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

Wednesday, 28 December 2011

Free Market Education Aint Workin’ That Good!

The privatization of education will result in better education and reduction in costs. Competition always produces a better product more cheaply. The free enterprise system works the best in all areas of endeavor (Except, of course, when public workers negotiate for better salaries and working conditions). 
These are the claims by the proponents of privatizing public education. The “voucher system” and charter schools (both of which, are mechanisms to pry open the door for privatization) will end the cycle of “failing” inner city schools and raise  educational levels to new heights of grandeur. All this will occur with massive reductions in costs to the taxpayer.
Let’s look at a prime example of privatized education that has been ongoing for decades, namely the American college and university system. Admittedly, all colleges are not considered to be  private but even those deemed “public colleges” are not free and not truly public institutions as are the K-12 schools. They all for the most part, require tuition contributions by the attendees and are not therefore “free public education” institutions (there may be some truly free public colleges but I can’t think of any). Colleges, both “public” and private vie with each other for students and their tuition money in the free market arena. Admissions people from all these institutions comb the land for prospective students year after year. They attend “College Fairs” and offer “instant admissions” at high schools throughout the country. They all engage in the free market system to obtain “customers” to fill the seats in their classrooms.
However, in spite of the claims of those professing the privatization mantra, the cost of a college education has risen dramatically (maybe outrageously is a better word) and the quality has diminished over the years. One might say that increased costs are simply the result of inflation that has affected all areas of the economy. Well, that is true but not nearly to the same extent as in college and university education.
My children graduated from Rutgers University in the late 1990s. I remember the tuition cost then and it wasn’t cheap. I have recently read the current tuition rate as now being twice that of what I paid but a mere twelve years ago. By my calculation, that comes out to be an average yearly increase of six percent. I wouldn’t call that cost reduction or even cost containment!
I graduated from a New Jersey state college in the mid 1960s. I still remember the tuition, believe it or not, it was seventy-five dollars a semester! That’s one hundred and fifty dollars a year. Again, one might say ‘Sure, but that was forty-five years ago (gulp) and everything was cheap’.
 Well, at that time a typical wage was about fifty to sixty dollars a week meaning that a year’s tuition was three week’s salary. Today, with a tuition of ten thousand dollars (if you can get one so cheaply and I doubt it) and an average salary of a thousand dollars a week, that makes yearly tuition ten week’s salary! And what about private college tuition and its cost? At thirty to forty weeks’ salary, t hat is really out of this world! According to the proponents of privatization, competition and the free market should have resulted in lower cost and greater efficiency! I don’t think so!
How about the quality of a college education? The free market should have improved its worth for sure. It’s much better now, right?
Well maybe, but I’m not so sure!
In the sixties, the college year started in early September and ran until mid January with a week off for Christmas. After a one week mid January break between semesters classes started again and ran until mid June.
The college schedule as it exists today starts in late August or early September and ends in early December with two interim breaks along the way. The second semester resumes in late January and ends in early May.
My calculations reveal that students today receive one full year less schooling at a much, much greater cost.
If competition really improves the educational system shouldn’t it have yielded more education for less money rather than less schooling at a greater cost?
Based on the aforementioned, privatization, competition and the free market result in exactly the opposite of that which proponents claim.
What it will accomplish (and they don’t want to mention) is:
(1)   lower salaries for teachers and staff
(2)   reduced benefits for teachers and staff
(3)   reduced quality of teachers and staff
(4)   huge executive salaries for those running the private educational corporations
(5)   fees for any and all extras (including extra pencils and crayons)
(6)   poorer math and science programs in particular (areas where teachers are hard to find right now)
(7)   an educational system that will put profits over products (the products being America’s children)

Have a nice holiday!
If you have thoughts on education and education related matters please send them to me (even if they don’t agree with my ideas)  and I will post them with or without your name as you request.

Thursday, 22 December 2011

Still Waiting

I wrote on this blog site on December 15th in my “Show Me the Money” piece as follows:

"My note sent to Student’s First –

Sent to Students First on 12-15-11

Before I donate I would like some information about how my money will be used.
Please forward to me information regarding the compensation packages for the
executives of the organization.
Thank you"

I received this response yesterday form "Michele Rhee". Here it is.

Needless to say, I called the number indicated at the bottom of the email and was connected with "$" another "education reform" (eliminating tenure) operation in Edison, NJ . I repeated my request for information pertaining to executive compensation. I got no verbal information but instead was told that Kaitlyn (the woman who answered the phone) would "try" to obtain an answer for me and that it would be emailed to me.
I get the feeling that this inquiry will go unanswered like the previous one. I hope I'm wrong but I don't think so. I'll let you know!

