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

Sunday, 25 March 2012

The Power of Observation

  I was reading an article in the Ledger the other day entitled, “Rutgers to Grade Teacher Evaluations”. It described how a “team” headed by William Firestone, professor of education at Rutgers and the “principal investigator” will evaluate teachers based half on classroom observations and half on how much progress students show. Teachers will then be graded as “ineffective” to “highly effective”.
  It went on to say “A bill before the Legislature proposes that the new ratings be used as a major factor in determining which teachers receive or lose lifetime tenure and who would be the first to go in the case of layoffs”. (In other words – eliminate tenure and seniority rights.)
  Upon reading this piece I began to reminisce back to my teaching and even my college days. I even recalled some of the incidents that were reported to me by my own children during their college days.   Several things jumped into mind. Firstly, I remembered my son enrolled in classes RU “taught” by instructors you could not speak intelligible English. Were these teachers at RU ever observed and evaluated the Rutgers “team”? Maybe the Rutgers “team” should look into these situations right in their own backyard before they venture out to evaluate the teachers in NJ public schools.
  Additionally, as I recall (of course from many years ago), the education courses that I had to endure were some of the most poorly taught and uninformative of all. I wonder if they still hold that dubious distinction today.
  Lastly, I remember a fact about teacher observations that has always perplexed me. It is the overreaching authority of supervisors to observe any teacher in any subject area, carte blanche. Knowledge of the material is evidently unnecessary in order to make a decision as to the quality of the instruction!
  I really can’t figure out how they can do it!
  I could never imagine myself evaluating a teacher in - say - a French class? I can’t even read a French Restaurant Menu!

Saturday, 17 March 2012

What Next?

I received this article last week from a friend just as I was about to attempt to compile a list of my own. Thanks Joe!

Our overburdened Schools

By Jamie Robert Vollmer

America's public schools can be traced back to 1647.Massachusetts Puritans assumed that families and churches bore the major responsibility for raising children, but they established schools to teach basic reading, writing, and arithmetic and to cultivate values. Science and geography were added later, but the curriculum remained focused for 260 years. Then, at the beginning of the 20th century, society started assigning additional responsibilities to the schools—a trend that has accelerated ever since:
From 1900 to 1910, we added nutrition, immunization, and health to the list of school responsibilities.
Then, between 1910 and 1930, we added the practical arts; physical education, including organized athletics; vocational education, including home economics and agricultural education; and school transportation.

In the 1940s, we added:
* Business education
* Art and music
* Speech and drama Half-day kindergarten. School lunch programs also appeared. We take this for granted today, but it was a significant step for schools to take on the job of feeding America's children one-third of their daily meals.
In the 1950s, we added: an Expanded science and math education
* Safety education
* Driver's education
* Foreign language requirements were strengthened, and sex education was introduced.

In the 1960s, we added:
*Advanced Placement programs m Head Start
* Title I
* Adult education
*Consumer education
* Career education
* Peace, leisure, and recreation education.

In the 1970s, we added:
* Special education
* Title IX programs
* Drug and alcohol abuse education
* Par
ent education
*Behavior adjustment classes
*Character education
* Environmental education
*Women's studies
* African-American history.
* School breakfast programs also were instituted, which means that some schools now feed children two of their three daily meals. Sadly, these are the only decent meals some children receive.
* Prime Start
* Full-day kindergarten
* Preschool programs for at-risk children
* After-school programs * Alternative education
* Stranger/danger education
* Anti-smoking education
* Sexual abuse prevention education.
* Health and psychological services also were expanded, and child abuse monitoring became a legal requirement for all teachers.

In the 1980s, we added.
* Keyboarding and computer education
* Global education
* Ethnic education
* Multicultural/nonsexist education
* English as a Second Language/ bilingual education
* Teen pregnancy awareness * Hispanic heritage education
*Early childhood education

In the 1990s, we added:
* Conflict resolution and peer mediation HIV AIDS education
*CPR training *Death education * Expanded computer and Internet education
* Inclusion
* Tech prep and school-to-work programs
* Gang education
* Bus safety, bicycle safety, gun safety, and water safety education.

