced with new ones?”
The real question then is, “Does all this benefit the learning of the children?
Or are they politically and PR motivated?”
I don’t really know but I do wonder – a lot?
You probably have some other questions and ideas about this. Let’s hear them!

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

A Meritorious Comment on "An Unmeritorious System"

Jack Parish has left a new comment on your post "An Unmeritorious System":

I agree with your article on merit pay. Too many supervisors are just pushing papers and aren't trying to evaluate good teaching. I think all supervisors, principals and superintendents should be actually teaching in the classroom and not just teaching the honor students. Once you are an administrator you don't want to be seen in the classroom, way to many everyday distractions, like making lesson plans, grading papers, handing out progress reports and emailing all the students parents about how "johnny" is doing. The reason why NJ has one of the best education systems in the country, they were willing to pay the teachers. Many systems are top heavy with to many high priced administrators. I do like the one thing governor has supported and that's
reigning in the Superintendents salaries.

Monday, November 21, 2011

An Unmeritorious System

I was going to write on another subject today but I happened to see a discussion of merit pay and tenure on News 12 – “12 In Our Schools” and immediately decided to change my topic.
I have had very limited experience with merit pay during my forty years of teaching however, very early in my career (back in the sixties) I did work in a district that used the merit system. I have always remembered the way in which it operated primarily because it was so absurd.
The system evaluated teachers on a one to five rating (five = best and one = poor I don't know if anyone ever got a zero?). Ratings were given by four administrators, the department chairman, the principal, the vice principal and the superintendent.
The rating from the department chairman was often a function of which department you happened to work. If you were in the math department the chairman's philosophy was “I would never hire a poor teacher” – everybody was five. If you were in the English department, well “Nobody was as gifted a teacher as the chairman”– everybody got less than a five.
The principal ruled with an iron hand and although I didn’t know his philosophy on merit ratings, I did know that the vice principal (a timid little man) always, somehow gave the same exact ratings as the principal.
The superintendent was rarely seen in the building. When I asked how he could possibly give a legitimate merit rating when he had never seen the teaching of many of those whom he rated, the answer was “He knows!”. I guess you had to have faith in his omnipotence.
That was the merit system as I experienced it. Not too good, from my standpoint anyway. I'm sure there are better systems (and probably some worse) but I certainly found it to be unfair, arbitrary, divisive and intimidating. Needless to say, I left that system at my first opportunity.
There is another interesting point about the evaluation system, not only at the school I have just mentioned but state wide. It is that a supervisor has the authority to evaluate any teacher in any area as long as he has proper certification. This means that if I had a certificate and was a chemistry teacher I could evaluate a French teacher. I don't even know how to say “French” in French! How could I possibly know if the teacher was even teaching the correct information much less teaching it well? I find this incredible but these are the rules that are currently in place.
In an article, “Up Pay for Math, Science Teachers, Christie Says – Governor: Give gym instructors less cash” in the Ledger the Governor indicates that he feels that gym teachers are less valuable than science teachers. I am mindful of the fact that many ex gym teachers become principals and supervisors. It is they who then become authorized to evaluate the math and science teachers!
The more I hear about “Educational Reform” the “curiouser and curiouser” it becomes?

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Unethical Ethics

I was elected to the Nutley Board of Education in 2007 and served a three year term. As a member of the BOE I was obliged to endure a yearly ethics training session presented by New Jersey School Boards Association.
            The presenter gave a complete discussion of the plethora of rules and regulations regarding BOE ethics. Now don’t get me wrong, I do think Board members should engage in ethical practices and ethical practices only, but it was the answer to my question at the end of the session that really irritated me. I have to say that I thought I knew the answer before I asked but I just had to ask anyway.
            I raised my hand and asked, “Do all these ethics procedures and regulations also apply to State Legislators, that is, State Assemblymen and State Senators?”
            There was a brief pause and then the answer which I had expected, “No!”.
            I said no more but I certainly did think about it a lot.
            I was watching 60 Minutes last Sunday and a piece about insider stock trading by Congressmen was shown. It immediately reminded me of the ethics rules situation I had encountered while on the BOE. 
Why? Because it seems that insider trading by Federal Legislators is perfectly ethical and not illegal based on the laws that are passed and applied to Congressman and their staff.
Meanwhile the commoners are subjected to strict prohibition from even a hint of  this activity (which well they should).
            Same old “stuff” – “All pigs are equal but some pigs are more equal than others” – Animal Farm – George Orwell.
            Is it unethical to apply stringent ethics regulations to others and not yourself?
What do you think?

