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

Friday, 25 January 2013

New Jersey Pension "Deform"!

Republican Christine Todd Whitman, running on a tax-cutting platform, defeated Florio in the 1993 governor's race. To help pay for her promised tax cuts, Whitman, like her predecessor, turned to the pension fund. In 1994, at her urging, the legislature adopted another pension "reform" act that allowed her to reduce state and local contributions to the plan by nearly $1.5 billion in 1994 and 1995, according to the task force report. Florio's and Whitman's accounting changes were "the one-two punch from which the retirement system has never recovered," says Douglas Forrester, who was the assistant state treasurer under Kean.
For all the miscues, New Jersey's pension woes can't be blamed on particularly poor investment results. An examination of state reports shows that the fund's returns have more or less tracked the broad stock market's. The real problem has been the underfunding.

If union concessions, cost cutting, and higher taxes are not enough, then what? Inevitably, New Jersey and other states would turn to Uncle Sam for help. The pressure on Congress would be great. "How will they say no to state workers when they've said yes to bankers?"
(*Congress is very good at funding foreign wars, occupations and "rebuilding" - Maybe it's time to "rebuild" the good old USA!)
"The pension obligations could spark a huge problem for New Jersey," says Thomas Kean, a former Republican governor. "They must be paid because they are absolutely an obligation of the state, but as it is, the budget is balanced with chewing gum and sealing wax"
(*"must be paid" because they are an "absolute obligation" - How then can the COLA be eliminated and call the pension obligation being paid?)

Sources -
Star Ledger - January 2013 

Friday, 18 January 2013

Evaluation By the Evaluated?

When I taught at Middlesex County College, student evaluation forms were always issued along with the final exam.
   I thought, by enlarge, the results were a fair distribution of positive and negative remarks.
(BTW - These all were anonymous evaluations and not used by the administration to grade instructors - as far as know anyway)
   One thing I liked about the form was the section asking about the student's efforts. This too, generally resulted in a fair distribution of honest responses. Often a student indicated a serious lack of effort on his part but still didn't criticize the instructor as the reason for his poor grade. I hope that the same kinds of questions  will appear every proposed student / teacher evaluation form (but I'm not confident that they will).
  And , remember, the evaluations of which I'm speaking were written by mature adults, not children!

   Now, let me get back to the editorial.
   One of the statements reads as follows:
"Kids do know what makes a good teacher. And it's not a mystery why they'd know better than trained adults...".
   Well if this is true, than -
   Why do we need well paid administrators to observe and evaluate teachers?
   Why do we need the "Educrats" at the NJDOE to tell teachers when, what and how to teach children.
   Why to we need politicians to continually pass legislation instructing teachers when, what and how to teach children?
   Let's just leave teachers to their task and then accept the children's evaluations as the  indicator of the teacher's success. We would no longer have to spend all the time and money needed by these other evaluation methods and would get a better result than that provided by "trained adults".
   And, since we are talking about evaluations of teachers by their charges, why not have teachers evaluate their administrators and supervisors?
   While we're at it, why not have local administrators evaluate the honchos at NJDOE ?
This way we could a true picture of what's going on in NJ education and in the case of the DOE, I'm not so sure that it would be a pretty picture!
   What do you think?

Wednesday, 9 January 2013

The Brain Drain and The Wallet Drain

I recently had the poor judgment to log in to the local message board on the Internet. In so doing, I read a post by a town resident regarding the high school.
After reading it, I continued to exercise poor judgment by responding.

I guess I just lack self control! Maybe that's why I continue to write this blog.
Below is the initial statement to which I replied. It is followed by the remainder of the conversation.
I have blocked out all the names of the institutions mentioned because I don't want be accused of spreading disparaging comments about any school system.
Unfortunately, the problem of the brain drain at the high school level in NHS is not unique in Bloomfield and Montclair as well. The movement of students to private high schools in this part of Essex County seems to be common.
I have worked with many students who attend  private schools and also many who attend the public schools in this area. I hesitate to name the private schools but I will give abbreviations of the  names - Del, New, Kus, SPP, Sol, SHP, SJM. MKA  and you can guess which they are.
I can only speak for the chem and physics programs (and the teaching there of)  at these schools. They are generally inferior to, or at best equal to that of most of the public schools in the area.
Additionally, the school calendar for these private schools is abbreviated. The winter vacations at some is two weeks long, the spring break is two weeks long and the school year ends in early June. The entire year adds up to far less than 180 days (maybe in the 150 range),
You really don't get too much class time for the $15K to $25K tuition.
I would think long and hard before sending my child to a private school.
If you want to send your child to a private school for prestige or to keep him/her away from the "Riffraff" then it's probably a good idea but if you expect a superior education, I'm not so sure it's going to happen there!
With all due respect what are you basing your information on. Have you taught at these schools or sent a child to one of these schools?

