mykeystrokes.com

"Do or Do not. There is no try."

“Schools In The Crosshairs”: Parent-Trigger Laws Effort Has Become A Stealth Means To Privatize Public Schools

When her dyslexic second-grader landed in a failing public elementary school in Pittsburgh, single mother Jamie Fitzpatrick spotted trouble right away. Her daughter’s teacher spent class time shopping online for clothes while the kids bullied one another. Though other teachers wanted to do right by the kids, their union wouldn’t allow it; teachers were forbidden to offer any extra help to the students outside of class, and because their pay was based on seniority, some of the worst made the most. So despite working two jobs, Fitzpatrick somehow found the time to persuade other parents to sign a petition to turn the school into a nonunion charter. Most teachers joined the effort, perfectly content to give up their union protections. At the new charter school, magic happened. The kids began to get a proper education. Fitzpatrick’s daughter learned to read almost immediately.

It’s an inspiring tale. It’s also fiction—the plot of Won’t Back Down, a film released this fall starring Maggie Gyllenhaal as the supermom and Viola Davis as a frustrated teacher who becomes her ally. Like most people, you probably steered clear of this critically panned box-office flop. If so, you didn’t miss much—except a revealing glimpse into the Hollywood-style fantasies of education reformers who believe they have found a new panacea for saving public education: parent-trigger laws.

These laws sound appealingly straightforward. If enough parents sign a petition, they can get their children’s failing school shut down or converted into a charter. Seven states have passed a parent trigger over the last two years; more will likely follow suit next year. These laws are designed to make public education increasingly look like the free marketplace of parental “choice” that reformers long to see. The idea has powerful backers, including conservative groups like the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC)—best known for “stand your ground” self-defense laws—and the Heartland Institute, famous for challenging climate science. Walden Media, which produced Won’t Back Down and funded the charter—school documentary Waiting for Superman, is owned by Philip Anschutz, an ALEC supporter and prominent Tea Party funder.

Parent trigger is not solely a right-wing cause. Democratic legislatures in Connecticut and California have passed these laws, the U.S. Conference of Mayors has unanimously endorsed them, and 70 percent of Americans view them favorably. The broad support is no surprise. If parents organize to make radical changes to a failing school, who would want to stop them? But many who back parent-trigger laws don’t realize that the effort has become a stealth means to privatize public schools. Heartland, which owns the website theparenttrigger.com, has crafted model legislation for trigger laws that apply to all schools—not just those that are failing. That might be a logical, if drastic, response if public schools were mired in the deep “crisis” that education reformers constantly cite. But they’re not: Many achievement gaps have narrowed substantially, test scores have risen, and high-school completion rates are at all-time highs.

Won’t Back Down, like the movement it champions, begins from the assumption that public schools are a hopeless mess. The complicated challenges that public educators grapple with—severe budget cuts, for instance, or health problems that make learning a particular challenge for low-income kids—are nowhere to be seen. Meanwhile, parents are exempted from responsibility. Jamie Fitzpatrick never volunteers to help out at the school. She doesn’t go to PTA meetings. She never even asks about her daughter’s homework. Gyllenhaal’s character is not so much a parent as an unhappy customer demanding a better school.

Anyone who believes in the school-reform fairy tale of Won’t Back Down should be required to watch another film released this fall to much less fanfare. This one doesn’t feature an Academy Award winner or a soundtrack of No. 1 hits. Instead, Brooklyn Castle chronicles a messy reality—that of Intermediate School 318, a Brooklyn middle school where 70 percent of the kids live below the poverty line, and where funding cuts are threatening the after-school activities that are key to getting many of them engaged. That includes the school’s chess team, which is, improbably, among the best in the country.

In most respects, I.S. 318 is ordinary. It’s not a magnet school or a charter, but it’s also not failing. The kids featured in Brooklyn Castle have real problems: They struggle with ADHD, asthma, and hunger, and many must work after school to help their parents make ends meet. Teachers and administrators encourage the students, helping to set goals for each one. When after-school programs are endangered, the parents rally, launching a letter–writing campaign to state officials and organizing a walkathon to raise money. I.S. 318, like most public schools, succeeds because the community invests in it, without expecting perfection.