Sunday, 18 December 2011

Show Me the Money (or at Least Where it Going)!

Here is an email that I received last week from “Student First” and Michele Rhee (the latest educational expert celeb following in the footsteps of William Benett, Lemar Alexander, etc. all of whom did little to improve education but certainly did engage in self aggrandizement ). I have outlined in red and unlined some of the phrases which bother me and placed my remarks after each of those statements in blue type.

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

A Slow, Painful Path to the Death of American Science Ed

Currently, enrollment in science majors in America is dwindling. According to recent reports we can look forward to fewer and fewer scientists, engineers and especially science teachers being created in the upcoming years. How did this happen? Why has science and science education lost its glitter?
Well for one, why would any student elect to spend countless hours in a chemistry lab while his peers are playing cards in the student lounge knowing his reward upon graduation pales compared to that of the business and law graduates? When I think about it, it is kind of amazing that anyone is willing to study science in the first place!
Secondly, with respect to those preparing to become science teachers the motivation is even more perplexing. These people, generally, are far from stupid. Why would anyone elect to put in all that time and effort and then enter teaching, a field receiving little respect, constant bashing and continual debasement? My guess is, that it is only those who are sincerely dedicated to the science education of future generations. They are the only science people who enter the profession today.
I don’t think that we can continue to count on an endless supply of people such as these to fill the future need for qualified science instructors in our public schools. (By the way, math and language people are also in short supply and getting shorter).
I am one of a huge group of retired chem and physics teacher who was inspired in the age of Sputnik and moon landings and I don't see too many qualified people coming to replace us. The situation bodes poorly for our country’s future. Science education and education in general needs a “shot in the arm” if it is to propel America technologically forward.
I have read recently that funds are being diverted from Liberal Arts to the Sciences in many colleges, hoping to encourage students to enter biology, chemistry, physics, etc. Trust me, it will take more than that to shift students into becoming science majors. It will take a whole change in attitude.
A “shot in the arm” to my way of thinking requires the following:
(1) a cessation of teacher bashing
(2) an end to political tinkering (meddling) with education (the real purpose of which I will discuss in a future post),
(3) a reinstitution of NSF science teaching programs as existed in the sixties
(4) a strong PR campaign to extol the virtues of study and hard work (hard work by the student – learning is not necessarily improved by the teacher doing more, the student must likewise do more – learning requires audience participation)
(5) an end to the claims of private education being vastly superior to public education (because in many cases, based on my experience, it certainly is not!)
(6) a concerted PR effort to encourage parents to augment the teacher’s efforts at home (we must make it a badge of honor to have helped a child with his schoolwork something to brag about!)
Maybe you have some more constructive ideas which would help to forestall the looming demise of science in our country.

Sunday, 11 December 2011

An Educational Rosetta Stone

“Teachers are overpaid” - translation - “They make more than I do (or I think they do)”

“Teaching is a cushy job” - translation - “I think it’s easier than my job (I sat in school for twelve years and teaching didn’t look that hard to me!”

“We need tenure reform” - translation - “We would like to fire teachers whenever they don’t conform to our every demand or when they are too vocal or if a connected person needs a job or if we want to save money with lower paid teachers or if we don’t like their politics”

“My child has a poor teacher” - translation - “My child gets poor grades – It can’t be because I constantly allow him to play video games and hang on Facebook instead of doing his school work”

“I’m sure the teacher did what my child said. He would never lie to me” - translation - “Not unless he really wanted something or thought I might find out that he was lying.”

“The teacher picks on my kid” - translation - “I can’t do anything with him at home. Why can’t the teacher handle him in school?”

“The teacher doesn’t stimulate learning in my child” - translation - “The teacher should be able to entertain my child while she teaches him. How can a teacher with a piece of chalk not be able to entertain and stimulate my kid as well as do video games, TV and the internet?”.

“Why can’t the schools resolve social problems? We certainly pay enough taxes!” - translation - “Why can’t the schools solve the drug problem, teen sex, bullying, child obesity, teen suicide, date rape and relationship abuse (and also check for vision problems, hearing problems, scoliosis, etc.) .
We’ve given them these assignments (along with teaching the children) and they don’t seem to be curing the problems? They must be poor teachers!
We’re paying them enough, why should parents have to help? It’s the teacher’s job!”