I respectfully disagree with your "evaluation" that claims the named schools are inferior. Take a look at the AP exams* from Nutley HS as presented at the BOE meeting in February 2012, they are less than impressive. The SAT Critical Reading Mean and Writing Mean scores in Nutley have been below 500 for the past five years. The Mathematics Mean score in Nutley has not topped 516 in the last five years. This is based on a perfect score of 800. Again less than impressive. So clearly the "extra" days in the class room (based on your numbers) have not helped the students achieve great heights. I will take 150 quality days of quality instruction time to your 180 days of mediocrity any day of the week.

I have two children. Child #1 attended NHS, child #2 did not. Child #2 wrote more essays and papers in a single marking period than child #1 wrote in four years at NHS. Child #1 was completely unprepared for the amount of written work required at the college level.

Now let's talk about the intangibles, things like character, respect and accountability**. I speak from experience, again having one child at NHS and one child in private school, there is no comparison. Nutley talks about character development and talks about accountability but the follow through is weak at best. Private schools not only have a student handbook, they hold their students to the rules in the handbook

Now let me shatter the small-minded thoughts that parents pay to send their child to private school for athletic advantage. The fact is people send their children to private school for the purpose of a better education. It was not in our family plan to spend money on high school education, but after living through four years at NHS, we deemed it a necessary expense. Our experience at the elementary and middle schools was exactly what we had anticipated, but there was a big drop-off at the high school level.
I can only tell about my experiences having helped many private school students in the area and only about the chem and physics programs.
Admittedly, this is all anecdotal but it is my experience over the past twenty years or so.
As far as character, respect and accountability, again I can only speak from my experience.
I never relied on the school to teach these things to my own children (BTW they both went to NHS and were well prepared - my daughter graduated from engineering school and my son earned an MBA).
Character, respect and accountability were taught at home and I wrote the "handbook" for them myself and adhered to it.
There are handbooks issued in public schools citing rules and regulations pertaining to many of the qualities of which you speak but often the school is unable to enforce them. To remove a child from a public school, even the most disrespectful and troublesome, is next to impossible.
In a private school, expelling a student is simple and therefore private schools can enforce the handbook rules and regulations with ease
More Comments:

* I taught AP physics at the secondary level. The class was often filled with unqualified students who were there strictly for extra GPA points.
During my time teaching the course I asked myself several questions which still beset me.
Firstly, I was teaching a full load of classes and at the same time expected to provide a college level program at the high school for the AP class.
Now, during this time I was also teaching chemistry at an area college. At the college, the situation was different by light years.
 I was provided with a full time lab assistant who set up and supplied each and every lab session.
The full time staff at the college were assign teaching assistants (TAs) to help students out of class time.
Instructors also had offices hours provided to help students.
The weekly teaching load of the full time instructors was but 15 class hours.
Faced with the conditions at the high school as compared to those at the college, was it fair that I  was expected to duplicate the same instruction level and student  help in AP classes, as that provided by college instructors with all the advantages they held?
I did my best to provide a rigorous course but I was always perplexed the this inequity.
Secondly, the AP exam was always given in mid May with almost a month and a half of school left. Therefore, I not only had the disadvantages aforementioned, but also a serious loss of instruction time. In other words, I was expected to prepare students for a difficult exam in a difficult subject in a very compressed time frame. These circumstances exist for all AP teachers throughout the state.
When I called the College Board (the AP people) and asked why the test couldn't be given at the end of the school year, I was told it was because schools in many other states was ended earlier than in New Jersey. I guess that was a correct answer but not one that helped my student nor me!
The answer should have been "we will prepare another test for students who end school in June and administer it at a later date". 
Could it be that they don't want to spend the extra time, effort and money?

** It appears that the public schools are now expected not only to educate the children, give dental checkups, fight obesity, give scoliosis examinations, prevent teenage pregnancy, prevent STDs, do drug testing, prevent bullying, end discrimination, (and I'm sure there's more) but also be the sole instiller of character, respect and accountability.

Friday, 4 January 2013

Wayne's World - Maybe It's Worth a Shot!

Upon hearing of the Sandy Hook tragedy and the NRA's Wayne LaPierre's  solution to the ongoing school carnage, I feel compelled to offer my solution to the ongoing school carnage.

Since the NRA refuses to relinquish its stand on assault weapons being sold to the public, maybe it would be wise to station armed personal at school buildings as he suggests, so as to wart attacks by crazed gunmen carrying military style weapons.
            Who better to protect our children against attack by persons carrying military weapons than the military itself?
            We currently have troops in wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. We have thousands of service men stationed throughout the world in Germany, Japan, Korea and so on.
I propose that we bring them all home and have them provide the security that Mr. LaPierre speaks of, at each and every school in the nation.
            The "Defense" Department continually claims to be defending us with our troops in foreign lands, thousands of miles away, fighting endless, futile wars and engaged in perpetual occupations.
            This would be their opportunity to really defend us here at home, where we are actually being threatened.