In the first years of the 21st century we have superimposed on our overburdened schools a new layer of high:-stakes, politically charged, standardized tests. And in most states we have not added a single, to the school calendar in five decades. All of these added responsibilities have merit, but the schools cannot take all of them on alone. School boards must facilitate conversations in their communities to answer two essential questions: What do we want our children to know and be able to do -when they graduate? And how can our schools and our entire community be organized to make sure all children reach those goals? The bottom line: Schools cannot raise America's children.

Jamie Robert Vollmer (, a former business executive and attorney, is a motivational speaker and consultant on increasing community support for public schools.


Let me add some of  the latest burdens to be placed upon the back of New Jersey Public Schools.
The first,of course, is the anti-bully legislation (an unfunded mandate, of course) which requires schools to make in many cases extremely subjective determinations and then act upon them. Failure to do so can result in severe consequences for administrators and/or teachers.

"Administrators who do not investigate reported incidents of bullying would be disciplined, while students who bully could be suspended or expelled. School employees would also be required to report all incidents they learn of, whether they took place in or outside of school."-

I would guess, based on the preceding unlined phrase, that even idle, teenage gossip, overheard in a classroom or hallway must be reported? 
So it seems that teachers must be constantly vigilant to overhear any and all utterances that might suggest bullying or else be held liable.
Additionally, an article recently appeared in the daily paper, indicating that the schools may be required to discipline students for out-of-school inappropriate behaviors?
I wonder how the parents of these children will respond. Will it be like the response which occurred at Wayne Hills  when the disciplining of the misbehaving football team was attempted?
I really have no problem with the intent of all these programs and their dictates but I certainly do question the continual burdening of the schools and then the deafening cries that schools are not doing their job!

Friday, 9 March 2012

Learning By Example

I guess "Anti-bullying" Laws aren't for everyone!

“All pigs are equal but some pigs are more equal than others”
    Animal Farm – George Orwell

Saturday, 3 March 2012

Enough is Enough - Really?

We can always make room for more!
I was reading an editorial in the Ledger last week about the blocking of Christopher Cerf’s appointment as New Jersey Commissioner of Education by State Senator Ronald Rice. It cited Rice’s reason for stopping Cerf’s appointment as believing “Cerf is at the center of a conspiracy by hedge fund managers, like David Tepper of Appaloosa Management in Short Hills, to take over public education and turn it to private gain”.
I was certainly glad to see that it is not only I who is suspicious of the “education reform” movement but also someone else like Senator Rice who could act to at least slow its insidious progression.
Then the editorial continues on to demean anyone who could possibly believe Rice’s suppositions to be correct. “No one who is firmly based on the planet Earth believes that nonsense. Tepper is worth about $6 billion and his engagement in education reform is charity work. Does Rice really believe Tepper would need to engage in the mess of Jersey politics to earn a few more bucks?” it says.
Well, I think Rice probably does believe that he would (and so do I) and it is and not necessarily for a “few more bucks”. The current expenditures for education in New Jersey is surely not just a “few bucks”.
If the logic of the editorial suggests that Mr. Tepper is disinterested in making more money just because he now has so much, the question becomes, at what point in his accumulation of wealth did he lose interest in accumulating more? One billion would certainly be enough to satisfy me but evidently not Mr. Tepper because he apparently continued on to amass two billion. Then, I must assume that two billion was insufficient to satisfy his greed (I use this word since our Governor feels it’s OK to use it in reference to teacher’s salaries) since he went on the obtain a third billion and on finally to six billion.
So now I guess the Ledger editor has read the mind of Mr. Tepper and has determined that six billion is the cut off point for his desire to make more money! It must be grand to be able to peer into other people’spsyches and read their thoughts, motivations and desire
                                                                                       as does our editor.
Interestingly enough, a follow up editorial a day or two later seems to emphasize my point. It was about the climate change debate. Here is the excerpt that I found most interesting. “the oil-rich Koch brothers (who have backed climate-denier Newt Gingrich’s presidential campaign) donated $200,000 to the Heartland Institute in 2011 and had given before. Their involvement supports the belief that the Heartland Institute is a shill for oil companies that have a huge profit motive in dirty fossil fuels”.
If memory serves me correctly, the Kochs have even more than six billion in their coffers. Using the logic applied to Tepper’s involvement in NJ “education reform” why would the Ledger ever think that the Kochs would want to make even more money?
All I can figure from this is it must be fuzzy thinking or selective naiveté on the part of the Star-Ledger editor. Or could it be something else?