“You need to be connected to get a teaching job” - translation - “Teaching jobs are readily available in chemistry, physics, math and languages but I’m not good at those subjects - translation - It requires too much work to get a teaching certificate in these areas. It’s much easier to just bash teachers and the school system”.

Friday, 9 December 2011

It Takes One to Know One!

As I told you recently, I sent an OPRA request to NJDOE for Bio information pertaining to the executive staff at NJDOE .

I wrote in my request:

What I received is contained below together with my comments after each bio.

What concerns me is what I have said before –

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 find it difficult to understand how anyone without reasonable classroom experience in a public school setting can supervise and profess to tell others how teach. What do you think?

Christopher Cerf – Acting Commissioner
Chris Cerf was sworn in as New Jersey’s Acting Commissioner of Education on January 18, 2011 following his nomination by Governor Christie. As Acting Commissioner, he oversees 2,500 public schools, 1.4 m Commissioner Cerf is committed to closing New Jersey’s academic achievement gap while substantially raising the achievement level of all New Jersey students. He is working to make New Jersey’s education system, already one of the best-performing systems
Prior to his appointment, Commissioner Cerf was the CEO of Sangari Global Education, which offers innovative education programming to more than 500,000 students worldwide. Between 2004 and 2009, he was Deputy Chancellor of the New York City Department of Education where he oversaw organizational strategy, innovation, labor relations and all matters pertaining to recruiting, supporting, developing and evaluating the nearly 80,000 teachers and 1,450 principals who serve the nation’s largest school district. He earlier served as Associate Counsel to President Clinton and as a partner in two Washington, D.C.,

(No teaching experience indicated)

Andy Smarick -- Deputy Commissioner
Previously Andy served as Deputy Assistant Secretary at the U.S. Department of Education and as an education aide at the White House. Prior positions also include: Chief Operating Officer for the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, legislative assistant to a Member of the U.S. House of Representatives, and aide to members of the Maryland state legislature. Andy helped launch a college-preparatory charter school for underserved boys and girls in Annapolis, and he was a member of Maryland Governor’s Commission on Quality Education. His areas of research include school turnarounds, teacher quality, charter schools, performance pay, district reform, Catholic schools, and more. His articles have appeared in the Washington Post, Baltimore Sun, Boston Globe, Education Next, National Affairs, and other outlets. He is a former White House Fellow and member of the 2010-11 class of Aspen Institute-New Schools Fellows. He earned a bachelor’s degree, summa cum laude and with honors, and a master’s degree in public management from the University of Maryland

(No K thru 12 teaching experience indicated)

David Hespe – Chief of Staff In addition to serving as Chief of Staff for the NJDOE, David serves on the Governor’s Education Transformation Task Force, which was formed to review all statutes and regulations that affect public education, and recommend a new accountability system that grants more autonomy to schools while maintaining strict accountability for student achievement, safety, and fiscal responsibility. He also serves on the College and Career Readiness Task Force, comprised of K-12 and higher education practitioners and business community representatives.
Hespe is formerly the Co-Executive Director/Vice President for STEM Education at Liberty Science Center. Prior to that position he was the Interim Superintendent for the Willingboro School District having previously served as Assistant Superintendent. He was a faculty member in the Educational Leadership Department of Rowan University and served five years as department chair prior to becoming a school administrator. Hespe also served as Commissioner of Education for the State of New Jersey from 1999 through 2001. Prior to that position, he was the First Assistant Attorney General for the State of New Jersey. He also served as Assistant Commissioner of Education. Hespe began his service in the Executive Branch of State Government as Assistant Counsel for Education and Higher Education to Governor Whitman. Hespe also served in the Legislative Branch as Associate Counsel in the Education Section of the Office of Legislative Services where he was the Committee Aid to the Assembly Education and Higher Education Committee. Prior to that position, he was in the private practice of law. Hespe received both a Juris Doctor and a Bachelor of Arts degree from Rutgers University.

(No K thru 12 teaching experience indicated)

Penny MacCormack -- Chief Academic Officer/Assistant Commissioner of Standards, Assessment, and Curriculum
Penny MacCormack began her career in education as a teacher of high school science courses that included AP chemistry. A former teacher of the year, her career path has taken her through positions as dean, principal, and assistant superintendent in two urban districts – New Haven and Hartford, CT. Her latest assignment was as the Chief Academic Officer in Hartford, which is an urban district with 22,000 students and 2,100 certified staff in 50 schools. Penny is a recent graduate of the Broad Superintendents Academy and is now a Broad Fellow. She is also working on an Ed.D. in Educational Leadership from the University of Hartford.

