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, January 9, 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.
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Poster:
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.
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W:
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!
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Poster:
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.
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W:
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
.
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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.


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