“I think this is a good thing for kids to be exposed to—the idea that truth isn’t quite so simple as right and wrong,” I.S. 318 teacher and chess-team coach Elizabeth Vicary says. “The answers aren’t really clear to anybody.” She’s talking about chess. She could just as well be talking about our entire approach to education. The quest for easy fixes is seductive. But the more we look for Hollywood-style magic bullets, the less we focus on what makes public schools work.

 

By: Abby Rapoport, The American Prospect, November 30, 2012

December 1, 2012 Posted by | Education | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

The Failure of American Teachers

For a long time, I tried to fight it.

Whenever someone had the temerity to criticize public schools and schoolteachers, I stood staunchly in the corner of those who practice my profession. I noted that in my 12 years as a teacher, I have had the privilege of serving with hard-working, skilled professionals.

Prior to becoming a teacher, I spent the previous 22 years as a newspaper reporter and had the opportunity to observe dozens of schools doing outstanding jobs of serving their communities.

Sadly, I have finally had my blinders removed and I no longer have the same glowing view of public education.

It has nothing to do with test scores, considering most of the schools are taking poorly-worded tests from companies that are making a mint off selling tests and practice tests. After all, if the tests are any good, there would be no need for these practice tests, which have turned out to be a lucrative sideline for the companies.

It has nothing to do with lazy, incompetent teachers who received tenure and cannot be fired. On the contrary, that is a phenomenon of some large, suburban schools whose failures are then exploited by those who wish to see public education destroyed. From what I have seen over the years, many young teachers who are not cut out for teaching quickly discover that and move to other work. Others are encouraged by administrators to leave education, while others are removed before they can do more damage. Few incompetents receive tenure in Missouri and most of those are as a result of administrators not doing their jobs.

It has nothing to do with the stories about teachers misusing their positions of trust to take advantage of students. Some critics have targeted teachers because of these few who have brought shame on all of us. The reason those instances are so well publicized is because they are still thankfully rare.

It has nothing to do with out of control unions who care about teachers more than children. It has not been my experience that union members put anyone ahead of children.

It has nothing to do with teachers working 8 to 3 and getting three months off in the summer and Christmas breaks. I don’t know many teachers who don’t take their work home with them and most arrive well before first bell and work long after children have gone home. Summers are spent either teaching summer school or taking classes and attending seminars to keep up with the latest developments or to earn higher degrees. Of course, those higher degrees and the debt the teachers have run up earning them will be wasted once laws are passed, including one scheduled to be voted on this week in Missouri that will eliminate years of valuable experience and advanced degrees in favor of a system that relies on the same poorly written tests I mentioned before. Poverty, parents who don’t care, children with no interest in learning (or allowing others to learn) — none of those things mean anything. After all, if you believe the rhetoric from our politicians, the sole problem in American public education is horrible, inept teachers.

And that brings me to the sole reason I have changed my mind about the competence of American public schoolteachers — if we were doing our job, somewhere along the line we would have taught the politicians who are systematically destroying public education, the greatest of all American experiments, something about decency, respect, and developing the mortal fortitude to resist the siren song of the special interests who are well on their way to making the U. S. into a world of haves and have-nots, where public education will serve to provide low paid feeder stock for non-union companies and taxpayer-financed private schools will continue to cater to the elite, with the middle class existing only in history books.

Public schoolteachers have failed miserably by producing the most incompetent, mean-spirited legislators in U.S. history.

By: Randy Turner, The Huffington Post, March 19, 2011-Original Post, March 13, 2011

March 19, 2011 Posted by | Budget, Class Warfare, Collective Bargaining, Education, GOP, Politics, State Legislatures, States, Teachers, Unions | , , , | Leave a comment

U.S. Is Urged to Raise Teachers’ Status

To improve its public schools, the United States should raise the status of the teaching profession by recruiting more qualified candidates, training them better and paying them more, according to a new report on comparative educational systems.