(Length of teaching experience and teaching locations – public vs private – not indicated)

Peter Shulman -- Chief Talent Officer/Assistant Commissioner of Teacher and Leader Effectiveness
Peter Shulman joined the New Jersey Department of Education as the Chief Talent Officer on November 7, 2011. Peter has experience both at large urban school districts and a state education department. His work will center on helping to strengthen policy and practice around the recruitment, evaluation, development and retention of effective teachers and school leaders. Most recently, Peter led the Teacher Leader Effectiveness Unit at the Delaware Department of Education, where he oversaw the teacher and leader effectiveness initiatives that are part of Delaware's successful bid for a Race to the Top award. Peter also served in the School District of Philadelphia and the Miami-Dade County Public Schools in Florida, where he served as Administrative Director in Human Resources. He holds a bachelor degree in economics from the University of Michigan and an MBA from the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania. Peter will have a range of responsibility that includes overseeing our educator effectiveness work and rollout of the new teacher evaluation system. Peter will also spearhead work with graduate schools of education to ensure that their graduates are effectively prepared to achieve the mission of preparing all students in New Jersey to graduate from high school ready for college and career.

(No K thru 12 teaching experience indicated)

Bari Anhalt Erlichson -- Chief Performance Officer/Assistant Commissioner of Data, Research, Evaluation and Reporting
In the role of Chief Performance Officer,Bari oversees school and district performance and accountability, the development of the state’s student-level, longitudinal data system, and research and evaluation efforts. A former professor at Rutgers University, Dr. Erlichson has conducted research in many topic areas, including school reform, education policy implementation, school funding, and governance. She is a co-author of the book, Multiethnic Moments: the Politics of Urban Education Reform (Temple University Press, 2006) as well as a contributor to several edited volumes and journals. Prior to joining the NJDOE, she taught fifth grade in Plainfield, New Jersey after having been a student teacher in the Newark Public Schools. Dr. Erlichson holds a Ph.D. in political science from Stanford University, an M.A. in education administration and policy from the Stanford School of Education, and a B.A. from Dartmouth College.

(Length of K thru 12 teaching experience not indicated)

David Corso – Assistant Commissioner of Administration and Finance
Dave has been an employee of the Department of Education since 1992 and has served in several positions in the department. Dave was the Director of Administration and Human Resources from July 2002 until his appointment to Assistant Commissioner in July 2011. He was also the Director of Human Resources for 4 years and the Manager of the Bureau of Management Services for 7 years. In addition, he serves as the Department’s Ethics Liaison Officer, the Employee Relations Coordinator and the Emergency Management Coordinator. Dave began his state service in 1986 as a Budget and Program Analyst with the Department of Treasury, Office of Management and Budget. He then became Chief Fiscal and Administrative Officer at the Department of Insurance in 1990. He has over 25 years of public sector experience. Dave holds a B.S. in Business Management from St. Francis University in Loretto, PA and a Master of Public Administration (MPA) from Rutgers University. He has the following certificates: Certificate of Eligibility - School Business Administrator, Certified Public Manager, and Supervisory Management.

(No K thru 12 teaching experience indicated)

Barbara Gantwerk – Assistant Commissioner of Programs and Operations
Barbara Gantwerk began her work as a speech pathologist in Tel Aviv Israel where she worked at a treatment center for children with disabilities and established the first citywide screening program for speech and language disorders and taught at the University of Tel Aviv. Upon returning to the United States, she worked as a speech pathologist with children with disabilities. She began her career with the New Jersey State Department of Education in 1979 as the state consultant for speech and language services, and in 1994 she was appointed state director of the Office of Special Education, a position she held for 11 years. In 2006, Ms. Gantwerk was appointed to the position of Assistant Commissioner of the Division of Student Services. She is responsible for state and federal programs serving the needs of the student populations most at risk for educational problems. This includes: students with disabilities, economically disadvantaged students, homeless, migrant and Limited English Proficient students. Additionally, sh
e is responsible for student health services, school climate issues such as harassment intimidation and bullying and oversees the Katzenbach State School for the Deaf.

(No K thru 12 teaching experience indicated)

Tuesday, 6 December 2011

Teacher Tenure – An Unspeakable Evil (as cite by Tom Moran and the Perth Amboy “spark plug” in Sunday’s Ledger – Dec 4, 2011)

I had a wonderful evening yesterday. I went to dinner with my wife and two other couples (old friends). The meal was great and the conversation was just as enjoyable.
I got up this morning still feeling pretty good, that is until I picked up the Star Ledger!
Here we go again. Never a minute’s rest. Front paper headlines, “Public School Enemy #1 is Tenure”. Needless to say the good feelings with which I awoke were immediately dashed!
Now, let me make this clear, I am a retired teacher and would be not effected by any “tenure reform” but I can’t help being seriously offended by the injustice these new rules would impose. I am equally offended by the constant diatribe against teachers used to validate attempts to “reform tenure” and the attempts to ease teacher firing, eliminate seniority and reduce compensation and bargaining rights.
Again, all of these proposed “reforms” will not effect me personally but the justifications for them which constantly degrade the teaching profession do! I increasingly find it difficult to admit that I was part of the profession for forty years. It is difficult to be viewed as having been lazy, uncaring, greedy and poorly performing.
Now let me get back to the morning headline. The article was written by Tom Moran (a liberal – I thought) using numerous quotes from Superintendent Janine Caffrey of Perth Amboy. It is in essence a rewrite of the article she wrote in the Ledger a week or two earlier.
Again, in it, several cases of egregious conduct by teachers are cited and she bemoans the fact that tenure protected the teachers involved. Tom Moran holds her hand throughout the article portraying her as a champion of justice who was unable to fight the sinister, tenured teachers.
In the article, Caffery (“a spark plug of energy” according to Moran) tells of teachers arriving at work “so high on drugs that the kids could spot it a mile away”, “so incompetent”, “terrifying kids”, and “washing out a child’s mouth with soap”. None of these teachers can be removed according to Caffery, why not - tenure! “Get rid of it altogether” she proclaims.
“I don’t understand why people who work in public schools have greater rights and protections than other people” she says. I think Superintendent Caffery should review the history of education to find out and maybe she might find that it is to protect teachers from people like herself.
I was the Grievance Chairman for fifteen years at the school system in which I worked. I was privy to many situations within the district (of about four to five hundred staff members) and never did I encounter such problems as does Caffery. Maybe it was luck on my part or maybe something else on her part?
Additionally, I noticed throughout the article, Moran never inquires of anyone, except Caffery about all these incidents. I suppose he assumes the “spark plug” has all the correct information that he needs in order to write his attack on teacher rights.
Oh, but then again, we don’t want to punish the “good” teachers only the “bad” teachers by denying tenure to all teachers!
Lastly, the article claims that removing a tenured teacher costs up to $200K and that’s a prime reason to eliminate tenure. Where does that $200K go? Into the pockets of lawyers representing both sides. Maybe, instead of just eliminating tenure, a cap on legal fees spent by both the BOE and accused teacher during a tenure charge hearing would be a better solution.
But wait! Do you think the legal community would go for that? We can’t offend them. They pretty much run State government (and the NJDOE). It’s much easier to end tenure. Teachers will complain but they don’t have nearly the wherewithal (nor the gumption) of the lawyers to fight back. Teachers are a much easier target!

Saturday, 3 December 2011

Learning Are Fun?

Everybody loves “show biz” but it aint cheap or easy.
Production costs of an average TV show run to about 3 million per hour and require dozens of highly paid people. Often the shows that result are poor or mediocre at best.
While some production companies have slashed production costs, the average
cost of a half-hour program grew from "$994,000 to $1,227,000 per episode,
or 23.4 percent, between 2000 and 2003 alone."*
. An hour of Big Brother cost $286,000 during the first season (it's more now). An average half hour of sitcom costs $1.3 million (add millions if it has a pampered cast like Friends').
The cost of production of a popular video game can run into the millions or tens of millions of dollars.
An now, teachers are expected to put on five or more “shows” a day using a piece of chalk and a chalkboard and make it entertaining as well as educational! If the lesson is “boring” and the children are not “engaged” the teacher is a “poor teacher”.
I have to say that in all my years of teaching, I never could find a way to make pH as interesting as “The Rolling Stones”!
Does this mean that teachers shouldn’t to try make learning a pleasant experience, of course not, but to expect the teacher to consistently make education “fun” is certainly an unrealistic demand.
The old cliché, “Learning is fun” is only partially true. The efforts required to learn are rarely fun. I doubt that I could find many young people who would rather do math homework than go to a Lady Gaga concert.
Learning is fun but only after a subject is learned via study and hard work because one can then feel a sense of accomplishment. The learning process itself however is usually not considered to be “fun”. That’s why they call it home ”work” and school “work” because if done properly, it is hard “work”.
It’s time that we stop expecting teachers to be entertainers and call them what they really are and should be, that is, conveyors of knowledge to the next generation.