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Bios and Salaries of DOE Executives?

  Some years ago I obtained a list of the bios and salaries of NJ DOE executives. I found the  bios to be of more interest than the salaries.
  What I discovered was that out of the seven bios I received, only one indicated more than four years of teaching experience. In most cases, the teaching experience of these people was gained in a private school setting and in their distant past.
  As Ross Perot once put it, when he was at Ford, and I paraphrase - "if managers are to do a good job they must once in a while go down to the factory floor and put a wheel on a car".
  I don't believe that four years of long ago, private school teaching equates to "putting a wheel on a car".
  Curious as to the present day situation at the DOE, I have searched the NJDOE website for current bios and salaries. I found none. I have therefore sent the following request.

"Would you please send to me a site where I may find brief bios (job histories) and salaries of the DOE executives (i.e. Commissioner, Deputy Commissioners, Assistant Commissioners, etc). Thank you."

  I am eager to see the reply and I will post the results as soon as possible.

Monday, November 14, 2011

"Have You Hugged a Child Today?" I hope not!

   The recent accusations and firings at Penn State got me to thinking. During my teaching career I served as Grievance Chairman and was involved in several cases were teachers were accused of inappropriate behavior with students. None of the accusations where ever proven but the consequences of the accusations impacted the careers and lives of each of the accused.
  In one case a teacher was forced to resign from a position he had held for over five years. Two years after the incident the children who had accused him admitted to another teacher of having fabricated the entire event.
In another instance the accused teacher was given the choice of facing a thirty year prison term and losing all pension benefits for his family or admit guilt and resign. Obviously, he selected the later. Was he really guilty? We will never know.
   Let me also mention the Kelly Micheals case in South Orange. She was accused, prosecuted, convicted and jailed. Later all charges were recanted!
How about the McMartin Preschool incident in California, a similar situation.
I am not saying that all accused persons (teachers included) are innocent and I am not saying that these incidents should not be investigated thoroughly. What I am saying is that we must avoid assuming that once an accusation is made it must be true.
  All this brings me to my point relating to the Penn State situation. Based on the overwhelming media coverage I won't be surprised if a "witch hunt mentality" will soon rear its ugly head (if it hasn't already).
   It is truly unfortunate that in this environment it is vital for all teachers to be aware that a pat on the head, a facial expression or even a mere word can result in devastating consequences. The days of "have you hugged your children today" are long gone. They have been replaced by "have you done or said anything today that could be misinterpreted" and "I hope no child will accuse me today because of a bad grade or a discipline measure I might have taken".
   Teaching (and coaching) have become high risk jobs.  I don't  think much of the public appreciates that fact.  We are fortunate to still have people  willing to suffer those extreme exposures in order to educate our children.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Let's "Reform Tenure" and Keep Only the "Best Teachers"?

I read several articles today in the paper about tenure "reform". In general they want tenure to be renewed after a specified period (5 years or so) based on a variety of factors, most often the opinions of administrators.

  What this really means is that any teacher who gives poor grades to the wrong student (children of BOE members, prominent citizens or politicians, etc.) can look forward to losing tenure.

  Any teacher who stands up to an administrator (rightly or wrongly) can look forward to losing tenure.

  Any teacher who  teaches in an area were a connected person has a credential to teach in that area and needs a job, can look forward to losing tenure.

  Any teacher who has reached the top of the pay scale in an area were there are many job applicants can look forward to losing tenure.

  Any teacher whose politics doesn't align with those of his superiors can look forward to losing tenure.

  Any teacher who does not kiss ass on a regular basis can look forward to losing tenure.

"Tenure reform" are simply key words for firing teachers making a decent living and replacing them with lower pay help, opening the door for patronage even wider, insuring that children of selected people always do well and ridding the system of any descent what so ever.

What do you think?

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Why I started this blog

I just got an email from Michele Rhee the head honcho at "Students First.org" and it pissed me off. I just had to respond and I did so on their request for donations page. Here's what I wrote.


"I think your "reform" means villianize teachers, teacher unions and anything about the system that has successfully educated American 
children for decades!
How do you expect children to have any respect for teachers when they are constantly demonized and disrespected by groups such as yours.

Instead of constant derision, why not try to promote a better public attitude towards learning and teachers (such as currently exists in many Asian countries) and see if that will help?"

I think that organizations such as these or their benefactors see a lot of money to be made by privatizing public education. I am quite sure that is one of their prime motivations.
I would like to hear your opinion and experiences with groups such as these.