Andreas Schleicher, who oversees the international achievement test known by its acronym Pisa, says in his report that top-scoring countries like Korea, Singapore and Finland recruit only high-performing college graduates for teaching positions, support them with mentoring and other help in the classroom, and take steps to raise respect for the profession.

“Teaching in the U.S. is unfortunately no longer a high-status occupation,” Mr. Schleicher says in the report, prepared in advance of an educational conference that opens in New York on Wednesday. “Despite the characterization of some that teaching is an easy job, with short hours and summers off, the fact is that successful, dedicated teachers in the U.S. work long hours for little pay and, in many cases, insufficient support from their leadership.”

The conference, convened by the federal Department of Education, was expected to bring together education ministers and leaders of teachers’ unions from 16 countries as well as state superintendents from nine American states. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said that he hoped educational leaders would use the conference to share strategies for raising student achievement.

“We’re all facing similar challenges,” Mr. Duncan said in an interview.

The meeting occurs at a time when teachers’ rights, roles and responsibilities are being widely debated in the United States.

Republicans in Wisconsin and several other states have been pushing legislation to limit teachers’ collective bargaining rights and reduce taxpayer contributions to their pensions.

President Obama has been trying to promote a different view.

“In South Korea, teachers are known as ‘nation builders,’ and I think it’s time we treated our teachers with the same level of respect,” Mr. Obama said in a speech on education on Monday.

Mr. Schleicher is a senior official at the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, or O.E.C.D., a Paris group that includes the world’s major industrial powers. He wrote the new report, “What the U.S. Can Learn from the World’s Most Successful Education Reform Efforts,” with Steven L. Paine, a CTB/McGraw-Hill vice president who is a former West Virginia schools superintendent, for the McGraw-Hill Research Foundation.

It draws on data from the Program for International Student Assessment, which periodically tests 15-year-old students in more than 50 countries in math, reading or science.

On the most recent Pisa, the top-scoring countries were Finland and Singapore in science, Korea and Finland in reading and Singapore and Korea in math. On average, American teenagers came in 15th in reading and 19th in science. American students placed 27th in math. Only 2 percent of American students scored at the highest proficiency level, compared with 8 percent in Korea and 5 percent in Finland.

The “five things U.S. education reformers could learn” from the high-performing countries, the report says, include adopting common academic standards — an effort well under way here, led by state governors — developing better tests for use by teachers in diagnosing students’ day-to-day learning needs and training more effective school leaders.

“Make a concerted effort to raise the status of the teaching profession” was the top recommendation.

University teaching programs in the high-scoring countries admit only the best students, and “teaching education programs in the U.S. must become more selective and more rigorous,” the report says.

Raising teachers’ status is not mainly about raising salaries, the report says, but pay is a factor.

According to O.E.C.D. data, the average salary of a veteran elementary teacher here was $44,172 in 2008, higher than the average of $39,426 across all O.E.C.D countries (the figures were converted to compare the purchasing power of each currency).

But that salary level was 40 percent below the average salary of other American college graduates. In Finland, by comparison, the veteran teacher’s salary was 13 percent less than that of the average college graduate’s.

In an interview, Mr. Schleicher said the point was not that the United States spends too little on public education — only Luxembourg among the O.E.C.D. countries spends more per elementary student — but rather that American schools spend disproportionately on other areas, like bus transportation and sports facilities.

“You can spend a lot of money on education, but if you don’t spend it wisely, on improving the quality of instruction, you won’t get higher student outcomes,” Mr. Schleicher said.

By: Sam Dillon, The New York Times, March 16, 2011

March 16, 2011 Posted by | Education, Employment Descrimination, Equal Rights, Professionals, Teachers, Unions | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

   

%d bloggers like this: